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Home Tourist Attraction Where do locals go in New Zealand? The attractions that rate with Kiwis

Where do locals go in New Zealand? The attractions that rate with Kiwis

by Staff

Where to Kiwi tourists rate more highly on Tripadvisor than international visitors? Photo / Teemu Paananen, Unsplash

New Zealand is world famous for Manākitanga. For a small country at the bottom of the Pacific we punch well above our weight in the world tourism rankings. Even the other side of a pandemic, inbound travel and hospitality remains one of Aotearoa biggest exports. But where do locals go in New Zealand and what do Kiwis really think about our best-known tourist attractions?

The Herald has scoured the pages of Tripadvisor – one of the world’s largest travel review websites – to work out what visitors think is worth writing home about and locate the local favourites, overlooked by international tourists.

Last year 2.54 million overseas visitors entered New Zealand to experience the all that Aotearoa has to offer holidaymakers. After a long pandemic of closed-borders and travel restrictions, it’s clear tourism is back and open for business.

While there’s much to celebrate about this rebound in visitors, back at 65 per cent of pre-pandemic arrivals, there’s one group of tourists that are still being underestimated.

New Zealanders have rekindled a love for their backyard. While demand for overseas travel has returned with the swiftness of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, according to Tourism Industry Aotearoa domestic travel is still at an historic high.

With 71 per cent of the “whanau of 5.2 million” planning to take a domestic holiday in the coming year, New Zealanders still make up the majority of holidaymakers around these motu. Although budgets are often more modest, and travel periods shorter, there’s a lot that can be learned from the domestic travel habits.

Though one person’s tourist trap is another travellers’ bucket-list activity, looking at where the locals go is a valuable tip for any holidaymaker.

There’s a reason why travel guides pedal the promise of ‘travelling like a local’.

Domestic tourists tend to prioritise value for money, visit new attractions first and go beyond the ‘Route 1′ tourist attractions.

This is why the Herald Travel has scoured 30,000 online travel reviews for attractions around Aotearoa, to cross examine Kiwis’ feedback compared to international tourists.

To do this we compared the feedback review-writers whose home address was listed as New Zealand, versus visitors whose home address was from another country.

Looking at the top 59 attractions on Tripadvisor, with an average of over 4 out of 5 stars, all are top tourism draws but not all are equal in the eyes of visitors.

Where do Kiwis rate versus international tourists?

While all our attractions are on the top pages of Tripadvisor, there was quite a rift between the average review left by domestic visitors versus international guests.

It seems domestic visitors rate nature escapes and the outdoors more highly than international visitors. Overseas visitors, on the other hand, appear to rate novelty attractions, culture and history more highly than Kiwis.

On average Kiwis rated the Hooker Valley Track near Mount Cook a full 39 percentage points higher than their international counterparts. Similarly the Muriwai Gannet colony was 17 percentage points above the average and 28 points higher than the average for international visitors.

International visitors loved the Skyline gondola and luge in Queenstown, rating it a full 5 per centage points higher than average, meanwhile the 264 Kiwis didn’t dig the gondola quite as thoroughly. Domestic visitor reviews were 15 per centage points lower than the average rating.

In Wellington it appears international guests got more out of the museum of Te Papa, meanwhile domestic visitors preferred touring the New Zealand Parliament more than their international counterparts.

In Whangarei the shiny, new Hundertwasser Gallery was endorsed highly by Kiwi visitors, meanwhile the international average was 26 per centage points lower.

Perhaps Austrian visitors thought they had finer examples of Hundertwasser architecture back home in Vienna?

What do New Zealand tourists rate on Tripadvisor?

  • Kiwis: Natural, Outdoors
  • Overseas visitors: Novelty, Culture and history

What do they not rate?

  • Kiwis: Cheap thrills, expensive attractions
  • Overseas visitors: Things they can see elsewhere

Where do Kiwis go on holiday in New Zealand?

Like all countries New Zealand has a well established Tourist Trail. Roughly following the State Highway One down the length of the country, from Auckland to Invercargill, it’s not surprising to see New Zealand’s largest biggest tourist attractions are along this travel artery. However there are pockets of majority domestic tourist attractions, depicted in blue, at the fringes.

