By SUSAN FAREWELL
It seems everyone wants to go to New Zealand these days—and understandably so. It is the ultimate in natural beauty, wonderfully friendly, progressive and super easy to travel around.
Inside of a couple of weeks, one can see glaciers, subtropical forests, volcanic plateaus, dozens of lakes and miles of coastline–much of which is protected by National Parks.
For many travelers, there’s a real tendency to stick to the tried-and-true routes that take in the geo-thermal wonderlands of Taupo and Rotorua on the North Island, the Marlborough wine region and the spectacularly scenic landscapes of the South Island. And for good reason—these are all truly worth visiting.
The very north of New Zealand, however, should not be overlooked. I recently did some exploring in Northland and The Bay of Islands. It is up in this part of the country where the Maori and the European settlers first met, exchanging cultures and creating a new nation. Today, the Maori culture is ever-present here. The Bay of Islands is a marine playground of 144 islands with big-game fishing, sailing, scuba diving, waterskiing and kayaking. There are also some of the country’s best golf courses in the north including the world-class Kauri Cliffs course, plus horseback riding, whale and dolphin watching (in season). Up in the part of the world, you also find the oldest living kauri trees–Tane Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere– both estimated to be between 1,250 – 2,500 years old (think of that—possibly standing when the Greeks built the Acropolis).
Northland is home to several unimaginably beautiful hotels and villas, including the four below. At any one of these, you can settle in and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the region or take your pick of adventures right outside your door. At all four, you can count on exceptional food and wine experiences. You can easily reach these beauties from the Kerikeri Airport which is a 35-minute scheduled flight from Auckland International Airport. Helicopter transfers can also be arranged from Auckland and other locations.
Less than an hour’s drive from the Kerikeri Airport, this 75-acre retreat has just five villas, all with fabulous views over the Bay of Islands. Each one (ranging in size from one bedroom to three and four bedrooms) is designed with natural materials and walls of glass to blend into the surrounding gardens and foliage. They are filled with ultra-luxe furnishings and conversation- piece artwork. Four of the five have their own heated infinity pools and private Jacuzzis, home cinema systems and gourmet kitchens where personal chefs prepare Pacific-inspired cuisine to your liking.
The property is within walking distance of historic Russell, formerly known as Kororāreka, which was the first permanent European settlement and seaport in New Zealand, and was briefly its first capital. It is a great little village with shops and cafes.
The Landing Residences
Sprawling over a thousand acres of farmland, beaches, native beach and bird sanctuaries are the Landing Residences, four self-contained houses. This voluminous property—with headlands dropping into the sea–is on the southern tip of the Purerua Peninsula in the Bay of Islands, half an hour by car from Kerikeri airport.
The residences—which were designed by leading New Zealand architect Pip Cheshire–vary in size, including The Boathouse right on the water’s edge which sleeps four; the Vineyard Villa six; Gabriel Residence eight; and Cooper Residence accommodates 12. All four have their own private grounds and expansive views of the sea and surrounding farmland and are decorated and equipped to the very highest standards.
On-site personal chefs prepare masterpiece meals, utilizing local crops and agriculture. Private wine tastings can be arranged.
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs
Built in the grand Colonial style on a world-class golf course, The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs near Matauri Bay, feels like a private country club. Designed by David Harman, the golf course has 18 holes with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.
There are 22 guest suites and a two-bedroom owner’s cottage. Each suite has its own private porch, bedroom and sitting area with a fireplace.
Kauri Cliffs also has three secluded swimming beaches, a spa amidst a totara forest and its own giant kauri tree.
It’s less than half an hour’s drive from Kerikeri airport. If you prefer helicopter, the lodge has its own EC 130 which can be arranged to meet international or domestic flights in and out of Auckland.
Helena Bay Lodge
Just opened in October 2016, Helena Bay Lodge is a stunning property overlooking Helena Bay and the South Pacific Ocean. It has five villa suites, accommodating a total of five couples at a time. The main house and suites are filled with art that the owners have collected on their world travels.
Highlight of any stay here are the meals. The Lodge has brought the Michelin-starred Ristorante Don Alfonso 1890 of Southern Italy here with Head Chef Michele Martino at the helm.
Closest airport to Helena Bay is Whangarei Airport about a 40 minute drive away. Kerikeri Airport is a 90-minute drive. But the dreamiest approach is via helicopter. Helena Bay has its own Augusta Westland AW109S Grand, which can get you from Auckland International Airport in under 45 minutes—a glorious way to arrive and surround themselves in the sensational scenery.
Planning Your New Zealand Trip
Unless you are going for the winter sports, the best time to visit New Zealand is our late fall, winter and spring. Contact us to design an itinerary that best suits your interests, time and budget.
Susan Farewell is the owner of Farewell Travels LLC, a Westport-based travel design firm. Contact her by calling 203-222-7238 or write here.