New Zealand’s ‘Middle Earth’ has become well known the world over. However, some 250 years after Captain Cook’s arrival, you’ll find that there are still pockets of the country just waiting to be discovered. This is why the tourist board is very keen for travel agents, like myself, to spread the word about this region of the country.
Encouraging visitors, like you, to get out of the country’s gateways and into the regions, to see more hidden gems, is very much my focus. You’ll find the Bay of Islands, with its ancient Kauri forests, white-sand beaches and unique accommodation; and the West Coast’s Paparoa Track, a multi-day hike through alpine tops and thriving rainforests.
Step back 250 years
This year (2019) sees New Zealand mark the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook making landfall in New Zealand. The English explorer and navigator compiled the first map of the coastline, cataloguing the unique animals and plants and, most significantly, meeting the Māori people.
Quiet and quaint Coromandel
Straining under the weight of its load, the locomotive clickety-clacks joyfully along, switching back and forth up steep grades as it passes dense pine trees, clay pits and an old gold mine, through tunnels and along viaducts. At the top the aptly-named Eyefull Tower, you’ll find the viewpoint affords the most spectacular views of the island-studded Hauraki Gulf.
This large mountain, rich in yellow terracotta clay, looms over the quaint Coromandel Township, which is named after the peninsula it sits on.
The Driving Creek Narrow-Gauge Railway is a toy train on a 2.6-kilometre track and the only one of its kind in New Zealand. Its architect Barry Brickell, the country’s first full-time potter, was inspired by trains he’d seen in Peru. So he decided to build his own to transport heavy loads of precious clay down the mountain. It took 32 years to complete, and now transports passengers too.
Visitors often bypass the Coromandel Peninsula, but it’s just a two-hour drive from Auckland. You’ll find a finger jutting out north and separating the Hauraki Gulf from the Pacific.
The rocky western coastline is sprinkled with small islands. In contrast, the east coast has long empty beaches, volcanic pinnacles, vast forests, rolling hills and farmland cloaked in every possible shade of green.
Start in Auckland: New Zealand’s largest urban area is constructed on not one but fifty volcanoes, and is regularly in the top ten most-liveable cities in the world. Rich in art, culture and sport, the city’s magnificent museum holds daily cultural shows depicting traditional Māori legends through song and dance.
Tarawera Landing: Board a luxury yacht and cruise the pristine clear waters of Lake Tarawera near Rotorua. At the base of Mt Tarawera, an enormous dormant volcano, you can slip into steaming hot thermal water for a soak. Back on board, a skipper prepares a succulent barbecue lunch accompanied by fine wines.
Wai-O-Tapu: South of Lake Tarawera, this geothermal wonderland’s name means Sacred Waters. It’s covered with hissing fumaroles that create an eerie setting. Boiling mud pools bubble away and the famous 20-metre Lady Knox Geyser erupts at around 10am daily, blasting water 20 metres into the air.
Architecture and wine: Destroyed in an earthquake and then rebuilt, Napier is known as one of the world’s finest Art Deco cities. A 20-minute drive away is Hawke’s Bay, known as the ‘Tuscany of the South Pacific’ for its pretty rolling hills and award-winning vineyards.
Golden Bay: At the top of the South Island, a three-hour drive from Nelson, Golden Bay, is dotted with small towns and remote beaches. The 82 km-long Heaphy Track passes here and is considered to be one of New Zealand’s great walks. Top sights include Farewell Spit, a 35-kilometre sandbar that runs from Cape Farewell, as well as Wharariki Beach, with its vast sea-worn archway, huge accessible caves and deserted beach with frolicking fur seals.
Queenstown fun: On the north shore of Lake Wakatipu, and backed by the Remarkables Mountain Range (Tolkien’s Misty Mountains in The Lord of the Rings), the town is dubbed ‘Adventure Capital of New Zealand’ for its huge range of activities like bungee jumping, jet boating and skiing. Just north, Glenorchy is a jumping-off point for horse treks into ‘Middle Earth’ with guides who worked on the films.
Accommodation: IHG’s Hotel Indigo brand is expected to open its first Auckland property in 2021. Set in one of the tallest buildings in the city, it will feature 225 rooms close to the trendy Auckland Central neighbourhood, known for its fashion stores, boutiques and oyster bars.
Cowshed 488 is a new luxury villa on the west coast of the South Island. Originally a run-down farmhouse, its homeowners have lovingly renovated it into a boutique three-bedroom guest house which sits on a dairy farm opposite the Paparoa mountains.
Experiences: The Nevis Catapult is the latest invention from the AJ Hackett team. It vaults thrill-seekers 150 metres across a valley at almost 100 km an hour and is the world’s biggest and most extreme catapult.
Luxury cruise operator, Fiordland Discovery offers Milford Sound and Fiordland trips aboard the Fiordland Jewel; a custom-built 24-metre catamaran featuring a helipad, hot tub, private king suites and chef-prepared cuisine. It can take up to 20 people per cruise, with day trips, like crayfish lunch cruises, being offered.