Our Luxury Custom Travel consultants scout destinations all over the world to uncover the latest and best that each destination has to offer. With their insider knowledge, they can create exclusive and unforgettable travel experiences, whether in a beloved location our guests have dreamed of visiting or an amazing hidden gem that hasn’t been discovered yet.
Consultant Kate Mayer recently returned from scouting New Zealand, where she sought out the majestic landscapes, fine wine, outdoor adventures and enchanting towns of this island nation. We asked her to share her favorite findings, including the one-of-a-kind accommodations she stayed in along the way.
Where did you go?
I spent time on both the North and South islands. On the North Island, I explored Auckland, Bay of Islands, Kerikeri and Napier. Then on the South Island, I checked out Nelson, Blenheim and the Marlborough region, Queenstown and the nearby town of Glenorchy.
Where should our guests start for unique experiences in New Zealand?
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs is an amazing place to take in the coastal beauty of the North Island. Located at the northern tip of the island, this world-class hotel is often overlooked by travelers who are pressed for time, but well worth visiting. We can schedule a property tour for you with the guest relations manager. He’ll make your stay even more exceptional as he introduces you to the magnificent natural surroundings and his Maori ancestors’ intimate relationship with the land.
I also recommend flying to Napier, which is known as one of the great art deco capitals of the world. Most of the city’s buildings were wiped out by an earthquake and subsequent fire in 1931, but a huge majority of them have been rebuilt in their art deco style. After a quick city tour, we can arrange for an original 1930s Packard car to transfer you to your hotel in style.
While you’re visiting the South Island, spend a relaxing afternoon at Himmelsfeld Vineyard for a tasting and a chance to feed the resident sheep. This boutique winery is a local gem that produces interesting and delightful varietals. The owner has a soft spot for her lambs and sheep, who roam the property and are spoiled with all the apples they get to eat from the many trees. I loved learning about the land, the winery’s history and fun tidbits about some of the special sheep.
Describe some can’t-miss experiences and destinations.
If you choose to stay at The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, I’d suggest the delightful barbecue dinner on Pink Beach. The beach is a 10-minute golf cart ride from the main lodge and is named for the pink hue of the shells scattered on the shore. Cuddle up in a blanket and sip on a glass of wine or hunt for some souvenir shells as lodge chefs cook a magnificent spread right in front of you.
One of the highlights of Napier is The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, a luxury lodge that hosts a famous gannet colony with up to 20,000 birds. These beautiful animals are closely related to the blue-footed boobies of the Galápagos Islands. They return en masse to the lodge in September and October and spend time building nests before their baby chicks are born in December and January.
Right outside Queenstown, you can take a roller-coaster jet boat ride on the Shotover River. Ride with about 12 other passengers and enjoy the scenery as your expert jet boat captain zips and spins you all around the river. Just be sure to hold on to the handrail and wear the protective jacket you’re provided—you might get splashed a bit!
Finally, don’t leave Queenstown without taking a helicopter tour of the Southern Alps for one of the most magnificent experiences you’ll ever have. Departing from the city, your flight takes you through the clouds and over the mountains for breathtaking views of dramatic, snow-covered peaks, valley gorges, and the famous Milford Sound. After you’ve zoomed over the fjord, we can arrange for your pilot to fly you up the side of Milford’s waterfall. As if the experience wasn’t already over the top, you’ll land on a pristine mountain peak to enjoy the majesty of nature with no one else around.
You stayed in some remarkable properties. What made them special?
New Zealand has so many incredible places to stay, it’s hard to know where to start! If you’re hoping to spend some time in Auckland on the North Island, Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbor is an elegant city hotel appointed with all the modern luxuries you could hope for and a cheerful, attentive staff. Located close to the water and numerous shops and restaurants, it’s perfectly situated for any Auckland adventure.
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers was recently awarded #1 Resort in Australia and the South Pacific by Condé Nast Traveler, and for good reason. This working farm and lodge embodies rustic chic, with over 1,000 wines on the wine list, a world-famous golf course, an avian sanctuary and 6,000 acres of land to explore. Watch sheep dogs in action with a herding demonstration, or jump in an ATV with a local guide and traverse the property’s trails to check out the beach and a natural gorge.
The South Island also has its fair share of world-class accommodations. Te Koi – The Lodge at Bronte is a lovely little lodge situated on a headland surrounded by birdlife and run by a friendly Kiwi couple. With a maximum of 14 guests, Te Koi has a luxury B&B feel for anyone who wants to escape the hustle of daily life. From your cozy, well-appointed room, you can enjoy the panoramic views of the marshlands and nibble on fresh-baked cookies. When you’re ready to venture out, wander through the flower and vegetable gardens or visit the cheese hut, which produces fresh cheeses daily.
If you’re looking to explore wine country, Marlborough Lodge in Blenheim is located on a highway home to some of the most renowned wineries in New Zealand. At this delightful property, rooms are light and airy and there are always thoughtful surprises waiting for guests, from the manager’s warm welcome to the hidden charms of the vast grounds. Hunt for chicken eggs that will be cooked fresh in the restaurant, try to name the variety of fruit trees in the orchard, or lounge at the large swimming pool before it’s time for afternoon cocktails and canapes with your fellow guests.
Blanket Bay is a majestic lodge spread across the banks of Lake Wakatipu in Glenorchy, which is situated about an hour from central Queenstown. It’s the only property in the area with direct private access to the lake, and both the main lodge and guest rooms offer prime views of the waterfront. Dark wood accents and fly-fishing memorabilia complete the refined lodge atmosphere. As long as the weather cooperates, you can take a magnificent helicopter ride over the lake that lands you back on the lodge’s lawns.
Describe some of your favorite food and drink experiences.
I loved the opportunity to enjoy a home-cooked “family meal” at Te Koi – The Lodge at Bronte. Owners Ian and Ali Metcalfe have an extensive hospitality background and previously owned one of New Zealand’s top restaurants. Dinners here are a one-of-a-kind experience, featuring local produce and delightful wine pairings. Each evening feels like a gathering with old friends over a spectacular feast.
Wine tasting in New Zealand is a must, and Marlborough is one of the best regions to do so. Cloudy Bay is arguably the country’s most world-famous winery, and its grounds and tasting rooms are impeccable. Just down the road, Saint Claire Vineyard also offers a fabulous variety of tastings, as well as a full restaurant where you can dine alfresco surrounded by the magnificent vines. On the coast of Marlborough, the Marlborough Sounds is a prolific area for both wine and seafood. One of the best ways to experience the bounty is with a scenic afternoon cruise. As you visit local farms amid the many waterways and islands, feast on salmon, mussels and clams while indulging in some of the region’s finest wine.
Describe what surprised you about New Zealand.
I learned some fascinating tidbits as I got more acquainted with the country’s history and stunning landscapes. The Bay of Islands is less visited than other areas of New Zealand, but it has played such an important role in the country’s history. The British Crown and local Maori signed the Treaty of Waitangi here in 1840, establishing New Zealand as a British colony. I was amazed by the grandeur of the Southern Alps, which have lost approximately one third of their glacial snow and ice volume since the 1970s. And let’s not forget one of the most important populations in New Zealand—sheep! While wool is still a large industry, the ratio of sheep to humans has decreased over the years and is now approximately 5 to 1.
This is just a small sampling of some of the things we can arrange for you in this fascinating country. We can design the perfect New Zealand trip for you, based on your interests and time constraints. Just give us a call or click on the “contact a consultant” button below to get started.