It’s been mooted and rejected, and half-started and cancelled, and put on the backburner more times than we can count over the past year but maybe, just maybe, it’s finally here. The most recent decision on the trans-Tasman travel bubble is likely to be announced this week, with current rumours suggesting quarantine-free borders could be opened as soon as mid-April.

It’s believed that a New Zealand Cabinet committee is deciding what that bubble should look like, including how to deal with new outbreaks, navigate emergency shutdowns and separate travellers at airports.

The bubble will be more unilateral than was originally envisioned, with each country retaining the right to shut its borders if it is deemed necessary – meaning international travel will still carry the risk of being stranded, though no doubt there will be mechanisms in place to protect travellers.

All Australian states and territories are expected to join the bubble, with flights to four New Zealand airports – Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown. 

With all of our fingers and toes crossed, here’s what is hot, brand new and coming up next time you cross the ditch. Kia ora (hello) to New Zealand!

Auckland

Do 

Come up against the All Blacks and the Black Ferns in the interactive All Blacks Experience at SkyCity in central Auckland. Until the end of the year, the one-hour journey lets visitors stand in a virtual packed stadium, face-to-face with a four-metre-high haka. It includes first-hand stories from Kiwi rugby legends and tests your rugby skills as you kick, catch and pass your way through an interactive zone. 

For a culture hit, Toi Tu Toi Ora: Contemporary Maori Art is the largest exhibition in the history of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki. It features more than 300 works by 120 Maori artists from the past 70 years. Open until May 9, it’s free to visit.

Eat & Drink 

Gin producer Waiheke Distilling Co opened in January on Waiheke Island, sitting on the ridge above Cowes Bay with spectacular views over the water. Alongside house G&Ts, you’ll find local wines and antipasto platters. The signature gin, Spirit of Waiheke, is flavoured with NZ giant kelp and cardamom. 

Tuck into local kai moana (seafood) with views across the Waitemata Harbour at Fish Restaurant at the Hilton Auckland. The new venue has sustainability, seasonality and supporting local suppliers at its heart.

In trendy Ponsonby, Brewport serves local craft beers and gourmet hot dogs. It was opened last year by a Brothers Beer co-founder and two Air New Zealand crew grounded by the pandemic – keep an eye out for cheeky nods to the aviation theme.

Stay

New Zealand’s first Park Hyatt opened in the CBD in September. Its design reflects a traditional Maori wharenui (house) and most of the 195 rooms overlook Lighter Quay or Waitemata Harbour. 

Hotel Fitzroy in Ponsonby has opened in an historic two-storey villa, offering 10 luxury rooms. There’s a library where guests can enjoy fine wine, a 24-hour room-service menu and a complimentary minibar.

When it opened last year, the brick-clad Hotel Britomart was the country’s first 5 Green Star hotel. The 99 guest rooms and five suites – three of which have sky gardens and harbour views – are “cocoon-like”, with timber-lined walls and built-in sofas.

Auckland
Cocktail making at Waiheke Distilling Co.

Wellington

Do 

Highball, Wellington’s dedicated spirits and cocktail festival, returns May 7–8. Over three five-hour sessions, more than 40 distilleries will be serving tastings and cocktails, alongside a speaker series, local tunes and mixology classes. 

Get more bang for your travel buck at light festival Lumino City. On October 15–16, the length of Wellington’s waterfront will be lit up with 30 enormous lanterns and displays representing 12 different countries. 

Eat & Drink 

New Mount Victoria establishment Amok is part restaurant, part wine bar and has a strong focus on local ingredients in its sharing plates.

The menu, scribbled on butcher’s paper, changes daily, but expect charcoal snacks and pastas paired with pet-nat and craft beer.

Head to the harbour for a Tex-Mex feast by the water at Rosie’s Red-Hot Cantina & Taco Joint. Tacos, quesadilla pizza, “monster nachos” and jalapeno poppers all make an appearance, backed up by a solid margarita menu.

Or visit the new French-inspired cocktail bar Le Café Plum (which past visitors will remember as Plum). You’ll find a 20-strong cocktail list, crepes and tapas.

