What city to stay in in New Zealand
Get four practical tips that will help you decide where to stay in New Zealand and see a list of recommended New Zealand cities to stay in.
Choosing a city in New Zealand to stay in generally boils down to asking yourself the following questions:
- How far is it from where I want to be?
- How easy is it to find food and/or gas?
- Is there affordable accommodation?
- Is it considered to be a safe place?
At least, those are the questions I tend to ask myself whenever I’m looking for a place to stay in New Zealand.
1. Stay in a city close to your planned holiday activities
The first thing I always look at when trying to find a place to stay is how far the city or town will be from where I want to go and what I want to see.
You do not want to have to drive hours and hours before reaching your destination of choice. This not only costs time but also money, because petrol (gasoline) is not that cheap (anymore) here in New Zealand.
So whenever you are looking for a city or town to stay in New Zealand, look at whether it can serve as a base, because that could lower the cost of your trip to New Zealand.
A base is somewhere you can return to every day and that will allow you to visit multiple places in the neighborhood that aren’t too far away.
Examples of bases include:
- Kerikeri as a base for visiting Cape Reinga, Paihia, and Whangarei.
- Rotorua as a base for visiting Tauranga, Taupo, and Whakatane.
- Twizel as a base for visiting Mount Cook National Park, Omarama, and Tekapo.
You can use the North Island driving distances and the South Island driving distances pages to find distances and travel times between cities/towns in New Zealand.
However, before choosing a city or town in New Zealand and making it your base, take the next points into consideration…
2. Stay in a city with facilities
You want the city or town you choose to have places you can go to to buy food (restaurants or supermarkets) and petrol (gasoline). Or maybe you’re also looking for some nightlife?
While a city does not have to have an abudance of facilities, think about the most basic things you would need for your stay to be pleasant and then look whether the city you chose provides those things.
You can easily use the Internet to find out a lot about cities anywhere in the world, so take advantage of that and do your research. Don’t just rely on word-of-mouth advertising.
Snow on Ben Ohau, Twizel, New Zealand
For example, if you want to find out whether a New Zealand city or town has a supermarket, visit the websites of supermarket chains and see whether they have a store where you want to stay. New Zealand supermarket chains include: New World, PAK’nSAVE, and Countdown.
You could also visit tourism websites of cities in New Zealand, but bear in mind that tourism websites are most of the time trying to sell you something, not help you make an informed decision like I tend to do here on this website.
New Zealand cities that offer a large amount of facilities include:
But having a large amount of facilities at your disposal is not everything. Also think about how practical it would be to stay somewhere.
For example, while Auckland is a good city to stay in due to the large amount of facilities it provides and because it is quite centrally located to visit any place north, south, or east of it, it would not form a good base simply because it is highly likely that you would be spending lots of time stuck in traffic trying to get in or out of Auckland.
Another good example is Wanaka. Wanaka is not that large, but it has a supermarket, several petrol stations, and restaurants (excluding large fast food chains).
While you could make Wanaka a base for Queenstown, Cromwell, and places as far as the West Coast, the accommodation and petrol prices tend to be much higher in Wanaka than they generally are in Queenstown or Cromwell.
3. Stay in a city that is not too small or remote
Small or remote cities/towns generally do not offer many accommodation options – thereby driving the price of accommodation up – or many facilities.
Small towns like Fox Glacier or towns on the Coromandel Peninsula generally offer a limited amount of places you can stay. Therefore, accommodation prices tend to be high.
So unless you are in New Zealand for your honeymoon and do not want to see many people around you, look for cities or towns that are larger in size and that are not remote.
How do you know whether a city is not too small or remote? Look for the golden arches!
Visit the New Zealand McDonald’s website and try to find a Macca’s (the way Kiwis call McDonald’s) in the city or town you want to stay in.
If you cannot find one, the city/town is too small, too remote, or does not get many visitors.
