What’s new in New Zealand now that borders are open

New Zealand, it’s been a while. Too long, in fact. The COVID-19 pandemic cut us off from one of our closest neighbours, one of our dearest friends, and we missed it.

The Land of the Long White Cloud just has so much to offer travellers, from white-knuckle adventure to a fantastic food and wine scene, from world-beating attractions to immersive cultural experiences. And of course, all of these things continued to exist in New Zealand despite our absence, and in many instances they continued to grow.

There’s been a lot going on in New Zealand in the last few years. New hotels. New attractions. New experiences. If you’re planning to head back across the ditch after an enforced absence, these are the best of New Zealand’s recent additions.

ACCOMMODATION

Hotel Britomart, Auckland, New Zealand 

Hotel Britomart, Auckland.  Photo: Patrick Reynolds

New Zealand’s accommodation providers have been undeterred by the pandemic and the closure of international borders, with plenty of exciting new hotel openings taking place since Australians were last around (that is, discounting our brief “bubble” arrangement with our Kiwi neighbours).

In Auckland, the highlight of the recent arrivals is surely the Voco Auckland City Centre (auckland.vocohotels.com), with 201 smart rooms and suites in the heart of the city. The hotel also boasts Auckland’s highest rooftop bar, in Bar Albert, and Mozzarella & Co, a restaurant that does a la carte pizza and pasta.

Elsewhere in the city, the Hotel Britomart (thehotelbritomart.com) is New Zealand’s first “Five Green Star” hotel – a local design classification for eco-friendly buildings – while the QT Auckland (qthotels.com) is a bold new addition to the city landscape. And don’t forget The Convent Hotel (theconventhotel.co.nz), a boutique property that’s set, as you may imagine, in an old convent, with 22 beautiful suites, and an Italian-leaning bar and restaurant called Ada that is a destination in itself.

But, as they say, there’s more. In Wellington, Naumi Studio Hotel (naumihotels.com) opened in late 2020, and is set in a heritage building with beautifully designed rooms. Also in the Kiwi capital, there’s Pipinui Point (pipinuipoint.co.nz), a luxury hotel perched on a towering, 250-metre-high cliff just outside the city.

And then let’s turn our attention to the South Island. Begin at the top, in Nelson, where Pihopa Retreat (pihoparetreat.nz), which opened in mid-2021, offers six luxury suites in gorgeous surrounds. Nearby in Marlborough wine country, 14th Lane Urban Hotel (14thlane.nz) opened in late 2020, offering luxury accommodation in what was once a nightclub in central Blenheim.

In Christchurch, meanwhile, each of the five floors at the new Muse Art Hotel (themusehotel.co.nz) has been assigned to a different local artist, giving the property a real point of difference, as well as a community connection. The new design hotel, The Observatory (observatoryhotel.co.nz), also brings an exciting accommodation option to the historic Arts Centre district.

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New hotels
Mt Isthmus

Mt Isthmus. Photo: Shaun Jeffers

There have been plenty of openings down in ski country too. In Queenstown, there’s The Carlin (thecarlinhotel.com), New Zealand’s first six-star hotel (it’s a thing, apparently), and the town’s first seven-storey building (also a thing). This is one luxurious property. In nearby Wanaka, those chasing new properties could try Cross Hill Lodge and Domes (crosshill.co.nz), a glamping hideaway on the lakefront, or Mt Isthmus (thelindisgroup.com), an incredible luxury villa sitting on a 7000-acre station overlooking the lake.

And finally to the far south, in Dunedin, where Fable (fablehotelsandresorts.com) opened in mid-2020, and marks a complete revamp of a Victorian-era hotel once known as Wains; there’s also Ebb Dunedin (ebb-dunedin.co.nz), a modern boutique property.

SKI AND ADVENTURE

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The Lake Dunstan Trail. Photo: Miles Holden/Tourism New Zealand

New Zealand has always offered some of the finest skiing and the best white-knuckle adventures in the world, and nothing has changed there. In fact, it’s only improved.

Exhibit A would have to be the Great Glenorchy Alpine Base Camp (thegreatglenorchyalpinebasecamp.co.nz), a new hub for all things crazy and adventurous in the South Island, an outfit that can facilitate everything from heli-skiing to snow-shoeing to surfing to glacier trekking to camping out under the stars in the middle of the wilderness. The base camp itself is quite lovely, too.

