Travelers often think of New Zealand as just beautiful vistas (Remember Lord of the Rings?). While it does boast stunning landscapes, you’ll also find a fantastic wine scene, unbelievable lodges, and happening cities. Even if you’re not a hiker, a New Zealand trip will convert you to the great outdoors. And great they are. Comprised of two main islands, together the size of California, the Kiwi nation is positively littered with gorgeous alpine passes, grassy plains, and glacier-fed rivers.
At 4,385 miles southwest of Honolulu and 994 miles southeast of Australia, it’s worth the trek for the jaw-dropping geography alone, but our guide opens up a world beyond the bungee-jumping mainstays to take in the best of this young, energized country known for its friendly people. From Auckland, a cosmopolitan hub with a burgeoning fashion scene, we explore the wine trail, which has gorgeous locations on both North and South Islands and includes the country’s capital, Wellington, before ending in the snowcapped Southern Lakes region. Along the way, New Zealand’s full panorama emerges: a passion for wine and food distinguished by low-key vineyards and farm-fresh cuisine; an eco- and design-friendly approach to lodging influenced by native Maori culture; and towns rife with quirky charms.
Most international flights arrive in Auckland. Wise travelers lay over here a night or two to recover from jet lag and experience the country’s largest city.
Founded by the British in 1840 on what was once native Maori land, Auckland today is a remarkably cosmopolitan South Pacific city where the unusual combination of Maori and British influences is underpinned by a yachting lifestyle—thanks to its superlative waterfront setting. The best introduction to the city is via Fullers Ferry, which traverses the Hauraki Gulf to colonial Devonport (devonport.co.nz), a charming Victorian neighborhood with skyline views that comprise Auckland’s iconic Sky Tower, the Southern Hemisphere’s answer to Seattle’s Space Needle.
The view from Devonport also takes in the 48 softly undulating (but long dead) volcanoes on which the city sprawls. Many of these were once important Maori pãs—fortified tribal villages—though mere vestiges remain at historic sites like One Tree Hill, where another commanding city view awaits. Today, concrete examples of New Zealand’s Maori culture are mostly relegated to museums—an unmissable collection at the Auckland War Memorial Museum (The Auckland Domain; 64/9-309-0443, aucklandmuseum.com) counts an intact Maori meetinghouse and menacing war canoe among its highlights. To learn more about Auckland’s contemporary Maori culture, book a Potiki Adventures (64/9-845-5932, potiki adventures.com) tour that includes a visit to the workshop of master carver Blaine Te Rito—it may be the highlight of your visit.
While quays jut out from much of downtown, Auckland’s waterfront really coalesces around glitzy Viaduct Harbour (viaduct.co.nz) north of the Fullers Ferry landing, built in the late-1990s to host the city’s first America’s Cup race. Gawking at expensive boats from harborside restaurants is the main attraction here, and you’ll gain a deep appreciation for Auckland’s nickname, City of Sails, by doing just that over lamb cutlets at chic Euro Restaurant and Bar (Shed 22, Princes Wharf; entrées from $23; 64/9-309-9866, eurobar.co.nz) or a plate of South Island salmon at an outdoor table at lively Soul (Viaduct Harbour; entrées from $22; 64/9-356-7249, soulbar.co.nz).
Farther inland, Ponsonby Road is a popular local hangout lined with some of the city’s most happening restaurants and bars. The contemporary Italian SPQR (150 Ponsonby Rd.; entrées from $20; 64/9-360-1710, spqrnz.co.nz) has a great terrace from which to watch the scene, while nearby Rocco (23 Ponsonby Rd.; entrées from $17; rocco.co.nz) serves up Spanish-influenced dishes in a sophisticated corner house. With the exception of Food Alley (9–11 Albert St.; entrées from $5; 64/09-373-4917)—a collection of no-frills pan-Asian food stalls much-beloved by locals—you’ll have no reason to go downtown after dark, but the warren of streets around High Street comes to life by day with some of the city’s best shopping.
