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The Lowdown | New Zealand

A Landscape that Inspires Legends Words by Anna Thomas

Where Southwestern Pacific Ocean

Quick Quote $800 per day (for 2 people including hotels)

Best Season Spring, Late Summer & Autumn

Thinking of Epic scenery, pristine beaches, warm and welcoming locals

Best Portrayed in The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Legend has it that Aotearoa New Zealand was fished from the sea by the daring demigod Maui, with the North Island as the fish, and the South Island as Maui’s canoe. 

 

North Island

The majority of the country’s 4.6 million people inhabit this island, with over a million in the beautiful harbour city of Auckland. Just a few hours north, and you’re in subtropical Northland and the nation’s birthplace. It is where man first set foot upon Aotearoa – ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’. Venture to the east, a surfer’s paradise and wine drinker’s nirvana while to the west you’ll explore the mildly wild side of the island. The center of the North Island is dominated by a volcanic plateau and geothermal wonderland while in the south, the city of Wellington is not only the political capital but also the cultural capital of New Zealand.

 

South Island

A 3.5hr ferry ride across Cook Strait, named after the great British explorer James Cook, takes you to the South Island. Dubbed ‘The Mainland’ many locals believe it to be the most scenically spectacular, as it incredibly diverse. The top of the island features golden sand beaches and lush forests of the stunning Abel Tasman National Park while the south boasts deep water Fiords. The dramatic snow peaked Southern Alps run along the Island’s spine.  Everything in between is picture postcard beauty.

Where to Stay

North Island

Auckland is a magical city straddling two harbors. A 40-minute ferry ride across the Waitemata Harbor takes you to Waiheke Island, a utopia of secret coves, beautiful beaches and rolling vineyards. The Boatshed is a chic luxury boutique hotel with nautical themes overlooking sun-filled Oneroa Bay. For accommodation with a personal touch, staying at Marino Ridge will have you swapping numbers and recipes with owners Pete and Caroline. Travel north to the Bay of Islands and discover Waitangi, the birthplace of New Zealand while relaxing in comfort at Kauri Cliffs. Tee off on the 18-hole golf course that’s entertained and challenged several US Presidents, and numerous other celebrities.

“Everyone expects to be wowed by New Zealand’s beauty, but what surprises them the most is the abundance of fabulous cafes and fine-dining. Kiwis take pride in sourcing locally with the emphasis on super fresh.”

3.5hrs south of Auckland will bring you to the bubbling mud and geothermal delights of Rotorua, which is the heartland of Maori culture. Nestled amidst a magnificent native forest is Treetops Lodge & Estate. The Lodge has on-site trout fishing and more than 40 miles of adventure trails. To the east, you’ll find Black Barn Retreats, set in Hawke’s Bay, the heart of wine country. They offer 17 unique properties, from an eight-bedroom lodge to a two bedroom historic cottage in the middle of the vines. Frequented by royalty and international people of note, (not that they would let on), Wharekauhau Estate is a short 15-minute helicopter ride or 1.5hr drive from Wellington. There’s 3000 acres of private land including ancient forests, peaceful lakes, rivers, and a wild and rugged coast, and their kitchen has adopted a "locavorian" approach to planning menus; everything is sourced fresh from their own gardens or in surrounding areas.

 

South Island

Bay of Many Coves Resort in the Marlborough Sounds is nestled amid a rolling landscape of untouched native bush that kisses the shoreline of the tranquil bay below.  Only accessed by boat, helicopter or walking, it offers perfect seclusion for a romantic getaway or luxury respite after a few days sailing.

For something completely different PurePods is more an experience than a place to stay. Imagine going to sleep with the starry sky above your head, and the native plants growing beneath your feet? Pure Pods is your own private nature show but you are totally protected from the elements by thick, indestructible glass ceilings and glass floorings. The pods are in six locations around the Canterbury region.

Blanket Bay is situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu on a 10,000 acre high country farm with quintessential South Island lake and mountain views. Just 40 minutes from the buzz of Queenstown the Lodge provides facilities and accommodation that eclipses the best New Zealand has to offer. Minaret Station is New Zealand's premier alpine experience, with guided hiking, fly-fishing, heli-skiing, and hunting amidst the spectacular Southern Alps.

Eichardts Private Hotel on the Queenstown lakefront is a local landmark and beautiful historic building. Whether you’re staying in the penthouse (which comes with a private chef and chauffer) or a suite, there’s luxury on every level and views to die for.

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Words by Anna Thomas New Zealand Editor

It would be difficult to find a Kiwi who has a better knowledge of New Zealand than Anna Thomas. As a journalist, film director and media specialist for Tourism New Zealand, Anna has travelled to every corner of the country. She is passionate and proud of the land she calls home, showcasing New Zealand’s unique and diverse landscapes, Maori culture, food and wine to millions of people around the globe.

