The opening game of the British and Irish Lions Series takes place in Whangarei with the Lions taking on a New Zealand Provincial XV. Whangarei is the base to explore the far north of the North Island. Visit the Bay of Islands, cruise with the dolphins and sail through the famous Hole in the Rock’. Better still, from Tutukaka (a 30-minute drive from Whangarei) take a boat out to The Poor Knights – described by Jacques Cousteau as one of the best dive sites in the world – to dive right in and experience an incredible underwater world rich with marine life and the site of the world’s largest sea cave.
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and will host the British and Irish Lions three times during the Series including two All Black matches. With two harbours on two oceans, Auckland is celebrated for its perfect sailing conditions so it would be entirely remiss not to jump on board a boat and take in the city sights from the Hauraki Gulf. Ferry to Waiheke, sail aboard an America’s Cup yacht or take a spin on a jet boat to see the city from the harbour. For landlubbers, Auckland’s wild west coast is a must visit – the Waitakere Ranges has over 16,000ha of native rain forest and coastline to explore.
The mighty Waikato is steeped in rugby history and when the Chiefs take on the Lions in Hamilton there is no doubt that cow bells will ring loudly while attempting to drown out the songs of visiting supporters. Nearby Matamata is home to the Hobbiton Movie Set and famous faces such as Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. Nothing is more surreal than wandering the movie set that helped bring Middle-earth to life. Or, head south to Waitomo for a massive underground experience at Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. Float serenely beneath millions of tiny glow worm lights or set off on a thrilling black water rafting experience through the pitch black corridors of this incredible limestone cave system.
When the New Zealand Maori take on the British and Irish Lions they will be in the midst of a geothermal and cultural hot spot. Rotorua is New Zealand’s oldest tourist destination and the best place to experience Maori culture and natural thermal wonders. Just off the eastern Bay of Plenty, the active marine volcano of White Island is a helicopter flight from Rotorua or a boat ride from Whakatane. This other-worldly landscape is a not-to-be missed experience. Just south of Rotorua the bustling tourist town of Taupo sits on the shores of New Zealand’s largest lake. This is a sporting mecca and a fisherman’s dream destination with a lake and rivers full of trout. Fly fish a river mouth or jump on board a charter boat to try your luck in the depths.
True pilgrims on the rugby trail won’t want to miss out on a visit to Palmerston North and The New Zealand Rugby Museum. Just north of Wellington (two hours by car from the capital), Palmerston North is a university city, the main centre of the Manawatu region and the final resting place of some of the world’s rarest rugby artefacts. The museum’s collection includes everything from New Zealand’s earliest rugby ball to the original All Black jersey. Get active in the ‘Have A Go’ area and tackle, scrum, jump, sprint and kick like the rugby legends.
New Zealand’s capital city is known for its love of coffee, craft beer and, of course, rugby. The local heroes of Super Rugby, The Hurricanes, will take on the Lions and the city will also host the second test against the All Blacks. Wellington is a great place to tee off on one of several great golf courses including the very regal Royal Wellington Golf Club (a glorious parkland style course, 25 minutes by road from the city) and the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club (one of New Zealand’s best links experiences, an hour from the city).
Wellington is the gateway to the coastal beauties of the northern South Island regions of Marlborough and Nelson – a short flight or ferry trip across Cook Strait. Cruise through the Marlborough Sounds, taste a stunning sauvignon blanc at the source, visit the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre – one of the world’s great aviation collections – or peddle Tasman’s Great Taste Trail for a delicious mix of cycling, food and wine.
The British and Irish Lions will tackle the Crusaders, the most successful team in Super Rugby history, when they visit Christchurch. Explore the immersive landscapes of the Canterbury region to see where some of New Zealand’s most hardened rugby battlers come from – for a view from above, take a helicopter flight with Christchurch Helicopters and you could get lucky with Richie McCaw in the pilot seat. Take a trip north of Christchurch along the banks of the Waiau River and discover Hanmer Springs, one of New Zealand’s best thermal spa resorts. The other option is to travel inland to the Southern Alps, Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook where the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve can be found. During the day marvel at New Zealand’s tallest peak and at night be dazzled by one of the clearest night skies in the world.
In southern Dunedin – a city with a proud Scottish heritage – The Lions will take on the Highlanders inside New Zealand’s only covered rugby stadium, Forsyth Barr. The city has a vibrant arts and student culture (and all that goes with that) but stray away from the city limits and it’s also famous for wildlife – the royal albatross, yellow-eyed penguins and sea lions that frequent nearby Otago Peninsula. Blues fans (that’s little blue penguins) can also check out Oamaru, north of Dunedin, where the road-safety conscious little blues arrive home from the sea each evening via their purpose-built subway beneath the road.
If adventure is more your thing, then Dunedin is but a 3.5 hour drive from Queenstown, New Zealand’s most famous tourism hot spot. There are endless options for thrills in Queenstown whether you want to try snowboarding at a ski resort, throwing yourself off a bridge on a bungy cord or speeding down shallow braided rivers on a New Zealand-designed jet boat.