New Zealand: It’s out there!
Written by Max Anderson
On February 5, Qatar Airways begins flying the longest non-stop route ever, a whopping 14,539km, 16-hour transit from Doha to Auckland. You think that’s extreme? Just wait until you see what New Zealand has in store for you. Writer Max Anderson buckles up for some far-flung fun.
New Zealand’s landscape of mountains, volcanoes, and islands was forged in the fearsome Pacific Rim of Fire. No wonder it’s one of the world’s hottest adventure destinations.
The city of Auckland has more boats per head than any city on earth, and from the waterside restaurants of Princes Wharf it’s easy to see how it earned the gentle moniker ‘City of Sails’. When a warm breeze plays over Waitemata Harbour, a thousand spinnakers swell on the horizon and it seems no city could be fairer. Then a speeding jetboat comes rocketing into sight, its engine howling across the water. It streaks under the Auckland Harbour Bridge at 100kph before whipping itself into a spin, eliciting a plume of water and screams of delight from its 23 passengers.
Beautiful vista, insane action. Welcome to New Zealand.
In 1954, a New Zealander invented a boat that could suck water in and squirt it out to produce some especially thrilling propulsion. Sixty years on, you too can strap yourself into an updated version of his revolutionary craft – a 300hp super-charged turbo-boosted beast of a thing – and tour the harbour. And if the views of the metropolis don’t make your eyes bulge, then being centrifuged in tight circles certainly will.
If you’d prefer an overview of the city, you could try jumping off Auckland’s 192m Sky Tower on a Sky Jump. Attached to a wire, you’ll descend at 85kph for 11 seconds (giving new meaning to the phrase ‘falling for a city’) before being gently slowed and stopped a convenient distance from the ground.
Views can also be had from the Auckland Harbour Bridge, specifically while you’re climbing high above the traffic on the steel superstructure. While you clutch at the handrail, your guide will point out Auckland’s amazing aspects, including the very beautiful (and very dormant) volcano Rangitoto, a near-perfect cone standing at 325m. After the tour, you’re welcome to throw yourself off the bridge – on an elastic bungee cord which, incidentally, is another New Zealand invention.
Still with volcanoes, you should head 200km south to the town of Rotorua. This is where the earth bubbles and steams and hisses while one of the planet’s subterranean plates slowly grinds against another. In case you forget it’s hot down there, the town’s Pohutu Geyser shoots out a scalding 30m jet up to 20 times a day.
At Hell’s Gate geothermal park, you’ll see the bubbling, primeval pools of grey mud that were prized by Mori warriors. The hottest pools were used to cook food; the balmier 40° pools were used to soak and heal battle wounds. After a tour, you can similarly soak your bones in a private pool, with plenty of buttery grey mud to revitalise your skin. Sitting in a steaming pool among giant ferns is strangely evocative, especially at night when the place is lit with eerie red and green lights.
To get even closer to the earth’s molten core, take a visit to White Island. You’ll be helicoptered out of Rotorua to this offshore volcano poking from the Pacific Ocean and then land inside the crater. If this isn’t enough to get the adrenalin flowing, the volcano is still active: think boiling acid pools, steaming fumaroles, and a throat which sends up great columns of boiling black mud.
For more refined but no less wild adventures, you’re relatively close to two of New Zealand’s most celebrated wilderness lodges.
Huka Lodge is a favourite with European royalty for its mountain views and excellent fly fishing. Cape Kidnappers near Napier was built by a Wall Street broker and is now renowned for its spectacular cliff-top golf course; it also has private bushland that’s home to flightless kiwi birds, which you can help track, catch, and weigh with a resident naturalist.
With its steep uplands and fast rivers, New Zealand’s white-water rafting is considered full-bore and hard-core. The Rangitaiki River between Rotorua and Taupo is queen of them all, a Grade V mule-ride with 10 rapids that drop like a flight of stairs. When your raft leader urgently cries “BACK-PADDLE!”, you’re well advised to do just that.
Once you’ve got the measure of white-water rafting, you should try black-water rafting in Waitomo. You’ll be given a wetsuit, a caver’s hat (with light), and an inner tube. As you float sweetly through the blackened cave system, admire the rock formations in one long, slightly surreal journey. At some point you’ll turn out your light to better meet Waitomo’s most famous residents: the tens of thousands of glow-worms.
At the bottom of the North Island is the world’s southernmost (and arguably most funky) capital city, Wellington. Something of a mini San Francisco, Wellington is all steep streets and artistic cool. It’s also the departure point for the South Island, with all those alpine mountains, glaciers, and fjords you probably saw standing in for Middle-earth in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The soaring peaks of Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park (including the nation’s highest, Mt. Cook, at 3,754m) offer alpine trekking in summer and heli-skiing in winter. On the higher slopes, glacier hiking offers you the opportunity to strap on a pair of crampons and explore the unusual world of ice; if conditions allow, you can even go into crevasses to be mesmerised by their changing light and texture. For another icy thrill, take a Mt. Cook ski plane for peerless views and the chance to try a glacier landing using the aircraft’s specially adapted skids.
