Top travel destinations for 2016
With new routes and competitive airfares, travel is more affordable and accessible than it has ever been. The obvious favourites - Australia and the Islands - will continue to be popular in the new year, but adventurous Kiwis are branching out and exploring unfamiliar territories.
Expedia's State of the Nation report claimed 93 per cent of Kiwis, over the age of 18 have been overseas, and 69 per cent have explored a different country in the past two years.
The average Kiwi traveller has visited eight countries, and 10 per cent have explored more than 20 countries, so it's safe to say intrepid Kiwis will continue to seek unique travel experiences in the new year.
"After analysing millions of flight search data from the past three years, it's really interesting to see that there is strong appetite for far-flung international travel around the world with both European and Asian cultural hubs as well as South American countries climbing significantly," says Emily Callahan, senior marketing manager at Skyscanner for Australia and New Zealand.
"We expect that, as with Australia before it, increased demand for Vietnam will be a given with the new Air New Zealand-Ho Chi Minh City route," says Lonely Planet's Asia-Pacific spokesperson, Chris Zeiher. "More Kiwis will be able to access all the wonders, and the incredible food, of one of Southeast Asia's most vibrant and interesting countries once the route is active in 2016,"
With so many destinations predicted to be hot in the new year, we've narrowed down the ones we think are worth considering.
Although new changes to the US visa-waiver programme and several border-tightening measures could mean Kiwi travellers may face more screening, it's worth it with the wealth of travel experiences to be had. Air New Zealand's new direct flights to Houston will open up the east coast and South of the US, and American Airlines' Auckland to LA flights in 2016 should mean competition driving airfares down.
"We're predicting New Orleans, Nashville, Memphis and Miami will be the most popular American destinations for Kiwis," says Brent Thomas, House of Travel's commercial director.
INSIDER TIP "New Orleans is well-known for its unique cuisine, but it's hard to find the heart of the city, where the locals hang out. Head to Frenchman St for the authentic New Orleans experience. In Nashville, make sure you get to Bluebird Cafe for songwriters' night –they don't take reservations for Sunday and Monday nights, but any other night be sure to book in advance," adds Thomas.
Lonely Planet's Chris Zeiher says that with the US National Parks Service celebrating 100 years in 2016, " there's no better year to do a US road trip and celebrate the great outdoors with a journey to and through the likes of Yosemite, Yellowstone or Zion National Parks". The National Park Service oversees the country's 59 national parks and hundreds of historic landmarks, and is responsible for a 340,000 square kilometre network of surreal and spectacular landscapes. Prepare to explore earth-rending canyons, alligator-infested swamplands, belching geysers and much more.
From taco festivals to mountain biking, Phoenix in America's southwest is full of surprises. Located in the Sonoran Desert, this city is hot and dry, with dust storms regularly rolling in. Don't worry, there are plenty of places to take shelter.
INSIDER TIP "The Jade Bar at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa is one of the best spots to watch the storms roll in – behind the floor to ceiling glass windows," says Georg Ruebensal, Expedia's Australia and New Zealand head.
"Once the storms have passed, venture out to the Heard Museum, where American Indian Art and History is brought to life over 130,000 square feet,"
Cruise the Mekong Delta, explore unspoilt landscapes, meet some of the friendliest locals and gorge on one of the world's finest cuisines - it may sound like a cliche but there really is something for every type of traveller in Vietnam. Statistics New Zealand figures show nearly 16,000 travellers left New Zealand for Vietnam in the 12 months to September, which was flat on the same period the previous year. Air New Zealand's new direct flights to Ho Chi Minh will only make the country more accessible.
"The central Vietnam beaches are well-worth exploring and, much like Bali and Thailand, offer a little something for all ages. We're predicting a number of Kiwis will take advantage of being able to take a mid-haul flight and explore somewhere they have never been before – particularly with the great value for money in eating, drinking and getting around Vietnam," says Thomas.
INSIDER TIP For Kiwis looking to get off the tourist trail, Thomas recommends including Hoi An: "Locals make silk lanterns which light up at night, against the backdrop of the stunning golden sands along the China Sea. For something a bit different, try out the Red Bridge Cooking School and bring a taste of Vietnam home with you."
INSIDER TIP Expedia's Ruebensal says: "Hop over to Da Nang, a small city halfway between Hanoi and Hoh Chi Minh City, but hurry - the five-star resorts are already in residence, the beaches are beautiful and the locals are friendly." In close proximity to Hoi An, the crowds will soon follow, he predicts. "Stay at beachside Naman Retreat and you won't worry either way – you'll be tucked into your pool villa without a care in the world."
