On the exquisite tip of the sub-tropical North Island, adventure and repose beckons in the Bay of Islands, a maritime park with an abundance of marine life. Driving around the Hawkes Bay wineries brings the opportunity to sample oaky chardonnays and rich reds. In Auckland, aptly named the ‘City of Sails’, all is cultured and calm, the centre abounding with fine restaurants and shops; Waitemata Harbour a mass of billowing sails. In Rotorua, the ground bubbles with hot springs, geysers and mud pools – the indigenous Maoris to this day cooking the food for their ‘hangi’ feasts in red clay pits hollowed into the earth.
The South Island has a character all of its own and is home to Queenstown, the country’s adventure capital and simply brimming with youthful vitality. Hike through Abel Tasman National Park, renowned for its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs and spectacular coastal track; soar high over the ice caves and crevasses of Mount Cook in a helicopter with a view to landing on a glacier for a gourmet lunch with champagne.
And yet more, the thrill of a whale encounter in Kaikoura or jet boat rides along the Shotover River. Across this magical realm lie the legendary super-lodges; astonishingly stylish and luxurious enclaves of privacy and tranquillity. Yet the final lasting impressions will be of the local people, it is they who make this land special.
New Zealand’s seasons are the opposite to those in the UK and less extreme. The North Island is sub-tropical whilst the South Island is temperate. The warmest and most popular months to visit are from December to April, although the shoulder seasons are also very pleasant and highly recommended.
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Auckland is New Zealand’s largest – and most diverse – city. Set between two magnificent harbours with superyachts moored just metres away, it’s no wonder it is nicknamed the ‘City of Sails’. Offering a sizzling blend of urban sophistication and multicultural style, Auckland is comprised of beautiful beaches, expansive hiking trails, enchanting islands, thermal springs and impressive vineyards. Try one of the 30 boutique wineries at Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf, explore the dramatic black sand beaches in the West, and sample gourmet cuisine from around the globe down by the Viaduct Harbour.
Known for both its astounding beauty and its rich history, Bay of Islands is a subtropical micro-region encompassing 144 islands between Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula. Much of the action here is on water, with yachting, kayaking, diving, cruising, big-game fishing and swimming with dolphins all popular during the summer months. Visit New Zealand’s most important historic site, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, or immerse yourself in Maori culture in Kaikohe. Find time to stroll through the lush Waipoua Forest to stand face to face with Tane Mahuta – the ‘Lord of the Forest’ and the world’s largest Kauri tree.
As well as showcasing New Zealand’s fascinating Maori culture, this gem on the North Island is known for its bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and natural hot springs. Sitting within the Pacific Rim of Fire, Rotorua is a geothermal nirvana. After marvelling at the brightly coloured turquoise and orange crater lakes at Wai-o-tapu Thermal Valley, enjoy a simple soak in one of the many hot streams. The area is also home to some of the rarest native birds, reptiles and fish, making it ideal for nature lovers. For a culture fix, head to Rotorua Musuem where fantastic exhibits on Maori art and history are on display.
In the middle of the South Island lies Christchurch, New Zealand’s oldest city and one of the world’s most unique destinations. Once renowned for its classic neo-gothic architecture, much of the city’s heritage was destroyed in the February 2011 earthquake; now, following extensive urban reconstruction, it’s one of the top places to visit in the country. Set against an impressive alps-to-ocean backdrop, the city is alive with a plethora of exciting bars and restaurants, with new establishments popping up regularly. Look out for the vivid street art as you explore the parks, gardens and avenues, and keep your eyes open for the transitional Cardboard Cathedral, a symbolic structure of hope. Being the gateway to Canterbury, Christchurch is also the perfect location from which to explore Arthur’s Pass National Park.
Famously recognised as one of New Zealand’s leading producers of wine, Hawke’s Bay on the North Island should be your first point of call on any wine trail. Featuring the country’s oldest operating winery, as well as over 30 others open for tastings, visitors can expect to sample some of the finest cabernet sauvignons, merlots and syrahs ever produced. For a wine tour with a difference, rent a bicycle and cycle from one winery to another; alternatively, take to one of the numerous flat trails and soak in the impressive scenery as you cycle by. The seaside city of Napier is an Art Deco marvel and a must see - rebuilt after the 1930’s earthquake, it reflects the architectural styles of the times. While there, shop at the farmers' market for locally grown delicacies, indulge in artisan gourmet food, and join the lunchers at Napier’s Great Long Lunch.