Most of Auckland’s hotels with downtown locations and modern conveniences cater to business travelers. The best of these is the great-value Heritage Auckland Hotel (35 Hobson St.; deluxe suite from $180/night; 64/9-302-1277, heritagehotels.co.nz), which has spacious suites that lie within easy reach of waterfront restaurants (request a room in the newer Tower section). A more stylish stay awaits at the three-suite Boatshed (Waiheke Island; from $235/night; 64/9-372-3242, boatshed.co.nz), offshore on Waiheke Island, where rooms occupy individual boathouses and a three-story lighthouse (ferry transfer included). Decadent Mollies (6 Tweed St.; junior suite from $331/night; 64/9-376-3489, mollies.co.nz), a 13-suite boutique hotel near Ponsonby Road, is the finest in-town choice, with bold Philippe Starck designs, Christie’s-worthy artwork, and in-room fireplaces.
Shopping In Auckland
It is expensive to send production overseas from New Zealand. The result? An abundance of first-rate local fashions created with homegrown materials.
Karen Walker A designer who produces wonderfully structured, Victorian-influenced prêt-à-porter with a touch of whimsy and grunge, Walker also has a great line of accessories and eyewear. 15 O’Connell St.; 64/9-309-6299, karenwalker.com
Kate Sylvester A rising Kiwi star, Sylvester favors minimalist, sensual clothes with an edge for women and men. 47 High St.; 64/9-307-3282, katesylvester.com
Native Agent This Maori-run shop stocks handmade blankets, pillows, and clothing with designs that incorporate native trading symbols, such as muskets and feathers. 507 New North Rd.; 64/9-845-3289, nativeagent.co.nz
Royal Jewellery Studio You’ll find jewelry made entirely by local New Zealand artists; the jade pieces by Te Kaha are particularly exceptional. 486 New North Rd.; 64/9-846-0200, royaljewellerystudio.com
World A fashion-forward duo runs this chain of high-concept lifestyle stores for men and women, plus wonderfully atmospheric World Beauty shops that evoke old-world apothecaries. 57 High St.; 64/9-373-3034, worldbrand.co.nz
Zambesi Elizabeth Findlay designs moody and richly textured clothing for both men and women—all sold under the Zambesi label. Vulcan La. and O’Connell St.; 64/9-303-1701, zambesi.co.nz
The Wine Trail & Wellington
The classic New Zealand wine trail, a 240-mile route, starts on North Island at Hawke’s Bay and ends in Marlborough,
at the northern tip of South Island.
There is much to sample on the wine route—from bold cabernets, complex pinot noirs, and crisp sauvignon blancs, to farm-fresh lamb, cheese, venison, and fish at haute-barnyard restaurants in the midst of local vineyards. The only catch: Seeing it all requires lots of driving (on the left-hand side!) along winding one-lane roads. Plan on seven days to cover the highlights—and to enjoy at least one lingering afternoon lunch on a vineyard terrace—or 10 days to really bask in the splendid leafy surroundings you’ll encounter at each place. To make it happen, take a 1-hour flight from Auckland to Napier (in Hawke’s Bay), pick up a rental car at the airport, drop it off at the ferry terminal in Wellington, and arrange for another car at the Picton ferry landing in the Marlborough region (check with your rental company–most do not allow their cars on the boat).
