WHY WE LOVE IT
- Probably the world's most unspoiled environment, with incredible, varied landscapes spread over the two main islands
- Unique beyond-luxury lodges tucked away in hundreds of acres of countryside; a full-blown culinary boom in progress
- Beautiful, cosmopolitan, vibrant capital city of Auckland, known as the "City of Sails"; windy Wellington; hip adventure-sports-oriented Queenstown; Art Deco Napier
- Bay of Islands and other offshore destinations; Hawkes Bay and other wine regions
- Yachting, bungee jumping, white-water rafting; alps and volcanoes, fjords, lakes and geysers
- Middle Earth—and Narnia—come to life.
- Good buys: wines; Maori art; CDs by Moana Maniapoto and Hinewehi Mohi; fashion from Karen Walker, Zambesi, and ZambesiMan; clothes in possum, mink, and merino wool; all-natural spa products.
WHEN TO GO
Summer, December through February, is high season, plus the fall in wine regions, but the temperate climate means year-round travel is possible in most areas. Try for bargains in early spring, around September.
DINE BY PETER GORDON
Sky City Grand Hotel
Level 3, 90 Federal St.
The chef, though famous in London, is in fact from Wanganui, and this sophisticated room marks his homecoming. His food is Pacific Rim—he practically invented the genre, with delicious dishes that read complex, but taste simply divine. One example: the pan-seared South Island scampi on a salad of pawpaw, ya pear, wasabi agar agar jelly, hijiki, and coriander with coconut-ginger dressing—and that's an appetizer.
144 Parnell Rd.
There's nothing out of place about the warm, mid-century modern decor in trendy Parnell's historic Windsor Castle. In fact, a table in the conservatory or secret little garden is a perfect setting for sampling the all-ecofarmed, free-range cooking of creative chef Sonya Paget.
THE FRENCH CAFÉ
210 Symonds St.
This multi-award-winning place is lovable, not stuffy, with its white tablecloths, white walls, and huge windows overlooking a lovely conservatory. Chef Simon Wright is a culinary star; dishes like quail tempura with chili jam and sesame mayonnaise or roast beef filet with foie gras croquette may also appear on his eight-course tasting menu, so save up your appetite for this treat.
70 Jervois Rd.
In rooms that manage to be both glamorous and cozy, with exposed-brick walls and lots of candles, superior Italian classics are served to the chic neighborhood crowds. The upstairs room is better than the tables by the kitchen.
SOUL BAR & BISTRO
There is no finer perch than a terrace table here—it's front and center for the yacht action in the bay, and the beyond-buzzy bistro is a tonic even on a gray day. Soul Food, as they call it, is fun, generous, and seasonal, heavy on the seafood: hot salt-and-pepper calamari with coriander-chili chutney; whitebait fritter with lemon and chive butter; and multiple fishes of the day.
270 Willis St.
An adorable dollhouse of a restaurant is the showcase for classically trained Maori chef Rex Morgan's eight-course tasting menus—or three-course prix-fixes, if you're not up to the challenge. It's consistently top-rated in the windy city, so reserve well ahead.
ARBITRAGEUR WINE ROOM & DELICATESSA
125 Featherston St.
That's no misprint: The last part of this lovely, casual new restaurant in the capital refers to the tapas, charcuterie, and cheeses on the menu, perfect for sharing when what you really want to do is sample flights of the country's wines as you gaze into each other's eyes.
AMISFIELD WINERY BISTRO
10 Lake Hayes Rd.
You'll feel part of the winemaking dynasty at one of the fireside tables under the recycled-redwood beams in this architect-designed, historic-looking stone building—or, in summer, out in the courtyard. Chef Dan Monopoli's always locally sourced dishes change daily and complement the estate's wines: duck with quince paste; roast pork with pea puree; a rich chocolate cake.
Huka Falls Rd.
PO Box 95, Taupo
Central PlateauNorth Island
Named after the waterfall it stands near, this parkland estate epitomizes all that is wonderful about posh New Zealand lodges. Suites have their own little riverside gardens, vaulted timber ceilings, dressing rooms, and under-floor heating in the bathrooms. The best for privacy and luxury is the secluded four-bedroom Owner's Cottage. Every European royal, including Elizabeth II of England, has stayed here—plus Bill Gates, Michael Douglas, and Barbra Streisand. (Not together.)
Glenorchy Otago South Island
Just 12 rustic-luxe suites inhabit this totally secluded lodge on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, about 30 miles north of Queenstown. A big, outdoor heated pool with alpine views plus a spa and gym augment the many sports opportunities, and food here is, as with all top lodges, sublime. A good honeymoon omen: Blanket Bay is home to Paradise ducks, known for their habit of mating for life.