For some people, no New Zealand adventure is complete without hiking one of the nation’s famous tracks. These scenic ‘tramping’ expeditions last from two days to several weeks, led by experienced guides who will look after you en route, including when you overnight in the many dedicated huts. The five-day Milford Track is celebrated for its spectacular fjord vistas and is still regarded as one of the world’s best walks.
If you’re seeking the ultimate adrenalin rush, head for the adventure capital of NZ. Queenstown sits overlooking a vast glacial lake, surrounded on all sides by soaring peaks and served by a raging river called the Shotover. Talk about having it all – this is where you’ll get your kicks via helicopters, jetboats, bungee jumps, luges, quad bikes, canyon swings, river sleds, flying foxes, ziplines, and other inventive ways devised by New Zealanders to get more fun from their impossibly beautiful scenery.
At the end of all that, the world’s longest flight will be just what the doctor ordered. A few movies. Meals brought to you at regular intervals. And a deep, deep sleep.
The Lord of the Rings
Tolkien tourism is flourishing thanks to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. Visitors can tour the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata, join Hobbit location tours near Waitomo, and explore key mountain locations for LOTR outside the beautiful town of Glenorchy near Queenstown. To see where the real magic happened, be sure to do the Weta Cave Workshop Tour, the Wellington-based effects and props workshop founded by Sir Richard Taylor and Tania Rodgers. And if you’d like to meet someone who actually appeared in the film, just ask around: the battle scenes were so large, about half of the South Island population was contracted to be an orc or an elf.
New Zealand Getaways
Much like the New Zealanders themselves, local retreats manage to mix style, creativity, and more than a little fun.
Blanket Bay, Glenorchy
No question, ‘luxury’ in New Zealand really means ‘wilderness lodges’; the difficulty comes in picking one from among nearly two dozen heroes. Blanket Bay was a game-changer in its day, loved for its imposing stone frontage and stunning lookout across Lake Wakatipu to the high mountain peaks near Glenorchy. Like many of the older lodges, it borrows from the Scottish game lodge; and while it’s no longer one of the most expensive lodges, it’s still one of the best.
The Hilton Auckland, Auckland
Built onto the old finger wharves, the Hilton still commands the best harbour views in Auckland. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself constantly looking back to the contemporary steel and glass architecture of this 165-room hotel – with more than a nod to the gleaming ocean liners of yore, it feels like it could slip its moorings at any time. No less polished is FISH restaurant, serving some of the brilliant produce pulled from New Zealand’s clean seas.
Hamurana Lodge, Rotorua
Set on its own estate, Hamurana is a country mansion offering refinement and space. The three-storey property is located 15 minutes from Rotorua, looking out to the mountains and Lake Rotorua as well as Mokoia Island, which is sacred to the Maori. The grounds and gardens are stunning, and come complete with swimming pool and tennis court.
Zorbing is another mildly mad NZ invention, one that sees you loaded inside a giant inflatable sphere (the Zorb) and set off rolling down a steep hill. Do a dry Zorb (extremely bouncy) or a wet Zorb (extremely slithery).
A farm stay is the perfect way to surround yourself with stunning New Zealand countryside while letting your kids loose on tractor rides, quad bikes, and helping out with animal feeding. If you’re on a sheep farm, check out the amazing work done by the border collies.
International Antarctic Centre
The International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch is a hands-on attraction where the family can ‘visit’ NZ’s nearest southern neighbour, Antarctica. Shelter in an ice cave, feel what it’s like to be caught in an ice storm, take a 4D-movie cruise to the polar continent, ride in an amphibious vehicle, and meet the resident little blue penguins. Very cool.
My New Zealand
Always something new... Jean-Michel Jefferson of Ahipara specialises in creating sensational private experiences for discerning international clients. He’s the sort of chap who will arrange for Mori warriors to jump out at his guests in the middle of a forest and issue a real Mori challenge to ensure they’re friendly – before taking them on a ride in a real war canoe. His ideas are limitless, and his little black book is second to none.
Christchurch is one of my favourite cities anywhere. It’s home to where the young Ernest Rutherford began his forays into cracking the atom; it has a beautiful cathedral made of cardboard; and it’s a living example of how human spirit, creativity, and more than a little humour can stare down a 7.1-magnitude earthquake.
Te Papa national museum
Te Papa national museum in Wellington is one of the world’s best. Try to stay upright in an earthquake simulator, experience the beaches of Gallipoli (the display is by the Weta Workshop), and try to catch a live performance (a Mori haka if you’re lucky). This is the museum that keeps on giving.
Auckland, New Zealand
Distance: 14,518 km
Flight Time: 16 hours, 20 minutes
Frequency: Beginning February 5, 2017, Qatar Airways will operate a daily non-stop service from Doha