The world’s adventure hub continues to add activities while lesser-known Kiwi regions, like New Zealand’s far north, are coming under the spotlight.

“It’s this diversity of landscape and attractions that makes New Zealand such a great sell for UK travellers. Travelling to the other side of the world means people want to see as much as possible which is why we combine various travel styles, such as iconic rail journeys and cruising on Milford Sound.”

ANGELA WAITE, HEAD OF SALES AND COMMERCIAL, APT

Perfect 10

  1. Have a good wine: Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough, famed for its sauvignon blanc, are excellent places to book wineland tours or hire a bike for a self-guided tour

  2. Take to sea: Head to Kaikoura for whale watching cruises or swimming with wild dolphins

  3. Take a hike: If you can’t manage one of New Zealand’s nine, multi-day ‘great walks’ try a one-day walk like Pouakai Crossing

  4. Ice to see you: South Island’s Franz Josef, Fox and Rob Roy glaciers make for fascinating hiking, with the option of taking a scenic helicopter ride to the top

  5. Island life: From tall ship charters to dolphin cruises the beautiful Bay of Islands is a boating paradise

  6. Slice of kayak: From exploring Marlborough and Milford Sounds to combing the coastline around Abel Tasman National Park, the country offers spectacular kayaking

  7. Freefall for New Zealand: Skydive over areas such as Queenstown or Abel Tasman with operators such as NZONE and Skydive Abel Tasman

  8. Get glowing: Experience glow worm caves on a ‘black water rafting’ trip in Waitomo Caves or with Waimarino Glow Worm Kayaking in the Bay of Plenty

  9. Treat yourself: Add some class by including a stay in a luxury retreat such as Split Apple Retreat on Tasman Bay, the iconic Huka Lodge or The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs 

  10. Cruise control: Overnight on a Milford Sound cruise boat and awake to the sight of cascading waterfalls before taking to a kayak for closer inspection

Northern highlights

Most visitors start their journey in Auckland, where they can head to Northland, as I did, fly straight to the South Island or go south overland via places like Rotorua, noted for its geo-thermal attractions, Maori cultural shows and awide range of activities ranging from ziplines and simulated skydives to jet boats.

Other North Island highlights include Hawke’s Bay wine country, majestic Huka Falls and Lake Taupo for its boat cruises and heli-fishing tours offered by specialists such as Chris Jolly Outdoors.

An up and coming region is Taranaki, offering stunning volcano views; the one-day Pouakai Crossing hike; driving the Forgotten World Highway; and Taumarunui’s RailBike tours along a decommissioned railway line.

East coast top stops include the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers and the art deco town of Napier, a frequent cruise stop.

Due south

For many though it’s South Island which is the main prize. At the top sits the spectacular wine country of Marlborough and the watery charms of Marlborough Sounds; beach-lined Abel Tasman National Park; and the cute town of Nelson.

Queenstown remains the ‘go to’ place for adrenalin sports but some operators, such as Silver Fern Holidays, are switching their focus to neighbouring Wanaka, quieter but equally adrenalin-packed.

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers offer spectacular hiking tours and scenic helitours landing atop the glaciers, with further snowy options including hikes on Rob Roy Glacier, snow tubing in Tekapo Springs and Mount Cook Glacier Guiding tours in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.

The country also offers fantastic boarding and skiing, including heli-skiing, between June and mid-September.

Hiking is famously good and autumn (our spring) offers excellent conditions. The ‘nine great walks’ such as The Kepler, Routeburn and Milford Track remain major draws. Operators worth a look for hiking tours include Ramblers Worldwide  and Exodus.

Rail offers yet another way to drink in the scenery and KiwiRail operates The Northern Explorer, TranzAlpine scenic railway, and the Coastal Pacific (currently closed for repairs). Check out specialist operators such as Great Journeys of New Zealand, which offers rail and ferry trips from Christchurch to Auckland. For younger clients on a budget consider Contiki and G Adventures’ YOLO offering.

