New Zealand: The Great Escape

Sailing, skydiving, hiking-oh my! Here are the seven top activities on New Zealand, the wonder Down Under.
By: 
Judy Koutsky

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Pure, rugged natural beauty—that’s New Zealand. Located southeast of Australia, the country actually consists of two islands. Enormous glaciers, craggy mountaintops and heavily forested areas are characteristic of the South Island, while the North Island features nearly 50 volcanic cones and some of the most navigable waters on earth.
 
The North Island is home to the capital city, Wellington, as well as to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. From heart-pounding bungee jumping in Queenstown, South Island, to relaxing at spas in the cosmopolitan North Island, there’s a way for you to experience all that this amazing country has to offer.
 
Adrenaline Adventures in Queenstown
Surrounded by the Southern Alps, the compact city of Queenstown sits on the northern shore of Lake Wakatipu in the South Island. Queenstown encapsulates much of what New Zealand is all about—exciting adventure in a beautiful locale. And as the home of bungee jumping, you’re sure to find everything you want in the way of awesome, heart-pumping activities.

Head for the hills: For a bird’s-eye view of Queenstown, check out the Rungway, a new series of mountain trails equipped with fixed rung-and-cable systems. The adventure resembles rock climbing, yet the ropes, pulleys and foot and handholds are already in place, so no experience is necessary. You’ll need to go with a guide, because the area has 12 different routes that wind up the cliffs of Queenstown Hill. He’ll outfit you with everything you need, from helmets to harnesses.
Before tackling the mountain paths, you’ll try out your equipment on the indoor practice wall and learn the rhythm of climbing and securing your safety clip to metal holds. Once outside, you’ll realize that ascending the Rungway is much easier—and more secure—than rock climbing. You’re always hooked into the man-made rungs, so you’re attached to the cliff. And one more thing: Don’t forget to take in the majestic mountain vistas of the surrounding area (viaferrata.co.nz).

Take the plunge: What began in the 1980s as the search for the ultimate adrenaline rush is now one of the most popular activities for visitors to New Zealand. Jump on an excursion with A.J. Hackett, and you’ll descend 43 meters off Kawarau Bridge, the first commercial bungee site in the world. After a guide straps you into an ankle harness, you’ll inch to the edge of the bridge and dive off. You’ll drop (picking up speed along the way) until the rope is taut; then it will snap and swing you back up for a few more bounces. Rush—that’s the only word to describe the unbelievable sensation. Afterward, a boat comes to pick you up, and a guide unhooks you from the bungee straps and takes you for a relaxing ride along the river (ajhackett.com).

Sep_Oct_07_NZ1Free falling: For an unbeatable view of the area’s rugged natural beauty, take a skydiving tour above Queenstown’s Southern Alps. In your six-person plane, you’ll climb two miles up in the air, then with a licensed instructor you’ll take a tandem leap over verdant green mountains and deep-blue lakes. You’ll feel as though time has stopped as you free-fall for a few moments before your instructor pulls the parachute cord and gently guides you toward the ground (nzone.biz).

Stay Here: Azur, located five minutes from Queenstown, offers the ultimate in romantic seclusion. Nestled in the green foothills of the Southern Alps, the luxury property includes a main-lodge building and nine freestanding guesthouses. Each of the villas has a bedroom, a fireplace, a private patio, an enormous indoor soaking tub, a sitting room with oversize windows and spectacular and unobstructed views of the awesome surroundings. After a day of action-packed adventure, cozy up on your terrace with a glass of the local pinot noir, and hunt for the Southern Cross, a constellation seen only in this hemisphere (azur.co.nz).
Sep_Oct_07_NZ3Natural Expeditions in the South Island
The west coast of South Island is home to Mount Aspiring National Park, a large protected area that boasts two well-known glaciers: Fox, which was named after a New Zealand prime minister, and Franz Josef, in honor of the Austrian emperor. The beautiful park also encompasses seemingly endless acres of dense wooded areas, deep gorges, open fields and raging rivers—all equally inviting to adventure-seeking travelers.

Venture out: The four-hour Siberia Experience is the outing for those couples that like a bit of everything—air, land and water—all in one excursion. It starts with a 25-minute scenic plane ride over Mount Aspiring National Park. You’ll soar over snowcapped peaks, deep rock valleys and giant masses of glacial ice before landing in a flower-filled field. On the three-hour hike that follows, you’ll see forested alpine lakes, white-water rivers and sprawling grassy areas. The outing concludes with a boat ride down one of the area’s many rushing rivers (siberiaexperience.com).