The first stop on the trail, Hawke’s Bay, is the most picturesque of New Zealand’s wine districts, as dozens of vineyards fan out around Napier, a remarkable town with intact Art Deco architecture that rivals that of South Beach and is worth a visit of its own accord. Home to the country’s oldest vineyard, Mission Estate (founded by Catholic missionaries in 1851) (198 Church Rd., Greenmeadows, Hawke’s Bay; entrées from $17; 64/6-845-9354, missionestate.co.nz), the region has a welcoming climate that prompted winemakers to put down the roots that now produce New Zealand’s best cabernets, chardonnays, and, more recently, syrahs. Three outstanding local vineyards—the austere Craggy Range (253 Waimarama Rd., Havelock North, Hawke’s Bay; 64/6-873-7126, craggyrange.com), familial Sileni Estates (2016 Maraekakaho Rd., Hastings, Hawke’s Bay; 64/6-879-8768, sileni.co.nz), and traditional Te Mata (2016 Maraekakaho Rd., Hastings, Hawke’s Bay; 64/ 6-879-8768, sileni.co.nz)—showcase the region’s diversity; the first two also have great on-site restaurants. The hotels here have yet to match the quality of the vineyards, and luxury options are limited (even the most expensive lodging, The County Hotel, is quite dated). Oenophiles should instead splurge on a contemporary cottage stay among the vines at Craggy Range (one-bedroom cottage from $234/night), or try the great-value Crown Hotel (Corner of Bridge St. and Harding Rd., Napier, Hawke’s Bay; studios from $134/night; 64/6-833-8300, thecrownnapier.co.nz), in Napier’s up-and-coming Ahuriri neighborhood.
The diminutive town of Martinborough, a 3-hour drive south of Hawke’s Bay, was settled in the 19th century and has a clutch of streets named for places—New York and Panama, for example—that the founder is said to have visited. The town plays second fiddle, however, to the dozens of nearby pinot noir vineyards, which date from as recently as 1980. Pioneering wineries such as Ata Rangi (Puruatanga Rd., Martinborough; 64/6-306-9570, atarangi.co.nz), Palliser Estate (Kitchener Street, Martinborough; 64/6-306-9019, palliser.co.nz), Te Kairanga (Martin’s Rd., Martinborough; 64/6-306-9122, tekairanga.co.nz), and a few others are all conveniently located within walking or biking distance of the main square, and the excellent Martinborough Wine Center, in the heart of town, offers a comprehensive area overview and wine tastings. The hotel of choice, the historic 16-room Peppers Martinborough Hotel (The Square, Martinborough; rooms from $195/night; 64/6-306-9350, martinboroughhotel.co.nz), has lorded over the town square since 1882 and boasts the lovely Martinborough Restaurant on the ground level. Next door, casual Wendy Campbell’s The French Bistro (3 Kitchener St., Martinborough, Wairarapa; 64/6-306-8863) pairs fine French fare like duck confit with local wines.
New Zealand’s leading winemaking region, Marlborough, lies at the northern tip of South Island, below the scenic Queen Charlotte Sound and some 5 hours by car and ferry south of Martinborough. The country’s viticultural reputation is staked on the area’s sauvignon blancs—but the 65 wineries here also produce terrific sparkling, pinot noir, and Riesling varietals. Two of the best vintners, Allan Scott Wines (Jacksons Rd., Blenheim, Marlborough; 64/3-572-9054, allanscott.com, moabeer.co.nz) and Cloudy Bay (Jacksons Rd., Blenheim, Marlborough; 64/3-520-9140, cloudybay.co.nz), lie across from each other on Jacksons Road; the former also hosts a superb new microbrewery, Moa Beer, run by Scott’s 27-year-old son. Another notable vineyard, Grove Mill (Waihopai Valley Rd. Renwick, Malborough; 64/3-572-8200, grovemill.co.nz), made its name in organic wine production, and its “vine library”—showcasing every grape variety—is an excellent primer. You can sleep among the vines in a one-bedroom suite at the newly opened Marlborough Vintners Hotel (190 Rapaura Rd., Blenheim, Marlborough; 64/3-572-5094; www.mvh.co.nz) or check in to the smart Hotel d’Urville (52 Queen St., Blenheim; from $168/night; 64/3-577-9945, durville.com), in Blenheim, for an in-town stay. If you’re traveling with friends or family, the three-bedroom penthouse at The Yacht Club Hotel (25 Waikawa Rd., Picton; penthouse suite from $195/night; 64/3-573-7002, theyachtclub.co.nz), near the ferry landing in Picton, is one of the best deals around. As with Hawke’s Bay, vineyard restaurants make the best dining choices—head to Allan Scott’s Twelve Trees Restaurant (Allan Scott Winery, Jackson’s Rd., Blenheim, Marlborough; entrées from $12; 64/3- 572-7123, allanscott.com) for a lingering lunch and to Herzog Winery (Herzog Winery, 81 Jeffries Rd., Blenheim, Marlborough; tasting menu from $77; 64/3-572-8770, herzog.co.nz) for a sophisticated tasting menu at dinnertime.
