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New Zealand

Hiking, biking and star-gazing in the Southern Alps: making the most of the great outdoors

Paul Whitfield | November/December 2014

Don't be surprised if you’re asked your opinion on the country when you’ve barely left the airport. New Zealanders love to be loved.

Do hongi any Maori who host you. The simultaneous pressing of forehead and nose intermingles the “breath of life”.

Don't rely on trains. Miss Monday’s 7.50am from Auckland to Wellington and you’ll have to wait three days for the next one.

Do try the roast beetroot and feta tart at Little and Friday, a stellar café/bakery in a nondescript strip mall in the nondescript Auckland suburb of Belmont. Just turn right at Takapuna Grammar, where the pop star Lorde may still be a student.

Do seek out low-key Matapouri. Its golden beach is one of Northland’s finest, and a sandy track through the dunes leads to Whale Bay, an almost-private beach frequented by dolphins.

Do hit the free hot-spring trail. Wallow in a hollow at Coromandel’s Hot Water Beach, massage your shoulders under the warm waterfall at Rotorua’s Kerosene Creek, gently poach in Taupo’s Spa Park and hike to the steaming lake at Welcome Flat.

Don't miss the Water Whirler, Len Lye’s kinetic sculpture on the waterfront at Wellington.

Don't write off a winter visit to the South Island. The wet West Coast often puts on clear days perfect for chopper flights onto the glaciers. This is the only time of year you can mountain bike the wonderful Heaphy Track, and the skifields are cranking.

Do go beyond Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Try Waiheke Island for Bordeaux, Hawke’s Bay for Syrah and Central Otago for Pinot Noir.

Don't restrict yourself to beard-and-Gore-tex tramping. On the three-day Queen Charlotte Track water-taxis carry your bags between lodges that are as luxurious as you can afford.

Do look beyond bungy jumping. Your adventure dollars stretch further canyoning through Wanaka’s Deep Canyon, rafting over a seven-metre waterfall on Rotorua’s Kaituna River or jet-boating the Wairaurahiri River.

Do visit earthquake-ravaged Christchurch. A new city is rising from the rubble and in neighbouring Lyttelton artists, musicians and small-scale developers are forging a port town even more vibrant than before.

Don't expect to see a kiwi in the wild, though at Stewart Island’s Mason Bay these normally nocturnal birds even come out during the day.

Do get starstruck on a night tour of Mount John observatory at Lake Tekapo. The southern firmament is set against the Southern Alps in the heart of the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve.

Do dine at Fleur’s Place, a shack perched on the wharf in Moeraki. Fleur has her own boat to bring in the freshest fish. This is also the best chance to try muttonbird, a Maori delicacy a fellow diner described as tasting like “anchovy duck”.

Don't get a moko. A full-face Maori tattoo may not seem such a good idea on your first day back in the office.

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