Stay 

Be one of the first to stay in the Intrepid Hotel when it opens in April. Conceived by some of Wellington’s biggest hospitality names, the three-storey boutique hotel features 18 luxuriously appointed rooms. Minibars are stocked with complimentary local goodies, and downstairs is natural-wine bar Puffin.

Naumi Studio Hotel is an eclectic new 116-room boutique hotel on Wellington’s colourful Cuba Street. More art gallery than hotel, it features paintings, sculptures, decor and architecture from New Zealand artists and designers in an opulent setting. There are six room types to choose from, plus an onsite cocktail bar. 

Naumi Hotel
The colourful lobby at the Naumi Hotel.

Christchurch

Do 

This southern city has been evolving at a faster rate than the rest of the country since the devastating earthquake a decade ago, so, if you’ve not visited in a while, you might be surprised by its fresh architecture, drinking and dining scene, and accommodation options. 

If you’d rather take advantage of its rugged outdoor lifestyle, pick up the new Christchurch Coast and Plains: Walks brochure, which details all 37 tracks available in the local area with maps, information on facilities and bus options. 

Eat & drink 

Bar and bistro Hali opened in January in the CBD. Expect a luxurious seafood-focused menu, with an ocean theme that carries through the whole venue – David Attenborough’s Blue Planet plays on loop in the bathrooms.

Born as delivery-only during the 2020 lockdown, Black Burger is an LA-style burger joint made with Canterbury’s best produce, including local Wagyu.

Pink Lady is the newest addition to the CBD’s rooftops. Above the Muse Art Hotel, the bar is a top pick for a sunny day, with cocktails, craft beers and California vibes.

Stay 

Opening a hotel in a pandemic was a bold choice, but it’s worked for the Muse Art Hotel. Each of the five floors of the boutique 40-room hotel are decorated with murals and individual artworks by a local artist.

In January, Hotel Montreal opened to offer five-star accommodation with private balconies in the city. The 25 suites and three-bedroom penthouse are modern and comfortable, with a cosy, minimalist vibe. 

Mid-last year, 12-bedroom boutique hotel the Parque opened near the River Avon. Ideal for longer stays, all rooms feature a kitchenette and private bathroom, and a lush garden with barbecue area. 

Canterbury ballooning
Ballooning in the stunning region of Canterbury.

Queenstown

Do 

Let’s be honest, you’re heading to Queenstown to take advantage of the pristine slopes – nothing new there! But, for the first time, European festival Snowboxx is hitting the adventure capital from September 7–14. The multi-discipline winter festival combines electronic music and snowsports with international acts, slope-side parties and off-mountain experiences.

The eclectic line-up includes Concord Dawn, Lee Mvtthews and Shapeshifter.

Fill your spare time with bottomless brunches, igloo parties, comedy nights, snowball fights and apres ski.

Eat & Drink 

Jack’s Point Restaurant had a big refresh in summer and is well worth another look. Sitting beside Lake Tewa at the base of the Remarkables, you’ll enjoy the views as much as the produce-driven menu: seasonal ingredients cooked over charcoal, a raw bar of fresh clams and oysters, local Wagyu and whole crayfish, and a wine list of Central Otago’s finest.

Colourful Mexican joint Margo’s opened late last year, offering flavourful share plates, tacos, margaritas, mezcal and tequila. Show up early for happy hour frozen margaritas and go from there. 

Stay 

Rustic glamour and old-world charm combine at the Dairy Private Hotel, a 14-room boutique hotel that opened in October. As well as a cosy lounge area for complimentary drinks hour, there’s an outdoor jacuzzi with stunning views across the Remarkables.

Sister establishment, the Central Private Hotel, opened a month later with 14 spacious rooms and a retro postmodernist vibe. Expected in December, New Zealand’s first six-star hotel, the Carlin, will comprise nine apartment-style suites.

Queenstown cycling
Cycling in Queenstown.

Take me there

Fly: Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Air New Zealand fly to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown and regular flights are expected to resume as soon as allowed. A new service is slated to begin between Auckland and Hobart in late April.

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