Examples of New Zealand cities or towns that are not too small or remote include:
- Motueka instead of anywhere in the Golden Bay
- Greymouth instead of Fox Glacier
- Tauranga instead of Coromandel
- Whakatane instead of Opotiki
4. Stay in a city that is not considered to be unsafe
As someone living outside of New Zealand, knowing which places in New Zealand are safe and which ones are not, would be hard for you to assess or find out unless you regularly followed the news in New Zealand.
There aren’t many places that can be considered very unsafe here in New Zealand although violence and crime has been increasing in recent years.
Beach in Tauranga, New Zealand
Having said that, there are some areas – especially where gangs tend to congregate – I would definitely avoid going or staying.
Those places include:
- South Auckland
While Hastings and Hawke’s Bay, in general, have always felt pretty safe to me and I know people there who live in a very peaceful and rural area, Hastings has often been in the news for violence in the area.
But then again, a quiet town like Ashburton, where I almost always stay when I’m in Canterbury on the South Island, has also been in the news for murders.
And to that list, I’d add Dunedin, not because it is an unsafe place, but rather because it is more of a student city and because I’ve often been bothered by drunk students while being out at night in Dunedin.
But then again, getting bothered by intoxicated people at night is not uncommon in other larger cities like Auckland, Christchurch, or Wellington.
It is just best to keep the tips for staying safe in New Zealand in mind wherever you go in New Zealand.
Good South Island cities to stay in
Going from north to south in a clockwise direction, I’ll list cities on the South Island that I consider good cities to stay in.
Blenheim is located at the top of the South Island near Picton where the ferries arrive.
Blenheim is about 309 km (192 mi) from Christchurch on the eastern side of the South Island and 324 km (201 mi) from Greymouth on the West Coast.
Blenheim is a good city to stay in if you are visiting Nelson Lakes National Park or the Marlborough Sounds.
There is a McDonald’s restaurant in Blenheim as well as large supermarkets.
Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island of New Zealand. It can be accessed by land, by rail, and by air.
Christchurch is a popular destination and has a large amount of amenities and facilities such as gas stations, restaurants, supermarkets, and fast food outlets, and you can make several short day trips to places around Christchurch, so it would also be a good base for exploring Canterbury.
Banks Peninsula near Christchurch
You could stay in Christchurch, for example, if you wanted to visit places like Banks Peninsula, Kaikoura, Hanmer Springs, Arthur’s Pass, or the Mount Hutt ski field, since the driving times to these places are reasonable from Christchurch.
Christchurch is currently in a phase of being rebuilt after the devastating earthquakes that took place a couple of years ago, but it is very much open for business.
Ashburton lies about one hour south of Christchurch. It is more of a town than a city but still large enough to provide all of the basic facilities that include supermarkets and several fast food outlets.
Ashburton is a quiet town, except for the noise coming from freight trains that do their daily and nightly runs right through the center of Ashburton.
While you won’t find much bustling nightlife in Ashburton, it still forms a good base for exploring Canterbury, and it is a good alternative if you do not want to stay in Christchurch.
You could stay in Ashburton, for example, if you wanted to visit places like Arthur’s Pass, the Mount Hutt ski field, the Hakatere-Potts region, Rakaia, Timaru, or as far as Lake Tekapo, because staying in Ashburton instead of Christchurch would cut down the amount of driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo by one hour.
Queenstown is a town that has grown over the years, so it is well serviced with gas stations, fast food restaurants, and supermarkets.
Queenstown forms a good base for exploring Arrowtown, Wanaka, Glenorchy, and even Central Otago, with several short day trips around Queenstown.
Driving times from Queenstown are reasonable. It would take you, for example, 1 hour to get to Wanaka and 2.5 hours to get to Haast on the West Coast.
Going east, it would take you 45 minutes to drive from Queenstown to Cromwell, 1 hour to Alexandra, and almost 3 hours to Balclutha in the Catlins.
Going south, it would take you about 40 minutes to drive from Queenstown to Kingston and 2 hours to either Te Anau or Invercargill.
If I had to choose between staying in either Wanaka or Queenstown, Queenstown would get my preference, because the prices of goods and services tend to be lower in Queenstown than they are in Wanaka.