Driving the Northland

The rising tide is already lapping the rocks we’re hurtling towards. "Don’t worry, I’ve only got stuck once,” assures my wisecracking driver as he hammers his bus full pelt up Ninety Mile Beach, rounding the surf-licked rocks with the kind of nonchalant steering wheel flourish that Lewis Hamilton would appreciate.

We race on to Cape Reinga and its lighthouse, for views of the endless ocean which swirls around the tip of New Zealand. From dune sandboarding to subtropical snorkelling in the Poor Knights Islands and marvelling at playful dolphins in the Bay of Islands, my May trip to Northland is a fantastic experience all round and I’m not alone in singing the praises of New Zealand’s sometimes underappreciated ‘Far North’.

What the experts say

“We have revitalised the 100% Pure New Zealand Specialist Programme and agents can now become a Bronze or Silver level Specialist without having visited the country, through online and in-office training sessions. Once agents have visited New Zealand they automatically become Gold Specialists and their business listing is prioritised on, allowing them to benefit from direct leads.” 

PIP CASEY, REGIONAL MANAGER UK & EUROPE AT TOURISM NEW ZEALAND)

“For me the often-overlooked Hokianga is one of the best places to visit. Here, just an hour’s drive from the Bay of Islands and three and a half from Auckland, you can enjoy stunning harbour views, meander through sand dunes and see the world’s largest Kauri trees in an area where the first Maori explorers landed more than 1,000 years ago.”

REBECCA TURNER, SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER, ASIA AND AUSTRALIA, GOLD MEDAL

What’s new

Hotels Christchurch will see an 88-room Ramada Encore open in November; Novotel Christchurch Airport opening late 2017; and the 179-room Distinction Hotel and 120-room Holiday Inn Express both opening early 2018.

In Auckland, Millennium Hotels’ new M Social and the 130-room SO Sofitel Auckland open in early 2018 while in Wellington Accor has reopened its fire-damaged Sofitel Wellington, and the 102-room Sudima Wellington and 108-room Doubletree by Hilton will both open by year-end.

Experiences: Queenstown’s new options include the Nevis Thriller bungee experience; Ziptrek’s new Twilight Tour version of its zipline forest canopy tours; and Real Journeys’ latest group tour, The Walter Peak Electric Trail Bike trip.

New products in Auckland include the All Blacks Experience, set to open by year end, and Auckland Sea Kayaks’ Waiheke Island Coastal Sea Kayak Tour.A tenth ‘great walk’, the Pike29 Memorial Track from Blackball to Punakaiki, will launch next year. Recently added cycling trails include the Timber Trail and the Old Ghost Road plus.Elsewhere, Fiordland Discovery has new overnight Milford Sound cruises aboard its luxury boat Fiordland Jewel, which features an onboard ROV for underwater tours and a helipad.

Tour operator product: Trafalgar has launched two new Hidden Journeys tours for 2018 – the 22-day Long White Cloud (from £7,395) and 11-day Endless Shores tour on the North Island (from £3,495) — and is offering 10% savings on all land tour bookings across its South Pacific programme if fully paid before November 30 2017.

Contiki’s North Island itineraries will feature a new destination in 2018 – active volcano Mount Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park. Austravel’s next brochure will feature a range of new products including remote PurePod cabins and eight new high-end lodges, including Tin Tub Luxury Lodge in Wanaka.

 

Where to book it

APT’s 18-day New Zealand Rail Adventure from Auckland to Christchurch takes in sights such as Franz Josef and Fox glaciers and a Milford Sound cruise alongside rail features such as the Taieri Gorge Railway. From £4,895pp twin share departing February 9, including flights and accommodation.

Intrepid Travel has the 22-day New Zealand Adventure Northbound, starting in Christchurch and ending in Auckland. It’s priced from £4,235pp, twin share, excluding flights, based on a November 4 2018 departure.