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Travel: From cool wines to the Pacific Ring of Fire in New Zealand

© Mount Cook/Aoraki National ParkThe snowy peaks of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
The snowy peaks of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

Strict rules, regulations and closed borders helped New Zealand weather the Covid storm better than most countries – but for a while, it seemed like the Kiwi nation might never open up again.

Fortunately, more than two years of international isolation ended earlier this month when New Zealand’s borders reopened to fully vaccinated travellers from visa waiver countries, as long as they can present a negative pre-departure test. A rapid test is also required for all arrivals, and again on day five or six of the trip.

Technicalities aside, it’s been so long many of us have probably forgotten why the destination is so appealing.

Here’s a little reminder of New Zealand’s best bucket list experiences in store…

Cycle the Otago Rail Trail

Think of any outdoor pursuit and it can very likely be done in New Zealand. Cycling is one of the best ways to enjoy the landscape, pedalling along plenty of flat, traffic-free roads.

One of the country’s top riding routes, the Otago Central Rail Trail runs for almost 100 miles between the towns of Middlemarch and Clyde in the South Island. Built at the turn of the 20th Century, the former rail track passes abandoned gold mines and historical buildings ranging from farmhouses to art deco structures. Allow four days.

How: Intrepid (intrepid.com) offer a guided four-day trip from £800 per person, including accommodation, some meals and bike or e-bike hire. Flights extra. Various departures.

A river of lupins blossoms along the banks of a lake sheltered by highlands (Pic: PA/Alamy)

Hike in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

Scaling the country’s highest peak (also known as Mount Cook) is a task not to be taken lightly. According to Maori legend, Aoraki is a sacred ancestor who provides a link between the natural and spiritual worlds.

It’s a tough climb, only for pros. But you don’t need to tackle steep ascents to admire the mountain’s beauty. Trails weave around the foothills, affording amateur hikers an opportunity to watch sunlight sparkle on its serrated ridgeline.

How: Exodus Travel (exodus.co.uk) offer an escorted 22-day Trekking in New Zealand holiday, covering some of the country’s best hiking routes, including a trip to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. From £6,949 per person, including some meals and flights. Departs November 12, 2022.

See the islands’ world-famous wildlife

You won’t find the megafauna of Africa this far south. But in place of big mammals, expect to see an impressive array of bird species.

Watch yellow-eyed penguins waddle along the shores of predator-free Rakiura/Stewart Island (also home to the oddball endemic kiwi), and listen to the call of the kokako in the Pureora rainforest. Additionally, out at sea there is a chance to spot some animal giants in the form of sperm whales cruising the South Island coastline.

How: Naturetrek (naturetrek.co.uk) offer a 22-day New Zealand’s Natural History holiday from £7,995 per person, including all meals and flights. Departs October 30, 2022.

A kiwi chick greets visitors to its homeland (Pic: PA Photo/Alamy)

Enjoy excellent wines in mountain-backed vineyards

Some of the world’s best bottles of sauvignon blanc are produced in the Marlborough wine region, making it a worthwhile stop on a tour of the South Island.

Visit more than 30 cellar doors to taste the distinctive tipples produced by crisp nights and sunny days, matched perfectly with seafood served in the region’s top restaurants.

How: Abercrombie & Kent (abercrombiekent.co.uk) offer a 15-night self-drive Classic New Zealand tour (with a visit to the winelands) from £8,200 per person, including flights.

Explore geothermal phenomena

Geysers, boiling mud pools and huge volcanic craters are in Rotorua, where nature’s forces escape by bubbling, steaming and hissing from the inner earth. Discover the sights and wonders of this city sitting squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire.

 


P.S. Travellers arriving in New Zealand by air must now complete the Traveller Declaration and be issued a New Zealand Traveller Pass before travelling.

Start your declaration early to ensure you have time to complete it before you travel. More info at gov.uk


Visit newzealand.com/uk for more activity ideas