For a road trip into the great outdoors, New Zealand’s wilderness is vast and varied. From snow-capped mountains, glacial lakes and spectacular waterfalls to glistening bays, silent fjords, lush wineries and some seriously great places to stay along the way, we bring you the ultimate North and South Island itinerary. The question is: which one will win you over?
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 below), 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.
Wend your way down to Taupo, a must-stop in the heart of North Island. On a bend of the mighty Waikato River is the foodie/fishing focused Huka Lodge. 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.
Carry on south 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). Back at the 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.
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.
Just a few miles north on a deer breeding farm is Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses. There are just five treehouses, all unique and jaw-droppingly beautiful. Set 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.
Next up is Queenstown and nowhere does outdoor adventure like this small town, a great place to get some proper 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, its lakefront address 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.
The trip's finale comes in the form of Minaret Station, a luxury lodge in the heart of the Southern Alps, only accessible by helicopter. Owned by four brothers who live and breathe these mountains, this is authentic New Zealand. So remote, everything comes in and out by helicopter, Minaret Station is as true to wilderness as you can get. 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. The four, premier alpine chalets complete with hot tubs and roaring open fires are your very own hiding place that nobody else can reach. Enjoy...