Dazzling Lake Wakatipu is New Zealand's longest lake. Shaped like an inverted "n" it is a highlight of a trip to Queenstown, which nestles against a curve near the middle of the lake. During the last ice age a huge glacier carved out the lake, which sinks to a depth of 1,300 feet (400 meters).The surrounding mountains that fed the glacier provide a dramatic backdrop to the crystal waters.
Atmospheric pressures cause the lake to rise and fall about 5 inches (12 centimeters) every 5 minutes. This gave rise to the Maori legend that the rise and fall of the water is the heartbeat of a giant who lies slumbering under the water.
The magnificent lake was the location for the Lothlorein scenes in The Lord of the Rings movie. If you’d like to get out on the water the most genteel way is to climb aboard the refurbished vintage steamship the TSS Earnslaw. Cruises across the lake will take you to Walter Peak where you can see a working high-country farm.
Set at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, the Marlborough Sounds amazingly comprise one fifth of New Zealand’s coastline. Not because the region is large, however, but simply because the serpentine coast weaves in and out of so many bays it massively adds to the mileage. Here the coastline is so stunningly rugged that mail is still delivered by boat to towns that are cut off from roads, and visitors can actually ride along with the boat that’s delivering mail. It’s a rural time capsule that hearkens back to life in the 1800s, where sheep still roam the forested hills and fishermen ply the waters for mussels and live off the bounty of the sea.
For an authentic experience in Marlborough Sounds, hop aboard a seafood cruise to sample the clams, mussels, and salmon the Marlborough area is known for. Or, to scour the shore on your own two feet, hike the famous Queen Charlotte Track that weaves through Queen Charlotte Sound.
Located only 25 minutes from the adventure capital of Queenstown, Coronet Peak is one of the most popular ski resorts on the entire South Island of New Zealand. This historic ski field is officially the nation’s oldest, and when it opened for business in 1947 there was only a single tow rope.
Today, however, Coronet Peak is a modern ski field on par with the best in the country. Aside from being the nation’s oldest, it’s also one of the last resorts in the country to watch its snow melt away. Given its southerly location, colder temperatures make for a longer season and better conditions for snowmaking. On most years, Coronet Peak will open its slopes sometime during the middle of June, and remain open throughout the winter until the mountain thaws in October. In addition to the long season, the resort offers views over Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding Southern Alps.
The Banks Peninsula is a side of Christchurch that too many visitors miss out on. This mostly-undeveloped, circular peninsula juts out from Christchurch like a swollen thumb, yet despite its obvious prominence on a map, a large majority of Christchurch visitors make the mistake of never exploring the area.
The lone exception is the town of Akaroa which is one of the most popular day trips from Christchurch. This charming outpost of French heritage is located a 90-minute drive from Christchurch, and the boutique shops and rose-lined cottages gaze out towards a protected harbor. The harbor itself is the flooded caldera of the volcano which formed the peninsula, and the calm waters are a popular place for boating and swimming with dolphins. Along the drive to Akaroa you weave through pastures and farmlands, and a handful of wineries and gourmet food stops are sprinkled along the highway.
Spanning 141 feet above the waters of dramatic Kawarau Gorge, no attraction is more iconic to Queenstown than the historic Kawarau Suspension Bridge. Built in 1880, there was a once a time when this rustic bridge connected Queenstown with the Otago gold fields. With the construction of an asphalt highway, however, traffic moved away from the bridge and it became frequented by bikers and joggers.
Then, in 1988, adventure-seeker A.J. Hackett decided to strap a bungy cord around his ankles and throw himself off of the bridge. When his hands splashed down into the waters below and the cord bounced back towards the bridge, the extreme activity of Queenstown bungy jumping had officially found its start. Today, hundreds of visitors flock to the bridge to watch as thrill-seekers leap into the gorge. Shuffling out onto the wooden planks, the rush of the water cascading through the gorge drowns out whimpers of the timid and scared.
A fabulous UNESCO World Heritage area measuring 700 square kilometers (434 square miles), Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park stretches from Westland to Fiordland in the South Island.
There are 22 of New Zealand’s highest mountains soaring over this park, including mighty 3,755-meter (12,316-foot) Mount Cook itself, the tallest peak in the country. Perhaps the best way to take in the mountains’ grandeur is from the air on a helicopter tour of the park. A mecca for climbers, hikers, skiers and lovers of natural beauty, the park’s attractions include the Tasman Glacier and the warm and welcoming Heritage, New Zealand’s most famous hotel.
New Zealand’s outdoor playground, the Remarkables, located high in mountainous country, possesses a great sense of excitement for any visitor looking to rip-up the alpines. With fabulous skiing, hiking, snowboarding and opportunities to just hangout, the entire family will get a kick from these majestic reserves.
Cool jumps, tunnels, trails, and even a bouncy castle at the crèche are available for children of all ages, while snow-sports schools are waiting for adults who have put off the slopes for too long.
