Tourism New Zealand and Singapore Airlines hosted five agents on an eight-day fam to New Zealand. Karl Cushing joined them
As cures for jetlag go, an early morning spin around Auckland Harbour in a jetboat has to be up there.
After nearly 24 hours of travel from Heathrow, cushioned only by a brief stopover in Singapore and a few hours’ shut-eye at Auckland’s Sebel Suites, it sure helped blow the cobwebs away; it also set the pace for our whistlestop eight-day tour of the North and South Islands.
Our fam was designed to emphasise the ease of getting around New Zealand, with the group self-driving two Budget rental cars. "I loved the simplicity of the self-drive," says Flight Centre’s Sarah Bracey. "There was hardly any traffic, and it seemed so easy to get from place to place."
After only a morning in the ‘City of Sails’ we drove to adventure hotspot Rotorua, home to everything from zorbing to caving. Here we rode the Skyline’s gondolier car up Mount Ngongotaha before racing down the luge track, and road-tested the adrenalin rides at Agroventures, including a skydive simulator.
The area is also known for its geothermal activity and Maori cultural tours. We visited Tamaki Maori Village, where we walked off the traditional ‘hangi’ buffet while checking out its new accommodation. And the steam-spewing crater-scapes at nearby Wai-O-Tapu didn’t disappoint.
State Highway Five got us to Napier, a charming coastal town in the Hawke’s Bay region famed for its art deco buildings. Over dinner at the Old Church, which also boasts a villa housing four sumptuously decorated en-suite rooms, we sampled some of the acclaimed local wines.
The following day began with a visit to a gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers. "This was a highlight for me," says Travelbag’s Stephen Morris. "It’s definitely a tour to recommend." A short scenic drive through Hawke’s Bay wine country was capped by a tasty lunch at Hawthorne House, near the foodie centres of Havelock and Hastings. The group loved the well-appointed Edwardian villa and its four cosy en-suite bedrooms.
Next up, two nights in Wellington, home to funky festivals such as Wearable Arts and hip hotels including Ohtel and The Museum. A group highlight was the night-time safari at the Zealandia wildlife sanctuary where we got up close with some endangered local wildlife, including some kiwis.
The Maori cultural treasures at Te Papa museum were a big hit with agents Aimee and Stephen, who called them "unmissable".
Two ferry companies link North and South Island. We chose Interislander, pleasantly passing the 60-mile journey to Picton in its Kaitaki Plus Lounge. Having picked up new rental cars at the ferry terminal we were soon en route to a hot date with some cheeky reds and whites at Brancott Estate’s lovely new cellar door and restaurant in the heart of Marlborough’s wine country.
The ever-evolving scenery ensured cameras were seldom out of hands as we headed south to the quaint coastal town of Kaikoura, via a seal colony and the excellent Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, a particular hit with aviation buff Stephen. Kaikoura owes its place on the tourism map to its sea life and we duly split into whale watchers, who glimpsed a sperm whale, and the intrepid Dolphin Encounter group who took four dips in the chilly ocean with pods of dusky dolphins.
Another gorgeous drive took us to Christchurch. Here we hurtled around the International Antarctic Centre’s test circuit in a Hagglund all-terrain vehicle and were lashed with rain and snow in the new ‘4D’ cinema, before relaxing on a 30-minute guided punt down the Avon river, flanked by the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park. It was a rural scene, yet a short stroll brought us to the city’s business district, which bore the brunt of the earthquake in February 2011. The area, which includes most of the city’s large hotels, was still largely cordoned off when we visited, but the group loved the new ‘pop up’ mall built of shipping containers.
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