It’s a long, long flight, but New Zealand is well worth it – the islands offer the chance to find yourself on a vast, deserted beach, ‘lose’ yourself in ancient rainforests, or reinvent yourself as an explorer scaling a snowy peak. After all the anticipation and adrenaline, you can then kick back with giant green-lipped mussels harvested off the local rocks, and a bottle of crisp white from one of the country’s vineyards. If you’re in town for the Rugby World Cup and fancy exploring more of this spectacular nation, we’ve mapped out where to go depending on your holiday style.
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, skydiving, daredevil jumps and slopes, which can be incorporated into snow safaris. There are also plenty of pistes perfect for beginners.
Haka Tour, www.hakatours.com (+64 3 980 4252)
Beach: The Coromandel
The vibrant coastal town of Whitianga on the northern Coromandel Peninsula makes a great base. First stop is Cathedral Cove (aka Te Whanganui-A-Hei), 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.
Cathedral Cove Lodge Villas, www.cathedralcove.co.nz (+64 7 866 3899); or Whitianga, www.whitianga.co.nz (+64 7 866 5555)
Exploration: The Bay of Islands
The best way to visit the beautiful North Island’s 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.
Bay of Islands Travel Guide, www.bay-of-islands.co.nz.
Fjords: Milford Sound
Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Manapouri… the evocative names for wild regions where snow-capped peaks plunge deep into fjords, mirrored perfectly in the clear blue water. The tranquility is disturbed only by waterfalls raging over rocks from dizzying heights, exotic birds calling in the 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. At Milford Sound, do visit the underwater observatory to get a 360-degree view of life beneath the fjords.
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, which was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1886. Now the native residents welcome visitors with spellbinding dances and feasts.
Destination Rotorua, www.rotoruanz.com (+64 7 348 5179)
Thousands of surfers test their skills at Piha, 40km from Auckland, every year. Iron-sand beaches and rugged parkland frame this break, famous for treacherous rips and currents that have been known to snap canoes in two. Experienced surfers will raise their game, while novices can take up the sport at one of the many surf schools.
Piha Beach, www.pihabeach.co.nz (+64 2 196 9924)
Train: Southern Alps
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 and post-earthquake Christchurch is still the largest town on the South Island, while in Greymouth the Greenstone Trail follows the routes of Maori traders hunting for jade.
Tranz Scenic, www.tranzscenic.co.nz (+64 4 495 0775); Te Ara Pounamu (+64 3 768 9292)
Walk: Abel Tasman National Park
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.
The Department of Conservation, www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/national-parks (+64 3 546 8210)
Global fame is shifting to the excellent grapes produced in the Marlborough region, best known for its unrivalled sauvignon blanc. Tasting tours with small groups let you choose the vineyard and itinerary.
Marlborough Wine Tours, www.marlboroughwinetours.co.nz (+64 3 578 9515)
Need to know
Fly from Dubai to Auckland via Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei from Dhs5,050 return during the Rugby World Cup period (prices correct at time of going to press).
www.bruneiair.com (04 334 4884)
Where to stay
The World Cup rugby matches are played across the two islands. Try our accommodation picks for some of the key centres.
Auckland: Ponsonby Backpackers
This budget hostel is, handily, smack-bang in the trendiest area of Auckland. It’s located in a character-filled, rambling villa, with plenty of food options nearby: don’t miss
the sumptuous breakfasts at Dizzengoff Café (+64 9 360 0108).
From Dhs65 per night for a bed in a shared room. www.ponsonby-backpackers.co.nz (+64 9 360 1311)
Wellington: City Cottages
These small but perfectly formed historic cottages sit on the artsy lanes of the capital’s Cuba Quarter, which teem with eateries, cafés and boutiques. Don’t miss classy restaurant and mixology specialist Matterhorn (www.matterhorn.co.nz).
Cottages from Dhs370 a night, can sleep up to four. www.citybedandbreakfast.co.nz (+94 210 739 232)
Dunedin: Bluestone on George
Try these modern apartments in the centre of this scruffily charming student city. The city grid is modelled exactly on Edinburgh’s: the Scots headed straight to the cold South when arriving on the Land of the Long White Cloud (the literal translation of Astearoa, the Maori word for New Zealand).
Apartments from Dhs520 per night. www.bluestonedunedin.co.nz (+64 3 447 9201)
Did you know?
• All native New Zealand birds, including the kiwi, are flightless, because before being colonised by humans in the 13th century, the islands were free of mammal predators. Many are now extinct, including the moa, which was three metres tall.
• New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote, back in 1893. It was also the first country to have its three key positions of power held by women last decade: prime minister (Helen Clark), governor general (Dame Silvia Cartwright), and chief justice (Sian Elias).
• New Zealand was forced out of the ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand and United States) alliance in the ’80s after it outlawed nuclear arms and power.
• New Zealand was the world’s last major inhabitable land mass to be populated by people.