Adventure-seekers will have heard of the legendary Abel Tasman Trail, possibly the most famous hiking experience in the world. And avid kayakers know of the Mad Mile, also in Abel Tasman National Park, on South Island. But tackling either of these challenges doesn’t have to mean roughing it at night. Luxury lodgings and fine dining are close at hand, midway along the shore at Awaroa Lodge (www.awaroalodge.co.nz).
Somewhere between an upscale safari camp and a relaxed luxury resort, Awaroa offers hikers and kayakers a genteel eco-conscious home in the wild. Here they can relax on the terraces of their spacious rooms with a glass of New Zealand wine before heading to the glass-enclosed dining room for a dinner beginning with appetizer choices of seared scallops with smoked chili marmalade, roasted duck spring rolls, crayfish omelet or fresh local oysters.
Book self-drive clients to arrive by a scenic (and commissionable) water taxi ride from the park entrance at Marahau (www.aquataxi.co.nz) or fly guests directly to the lodge’s small airfield. Awaroa has state-of-the-art kayaks and all the gear, as well as guides who know the Mad Mile. Book multi-day guided kayaking trips or rentals (also commissionable) with Abel Tasman Kayaks .
The coast encompasses the Tonga Island Marine Reserve, and trips can include paddling with the fur seals that slide into the sea from Tonga Island’s low rocks. Hikers can access the Abel Tasman Track right from the lodge for a full day of climbing over headlands to beaches following cornices cut into the hillsides above the sea. The less ambitious can hike two hours to wind-carved Tonga Arches, and catch a water taxi back to the lodge.
Also on South Island is the challenging and scenic Queen Charlotte Track, a 40-mile trail along a long spiny lizard of land cut by bays, separating Queen Charlotte Sound from Kenepuru Sound.
A few steps from the track, in a tree-surrounded cove with post-card views from every terrace, is Portage Resort Hotel (www.portage.co.nz). Its waterside location and sea-worthy kayaks invite guests to paddle the quieter waters of Kenepuru Sound.
At the end of an active day, guests trade boots and paddles for a window table in the chic dining room as they dine on the bay’s world-famous succulent green-shelled mussels. Book clients on a Greenshell Mussel Cruise (commissionable, www.greenshell musselcruise.co.nz) to visit mussel nurseries and sample them with the local Marlborough Savignon Blanc; this company offers wine tastings, too.
Under the shadow of the Craggy Range, the Hawk’s Bay area at the southern end of North Island offers more classy wineries, and a food scene that makes it a prime destination for active clients with gourmet tastes. They can hike a knife-edge ridge trail at Te Mata Trust Park with views to an infinity of mountain peaks, and on the other side look down into the bright blue Pacific waters and the vineyards of Craggy Range winery.
Casual in Elegant Places
Afterward they can lunch on wood-roasted mushrooms on vine leaves, or New Zealand’s premier Aoraki smoked salmon in the winery’s terrace dining room, Terroir (www.craggyrange.com). And in outdoorsy Kiwiland, nobody cares if they are wearing hiking boots at one of the island’s highest-end restaurants.
Suggest that clients follow the Hawkes Bay Wine Trail to Sileni Estates, a state-of-the-art winery where they can take cooking classes or just taste wines and bring home a bottle of prize-winning olive oil. Serious foodies can follow the Food Trail from Hastings Farmers Market through orchards heavy with apples, to eat real-fruit ice cream at a berry farm, walk through olive groves, watch Te Mata cheeses made and sample local honey.
No nature-lover’s trip to New Zealand is complete without Kaikoura, known as “the Serengeti of sea life,” to see seal colonies, dolphin pods, Great Sperm Whales and Albatross species with 10-foot wing-spans. Reserve seats for your clients on Wings Over Whales flights (www.whales.co.nz, commissionable at 20%) for the best whale and dolphin watching. High in the air is the only way to see the whole whale, since they lie just at the surface, and to watch dolphin pods swim in formation and interact.
Book the beautifully-furnished Olive House luxury apartment or Tree House suites at Hapuku Lodge (www.hapukulodge.com/treehouse.php) in Kaikoura, all elevated so they look out at the ocean from the tops of manuka trees. Suggest “dining in” on such local specialties as smoked venison and grilled crayfish fresh from the sea.
Air Tahiti Nui (www.airtahitinui-usa.com) flies to Auckland, NZ, from New York, via Tahiti (ask about a free stopover); both it and Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.com) fly to Auckland from Los Angeles.
Agents can optimize itineraries they plan for clients by enrolling in New Zealand’s on-line Specialists Program, which includes access to new products, special offers and fam trips.
That and the WebNZday Webinar are available to U.S. travel agents at www.purenz.com.
For more information on New Zealand Tourism, visit www.newzealand.com