Tourists – usually wealthy travellers from Britain, Australia or the United States – have been coming to New Zealand to see the natural beauty and rugged landscapes since the late 19th century. The first local guidebook was published in 1882.
Rotorua’s impressive geysers and hot springs were popular with tourists. Māori developed the tourist industry there, providing guides, canoes, meals, accommodation and entertainment. The Pink and White Terraces at Lake Rotomahana were a main attraction until they were buried by the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886.
People believed that the waters from the hot springs cured all types of diseases, so in the early 1900s the government developed spa health resorts in Rotorua.
In the 19th century the South Island’s main tourist areas were Aoraki/Mt Cook, the glaciers, Lake Te Anau and Milford Sound. Because of the weather these regions were only accessible for five months a year, so hotels and huts were empty much of the time.
The first motor coach service to Aoraki/Mt Cook started in 1906 and ski fields were set up, but it was difficult to get enough tourists to make a profit.
In the early 20th century, New Zealanders enjoyed day excursions to places like Caroline Bay in Timaru, Arthur’s Pass, Rotorua, Te Aroha, Waitomo Caves and Waihī Beach. As motor vehicles became more widely used, families explored South Island lakes and far north beaches. New Zealanders generally had simple holidays, staying in baches (holiday huts) or caravans.
In the mid-20th century, international visitors thought New Zealand was very backward – the whole country seemed to close down at weekends.
In the 1960s airlines started flying from Britain and the United States to New Zealand. This made it easier and cheaper for people to travel to New Zealand and the tourist industry grew quickly.
The government tried to find more ways to entertain tourists. It lent money for people to build tourist facilities, like the Agrodome in Rotorua, which has farming displays and shows.
More people from non-English-speaking countries, like Japan and Germany, started to travel to New Zealand.
Adventure and ecotourism
In 1988 the world’s first commercial bungy jump was opened near Queenstown. With other activities like jet boating, skiing, rafting and paragliding, Queenstown became known as the adventure capital of the world.
Wildlife and nature tours also became popular, starting with whale-watching trips in Kaikōura.