Try world-class kayaking in Abel Tasman. © Abel Tasman Kayaks

10 short breaks for Labour Weekend


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Labour Weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. And, as the first long weekend since way back in June, it’s the ideal time to get out and explore New Zealand. Here are 10 ideas to get you started.

1. Take a tour of Tiritiri Matangi 

Take a guided walk on Tiritiri Matangi to get the scoop on the island’s conservation history and the plants and wildlife that can be seen here today – then you’ll know your hihi from your korimako. If you can handle an early start, book onto a special trip to the island to hear the dawn chorus – you’ll have to be on the ferry by 4.30am, but it’s a unique chance to hear the forest wake up as it would have done hundreds of years ago. 

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2. Cruise Doubtful Sound

James Cook named Doubtful Sound when, after noting a ‘very snug’ anchorage, he wondered whether the howling nor’-westerlies would ever let him out again if he ventured in. While it’s not uncommon for six or seven metres of rain to fall here in a good year – enough to fill the deep end of a diving pool – this is one of Fiordland’s most majestic spots, no matter what the weather.

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3. Visit White Island

Just a short boat or helicopter ride from Whakatāne, Whakaari White Island is one of the world’s most accessible active volcanos – bubbling away for nearly 200,000 years. Sulphur creates vivid colours in simmering lakes and collections of crusty crystals; mini geysers spurt, steam hisses and there’s a real sense of adventure as you explore this unique piece of geology. While today’s obligatory hard hats and gas masks will also make you feel like an intrepid explorer, the walk to the crater is quick, easy and virtually flat – no mountain climbing required.

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4. Kayak the Abel Tasman National Park

In Abel Tasman, the sand is a colour you simply have never seen before. The water is so blue it doesn’t actually look real. To kayak here is to have one of the best aquatic experiences in New Zealand – and possibly the world. Discover beaches, coves, sheer granite headlands and the little hidden bays all under your own steam. You’ll also be as close as you can get to the marine life that in the park – dolphins, penguins and seals may all join your kayaking convoy.

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5. Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

This winding, 300km slice of bitumen is more than a highway, its a gateway to the East Coast. Curving around the East Cape, it (mostly) hugs the coast and embraces an array of experiences and environments along the way. Driftwood-strewn beaches abound on the exterior, while the hidden interior is a completely different prospect – a place of dense bush, rushing, clear rivers and sheer gorges. This is a part of New Zealand where a true, strong Māori presence can be experienced: it’s distinctive, rural and worthy of respect. 

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6. Cruise aboard the TSS Earnslaw

The TSS Earnslaw is the last remaining coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere and was launched the same year as the Titanic. Today, more than 100 years later, the heritage vessel still powers people around the beautiful waters of Lake Wakatipu. You can pace these decks, pinot in hand, soaking up the scenery. A lake cruise on this piece of history is a great way to relax after the rigours of all that adventure sporting.

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7. See the Gannets at Cape Kidnappers 

Cape Kidnappers in Hawke’s Bay is home to the largest and most accessible mainland colony of gannets in the world, with more than 2,200 breeding pairs. Full-grown birds weigh two kilos – more than a Size 14 chook – and have a wingspan of two metres – they’re quite a sight wheeling in from the sea. While you can no longer reach the colony on foot due to dangerous rockfall, you can join one of the guided tours. In every case, the guides are adept at explaining the points of interest along the way, as well as the quirks of gannet behaviour.

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8. Visit the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve

There is no better place in New Zealand to see stars than in the heart of Canterbury’s Mackenzie district.  In 2012, 4,367 square kilometres were designated as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve – making it the largest in the world. With very little light pollution and the Mackenzie district’s signature clear skies, the stargazing here is like nothing else in New Zealand. If you want to get even closer to the celestial bodies, Mount John Observatory, set on the shores of Lake Tekapō, will let you zoom in on galaxies far, far away.

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9. Meet the locals at Zealandia

Formerly known as the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, Zealandia packs an awful lot into its less than 2.6-square-kilometre space. A totally protected natural environment, Zealandia is just 10 minutes from Wellington CBD. Completed in late 1999, the predator-proof fence protects a vision to restore the city’s forest and freshwater ecosystems to their original state. Today, Zealandia is home to 18 species of native wildlife – six of which had previously been absent from mainland New Zealand for over a century. 

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10. Experience Steampunk HQ

Arguably Ōamaru’s most famous attraction, Steampunk HQ is a wonderful world of wacky creations. A mashup of mystical and macabre, kids will love the interactive machinery and conjuring of parallel universes. It's Mad Max meets mad scientist. Inside, the HQ is gloomy and otherworldly, with items like intergalactic organs, tinker workshops-slash-laboratories and the must-do Portal. Venture into the yard out back for bigger displays made out of Frankenstein tractors, train carriages and other rusty hulks that kids (and adults) can clamber into, on top of and through. 

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