Where to Eat

North Island

Auckland’s food scene serves up something for every taste, probably something to do with the melting pot of cultures who now inhabit it. The Blue Breeze Inn calls itself a ‘tiki bar’ and it’s where Polynesia meets the exotic tastes of Asia. Its light and vibrant flavors are served in a Pacific Island ambience which is relaxed and casual. For something more casually elegant Soul Bar has the ultimate waterfront setting and has consistently delivered outstanding fresh yet unpretentious food for nearly 20 years. Across the harbor to Waiheke Island and food and wine lovers are spoilt for choice. Tantalus with its hand painted tile walls and vine clippings that weave through warm lights is hard to go past. In the north, the historic Duke of Marlborough, in Russell, has the perfect combination of atmosphere, fine food and ultimate location. Another region renowned for world class wines is Hawke’s Bay.  There’s a plethora of vineyard dining options but the sitting below Te Mata Peak is Craggy Range, which serves up food equal to its world class wines. To the small but perfectly formed capital city of Wellington, and a new eatery making a big splash is Monte Cevino

 

South Island 

Hopgood's is housed in a heritage listed building in central Nelson, offering a stylish backdrop to their seasonally-based locally sourced dishes. It’s all about simple food done well. Just 20 minutes from the center of Christchurch city is the historic port town of Lyttleton, and home to the now internationally recognized tiny restaurant, Roots. Food lovers revel in the chef’s emphasis on foraging and fermentation. Paying homage to the native tree, Rata restaurant is an award winning eatery, owned and operated by Michelin star chef Josh Emett. Between Queenstown and Arrowtown is Amisfield, whose award winning chef works with a dedicated forager and an experienced charcutier to hunt, gather and curate fare which celebrates the region and its unique flavors.

In Wanaka, Kika has won a slew of awards and it’s easy to see why. Their shared plates and tapas are next level, and if you’re having difficulty deciding, let the staff guide you.  

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What to Do

North Island

A trip to New Zealand would not be complete without a visit to New Zealand’s most important historic site, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Situated on expansive grounds, with spectacular views over the Bay of Islands, Waitangi is where in 1840 New Zealand's founding document was signed between more than 500 Maori Chiefs and the British Crown. Known as the jewel of Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf for its beauty and tranquility, Waiheke Island is a haven of beautiful vineyards, olive groves and beaches, all just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. Take a private wine tour stopping for lunch at one of the many outstanding establishments. Rotorua is known for bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and natural hot springs, as well as showcasing our fascinating Maori culture. Head to Te Puia, to experience all of the above in a beautiful, natural setting. The best way to enjoy the New Zealand’s birdlife and forests is by sailing through them on a zipline. The Rotorua Canopy Tour is a great and exciting way to capture the true spirit of Aotearoa.

For Tolkien fans a visit to Hobbiton is a must. Wander the shire and enjoy a beer at “The Green Dragon Inn”. 

Beneath the green farmland of Waitomo lies a subterranean maze of spectacular limestone caverns. Take a guided tour into the heart of the Waitomo Caves and see the limestone formations, a geological wonder.  Exit via boat under the millions of twinkling glow-worms. In Wellington, a visit to Te Papa, the national museum, should not be missed.

 

South Island

The Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s only coastal National Park. Renowned for its golden beaches and clear turquoise water it is easily accessible by walking, kayaking or cruising. Do all three with Wilson’s Abel Tasman while staying in their historic family lodges.

Aoraki Mount Cook is New Zealand's highest mountain. Cover your shoes in snow and take an Alpine and Glacier Landing scenic flight.

Queenstown is the adrenalin capital of the world, and home of the bungy.  If you’re a thrill seeker, why not throw yourself from the Kawarau bridge, at AJ Hackett’s Bungy, where it all began. If you’re looking for something more sedate the region really is Better By Bike. The Arrowtown to Gibbston cycle trail is one of the most spectacular rides within the Queenstown trail network. For Tolkien followers, take a special Lord of the Rings tour and visit many of the trilogy’s filming locations including Ford of Bruinen and Lothlorien.

Discover the unspoilt and remote wilderness of Doubtful Sound on board the Fiordland Navigator on a special overnight tour.  There is time for kayaking in sheltered waters, a swim or an explore in the vessel's tender craft.  

An Afternoon in Auckland

Perched between two magnificent harbors, the Waitemata and Manakau, it’s not surprising the locals love their boats. Auckland is known as the city of sails and has more boats per capita than anywhere else in the world. It also has 48 volcanic cones. Rangitoto Island is a volcanic island just 25 mins ferry ride from downtown and can be easily walked in half a day.

For a more relaxed vibe, jump om a ferry to Waiheke Island, and while away the afternoon in one of the excellent vineyards, drinking in the views and world class wine.

If island life is not what you’re hankering, then have no fear, the city has something to satiate every need and desire. The chic Britomart precinct set near the waterfront, offers up a selection of supreme cafes and leading kiwi designers or ten minutes away is the hippest strip of Ponsonby where New Zealand’s coffee culture can be inhaled on every corner. For a short, break take a 12-minute ferry across the harbor to the seaside historic village of Devonport.  Wander the streets, beach and cafes and enjoy the relaxed vibe and historic architecture. For a spot of culture, head to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The imposing building has commanding views over the city and houses the world’s largest collection of Maori taonga (treasures), including tools, clothing, ancestral carvings and weavings. See the huge ocean-going waka (canoe), step inside a full-size Maori meeting house and experience a powerful Maori cultural performance which takes you on a journey through the story of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Auckland.

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