At the bottom of the North Island, Wellington is arguably New Zealand’s art and cultural hub and a strong foodie destination, with the best coffee in the country and more restaurants, cafes and bars per capita than New York City. A day exploring this fascinating city could include the panoramic views from a walk up Mount Victoria; a degustation at one of New Zealand’s best restaurants, Logan Brown; or a private tour of New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa. Take an outing less than half an hour out of the capital city in any direction to explore where the region’s finest produce originates, with a personalised tour of the rich farmland and pristine wilderness.
Pinot noir and Palliser Bay
With a luxury transfer, be whisked north-east over the steep bush-clad slopes of the Rimutaka Range to Martinborough in the Wairarapa region. Central to the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail and a delightfully picturesque colonial settlement in its own right, this little town deserves exploration. It needn’t involve much effort: with more than 20 wineries within an easy walk or cycle ride of the charming tree-lined town square, and a selection of excellent restaurants, most of your energy can be concentrated on pinning down your favourite pinot noir, the region’s speciality. Then go south to visit dramatic Cape Palliser with its jauntily-striped cast iron lighthouse, high above the rocks that a large colony of fur seals calls home.
One day will not be enough, so make plans to stay the night. Be pampered in Edwardian splendour at Wharekauhau Lodge with its wide views over Palliser Bay. This intimate working sheep station offers a range of unique and personalised experiences, from indulgent spa treatments to clay bird shooting to, if you time it right, hand feeding a lamb; all before watching the chef at work in the open kitchen preparing an unforgettable meal that will linger in the memory.
Or head to the west coast, where the Kapiti Island sanctuary is home to some of New Zealand’s rarest birds. Submit, as legendary golfer Tiger Woods once did, to the old-world charms and hospitality of nearby Greenmantle Estate, where well-established gardens are the perfect backdrop to a classic and traditional high tea; and where, later, in the undisturbed dark and peace of the countryside, an astronomer can introduce you to some real stars.
South Island splendour
It’s just a short journey via helicopter, plane or sea over the Cook Strait to some of the South Island’s most stunning scenery. Abel Tasman National Park is the country’s smallest, but its beauty is out of proportion. Here is where sea kayaks seem to float in the air, the water beneath them is so perfectly clear. The beaches are sandy and golden, the hills are dotted with distinctive granite and marble boulders, the bush is full of tui and bellbirds, and all of it is accessible along inviting trails. Next door is Kahurangi National Park, part total wilderness, part hiker’s heaven; while Nelson Lakes National Park is an alpine landscape of glacial lakes, beech forest and rocky peaks.
About a 45-minute drive from the galleries and arty buzz of Nelson, where passing musicians tinkle the keys of the public piano in Trafalgar Street with anything from Chopin to the Beatles, and where its independent bookshop is full of intent browsers, you will find the perfectly-titled Edenhouse. Here, acres of lovingly-tended gardens surround a home of traditional comforts that guests find hard to leave. From its own spring water to Chilli, guest liaison officer and labrador, this retreat is unique, welcoming and faultlessly luxurious.
Alternatively, you could settle into Stonefly Lodge, a luxurious twist to the traditional log cabin. Environmentally sensitive and sustainable, powered by alternative energy sources, the lodge fits lightly into its remote setting, surrounded by three national parks. Here, the fly-fishing is second to none and you can watch the talented chef prepare your dinner: perhaps that very brown trout you caught in the crystal-clear waters of a back-country stream.
You’re deep in some of New Zealand’s most iconic scenery – yet you’ll feel as if you’re staying in classic English surrounds at Lake Timara Lodge with its sweeping parklands, mature trees and rose gardens. Take a row on the mirrored surface of the lake, watch the birds, explore the surrounding wine country, play golf — but always come back to Timara’s timeless comforts.
Accessible only by boat — or helicopter — the Bay of Many Coves is tucked deep into a beautiful corner of the Marlborough Sounds, an area of remote bush-clad peninsulas and islands edged with sandy bays and set in the cleanest of seas where New Zealand’s prized salmon and mussels are farmed. Drop in to the resort for a lunch of delectable, local seafood, or stay to enjoy the total peace and seclusion of one of the remote luxury suites set into the bush around the bay. Each has private views over the clear blue sea where dolphins, seals and orcas may come to call. At The Sounds Retreat, the name is literally true: leave the bustling world behind and be pampered in blissful solitude in beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound — perhaps as a reward for walking some, or all, of the 70 kilometres of the deservedly famous nearby track of the same name. Even those who find it hard to stir themselves from the idyllic surroundings may be tempted to venture out by the chance to discover local vineyards with world-class wines in the retreat’s BMW Mini Cooper convertible.
Does this all sound like too much self-indulgence? Split Apple Retreat makes the unusual promise that you may leave there lighter than when you arrived: healthier, energised, yet more relaxed, thanks to a programme of pure foods, many of them locally-sourced. Thoughtful food is the focus here, and the lodge runs five-night cooking intensives to teach guests how to recreate their signature gourmet, healthy cuisine.
While each lodge takes full advantage of the natural glories on its doorstep — the clear turquoise sea, empty golden beaches, native bush ringing with bird calls, tumbling mountain rivers and mirror-like lakes — a day out with The Food Source is hard to beat. Arrive in style via helicopter to a vineyard to select your wine, then to a river to catch your lunch, and then devour it on a mountain-top, cooked to perfection by their chef — life-long memories.