ELLECanada.com’s Larissa Primeau takes a whirlwind tour of the ethereal landscapes in New Zealand and reports on why she never managed to get much farther than the North Island – for very good reason.
Noted as the world’s 14th-largest island, the North Island of New Zealand boasts expansive emerald hills and miles of glacial lakes that make you feel as though you’re tripping through some fantastical, otherworldly land. The beaches are well-suited to a nature-lovers paradise, while the chic restaurants, luxurious spas and fashion-forward shopping make even the most veteraned urbanite swoon in delight. Here the top 5 reasons why you need to go:
1. Where to chill:
Situated on the Coromandel peninsula, Cathedral Cove is one of the New Zealand’s most famous beaches. Accessible only on foot or by boat, the 2-hour return trek down to Cathedral Cove’s pink sands is a hike you won’t regret. A combination of the regions soft sedimentary rock and pounding surf has created a breathtaking coastline of fantastic caves and cliffs that surround the pristine beaches. The surrounding waters are also part of national marine reserve so don’t forget to bring your snorkel.
Hot Water Beach
The name pretty much says it all. This beach sits atop a geothermal hot spring and at low tide the hot spring water seeps up through the sand, providing an instant spa. Rent a spade on the beach or in town and dig yourself a nice sized hole and enjoy the soothing and therapeutic water. The water contains large amount of salt (not salt water), calcium, magnesium, potassium, fluorine, bromine and silica; the stuff you would pay hundreds for at your spa back home. Make sure you find out when low tide is, as it’s the only time this phenomenon occurs.
Not known to many, this hidden gem is nestled amongst undeveloped crown land on a remote part of the Coromandel, Otama is a dream beach for the recluse or anyone who’s looking to get away from it all — and I mean it all. But, be forewarned: The location is tricky to find. Remember that film The Beach staring Leonardo DiCaprio when he tried to find the beach paradise in Thailand? This place is even more difficult to stumble upon. Ask a local, as many as need be, because the end result is very worth it.
2. Where to spa:
Hells Gate Wai Ora Spa
Phone: 64 7 345 3151
Don’t let the name of this establishment fool you. This is not the place you go to meet with Beelzebub to discuss why you deserve eternal damnation. In fact, it’s the complete opposite: Hell’s Gate is Rotorua’s most active geothermal reserve and a treasure of the local Maori people. An hour-long walk around the grounds provides you with a fascinating history of the local Maori tribes while you witness the harsh landscape and hot bubbling pools that lead to the ominous name (courtesy of George Bernard Shaw). At the end of your walk, unwind by stepping into a private geothermal mud bath. The mud has amazing healing properties and will make your skin feel as though it’s never been through a Canadian winter.
1000 Hinemoa Street, Rotorua
Phone: 64 7 348 1328
This internationally renowned spa provides everything you could want; from therapeutic manuka honey massages to picturesque hot mineral pools overlooking lake Rotorua. Treat yourself to a Kiwifruit Soufflé wrap or relax in one of the 26 different mineral pools. There are even family pools with waterslides, making this is a great place to bring the kids to burn off some steam while you indulge yourself with a heavenly mud wrap.
The Lost Spring
121A Cook Dr. Whitianga
You’ll find this stunning oasis in the town of Whitiganga on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. The Lost Spring is a unique luxury spa with the perfect combination of style and character. The aptly named Lost Spring boasts an immense thermal pool fed from a natural spring 600 meters below the earth’s surface. Aside from the hot pools, The Lost Spring is also home to the fantastic 18sixtyfive restaurant and the Pure Indulgence Day Spa. Therapists come poolside to give you a relaxing therapeutic massage while you sip away on a delightful New Zealand Pinot Grigio. This spa is an oasis of beauty and serenity, and is a glorious way to rid yourself of the kinks and aches from traveling.
3. Where to stay, where to eat:
353 C Mountain Road, Rotorua.
Phone: 64 7 347 0036
At the top of Mt. Ngongotaha in Rotorua, Aorangi Peak provides a spectacular view of the city. Between gazing at Motorai Volcano in the distance and enjoying some warm bread and petit soup (Aorangi Peak generously provides some complimentary appetizers so that customers can relax and enjoy the scenery), you must eventually decide on a meal. The Riesling scallops are a perfect light and flavorful appetizer, and both the venison and the lamb are New Zealand favorites that you won’t be disappointed with. Be sure to couple your meal with a one of New Zealand’s many great wines, I particularly enjoyed the Pinot Noir. The atmosphere, the view and the food made this one of my most enjoyable dining experiences in New Zealand.
10 Waitomo Caves Rd.
Phone: 64 07 878 6674
Located in Waitomo (find out below why you’ll want to visit this town), Huhu Café offers a menu of distinctive indigenous New Zealand dishes. Be sure to try the homemade traditional Maori Rewana bread served with Hawke’s Bay olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. If Dr. Atkins had tried this bread, he would have reevaluated his war on carbs. Everything else they offer is organic and free range and delicious. This was delightful small town surprise.
