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Mount Cook National Park and the Tasman Glacier – South Island, New Zealand

On Top of the World Down Under

A third of New Zealand’s most dazzling national park consists of permanent snow and ice. It boasts seventy-two named glaciers and twenty-seven mountain peaks that top 10,000 feet, including Mount Cook, which stands head and shoulders above its neigh­bors. It’s not quite what one expects to find in the South Pacific, on the same island that gives us groves of palm trees and hibiscus plants.

This is the place to splurge on unforgettable flightseeing in, around, and through the Southern Alps. Flights include a snow landing on the 19-mile-long Tasman Glacier, the longest river of ice outside the Himalayas; in the deep silence of the roof-of-the-world panorama, you can occasionally hear the rumble from within as the glacier shifts ever so slightly.

Skiing is the other activity of choice in this entirely alpine park, with heli-skiing, an exhilarating 8-mile-long glacier run (the southern hemisphere’s longest ski run), and downhill ski touring available. A number of guided and unguided walks take anywhere from thirty minutes to three days for the well-known Copland Track.

New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary used this high-altitude park to train before his record-setting ascent of Mount Everest. The Hermitage, one of the world’s best-sited hotels, offers this magnificent scenery from most of its picture windows.

 

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Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound – South Island, New Zealand

Cruising and Trekking in Fiordland National Park

The Australians may claim the Great Barrier Reef as the Eighth Wonder of the World, but Rudyard Kipling gave the honor to New Zealand’s Milford Sound. Kiwis disagree with both – they rank it first or second. Milford is the most famous of more than a dozen grand fjords that make up majestic Fiordland National Park on the South Island’s south­western coast.

The 10-mile-long inlet is hemmed in by sheer granite cliffs rising up to 4,000 feet, with waterfalls cascading from the mountain ridges. Playful bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, and gulls call its waters home, and crested penguins nest here in October and November before leaving for Antarctica. Mitre Peak is the centerpiece, a 5,560-foot pinnacle whose reflection in the mirror-calm water is one of the Pacific’s most photographed sites. Flightseeing here is a great option, and boats leave frequently for two-hour cruises through the quiet beauty of the sound.

On land, the Milford Track was once called by a flushed hiker “the finest walk in the world,” a description that has deservedly stuck. It is a four-day, 32-mile trek most serious hikers around the world dream of undertaking, despite the sand flies, at least an inch of daily rainfall, and strenuous stretches demanding as much attention as the awesome scenery. (And don’t miss the scenic 75-mile Milford Road from Te Anau to Milford Sound.)

Getting farther into Fiordland National Park requires four modes of transportation, culminating in your arrival by boat at Doubt­ful Sound, the deepest and, some say, most beautiful of New Zealand’s fjords. The engines are turned off and you are enveloped in the centuries-old silence of one of the world’s most remote and magical places. Captain Cook wasn’t even sure these waters were a sound, hence its name.

Ten times larger than Milford Sound and less known, Doubtful Sound retains an element of mystery and is void of the aerial tours and boat traffic that can mar a visit to Milford.

Just two boats operate on the sound, at opposite ends and out of each other’s line of sight, giving visitors the sensation of being alone in this exquisite pocket of primeval nature. Rainfall is 300 inches a year and up, but even a rainy day has its beauty, as sponta­neous waterfalls sprout out of nowhere, their sound cloaked in mist and intrigue.

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The Grand Traverse – South Island, New Zealand

Superb Walks on the Routeburn and Greenstone

In a country where nature is king, it is no surprise that tramping is the national pastime – and what remarkable scenery there is to tramp through. Together, the Routeburn (which trekking connoisseurs compare favorably with the fabled Milford Track) and the Greenstone Valley Walk become the Grand Traverse, New Zealand’s premier trek.

The 24-mile Routeburn Track crosses the Southern Alps by means of the breathtaking Harris Saddle Pass at 3,900 feet and descends through a world of abundant forest, ferns, mountain streams, lakes, and waterfalls within the appropriately named Mount Aspiring National Park. Following an ancient Maori trail through Fiordland National Park, the 25-mile Green­stone Valley Walk crosses the main divide of the Southern Alps, within a beautiful river valley encircled by towering mountains. The six-day trek is not strenuous; the only thing that takes your breath away is the scenery.

Guided treks offer a number of obvious advantages, not least being the use of huts with hot running water. Solo hikers stay in more rudimentary accommodations and must register with the local authorities. The number of hikers is strictly controlled, accompanied or not, so book well in advance.