Explore a glacier: There are more than 140 glaciers in this region of New Zealand, but only two, Franz Josef and Fox, wind down from the top of the Southern Alps, through temperate rain forest and nearly reach the ocean. Sign up for a half-day excursion with the guides at Helicopter Line, and you’ll take a 10-minute helicopter ride over the glacier, then strap on crampons (boots with cleat bottoms), grab an ice pick and embark on a two-hour trek over the icy ground and into looming ice caves (helicopter.co.nz).

Sep_Oct_07_NZ2Stay Here: Located minutes from the glacier, the four-suite Silverpine Lodge has unparalleled vistas of the mountains and top-notch service. The intimate space is furnished with intimate space is furnished with objects made from its namesake, silver pine, an ancient golden wood. All meals, which are prepared by the lodge’s co-owner Sue Yates, are served family style at an outdoor table. Yates proudly uses the freshest local ingredients, such as hormone-free, free-range poultry and farm-raised venison. Breakfasts feature artisanal breads, organic granola and fresh fruit (silverpine.co.nz).

Laid Back in the North Island
Auckland, known as the City of Sails, boasts some of the best sailing in the world. In 2002 and 2003, the city hosted the America’s Cup international sailing competition, which resulted in a booming culinary scene, a thriving nightlife and many galleries.

Sail around the city: Whether you choose the half- or full-day excursion on the 49-foot Pride of Auckland, you’ll get gorgeous views of the city’s skyscraper skyline, enormous Auckland Bridge and the 48 volcanic cones that dot the countryside beyond. Passengers may choose to take turns helping out as crew—tying ropes and steering the ship—but your onboard participation can be as little or as much as you like. Dinner and lunch cruises are also available (prideofauckland.com).

Spa in the sky: The East Day Spa offers Asian-inspired treatments that promise to heal, detoxify and energize the body. Try the four-hand Mantra Massage: Performed by two therapists, the invigorating treatment is bound to alleviate tension and leave you rejuvenated. The Java Lulur treatment gets skin glowing with a purifying steam bath, followed by an application of rice flour with sandalwood and turmeric (eastdayspa.com).

Stay here: All the rooms in the five-star SKYCITY Grand Hotel have spacious bathrooms and sprawling views of the cosmopolitan city. Housed in the tallest skyscraper in the southern hemisphere, this enormous property has a large fitness center, complete with personal trainers, a heated indoor lap pool and saunas. There’s also a casino, nearly a dozen restaurants, a movie theater and a dance club (skycityauckland.co.nz).
Tropical Adventures
For a different kind of South Pacific adventure, head to Fiji. Although famous for endless beaches, swaying palms and luxury resorts, Fiji’s more than 300 islands are also home to numerous coral reefs, abundant mountain ranges and verdant tropical jungles waiting to be explored by active travelers. And while you could be forgiven for simply wanting to laze on the beach, taking it outdoors—parasailing above it all or rappelling a mountain—will make this trip an experience of a lifetime.

Swim with the sharks: At Paradise Taveuni, an eight-bungalow property that offers the ultimate in seclusion and action-packed adventure, you can swim with white-tipped reef sharks and schools of barracuda. Or play Survivor for a day on a hiking and swimming excursion on a nearby private island (paradiseinfiji.com).

Ready to Rappel: Venture deep into the tropical mountain ranges of the main island of Viti Levu for a day of rappelling down Fiji’s highest cliffs. The staff at Abseil Eco Tours will teach you the ropes on everything from harnessing to the correct way to shimmy down a mountain face. After a few practice runs off a 49-foot overhang, you’ll hike farther into the mountains and tackle larger challenges like descending 150 feet into a valley. Along the way, look out for native birds, like bright red-collared lories or green-and-yellow parrots (wackingstickadventures.com).

Ready, Set, Soar! Get a mile-high view of Fiji’s kaleidoscope of natural colors on a parasailing tour with Subsurface Fiji. First, a guide will strap you into a seated harness and parachute, which is attached to a speedboat. As the boat heads out to sea, your chute will fill with wind and gently lift you 1,000 feet above the Pacific. The vista here is incredible—you can actually see the shallow coral reefs through the glass-like ocean (subsurfacefiji.com). — Carla Johnston