New Zealand, it's been a while. Too long, in fact. The COVID-19 pandemic cut us off from one of our closest neighbours, one of our dearest friends, and we missed it.
The Land of the Long White Cloud just has so much to offer travellers, from white-knuckle adventure to a fantastic food and wine scene, from world-beating attractions to immersive cultural experiences. And of course, all of these things continued to exist in New Zealand despite our absence, and in many instances they continued to grow.
There's been a lot going on in New Zealand in the last few years. New hotels. New attractions. New experiences. If you're planning to head back across the ditch after an enforced absence, these are the best of New Zealand's recent additions.
Hotel Britomart, Auckland. Photo: Patrick Reynolds
New Zealand's accommodation providers have been undeterred by the pandemic and the closure of international borders, with plenty of exciting new hotel openings taking place since Australians were last around (that is, discounting our brief "bubble" arrangement with our Kiwi neighbours).
In Auckland, the highlight of the recent arrivals is surely the Voco Auckland City Centre (auckland.vocohotels.com), with 201 smart rooms and suites in the heart of the city. The hotel also boasts Auckland's highest rooftop bar, in Bar Albert, and Mozzarella & Co, a restaurant that does a la carte pizza and pasta.
Elsewhere in the city, the Hotel Britomart (thehotelbritomart.com) is New Zealand's first "Five Green Star" hotel – a local design classification for eco-friendly buildings – while the QT Auckland (qthotels.com) is a bold new addition to the city landscape. And don't forget The Convent Hotel (theconventhotel.co.nz), a boutique property that's set, as you may imagine, in an old convent, with 22 beautiful suites, and an Italian-leaning bar and restaurant called Ada that is a destination in itself.
But, as they say, there's more. In Wellington, Naumi Studio Hotel (naumihotels.com) opened in late 2020, and is set in a heritage building with beautifully designed rooms. Also in the Kiwi capital, there's Pipinui Point (pipinuipoint.co.nz), a luxury hotel perched on a towering, 250-metre-high cliff just outside the city.
And then let's turn our attention to the South Island. Begin at the top, in Nelson, where Pihopa Retreat (pihoparetreat.nz), which opened in mid-2021, offers six luxury suites in gorgeous surrounds. Nearby in Marlborough wine country, 14th Lane Urban Hotel (14thlane.nz) opened in late 2020, offering luxury accommodation in what was once a nightclub in central Blenheim.
In Christchurch, meanwhile, each of the five floors at the new Muse Art Hotel (themusehotel.co.nz) has been assigned to a different local artist, giving the property a real point of difference, as well as a community connection. The new design hotel, The Observatory (observatoryhotel.co.nz), also brings an exciting accommodation option to the historic Arts Centre district.
Mt Isthmus. Photo: Shaun Jeffers
There have been plenty of openings down in ski country too. In Queenstown, there's The Carlin (thecarlinhotel.com), New Zealand's first six-star hotel (it's a thing, apparently), and the town's first seven-storey building (also a thing). This is one luxurious property. In nearby Wanaka, those chasing new properties could try Cross Hill Lodge and Domes (crosshill.co.nz), a glamping hideaway on the lakefront, or Mt Isthmus (thelindisgroup.com), an incredible luxury villa sitting on a 7000-acre station overlooking the lake.
And finally to the far south, in Dunedin, where Fable (fablehotelsandresorts.com) opened in mid-2020, and marks a complete revamp of a Victorian-era hotel once known as Wains; there's also Ebb Dunedin (ebb-dunedin.co.nz), a modern boutique property.
SKI AND ADVENTURE
The Lake Dunstan Trail. Photo: Miles Holden/Tourism New Zealand
It may not surprise you to learn that New Zealand continues to offer some of the finest skiing and the best adrenaline-fuelled adventures in the world.
Exhibit A and proof things have become even better, is the Great Glenorchy Alpine Base Camp (thegreatglenorchyalpinebasecamp.co.nz), a new hub for all things crazy and adventurous in the South Island.
This outfit, a spectacular, headquartered 40-minute mountain and lake-studded drive north-west of Queenstown, offers everything from heli-skiing to snow-shoeing, glacier trekking to wilderness camping.
Back in Queenstown, adventurers should check out the Coronet Loop Trail (queenstowntrail.org.nz), a 50-kilometre backcountry track around Coronet Peak, which opened in March this year. It's already attracting plenty of hikers and mountain-bikers keen to tackle unexplored terrain.
Over the Crown Range to Wanaka, four-wheel drive specialists Ridgeline Adventures (ridgelinenz.com) have added a new experience, the Dingleburn Safari, a four-wheel drive trip and walk that explores the private, high-country Dingleburn Station.