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Grasmere Lodge – Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand

High-Country Farming in the Southern Alps

Once the base for a high-country station covering 43,000 acres this traditional homestead in New Zealand’s Southern Alps now welcomes twenty-four guests, who can take part in seasonal farming activities among the cattle and fine-wool Merino sheep that still roam the rugged range.

Most visitors are happy just to sit around the dinner table and listen to farming stories over a five-course meal of New Zealand produce that may include venison, beef, or lamb fresh from the farm or trout caught the same day by an elated guest.

Grasmere encompasses more than four rivers, eight streams and creeks, and eight lakes, all of which may yield trophy trout. You can also fish for salmon at certain times of year. Your hosts will pile you into a four-wheel drive and share their love for this beautiful land, or arrange for you to see it from a horse or helicopter.

At an altitude of 2,200 feet, Grasmere is still dwarfed by the 5,783-foot mountain behind: just part of the beauty that makes a stay at Grasmere a cut above the rest.

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Marlborough Wine Region – Blenheim, South Island, New Zealand

On the Trail of the Grape, with a Manor at Day’s End

Unlike most of the world’s revered wine-growing regions, which are cele­brated for their grapes alone, the Marlborough region of the South Island combines two distinctive reasons to visit: the grandeur of the unspoiled coastal Marlborough Sounds, with dozens of secluded bays and beaches, and to the south, the vineyards encircling the town of Blenheim.

Surrounded by mountains, this rolling area of former sheep farms became a wine dis­trict little more than twenty years ago, but today it’s one of the country’s largest and best known, with fifteen area vineyards producing sauvignon blanc and chardonnay that are making their mark internationally. The area is still dominated by industry giant Montana, but the wineries of Cloudy Bay and Hunters are also recognizable names, and worth a visit.

Eight lucky guests will call Timara Lodge their home while here; the elegant but cozy Tudor-style manor house was built in the 1920s, and its English-style gardens and small lake (complete with two black swans) make as lovely a setting as one could wish to find. Excellent food is, of course, complemented by an excellent cellar stocked with the best local and national wines, all passion­ately overseen by your delightful hosts.

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Bubbling Rotorua – North Island, New Zealand

An Eerie, Primeval Sci-Fi Show

At steamy Rotorua, center of the intense thermal field of the Taupo Volcanic Plateau, mud pools bubble and sulfurous fumaroles hiss up through crevices in the earth’s surface, creating a bizarre geothermal spectacle that George Bernard Shaw called “the most hellish scene” he had ever witnessed.

There are bubbly “Champagne cauldrons,” hot and cold rivers, otherwordly-looking natural silica terraces, and the unpredictable Pohutu Geyser, which sprays up to 100 feet in the air – sometimes for just a few minutes, sometimes for several hours at a time. Rotorua is home to one third of New Zealand’s Maoris, whose legends explain the geothermal activity as a gift of fire from the gods. The area first boomed as a spa town in the 1840s, and although it’s become commercialized and unashamedly touristy, visitors have been drawn to its sometimes frightening natural wonders ever since.

If the ubiquitous smell of sulfur becomes too much, escape to the astonishingly beautiful country­side or to Solitaire Lodge, one of New Zealand’s most beautifully sited hotels: It’s built on the elevated tip of a forested promontory over­looking the magnificent, rainbow trout-rich Lake Tarawera and an extinct volcano of the same name.

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Wharekauhau Country Estate – Palliser Bay, North Island, New Zealand

The Ultimate Sheep Station Experience

A dramatic and remote coastal setting is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think “sheep station,” and sheep station is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think “luxurious getaway,” but Wharekauhau is all about confounding expec­tations.

A sprawling 5,000-acre farm that includes miles of secluded black volcanic sand beaches, emerald green pastures, and dense forests rich with red deer, wild boar, and mountain goats, Wharekauhau provides a true New Zealand experience and exudes a genuine tradition of rural hospitality.

Guests can roll up their sleeves and help with the dipping, shearing, and docking, ride horses or stroll along the beach, do a little surf casting, visit nearby seal rookeries, and explore his­toric Maori sites and local wineries – then recount it all over dinners of simple but ele­gantly presented home-cooked country fare. In the Maori language, Wharekauhau means “the place where the gods meet.” They, too, must have loved the spirit of the place.

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Lake Taupo and Huka Lodge – North Island, New Zealand

A Paradise for Rainbow Trout and Those They Lure

Bumper stickers call Lake Taupo the Rainbow Trout Capital of the Universe, and they’re not exaggerating: Even by New Zealand standards, these trout are monsters, with the average catch weighing in at 4 pounds and 20-pounders causing barely a stir.

