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Kiwi Explorer

New Zealand’s North Island from Bottom to Top
  • Wellington

    Wellington

  • Ohtel

    Ohtel

  • Ohtel

    Ohtel

  • Huka Lodge

    Huka Lodge

  • bushwalk

    The Waikato River near Huka Falls; a nature walk

  • Huka Lodge

    Huka Lodge

  • mount doom

    View of Mt. Doom

  • Solitaire Lodge

    Solitaire Lodge

  • Rotorua

    View from a room at Solitaire Lodge

  • Solitaire Lodge

    Solitaire Lodge

  • Auckland

    Auckland Harbor

CHEAT SHEET
WHERE

In the South Pacific, east of the Tasman Sea and much farther from Australia than most of the world seems to think.

WHY GO

Within the course of a two-hour hike you can find yourself in a desert landscape, amidst a forest of pines and surrounding by an alpine mountain range. The range of landscapes is incredible, and you just might return from your vacation a little fitter than when you left home.

HOW

New Zealand is comprised of far-flung Pacific islands, so probably by plane (unless you’re the seafaring type). Auckland is the main point of entry, while Christchurch, Wellington and Queenstown receive most of their international flights from Australia.

TABLET TIP

Do some wine-tasting. Though outdoor pursuits are the main draw, New Zealand produces some outstanding wines, and like virtually everything in the country, the vineyards tend to be in spectacular settings. Oh, and throw out your pretensions about screw-caps; their best wines are meant to be drunk young, and they generally don’t need corks.

April, 2013

Flying into Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, the North Island seems to materialize from the sea like some suddenly-formed Eden, the lush flora and milk-white coastline offset by water that somehow appears extra blue, and sailboats cutting frothy wakes just beneath the plane. Before you’ve even touched down, the eyes already feel saturated with the island’s natural beauty, and it’s only the first glimpse.

Though there’s virtually no end to the luxuries one can indulge in — from some of the world’s finest lodges to a spot of vineyard-hopping by helicopter — New Zealand’s spectacular landscapes aren’t confined to exclusive little enclaves. Instead, the natural beauty is spread thickly across the island, accessible to a wide range of travelers. It’s the accessibility and abundance of the North Island’s outdoor pleasures that makes it a draw to recent graduates there to work and travel. Admittedly they’re often initially drawn by New Zealand’s inviting work-visa regulations, but they stay for the adventure. And it doesn’t take long to feel the temptation to forgo the whole “work” part of the work and travel program. It’s the “travel” part that’s essential to the real Kiwi experience, after all, so you may want to leave the heavy wheeled suitcase at home and go with a backpack, like a Kiwi.

Whereas the landscapes tend toward the enormous, the best hotels in Wellington are small boutiques. With just ten rooms, Ohtel is packed with character — enough for two grand old hotels. And the city itself is similarly packed with things to explore: vineyards and tasting rooms, museums (check out the Museum Te Papa), and, as it’s one of the windiest cities in the world, a wide range of wind and water sports, from sailing to kite surfing.

If water isn’t your thing, load up your backpack and hike up Mt. Victoria. The cable car and the walk through the botanical gardens offer a less outdoorsy, though equally pretty sightseeing experience. After a day outside, check out Duke Carvell’s or the Matterhorn for some well-earned sustenance. Though Wellington is no party town, these two gastrobars mix excellent cocktails.

Leaving Wellington, the route to Taupo takes you through rolling farmland and pastures dotted with fluffy white sheep, putting the pleasures of the city quickly behind in favor of something more pastoral. Taupo has been especially famous since the destruction of a certain golden ring, though Mt. Doom is looking much friendlier since Frodo was last there. Less famous but equally impressive are the Huka Falls, near the Huka Lodge, whose lavish accommodations amidst this outdoorsman’s paradise redefine the term “lodge” for a clientele that’s more used to someone else carrying their backpacks. Fly fishing and hikes along the area’s rivers and lakes are highlights, whether you stay at Huka or not. And once the sun sets, head to the thermal baths of DeBretts. These enormous pools will likely be some of the bigger bath tubs you’ve ever had the pleasure of soaking in.

Rotorua is also quite famous for its thermal springs, which, for better or worse, you’ll smell on the way in! Fortunately, your hosts at the Solitaire Lodge can guide you to a pleasantly odorless thermal bath, taking you there by speed boat early in the morning before the first tourists show up. Hiking is a must if you have any appetite for the outdoors, while fishing trips offer the opportunity to catch your own dinner; the chef will prepare your catch, seasoning it with herbs from the property’s own garden. The outdoor pursuits are virtually endless: white water rafting, canoeing, a day trip to one of the world’s most gorgeous beaches at Cathedral Cove, and the list goes on.

Finally, it’s on to Auckland, which after the countryside arrives as a bit of a shock to the system. But even New Zealand’s largest city exudes an effortless Kiwi flair. The shops of Britomart will slowly lure you back toward the urban lifestyle, though if you aren’t quite ready, you can still get your nature-fix nearby. Whale watching and wine tours on Waheki Island make perfect day excursions, getting you back to the city in time for an evening out.

Ela Marx

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CHEAT SHEET
WHERE

In the South Pacific, east of the Tasman Sea and much farther from Australia than most of the world seems to think.

WHY GO

Within the course of a two-hour hike you can find yourself in a desert landscape, amidst a forest of pines and surrounding by an alpine mountain range. The range of landscapes is incredible, and you just might return from your vacation a little fitter than when you left home.

HOW

New Zealand is comprised of far-flung Pacific islands, so probably by plane (unless you’re the seafaring type). Auckland is the main point of entry, while Christchurch, Wellington and Queenstown receive most of their international flights from Australia.

TABLET TIP

Do some wine-tasting. Though outdoor pursuits are the main draw, New Zealand produces some outstanding wines, and like virtually everything in the country, the vineyards tend to be in spectacular settings. Oh, and throw out your pretensions about screw-caps; their best wines are meant to be drunk young, and they generally don’t need corks.


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