Just Back From

New Zealand Unpacked

In the bird sanctuary at the Farm at Cape Kidnappers, I tracked an endangered baby kiwi through a forest of white pines with a biologist. When we found it hiding in the thick forest duff, I held the delicate bird in my hand while we fed it juicy grubs to fatten it up. Later, I explored the undulating hills of the 6,000-acre property on a quad bike and was blessed by a singing Maori tribeswoman. The next morning in Taupo, I had breakfast by a crackling fire at Huka Lodge, then waded up a river in the hazy morning light with a fly rod and guide and landed my first-ever rainbow trout. Another day in New Zealand, another unforgettable experience.

The Kiwis’ respect for their land finds a natural extension in their cuisine. It is a true locavore culture. At Otahuna Lodge, near Christchurch, the owners grow more than 120 varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs and nuts in their gardens, including heirloom green zebra tomatoes, hazelnuts, passion fruit, Kaffir limes and wasabi root. During my stay, brilliant chef Jimmy McIntyre and his team delighted in baking us an array of fresh breads every day: breakfast scones served with house-cured prosciutto, rosemary focaccia, flaky butter rolls. Every ingredient had a story. The porcinis were foraged from oak roots out front, the eggs came from the Araucana hens in back, the buffalo milk yogurt from the farm up the road, the Bluff oysters from the coast.

If the foodie culture was one happy surprise, another was the overall sense of safety and wholesomeness. In some ways, a trip to New Zealand feels like going back to a more innocent time. There’s no airport security when you fly domestically. You arrive fifteen minutes before your flight, check in and walk right onto the plane. Over ten days, I never once locked the door to my room. The water was so pure, our guide encouraged us to drink right from the river. There are no dangerous snakes or spiders. There’s no pollution and very little ambient light, so the stars are incredible. But the biggest thing we all remarked on was the local generosity of spirit. When I was curious about a working sheep station, my guide made a quick call, and ten minutes later, her fiancé had interrupted his day to show me around his family farm. When I tried to tip my fishing guide, he just grinned broadly and shook his head no.

I know what you are thinking: you are only going to go to New Zealand once; you want to hit everything; it’s so far away; you need two weeks. You don’t. You need nine or ten days. Three nights at three lodges. North and South Islands. Mountains and water. You’ll lose a day on the way over, but you’ll gain it coming back. Just go. I promise that you will be back for more.

North Island

For Golfing… Kauri Cliffs

When revered financier Julian Robertson Jr. first saw the 4,000-acre farm rising above Matauri Bay, he thought it cried out for a golf course. The now-top-rated course opened in 2000, and its namesake lodge a year later. The cottages feature cozy fireplaces and private porches looking over the Pacific. Beyond golf, activities include sailing, deep-sea fishing, snorkeling and sea kayaking in the Bay of Islands.

For Fishing… Huka Lodge Set in a pine forest on the banks of Taupo’s Waikato River, the intimate Huka is decorated in a bold, dark style that evokes a British men’s club—it’s easy to see why Queen Elizabeth is a fan. Service is impeccable and formal, and the cuisine is lavish, with superb five-course dinners. A string of well-appointed cottages holds the twenty-five guest rooms, each with a private terrace leading down to the river.

For Water Sports… The Farm at Cape Kidnappers Situated on a stunning 6,000-acre sheep and cattle farm in Hawke’s Bay, one of the country’s top wine regions, the Farm at Cape Kidnappers has an unspoiled natural beauty. Its twenty-four spacious suites are each graced with a private deck with sweeping views. There’s no end of active adventures to enjoy, including sailing, surfing, paragliding, fly-fishing and hiking.

South Island

For Foodies… Otahuna

Set in the rolling hills outside Christchurch, Otahuna is an elegant, Victorian country house retreat. And with only seven suites, each unique, it feels very much like a private home. The lodge is blessed with an extraordinary chef, who spends his days dreaming up new delights using ingredients from the property’s gardens and orchards.

For the Design Savvy… Matakauri Matakauri manages to strike the perfect balance between location (a six-minute drive from Queenstown) and view (of Lake Wakatipu). Its bright, chic interiors feature floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto the lake. With just ten rooms to service, the lodge’s staff makes each guest feel exceedingly welcome.

For Landscape… Blanket Bay A forty-five-minute drive from Queenstown, this lodge sits in a breathtaking spot on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, looking toward the Humboldt Mountains. The decor channels the American West, complete with enormous stone fireplaces and antler chandeliers. The downstairs “excursion” room allows guests to plot the following day’s activities on the wall’s giant map. Satisfying any adventurous urge seems so easy and pleasurable when you know that a wine cellar and spa await you on your return.

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