New Zealand is remarkably clean and beautiful, and a veritable paradise for anyone who loves great food and wine, beautiful landscapes and friendly, down-to-earth people.
New Zealand landscapes are highly varied and seem only lightly touched by human hands—rugged mountains with glaciers creeping down their sides, farms and ranches sprinkled across rolling hills, fertile plains, steaming volcanoes and active geysers, ancient forests of unusual native trees, alpine lakes, wetlands, beaches, islands and more.
New Zealand is also filled with amazing wildlife, and many of the different species are quite easy and common to see. In addition to the iconic kiwi, a small flightless bird, there are yellow-eyed penguins, fairy penguins (little blue penguins), large seabirds such as the gannet and the albatross, smaller birds such as the weka, kea (mountain parrot) and takehe, not to mention numerous sea mammals such as dusky dolphins, Hector’s dolphins, fur seals, sea lions, sperm whales, pilot whales and right whales.
New Zealand has become one of the world’s top food, wine and outdoor travel destinations. Still, with a sheep-to-people ratio of 10-to-1, you’re more likely to come across a road filled with lambs than with tourists. Kiwis pride themselves on preserving the beauty of their landscapes. Some of the best places to experience the geographic and culinary bounties of New Zealand are in its luxury lodges, situated on the rivers, lakes, coasts and in the forests of some of the country’s most spectacular wilderness.
The first people to migrate to New Zealand were the Maori, a Polynesian group who call the islands Aotearoa, “Land of the Long White Cloud.” Maori names appear throughout New Zealand, and Maori culture has a strong living presence in the arts and landscapes of many regions.
Our Luxury New Zealand Tours
New Zealand is a wonderful travel destination for stunning landscapes, superb food and wine, and traditional and contemporary culture. Artisans of Leisure tours in New Zealand are private luxury tours customized to each client’s needs, interests and schedule. The tours feature the very best expert local guides and New Zealand’s most acclaimed luxury lodges, hotels and resorts—which are some of the finest and most luxurious in the world. Our New Zealand tours are in-depth, luxurious experiences focusing on the best of New Zealand landscapes, outdoor activities, food and wine, and culture. Our private luxury tours in New Zealand visit major destinations such as Auckland, the Bay of Islands, Keri Keri, Russell, Waitangi, Waiheke Island, Rotorua, Taupo, Tongariro National Park, Hawkes Bay, Hastings, Napier, Cape Kidnappers, White Island, and Wellington on the North Island; and Nelson, Abel Tasman National Park, Blenheim, Marlborough, Kaikoura, Christchurch, Akaroa, Canterbury, Arthur’s Pass, Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Wanaka, Queenstown, Arrowtown, Glenorchy, Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Te Anau, and Fiordland National Park on the South Island. All tours can be further customized to include Martinborough, Arthur’s Pass, Stewart Island, Dunedin, Gisborne, Coromandel Peninsula, Tauranga, Turangi and other destinations.
The North Island of New Zealand is characterized by rolling hills, sheep farms, sweeping bays, long beaches, native forest (bush), river valleys, volcanic cones, an active geothermal zone, the largest lake in New Zealand, hundreds of small islands along the coastline, and a climate that ranges from sub-tropical in the north to temperate in the south. Some of our favorite places on the North Island are Auckland (largest city in New Zealand), Wellington (capital of New Zealand), Rotorua (geothermal attractions, beautiful lakes and Maori culture), Taupo (volcanoes and New Zealand’s largest lake), Hawkes Bay (wineries, farms, golf at Cape Kidnappers, Art Deco town of Napier), Gisborne (wineries, farms, Maori culture), Northland (historic towns of Waitangi and Russell, the Bay of Islands), the Coromandel Peninsula (beaches, sea-kayaking), and the Wairarapa (Martinborough and the surrounding wine and farm region).
Auckland & Waiheke Island
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and its main international gateway. Some of our favorite neighborhoods around Auckland are Viaduct, Parnell and Ponsonby. We arrange visits to Auckland Domain and the Auckland Museum. We recommend sailing on Waitemata Harbour and taking a day trip to Waiheke Island for olive oil and wine tasting and to dine at vineyard restaurants.
Recommended luxury hotels in Auckland include the boutique luxury hotel Mollies of Auckland, the Hilton Auckland, and the Westin Auckland. On Waiheke Island, Delamore Lodge is recommended.
