It’s a long, long flight, but New Zealand is well worth it. Find yourself on a vast, deserted beach, ‘lose’ yourself in ancient rainforests, and reinvent yourself as an explorer scaling a snowy peak. Maori legends will add a layer of mystery to your visit to Aotearoa – the ‘land of the long white cloud’ – and after all the anticipation and adrenaline, you can kick back with giant green-lipped mussels harvested off the local rocks, and a bottle of classy sauvignon blanc from one of the country’s vineyards.
Fiords: Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Manapouri… the evocative names for wild regions where snow-capped peaks plunge deep into fiords, mirrored perfectly in the clear blue water. The tranquillity is disturbed only by waterfalls raging over rocks from dizzying heights, exotic birds calling in the dense rainforest and dolphins breaking the surface. This is a walkers’ wonderland and you’ll want to spend as much of your time as possible high up and in the open air, but do visit the underwater observatory to get a 360-degree view of life beneath the fiords.
Beach: Make the vibrant coastal town of Whitianga your base. First stop is Cathedral Cove (aka Te Whanganui-A-Hei) on the Coromandel pensinsula, unique for the giant, jagged arches of rock that interrupt the expanse of white sand. Pristine reefs and underwater caves make for some great diving. Decompress on Hot Water Beach, where you can dig into the sand to reveal hot spring water.
www.cathedralcove.co.nz or www.whitianga.co.nz.
Exploration: The best way to visit the Bay of Islands is to rent a car and explore the quiet fishing villages, first settled by whalers in the 18th century. If the views are beautiful by day, they are magical at dusk, and the diving opportunities are rated among the best in the world. Rent a boat and venture out into the ocean, learn to sail or try a hair-raising skydive.
Surf: Thousands of surfers test their skills at Piha, 40 kilometres from Auckland, every year. Iron-sand beaches and rugged parkland frame this break, famous for treacherous rips and currents that have snapped canoes in two. Experienced surfers will raise their game, while novices can take up the sport at one of the many surf schools.
Soak: A bonanza of geothermal pools and sulphurous springs, Rotorua has been a prime pampering spot for more than 160 years. Maori legend says it was created by two spirit sisters carrying fire to their frozen brother at the Pink and White Terraces, destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1886. Now the native residents welcome visitors with spellbinding dances and feasts.
Walk: Abel Tasman National Park, named after the Dutch explorer who ‘discovered’ New Zealand, is in the Nelson region, known for its fine dining, art scene and busy port. The two famous walks, along the golden coast or in the forested headlands, take you for several days across clear blue estuaries, hidden bays and natural wonders.
Train: Cross the gorges and glistening white peaks of the Southern Alps on a spectacular train journey from one coast of the island to the other in four and a half hours. To the east, historic Christchurch is the largest town on the South Island, while in Greymouth the Greenstone Trail (Te Ara Pounamu; call +64 3 768 9292) follows the routes of Maori traders hunting for jade.
Book with Tranz Scenic (+64 4 495 07750/ www.tranzscenic.co.nz).
Wine: Sheep are passé and rugby prowess is no longer all black. Global fame is shifting to the excellent wines produced in the Marlborough region, best known for its unrivalled sauvignon blanc. Tasting tours with small groups let you choose the vineyard and itinerary.
Book with Marlborough Wine Tours (+64 3 578 9515/www.marlboroughwinetours.co.nz).
Adrenaline: Queenstown on Lake Wakatipu – locked in the Southern Alps – is a year-round party town where après-ski is taken as seriously as the sport itself. Get your adrenaline fix with heli-skiing, sky-diving, daredevil jumps and slopes, which can be incorporated into snow safaris. There are also plenty of pistes perfect for beginners.
Book with Haka Tours (+64 3 980 4252/ www.hakatours.com).
Wildlife: From the fluffy kiwi to the mighty sperm whale, the slinky skink to the cute fur seal, New Zealand’s wildlife is as varied as its landscape. Forests resemble their Jurassic-era ancestors, dreamy bays seem almost otherworldly, and wildflowers and endemic herbs and shrubs spread out like multicoloured, perfumed carpets across uninhabited valleys. Ensure you don’t miss anything by joining a nature-themed tour of the most beautiful and exciting spots.
Book with Naturetrek (01962 733051/ www.naturetrek.co.uk)