New Zealand’s Must-Have Experiences
Even though it’s only about two-thirds the size of California, New Zealand is chockablock with wonderful things to do and see. In fact, the hardest part of planning a trip to New Zealand is picking and choosing between the many delicious options.
I’ve been a frequent visitor and sometime resident of NZ (“N-Zed”) over the past several decades. During this time I’ve worked on a farm, made lifelong friends, and written several guidebooks to my home-away-from-home. After all this time, these are still my favorite ways to enjoy New Zealand:
Drive around and ogle the scenery
“Where’s the pretty part?” I’m never sure what to say when I hear this question because it’s all gorgeous. I love driving up to the very tip of the North Island and taking in the panoramic view from Cape Reinga — the point from which the Maoris (indigenous New Zealanders) believe souls depart. South of Cape Reinga, the Bay of Islands is comprised of several small communities and lots of picturesque islands and inlets.
On the South Island, Wanaka is a beautiful little community named for the lake it overlooks, and beyond Wanaka, the Haast Pass takes travelers to the West Coast, which offers a whole host of natural wonders — including Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.
In terms of scenery, the only mistake a visitor can make in New Zealand is not renting a car. I promise you, your view will be so much better if you drive yourself and stop when you feel the need to gaze longer at the water, or the wild flowers, or the myriad shades of green in the landscape.
Stay at a luxury lodge
New Zealand is well known as the home of some of the best luxury lodges in the world. A handful of these are promoted internationally and have become very expensive. Others — my favorites — are smaller, offer a more personal experience, and are every bit as charming.
The Manse, located in the Hawkes Bay area of the North Island, is a good example. Owners Gary and Dietske Grootelaar offer two rooms in a handsome historic home located on eight acres. The property includes a pool and an impressive veggie garden, chickens, a couple of cows, pigs, and lambs. themanse.co.nz
Gary is a Kiwi of Dutch descent who attended Oklahoma University on a golf scholarship. He’s also a talented chef who got his start in New Zealand before moving to Holland for more than 20 years, where he cooked in some of that country’s best restaurants. Today, this well-rounded chef/host is also a teaching pro and can accompany guests to play the nearby renowned Cape Kidnappers Golf Course. Gary also arranges helicopter transfers to fly fishing and drives guests to a river that’s just minutes from The Manse for excellent spin fishing.
Having said that, it’s wine that brings most guests to this area. Hawke’s Bay was New Zealand’s first wine region and is home to 70 or so wineries, with about half of those offering tasting. Several local companies offer wine tours — by car and on bikes. Whether you go on your own or with a group, try to visit Craggy Range, Black Barn Vineyard, Trinity Hill, Te Mata Estate, and Mission Estate. While each of these has their specialties, in general, Hawke’s Bay is known for excellent Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon blends, and Syrahs.
The house is furnished in European antiques the couple brought back to New Zealand. An elaborate breakfast is included in the tariff as are pre-dinner drinks and small bites. Much of the yummy food included in the gourmet dinners is sourced right from the property.
Go for a walk
I am in awe of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation and the walking tracks (trails) they maintain throughout the country. Short walks abound (my favorite is the Blue Pools Walking Track from Haast Highway), but if it’s possible, I recommend one of the country’s multi-day hikes.
On our last trip down under, my husband and I walked the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds region at the top of the South Island. The trail is 70 km (about 43 miles) and is usually done over four days. We chose it because we like to walk in scenic areas, but aren’t keen on schlepping a lot of stuff or — heaven forbid — actually roughing it.
On the Queen Charlotte Track, accommodation is in lodges along the route and walkers’ gear is transported from place to place by water taxis. Reservations for places to stay and coordination of water taxis is deftly handled by Wilderness Guides Picton. They can also provide gear, guides, mountain bikes, sea kayaks, and almost everything else you could possibly need. Wilderness Guides recommended No Road Inn, Mahana Lodge, and Raetihi Lodge, and we enjoyed them all. wildernessguidesnz.com
Getting There: Fly the National Carrier
What makes Air New Zealand one of the top ranked airlines in the world? It’s the fact that this flag carrier delivers a uniquely Kiwi experience. New Zealanders are incredibly friendly, so of course the cabin crew goes out of their way to be helpful. NZers have a playful sense of humor, so it’s not surprising that the in-flight safety videos are so funny they’ve been viewed on YouTube millions of times. Everyone is made to feel welcome in NZ and aboard the airline, where seats come in various sizes and shapes including Economy, Skycouch (great for families), Premium Economy, and Business Premiere. And there’s more: New Zealand is renowned for excellent wines and pure, healthful food, so I wasn’t surprised that my recent onboard meals included a perfect Pinot Gris from Nelson, olive oil from Hawke’s Bay, a selection of fine New Zealand cheeses, and a variety of fresh veggies.
As for the seats — remember how many times New Zealand has won the America’s Cup? Well, the airline seats were designed by Kiwi yacht builders. And more technical know-how went into creating a sophisticated in-flight entertainment system that makes the time in the air fly by. Elizabeth Hansen
The Manse : Photography courtesy of The Manse All other Photography courtesy of ADAMS / HANSEN STOCK PHOTOS