While New Zealand this month gears up for its peak winter season, the experts at Lightfoot Travel are already looking ahead to the warmer weather later in the year. Here are some of their top picks for outdoor activities, natural sights, beautiful lodges and top-notch food and wine in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
What to Do: One-of-a-kind Experiences
Active Volcano Landing
New Zealand is one of the only places in the world where you can land on an active marine volcano. Fly by private helicopter over the Waiotapu Thermal Reserve – New Zealand’s most colourful volcanic area, continuing on to dormant Mount Tarawera, covered with mighty domes and craters formed during its 1886 eruption. Next, head over to White Island with an expert guide who takes you past steaming fumaroles and bubbling activity, to the edge of the Crater Lake where you can view the roaring volcanic vent known as “PJ”. As the island is protected, very few companies have concessions to land on it, thus leaving it very much untouched and that much more special.
New Zealand’s North Island, and specifically Lake Taupo, has some of the best fly fishing in the world. With streams and rivers crisscrossing the area, there is plenty to choose from to suit all levels, and lessons are available for those looking to learn a few tips and tricks to bring in the biggest fish! Helicoptering into more remote areas is also an option for the most experienced anglers. The best time for wilderness fly fishing is December through March.
Seafood & Wine Cruise
An extensive network of sea-drowned valleys off the northern tip of the South Island, the Marlborough Sounds is a strikingly beautiful region of sounds, islands and peninsulas. The best way to appreciate its size and distinctiveness is from the water, and if you’re on a cruise, why not choose one that serves up lovely wines and fresh local seafood? Marlborough is claimed by some critics to produce the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc, which pairs perfectly with the salmon, Tio Point oysters, Greenshell Mussels and Cloudy Bay clams also native to the area. This activity is particularly popular with seafood-loving Hong Kongers!
Pay a visit to the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve on the South Island, the southern hemisphere’s first dark sky reserve and the largest in the world. The Mackenzie Basin is renowned for having some of the clearest, darkest and most spectacular night skies in the country, and guests can take tours to out-of-town locations that are completely free of light-pollution – something that is bound to excite us city dwellers! Your expert guide will point out hidden gems in the night sky visible to the naked eye, as well as ones that can be viewed with high-quality binoculars.
New Zealand is home to striking and naturally beautiful courses, and because the country’s population is fairly sparse, they tend to be largely uncrowded. Top of our list is the iconic Cape Kidnappers Golf Course, perched atop rugged cliffs with unique undulating fairways. Sister course Kauri Cliffs is also located on a cliff’s edge, with elongated routing to make the best use of the stunning sea views. Located outside Queenstown, Millbrook is another fantastic option that incorporates three 9-hole courses into a luxury lifestyle resort. The best time for golfing in New Zealand is between September and April during the warmer months.
Where to Stay: Unique Lodges & Properties
Wharekauhau Country Estate, Wairarapa
A stunning Edwardian-style lodge set amidst lakeside lawns and forested hills, Wharekauhau will take your breath away. The quality of dining is superb, as is the personalisation from staff, all led by Lodge Manager Richard Rooney. An absolutely delightful person, Richard moves this property to the top of our list all on his own.
Overnight Cruise, Doubtful Sound
Quieter and much more intimate than nearby Milford Sound, which is full of operators, Doubtful Sound is the perfect spot to spend an evening aboard a boutique cruise ship. The sound’s ancient glacier-carved fjords, deep valleys, waterfalls and craggy peaks are ideal for avid photographers, and those keen on wildlife spotting can observe dolphins, penguins, seals and sea birds.
Minaret Station, Wanaka
New Zealand’s first luxury tented lodge, Minaret Station is situated in a glacial valley in the heart of the Southern Alps. Accessible only by helicopter, the property will appeal to adventure seekers really looking for that wild outdoors experience in classic Lord of the Rings territory. The lodge features wall-to-wall sheepskin carpets, gigantic beds, and private decks with hot tubs. Hiking, wildlife-treks, private helicopter tours, jet boating and fly fishing are all activities accessible from the lodge, as well as cooking and art lessons.
Grasmere Lodge, Canterbury
A 90-minute drive from Christchurch, Grasmere Lodge is historic and charming, with only 13 rooms that are huge and rustic (Lightfoot’s style of choice!) with unrivalled alpine views. Dining is a highlight with gourmet cuisine sourced locally from around the region, and accompanied by New Zealand’s finest wines of course. But the activities here really take centre stage, with horse riding, mountain biking, clay pigeon shooting as well as tennis and croquet. Day trips to Fox Glacier and driving tours into Arthur’s Pass National Park are also available.
Matakauri Lodge, Queenstown
Because no trip to New Zealand is complete without a visit to Queenstown, naturally one of its properties had to make it on to our list. Matakauri is set against one of the most sublime backdrops in the world. Right on the breathtaking Lake Wakatipu, views from each of its suites look out to the Remarkable, Cecil and Walter Peak mountain ranges. We particularly love the amazing outdoor infinity pool!