There are also new cycling trails to check out on the South Island. The 55-kilometre Kawatiri Trail (kawatiricoastaltrail.co.nz) is opening progressively over the course of this year on the west coast from Westport to Charleston. The Lake Dunstan Trail (centralotagonz.com) is a truly spectacular 55-kilometre pathway that hugs the cliff sides above the titular Otago lake, and should be on any keen adventurer's hit list.
There's also plenty of action to whiten your knuckles on the North Island. In Auckland, climb aboard a jet-ski and enjoy a guided tour of Waitemata Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf with the new Sea Auckland Jet Ski Tours (sea-auckland.nz) which opened in November last year.
A little further south in Rotorua, Skyline Rotorua (skyline.co.nz) – a family-friendly adventure centre at the top of a mountain overlooking the town – added three new luge tracks in 2021, increasing the total there to five. The new tracks took four years to complete, and feature multiple corkscrew turns, city views, and four tunnels.
Elsewhere on the North Island, in beautiful Lake Taupo, Taxicat Adventures (taxicat.co.nz) has launched tours to the waterfall-filled Western Bays side of the lake, previously untouched by tour operators. The only way to access this area is by boat.
ATTRACTIONS AND EXPERIENCES
Geysers by Night at Te Puia.
The Kiwis sure have been busy and it's just as well the tourists are streaming back. Not content to just sit out the pandemic and see how things go, they've been throwing open the doors to new tourist attractions throughout the country.
Beginning in Northland, above Auckland, is Hundertwasser Art Centre (hundertwasserartcentre.co.nz), in Whangarei, a quirky and eye-catching building that houses the largest collection of eccentric Austrian artist and architect Friedenreich Hundertwasser's work outside Vienna.
It's a perfect complement to nearby Kawakawa's iconic public toilet block (yes, really) designed by Hundertwasser. It has become a major tourist attraction.
Moving to Rotorua, start with the Tamaki Maori Village (tamakimaorivillage.co.nz) which unveiled an extensive upgrade and some new attractions in May this year.
The highlight is the new evening experience, a four-hour immersion into Maori culture, which includes storytelling in the village and surrounding forest, and a four-course meal, with a traditional hangi.
Also in Rotorua, there's a new experience on offer at the Te Puia (tepuia.com) geothermal area: Geysers by Night. Starting at dusk and armed with a torch, visitors are escorted through the park's three kilometres of illuminated trails by experienced guides who share the history and the stories of the valley, before arriving at the world-famous Pohutu Geyser.
Back to the South Island we go, where there's still plenty that's shiny and new. Begin with Ride from the Sky (airmilford.co.nz), an experience that's only been offered from January this year, and is an incredible way to see the Southern Lakes area. You begin in Queenstown, with a scenic flight across Lake Wakatipu, before jumping on a bike and riding 32 kilometres, traversing rolling hills on a trail from Von Hill to Walter Peak, and then settling down at the Walter Peak Homestead for a delicious barbecue lunch. The day ends with a cruise back to Queenstown aboard the TSS Earnslaw steamship. Wow.
Finally, in the South Island, there's a new wellness offering in the town of Methven, about an hour west of Christchurch: Opuke Thermal Pools and Spa (opuke.nz), which opened in late 2021. The complex offers a network of interconnected pools, all with gorgeous views of the Southern Alps.
FOOD AND DRINK
You're never going to be short of an excellent feed in New Zealand. This is a country that's on a Kiwi cheese roll (try one) when it comes to food, wine and coffee, from swish fine-diners to country bakeries to cafes that do a fine flat white. Don't get the Kiwis started on who invented them.
Since all of the border closures and burst bubbles, there have been plenty of additions to the New Zealand food and drink scene, from Auckland on the North Island all the way to Christchurch and on to Dunedin on the South Island (with so much happening it's hard to believe this is a country of just five million).
In inner-city Auckland, be sure to check out Parade (paradeponsonby.com), a Ponsonby stalwart that has a new locale. This burger-rich, American-influenced diner now has a big, sunny garden space, and, yay, a liquor licence.
Don't miss either kingi (kingibritomart.com), a sustainable, ethical seafood restaurant inside the cool-as-sashimi Hotel Britomart precinct or Florets (florets.nz), a cult bakery in inner-city Grey Lynn, renowned for the best sourdough sandwiches in town.
Turning our attention to Wellington, long regarded as New Zealand's culinary hub, Mabel's (mabels.nz) is a noted recent opening. The restaurant's roots date back to 1978, when Burmese migrant Aunty Mabel opened The Monsoon, one of New Zealand's first Burmese restaurants. The modern iteration is run by Mabel's granddaughter, Marler.
