It's the kind of geographical paradox that's all too familiar: The country that arguably offers the planet's greatest concentration of natural beauty is inconveniently parked about 2,000 nautical miles southeast of Tasmania.
The first amazing thing about New Zealand is the sheer diversity of environments: Snowcapped alpine peaks, deeply carved fjords, pristine beaches, dense subtropical rainforest, sparkling ice fields, active volcanoes, rolling valleys dotted with sheep – all packed into a country smaller than Italy. Whether your preference is active escape, family adventure or a blend of culture and breathtaking scenery, there's more here than you could experience in a Kiwi lifetime.
To find Tolkien's Middle Earth, walk the cone of Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park or trek around Mount Sunday on the South Island. The famed Milford Track and the less frequented (yet even more stunning) Doubtful Sound are equally great options for exploring dramatic landscapes on foot.
The sea, of course, is never far away. Watch for whales in Kaikoura, greet seals from your kayak in Abel Tasman National Park or try wreck diving at one of Jacques Cousteau's favourite sites. Then keep an eye out for dolphins as your luxury yacht cruises the lagoons of the Bay of Islands. Afternoon options? Spotting kiwi (of the feathered variety) in Trounson Kauri Park or swimming at a secluded warm-water beach.
The North Island also has plenty for the culturally curious: Maybe a tasting with the vintner at an acclaimed winery near Marlborough. A piping-hot hangi, where our hosts will explain the rituals of this Maori feast. An All Blacks rugby match is another must – complete with an eye-bulging, tongue-poking haka dance to get pumped up beforehand. And we'll even teach you which body parts to rub together in a traditional hongi. Then, after all this exertion, head back to an award-winning lodge or a working ranch in spectacular surroundings.
If you'd like a few adrenaline-fuelled days, choose any activity that begins with heli (a favourite local prefix): heli-skiing in the Southern Alps, heli-hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier, heli-rafting along the wild Landsborough River or heli-biking almost anywhere. Plus bungee jumping and jet-boating, two Kiwi passions that frankly make us question the sanity of people who otherwise seem most reasonable. But that's the thing about New Zealanders: they speak our language (more or less) but otherwise seem content to live in an entirely different world. Small wonder.