Read an Excerpt
Destination New Zealand
Pleasures and Pastimes
The list of unique and outstanding New Zealand beaches is almost endless. Most New Zealanders prefer beaches along the east coast of North Island, where the combination of gentle seas and balmy summers is a powerful attraction during January holidays. Sand on the west coast of North Island is black as a result of volcanic activity. South Island beaches are no less spectacular, particularly those in the northwest in Abel Tasman National Park and down the West Coast. In summer popular beaches close to cities and in major holiday areas are patrolled by lifeguards.
Despite its often precipitous topography, New Zealand is great for biking. A temperate climate, excellent roads with relatively little traffic, and scenic variety make it a delight for anyone who is reasonably fit and has time to travel slowly. The most common problem for cyclists is buckled wheel rims: Narrow, lightweight alloy rims won't stand up long to the rigors of the road. A wide-rimmed hybrid or mountain bike with road tires is a better bet for extensive touring.
If two-wheel touring sounds appealing but pedaling a heavily laden bicycle doesn't, consider a guided cycle tour. Tours last from 2 to 18 days; bikes are supplied, and your gear is loaded on a bus or trailer that follows the riders. And you have the option of busing in the "sag wagon" when your legs give out.
Boating: Sailing, Rafting, and Sea-Kayaking
The country's premier cruising regions are the Bay of Islands, Marlborough Sounds, and the coast around Abel Tasman National Park, near the northern tips of North and South Islands, respectively.Both areas have sheltered waters, marvelous scenery, and secluded beaches. The Bay of Islands enjoys warmer summer temperatures, while Marlborough Sounds has a wild, untamed quality. Both areas have opportunities for sea-kayaking as well.
Old New Zealand, new New Zealand -- what you'll find culinarily on your trip spans the 20th century, from farmers' fare of yore to very contemporary preparations. The waters around New Zealand are some of the cleanest in the world, and their produce is sensational. The New Zealand crayfish, essentially a clawless lobster, is delicious, and succulent white-shelled Bluff oysters, available from March to about July, are rated highly by aficionados. Watch for orange roughy, a delicate white-fleshed fish best served with a light sauce. And don't miss pipis (clams), scallops (with delicious roe in spring), green-lipped mussels, paua (abalone) with their iridescent shells, the small seasonal fish called whitebait, usually served in fritters, and very fine freshwater eel.
The seas off the east coast of North Island are among the world's finest big-game fishing waters. The quarry is mako, hammerhead, tiger shark, and marlin -- especially striped marlin, which average around 250 pounds. For light tackle fishing, bonito and skipjack tuna and kahawai (sea trout) offer excellent sport. Many anglers maintain that kahawai are better fighters, pound for pound, than freshwater trout. Bases for big-game fishing are the towns of Paihia and Russell, which have a number of established charter operators. The season runs from January to April, although smaller game fishing is good all year.
You will find courses of an extremely high standard, such as Titirangi, Formosa, Gulf Harbour, and Millbrook. However, keen golfers should also take the time to enjoy a country course, where the main hazards include sheep droppings and friendly locals who will keep you chatting until the sun goes down if you let them. You can play year-round; winter is the major season. Most of New Zealand's 400 courses welcome visitors.
If you want to see the best of what New Zealand has to offer, put on a pair of hiking boots and head for the bush -- the Kiwi word for the great outdoors. Range upon range of mountains, deep, ice-carved valleys, wilderness areas that have never been farmed, logged, or grazed, and a first-class network of marked trails and tramping huts are just some of the reasons that bushwalking (read: hiking) is a national addiction.
New Zealand produces several unique souvenirs, but don't expect to find many bargains. Sheepskins and quality woolens are widely available. Bowls hewn from native timber and polished to a lustrous finish are distinctive souvenirs, but a fine example will cost several hundred dollars. Greenstone, a type of jade once prized by the Maori, is now used for ornaments and jewelry -- especially the figurines known as tiki, often worn as pendants. The two major areas for crafts are the Coromandel Peninsula close to Auckland and the environs of Nelson at the northern tip of South Island; those areas also have local potters. The Parnell area of Auckland and the Galleria in the Christchurch Arts Centre are the places to shop for souvenirs.
New Zealand has 27 peaks that top the 10,000-ft mark, and the June-October ski season is the reason many skiers head "down under" when the snow melts in the northern hemisphere. South Island has most of the country's 13 commercial ski areas, and the outstanding runs are at Treble Cone and Cardrona, near the town of Wanaka, and Coronet Peak and the Remarkables, close to Queenstown. North Island has two commercial ski areas, Whakapapa and Turoa, both near Lake Taupo on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu.
Swimming with Marine Life
Dolphins and seals are plentiful off many parts of New Zealand, and you're likely to spot them from regular cruises and ferry trips. It's not unusual to see dolphins or even orcas (killer whales) on a cruise in and beyond Auckland's Hauraki Gulf. If you want to get even closer, a number of operators now have swim-with-dolphins -- or seals -- tours. Most tours run daily, and gear is included in the price. Many of them also guarantee at least a sighting of marine mammals and offer a free trip the next day if the animals are not spotted. Check on these details before you hand over your money.