Also new to Wellington, there's Koji (kojirestaurant.co.nz), a modern, Asian-fusion fine-diner, and Lola Rouge (lolarouge.nz), inside the new Naumi Studio hotel (see below), serving high-end pan-Asian cuisine, plus Kisa, a former pop-up made permanent this year, on Cuba Street. It offers punchy flavours from the wider Middle East, including Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Israel (kisarestaurant.co.nz). Just doors away is Liberty, a new fine dining restaurant from the team behind the much-loved Logan Brown. It offers everything from roast lamb to Korean fried chicken with smashed salted cucumber. (libertyrestaurant.co.nz) And another eatery creating a new buzz is Daisy's in Thorndon. This modern bistro, which opened last year, focuses on comfort Kiwi food under the guidance of Wellington chef Asher Boote. (Eatatdaisys.co.nz)
And for those after a drink, there's now Southward Distilling (southwarddistilling.com), where you can blend your own gin and keep the bottle, as well as The Beer Engine (thebeerengine.co.nz), New Zealand's first small-batch, contract brewery, with a great taproom.
Down in the South Island there's also plenty to get your teeth into. In Christchurch, check out Hali (hali.nz), the more relaxed sibling to star British chef Simon Levy's fine-diner Inati (inati.nz) with another restaurant attracting high local hopes being Tussock Hill Vineyard and Cellar Door Restaurant (tussockhill.co.nz). Set on a lofty hilltop a few hundreds metres or more above the city, Tussock Hill has stellar views extending to the snow-capped Southern Alps with the boutique winery's talented, 21-year-old chef, Jackson Mehlhopt, heading up the kitchen in the architect-designed cellar door building.
Mehlhopt won the "rising star" award in the Kiwi Cuisine magazine Good Food awards for his beautifully-presented dishes with produce sourced from the rich and surrounding Canterbury region food bowl.
Top it all off with the choice of two "vineyard retreats", where you can stay for a night or two and soak up the food, wine and vistas.
Back in central Christchurch, be sure to wander around the new Riverside Market (riverside.nz) next to the willow-lined Avon River. It's a lively indoor marketplace, full of fresh food stalls, providores and relaxed eateries. Think a boutique and more contemporary version of Adelaide's exceptional Central Market.
Heading further south, in Wanaka, Arc (arcwanaka.co.nz) is a smart brunch and tapas joint with an impressive wine list. In Dunedin check out Steamer Basin (steamerbasin.co.nz). It's a cracking microbrewery set in a disused industrial space at the waterfront.
FIVE NZ CLASSICS WE WILL ALWAYS LOVE
New Zealand has a surfeit of luxury lodges that have redefined the way the country is experienced, and the best of them might just be Matakauri. Perched on a hillside high above Lake Wakatipu, outside Queenstown, Matakauri is the luxury you're looking for, where you can relax in your beautiful room, visit the spa, dine at the restaurant, play golf, explore local wineries, or even take a helicopter flight over Milford Sound. See robertsonlodges.com
There's never been a shortage of impressive fine-dining restaurants in New Zealand either, and it's heartening to find that one of our favourites, Hiakai in Wellington, has survived the struggles of the pandemic. Hiakai is helmed by chef Monique Fiso, who takes in elements of Maori cuisine – ingredients and cooking techniques – to give diners a true taste of New Zealand. Be sure to book ahead, as this 30-seater is eternally popular. See haikai.co.nz
THE ROUTEBURN TRACK
For keen hikers, this is bucket-list stuff: the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand's network of "Great Walks", a 33-kilometre trail that meanders through some of the South Island's most spectacular alpine scenery. This is generally a three-day hike, from Routeburn Shelter, near Queenstown, to the Divide, near Lake Fergus, with well-equipped huts to stay in along the way. See doc.govt.nz
A trip to New Zealand isn't complete without a deep-dive into Maori culture, without doing something immersive, something educational, something fun. And that's where Whakarewarewa, a "marae", or traditional Maori gathering place, just outside Rotorua has always excelled. At this "living village" guests can learn about Maori culture, plus hear the history of the land, and check out a few of the geothermal attractions that the area is known for. See whakarewarewa.com
Our final old favourite is an entire town, Wanaka, in the South Island. Wanaka is everything that's great about nearby Queenstown, only on a smaller scale: it's a hub for snow sports and other adventure activities, it enjoys a beautiful location right by a lake, there's a top-notch food and wine scene, and that laidback lifestyle that New Zealand does so well. What's not to love? See lakewanaka.co.nz