Donna Sevilla

La Jolla, California Travel Agent

Two Weeks in New Zealand

New Zealand is among my favorite places, and it keeps getting better. It is beautiful, the people are hospitable, and now, there are wonderful luxurious lodges with terrific adventure opportunities, from helicopter flight-seeing and jet-boating to hiking and off-road buggy rides. I recently spent two weeks visiting both North and South Island on a Virtuoso-sponsored trip.  

One of the biggest changes in the last 15 years has been the development of truly luxurious and immersive lodges. Most are individually-owned, and several are Relais & Chateaux properties. All are located in desirable locations: beside a river known for great fly fishing, in a valley with wonderful hiking; near a world-class golf course or overlooking a cliff-lined bay.   

Each takes pains to situate each room to best frame the stunning scenery so when you walk into your suite, you are greeted by sweeping vistas, and perhaps fresh-baked cookies or brownies. You have every luxury but feel like you are in nature. And they generally have a list of excursions and adventures for you to enjoy. At one, we went out in off-road vehicles to see one of the largest colonies of gannets, a relative of the booby family. At another, we took a luxury yacht ride along a river through untouched wilderness.  

While the lodges have different owners, most of them cooperate with each other to share information on visitor’s likes, dislikes, and preferences. So, for example, if you have an allergy or need a certain kind of pillow, the lodges will share that information. They will even coordinate to arrange helicopter transportation from one to the next. That level of cooperation between unaffiliated hoteliers is extraordinary, but in New Zealand, I think it is an outgrowth of the tremendous feeling of hospitality that is part of the culture. 

Among the highlights of this trip was a four-hour helicopter excursion. We landed on the beach of an alpine lake and the pilot attached a line with a grappling hook to pick up a lobster trap. He pulled out the best lobsters for us, dropped the trap back into the ocean and we flew with our lobsters to land beside a river in the rainforest. There, he cooked the lobsters over an open fire and served us a beautiful lunch. Then, we continued on to fly over Milford Sound, which is spectacular. 

Another day, we hiked on Routeburn Track, one of nine great walks in New Zealand. We walked over suspension bridges and followed trails through beautiful mountains and rainforest. The trail was well-groomed so you do not have to be a mountain climber or scramble over rocks, although you do need to be fit because there were a lot of changes of elevation. On the way, we saw some of the huts that people can use for multiday hikes. Some are quite rugged; none are luxury, but all have indoor flush toilets and showers, sometimes even with hot water.  

I send a lot of couples and families to New Zealand. Most comment on the friendly hospitality and love being able to enjoy outdoor adventures in pristine wilderness while staying in some of the most scenic and luxurious lodges in the world.