The ferry to Picton—and the beginning of the Marlborough wine region—leaves from the outskirts of Wellington, New Zealand’s seat of parliamentary government. Those short on time often skip visiting it, but overnighting in the world’s southernmost capital makes for a fun, urban counterpoint to the wine trail. The setting bears an uncanny similarity to San Francisco, considering its steep hillsides dotted with wooden homes perched over a picturesque harbor. In fact, prime examples of Victorian houses that are dead ringers for San Francisco’s colorful Painted Ladies can be found along Wellington’s smashing waterfront promenade (wellingtonwaterfront.co.nz), Oriental Parade, which extends past the glitzy Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand (55 Cable St.; 64/4-381-7000, tepapa.govt.nz). Their rooftops are visible from the delightful Wellington Cable Car (Cable Car La., 280 Lambton Quay; wellingtonnz.com/cablecar), which ascends the slopes behind Lampdon Quay. Bed down near the water at the new Ohtel Hotel (66 Oriental Parade; studios from $337/night; 64/4-803-0600, ohtel.com), a smart, intimate 10-room boutique hotel, with fashionable studios overlooking Oriental Parade, or the elegant Museum Hotel (90 Cable St.; from $115/night; 64/4-802-8900, museumhotel.co.nz) nearby, which has 165 rooms in masculine, muted tones—all come with oversize baths, some with museum-facing balconies. Save room for the city’s first-ate food scene, localized on pedestrian-only Cuba Street: The trendy Matterhorn (106 Cuba St.; 64/4-384-3359, matterhorn.co.nz), a local institution with a buzzing bar and dining room, and the formal Logan Brown Restaurant and Bar (106 Cuba St.; 64/4-384-3359, matterhorn.co.nz), with its accent on contemporary New Zealand cuisine, are two of our favorites
More Wine Trail Recommendations:
Things to Do
Art Deco Walking Tour
The Art Deco Shop; 163 Tennyson St., Napier, Hawke's Bay; 64/6-835-0022, artdeconapier.com
Marlborough Wine Tours Sounds Connection
Marlborough; 64/3-573-8843, soundsconnection.co.nz
Queen Charlotte Sound
Cruise 'n' Walk Cougar Line, Marlborough; cougarline.co.nz
Terroir Craggy Range
253 Waimarama Rd., Havelock North, Hawke's Bay; entrées from $17; 64/6-873-7126, craggyrange.com
The Old Church
199 Meeanee Rd., Napier, Hawke's Bay; entrées from $16; 64/6-844-8866, theold church.co.nz
209 Marine Parade, Napier, Hawke's Bay; entrées from $25; 64/6-833-6335, pacifica restaurant.com
The Chartroom Restaurant
The Yacht Club Hotel, 25 Waikawa Rd., Picton, Marlborough; 64/3-573-7002, theyachtclub.co.nz
The Southern Lakes Region with Arrowtown & Fiordland NP
If you have time to visit only one place in New Zealand, make it the lush plains and soaring, snowcapped peaks of the Southern Lakes Region.
Don’t be put off by this renowned outdoor mecca’s moniker, Adventure Capital of the World. Yes, bungee (spelled bungy down under) jumping and jet boating are hugely popular in the Southern Lakes Region, but the area’s softer side is just as enthralling, given the stupendous natural scenery, vineyards, and quirky towns that lie in the hinterlands. Indeed, this is where you’ll find Central Otago (Wine Tours Appellation Central 64/3-442-0246, appellationcentral.co.nz), the country’s newest (and fastest-growing) wine region, the darling 19th-century gold rush settlement of Arrowtown (arrowtown.org.nz), and astonishing Glenorchy, where the dramatic vistas served as the setting for Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings. Capping it off, the region is also the launchpad for outings to Milford Sound—a deep gorge once lauded by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth Wonder of the World. All of this lies within easy reach of the resort town of Queenstown, the prime base for area explorations. Plan on at least five days to get the most out of a visit; make it happen by flying 2 hours to Queenstown from Auckland or Wellington and renting a car from the airport to get around.