Fiordland is one of the most striking and aesthetically-pleasing areas of New Zealand. Situated on the west coast of the South Island, the landscape is punctuated by inviting lakes, ancient rainforests clinging to gigantic mountains, and waterfalls cascading into deep black fiords. Venture into Fiorland National Park and explore Milford Sounds – the spectacular fusion of nature described by Rudyard Kipling as the 'eighth wonder of the world'. Look out for penguins and dolphins, as well as whales – the occasional one makes it all the way into the fiords. Even more secluded is Doubtful Sound. This Māori-named 'place of silence' is an active hive of wildlife and greater in size than Milford Sound, but far less visited.
New Zealand’s year-round adrenaline capital lies on the shores of Lake Wakatipu in the South Island. Skydiving, white water rafting and jet boating are a must do while here; bungy jumping, canyon swinging and skiing in the winter are also available. For the more faint of heart, Queenstown offers an array of gentle walking and hiking trails. Off-the-grid afternoons come in the form of private helicopter flights to remote alpine locations for a champagne picnics, while indulgence can be found in the luxurious boutique spas dotted throughout the city. Head out to the Central Otago region, where exquisite wines are to be savoured against a backdrop of ‘Middle-Earth’ – made famous in Lord of the Rings.
A lively city, proud of its craft beer and thriving café scene, Wellington is New Zealand’s arts and culture capital. Situated at the southern end of the North Island alongside a dramatic harbour, it exudes an intoxicating mix of culture, history, nature and cuisine. The country’s biggest food festival - Visa Wellington On A Plate - falls in the middle of August, and sees producers, suppliers, eateries and diners coming together for 17 days of taste-bud-tantalising events. For amazing views over the city, take the cable car up the hill to Kelburn; to experience the best of Wellington’s waterfront, try the City to Sea walk.
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New Zealand, with its abundance of captivating landscapes, unique attractions and delectable cuisines, is a country like no other - a country where anything is possible. Often considered the adventure capital of the world, caving, rafting, off-road driving, bungy jumping, zip-lining and skydiving are just a few of the many activities you can try if adrenaline-highs are your thing. If they’re not, New Zealand has plenty of other unique and surprising experiences. Below, our travel experts round up the best things to do in New Zealand.
New Zealand is a food lover’s paradise. Having developed a distinct Pacific Rim cuisine - drawing inspiration from Europe, Asia and Polynesia - you’ll encounter an unexpected cacophony of tastes, flavours and culinary influences as you traverse the islands. Fresh ingredients harvested from the land and seas are paramount to all dishes here: for superb seafood, try the local specialities of crayfish in Kaikoura, Bluff oysters in Southland and greenshell mussels in Marlborough; for a truly authentic experience, rise early on a weekend and immerse yourself in a local farmers market (such as Matakana Farmers Market in Auckland) where seasonal artisan delicacies are sure to be found.
Don’t miss out on a wine trail – cycle yourself around or be chauffeur driven from estate to estate. The Hawke's Bay is well-known for Bordeaux Blends, Syrah and Chardonnay, while Marlborough has world-class Sauvignon Blancs. Before you leave, make time to enjoy the communal experience of the hāngī in Rotorua, Christchurch or Northland – this indigenous Māori ‘roast dinner’ is cooked in the earth using hot rocks, and is traditionally accompanied by a welcome ceremony and a cultural performance.
New Zealand is renowned for its volcanic formations and geothermal landscape wonders. The area around Rotorua is bursting with bubbling mud pools, hot springs and threads of steam drifting upwards from parks, river banks and drains. Walkways around Rotoura offer easy access and fantastic vantage points from which to observe these geothermal views. At Lake Taupo, you can explore the active geothermal areas of Craters of the Moon and Orakei Korako, as well as walking through ancient rainforest in Whirinaki and Pureora Forest Parks.