Nearby in Queenstown, adventurers should check out the Coronet Loop Trail (queenstowntrail.org.nz), a 50km backcountry track around Coronet Peak, which opened in March this year and is already attracting plenty of hikers and mountain-bikers keen to tackle terrain that’s never previously been explored. Over the pass in Wanaka, 4WD specialists Ridgeline Adventures (ridgelinenz.com) have added a new experience, the Dingleburn Safari, a 4WD trip and walk that explores the private, high-country Dingleburn Station.

There are a few more new cycling trails to check out in the South Island, too: the 55km Kawatiri Trail (kawatiricoastaltrail.co.nz), which is opening progressively over the course of this year, on the west coast from Westport to Charleston; and the Lake Dunstan Trail (centralotagonz.com), a truly spectacular 55km pathway that hugs the cliffsides above the titular Otago lake, and should be on any keen adventurer’s hit list.

There’s also plenty of action to whiten your knuckles in the North Island, too. In Auckland, climb aboard a jet-ski and enjoy a guided tour of Waitemata Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf with the new Sea Auckland Jet Ski Tours (seaauckland.nz), which opened in November last year. A little further south in Rotorua, meanwhile, Skyline Rotorua (skyline.co.nz) – a family-friendly adventure centre at the top of a mountain overlooking the town – added three new luge tracks in 2021, increasing the total there to five. The new tracks took four years to complete, and feature multiple corkscrew turns, city views, and four tunnels.

In beautiful Lake Taupo, Taxicat Adventures (taxicat.co.nz) has launched tours to the Western Bays side of the lake, which was previously untouched by tourism operators – and in fact, still the only way to access this area is by boat. On this family-friendly afternoon tour, passengers will see waterfalls tumbling into the lake, towering cliffs that stand a hundred metres above sandy bays, and enjoy a picnic while bobbing on the pristine waters of Te Papa bay.

ATTRACTIONS AND EXPERIENCES

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Geysers by Night at Te Puia. 

The Kiwis have been busy. Not content to just sit out the pandemic and see how things go, they’ve been throwing open the doors to new tourist attractions throughout the country. Beginning in Northland, above Auckland, we have the Hundertwasser Art Centre (hundertwasserartcentre.co.nz), in Whangarei, a unique and eye-catching building that houses the largest collection of Austrian artist and architect Friedenreich Hundertwasser’s work outside Vienna – a perfect complement to nearby Kawakawa’s iconic public toilet block, designed by Hundertwasser. Also in Northland, Ngawha Springs (ngawha.nz), an extensive array of natural hot-spring pools, has undergone a multi-million-dollar redevelopment, and has plenty to offer visitors of all ages.

Moving down to Rotorua, there are plenty of new attractions to check out. Begin with the Tamaki Maori Village (tamakimaorivillage.co.nz), which unveiled an extensive upgrade and a few new experiences in May this year. The highlight is the new evening experience, a four-hour immersion into Maori culture, which includes storytelling in the village and surrounding forest, and a four-course meal, with a traditional hangi.

Also in Rotorua, there’s a new experience on offer at the Te Puia (tepuia.com) geothermal area: Geysers by Night. Starting at dusk and armed with a torch, visitors are escorted through the park’s 3km of illuminated trails by experienced guides who share the history and the stories of the valley, before arriving at the world-famous Pohutu Geyser. This is the first time the geyser has been able to be viewed at night, lit by floodlights, and it’s an amazing thing to see.

Moving to the South Island, there’s still plenty that’s shiny and new. Begin with Ride from the Sky (airmilford.co.nz), an experience that’s only been offered from January this year, and an incredible way to see the Southern Lakes area. You begin in Queenstown, with a scenic flight across Lake Wakatipu, before jumping on a bike and riding 32km, traversing rolling hills on a trail from Von Hill to Walter Peak, and then settling down at the Walter Peak Homestead for a delicious barbecue lunch. The day ends with a cruise back to Queenstown aboard the TSS Earnslaw steamship.

Also in the South Island, there’s a new wellness offering in the town of Methven, about an hour west of Christchurch: Opuke Thermal Pools and Spa (opuke.nz), which opened in late 2021. The complex offers a network of interconnected pools, all with gorgeous views of the Southern Alps. There are family-friendly areas, and also adults-only pools, for the ultimate relaxation. Enjoy a poolside canape and a drink while you’re there.

FOOD AND DRINK

You’re never going to be short of a good meal in New Zealand. This is a country that has always done food well, from swish fine-diners to country bakeries to cafes that do a fine flat white (though don’t get the locals started on who invented those). Since borders closed in early 2022 there have been plenty of additions to the New Zealand food and drink scene, from Auckland all the way down to Dunedin.

