7 New Zealand Towns and Cities to Explore on Your Next Holiday

New Zealand is often touted as an outdoors destination, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to ignore its cities and towns as destinations too.

Exterior of Dunedin train station.

Words by: Ashlyn Oswalt

Rightfully so, tourists flock in droves to national parks, scenic reserves, and the like to get the full Kiwi experience, but there’s so much more to explore. Ahead, we’re here to highlight a few of our favourite city destination spots all around Aotearoa.

When the wanderlust kicks in and you’re itching for a trip, try out one of these destinations and be ready to fall in love.

A man working behind the bar at Little Savanna in New Plymouth.

Palmerston North

Palmerston North, New Zealand

Overlooked often due to its proximity to Wellington and New Plymouth, Palmerston North is emerging as a destination of its own. From the hip art galleries and makers spaces inside creative hubs like Square Edge, to wandering around the (free!) rooms of the Te Manawa, you’ll quickly realise Palmy is soaked in culture. When all that eye candy makes you hungry for something delicious, you’ll be spoiled for choice with different cuisines. Dine your way around the world at Japanese restaurant HARU, South Africa’s Little Savanna, and Mexican-inspired Libre, and then top off for a classic kiwi craft brew at Brew Union Brewing Company. You’ll leave wondering how fast you can plan a trip back. For more adventures, check out the He Araha Kotahi bridge and pathway, a 7.1km walkway with plenty of natural and historical significance. (Find our 12 Hour Guide to Palmerston North here).

Looking down towards Love Grove Lane.

Hamilton

Hamilton, New Zealand

We’d be remiss to mention Hamilton and not begin with the Hamilton Gardens, a labyrinth of green spaces that will transport you to a fairytale land. With a thriving hospitality scene sure to rival any New Zealand city, we suggest you start at Hayes Common for a caffeine fix. If you prefer to be close to the action, head to Rocket Coffee, one of the most underrated (but possibly the best) coffee roasters in Aotearoa. From outdoor adventure to feminine chic, you’ll lose hours wandering the streets and likely ticking off birthday presents for the whole next year (look at you!). Don’t forget to stop by Riverbank Lane, which has moved to the central city, as it’s home to a number of bespoke eateries and shops. If that weren’t enough for the day, check in at the Wonder Horse, a delightfully unpretentious drinks and their bar snacks. (Find our 12 Hour Guide to Hamilton here)

The outside of The Swan in Dunedin.

Dunedin

Dunedin, New Zealand

Ah, the stunning south. A city filled with picturesque streets, stunning seaside views, and enough delicious food to require you to roll yourself down Baldwin Street. A summer holiday will reward you with warmer weather, meaning a trip out to Otago Peninsula to gaze at the royal albatross (and maybe even penguins!) is in order. When you’re finished, head over to The Esplanade for an Italian beachfront experience (non-conventional, but trust us, it’s good) 

You’d be silly to spend time in Dunedin and not relish in the local craft beer scene. Home of NEW NEW NEW, you’ll want to make a stop at this cool, industrial spot that brews clever beers. Be sure to also check out Arc Brewery for cosy loft vibes and for creative craft pints. If you want to break up all that tasting, we suggest stopping by the Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery, a revolving door of curiosities, curated by local artist Bruce Mahalski. There’s far more space we could take up raving about Dunedin, but we only have so much time. (Find our 12 Hour Guide to Dunedin here).

A plate of cheese and beers on a table at Craftwork in Oamaru.

Ōamaru

Ōamaru, New Zealand

This quirky South Island town may hold the title for “Steam Punk Capital of the World” but have no fear if the oddities of yesteryear don’t tickle your fancy. With a stunning Victorian precinct downtown (cobblestone walkways! Vintage shops galore!) you’ll find yourself transported back into time when you walk around Ōamaru. We highly recommend sticking around for the Sunday farmers’ market at the harbour to truly get a sense of the community feel in this stunning seaside town. Known for its inventive art scene, there are plenty of galleries and shops to keep you busy all afternoon - just in time for dinner at Cucina, a seasonal restaurant and bar serving up delicious meals in a stunning atmosphere. You won’t want to miss the wildlife that surrounds Ōamaru as well, from the Bushy Beach walk where you may spot penguins to Lake Benmore further afield, this little town will keep you busy for well longer than a weekend. (Find our 12 Hour Guide to Oamaru here).

Forest at Whangarei Falls by Davide Dalfovo.

Whāngarei

Whangārei, New Zealand

If you’re looking for laid back vibes with ocean appeal, look no further than Northland’s Whangārei. Immerse yourself in the city’s rich history and visit New Zealand’s largest Māori Pa (fortified village) site at Mount Parihaka or enjoy “New Zealand’s most photogenic waterfall” at Whangārei Falls. Get your art fix on the waterfront at the Whangārei Art Museum which houses international and local masterpieces alike. If you’re in the mood for views and shops, walk down Quayside to take in the river sites.

Photo credit: Davide Dalfovo. 

Art deco buildings in Napier.

Napier

Napier, New Zealand

Napier is certainly peak charm on Sundays at the Hawkes Bay Farmers’ Market, but there’s plenty more where that came from. When you’re finished strolling through the stalls of homemade baked breads, lovingly prepared cheeses, and abundance of fruit, you’ll be ready for a leisurely climb up Te Mata Peak. The track offers 360° views of Hawkes Bay and with just over two hours of climbing, you’ll be ready to experience more of the culinary delights of Napier. Known for its prolific wine region, Napier is home to many (over 70) acclaimed wineries and you’d be silly not to stop at a few - or better yet, take a bike tour. Finally, no trip to Napier is complete without a good walk around the town centre, internationally recognised for its stunning art deco. From the churches to the seaside vistas, the town looks straight out of a movie, and wandering for hours, coffee in hand, is encouraged. (Find our 12 Hour Guide to Napier here).

Photo credit: Kirsten Simcox.

People walking along laneway at The Precinct in Wānaka.

Wānaka

Wānaka, New Zealand

Once the quieter, less-flashy kid sister to Queenstown, Wānaka is quickly becoming its own destination. Now famous for more than just that-Wānaka-tree, you’ll be surprised and delighted how this little town has managed to keep its down home feel, while growing up a bit. Start your morning at Federal Diner with a pour over, because you’ll need to be caffeinated for your big day ahead. Take a walk along the Clutha River to soak in the serenity and get to know the Wānaka locals on the trail. From there, you can head back into town for some shopping and possibly more coffee at The Coffee Shack. If you’re wanting to try Wānaka’s finest in libations, you’re in luck because this town takes the cake in the beer, wine, and spirits categories. Stop by b.social, b.effect’s brewery and pub to sample the fine selection of craft beers, Cork Bar for the best of both the wine and beer world, or take a drive to the Cardrona Distillery for some of the world’s finest whiskeys and gins. (Find our 12 Hour Guide to Wānaka here).