New Zealand See And Do
Auckland Domain, Domain Drive
Auckland , North Island
Tel: 64 9 309 0443
This Greek Revival museum, which sits atop the highest point of the sweeping Auckland Domain park, has the world's largest collection of Maori artifacts. Most spectacular is the 85-foot waka—a war canoe carved from a single log, which could carry up to 100 warriors. There's also a handsome assortment of tools and ornaments made from pounamu, or greenstone (a kind of jade particular to New Zealand), and the Whare Taonga, an entire Maori meetinghouse, with intricately carved columns representing different ancestors and deities. For an introduction to the famous haka—the traditional chanting dances that members of the country's rugby team, the All Blacks, still perform before every game—there are performances held three to four times a day in the museum at no extra cost.
North Islanders are big-time beachgoers, and the island's thousands of miles of coast give them plenty of thundering stretches and sheltered bays to choose from.Near Auckland, the two best-known beaches are the wild, black-sanded Piha and Karekare, both about a 30-minute drive west of the city. Piha has one of the island's top surf breaks; on windy days, it's breathtaking to watch wet-suited locals brave the dangerous rips. Just to the south is Karekare, bordered by dramatic cliffs, which starred in the opening scenes of Jane Campion's The Piano. While the scenery at both these beaches is fabulous, inexperienced swimmers and surfers should be warned: Lifeguards are on duty solely during summer weekends.
The island's far north (known to Kiwis as Northland) is famous for the westerly golden sweep of Ninety Mile Beach (pictured). In fact, the beach is only 60 miles long, but nobody's quibbling. It stretches all the way to Cape Reinga, the tip of the island where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific. Although driving along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway and stopping at points along the way (such as the seaside towns of Ahipara and Kerkeri) is magical if you have the time, viewing the seascapes from the air is wonderful if you don't. Salt Air runs "flight-seeing" trips from Paihia, in the Bay of Islands, which take in locales like the Karikari Peninsula and the Cavalli Islands. Prices for these trips (in Cessnas carrying about a dozen passengers) start at about NZ$365 (US$270) per person. Pricier, individually tailored helicopter rides are also available (64-9-402-8338; www.saltair.co.nz).
Author and angler Zane Grey put Northland's Bay of Islands on the map with his 1926 Tales of the Angler's Eldorado: New Zealand, about the monster fish he landed off the shores of Russell. Modern-day fishing fanatics can troll the same waters with Russell-based Major Tom Charters. Skipper Geoff Stone takes up to 12 passengers at a time on Major Tom II, his state-of-the-art 40-foot fishing yacht, to hunt marlin and tuna from mid-December through May, and broadbill swordfish January through August. When the weather doesn't cooperate, Stone brings anglers closer to the coast in search of kingfish and snapper (64-9-403-8553 or 64-27-437-7844; www.majortom.co.nz).
Queenstown , South Island
Queenstown isn't known as the Adrenaline Capital of New Zealand for nothing. This village-turned–hot spot, which sits at the edge of mountain-surrounded Lake Wakatipu, has the highest concentration of extreme-sport activities in the country (if not the world). Commercial bungee jumping got its start here in the eighties, and today you can still leap from the spot where it all began: the Kawarau Bridge, which stretches 141 feet above a river gorge. AJ Hackett Bungy runs buses from the center of town to the site; once there, you can choose to jump in a harness (don't be a wuss) or with an ankle band (now you're talking). You can also decide whether you want to bob above the water, touch it, or get fully doused. True adrenaline junkies can opt for even higher jumps, like the 440-foot Nevis Highwire, or the truly insane Ledge Bunny, reachable only by Queenstown's Skyline Gondola (64-3-442-4007; www.ajhackett.co.nz). You'll be making a more than 150-foot jump from 1,312-feet above the city.
If gentle floating is more appealing to you than rapid hurtling, jumping from a mountain peak in a tandem parachute is for you. Queenstown Tandem Paragliding brings you up the town's 2,000-foot Skyline Gondola to Bob's Peak, where an experienced "co-pilot" straps in with you for the glide down to the valley below. Paraglide options at nearby Coronet Peak are also offered, and the really high-minded can do heli-tandem jumps from peaks in the Remarkables range—some are 7,000 feet high (64-3-441-8581; www.paraglide.co.nz).
Forget everything you know about swimming-pool "dolphin encounters"—nothing beats meeting these creatures in the wild. The channels and coves that make up the Marlborough Sounds, on the island's northeastern tip, are home to masses of dolphins—including bottlenoses, Dusky dolphins, and rare Hector's dolphins. Dolphin Watch, based out of the port town of Picton, makes daily trips on 30- and 40-foot motorboats into Queen Charlotte Sound. Trips last between two and four hours; passengers scout and follow dolphin pods, and if conditions are right, slip on wet suits and snorkels and jump into the water with them. The dolphins are fearless and playful, sweeping within a few inches of swimmers; it's completely magical. If dolphins can't be found or the weather's too rough for swimming, the tour company gives free vouchers for another trip (64-3-573-8040; www.dolphinswimming.co.nz).