With the glacier-fed Lake Wakatipu at its shores and the jagged 7,677-foot-high Remarkables mountain range as its backdrop, Queenstown boasts one of the world’s most attractive mountain resort settings. The best landscape overview is from the summit of 2,592-foot-high Bob’s Peak, reachable by Skyline Gondola (Brecon St., Queenstown; 64/3-441-0101, skyline.co.nz) from the outskirts of town. The summit is also home to one of three local bungee sites run by A.J. Hackett, the New Zealand maverick who invented the sport in the 1980s—his iconic Kawarau Bridge Bungy (the world’s first bungee jump site) (A.J. Hackett Bungy; 64/3-442-4007, bungy.co.nz) at the gateway to Central Otago, offers memorable sightings of intrepid souls leaping into bracing waters from a 141-foot-high bridge.
The picturesque flat plains and soaring snowcapped peaks that most of us now associate with New Zealand, thanks to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, are actually found around Glenorchy, a 40-minute drive from Queenstown. Dart River’s thrilling Jet Safari (64/3-442-9992, dartriverjet.co.nz)—on jet boats that speed along glacier-fed rivers at breakneck speeds—is the most popular outing here. But you can experience the setting at a slower pace on horseback. Dart Stables (Coll St., Glenorchy; 64/3-442-5688, dartstables.com), the same outfit that equipped The Lord of the Rings cast with steeds, runs all-level outings, including a 2-hour Ride of the Rings that covers the first film’s most memorable terrain. The trailhead to one of New Zealand’s best hikes, the 20-mile-long Routeburn Track (64/3-441-8170, infotrack.co.nz), is also found here; even if you’re not an active hiker, it’s worth doing a guided day walk with the local outfitter InfoTrack to see some of the trail’s legendary riverbeds and alpine passes. After an invigorating day out, you can rejuvenate in a hot tub at Queenstown’s new Onsen Hot Pools (Main Rd., Arthurs Point; 64/3-442-5707, onsen.co.nz).
The recent ascendancy of Central Otago, the rugged wine region that extends to the southeast of Queenstown, has added yet another dimension to the area. Despite being the terroir of New Zealand’s youngest vineyards—the region’s first commercial crop was released in 1987—Central Otago is already expected to overtake Martinborough as the country’s leading producer of pinot noir. The rocky terrain and cool climate also yield stellar pinot gris, Riesling, and gewürztraminer varietals, many of which can be sampled at Gibbston Valley (Gibbston RD1, State Hwy. 6, Queenstown; 64/3-442-6910, gvwines.co.nz), the area’s first commercial vineyards. Other vineyards to watch include Mt. Difficulty (Felton Rd., Bannockburn, Cromwell; 64/3-445-3445, mtdifficulty.co.nz), Rippon (246 Mt Aspiring Rd., Wanaka; 64/3-443-8084, rippon.co.nz), and Black Ridge Vineyard (Conroys Rd., Clyde; 64/3-449-2059, blackridge.co.nz), the world’s southernmost vineyard.
Queenstown’s heightened tourist appeal has fostered a robust restaurant scene, with a casual alpine flair reminiscent of Banff and Vail. That said, you’ll find high-end cuisine at sophisticated Wai Waterfront Restaurant (Steamer Wharf, Queenstown; entrées from $24; 64/3-442-5969, wai.net.nz), which serves up Bluff oysters—a South Island specialty—with stunning lakefront views; casual Pier 19 (Steamer Wharf, Queenstown; entrées from $19; 64/3-442-4006, 19th.co.nz), known for more homespun dishes like turbot pie; and exclusive The Bunker (Cow La., Queenstown; entrées from $23; 64/3-441-8030, thebunker.co.nz), where local offerings such as venison and lamb get top billing. No visit here would be complete without sampling three utterly unpretentious local institutions: the convivial pasta and pizza bistro known as Cow Restaurant (Cow La., Queenstown; entrées from $8; 64/3-442-8588); Joe’s Garage (Searle La., Queenstown; entrées from $7, closed for dinner; 64/3-442-5282), where locals refuel at breakfast or lunch; and Fergburger (42 Shotover St., Queenstown; entrées from $7; 64/3-441-1232, fergburger.com), a hole-in-the-wall hamburger joint.