It might be ranked No 2 in Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2016 rankings, but the experts at Lonely Planet reckon it's always No 1 for travellers in search of an otherworldly experience. As they put it, nowhere else on earth exemplifies that dog-eared "modern yet ancient" cliche like the land of the rising sun.
Tokyo's successful bid to host the Olympics in 2020 has raised the temperature of a feverish city amid a blur of new development, but beyond the suburbs Japan remains as elegant and enticing as its graceful wooden temples.
"Japan is on everyone's travel radar at the moment. It's a great value-for-money destination with the yen weak against most major foreign currencies. Additionally, it's relatively easy to get to with an abundance of low-cost carriers flying into Japan via Australia and Singapore," explains Zeiher.
It's also a good option for skiers in search of affordable ski holidays and the convenience of a stopover on the way to Europe with Japan Airlines.
INSIDER TIP Some will get a real kick out of the new rooms at Keio Plaza Hotel, predicts Sue Matson, Flight Centre NZ's general manager retail. Opened in late 2014, the furniture and room interiors feature the internationally renowned Japanese character, Hello Kitty.
Japan also recently overturned a 66-year-old law which banned dancing after midnight in Tokyo nightclubs. Travellers can now party on in the early hours of the morning with the change brought in as part of reforms in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Made up of more than 7000 islands, this archipelago is one of Asia's most exotic and overlooked getaways. From dreamy beaches and smouldering volcanoes to mesmerising rice terraces and crumbling Spanish relics,the Philippines are an under appreciated mystery just begging to be explored.
"The Philippine Islands are going to become more accessible in 2016, with Philippine Airlines flying direct to Manila from December 3, and Air New Zealand tipped to introduce their own direct flights to the Philippines next year. We're predicting Kiwis will be keen to make the most of exploring the Philippines while they remain a bit of an untouched treasure," says Thomas.
INSIDER TIP To really experience the country, Thomas suggests venturing out of Manila to White Beach in Boracay, exploring the manic metropolis of Cebu and visiting the longest underground river in Asia, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River.
Sydney and Melbourne will always be a great option for a quick getaway, but our neighbours across the ditch have a lot more to offer. Venture away from the usual suspects and explore hidden gems in South Australia, the Northern Territory or the Great Barrier Reef.
INSIDER TIP From the vibrant atmosphere of cosmopolitan Adelaide, to the pristine beaches of Kangaroo Island and the world-famous wine region of the Barossa, South Australia offers something for everyone, says Matson. "For those looking for a bit of gourmet travel, South Australia is a cultural haven for tourists looking to experience award winning wines, food and some of the most spectacular scenery in Australia."
If you haven't made it to The Great Barrier Reef yet, then add it to your bucket list, pronto!
INSIDER TIP The Great Barrier Reef needs to be seen to be believed and a quick hop over the pond to the Whitsundays should be near the top of the 2016 to-do list. Head over to Airlie Beach for a few days if you want to dip in and out of the reef on day trips, but for full on immersion, One&Only Hayman Island is smack bang in the heart of the action , says Ruebensal.
Australia's Northern Territory packs a punch for the adventure traveller: go croc-watching, bird-spotting, and visit the country's beating red heart - Uluru.
INSIDER TIP "The winters here are the definition of mild – pull out your T-shirts and jandals and head north for a few days. Check into the Oaks Elan Darwin – the upper floors have great views out over the ocean and unforgettable sunsets – and use the city as a base to explore the national parks. Hire a car and head to Litchfield for the day to see termite mountains and waterfalls, or splurge on a helicopter out to Kakadu to see the crocs," adds Ruebensal.
South America a continent of adventure, amazing food, pristine beaches, lush, wild jungles, indigenous culture, music, dance and history. It's a curious combination of the familiar – European languages, colonial churches and beach culture – but is also very diverse and is huge (2½ times the size of Australia and more than 7000km from tip to toe), so Matson recommends talking to a travel expert to ensure you have all the boxes ticked.
"You have the beautiful beaches of Brazil and the exotic Galapagos Islands. The Amazon is wild and untamed and absolutely fascinating for even the most seasoned traveller. In Venezuela you have the world's highest waterfall, and then there are the ancient cultures to be explored at Machu Picchu in Peru and Rio's Christ statue in Brazil," says Matson.
There's never a bad time to discover Rio but travellers to Brazil will score big time in 2016 as the country celebrates its status as host of the summer Olympics.