Fiordland , South Island
The aptly named (albeit oddly spelled) Fiordland, on the South Island's southwest coast, will look familiar to anyone who's seen Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Many of the movies' scenes were shot in this region of jagged snow-streaked mountains descending to deep, still waterways, but even the big screen doesn't do the scenery justice. This is national parkland, and wild country—meaning no roads—so the best way to explore the landscape is, ironically, by sea. Real Journeys runs all-day and overnight trips into stunning Doubtful Sound, where peaks plunge into dark, dolphin-filled seas; the trips leave from both Queenstown and the town of Te Anau, 109 miles to the southwest. Passengers explore the Sound and the surrounding mountains by both bus and luxury catamaran cruiser; it's a long trip but well worth the journey. Prices start at $220 per person (64-3-249-7416; www.realjourneys.co.nz).
Tel: 64 3 5468210
The South Island has six multi-day Great Walks, all maintained by the Department of Conservation. They range from the remote and challenging 22-mile Rakiura Track on Stewart Island (off the southern coast) to the easygoing, beachy, but more heavily trafficked 31-mile Abel Tasman Coastal Track. The Milford, Kepler, and Routeburn Tracks are the most popular; all wind through the exceptional scenery of Fiordland. In the northwest, the 51-mile Heaphy Track, running from Golden Bay near Nelson across to the west coast near Karamea, is a mix of high plateau, forest, and shore walking.
All these tracks take a minimum of three days, require a good level of fitness, and are best for active types who are used to lugging all their own gear, camping out in basic huts, and getting wet when it rains. You'll need to buy a Great Walks Pass before your trek in order to use these huts and campsites; you can get one (along with maps, directions, and trekking safety tips) online.
Both central North Island and Northland have stunning national parks that are perfect for hiking, or tramping, as it's called here.
The World Heritage Tongariro National Park, in the central North Island, is a 300-square-mile preserve that's home to three active volcanoes—Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe (the last had a cameo as Mount Doom in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy)—and a range of walking trails. An easy two-hour stroll through mountain-beech forest brings you to the spectacular 120-foot Taranaki Falls. More challenging is the all-day Tongariro Crossing, a seven-hour journey that crosses a saddle between Tongariro and Ngauruhoe and passes the jade-green Emerald Lakes. Scotty Barrie of Central Peaks Touring and Guides takes small groups to the summits of all three volcanoes and to Taranaki Falls. He also leads tours of locations used in the Lord of the Rings films (64-27-448-0434; www.tongariro-tours.co.nz). He picks up from Taupo, Turangi, Whakapapa, and points in between by arrangement. For more information about the park, see "Parks & Recreation" on the Department of Conservation Web site (www.doc.govt.nz) or phone the Whakapapa Visitor Center (64-7-892-3729).
Waipoua State Forest, a roughly 35-square-mile preserve on the west coast of Northland (about a three-hour drive north of Auckland), is the country's largest remaining kauri forest. Kauri are slow-growing, sometimes enormous trees—the equivalent of California's sequoias. The oldest and largest kauri on earth are in Waipoua, including the 167-foot-high, 45-foot-around Tane Mahuta, or "Lord of the Forest," thought to be 2,000 years old. You can see it, and other extraordinarily ancient and stately specimens, along walking trails that wind through the forest. For a more singular experience, Footprints-Waipoua's local Maori guides take nighttime tours through the forest, pointing out wildlife and sharing Maori legends along the way (State Highway 12, Omapere; 64-9-405-8207; www.footprintswaipoua.com). For more information about forest visits, call the Waipoua Forest Visitor Center (64-9-439-3011).
Abel Tasman National Park , South Island
The clear, jade-green waters of Abel Tasman National Park, near Nelson on the island's northern coast, are so gorgeous that Tourism New Zealand built a major advertising campaign around them (if you ever saw those giant "100% New Zealand" billboards, with kayakers seemingly suspended above pale-green shallows, you've seen Abel Tasman). If you're going to choose one part of the South Island to get waterborne, this is it. The park, which occupies a roughly 30-mile protected stretch of Tasman Bay, is chockablock with pristine golden-sand coves, dramatic rock formations, and seals, dolphins, and seabirds. Abel Tasman Kayaks, based in the seaside community of Marahau, runs guided day and multi-day trips with all gear provided; you can also rent kayaks and head off on your own (64-3-527-8022; www.abeltasmankayaks.co.nz). Sailors may prefer to hop a catamaran and take a full- or half-day cruise with Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures, based in Kaiteriteri; bareboat charters are also available (64-3-527-8375; www.sailingadventures.co.nz).
