The “Hermit Kingdom” has become a haven of luxury.
This will be the first summer that non-residents are allowed to enter New Zealand since 2020, and a lot has changed. Returning travelers might expect to find beloved establishments shuttered, but over the past three years domestic tourism flourished while borders were closed, and some of the country’s most iconic destinations (known to for hosting rock stars, royalty and apocalypse-wary tech billionaires) expanded. Now, scores of exciting new and newly renovated hotels, restaurants and retail developments are finally welcoming outsiders.
Better still, Air New Zealand launched a 17-hour direct NYC-to-Auckland long haul on its comfy Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner last fall. It’s now the fourth longest flight in the world, venturing across the Pacific and down to the land of the long white cloud. No domestic leg, no dreaded LA layover—simply depart at night and arrive at sunrise, in time for eggs Benedict and a cappuccino.
Ready to rattle your dags into a realm of unparalleled natural beauty? Here are the best new (and old) places to stay, dine and play in Kiwi country.
What to Do
For cultural exposure, “work north to south,” advises James Cavanagh, sales director for Robertson Lodges‘s luxury accommodation portfolio. It’s the best way to learn about the country’s history, which is centered around the Bay of Islands, where untouched beaches meet Maori tradition.
After landing in Auckland, it’s time to get a handle on your inevitable jet lag. Spend a minimum of four days in the big smoke and shop, wine and dine your way around Commercial Bay and Britomart. Major brands have landed on New Zealand’s shores in recent years—Dior, Tiffany & Co., Prada and Chanel. And in the CBD-adjacent Parnell, a new luxury department store, Faradays, has brought in a roster of international brands, including Celine, Givenchy and Loewe, alongside an elegant Champagne bar and florist.
On the other side of the city is Ponsonby, where contemporary boutiques line the strip between lively bars, restaurants and cafes that make the very best velvety flat whites. Be sure to visit Muse and revered local designers including Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester. And if you’re an art aficionado, visit the Auckland Art Gallery—the city’s version of the Met, with a rotation of local and global exhibitions.
Now that you are settled in, fly or drive north to explore the culturally significant sites in Russell and the islands around the subtropical peninsula. Also in the north is Matakana, a flourishing winemaking region surrounded by sparkling white-sand beaches, artisan farmers markets and colorful galleries and sculpture gardens, including Sculptureum and Brick Bay.
Surfers flock to Tawharanui and Te Arai nearby, but more dramatic landscapes can be found at Piha, a black-sand beach on the West Coast.
From here, there is only one direction to go: south.
The South Island hub of Queenstown is an essential on any New Zealand itinerary, and although it’s a haven of luxury, it’s also an adventure capital, known for jet boating, sky diving, bungee jumping and, of course, skiing in the winter months.
The best (and much less intrepid) way to see it is from above; book a helicopter tour with Over The Top to see the majestic Southern Alps up close.
Where to Stay
Plenty of exciting new hotels have arrived in downtown Auckland since the pandemic, which until recently, was limited to the Sofitel when it came to luxury stays.
The glossy new Park Hyatt, overlooking the lively Viaduct Harbor, launched mid-2020 and is already being toasted for its polished aesthetic and spectacular views, with rooms starting at about $526. The swish Landing Suites at the boutique Hotel Britomart (the sister property of the Landing, which Barack Obama described as “magical”) also opened in 2020 when, alas, so few could check in. Rates begin at about $442. Also in the Viaduct is the QT—the city’s answer to the Standard—which opened in 2021 with a bustling rooftop bar and playful, contemporary interiors (rates from roughly $331 per night).
The InterContinental is currently under construction, marking its first flagship in the City of Sails.
But there are even more exclusive accommodation options in the country’s otherworldly countryside.
Kauri Cliffs set the standard for luxury lodges when it opened in 2001 (followed by sister properties Matakauri Lodge and Cape Kidnappers). Then, in late 2019, right before the borders closed, it unveiled three spectacular four-bedroom residences, with rates beginning at roughly $11,000 per night.
Each offers unparalleled privacy, complete with 25-foot saltwater pools overlooking an award-winning golf course and the Pacific Ocean.
Similarly palatial accommodation, with interiors by the same distinguished designer, can be found at the other end of the country—although, in a somewhat less secluded setting right in the center of metropolitan Queenstown above a Louis Vuitton boutique.
The $10,000-per-night, aptly dubbed Penthouse is the crown jewel of the recently expanded Eichardt’s Private Hotel, the city grande dame. It has a prime position on Lake Wakatipu, with sprawling living spaces and extravagant amenities, including a butler and a private chef.
Not too far from here is the Carlin, which was just named the World’s Best New Hotel at the 2022 Boutique Hotel Awards. The ultra-luxe hotel, with rooms from roughly $1,638, is revered for it six-star standards: One of the suites comes equipped with a self-playing grand piano, and you’ll have access to private jets and luxury cars.
But perhaps the most exciting new opening on the South Island is Flock Hill Homestead, a short helicopter ride from Christchurch. Opened last September, the single-booking resort dripping with contemporary design chops that screams “serenity now” and starts at $7,300 per night, with a two-night minimum.
Where to Eat
Many of New Zealand’s best new restaurant and bar openings are located in Auckland’s revitalized areas: There’s Bivacco in the Viaduct, a buzzy bistro serving uncomplicated Italian cuisine; the seafood focused Kingi in Britomart, where chefs experiment with a bounty of local ingredients; and Ahi in Commercial Bay, a power lunch destination offering impressive renditions of modern Kiwi cuisine.
In Wellington, the capital people are booking a month in advance to dine at Rita, an intimate restaurant with a seasonal three-course set menu that changes daily. And in Queenstown, one of the finest restaurants to visit is Rata, helmed by celebrity chef Josh Emett.
But, it can’t be repeated enough, it pays to venture outside the city.
Over on Waiheke Island (Auckland’s version of the Hamptons), Ki Maha is the closest thing that New Zealand has to a beach club—a refined one, such as Jardin Tropezina in Saint-Tropez.
Further inland, an unmissable vineyard experience is Tantalus Estate. Do a wine tasting at the cellar door and dine alfresco in its manicured gardens.
Of course, there is always “fush and chups.”