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Similar in size to the UK or Japan, but with only 4 million people, New Zealand is a country of wide open spaces, incredible views and a wealth of outdoor activities. If your ideal vacation involves lacing up your hiking boots, hitting the fairway or heading out for a day of wine tasting, then you’ll love this rugged and beautiful place.
New Zealand is made up of two islands - known conveniently as North Island and South Island, each with a distinct personality. The North Island houses nearly 75% of the country’s population and is home to the two biggest cities, Auckland and Wellington. Consequently, the North Island has more of a buzz, with music festivals, and must-visit restaurants and bars.
In contrast, the South Island is considered by many to be the more picturesque (it’s where many of those stunning Lord of the Rings Scenes were filmed) with the Southern Alps, expansive lakes, rolling green hills and big skies. You’ll find cities here too - such as Christchurch and Wellington - although they are on a smaller scale.
You’ll also find differences in the climate of the two islands - some parts of the North Island are subtropical, with golden beaches and even rainforest - which you can see at Coromandel, while in the South Island the weather is cooler, and there’s excellent skiing around Queenstown - at Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. As with all destinations in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are the reverse of what we’re used to in the north, which means that Spring starts in September, Summer runs from December to February, and the peak skiing months are June, July, and August. In the north, summer temperatures can reach up to the high seventies, while winter temperatures are fairly mild - in the mid-forties.
There’s a lot more than simply skiing when it comes to raising your adrenaline on the South Island. The area of Queenstown is known as the “Adventure Capital of the World”, and there’s every kind of daredevil activity you could imagine - including helicopter tours, bungee jumping, mountain biking, zip lining, and powerboat tours. You Luxury Retreats can organize any hair-raising activity you like!
Start your South Island trip with a day’s hiking or biking along the banks of Lake Wakatipu, where you’ll get to breathe in the mountain fresh air and get a feel for the spectacular scale of the scenery in New Zealand. A nice, simple route (read: not too challenging), starts off at Queenstown Gardens and winds around to Kelvin Heights. Along the way you’ll find excellent coffee at Boatshed at Franklin Marina - did you know that New Zealanders were fanatical about good coffee? - to keep you going. Next, you’ll work your way through the forest for a great view of the lake and the beautiful Queenstown golf course. As you walk (or ride) keep an eye out for the numerous sculptures dotted across the landscape by local artists.
For a breathtaking experience that you’ll remember forever, a helicopter tour over Mount Tutoko glacier is hard to beat. Soaring to nearly 9,000ft above sea level, with nothing above you but blue sky and nothing below but pristine white snow and the palest green ice, if there’s anywhere to experience the true power of nature, it’s here. Plus, once you land, the backdrop makes for amazing photographs as a lasting memento.
Not every activity in New Zealand is strenuous - in fact, one of our favorites involves simply lifting a glass up to your lips. The Marlborough wine region on the South Island leaped onto the world stage in the 1990s with its delicious Sauvignon Blanc, and in the years since, has gone from strength to strength, while other varietals have also seen great success including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Of course, any visitor to New Zealand’s vineyards should start with a Sauvignon tasting - considered by many critics to be the best in the world. World-famous producers such as Cloudy Bay and Brancott offer tasting flights and vineyard tours. You concierge can set this up before you travel.
Both the North and South Islands have great options when it comes to hitting the fairways, and an adventurous traveler could even try to visit courses on each of them. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and a beautiful alpine lake, The Hills golf course, just outside Queenstown, is a real must-visit. The views are especially beautiful just as the sun begins to set. Sculptures of animals dot the landscape here, making for unusual playing companions. On the North Island, Kauri Cliffs wows visitors with its expansive Pacific Ocean views over the Bay of Islands. With a Championship Course Designed by David Harman, it’s ranked as one of the top 100 golf courses in the world.
Centered around Queenstown, each one of our homes on New Zealand’s South Island is unique, but all have one thing in common - incredible views over the landscape. If you’re thinking of exploring this beautiful region, our Queenstown vacation rentals make a great base, whether you’re planning a ski trip, summer hikes, or wine tasting tour.
With modern design such as all-glass walls, firepits, and state of the art kitchens, when you need a break from the wealth of active adventures on your doorstep, you can retreat back your luxury hideaway to cook up a storm before relaxing with a good book or a classic movie in front of the fire. Many of our homes in the region have panoramic views over Lake Wakatipu, best enjoyed from your private hot tub with a chilled glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in hand. Others are perfectly positioned for taking advantage of the many great golf courses in the region - some villas come with access to The Hills course as standard.