Poor Knights Islands, on the Tutukaka Coast north of Whangarei, are popular for their world-class scuba diving and birdwatching, with a marine reserve around each island to protect the eco-system. Warm currents from Eastern Australia help grow the kelp and krill that attract fish and birds. Below the surface, fish swarm through kelp forests, while above swarms of seabirds rest and nest in the cliffs and sea caves. Dolphins are here almost year-round, and a dolphin cruise offers the memorable experience of watching these amazing creatures play in the boat’s wake. These islands were named in 1769 by Capt. Cook, who discovered them by accident on a journey between Australia and Tahiti.
The Whangarei Art Museum showcases primarily traditional works by local Maori artisans, and there’s a traditional 19th century log house and Maori feather cloaks among the exhibits at the Whangarei Museum. Also visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the peace treaty between the British and local Maori population was worked out in 1840. The original Maori Meeting House is a marvel of intricately carved beams and wall panels, and there’s a historic 35-foot long canoe (waka in the Maori language), carved out of a single tree just as impressive. The grounds are within a national reserve, with tree-shaded walking paths.
Food and Wine
There are several wine-growing clusters in New Zealand, and most wineries offer tastings and tours, including the vineyards within one hour west of Auckland. The largest area, though, is around Blenheim and Renwick, with more than 50 vineyards, including some of the country’s largest. A well-marked Marlborough Wine Trail is easy to follow by bike or car, or on an organized guided tour. Guests can stay in an elegant lodge surrounded by vineyards, at Vintner’s Retreat.
There’s also a Craft Beer Trail for breweries and pubs around Wellington, which claims to be the country’s craft beer capital. www.craftbeercapital.cm
New Zealand is famous for its lamb, served at nearly every restaurant, along with local fish. Much of the best lamb is exported, so look for the seal of the Beef and Lamb Excellence Awards in a restaurant window or on the menu to avoid tougher or less flavorful cuts.
Lord of the Forest
The kauri is the Kiwi sequoia, a monumental tree that can live thousands of years. Much of the forest in the Northland, the northernmost part of the island, was cut down for lumber from the 1870s to 1920s. Among the giant trees that survived is the one revered by the Maoris as Father of the Forest (Te Matua Ngahere in the local language), believed to be the world’s oldest tree, between 2,000 and 3,000 years old.
It is reached by an easy ten-minute walk from the nearest parking area, on a path that includes boardwalks over semi-swamp areas of this tropical forest. Encourage your clients to go with a Maori guide, and experience traditional prayers to Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatuanuku (the earth mother), and their children, the kauri trees, including this one. Our guide was from Footprints (www.footprintswaipoua.co.nz), which specializes in tours of the Waipoua Forest. Another revered tree, nearby, is known as Father of the Forest (Tane Mahuta). Believed to be the world’s largest tree, with a girth of more than 50 feet and more than 150 feet tall, it is also the most famous tree in New Zealand and also revered by the Maori.
Wellington & Auckland
Wellington’s historic downtown district is dotted with buildings from the mid-1800s, or take the cable car up a steep hill for panoramic city views before visiting the Wellington Botanic Gardens and Carter Observatory and the chance to see the night sky through its powerful telescope. Another scenic lookout is from the top of Mt. Victoria. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the South Island. A 30-minute ferry ride takes you to the beaches and parks at Days Bay and Matiu-Somes Island.
There’s also a Mt. Victoria in Auckland, also with a city view from the top. It’s an extinct volcano cone, part of the Two Volcanoes Walk through a part of the city that includes interesting art galleries, cafes and boutiques. There are more than 50 volcanoes around the city, and many have been turned into parks with walking and biking paths and picnic areas.
Skiing & Snowboarding
When the winter sports season ends in North America and Europe, it is beginning here. The best skiing is on the South Island, mid-June to late September or mid-October, depending on conditions. Methven and Mt. Hutt are an hour’s drive from Christchurch, and popular with families for weekend daytrips. Serious skiers and snowboarders head further south, to Queenstown and Wanaka, both with year-round resort towns.
There are four ski/snowboard areas within an hour of Queenstown. The Remarkables has a modern high-speed six-seat main chairlift, and may be named for its remarkable views. Treble Cone is South Island’s largest ski resort, with steep runs down the side of an exctinct volcano. There is also heli-skiing to outer snowfields. The Fighter Pilots Museum in Wanaka, located at the airport, houses well-preserved historic planes and artifacts from New Zealand’s combat role in WWII. www.newzealandski.co.nz