Just Back: New Zealand

Lara Leibman & Neil Sherlock landed on a glacier during their Milford Sound excursion.

Lara Leibman, executive vice president of Frosch Travel, visited New Zealand with her new husband, Neil Sherlock, recently, to explore all that the country has to offer, and is back with this report.

North Island or South Island? That is the most common question asked when you are headed to New Zealand for the first time. With so many beautiful landscapes to see and explore, it’s a difficult question to answer so we put our trust in Unparalleled Journeys and experienced the best of both. 

Our journey started with a brief visit to the North Island. From Kerikeri Airport, we enjoyed a 45-minute scenic drive to The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, one of the highlights of our trip. Arguably, this is the crown jewel of the three Robertson Lodges and for good reason. Set in the Northland region with some of the most picturesque views you could ever imagine, Kauri Cliffs is magical. Its par-72 championship golf course is surrounded by magnificent coastline, so even if you don’t play golf, you will enjoy driving the cart around to glimpse the beautiful ocean views. During our Heritage Discovery Tour, we felt the Kauri forest embrace us as we explored its lush, natural landscape and learned about the Maori culture. A picnic on Pink Beach, one of the three beaches on the vast estate, was incredibly memorable. The venue was serene, private and very romantic, and the food was delicious and indicative of the quality we enjoyed throughout our stay at this spectacular property. 

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The Owner’s Cottage at The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs opens eastward to an infinity pool, Jacuzzi and a sun-drenched patio.

For our sojourn to the South Island, we wanted to incorporate some winery visits to sample some of the Sauvignon Blanc (“Sav”) New Zealand is best known for. We opted for a stop in Marlborough, known for its Sav and Pinot Noir (the second most widely planted grape in New Zealand), where we began with a wonderful lunch at the Saint Clair Family Estate. Our visit to Cloudy Bay, one of New Zealand’s top Sav producers and largest exporters, didn’t disappoint either, as our wine tasting experience involved some fabulous wines, including the vintage Pelorus. The Shack, the beautiful on-site guesthouse, was the perfect venue for a private wine tasting. You can also simply relax on Cloudy Bay’s gorgeous grounds and enjoy some oysters and Sav while taking in the vineyard views. Our stay at the Marlborough Lodge was lovely. This historic convent has been lovingly restored, and peacefulness pervades you as you walk through the beautiful surrounding gardens.

Blanket Bay has 12 rooms and suites, all affording panoramic views of the lake and the mountain.

From Marlborough, we flew to Queenstown, where we first visited Blanket Bay, the magnificent lodge located on Lake Wakatipu near the town of Glenorchy. Having had the good fortune to view some spectacular scenery in my life, the alpine views from Blanket Bay and the ones we took in on our Milford Sound excursion were beyond exquisite and simply took my breath away. Waking up to the most perfect picture-postcard views, the glory that surrounded us on the shores of Lake Wakatipu was unreal. And venturing out on a helicopter to explore Milford Sound is not to be missed. Milford Sound is nestled deep within Fiordland National Park; its sheer cliffs and rocky valleys were formed by ancient glaciers over hundreds of thousands of years. As we flew over this incredible scenery, some of which was snow-capped, and some covered in forest, the colors of the melted glacier lakes within the valleys appeared jewel-like. On one of our three landings, we landed on a glacier and had great fun making footprints in fresh snow and feeling like we were alone on top of the world. We enjoyed more delicious food and wonderful New Zealand wines at Blanket Bay. We also took advantage of the surrounding parkland and went on a magnificent alpine adventure on the Routeburn Track Walk within Mount Aspiring National Park. We walked a segment of this multi-day hike showcasing mountain peaks, valleys, waterfalls and crystal-clear lakes.

The Matakauri Lodge has great views of The Remarkables mountain range and Cecil and Walter Peaks.

Queenstown was our last stop, where we split our time between two more fabulous properties, Matakauri Lodge and Eichardt’s. For guests who wish to experience one of New Zealand’s great lodges nestled amongst nature in a peaceful area with lovely views and delicious food, Matakauri Lodge (sister Robertson Lodge to the Lodge at Kauri Cliffs) is ideal as it also has the proximity to Queenstown. For those who wish to be located on the waterfront in the heart of all the action while still enjoying the most gorgeous views from a fabulous hotel, Eichardt’s is perfect.  

Exploring Milford Sound on a helicopter is an unmissable experience when visiting the South Island.

With all its adventure options, fun shopping, dining and nightlife, Queenstown was the perfect ending to an unforgettable trip. While staying at Eichardt’s, it was easy to walk up to the Skyline where we experienced the Gondola & Luge. We also ziplined and concurrently learned about the environment as part of the Ziptrek EcoTour. Many more options are available, like bungee jumping or sky diving for the more daring. I’m saving skydiving for my next New Zealand trip. The Shotover Jet was an exhilarating ride, and we enjoyed Fergburger (the equivalent of Shake Shack in the U.S.) afterwards. While we were in Queenstown, we also explored several more wineries in the region; some of our favorites included smaller ones, such as Peregrine Wines and Mondillo Vineyards.

Lara with Tim Scott, Tamara Dunbar & Deb Lynch from Unparalleled Journeys sharing a farewell drink aboard Pacific Jemm by Eichardt’s.

We never got tired of the magnificent views from every “super lodge” we visited. What resonated with us the most was the incredible cuisine, the kindness of the people and the spectacular scenery. If you like the outdoors, New Zealand is your playground, and some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes allow you to play to your heart’s content. We have so much more of this vast expanse to experience, and I look forward to visiting this beautiful country again.

The Marlborough Lodge, a former convent converted into a luxury country estate, is located in the heart of the famous Marlborough wine region. 

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