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New Zealand Cool

New Zealand is a cool place to visit any time.

Seasons are reversed below the equator, so this is a good time to plan for a spring or summer escape to the land of the kiwis.


New Zealand became part of the British Kingdom, now the British Commonwealth, in the mid-1850s. In Auckland, the capital city and main international airline gateway, that heritage survives with colonial architecture and an abundance of fish and chips shops. The city is booming with shipbuilding and repair industries, thanks to the America’s Cup, and thousands of sailboats dot the harbor, near the headquarters of the winning Emirates Team New Zealand.


Cruise ships dock at Prince’s Wharf, in the heart of downtown, where there’s also a Maritime Museum and day-trip cruises to Waiheke Island, a scenic 45-minute trip to an island locally famous for its warm micro-climate and sandy soil ideal for its vineyards and olive groves. Tours and tastings include lunch.


Well-heeled clients can opt for a helicopter visit to Mudbrick winery, with its own helipad, a cellar of more than 100,000 bottles, and lunch or dinner on a terrace bordered by fragrant lavender plants. There also are several small cottages on site for those who want to linger longer. Auckland’s Sky Tower, which dominates the skyline, also offers dining – or just take the elevator for a scenic 360-degree view that takes in picturesque mountains and islands beyond the city limits, including Waiheke Island.


Rotoroa is one hour from Auckland, where soaking in one of the outdoor hot springs with views of the surrounding mountains is a must do. Take a walk through a redwood forest just outside town to see 250 foot tall trees grown from seeds and seedlings from California planted here 100 years ago. Walk around Sulphur Bay downtown to view steaming cones and vents – from a safe distance, of course, since all are clearly marked with “danger” signs. Or, do all three – first one or both walks, then a soak to relieve exhausted muscles.


Waikato, one hour from Rotorua, is the site of the sprawling set where the beloved Hobbit movies were filmed, on a working sheep and cattle ranch. There are more than 13,000 sheep and 500 Angus on the 1,250 acre ranch, many of which you drive past en route to the enclave. Only guided tours are permitted, with tour guides steeped in the history and details of the movie and the set, including pointing out a tree with 376 individually hand-painted leaves. There’s a chance to get inside one of the tiny Hobbit habitats, and tours include lunch, either before or after the tour, depending on the time of the reservation. Note that walking paths are suitable for the able-bodied, and some accessible alternatives on request.


Queenstown is a small, walkable city on Lake Wakapito. There’s a long shoreline walk, especially lovely in evening when the stars of the Southern Cross sparkle in the night sky. The lakeside Botanical Garden is a free public park with a network of paved walking paths, ponds with people-friendly ducks hungry for a handout, and impossibly tall and stately Redwoods which grew from California seedlings. Take the Queenstown Gondola, the steepest in the Southern Hemisphere, for panoramic views along with lunch or dinner – that is an extravagant buffet including fist-sized local Green Mussels and sliced-to-order local lamb.


Air New Zealand now also flies non-stop from the US West Coast to Queenstown, the main city on New Zealand’s less populated and more rugged and picturesque South Island.


Milford Sound is considered by many to be one of the top ten most spectacular scenic destinations in the world, and no trip to New Zealand is complete without it. Flightseeing tours operate daily, year-round from Queenstown, 90 minutes each way, plus a two-hour cruise. It’s a full and memorable day. In the air, the scenery below is craggy snow-topped peaks separated by lush green valleys. On the sound, ships cruise past enormous cliffs dotted with waterfalls and rookeries of rare, tiny Fjordland Crested penguins, which are hard to spot among the water-level greenery. The top flightseeing company is Glenorchy Air, the only one which offers a private, glass-enclosed spot on a cruise boat, plus a box lunch.,,


Or, take the train to enjoy the scenery. A trip between Christchurch and Blenheim along the stunning Kaikoura coastline, features whale watching and wineries. Another crosses South Island between Christchurch and Greymouth, past mountains, glaciers and glacial lakes.

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