Northland is a warm, subtropical region at the top of New Zealand. Touring highlights of the region include a visit to Waitangi, where the historic Treaty of Waitangi was signed, establishing New Zealand as a nation, as well as the quaint fishing village of Russell, the boutiques around Keri Keri, and a grove of ancient native kauri trees. Our clients also enjoy golf at Kauri Cliffs, hiking to private beaches, sailing throughout the Bay of Islands, and diving and fishing in the ocean.
We recommend Kauri Cliffs, a luxury lodge in the Bay of Islands region.
Rotorua & Taupo
Spend several days exploring the natural wonders around this region. Highlights include myriad geothermal attractions, such as geysers, steaming lakes, hot beaches, hot pools with green water, mud pots, mineral terraces and steam vents. Not to be missed is a private helicopter excursion to White Island, an active volcanic island just off the coast. Rotorua is also renowned for Maori culture and traditional Maori arts and crafts. We arrange visits to Maori sites and for our travelers to participate in a hangi, a traditional Maori feast. Our clients also enjoy fly fishing for trout on private streams, hiking to waterfalls on private land, horseback riding, hiking the Tongariro Crossing through Tongariro National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and boating on Lake Taupo, Lake Tarawera, and the many other lakes, rivers and waterways in the region.
Recommended luxury lodges in the area include Huka Lodge in Taupo (especially the Owner’s Cottage for large families or groups of friends) and Treetops Lodge and Estate outside Rotorua.
Hawke's Bay & Napier
Hawke's Bay, known as the “Tuscany of New Zealand,” is a sunny, bucolic region where hills and farmland meet the sea. We recommend spending several days here to enjoy its laid-back atmosphere and many attractions, including farm stands, wineries, Art Deco architecture, beaches and a world-famous golf course. Highlights of our tours in Hawke's Bay include activities such as wine tasting at the best local wineries (including those in the Gimblett Gravels), visiting local fruit orchards and sampling local delicacies at artisanal food producers, touring Art Deco architecture in the town of Napier, playing golf at Cape Kidnappers Golf Course, seeing the unusual gannet seabird colony, and visiting local Maori attractions.
Recommended luxury hotels in Hawke's Bay include The Farm at Cape Kidnappers and Greenhill the Lodge.
Wellington & Palliser Bay
The capital of New Zealand is a stunning city of steep hills surrounding a beautiful harbor. In Wellington, explore the Te Papa Museum, New Zealand’s museum of national heritage, and visit Parliament’s old and new buildings, Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Botanic Gardens, art galleries, cafes, gourmet food shops, design shops and other highlights of central Wellington. Palliser Bay is a broad, crescent-shaped bay east of Wellington with vast ranches, mountains running to the sea, lots of sheep and very few people. From here, our clients go wine tasting in the Wairarapa wine region, take farm tours, and explore the beautiful empty coastline.
Recommended luxury hotels and lodges in the area include the InterContinental Wellington and Wharekauhau Country Estate in Palliser Bay.
The South Island of New Zealand has a wide range of diverse landscapes, including the high peaks of the Southern Alps, vast ancient forests, glaciers, fiords, rolling farmland, alpine lakes, sandy beaches and geologic anomalies. Some of our favorite places on the South Island are Queenstown (a charming mountain town known as the adventure capital of New Zealand), Glenorchy, the Dart River and Lake Wakatipu; Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound (two spectacular fiords) and the surrounding Fiordland National Park; Christchurch (a city of gardens and English architecture) and the Canterbury region (wine, ranches, rivers); Nelson, Blenheim and Marlborough (vineyards, wineries, breweries, farms, seafood); the West Coast (Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, mountains, wetlands, beaches, podocarp forests, Lake Moeraki, Lake Matheson) and Haast Pass; Wanaka and Lake Wanaka; Te Anau, Manapouri and Lake Manapouri; Mt. Cook (the highest mountain in New Zealand); Stewart Island (including Ulva Island); and Dunedin.