In the former, be sure to check out Parade (paradeponsonby.com), a Ponsonby stalwart that has a new location, an American-influenced diner that now has a big, sunny garden space, and a liquor license, which means you can wash down the tasty burgers here with a cocktail or a craft beer. Another notable addition to the Auckland scene is The Bridgman (thebridgman.co.nz), a schmick bar and bistro in Mt Eden. The deal here is pub grub made fancy, with great drinks to match.

There’s also kingi (kingibritomart.com), a sustainable, ethical seafood restaurant in Britomart. And don’t miss Florets (florets.nz), a cult bakery in Grey Lynn known for the best sourdough sandwiches in town.

We turn now to Wellington, long New Zealand’s culinary hub, where there have of course been plenty of new openings, even in tough, COVID-affected times. One of the most exciting is surely Mabel’s (mabels.nz), a restaurant whose roots date back to 1978, when Burmese migrant Aunty Mabel opened The Monsoon, one of New Zealand’s first Burmese restaurants. The modern iteration, run by Mabel’s granddaughter Marler, will take you straight to Myanmar.

Also new to Wellington, there’s Koji (kojirestaurant.co.nz), a modern, Asian-fusion fine-diner, and Lola Rouge (lolarouge.nz), set in the new Naumi Studio hotel, which serves high-end pan-Asian cuisine. And for those after a drink, there’s now Southward Distilling (southwarddistilling.com), where you can blend your own gin and keep the bottle, and The Beer Engine (thebeerengine.co.nz), New Zealand’s first small-batch, contract brewery, with a great taproom.

Down in the South Island there’s also plenty going on. In Christchurch, check out Hali (hali.nz), the more relaxed sibling to star British chef Simon Levy’s fine-diner Inati. For drinkers, call into Wilko (wilko.nz), a classic “dive bar”, though one that has craft beer, niche spirits and natural wine. There’s also Londo (londo.bar), a wine bar with a focus on small plates of seasonal, local produce.

Heading further south, in Wanaka, Arc (arcwanaka.co.nz) has been added to the local scene – it’s a smart brunch and tapas joint with an impressive wine list. And in Dunedin, pay a visit to Steamer Basin (steamerbasin.co.nz), a cracking microbrewery set in a disused industrial space at the waterfront, and Ebb Café (ebb-dunedin.co.nz), part of the Ebb Hotel, the perfect spot for a casual breakfast or lunch.

FIVE NZ CLASSICS WE WILL ALWAYS LOVE

MATAKAURI LODGE

New Zealand has a surfeit of luxury lodges that have redefined the way the country is experienced, and the best of them might just be Matakauri. Perched on a hillside high above Lake Wakatipu, outside Queenstown, Matakauri is the luxury you’re looking for, where you can relax in your beautiful room, visit the spa, dine at the restaurant, play golf, explore local wineries, or even take a helicopter flight over Milford Sound. See robertsonlodges.com 

HIAKAI RESTAURANT

There’s never been a shortage of impressive fine-dining restaurants in New Zealand either, and it’s heartening to find that one of our favourites, Hiakai in Wellington, has survived the struggles of the pandemic. Hiakai is helmed by chef Monique Fiso, who takes in elements of Maori cuisine – ingredients and cooking techniques – to give diners a true taste of New Zealand. Be sure to book ahead, as this 30-seater is eternally popular. See haikai.co.nz 

THE ROUTEBURN TRACK

For keen hikers, this is bucket-list stuff: the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s network of “Great Walks”, a 33-kilometre trail that meanders through some of the South Island’s most spectacular alpine scenery. This is generally a three-day hike, from Routeburn Shelter, near Queenstown, to the Divide, near Lake Fergus, with well-equipped huts to stay in along the way. See doc.govt.nz 

WHAKAREWAREWA

A trip to New Zealand isn’t complete without a deep-dive into Maori culture, without doing something immersive, something educational, something fun. And that’s where Whakarewarewa, a “marae”, or traditional Maori gathering place, just outside Rotorua has always excelled. At this “living village” guests can learn about Maori culture, plus hear the history of the land, and check out a few of the geothermal attractions that the area is known for. See whakarewarewa.com 

WANAKA

Our final old favourite is an entire town, Wanaka, in the South Island. Wanaka is everything that’s great about nearby Queenstown, only on a smaller scale: it’s a hub for snow sports and other adventure activities, it enjoys a beautiful location right by a lake, there’s a top-notch food and wine scene, and that laidback lifestyle that New Zealand does so well. What’s not to love? See lakewanaka.co.nz 

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