And if I had to choose between Cromwell and Queenstown, Queenstown would win again, because Cromwell does not have a KFC or a McDonald’s although it does have a supermarket.
Greymouth is located on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It can be accessed by land and by rail (from Christchurch).
Greymouth is a relatively large town on the West Coast and not that popular with tourists, because they are generally on their way to either Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier.
[Photo: Guided Fox Glacier walk on the West Coast of the South Island (44 KB)]
However, Greymouth can serve as a good base for exploring the West Coast, because it offers all of the amenities of a large city including a couple of fast food restaurants.
You could stay in Greymouth, for example, if you wanted to visit places such as Westport, Hokitika, Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, Paparoa National Park, Mangatini Falls, and even Fox Glacier because it is just a 2.5 hours drive away from Fox Glacier.
Motueka is a small town but well serviced with supermarkets, gas stations, and fast food restaurants.
Motueka is approximately 153 km (95 mi) from Picton so an easy 2-hour drive after you get off the ferry.
In addition, Motueka forms a good base if you want to visit Abel Tasman National Park or Golden Bay.
Good North Island cities to stay in
Going from North to South on the North Island, I’ll list cities that I consider to be good cities to stay in.
Kerikeri is located near the Bay of Islands in the top part of the North Island. It is about a 242 km (150 mi) or a 3-hour drive away from Auckland. You can also reach Kerikeri by air once you are in New Zealand.
Kerikeri is a good city to stay in if you are visiting the Bay of Islands or to make a day trip to Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach. This part of New Zealand is all about beautiful beaches, bays, and inlets.
Kerikeri is a small but well-serviced town. It has a McDonald’s restaurant and large supermarkets.
If you do not want to stay in Kerikeri, the next best town would be Whangarei, which lies about one hour south of Kerikeri. So if you are planning to visit locations north of Kerikeri, you would be adding one hour to your drives.
Whangarei is much larger than Kerikeri and has large supermarkets in addition to several fast food restaurants.
Also note that you are more likely to encounter more Maori living in Whangarei than in Kerikeri.
If you are visiting Central North Island, I would recommend staying in Rotorua. It takes about 3 hours to drive from Auckland to Rotorua.
While Rotorua smells like sulphur most of the time due to the geothermal lakes and pools in the area, which release gasses, it is the perfect tourist destination. After a couple of days, you’ll get used to the smell.
[Photo: Maori art at the Rotorua museum (49 KB)]
The main thing to remember about Rotorua is that it is so centrally located for making side trips to Tauranga (for beaches and walks), Whakatane (for beaches and walks), and Taupo (for adventure or water sports and Tongariro National Park) with each taking about one hour to drive to.
So if you stay in Rotorua, you can easily expand your territory for visiting places without having to switch hotels or motels.
Rotorua not only caters well to tourists with hotels, motels, and small shops, but it also has a several fast food restaurants and supermarkets.
[Photo: Motel room in New Zealand (41 KB)]
Wellington is located at the bottom of the North Island and is a good city to stay in if you have to catch a ferry to the South Island.
Because it is not centrally located like Rotorua, it does not form a very good base to explore other locations in the neighborhood.
The motorways and highway around Wellington City are not as busy as the ones around Auckland, though, so you can easily visit places like the Kapiti Coast (north of Wellington) or Wairarapa (east of Wellington).
Just try to avoid driving during hours of commute, which are generally between 7 am and 10 am and between 3 pm and 6 pm.
[Photo: Wellington City in New Zealand (51 KB)]
Wellington City is well serviced and caters well to tourists with its shops, restaurants, nightlife, supermarkets, and tourist activities, which would consist mostly of sightseeing and visiting places like Te Papa national museum, Wellington Botanic Garden, or the Beehive.
My favorite cities or towns to stay in
On the North Island:
- North: Kerikeri
- East: Gisborne
- West: New Plymouth
- South: No city; I live there
On the South Island:
- North: Motueka or Blenheim
- East: Ashburton
- West: Greymouth
- South: Queenstown or Cromwell
This article falls under Travel Guide.
Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details
directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.