Queenstown is a charming town in a spectacular setting—at the bottom of the Remarkables mountains on the shore of beautiful Lake Wakatipu. Commonly referred to as the “adventure capital of New Zealand,” Queenstown is about much more than bungy jumping and jet boats. We recommend spending several days in the region to fully experience its many scenic, cultural, culinary and outdoor wonders. Highlights of our tours in the region include private helicopter excursions or fixed-wing flights to Milford Sound, as well as helicopter flights to glaciers high in the Southern Alps and to hikes on private land in the remote backcountry. Our clients also enjoy private jet boat safaris up the Dart River through the forests at the base of the high peaks of Mt. Aspiring National Park, as well as visits to the historic mining village of Arrowtown, wine tasting at the excellent wineries throughout the region surrounding Queenstown, sailing or kayaking on Lake Wakatipu, visiting a sheep station, easy hikes, and even bungy jumping (or just watching). Other highlights of the area are visiting Glenorchy, a hamlet on Lake Wakatipu, as well as the town of Wanaka, on the shore of beautiful Lake Wanaka.
Recommended luxury hotels in the region include Blanket Bay in Glenorchy, Eichardt’s Private Hotel in Queenstown, and Whare Kea in Wanaka.
Milford Sound & Fiordland National Park
Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular natural attractions, and it is not to be missed! Our clients experience Milford Sound in the most dramatic way—by flying over the Southern Alps in a helicopter or fixed-wing airplane. It is the best way to experience the steep mountains, hanging valleys, waterfalls, alpine lakes, glaciers and other natural attractions in magnificent Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage region. Fly through Milford Sound and out to the coast of the Tasman Sea, passing magnificent Mitre Peak en route. Most clients also cruise on Milford Sound to see the waterfalls from below and get close to swimming penguins, pods of dolphins and fur seals. Another popular option is Doubtful Sound, which is bigger than Milford Sound and can be done as a day cruise or an overnight cruise, where our clients enjoy flights over the Southern Alps as well as cruises through the fiords past the tree-covered slopes of peaks and islands, and where seeing dolphins, penguins and fur seals is common. Nearby are two cute towns: Te Anau, on the shore of Lake Te Anau, and Manapouri, on the edge of Lake Manapouri.
Christchurch & Canterbury
Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island, and it is known for gardens and a uniquely English atmosphere. Highlights include visiting the Arts Centre, punting on the Avon River, touring noted gardens and visiting local markets. Our younger travelers also enjoy seeing the little blue penguins at the International Antarctic Centre. Other options in the area are day tours to Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula. In Canterbury, the rural region surrounding Christchurch, our clients enjoy wine tasting, sheep farm and ranch tours, 4WD tours of unique geologic attractions on private land, canoeing and trout fishing on private streams and lakes, and hiking in national parks.
Recommended hotels in Christchurch are The George and Huntley House. In Canterbury, we recommend Claremont Country Estate and Grasmere Lodge.
Nelson, Blenheim & Marlborough
This region at the top of the South Island is renowned for wine, seafood and sunshine. Our clients enjoy hiking, sea kayaking and boating around Abel Tasman National Park (hills, native bush and empty beaches) and the Marlborough Sounds, visiting art galleries and the World of Wearable Art, and of course wine tasting at the best wineries in Marlborough, New Zealand’s largest wine region, where they can taste New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and other varietals. The area around Nelson is also famous for growing hops and brewing beer—organic beer is a local favorite.
Recommended luxury lodges in the area include Timara Lodge.
Kaikoura is a seaside town on the east coast of the South Island that is famous for whale watching. Sperm whales are very active in the area, and our clients have a remarkably high rate of seeing whales and other sea mammals in the wild.
The West Coast & Franz Josef Glacier
The West Coast is a little-touched, rugged and narrow band of temperate rainforest, wetlands, lakes, rivers and beaches where the Southern Alps tumble into the sea. Highlights include glacier walking, hiking and helicopter tours to Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier, two glaciers that start high in the Southern Alps and extend nearly to sea level. Other major scenic highlights are crossing the Southern Alps—by TranzAlpine train to Greymouth at the north end of the West Coast, and by driving along the Haast River and over the spectacular Haast Pass, past steep slopes and streaming waterfalls, and through the heart of the Southern Alps at the south end of the West Coast. Our travelers also enjoy visiting Lake Matheson, Lake Moeraki and the penguin nesting area at a nearby beach. The West Coast is famous for pounamu (jade), which is prized by the Maori and carved into jade jewelry and sculptures.