Brazil is a sexy destination all about its samba music, soccer stars and supermodel beauties strolling the streets. It is also a land of juxtaposition, with wild parties and wild jungles, adventure one minute, siesta the next. Brazil is also the perfect destination for voluntourism, and as that holiday type surges in popularity, so too will the popularity of Brazil and, particularly, projects in the Amazon jungle.
But if you haven't booked your Rio tickets yet, fear not because Ruebensal reckons it's going to be even more hectic in Brazil next year. Instead he recommends heading further south to Buenos Aires, the city that comes to life after dark.
INSIDER TIP "The locals don't eat until well after 10pm and after dinner you'll find them lining up for the secret speakeasys around town. Make Franks Bar your first stop – enter via the phone booth out front and get ready for serious cocktail creativity," says Ruebensal.
Head further south to Argentina and explore Buenos Aires - a city that's sexy, alive and confident. "The distance between New Zealand and Buenos Aires has seemed daunting for travellers in the past with indirect routings and long layovers meaning a total travel time of anywhere from 15 to 30 hours," Air New Zealand chief sales and commercial officer Cam Wallace says. But with Air New Zealand's new Buenos Aires route, Kiwis can be in Argentina in less than 12 hours, and the 8th largest country in the world is worth the travel time.
"This country is full of natural wonders. The southwest side borders the Andes, and El Calafate, Patagonia is a must-visit on any trip. Adventure travellers should make the trip to the Argentinian Patagonia to see the Perito Monreno Glacier in the Los Glaciares National Park. On the other end of the map, Iguacu Falls are another must see, especially if you wish to travel to Brazil too," says Callahan.
Surfers, sun-seekers and lovers of the fly and flop holiday, Hawaii should be on your radar. Although not a new destination, competition beween Air New Zealand and Hawaiian Airlines on the route should drive airfares down, making the archipelago more accessible.
INSIDER TIP "Kiwis who have been to Honolulu or Waikiki are realising that this isn't all Hawaii has to offer, and are starting to explore the more unique and underdeveloped islands," says Thomas.
"Kaua'i and Maui are our picks for the pure Hawaii experience of scenery, culture and culinary treats. Prepare to have your mind blown by huge volcanic craters of hardened lava and stunning beaches at Haleakala National Park, and make sure you sample the amazing fish tacos at Maui's Paia Fish Market. Kaua'i is your pick for rainforests and waterfalls, but you will need a car to get out and explore – keep an eye out for sea turtles on the South Shore and Queen's Bath."
When it comes to domestic travel, the sights and sounds of Queenstown dominate, according to Expedia. However, New Zealanders also want to experience the iconic city destinations that attract tourists from around the world, such as Wellington, known for its arts, culture and vibrant bar/restaurant scene, and Auckland, the City of Sails with its trendy suburbs such as Ponsonby and Kingsland.
INSIDER TIP "You're missing out if you haven't yet found the time to explore the Coromandel Peninsula," says Ruebensal, suggesting a "wander, cycle, hike, horse ride or sail along the coast".
With international arrivals to New Zealand topping more than 3 million in 2015, New Zealand's popular holiday spots are being well traversed by International visitors. Don't assume that a quick weekend away can be planned at the last minute or you may be finding yourself at home watching TV, warns Zeiher.
INSIDER TIP "For those wanting a closer-to-home experience, there's no better place than that magnificent island of wine, Waiheke Island. Now's the time to discover the magic of Waiheke as the world's attention is trained on this little patch of heaven," says Zeiher.
IT'S NOT JUST THE DESTINATION
Travellers demand authenticity and Zeiher believes they are seeking this, regardless of where they go. Everything they choose to pursue is being filtered through this lens - from the meals they're eating to the places in which they're staying. This connection is what travellers want to share on social media.
Research from Expedia also shows that bucket lists are not just for destinations. More than a third of Kiwis would like to take a luxury cruise (35 per cent); followed closely by visiting one or more of the Seven Wonders of the World (33 per cent); holidaying like a VIP in luxury (33 per cent); seeing the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis (29 per cent); and driving around the country in a motorhome/caravan (28 per cent).
Many Kiwis have already ticked off the big ticket experiences, including visiting a major theme park such as Disneyland, Alton Towers or Wet 'n' Wild, camping or glamping and seeing snow at Christmas.
Another deeply patriotic experience that tops most Kiwis' bucket list is visiting a site of historical significance, such as Gallipoli. Two in five New Zealanders say they have ticked this experience off their bucket list, up 2 per cent on the 2014 results, perhaps as a result of the ANZAC Centenary in April this year, according to Expedia.
Where are you heading in 2016? Let us know in the comments.