1. Learn to take Instagram-worthy photos
Lake Wakatipu is stunningly, irresistibly beautiful, and a magnet for shutterbugs. How do you ensure your photos do it justice? Ask an expert, that’s how. Professional photographer Laurence Belcher not only understands all the technical stuff, but as a local, he also knows the secret places to go for extra wow factor – one of them is, literally, Paradise.
Take one of his personalised Paradise Photography tours from Queenstown to the top of the lake, and he’ll advise you on camera functions and technique, suggest angles and subjects, and critique your work constructively over a coffee at Glenorchy. Lake, mountains, rivers, forest are all there waiting for your viewfinder – all you need is the courage to turn your camera’s dial away from automatic.
2. Cross the Alps by train
Five hours will take you from the English elegance of Christchurch to the rugged, independent West Coast. The TranzAlpine train is designed to make the most of this spectacular route, with non-reflective panoramic windows and an open-air viewing carriage. Crossing the manicured and sheep-nibbled Canterbury Plains, you follow the tumbling, turquoise Waimakariri River along its steep-sided gorge. Viaducts and tunnels take the train through the snow-capped Southern Alps, stopping at the mountain village of Arthur’s Pass before the descent through beech forest to the West Coast town of Greymouth.
Begin a Coast adventure here, or have a leisurely lunch before the return journey to Christchurch: on the way back, from the opposite direction, it will all look different in the afternoon light.
3. Chase a sperm whale, then sleep in a tree house
Perched on stilts above the treetops, with glorious views towards the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, the elegant tree houses at Hapuku Lodge are unique. They are located just north of Kaikoura (below), where resident sperm whales and large pods of energetic dusky dolphins can be found close to shore. There’s fishing, diving, kayaking, helicopter sightseeing, skiing and hiking; and nearby is a secret stream where a creche of baby seals plays under waterfalls.
Afterwards, toast your toes at your personal log-burner while watching the sun set behind the peaks, and then head down to the dining room for something home-made, local and seasonal, from crayfish to venison. Memories are made of this.
4. Play clifftop golf at Cape Kidnappers
At most golf courses, you have to watch out for deceptive slopes, or trees. At Cape Kidnappers, the main hazard is scenery, distracting you on this par 71 course. Running along the clifftops, every hole has a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean, and some of them can fairly be described as epic. You’ll be hitting over trees, across gullies and along the edge of 140-m high cliffs where it will take ten seconds for your ball to hit the waves.
Afterwards, back at The Farm, reward your efforts in rustic luxury with a fine dinner of locally-sourced ingredients including wine from world-famous Hawkes Bay vineyards, before retreating to your suite for more ocean views.
5. Detox and recharge in luxury
In the nicest possible way, the Aro Ha Wellness Retreat outside Queenstown is your self-indulgent self’s nightmare come to life. Up at dawn for compulsory yoga, all meals vegetarian and gluten-free, no caffeine, sugar or alcohol, plenty of interval training, hiking and climbing mountains, no cell phones, no Internet, no choice. It’s detox for mind, body and soul, in pristine World Heritage surroundings that this eco-focused, Zen-inspired luxury lodge is committed to protecting.
Come here to quiet your racing brain, cleanse your system, stretch and strengthen your muscles. For five or seven days, there’s nothing to get between your mind and your body, and your surroundings. New and already award-winning, it’s the antidote to modern life.
6. Fish for your lunch – by helicopter
For life-long bragging rights, try Fly, Gather, Dine: step into a helicopter at your accommodation in Nelson or Wellington, and fly over sea, sounds and beaches. Land at one of Marlborough’s world-renowned boutique vineyards and have a happy tasting, choosing the wine you fancy to accompany your lunch. What is for lunch? That’s up to you!
After flying over the spectacular Marlborough Sounds to a reef, you will catch your own fish (don’t worry, you’ll have help if you need it). Then flit to a quiet beach, where a chef will magic your catch into a three-course meal, the freshest you’ve ever tasted. How do you top that? Literally, on a mountain, with a toast to a truly amazing day.
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.