Queenstown’s popularity has also led to some of the highest hotel rates in New Zealand, with peak-season prices topping $1,000 a night at luxury hotels like the five-star Blanket Bay (Glenorchy; suites from $879/night, with two meals; 64/3-441-0115, blanketbay.com), the secluded lakeside lodge where Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt honeymooned. In comparison, centrally located The Spire (Church La., Queenstown; from $562/night, with airport transfers and breakfast; 64/3-441-0003, thespirehotels.com) qualifies as a smart splurge; its 10 modern rooms come with fireplaces and lakeview balconies. The best-value option, the new 19-room Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel (21 Robins Rd., Queenstown; from $245/night, with breakfast; 64/3-441-0004, queenstown park.co.nz) near the Skyline Gondola, hosts a nightly cocktail hour that encourages guests to discuss the day’s adventures over a glass of Central Otago wine.
Delightful Arrowtown, just 20 minutes from Queenstown, is the region’s only site of historical significance; it morphed into a gold-mining town after the precious metal was discovered in 1862. A harrowing reminder of the era’s hardships is found in the town’s historic Chinese Settlement, where vestiges remain of the claustrophobic quarters occupied by hardscrabble Chinese gold miners who came as speculators in the late 1800s. Otherwise, Arrowtown today seems plucked from New England and dropped into the Wild West, with gorgeous foliage framing attractive period buildings along the main drag, Buckingham Street. There you’ll find all manner of artisan boutiques (try the chocolate maker Patagonia) (50 Beach St., Queenstown; 64/3-442-9066 40 Buckingham St., Arrowtown; 64/3-409-8584, patagoniachocolates.co.nz), first-rate bistros (like Saffron—one of the country’s best; Buckingham St., Arrowtown; entrées from $24; 64/3-442-0131, saffronrestaurant.co.nz; and its sibling Pesto—for superb pizza and pasta; Buckingham St., Arrowtown; entrées from $11; 64/3-442-0885, pesto.co.nz), lively bars (the cozy Blue Door) (Buckingham Street, Arrowtown; entrées from $11; 64/3-442-0885, pesto.co.nz), and a wonderfully old-fashioned movie theater (the adorable Dorothy Browns) (Buckingham St., Arrowtown; entrées from $11; reservations recommended; 64/3-442-0885, pesto.co.nz).
Fiordland National Park
The majestic 3-million-acre Fiordland National Park (www.fiordland.org.nz), which claims domain over the southwestern coast of South Island, is wild and pristine. Its windswept coastline rims the Tasman Sea, while deep glacial fjords wend inland, carved into serrated snowcapped peaks. Dolphin and seal sightings are common—as are impromptu waterfalls and colorful rainbows. Indeed, the landscape is so magical, the area was deemed a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1986, and today, day-tripping from Queenstown to the park’s most famous fjord—the 13.6-mile Milford Sound—is an absolute rite of passage. For a comprehensive view, take Air Milford’s 4-hour Fly-Cruise-Fly package (see “Smart Splurges") for a scenic flight and an intimate cruise—minus the throngs of tourists who descend by bus.
Smart Splurges in New Zealand
Buy Maori Pick up a distinctive quilt, blanket, or pillowcase embroidered with Maori trading motifs at Native Agent (from $127; nativeagent.co.nz), then splurge on a one-of-a-kind pounamu (jade) necklace by native artist Te Kaha at the nearby Royal Jewellery Studio (from $245; royaljewellerystudio.co.nz).