The nation’s largest lake, measuring 20 miles by 25 miles (with a depth of 600 feet in some places), Taupo is the crater of an ancient volcano and is located near the center of the North Island, framed by three active volca­noes in nearby Tongariro National Park. All kinds of craft, from vintage steamers to modern catamarans, are available to take fish­ermen and sun-seekers out onto its cool, clear waters, and in the town of Taupo, your hotel’s chef will prepare your catch to your liking.

Located 3 miles south of Taupo, Huka Lodge is the ne plus ultra of European-flavored country sporting lodges – it’s where James Michener found the inspiration for parts of Return to Paradise. With its proximity to Lake Taupo, and with the frisky Waikato River running through its serene, parklike grounds, Huka’s name is spoken with reverence in anglers’ circles around the world.

Spacious private villas are located along the serene, willow-draped banks of the river, redwoods tower over the glass roof of your bathroom, and sliding glass doors bring the out­doors in. You can ask for a gourmet lunch hamper and make an afternoon at mighty Huka Falls. As New Zealand’s most exclusive hideaway, the quality of wining and dining is never less than superb.

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The Bay of Islands – North Island, New Zealand

In the Wake of Captain Cook

Off the irregular coast of New Zealand’s North Island, more than 150 smaller islands of varying size hopscotch across the deep blue waters, their tall Norfolk pines growing side by side with subtropical banana plants and fan palms in an ideal climate that adds to the bay’s allure as a recreational playground.

The area is world-famous for big- game fishing – author Zane Grey, a leading sportsman of his time, caught as many as five marlin here in a single day, including a 450-pound world-record striped marlin. (Grey’s Hemingwayesque Tales of the Angler’s Eldorado, New Zealand was instrumental in establishing the bay as a game-fishing hotspot.) But the fishing-averse can have their own adventure, experiencing the Bay of Islands as Captain James Cook did, with the wind in your hair and the flapping of sails overhead as you slip past hundreds of hidden coves and secret beaches aboard the schooner R. Tucker Thompson.

Alternatively, a 70-foot private char­ter boat like the ultra-stylish Sirdar can take you to an island all your own. For a trophy-size marlin to go with it, call on veteran fish­ing personality Dudley Smith, skipper and owner of the 32-foot Triple B.

For accommodations on shore, reserve one of the five rooms at the grand Kimberley Lodge, whose million-dollar views are reason enough to stay, with other luxury amenities just the icing on the cake. Native New Zealand materials were used throughout, with a crafts­manship and attention to detail that belie the lodge’s relatively recent construction.

Let the gracious innkeepers chart a roster of activities to keep you busy, or just amble down to the charming historic town of Russell, formerly a rowdy whaling port and New Zealand’s first capital, with wooden-facade colonial buildings lining its picturesque waterfront. Linger at Sally’s Café for tea and scones and the daily newspaper, or join the yachting fraternity on the veranda of the venerable old Duke of Marlborough Hotel for a sundowner (the hotel held the country’s first liquor license).

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Margaret River – Western Australia, Australia

Wildflowers and Vineyards

In the last twenty years, Australia’s sophisticated wine industry has given a cosmopolitan veneer to this remote and beautiful corner of the world, with its dazzling landscape of stunning surf beaches, manicured vines, and awesome forests.

Prestigious wines produced by the Vasse Felix, Cape Mentelle, Cullens, and the venerable Leeuwin Estate are world renowned. The latter hosts the Leeuwin Estate alfresco concerts, a heralded summer event in January attracting world-class performers and ever-­growing crowds. Blessed with a Mediterran­ean climate, the Margaret Valley area is also graced with the annual spring wildflower sea­son in September and October, when the countryside is filled to the horizon with a ka­leidoscope of color. More than 1,000 wild­flower species have been identified, including almost 70 species of orchid.

Happily, Cape Lodge, one of Australia’s most tasteful and relaxing country retreats, is located right in the middle of the region. The Dutch Cape – inspired main house is sur­rounded by rolling lawns and magnificent gar­dens, and overlooks a lovely lake, where guests can swim or paddle about in a canoe.

Morning wake-up calls come from a chorus of kook­aburras – so no one misses the gourmet breakfasts in the sun-drenched glass conservatory. It’s a short drive to Margaret River, a delight­ful town full of antiques stores and crafts shops. Local restaurants with young and inno­vative chefs make this a culinary comer of Australia to be reckoned with.