Tel: 64 7 345 3122
Maori chef Charles Royal is the closest thing New Zealand has to an Alice Waters—a fierce advocate of sustainable local cuisine, indigenous produce, and just plain good cooking. Royal started cooking in the New Zealand Army and now wears all the laurels of a modern-day celebrity chef, with a television show, cookbook, and recipes being served by Air New Zealand. Royal offers various tours on the North Island that introduce visitors to traditional Maori ingredients and techniques (before the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand, indigenous cooking was done mostly without metal or ceramic pots; instead, food was roasted or steamed in pit ovens). Royal picks guests up from their hotel and takes them on a bushwalk to seek out native flora and fauna, such as freshwater eel, kawakawa (bush basil), horopito (Maori pepper), and pikopiko, an edible fern. That might be followed by a hangi, the traditional method of smoking meats and vegetables in an earthen oven. From Treetops Lodge in Rotorua, for instance, Royal and his guests gather herbs while hiking past the cascading Bridal Falls, 800-year-old trees, and lush ferns. The feast that follows includes kawakawa tea, flaxseed soda bread, pikopiko pesto, horopito hummus, kumara (sweet potato), and smoked venison rubbed with local spices and served with wild mushrooms. Sampled in the forest setting, with Royal talking of his ancestors from New Zealand's North Island, this is a truly special culinary and cultural experience.—Lea Lane
Marlborough , South Island
Marlborough is New Zealand's biggest wine region, with more than 100 wineries supplied by 300-odd local growers. The star varietal here is sauvignon blanc, and it's some of the world's best. There's also some excellent riesling, gewürztraminer, and pinot gris, and a pretty fine Methode Traditionelle, too. There are more excellent wineries than you can shake a stick at here, but the absolute don't-misses (all of which also have excellent restaurants) are Herzog, which makes what might be the region's only Montepulciano; Allan Scott Wines, which makes a smashing riesling and blanc de blanc; and Hunter's Wines, with its award-winning, oak-aged sauvignon blanc.
Herzog Winery & Restaurant
81 Jeffries Road
Tel: 64 3 572 8770
Allan Scott Wines
Tel: 64 3 572 9054
Tel: 64 3 572 8489
Nelson , South Island
Nelson is big-time chardonnay country, and riesling, sauvignon blanc, and pinot varietals aren't far behind. Nelson's vintners tend to be boutique producers, who consider their trade more of an art form than a horticultural enterprise. Apart from a couple of big producers like Seifrieds and Waimea Estates, which have their own restaurants and extensive facilities, most of the 30-odd local wineries focus on one or two varietals, and grow their grapes on a relatively small scale (less than 1,600 acres). Neudorf Vineyards has gotten international attention for its pinot noirs and chardonnays, and nearby Sunset Valley produces some fine organic wines.
Seifried Vineyard, Winery, and Restaurant
Redwood Road, Richmond
Tel: 64 3 544 5599
Appleby Highway, Richmond
Tel: 64 3 544 6385
Neudorf Road, Upper Moutere
Tel: 64 3 543 2643
Sunset Valley Organic Winery
Eggers Road, Upper Moutere
Tel: 64 3 543 2161
It's no coincidence that Auckland is nicknamed "the City of Sails." Hundreds of schooners, sailboats, yachts, and megayachts dot the harbor year-round, and its Westhaven marina, with more than 1,400 dockings, is one of the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. The fervor of Auckland's yachties has only grown since New Zealand's two consecutive America's Cup victories, in 1995 and 2000 (the city hosted the regatta in 2000 and 2003). Sail NZ runs two-hour sails around Auckland Harbour on retired 12-meter America's Cup yachts. those who want to get a real taste of the Cup experience can try match racing along a course similar to the one used in the 2000 and 2003 regattas. Prices start at NZ$135—about US$100 per person (64-9-359-5987; www.sailnz.co.nz).