Home to an amazing array of golf courses set in unbelievable locations, New Zealand is a definite must-visit for golf enthusiasts. A selection of the 400 plus courses have even been hand-picked by leading industry experts and categorised into the highly aspirational Marque Courses with international interest, and the Experience Courses which showcase local culture, community spirit and country charm. Try your swing on the world-famous course in Hawke’s Bay - built on a ridge and valley landscape with unparalleled views of the ocean above dramatic cliffs, the Cape Kidnappers par 71 golf course was designed by legendary golf architect Tom Doak in 2004. For ultimate golfing experience, stay at one of the luxury lodges linked to a show stopping golf course and make the most of the gourmet cuisine and world class wines also on offer.
There are few other places on earth where you can witness such a striking array of wildlife and nature all in the space of one day. Head to Kaikoura on the east coast of the South Island to easily spot sperm whales all year round; wait until December through March to see Orca whales, or June through July to see humpback whales. You’ll perhaps catch sight of the korora - the world’s smallest blue penguin - when they come to shore at night in the Marlborough Sounds, Dunedin and Akaora Harbour areas. At Cape Kidnappers, you can get up close with the rare and endangered Kiwi on a specialist guided discovery walk.
Ever since the first Lord of the Rings movie was released, New Zealand has become synonymous with Middle Earth - and it’s easy to see why. Gentle waterfalls cascade down into bubbling brooks, snow-capped peaks tower over plush forest valleys and ancient glaciers stand frozen in time. With more than 150 locations throughout the country having featured in the filming, you can almost catch a glimpse of Hobbit life wherever you are. For a more specialised experience, take a guided tour through the picturesque 1,250 acre sheep farm with spectacular views across to the Kaimai Ranges on the North Island, home of the Hobbiton Movie Set.
For one of the most rewarding ways to see New Zealand’s outstanding natural beauty, lace up your walking boots and adventure out to some of the most picturesque walking and hiking trails. Think sweeping coastlines, lush native bush, majestic mountain ranges, alpine wildlife and fresh, fresh air. Take your New Zealand hiking adventure to the next level with a native private guide, who can customise an inspiring itinerary tailored specifically to your preferences and needs. We recommend the Milford Track – an easy to intermediate hike passing New Zealand’s tallest waterfall, spectacular valleys, and glacier-carved fiords. The amazing Tongariro Northern Circuit will also provide an unforgettable experience as you encircle the cone of Mount Ngauruhoe, New Zealand’s most active volcano.
The New Zealand lifestyle is infused with Māori cultures and values. As the tangata whenua - the indigenous people of the land of Aotearoa - their heritage is integral to the country’s identity. The best place to experience Māori culture is on a marae (tribal meeting ground); the Northland, Auckland, Rotoura and Canterbury regions all offer organised tours featuring traditional Māori welcomes with speeches and singing. You’ll also get to see carved meeting houses, greet the locals with the traditional pressing of noses, and enjoy a hāngi feast cooked in earth ovens.
New Zealand is an adventurer seeker’s paradise. Considered by many to be the adventure capital of the world, there is literally something to suit everyone – be it a bucket list must-do, an adrenaline-chasing highlight, or a good old-fashioned hike through unbelievable landscapes. Driving enthusiasts will relish the opportunity to go off-road on a number of varying terrains; from gravel to dirt, colossal sand dunes to sheep trails up a hillside, get ready to witness New Zealand’s scenic wilderness like never before. If you prefer water over land, you can try your hand at rafting – quiet drifts through forest rivers are best for the fainter of heart, while white-knuckled, wide-eyed journeys down turbulent rapids can be found in Lake Taupo's Tongariro River.
To really get under the skin of the country, a number of spectacular caves are open for exploration with experienced guides able to turn you into a caver in a single day. Or, you might prefer to see New Zealand’s spectacular geography from the sky – get a glimpse of the beautiful glacier lakes and peaks of the Southern Alps with an aviation helicopter adventure.