Auckland, as the biggest population hub in New Zealand, is well prepared to support a large number of domestic tourist attractions for daytrippers. On our map Tamaki Makaurau sits in halo of blue versus the top Waikato or Northland attractions, which are depicted in red for majority international reviews.

EcoZip Adventures on Waiheke Island. Photo / Supplied

Local favourites include Tiritiri Matangi Island, whose 1000 Tripadvisor ratings are split almost evenly (503/497) between domestic and international reviewers. The Takahe sanctuary within a short ferry from the city is also a crowd pleaser. The average rating on trip advisor is 4.83 stars, with 1 percentage point difference for locals and overseas visitors allowing for the fact that Kiwis were slightly more positive about the experience. Meanwhile at the end of a different ferry line, EcoZip Adventures on Waiheke Island saw far more international tourists leaving reviews (88 per cent vs 12 per cent domestic). And although the average rating was very similar to Tiritiri Matangi, at 4.82 stars, the average rating from New Zealanders was 14 per centage points lower while international visitors were slightly more positive.

Queenstown and Otago has a high density of attractions in the top 59. However from Wakatipu and the divide, heading east towards Crowell and Clyde, the split of reviews progressively more even between New Zealander.

From the Routeburn Track and Glenorchy Road, which have a 20/80 split with a majority overseas reviews, to Cromwell and Naseby where the Highlands go karting and Naseby indoor curling rink are mostly reviewed by domestic tourists. The trend of proportionally higher international visitors is closely related to proximity to the Queenstown airport and higher nightly rentals in accommodation. The average weekend nightly rate in Queenstown is $252 versus Cromwell’s $130, according to comparison website Kayak.

However there are plenty of parts of the country where attractions with a high proportion of international visitors are right next to domestic tourism favourites.

In Taranaki the mountain draws plenty of international visitors as a 2,518m-tall beacon for tourism. 56 per cent of reviews on the Mt Taranaki Summit Track are from international visitors. Meanwhile tucked away in the shadow of the ambitious, conical day hike are two other top attractions Pukekure Park and Tawhiti Museum, both whose trip advisor reviews are written – 2 to 1 – by domestic visitors. (64 and 67 per cent domestic, respectively.)

Eglinton Flats on SH94 on the way to Milford Sound. Photo / Thomas Bywater
Eglinton Flats on SH94 on the way to Milford Sound. Photo / Thomas Bywater

At the bottom of New Zealand, there is a sharp divide between domestic reviews and international visitors. Ulva Island, off of Rakiura Stewart Island, is a nature reserve whose ferry attracts visitors from around the world. 60 per cent of reviews are left by overseas visitors.

Meanwhile on the mainland, Invercargill has plenty of top-rated attractions which are majoritively reviewed by domestic tourists. Particularly for motorheads Classic Motorcycle Mecca and Bill Richardson’s Transport World are top rated with 4.8 stars each, but around 52-55 per cent domestic reviews. It seems that many international travellers bypass Invercargill on their way to Bluff.

They’ll never know what they’re missing unless they make a pitstop at Bill Richardson’s transport museum.

Where is the most visited place in New Zealand?

In the Waikato Hobbiton brings in 600,000 visits a year. Only 22 per cent of Tripadvisor reviews are left by domestic tourists.

Queenstown Skyline sees 420,000 visits a year, with 26 per cent of reveiws left by domestic visitors. The Rotorua sister site seeing slightly more at 600,000.

Undoubtedly New Zealand’s natural taonga are among its biggest draw cards for international visitors. Certainly the international visitors represent the largest proportion of Tripadvisor reviews.

Piopiotahi / Milford Sound is the Jewel in the tourism crown. In 2019 Milford Sound saw 840,000 visits. In the next five years it is expected to reach one million annual visitors, which has prompted a large conservation and tourism management plan – the Milford Opportunities Project. Fiordland National park saw just 13 per cent of its reviews from domestic visitors.

Despite its high elevation Mt Cook / Aoraki has a relatively lower profile to Piopiotahi on the tourist trail. However it is a lot easier to access of the scenic inland route. Prior to the pandemic Mt Cook National Park saw 1,000,000 visits a year. Just 12 per cent of reviews were from Kiwis.

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