Take a Wine Tour Get insider access to local vineyards—and avoid drinking and driving—on a full-day winery tour run by a passionate local expert. We recommend Odyssey New Zealand in Hawke’s Bay (from $130/person; odysseynz.com), Marlborough Wine Tours in Marlborough (from $75/person; marlboroughwinetours.co.nz), and Appellation Central in Central Otago (from $185/person; appellationcentral.co.nz).
Milford Sound Fly-Cruise-Fly See Milford Sound on Air Milford’s 4-hour combo package, which includes a jaw-dropping flight over South Island’s dramatic landscapes, plus a cruise through a majestic fjord ($278/person, Queenstown pick-up included; airmilford.co.nz).
Ship Wine Home Many of New Zealand’s best wines aren’t exported to the United States; ship home your favorites from Wine Tastes, a Queenstown boutique with the country’s most extensive wine selection (shipping from $135 for eight bottles, $192 for 15; winetastes.co.nz).
Top Tables New Zealand cuisine marries Pacific and European influences with first-rate local ingredients—outstanding examples are served at Terroir (entrées from $17; craggyrange.com), The Bunker (from $24; thebunker.co.nz), and Saffron (from $24; saffronrestaurant.co.nz).
The New Zealand Lodge Experience
Along with gorgeous scenery, New Zealand is justly famous for lodges that cater to specific passions. Below, three outstanding examples.
Golfer’s Paradise The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, U.S. financier Julian Robertson’s second New Zealand golf resort (the other is Kauri Cliffs), is perched on 600-foot-high cliffs overlooking Hawke’s Bay. Whipped by the area’s legendary winds, the dramatic course will humble even the most accomplished player. Suites from $320/night; capekidnappers.com
Trout Galore Located in the Gowan River Valley in the northern section of South Island, Lake Rotoroa Lodge offers access to some of New Zealand’s—and the world’s— best trout fishing. But this is no ordinary fishing camp. The guides are legendary, the food and service outstanding. From $350/night; lakerotoroa lodge.com
Wine and Dine Less than an hour’s drive north of Auckland, Takatu Vineyard and Lodge offers a quick immersion into Kiwi wine culture. Each of the four glorious, high-ceilinged rooms overlooks picturesque vineyards. Rates include well-thought-out, multicourse meals and, of course, lots of fantastic wine. From $540/night; takatulodge.co.nz
Getting To & Around New Zealand
The only nonstop flights to Auckland from the continental U.S. depart from LA on Air New Zealand and Qantas Airways. The flight clocks in at 12 hours. You’ll need almost a day to get there from the eastern U.S. At press time, February fares from LAX cost more than $3,000 on Air New Zealand, but frequent Web sales can cut the price in half—as long as you’re flexible with your dates.
Driving is on the left-hand side, but you’ll find most roads deserted—except near major cities like Wellington and Auckland. Large chains, including Budget and Avis, rent vehicles at all airports and at Wellington’s ferry dock. It is wise to reserve ahead.
New Zealand Itineraries
You really need a month to do New Zealand properly, but with some compromises and targeted planning, you can make do with less time. If you only have one week, limit yourself to Queenstown, where the combination of scenery, vineyards, and outdoor pursuits provide the best overall New Zealand experience. With two weeks, you can do everything covered in this guide—Auckland, the wine trail, Wellington, Queenstown, and a fly-and-cruise to Milford Sound—albeit at a harried clip with driving, ferry rides, and some internal flights thrown in. With three weeks, you can opt to spend longer in each place or tack on side trips to South Island’s impressive Fox and Franz Josef glaciers and North Island’s warm geothermal mineral pools, in spiritual Rotorua. With a month, you can do all of this—and explore the northern reaches of North Island, where the Bay of Plenty’s windswept beaches and enduring Maori traditions beckon.
When to Go to New Zealand
The seasons are reversed in New Zealand—so summer, from December to February, brings steep peak-season prices. You'll get better value, pleasant temperatures, and fewer crowds between October and November (spring) or March and April (fall). Low-season prices are in effect at the height of the winter (July and August) everywhere but Queenstown, which draws tourists for ski season.