Why traipse halfway around the world to New Zealand? Because it’s stunning! And you will have it practically all to yourself! Volcanos, rain forests, glaciers, mountains, bright-blue/green lakes and ocean, lovely vineyards, lush farmland, world-class fishing, white sand beaches, penguins and luxurious lodges. Road trip!
NZ is 2/3 the size of California with only 4 million people…that’s 16 people per square kilometer. So when you’re driving around NZ outside of its metropolitan areas, you will encounter no traffic, no competition to see its gorgeous sites, and lots and lots of peaceful space. Exhale…
SEE THE SIGHTS
In preparation for our trip, I consulted with a friend-of-friend, who is a Kiwi (not a pejorative). He whipped out a map of his country and circled the places he thought we should see. He circled practically everything on the map! Message: All of NZ is worth seeing. Take Away: Choose a great hotel from the list below, consult its website’s Activities List, and take daily road trips from your lux lodge.
The following of NZ’s many sights are tried-and-true by Mimi’s Travel File:
- Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park — home of the highest mountains and the longest glaciers…alpine in the purest sense
- Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers in Westland National Park — While you can walk up to the base of these huge Ice Age glaciers, helicopter up the mountain and walk on top of the glacier. Such a thrill! FJ’s glacier is 100 feet deep and packed with ice that is blue due to lack of oxygen.
- Drive from Franz Joseph to Haast along the Haast River and beach — so beautiful!
- Lake Wanaka — lovely hiking and home of the dramatically-situated Rippon Vineyard
- Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park — dramatic peaks, dark blue water, frequent downpours that create numerous waterfalls
- Rotorua — Mauri central; on the drive from Coromandel Peninsula to Rotorua, you will see mountains, pastures on plains, steep, hilly terrain, sheep, cows, orchards
- Wai-o-tapu (park with volcanic landscapes and the Lady Knox geyser)
- Lake Taupo (NZ’s largest lake) and Turangi
- Napier and Hastings on Hawkes Bay
- Coromandel Peninsula — rolling hills+tropical rain forest+mountains+ocean — the CP has it all! Its Pauanui, Cathedral Cove and Hahei beaches are especially stunning.
- Bay of Islands (144 islands, beaches, bays, whales, penguins, dolphins, sailing)
- Helicopter to Whakaari (White) Island and Mount Tarawera! White Island is situated forty-eight kilometres from the east coast of the North Island and is New Zealand’s only active marine Volcano. Landing on the island’s crater floor, your pilot will guide you past the steaming fumaroles and boiling mud pools to look out over a steaming sulphurous crater lake. The steam melted the coating off my mirrored sunglasses!
- Tongariro National Park — Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a day-long hike with blue and emerald lakes & a dual World Heritage site, ranked among the top ten single-day treks in the world.
Here’s where you will want to stay, as these lodges get the most glowing write-ups in the travel media. Small buzz kill: They can be African-safari-expensive.
- Huka Lodge (Lake Taupo) — recommended by Andrew Harper, Mr. and Mrs. Smith Hotels, and Tablet Hotels, all of whom have good taste
- Poronui (Lake Taupo) — Andrew Harper raved about Poronui
- The Farm at Cape Kidnappers (Hawke’s Bay) — recommended by Andrew Harper and Tablet Hotels and LOOKS SPECTACULAR
- Craggy Range (Hawkes Bay) — a winery with attractive cottage accommodations, per Andrew Harper
- The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs (north end of island) — recommended by Andrew Harper, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Tablet Hotels; website looks beautiful
- Solitaire Lodge (Lake Tarawera, 20 minutes drive from Rotorua) — recommended by Small Luxury Hotels, Tablet Hotels, and Mimi’s Travel File (we stayed here in 2014)
- Wharekauhau Lodge and Country Estate (Featherstone) — recommended by Andrew Harper
- Eagles Nest (Bay of Islands) — recommended by Mr. and Mrs. Smith Hotels and Small Luxury Hotels; website looks spectacular
- Helena Bay (east coast, between Auckland and top of the island) — recommended by National Geographic Traveler Magazine
- Hotel DeBrett (Auckland) — recommended by Mr. and Mrs. Smith Hotels and Tablet Hotels; Auckland is an attractive city on the Pacific (light/bright blue water) with many sailboats, including several America’s Cup past contenders…watched a sailboat race there for two hours during dinner sitting outside at Euro restaurant
- Azur (Queenstown) — recommended by Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Tablet Hotels
- Kinross Cottages (Queenstown) — Travel+Leisure (2016) described it as “simple and tasteful accommodations on a vineyard that also has a popular wine bar.” It’s also relatively inexpensive. (see comment at the end of this post from my friend who just came back from Kinross Cottages; she was not pleased)
- Blanket Bay (between Queenstown and Glenorchy) — recommended by Andrew Harper, Tablet Hotels, and Small Luxury Hotels
- Edenhouse (Nelson, Abel Tasman region) — highly recommended by Andrew Harper
- Te Waonui Forest Retreat (Franz Joseph) — We stayed here. While it is the best hotel in Franz Joseph, it is merely okay.
- Eichardt’s Private Hotel (Queenstown) — recommended by Andrew Harper, Tablet Hotels, Small Luxury Hotels, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith
- Fiordland Lodge (Te Anau) — recommended by Andrew Harper
- Lake Timara Lodge (Hawkesbury, Marlborough) — recommended by Andrew Harper
- Matakauri Lodge (Queenstown, southern end of island) — recommended by Andrew Harper, Mr. and Mrs. Smith Hotels, Tablet Hotels and the FT’s How to Spend It magazine
- Otahuna Lodge (Christchurch) — recommended by Andrew Harper
WARNING: Do not stay at Whare Kea Lodge & Chalet (Lake Wanaka), as we did. As I was reaching for my first hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour, I was told that guests were allowed to take only two each (strike one). Dinner was at a long, group table. For two nights in a row, we dined with the owner, which could have been fascinating. However, she talked exclusively about herself and dominated the conversation (strike two). The small decks outside of the bedrooms are not private at all, so other guests walked right outside of the big glass doors by our bed (strike three)…and we paid the big bucks for this!
EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY
Lots of good vineyards here! Click through to Tourism New Zealand‘s site for a suggested itinerary. Travel+Leisure (2016) likes:
- Amisfield (Queenstown)
- Mt. Difficulty (Bannockburn)
- Quartz Reef (Cromwell)
- Rippon (on Lake Wanaka) — We loved it, too!
- Valli (Gibbston Valley)
In addition to being known for its lamb and venison, “The distinctive food and wine culture I found is vibrant — at once deeply rooted and globally attuned — and unexpectedly provided a glimpse of how the county has been shaped equally by its isolation and its transoceanic ties,” per Travel+Leisure (2016). Following is their list of best places to eat on the South Island:
- Fleurs Place (Moeraki) — “Fleur Sullivan, the godmother of modern Kiwi cooking, draws diners from all over t her marvelously ramshackle seaside spot.”
- Harlequin Public House (Christchurch) — “This is the place for platters of oysters, home comfort food, and a great list of New Zealand wines.”
- Olivers (Clyde) — “serves some of the best food around”
- Rata (Queenstown) — award-winning cuisine
- Riverstone Kitchen (near Moeraki) — “a prime stop”
- Roots (Lyttelton) — “a critically acclaimed bare-bones spot”
The things to buy here are jade and sheep skins.
When to go: November-April is the best time to visit, though it can rain any season.
One last thing…ATM’s can be few and far between, so stock up on cash!