Incredible New Zealand is an absolute bucket-list adventure. From the moment we landed in Auckland, I knew this amazing destination was something special. The country’s largest city offers everything from world-class food and wine to beautiful beaches and islands, designer shopping and outdoor adventures.

The iconic Sky Tower offers stunning views of Viaduct Harbour, brimming with superyachts and lined with more than 30 bars and cafes. The “City of Sails” offers the perfect base for exploring the raw beauty of the area.

Our first stop outside Auckland was Rotorua, renowned for its geothermal activity and Maori culture. Set in a lush rainforest surrounded by pristine lakes, there’s more than a bushel of activities to satisfy an adrenaline junkie. We stayed at the Tree Tops Lodge, a luxurious rustic inn nestled in 2,500 acres of private forest. It’s the perfect spot to disconnect and rejuvenate.

Our first evening in Rotorua we ventured out to Waikato where we experienced the new “Evening Banquet Tour” at The Hobbiton Movie Set, the only intact set from The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. Guided by lanterns at dusk, we were escorted to the shire for dinner where tables were heaving with traditional fare. I felt immersed in director Peter Jackson’s magical world.

A helicopter ride to White Island brought us to New Zealand’s only active volcano.  Hovering slowly over crystalline blue water was undeniably mesmerizing. Then, landing on the crater floor was like being on another planet. We walked to the edge of a smoking lake, over bubbling hot streams, past steaming volcanic vents and colorful sulphur formations, to view the ruins of long-abandoned mines. It was a true once-in-a-lifetime experience never to be forgotten.

Next we ventured to Te Puia, nestled in a geothermal valley on the south side of Rotorua.  We visited the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, opened in 1963 to preserve traditional Māori arts such as carving and weaving. Te Puia’s traditional Māori name stems from the gushing waters, steaming vents and natural beauty of the valley. That evening we enjoyed a spectacular indigenous experience called Te Po. It included a traditional Māori welcome, a cultural performance which I was fortunate to be chosen to participate in, followed by a sumptuous Hangi (earth oven) dinner and the opportunity to see the remarkable lighting of the geothermal valley. To top it off, at nightfall we witnessed the world-renowned Pohutu Geyser, which erupts to heights of nearly 100 feet. 

I absolutely fell in love with New Zealand. From fabulous metropolitan cities, rolling hills, surf breaks, wine and food, active volcanos and adventure galore, there is truly something for everyone. I can’t wait to explore some more.

Pacific travel specialist Dana Innocenti is with Lake Zurich Travel & Cruise, providing custom travel itineraries for discerning travelers. To learn more, visit lztravel.com or call 847.438.5551.

“The country has a rich history and incredible Maori culture, and the locals are some of the friendliest people I have come across in all my travels.”