It is best known for being rugged and outdoorsy but New Zealand also packs a punch when it comes to high-end experiences – from luxury lodges to helitours and lobsters in some spectacular locations.

“We’re continuing to see a trend for high-end tour operators in the UK adding New Zealand’s luxury product to their brochures. The country is small and easy to travel around, but choosing a guided option, or including a variety of transfers such as helicopter transfers, lifts an itinerary exponentially.”


Sky’s the limit

As the propeller begins to spin, slowly at first and then whirring into a blur, I feel a surge of excitement. I’ve been in a helicopter before – talking to the pilot through big headphones while he pointed out landmarks below is an experience I’ll never forget - but I’ve never landed on a glacier.

Franz Josef is the world’s steepest and fastest-flowing commercially guided glacier and, as we rise higher into the sky, I wonder if I should tell my guide that I’m terrified of heights. It doesn’t matter because I’m unable to speak: the glistening blanket of snow and ice below me has literally taken my breath away.

Kitted out in weather-proof clothes and boots, and wielding a pole, I take my first tentative step on the ice – and fall over. This is going to be harder than I thought and concentrating is hard. I spot an ice cave with an iridescent blue centre and am transfixed. I’ve never seen anything so naturally beautiful.

Back at base, I strip off and climb into a glacial hot tub for a 45-minute private soak. Surrounded by rainforest, and with birdsong filling the air, it’s a luxurious end to an exclusive-feeling adventure.

Heading up

Upping the value stakes seems to be the theme for New Zealand this year as it attracts more high-end visitors looking for natural landscapes and design-led lodge accommodation.

Luxury Lodges of New Zealand, which represents 29 exclusive properties across both islands, reported a 36% year-on-year increase in premium market spend to March 2018.

“For high-net worth travellers wanting bespoke experiences, New Zealand is the ultimate destination,” said Emma McDonald, Business Development Manager.

“Guests are attracted to our world-renowned luxury lodges and facilities. We are seeing increased growth in city-based luxury hotels, particularly in Auckland and Queenstown,” added Gillian Millar, Senior Vice President of Operations for Accor Hotels. “The recently-opened SO/Auckland shatters conventional hotel norms and we believe there is room for growth in this market segment.”

And it’s not just hoteliers enjoying increased sales. Rebecca Turner, Senior Product Manager of Pure Luxury, Gold Medal’s high-end brand, has seen an increase in 209% for bookings to New Zealand in the last three months alone with “an even mix of nights in the North and South Island”.

Tourism New Zealand, meanwhile, is continuing to equip agents with the tools to tap into this growing trend through luxury trade shows, joint ventures, training, fam trips and add-ons. After all, where else in the world can you heli-hike on a glacier before relaxing in a natural hot pool? The message, it seems, is that when it comes to up-selling New Zealand, the sky really is the limit.

What’s new

Hotels: A new architecturally-designed luxury lodge has opened in the remote Ahuriri Valley in the South Island. The Lindis features a low profile undulating roof that mirrors the curvature of the land around it; the north elevation is made entirely of glass to make the most of the views. Inside, there are five luxury lodges – each constructed using natural materials – a lounge and a bar. Prices start at £1,597 per room per night including breakfast and dinner.

Trade incentives: Tourism New Zealand’s new series of bite-size videos, designed specifically for agents wishing to sell more of the destination, are still available to view online. Entitled ‘Overcoming the Barriers of Selling New Zealand’, each video addresses key selling themes while answering questions posed by agents. Click the Sales Tools tab on the homepage to watch.


Luxury experiences

Fine dining: Gourmet dining is a must on any luxury travel itinerary to New Zealand. For a top-to-tail food pilgrimage, visit the Omata Estate in the Northlands, Martinborough Village in Wellington, Bay of Many Caves Resort in Marlborough and Ripon in Wanaka – or enter seventh heaven and visit all four.

Lord of the Rings journey: This scenic helicopter flight includes many of the sights where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. Pilot Alfie Speight, the principle filming pilot for the series, will guide you over the Shotover River, where Arwen turns to face the Nazgûl at the Ford of Bruinen, and over the mountain range from the opening scene of The Two Towers.

First-class spa-ing: Set in 600 acres, the Lodge at Kauri Cliffs offers spectacular 180-degree sea views, as well as private beaches, an infinity pool, championship golf course and a sumptuous spa. Overlooking a verdant fern glen, you can listen to birdsong as your troubles are massaged away.

Super yacht sailing: Discover 15,000kms of pristine coastline on The Big Blue, a 43-metre luxury yacht sleeping 10 guests. Spend your days relaxing on board with your own private chef. Oysters and Champagne anyone? Or snorkel or dive in clear waters.

Private wine touring: Marlborough Wine Tours offers private tours for guests wishing to make the most of their visit. Based on your preferred tipple, experts will tailor an itinerary for you before setting off for a full day’s tour, taking in four or five cellar doors – each with tastings – and including a gourmet lunch overlooking a vineyard of your choice.

Where to book it

Abercrombie & Kent offer a 15-night Ultimate New Zealand tour from £9,875pp, taking in Auckland, the Bay of Islands, Nelson, Marlborough, Kaikoura and Queenstown, and including flights, helicopter transfers, luxury lodging, and all meals (including Champagne).

Audley Travel has 21-day New Zealand Food & Wine Trail Self Drive tour from £7,485 per person including international and domestic flights, car hire, a choice of accommodation and visits to wineries in the Central Otago region, as well as Hawke’s Bay, Martinborough and Blenheim.