Kuaotunu Bay Lodge
State Highway 25 Kuaotunu
Phone: 64 (0)7 866 4396
On the northeastern tip of the Coromandel you’ll find the idyllic seaside town of Kuaotuna Bay. With close proximity to Hot Water beach and Cathedral Cove, Kuaotunu Bay Lodge is the perfect destination for the traveling beach lover. This cozy B&B boasts commanding views of the Peninsula, Great Barrier Island and Mercury Island. The house itself is settled in 10 acres of native bush, surrounded by a gorgeous garden maintained by the gracious hosts, Bill and Lorraine Muir. Be sure to ask Bill and Lorraine to show you how to get to one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets: Otama Beach (see above).
Nicara Lakeside Lodge
30-32 Ranginui Street ,Ngongotaha
Phone: 64 7 357 2105
This 5-star Bed and Breakfast boasts spectacular views of Lake Rotorua and the surrounding mountains, while maintaining a comfortable and cozy atmosphere. Mike and Heather Johnson have opened their home to tourists from around the world, and their abundance of hospitality experience is clear from the moment you arrive at their beautifully furnished lodge. Mike and Heather will arrange absolutely anything for you, from a helicopter or floatplane excursion to a day out fishing. If you just feel like chilling out, this B&B has a beautiful common area and a stunning deck, perfect for sampling a local wine and soaking up the tranquil beauty.
4. Where to shop:
The country’s biggest city and urban centre, Auckland is the place to hit for stylish street wear and homegrown kiwi fashion.
53 Ponsonby Road Ponsonby Auckland 1011
Specializing in all things that glitter and dazzle, ShellShock is the place to find a funky and original bauble that you won’t see on anyone else. With a studio located at the rear of the store, almost everything is either made onsite or by local artists. Prices are reasonable and selection is tremendous.
62 Ponsonby Rd,
Phone: (09) 360 6994.
Looking through her designs, it’s easy to see how Sera Lily has won numerous fashion awards. This young designer has had her clothes featured on multiple runways and fashion mags in New Zealand and Australia. Be sure to stop in and bring something home that will definitely get people stopping you on the street to asking “where did you get that?”
76 Ponsonby Road Wellington: 04 499 0409 Auckland: 09 376 3023
In New Zealand, the name Robyn Mathieson is synonymous with innovative designs. Her colourful and inventive pieces are part of what makes her one of New Zealand’s most successful designers. Her shop in Ponsonby carries a variety of handbags, shoes and unique designs that you’ll be happy to make room for in your luggage.
41 Ponsonby Road, Auckland New Zealand
Phone: 64 9 361 3322.
Combining elegant design and funky lines, Miss Crabb manages to make clothes full of personality and oozing with sophistication. With a London edge and a young eye, these clothes are refreshingly hip while maintaining a femininity that is sometimes lost in the quest for cool.
5: Where to get your adventure on:
The Lost World 7 hour epic
Waitomo Caves Village waitomo.co.nz Phone: 64 7 8787788
Waitomo is small town that is home to some of best caving adventures in New Zealand, and maybe even the world. There are plenty of small and large companies that offer caving adventures, but if you want the best, head to Waitomo Adventures and take part in the Lost World 7 Hour Epic. Handsome and knowledgeable guides like Luke and Ryan (sigh), lead your small group through a challenging day unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. You start out abseiling over 100 meters straight down into the Lost World cave, then you begin the underground trek that includes swimming through chilling rivers (don’t worry they provide wetsuits), scaling rock faces and jumping through fissures into the dark unknown. After you’ve climbed, crawled and swam your way through the caves for several hours, you’re treated to a 15 minute rest as you lie in the pitch black and stare up at the thousands of glow-worms illuminating the ceiling. The day ends with a delicious bbq, prepared by the guides…the handsome guides. Yes, having a Kiwi caver make you dinner is just about the best way to end an exciting and exhausting day. If there’s only one thing I can recommend you do while you’re in the North Island, it’s Waitomo Adventures Lost World Epic.
ZORB® Rotorua zorb.com Reception: 64 7 357 5100
Located in Rotorua, The Zorb is an 11-foot high inflatable transparent sphere that you ride inside. You climb inside a giant bouncy ball (you can even go in pairs) and ride down to the bottom a steep hill, suspended inside. Sound crazy? It is. It’s also tons of fun.
skyjump.co.nz Phone: 64 93681835
What doesn’t sound good about jumping off of the highest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere? As the original home of bungee jumping, it’s not surprising that the Kiwis have taken this thrill-ride to the next level. SkyJump is basically like base-jumping 192 meters straight down with a wire attached to your back. A must-do on any visit to New Zealand.