New Zealand is a nature lover’s paradise. The generous hospitality of its people and rustic luxury of its many posh lodges, combined with the enviable 15,000 km/9,300 mi coastline, storybook views, and great wine make this remote South Pacific island nation a divine departure from the everyday resort.
Cultural Mother Lode
Settled by Melanesian and Society Island travelers around the 13th century, New Zealand’s native people were a seafaring tribe, creating distinctive waka canoes that often approached 40 m/130 ft in length with stations for 80 paddlers. Creating a culture all their own, the Maori developed a rich heritage that is as beautiful as it is interesting, establishing an early marine presence that continues today. Boats are everywhere, sailing, cruising, fishing, and jetting through canyons down rivers like the Overshot or competing with the world’s best in the Volvo Ocean Race. Adrenaline thrills are plentiful.
The elaborate carvings of the Maori, on boats, meeting houses, tattoos, and art, combined with later Dutch and British trade influences broke trail for exquisite subtropical gardens, stately villages, and massive sheep stations. For such a small nation, New Zealand holds dramatic discoveries in its mountain lakes, rugged ranges, enormous waterfalls, and stunning geophysical features, far surpassing that of most destinations, and guaranteed to engage and enchant even the most well-traveled guests.
Activities: Packing for Action
New Zealanders love the outdoors, and are enthusiastic participants in every possible pursuit, from surfing and sailing to hiking, biking, diving, and rafting. That enthusiasm spills over into cuisine, winemaking, gardening, and even spectatorship, as the Kiwis embrace the passionate pastime of watching All Blacks football games, drawing in tourists like lifelong neighbors.
Coastal treks like that along the Abel Tasman, with its incredibly pristine crescent beaches, mountain hikes that trim the coastline, world class sailing, and terrific off season skiing for northern hemisphere travelers, this destination is the epitome of active leisure. When all is done for the day, however, few destinations match the warmth and congeniality of the Kiwis, delivering culinary feasts and comforts to cushion the end of the day.
Skiing is king of the southern hemisphere winter in Queenstown and the surrounding mountains, with a clutch of resorts keyed into powder, heli, backcountry, and snowpark skiing. Bay of Islands fishing, diving, and sailing is exceptional, with the astonishing Ninety-Mile Beach, the spellbinding Waitangi Treaty Grounds, and Rainbow Falls supplanting the active pursuits.
Cape Kidnappers Golf Course, constructed on cliffs 140 meters above Hawke’s Bay, presents play recognized globally as one of the top courses in the world. Nearby, the Kinloch hybrid Jack Nicholas course and the Wairakei course allow similar beauty and challenge, with luxury accommodations nearby at Dunalistair House or the Farm at Cape Kidnappers.
Accommodations: Bolthole to Bach
Snow and water sports enthusiasts will find luxurious contemporary accommodations close to Queenstown’s magnificent mountain playgrounds. A favorite posh post, The Spire is a chic, inconspicuous bolthole in the center of Queenstown, with flawless service, extra comfy beds in oversize rooms, and a similarly under the radar culinary gem at Botswana Butchery, just a steps from the hotel. Dine in, if you like, at the stylish No5 Church Lane, but leave room for the Chocolate & Chestnut pudding or the Hokey Pokey Kiwi ice cream confection. A wonderful paradise tucked into the nearby mountains is the Millbrook Resort.
Huka Lodge has inspired hospitality across New Zealand since 1924, establishing itself as the benchmark to measure all others. With perfectly detailed grounds, lovely accommodations, and discreet, attentive service, the lodge offers an incredibly beautiful backdrop for a host of outdoor adventures. The resort’s 71 acres on the banks of the Waikatu River near the thundering Huka Falls serve as the backdrop for 25 of the world’s most thoughtfully appointed suites.
Extraordinary views, nature hikes, and quiet solitude are the order of the day at most of the expansive lodges successfully combining a rustic feel with quintessential luxury. The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, 3 hours from Auckland, boasts 6000 acres of private land overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Cape Brett, and the Cavalli Islands. A golf course, tennis courts, pool, hot tub, and spa, along with three secluded beaches for swimming make this a destination in itself. Extend the sports list with shooting clays, boar hunts, and bird watching.
Blanket Bay is one of the finest New Zealand lodges, offering a complete exhale in the Southern Alps. On the shore of Lake Wakatipu, this luxurious indulgence is perfect for those hiking the Routeburn or Milford tracks, but it’s also close to wineries, and skiing. Trips down the Shotover River on a jet boat, and heli tours of Milford Sound are options.
Stylish urban guests find comfort and solace at the Sofitel Auckland, close to the upscale restaurants, bars, and entertainment of Viaduct Harbor for those arriving by boat. A small, boutique hotel, the DeBrett delivers an eclectic stay with 25 rooms and suites each bearing their own individual design, with personalized service to match. Just a ferry ride away, there’s a bach, that’s Kiwi for beach house, on Waiheke Island. An eclectic stay, The Boatshed pampers guests with beach cottages nestled next to the sea. Casual elegance, a great spa, and proximity to several of New Zealand’s best wineries make it an excellent choice.
Dishes that Delight
Auckland, of course, boasts a wide range of dining styles influenced by local ingredients. The classic contemporary Clooney is a must for the big night out, rewarding the palate with clean flavors designed to stimulate the mind and please the senses. Select a seat at the Sidart chef’s table for a series of delightful treats, beginning with a glass of Billecart-Salmon Champagne. For European trained perfection and reliable excellence, reserve a table at The French Cafe, a longstanding favorite run by a husband and wife team.
Dining destinations worth the drive include Whitebait in Wellington, Wild Earth in Cromwell, the Marina Restaurant and Bar in Gisborne, and at the stunning Lochmara Lodge in Queen Charlotte Sound.
New Zealand’s volcanic soils, rocky coasts, and cool climate have contributed to production of excellent wines grown in the biodynamic style, winning international acclaim. While there are plenty of vineyards on both islands, Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough, Otago, Gisbourne regions have earned solid credentials for a wide range of varietals.
The Mission Estate Winery in Hawke’s Bay, established in 1831 by French missionaries, crafts excellent bottles of Chardonnay and Syrah, with a restaurant on site for a full tasting experience. Greystone Vineyards, just north of Christchurch, has made its mark in England with its Thomas Brothers Decanter trophy winning Pinot Noir. The winery welcomes guests with bike trails winding through the vineyards, picnic tables, tastings, and a full cellar. And, of course, the clutch of wineries on Waiheke Island contribute to the mix. Whether you wish to hire a car, ride a bike, or join a tour, go to the Wines of New Zealand page to review all the delicious options. Cheers, mate!