__THE LODGE AT PARATIHO FARMS
__545 Vaiwhero Rd.RD
2 Upper Moutere
Nelson South Island
You'll never know this 2,000-acre, six-suite haven owned by a Californian expat couple is a working sheep farm. You'll be too busy sitting round your log fire with fresh cookies and a cocktail, being pampered in the top spa, playing tennis and croquet, doing Pilates, or just soaking in the tub overlooking your private garden. The food here is so good, a (totally optional) cooking school was opened in 2005.
WHAREKAUHAU COUNTRY ESTATE
Western Lake Rd.
RD3 Featherston, Wairarapa
"ForryKoHo" (Place of Knowledge) is an 1840s 5,000-acre sheep station with forest, beach, river, lake, and the Martinborough wine region all in easy reach. So are an indoor pool, horses, a spa, quad bikes, skeet shooting, archery, ecotours…you get the picture. Your own cute, cream-painted cottage with four-poster bed, fireplace, dressing room, bar, and under-floor heating is the center of life, except when you visit the communal table—or a private dining room—in the Edwardian lodge.
This not-so-posh lodge is probably the most secluded one of all—the entire 2,100-acre island belongs only to Paruparu Lodge, plus the neighboring sheep farm. Built in 2000, the house may not be superluxe, but it is lovely, with typical NZ wooden cathedral ceilings, big windows, wraparound terrace, and three bedrooms to sample. For an extra $100 a day, the caretaker couple will cook and serve your meals.
SKY CITY GRAND HOTEL
Victoria and Federal Streets
Tel: 888-693-2489 (toll-free from U.S.)
This glamorous newcomer in the 1997 Sky City complex—which includes the 1,076-foot Sky Tower—was worked on by several notable Pacific Rim designers. They didn't do much for the room size, but the chic look, big windows, and sandblasted-glass bathroom walls, plus the hotel's excellent restaurant, make up for that.
Downtown in NZ's grooviest, sportiest city is possibly its hippest new hotel—just ten rooms with balconies and Oamaru-stone fireplaces, Eames leather loungers, free minibars, superking-sized beds (don't get the twins!), and fancy entertainment systems with big plasma-screen TVs. Their restaurant, which seats just 16, is a Queenstown hit.
P.O. Box 106 026
Since Auckland is the City of Sails, you really ought to launch yourselves into the Harbour—it's an exhilarating way to see the sights, and this outfit will teach you how to sail, too. If that's too strenuous, take a sunset sail or a dinner cruise.
BAY OF ISLANDS
Ferries or charter boats will take you to this playground of every Aucklander, with all kinds of sporting activities, beaches, and vacation-ready towns like Russell, Paihia, Waitangi, and Kerikeri. The Bay of Islands Information Centre can reserve any special itineraries for you if you call or e-mail ahead.
DIG YOUR OWN SPA
Between Whitianga and Tairua
A drive around the Coromandel Peninsula is a highlight all on its own, with beach after beach lined by the baches (vacation homes) of Aucklanders and pohutukawa trees. At Hot Water Beach, if you dig a hole at low tide it will fill magically with hot mineral waters, a legacy of long-ago geothermal activity.
P.O. Box 106 388
Sydneysiders have their Harbour Bridge Walk; Aucklanders walk up their Harbour Bridge—and then jump off it. The latest jaunt from A.J. Hackett, who in the 1980s popularized this dubious sport of jumping off high things with an elastic band around your ankle, is an especially good bungee, since you can do it in tandem. If you dare to do it, you'll never get over the buzz.
P.O. Box 586
Probably the silliest and most amusing thing you can do on honeymoon is strap yourselves together inside a ten-foot plastic ball with a bucket of water sloshing around the protective air pocket and get rolled down a hill. They swear it's safe.
HAWKE'S BAY WINERIES
Centered in the North Island Art Deco town of Napier, this is not only one of the country's premier wine-producing regions, it's also well-organized and accessible, with trails for wines, amazing food, and art. Grape Escape (tel: 6421-227-7211; grapeescapenz.co.nz) offers half-day, full-day, and custom tours, or you can rent a car and navigate by yourselves.
THE TRANZALPINE TRAIN
A wonderful way to experience the majesty of the mountains; board at Christchurch at 8.15 a.m., and by the time you arrive in Greymouth at 12:45 p.m., you'll have seen Springfield and the alpine sheep stations of the Waimakariri valley, Arthur's Pass, and much more. You can explore the West Coast, or hop right back on the eastbound train at 1:45 p.m.