A dream-like destination for the ‘wild at heart’ traveller
Closed to almost all international arrivals since the start of the pandemic, New Zealand finally reopened its borders this summer for some long awaited, back-to-nature adventures. The sheer wilderness of this unspoiled landscape filled with fern-covered forests, rolling valleys, and snow-capped mountains is home to some of the world’s most breathtakingly beautiful spots, beloved by film-makers and photographers for its cinematic scenery. Here, we journey from one natural wonder to the next, sharing the best boutique hotels to stay the night at along the way.
No visit to Queenstown would be complete without exploring the crystal clear waters of New Zealand’s longest lake – whether by boat, kayak, or paddleboard, or hiking and cycling the many trails which skirt the shoreline. Winter sports lovers should head up the suitably-named Remarkables mountain range, which forms a ruggedly beautiful backdrop to Lake Wakatipu’s south-eastern shores.
Where to stay: Nestled on a hillside and overlooking shimmering Lake Wakatipu and its surrounding mountain ranges, The Carlin Hotel’s interiors have just as much wow-factor as its views. Take your pick from a handful of exquisite suites, which all come with rooftop spas and outdoor living areas to soak up the lakeside location.
Meanwhile, each stylish suite and apartment at Eichardt’s Private Hotel frames awe-inspiring lake and mountain views. For peak privacy, choose The Residence, an elegant villa set slightly apart from the main hotel.
Home to world-class wineries, a quirky art scene, and endless stretches of cycle trails, there is something for every type of traveller in Central Otago. Sip wine straight from the vines at one of the many small, independently-run wineries, follow the art trail and meet local artisans in their studios, and take to two wheels with over 300km of inter-connected off-road routes to explore – all just two hours from your boutique base in Queenstown.
A prime day trip destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers, Lake Wanaka is just an hour’s drive from Queenstown. A mystical energy surrounds the mountain-backed waters, where New Zealand’s most photographed tree seemingly floats on the surface, standing alone against the Southern Alps. Winter turns Wanaka into a snowsports paradise, while the quaint little town of Wanaka itself has all the charms of an alpine village.
Queen Charlotte Sound
The sheltered coves and dramatic, rocky coastline surrounding Queen Charlotte Sound is made to be explored by water. Hire a kayak, or a boat for a private sailing tour to spot dolphins and orca whales, while keeping an eye on the coast for fur seals. Back on dry land, explore woodland tracks, pretty waterside towns, drowned river valleys, rocky headlands and deserted sandy beaches.
Where to stay: Set in a tranquil cove with beautiful views of the Marlborough Sounds, Bay of Many Coves is an eco-marine haven, way off the beaten track. The clear cool waters, sheltered coves and native bush backdrops provide a spectacular setting for wildlife watching, where playful fur seals and island birds can be spotted from your private balcony.
Widely known as New Zealand’s ‘Garden City’, Christchurch has the feel of a quintessentially English town. At its heart is Hagley Park, an expansive green space filled with flora, fauna, and wildlife along the banks of the Avon River. Framed by mature trees and expansive lawns, the natural wetlands and sand dunes have been transformed into the Botanical Gardens, creating an urban oasis like no other.
Where to stay: A stylish sanctuary within striking distance of Christchurch’s city centre, The George overlooks Hagley Park and the Avon River, with interiors inspired by the surrounding indigenous trees. The Considerate Collection hotel and EnviroGold-rated property is as green as its setting, complimentary bicycles and refillable ‘low suds’ amenities made from local products such as ‘harakeke’ and lemon grass, to supporting native bird rewilding projects.
Bridging the gap between laidback Lyttelton and cosmopolitan Christchurch, the Port Hills are made for cross-country mountain biking adventures. Riders and walkers are rewarded with jaw-dropping Pacific Ocean views across the Canterbury Plains, over the harbour of Lyttelton, and towards the Kaikoura Mountains on a clear day.
On the South Island’s west coast, deep within Fiordland National Park lies Milford Sound. Hours away from the nearest town, this natural haven is a true slice of escapism – picture thundering waterfalls, sky-scraping mountain peaks, and dolphins diving in dark, inky waters. Take a walk on the wild side by trekking up the four-day Milford Track, beginning at the northern end of Lake Te Anau.
Tucked away in a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, Lake Tekapo is picturesque by day and dazzling at night when the skies come alive – drawing stargazers to the nearby Mount John Observatory. In spring time, colourful lupins give the Mackenzie Basin a pink-purple tinge, fine rock-flour ground by glaciers over time suspended in the water has turned the lake a milky-turquoise hue.
You’ll want to bring your camera for this one. The much-Instagrammed Hokitika Gorge is a photographer’s dream where a forest-fringed, rocky ridge meets a spectacular swing bridge suspended above shimmering blue waters. Continue up the track for another 200 metres through the bush to another viewing platform which looks out over the gorge upstream of the bridge.