Bay of Islands is one of the world's ultimate maritime playgrounds. Turquoise waters surround 144 islands; there are vast swathes of untouched beach, big game fishing, kayaking and a host of sailing opportunities (spending overnight onboard a luxury catamaran comes highly recommended). It's also home to Eagles Nest (pictured), a 75 acre estate on its own private ridgeline. There are just five drop-dead gorgeous Mediterranean-esque villas including Rahimoana with its sliding glass wall, 25 metre infinity pool, private beach and spellbinding views of the island-flecked ocean. After days spent exploring, we can't think of a bolthole we'd rather be.
...to Taupo, where the foodie/fishing focused Huka Lodge can be found on a bend of the mighty Waikato River. Park-like grounds surround this riverside sanctuary, and a short walk beyond its gates is Huka Falls. Once a simple angler's lodge, it is now swish but homely, with roaring fires, a cosy library and some of the best food you'll find in the north. Break out of the bubble, wader yourself up and plunge through rivers fly-fishing; take an adrenalin fuelled white water rafting trip down the Waikato; you can jet boat, sky dive or indulge in style on a champagne helicopter excursion over the volcanic heartland.
...to Wairarapa wine region. Overlooking the wild surf of Palliser Bay is Wharekauhau Country Estate, a coastal ranch surrounded by 5,000 acres of a working sheep farm. Embrace nature and hike through ancient forests past crystal-clear streams; take a four-wheel drive farm tour, horse ride along the coast or try quad biking. Explore black sand beaches, walk to Cape Palliser Lighthouse and the nearby seal colony or go on a wine tour (there are 29 boutique wineries in striking distance so tasting comes with the territory).
...ranch, the cottages have crackling fires, squishy sofas and huge beds. Food is flat-out fabulous with a strong farm to table stance: fruits from the orchard, vegetables from the garden, honey from local bees, wild fennel from the coast (it's not uncommon to see a chef out foraging). The dinner menu changes with the seasons but expect lots of beef and lamb. If you're feeling a touch exhausted after all the sightseeing, slope off for a game of croquet in the hotel's extensive gardens or direct yourself towards the swimming pool and spa for a spot of pampering.
Hop on a plane for the uber-quick flight from Wellington to Christchurch before picking up another set of wheels. No South Island trip would feel right without stopping off in Kaikoura, described by National Geographic as 'a maritime Serengeti'. It's home to sperm whales, dolphins, seals and albatross all year round, and if you're lucky the odd blue whale and Orca. Swimming with Kaikoura's dusky dolphins is real once-in-a- lifetime stuff. There are also fishing trips or get a local guide to take you crayfish diving.
...on a deer breeding farm is Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses - a collection of just five unique and jaw-droppingly beautiful treehouses. Perched ten metres above ground in the canopy of a native Kanuka grove, these woodclad masterpieces are like bedrooms in the sky. Run by a husband and wife team, Fiona is a former Masterchef finalist so there's a foodie focus. Expect lots of venison and crayfish (kai means 'to eat' koura means 'crayfish') alongside their own olive oil. And for every guest that stays, the owners plant a native tree or shrub.
Nowhere does outdoor adventure like this small town, a great place to get some adrenalin-pumping fun. Go cross-country cycling, hang glide or hurtle through the air on a sky dive. Take a deep breath and go bungee jumping, zip-lining or canyon swinging and, if you're visiting in winter, hit the ski slopes. Whatever the season, Queenstown buzzes with outdoorsy energy. A hop from the action is Eichardt's Private Hotel, whose lakefront address is something of a landmark. Once the haunt of local gold miners, it is now a boutique property. Its historic bar is fabulously famous: the atmosphere is brilliant and the wines world-class.
...stay at Minaret Station in the heart of the Southern Alps. Owned by four brothers who live and breathe these mountains, this is authentic New Zealand. So remote, everything comes in and out by helicopter, including you. There are no roads, just gargantuan mountains and some of the purest air you'll ever breathe. Adventures come on foot, skis, two wheels, on water or in the sky. Fly-fish the remotest rivers, mountain bike deep into the wilds or go heli-skiing. Fly over fjords, landing on secluded beaches. Soar above lakes, glaciers, mountains and waterfalls, touching down wherever, whenever. Enjoy.