You can also have a look at how the pros do it, with international competitions that take place. See boarders go sky-high off the half-pipes, or see renowned skier’s flow between slaloms at immense speeds.
Known by locals as “Gingerbread George” because of its ornate architecture, the Dunedin Railway Station in New Zealand’s South Island was designed by George Troup and opened in 1906. In those first few years, the station was one of the country’s busiest, with at least 100 trains passing through its tracks each day.
While the station is still in operation, reduced rail traffic means the iconic building serves several other functions, and a tourist train that traverses the countryside via Middlemarch, Palmerston or Pukerangi departs daily from Dunedin. But there’s still plenty to do here without ever leaving the station; the ground floor houses a popular restaurant, and the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame and the Otago Art Society are located on the upper level.
Experience everything you want to know about the icy continent of Antarctica at the International Antarctic Centre, from indoor ice storms to ATV rides and penguins.
Feeding time at the NZ Penguin encounter is hugely popular, as is the Penguin Backstage Pass tour for an up-close view of these cute creatures. Go for a rough and ready ride on the Hagglund all-terrain vehicle, watch snow being made and throw snowballs, chill out in an ice cave and see the aquarium displays of Antarctic wildlife. Don’t worry about keeping warm: chillproof jackets and overshoes are provided.
Hop aboard a vintage tram for a leisurely tour of central Christchurch. It’s the most relaxing, fun way to get your bearings and see the city's attractions and landmarks.The trams leave from Cathedral Square in downtown Christchurch. The route then crosses Worcester Bridge over the River Avon, loops past the Botanic Gardens and travels along past the shops of Armagh Street. All trams have an informative on-board commentary. Why not combine sightseeing on wheels with your evening meal, and take an evening ride on the Restaurant Tram? The colonial-style tram has every comfort, and the menu features local lamb and seafood.
Enjoy a bird’s-eye view from more than 1,640 feet (500 meters) above sea level on the Christchurch Gondola. Take in 360-degree views as the Christchurch cityscape competes for your attention with views of the Canterbury Plains, the Southern Alps and the Banks Peninsula. The trip takes 10 minutes each way.
The Gondola Base Station is located in Heathcote Valley. Parking is available if you’re coming by car, and the summit Station is at the top of Mt Cavendish. There’s a café and shop in case you need some souvenirs. There are also walking and biking tracks nearby, so come prepared to spend time outside.
Christchurch is known as the garden city, an Anglophile settlement of well-tended gardens and tree-lined streets. Pride of place in this flower-loving town goes to the Botanic Gardens, attractively set within a loop of the winding Avon River. The gardens are planted with thousands of exotic and indigenous plants, with particular note going to its lime tree walkways, inviting lawns and seasonal flowers such as magnolias, azaleas and roses.
A number of conservatories protect a range of species, including desert plants, tropical blooms, begonias, alpine plants and orchids. The gardens are an ideal location for a picnic, or to find a relaxing spot for an hour or two, away from the bustle of the city.
When first constructed in the 1930s, New Regent Street was famously lauded as “the most beautiful street in New Zealand.” Today, after the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, the street has rebuilt its colorful façade—built in a Spanish Mission style—where colorful, two-story buildings host retailers, restaurants, coffee shops, and cafés. When the street was first built in the Great Depression, only 3 of the original 40 buildings were occupied by lease-paying tenants, due to the economic hardships of the time and the tenants’ inability to pay rent. Gradually, an increasing number of businesses were established, and the street was reconstructed as a pedestrian mall in 1994. When the fateful Christchurch earthquakes struck, New Regent Street was one of the first places to rebuild and reopen its doors—though many repairs were only temporary and are in need of a permanent fix.
Without a doubt, Hagley Park is the greenest, most relaxing, yet also most happening 1 sq. mile in Christchurch. On the relaxing side, this central park offers dozens of opportunities for leisurely moments in the city. Paddle the waters of the Avon River which borders the park on one side, or spend an hour sniffing through the botanical gardens which are completely surrounded by the park. Lay a blanket on the expanse of grass and enjoy a midsummer picnic, or photograph the wildflowers which famously bloom as the park comes alive in the spring.
For as mellow as Hagley Park can be, however, it can rapidly change into a pulsing gathering place during one of the numerous Christchurch festivals. At large events such as the World Buskers Festival or the Great Kiwi Beer Festival, tens of thousands of Christchurch locals can descend on the spacious grounds.
Pegasus Bay Winery is a family-owned and run winery and restaurant located in the Waipara Valley, north of Christchurch. Pegasus Bay wines are made with estate-grown fruit from the Donaldson family’s vineyards.
The Donaldsons have been growing grapes and making wine since the early 1970s. A husband, wife and three sons team, the family uses natural methods, and the winery produces a sauvignon, Reisling, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet. The winery is also known for half a dozen reserve wines.