New Zealand has reopened to Australian tourists for good, and a whole lot has changed since the pandemic started two-and-a-half years ago.
When tourists were away, countless cultural, wilderness and relaxation experiences popped up around the country.
There’s also a slew of new accommodation options, ranging from global chains in the cities to luxury wilderness getaways.
Here’s what’s changed in NZ since Australians have been gone.
Behind the scenes at the National Kiwi Hatchery
Founded in 2008, the National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua has helped incubate and rear more than 2000 of New Zealand’s iconic birds.
Normally visitors must stay behind the glass, but starting from this year, the hatchery has also begun offering visitors a one-hour, behind-the-scenes guided tour of its operations.
You won’t be able to hold any baby birds – only hatchery staff can do that – but you will be able to get up close to the chicks and take photos with them.
Tickets cost $195 for adults and $175 for teens.
The Hundertwasser Art Centre
The fantastical architectural designs of Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser are known around the world as the so-called ‘Hundertwasser houses’.
The Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangārei opened in February, almost 30 years after the late artist penned the original design.
It’s the second such Hundertwasser house in the southern hemisphere, but easily the most impressive. The other is a toilet block designed by the artist in the 1990s that is just a few towns away.
The centre houses not only Hundertwasser’s works but also includes an extensive collection of contemporary Māori art.
Te Ahurea, in the North Island town of Kerikeri, is an interactive cultural experience in a replica Māori fishing village.
Formerly known as Rewa’s Village, the original attraction has since been redeveloped and reborn as a place of culture and learning when it reopened in early 2021.
Visitors can participate in workshops on carving and weaving, plus native plant exhibits.
Another major drawcard is the 11.5-metre waka, or canoe, carved from a single kauri tree that fell eight years ago.
That Place mountain bike park
Several years ago, the Oksam family began rehabilitating their 52-hectare farm property near Whanganui on the North Island back to its natural state.
In 2020, the Oksams – who are keenly involved in competitive mountain biking – opened That Place to all riders looking for a challenge with some scenery.
“There’s a variety of rides and types of rides and skills required in the rides. Everybody could get their fill,” local rider Michaella Laird said.
Gravity Fishing hook-to-plate tour
The hook-to-plate movement is all about sustainable, gourmet seafood, as opposed to dragging nets from a trawler.
Since 2021, seasoned fisherman Nate Smith has been guiding visitors on fishing trips around Rakiura (Stewart Island) in the country’s south.
“It is an absolute privilege to be able to harvest these waters,” he said.
Day trips naturally include a gourmet seafood barbecue, while two- or three-night tours are fully catered by a “world-class chef”.
Ōpuke Thermal Pools and Spa
Opened in late 2021, the Ōpuke Thermal Pools and Spa is a wellness retreat located an hour out of Christchurch.
The mineral-rich water is unique to NZ as it streams from nearby glaciers and is heated by the sun.
The interconnected series of pools features vistas of the Southern Alps.
They include the adults-only Tranquility Pool or the family-friendly Discovery Pools.
What to eat
Despite the pandemic wreaking havoc on the hospitality industry, plenty of new restaurants have opened since the start of 2020.
In Auckland, Omni transports diners to a modern Japanese izakaya, while Alma draws inspiration from the food (and colours) of Andalusia, Spain.
Located on the sixth floor of QT Auckland, Rooftop At QT offers a wide range of cocktails and light meals, but the main drawcard is panoramic views of the harbour.
In Christchurch, British chef Simon Levy – who once worked as head chef for Gordon Ramsay – has created a seafood-focused menu at the Hali Bar & Bistro.
Further south in the town of Wanaka, Muttonbird showcases Otago’s finest produce in a relaxed dining setting where plates are made to share.
Where to stay
Things are also heating up on the accommodation front.
New Zealand welcomed its first six-star hotel opened in Queenstown just last month.
The Carlin boasts opulent suites with views over Lake Wakatipu, and offers guests a private jet transfer.
Opened in 2021, the architecturally designed Nest Tree Houses offer floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Hakataramea Valley and a cedar sauna.
Meanwhile, the Cross Hill Lodge & Domes brought glamping to the shores of Lake Hāwea when it opened in April 2021.
For something more traditional but no less comfortable, the Park Hyatt and QT hotels in Auckland both opened last year.
Inland at Ōwhango, the Old Post Office Lodge offers a quaint getaway inside a refurbished 1920s post office.
It opened in 2021 and was quickly named by the NZ Herald as one of the best heritage stays in the country.