There are many good reasons to visit New Zealand: wild and beautiful nature; endless outdoor adventures, including world-class fishing, hiking, and golf; it is easy to get around; the dining scene has never been better; a rich Maori cultural heritage; memorable places to stay; a warm and friendly people, and a favorable exchange rate, to name just a few. The time to visit Aotearoa, as the Maori first called New Zealand, is now.

I started my journey in Queenstown, the southernmost point of my itinerary. Surrounded by the Remarkables Range and set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is a ‘must see’ for anyone visiting New Zealand. Queenstown is the outdoor adventure hub and main gateway to Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most famous site within Fiordland, a rugged and impenetrable wilderness. Think high peaks rising from the clear waters, cascades rushing down the mountainsides in every direction, and lush rainforests with snow and glaciers at higher elevations. Instead of driving five hours each way from Queenstown to Milford, I took a helicopter flight, which got me there in 30 minutes, with views that left me breathless. I also recommend Glenorchy, a small village at the north end of Lake Wakatipu and the start of the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s top hikes. Don’t miss the Dart River Wilderness jet boat, a thrilling white-knuckle ride upriver.

Stay: In Queenstown

I recommend Azur, a modern luxury lodge consisting of nine individual villas with superb lake and mountain views. In the city center, Sofitel Queenstown offers warm hospitality with a French twist. In Glenorchy, stay at Blanket Bay, one of New Zealand’s finest luxury lodges and a destination unto itself, on a 60,000-acre estate with stunning views of Lake Wakatipu.

My next stop was Marlborough Sounds, a labyrinth of bays and green mountains at the top of the South Island. This is also a gateway to New Zealand’s premier wine region and the Queen Charlotte Track, one of my favorite hiking trails, meandering 40 miles through beautiful coastal scenery. For nature lovers, visit Motuara Island, a bird sanctuary and home to some of New Zealand’s rarest birds.

Stay: Bay of Many Coves.

This luxury lodge features an idyllic waterfront location, perfect seclusion, and pure relaxation.

Before leaving the South Island, I visited Kaikoura, one of the best places in the world for spotting seals, dolphins, and sperm whales in their natural environment. I had the opportunity to swim with a pod of Dusky Dolphins off the coast, which was simply exhilarating.

Stay: Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses, a contemporary resort composed of a main lodge and five treehouses – my personal favorites – suspended 30 feet from the ground. Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses

From Kaikoura, I flew to Rotorua, the heartland of Maori culture. Rotorua is also the center of New Zealand’s volcanic activity, including geysers and hot springs. I got a taste of geothermal wonders at Wai-O-Tapu. There are many lakes in the region, making this a perfect base for fishing, rafting, hiking, and mountain biking. For an ultimate experience, take a helicopter flight to White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano. You will feel as if you were walking on another planet. On the way back, stop at the summit of Mount Tarawera for 360 views of the region.

Stay: In Taupo and Rotorua. Huka Lodge

is perhaps New Zealand’s best-known luxury retreat, which has been welcoming guests for almost 100 years – including Queen Elizabeth II and located just above Huka Falls. In Rotorua: Treetops Lodge & Estate, a 2,500- acre property of native forest, lakes, and streams, offering endless activities on and off property, and enormous rooms and villas. For superb views from Pink Beach at the Lodgeevery room in a privileged, intimate setting, stay at Solitaire Lodge, on a peninsula on Lake Tarawera.

My next stop was the Bay of Islands, a region of turquoise waters and over 100 islands. This is a land steeped in history, including the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, commemorating the site where Maori chiefs signed the treaty with the British crown. The Museum of Waitangi is very moving, showing what the treaty meant to New Zealanders in the past and present.

Stay: The premier property in this area is The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs.

Enjoy private beaches, 6,000 acres of farmland and forest, horseback riding, and golf at one of the world’s top 50 courses.

Before returning to the U.S. I visited Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city and its commercial hub. Set between two harbors, Auckland was built on hills and dormant volcanoes, and boasts the southern hemisphere’s largest marina. A few ‘musts’ are dining at outstanding restaurants in the Britomart and Wynyard Quarters, a visit to the Auckland Art Gallery, and a day exploring Waiheke island’s beaches and 30 vineyards.

Stay: Auckland’s finest hotel is Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour,facing the Waitemata basin in the heart of the waterfront district. On the horizon is the Park Hyatt Auckland, opening Fall 2019. The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs

Insider Tips
  • Plan 8-9 months out for high season (December to February), and at least 4-6 months for the rest of the year. Demand exceeds supply, especially for the lodges.
  • Dress for any weather – especially on the South Island, where you can have ‘four seasons in one day’.
  • Consider traveling during the ‘shoulder’ season – especially March to May, which is fall in NZ. Fewer crowds, and better value.
  • Include at least one helicopter flight in your itinerary, for breathtaking views, to save time, and reach remote locations.
  • When staying at lodges, book a minimum of two to three nights. You will need a day to enjoy all the lodges have to offer.
  • Be flexible. Many of NZ’s outdoor activities are weather dependent, so be prepared to change your plans on short notice.
  • Less is More. Stay at fewer places, and enjoy a richer experience at each location.
  • Don’t combine New Zealand and Australia. There is enough to see and do in New Zealand to keep you busy for a month.
  • US citizens need an E.T.A. (Electronic Travel Authority) starting October 2019 prior to arriving in NZ.

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Written by: Ignacio Maza

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