When Australia inflated its first full travel bubble this week it made the best possible choice of destinations, even though the list of candidates in this still COVID-19 unsafe world is starkly slim.
New Zealand is not merely a great place to visit, it's one of the world's great destinations. It's secure, spectacular, and at times surprising, right from the tip of one far-flung island to the bottom of the other. Now, COVID-19 willing, it will be ready to receive us after more than a year's enforced separation from Sunday, April 18, at 9.59pm (AEST).
For a country with less than half the population of Sydney and Melbourne combined, the choices are endless and enticing. It's why we've prepared this special potted guide to extracting the most from a holiday there.
THE FIRST-TIME VISITOR
Head south for scenery: Doubtful Sound. Photo: Alamy
Unless you have a few weeks or more to spare, it makes sense to concentrate on one island. The choice couldn't be more straightforward: North or South? If you love big cities (there's really only one: Polynesian Auckland), Maori culture, geysers (that'd be Rotorua) and fine wine (Hawke's Bay for its full-bodied reds), choose the North Island.
If you're wowed by awesome scenery (alpine peaks and fabulous fiords) that rival Europe and North and South America and you prefer quieter cities and towns (such as Christchurch, Dunedin and Nelson though Queenstown can be action-packed, in the ski season), then the South Island is made for you.
Either way, North or South, and notwithstanding a possible bubble hiccup, you won't go wrong with either island.
THE RETURN HOLIDAY-MAKER
The Bay of Islands. Photo: Alamy
Been there? Done that? Worry not as there's still so much left to discover. Few Australian visitors venture to the north beyond Auckland and therefore miss the natural and historical wonders of the Bay of Islands.
Along with spectacular seascapes, this sparsely-populated region is home to the seminal Waitangi Treaty Grounds as well as Russell, one New Zealand's most charming coastal heritage towns.
In the South Island, if you've experienced the spectacular though popular Milford Sound in Fiordland, consider Doubtful Sound, the fiord that Kiwis themselves recommend over the former.
Doubtful's far bigger, more awe-inspiring and less trammelled than Milford, with overnight cruises operating along its phenomenal, peak-lined 40-kilometres breadth. The process of getting there is an adventure itself: you'll need to take a a boat across a lake and then a vehicle by road over a mountain saddle.
THE FOOD AND WINE FANCIER
Waitemata Harbour, Auckland. Photo: Alamy
New Zealand has long been a respected producer of premium wine and has an excellent nose for wine tourism. But it's in food that this country of five million hungry souls has made the greatest strides.
Food snobs consider the urbane capital Wellington as New Zealand's best restaurant city, but Auckland, with its impressive nascent Melbourne-style laneway culture, has also emerged as a culinary powerhouse.
Better known for its skiing, Queenstown, with its proximity to the quality pinot noir-rich Central Otago wine region, has an underrated food scene.
Happily for caffeine-cognescenti Aussies, New Zealand is brimful of seriously cool cafes to match those in Australian inner-cities. In fact, the quality of the coffee could arguably even be more consistent than Australia's.
THE LUXURY LOVER
Huka Lodge. Photo: Alamy
Perhaps New Zealand's greatest achievement in tourism is its network of exclusive luxury lodges, justifiably famous around the world and born out of the nation's fishing and hunting culture.
Less preoccupied with those pursuits these days, these lodges, such as the iconic Huka Lodge in Taupo, are spread from north to south.
They're based on a simple credo: they must be situated in a genuinely spectacular setting and offer top-class food and wine and typically Kiwi highly-efficient, friendly, though not over-familiar, service.
It's a much mimicked model in Australia but, in indulgent accommodation terms, nothing anywhere quite compares to the Kiwi luxury lodge prototype, including the price-tag, albeit all inclusive, per night.
A kiwi on Stewart Island. Photo: Alamy
Queenstown in the South Island has successfully styled itself as the world's adrenalin capital, but the adventure opportunities don't end there.
For a truly remote experience head to unspoilt Stewart Island, New Zealand's third biggest land mass. Located below the South Island, it's one of the remotest destinations in Australasia and among the most rewarding.
It's also an ideal place to spot New Zealand's emblematic kiwis (the rare feathered variety) in the wild and on the island's beaches at nightfall.
Although the Milford Track is New Zealand's most famous guided walk, the Tongariro Crossing, the embodiment of "100 per cent pure New Zealand", on the North Island is even more monumental.
The traverse, which can take up to eight hours to complete, passes through dramatic World Heritage-listed alpine and volcanic scenery which includes an active crater, steam vents and mountain lakes.
Traveller editor Anthony Dennis has visited New Zealand on multiple occasions over many years.
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