Gem of the Ocean

Piha, New Zealand, Travel, North Island

Isolation can lead to deprivation so one would think a two-island nation, situated at the bottom of the globe, separated by thousands of miles from the nearest large land mass, would have little to offer the intrepid tourist. But New Zealand has an abundance of riches, from great seafood and lamb to world-class wine and shopping to beautiful beaches and spectacular glaciers.

Auckland, the country’s largest city, boasts a wealth of fine dining options from Cin Cin on Quay to The Grove Restaurant. Fresh seafood such as oysters, John Dory and scampi are on hand as is fine New Zealand lamb. On a balmy summer evening, head to the harbor to see the sailboats sway in the breeze. Have more than a day in town? Take the ferry to nearby Waiheke Island for a bit of R&R or drive across the mountains to the black sands of Piha beach, famous for its thunderous surf. The Coromandel peninsula, stretching northeast from Auckland, offers a scenic view of the Pacific as well as geothermal hot springs, a rainforest reserve and a Bigfoot-like monster.

Driving down to the South Island, don’t bypass Hawke’s Bay, the country’s oldest wine-growing region. It’s here that you can savor the New Zealand’s distinctive Chardonnays, Syrahs and Pinot Noirs. Craggy Range is the region’s preeminent winery: you’ll agree with the pundits after sipping wine amid gorgeous views.

Once on the South Island, stop off in windy Wellington, the country’s energetic capital. Enjoy a pint or two at a gastropub such as The Tasting Room before heading to the Carter Observatory or the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, one of the finest galleries about aboriginal culture in the world.

While the North Island is tame and civilized, the South Island is savage, with miles of dense forests—perfect for intrepid hikers—as well as looming glaciers. If you’re gutsy, head to the West Coast town of Franz Josef, named for the Austrian emperor. Here you can climb down part of the Franz Josef glacier. Or book a helicopter tour for a more relaxed view. The stunning scenery will live in your memory, long after you make the journey home.

Getting there: Air New Zealand offers direct daily flights from Los Angeles, San Fransisco and Honolulu.

Where to Stay: In Auckland, try the blissful Boatshed on Waiheke Island. Budget-conscious travelers will love the cool Gourmet Stay in Wellington. Hawke’s Bay has some of the country’s finest accommodations at Cape Kidnappers. Glenfern Villas in Franz Josef boast an alpine feel that won’t break the bank.