The Southern Alps, which run down the middle of the South Island like a spine, are too remote, dangerous, and just plain high (there are 27 peaks over 9,000 feet) for most visitors to even contemplate visiting on foot. And since there are no roads in the high country, the only way to get the A-plus views over ice fields, sheer cliffs, and waterfalls is to fly over them. Depending on your sense of adventure and how much you want to shell out, you can choose to "flight-see" via small fixed-wing plane or helicopter. Wanaka Flightseeing operates five- passenger Cessnas out of Wanaka, 44 miles northeast of Queenstown; passengers can choose one- to two-hour flights over the fjords of Fiordland, the 9,932-foot Mount Aspiring, or the majestic Mount Cook (New Zealand's highest peak at 12,316 feet). Prices start at $135 per person (64-3-443-8787; www.flightseeing.co.nz). A trip with Over the Top Helicopters, based in Queenstown, covers much of the same territory—but helicopters can zoom and swoop even closer to the landscapes, and you can even arrange to land on a glacier for photo ops and a picnic lunch. Two-hour trips start at $500 per person (64-3-442 2233; www.flynz.co.nz).
Christchurch , South Island
Tel: 64 4 495 0775
If you'd rather experience the rugged, majestic Southern Alps in comfort than in crampons, this four-and-a-half-hour sightseeing trip lets you see the best of it. After leaving Christchurch, TranzScenic's modern, comfortable train (with long windows for admiring the views) crosses the patchwork farmland of Canterbury Plains before hitting high country. Between Springfield and Arthur's Pass National Park, there are 16 tunnels and five vertiginous viaducts—one, aptly named Staircase, winds 250 feet above the Waimakariri River. Photo-op stops are made at both Arthur's Pass and the northeasterly coastal village of Greymouth before the return trip.
Fly fishermen (and women) from all over the world come to the South Island for its whopping rainbow and brown trout. They know that not only are trophy-sized catches (weighing more than ten pounds) frequently made here, but the vast number of streams, rivers, and lakes on the island mean they'll likely have their favorite spot all to themselves. The concentration of rivers and streams around Nelson (there are more than 25) make the surrounding area a fly fisherman's dream. Day trips from Nelson can be arranged through Strike Adventure (64-3541-0020; www.strikeadventure.com); fishing in more far-flung areas requires staying at a lodge. The season varies by location but is roughly October to May, with the best months from November to April.
Although roughly a third of the North Island rests upon a geothermal hotbed, known as the Volcanic Plateau, its most active part stretches between the central town of Rotorua in the north and the Tongariro National Park in the south. This territory encompasses more than 100 square miles of volcanic craters, mountains, and lakes; bubbling, steaming, oozing landscapes; and (unfortunate) sulfurous smells. About 17 miles south of Rotorua—smack-dab in the center of the action—is the geothermal preserve of Wai-O-Tapu, or "Sacred Waters" in Maori. Here, you can wander among 4,450 acres of simmering mud pools, surreally crayon-colored lakes and silica terraces. Be sure to see the dazzling gold-edged Champagne Pool and the daily (artificially prompted but still impressive) eruption of the Lady Knox Geyser (State Highway 5, Rotorua; 64-7-366-6333; www.geyserland.co.nz).
Kaikoura , South Island
Off the northeast coastal town of Kaikoura (about a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Christchurch) lies a deep underwater canyon, where hordes of giant sperm whales congregate year-round to feed. These massive creatures—they're the world's largest carnivores—can be 60 feet long and weigh 70 tons, and seeing them up close is awe-inspiring (some actually have scars from undersea battles with giant squid). Whale Watch Kaikoura, owned by a local Maori group, the Ngai Tahu, takes groups of up to 48 people out on cushy catamarans for daily three-and-a-half-hour trips (weather permitting) to see and learn about the whales. Depending on the season, passengers can also see right and humpback whales, orcas, and Dusky and Hector's dolphins (these last are the world's smallest, rarest variety). If you're a green-around-the-gills type, bring Dramamine—it can get rough out there (64-3-319-6767; www.whalewatch.co.nz).
Among the North Island's wine-growing areas, one of the oldest and best-known is Hawke's Bay, on the east coast about 140 miles from Tongariro (www.hawkesbaynz.com). The balmy climate is ideal for chardonnay and rich red Bordeaux varietals, and more than 30 wineries have cellar doors open for tastings. One of the best is Te Awa Winery, with its award-winning 2004 Syrah and a terrific lunch restaurant that pairs seasonal dishes with house vintages (2375 State Highway 50, Hastings; 64-6-879-7602; www.teawa.com).
The Martinborough region, about an hour's drive north from Wellington at the southeast edge of the island, is all about pinot, and the notable wineries are almost too numerous to mention. Look for Martinborough Vineyard (Princess St., Martinborough; 64-6-306-9955; www.martinborough-vineyard.com www.martinborough-vineyard.com), a leader in establishing the region in the 1980s; Ata Rangi (Puruatanga Rd., Martinborough; 64-6-306-9570; www.atarangi.co.nz); and Palliser Estate (Kitchener St., Martinborough; 64-6-306-9019; www.palliser.co.nz)—all producers of outstanding pinot noirs and chardonnays.