Recommended hotels in the area include Franz Josef Glacier Country Retreat.
Destinations off the Beaten Track
New Zealand offers many special places farther off the beaten path, and upon request Artisans of Leisure can extend any tour to include some of them. On the North Island, favorites include Gisborne, known for white wines, fresh produce and seafood, empty beaches, Maori culture, and the first spot in New Zealand to see the sunrise; the Coromandel Peninsula, famous for amazing seafood, a geothermal hot water beach, and a rugged coastline perfect for sea kayaking; and Tauranga, a port town with long beaches and a beautiful volcanic cone overlooking its harbor. On the South Island, off-the-beaten-track favorites include Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand and part of Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park; Dunedin, a lively, Scottish-flavored college town set on hills overlooking a harbor that’s close to New Zealand’s only castle as well as an abundance of wildlife on the Otago Peninsula, including yellow-eyed penguins, albatross and fur seals; and Stewart Island, a sanctuary of birds (including the kiwi and weka) and untouched wilderness at the very bottom of New Zealand.
Recommended hotels and luxury lodges in the area include The Lodge at Tikana and Corstorphine House.
New Zealand Food, Wine & Beer
New Zealand food and wine are renowned worldwide. The food tastes incredibly fresh and pure due to the clean oceans surrounding New Zealand, lush green grass growing on the rolling hills, rich farmland, abundant sunshine and rain, and small-scale farming, fishing, ranching and food preparation techniques. Some of our favorite New Zealand food specialties are Bluff oysters, green-lipped mussels, paua (abalone), crayfish (lobster), blue cod, whitebait, hapuka, trout, and other fish and seafood; grass-fed lamb, beef and cervena (venison); duck and pheasant; a wide variety of cow and sheep’s milk cheeses, such as Kikorangi blue cheese and Mahoe aged Gouda, as well as rich, creamy butter; fresh fruit such as apples, olives, avocadoes, pears, feijoa, strawberries and kiwi fruit, and vegetables such as kumara (sweet potato), pumpkins and parsnips; honey with the flavors of native bush plants and trees, such as Manuka, Pohutukawa, Rewarewa, Kamahi and Tawari; and don’t forget New Zealand’s legendary desserts and sweets, including Pavlova, hokey pokey ice cream, pineapple lumps, and Cadbury chocolate (as well as Whittaker’s and other local brands) made with the fresh milk of New Zealand cows.
New Zealand wine is reliably delicious. World-renowned for Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand wineries also create a full range of wonderful red and white wines, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. New Zealand wine regions include Marlborough, Nelson, Central Otago, Hawkes Bay including Gimblett Gravels, Wairarapa, Waipara and Canterbury, Gisborne, Auckland and Waiheke Island, and Northland. Among the most famous and best wineries in New Zealand are Cloudy Bay, Wither Hills, Villa Maria, Oyster Bay, Spy Valley, Te Mata, Craggy Range, Esk Valley, Ngatarawa, Clearview, Mills Reef, Alpha Domus, Babich, Chard Farm, Amisfield, Gibbston Valley, Montana and Mudbrick.
Among New Zealand’s many breweries—large and micro—some of our favorites are Emerson’s, Mac’s, Monteith’s, Matson’s, Moa, Founders, Epic, Steam, Dux de Lux and Speight’s.
New Zealand Shopping
Some of the most famous products in New Zealand are related to sheep. High-quality wool, especially merino wool, is made into sweaters, hats, gloves, even undergarments, and sold by leading New Zealand labels such as Untouched World, Karen Walker, Icebreaker and Swanndri. Shearling coats and rugs are also widely available, as are lanolin-based products such as hand cream. An unusual material is soft, luxurious possum fur from the Australian brush-tailed possum, an introduced pest and the scourge of native flora and fauna. Possum fur is also combined with merino wool to create possum wool, a silky soft and very warm yarn woven into sweaters, hats, gloves and so on. Other uniquely Kiwi products are Maori-style jewelry made from pounamu (jade) and paua (abalone) shell, Maori wood carvings, bowls carved from ancient kauri wood burls, and art objects such as Hoglund glass.
Bee products such as royal jelly, bee pollen and honey are also popular souvenirs or gifts from New Zealand.
Wine can be a great souvenir, but be sure to pack it in your checked luggage, or buy it after passing through security.