You haven’t seen NZ until you’ve done this
OK, you've been. You've got the pics, the memories and even the plastic tiki.
But you haven't "done" New Zealand, not by a long chalk.
While you've been travelling elsewhere, our near neighbour has kept on adding experiences that compete with the best in the world, and new tourism regions have emerged offering fewer crowds and in-depth experiences of Kiwi culture.
Here are 10 excellent reasons to cross the Ditch again.
One of the fastest-growing cruise markets in the world is, you guessed it, New Zealand, where cruise ship spending jumped nearly 20 per cent in the past year.
The mass-market sector is booming but the hottest trend is luxury smaller-ship cruises that provide privileged access to some of New Zealand's most remote and pristine places as well as ports off the beaten track.
They come complete with all-inclusive food, wine and entertainment, personal butlers and crew-to-passenger ratios approaching one-to-one.
Over the next two cruise seasons, a mini-flotilla of luxury lines is heading to New Zealand, including Seabourn, Silversea, Azamara, Ponant, Viking, Crystal, Cunard and Regent Seven Seas. Plenty of itineraries will depart from or include Australian ports.
THERE'S AN INFLUX OF LUXE
If you're an aficionado of fine accommodation, there's a raft of new luxury openings and refurbishments to enjoy, including some in regions previously under the radar.
The very sleek The Lindis five-suite luxury boutique hotel opens in the wilds of the South Canterbury high-country on November 1. Five-star Cabot Lodge also opens its doors in Fiordland on the same day with four chalets looking onto Lake Manapouri and nearby peaks.
Early November sees the debut of Cowshed 488, a stylishly renovated 1909 farmhouse 30 minutes north of Greymouth on the South Island's West Coast.
In Auckland, AccorHotels will open a 130-room Sofitel property in the CBD in November. Wellington has a new 106-room (14 suites) DoubleTree by Hilton and a new 62-suite Naumi Hotel is scheduled for 2019.
Hi-tech travellers are flocking to the recently opened, 57-room mi-pad Queenstown that turns guests' smartphones into room keys and room controls. And if you're a fan of Australia's QT hotels, NZ now has two, in Queenstown and Wellington.
Travellers to the Wellington region can enjoy the recent $NZ3.2 million ($2.9 million) refurbishment of Wharekauhau Lodge. At Craggy Range in Hawke's Bay, new garden cottages and river lodges will open in the second quarter of 2019.
The grande dame of them all, Huka Lodge, was recently recognised by Travel + Leisure (USA) magazine as the No. 1 Resort Hotel in Australasia.
IT'S COSMIC, MAN
In the hot, new travel category of astro-tourism (stargazing) New Zealand is, er, a star.
Astrophiles from around the world are making a beeline to Aotea/Great Barrier Island, a largely off-the-grid island 93km northeast of Auckland that is one of only four recognised Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the world.
In the South Island, the Tekapo area of the Aoraki/Mt Cook region is home to the southern hemisphere's largest International Dark Sky Reserve.
Night tourism is a big trend in New Zealand, whether for nocturnal wildlife-spotting, sound-and-light shows among the geysers at Te Puia in Rotorua, or tackling the famed Tongariro Alpine Crossing at 2am - but strictly only with a guide!
In the winter months until late October, Southland and Rakiura/Stewart Island are perfect places to view the aurora australis, the southern hemisphere equivalent of the Northern Lights.
YOU DEFINITELY HAVEN'T SEEN IT ALL
While the big-gun destinations of Queenstown, Rotorua and Milford Sound are as impressive as ever, they've been joined by up-and-coming regions. The newcomers have heritage, culture, architecture and environments that offer authentic experiences of Kiwi culture.
In the Central North Island, the Taupo and Ruapehu regions are emerging as year-round destinations for eco and active pursuits. The Whanganui River region, once known as the Rhine of the South, is well worth investigating.
In the South Island, the buzz is about the high-country landscapes and glacial lakes of the Mackenzie District in South Canterbury, as well as the Southern Scenic Route which runs from the South Island gateway city of Christchurch via the Central Otago wine region, Queenstown, Fiordland and Southland.
THERE ARE MORE THINGS MAORI
If you haven't crossed the Ditch for a while you'll notice the resurgence of Maori language and its presence in mainstream culture. More and more indigenous-owned cultural experiences also enable visitors to see the country from a Maori perspective.
In the Bay of Islands, Papatuanuku Earth Mother Tours shows how Maori traditionally used the trees, plants and birds of the forest. On Aotea/Great Barrier Island, Motairehe Marae is launching Stars of Aotea, a new Dark Sky Sanctuary business in November.
In Hawke's Bay, Napier Maori Tours provides eco-cultural tours to historic reserves and estuaries plus samplings of contemporary Maori cuisine.
Wellington's Te Wharewaka o Poneke serves up waka (Maori canoe) and walking tours of the waterfront and hangi (earth oven) lunches. In the South Canterbury town of Timaru, Te Ana Maori Rock Art Centre takes visitors to ancient rock art sites of the Ngai Tahu people.
And it doesn't get more Kiwi than fish and chips - unless like popular Christchurch seafood restaurant Fush you throw in bilingual menus and free te reo (Maori language) classes on Monday nights.
IT'S EVEN MORE EXTREME
There is something in the Kiwi psyche that impels them to jetboat, bungy, ferrata-climb and zip-line through their gorgeous landscapes, and the list of extreme experiences keeps expanding.
At A.J. Hackett Bungy's recently opened Nevis Catapult (aka The Thriller) near Queenstown, adventure junkies line up to be propelled 150m across a deep ravine at 100km/h. They are also fans of the gnarly Shotover Canyon Fox combination zip line and flying fox 182m above the Shotover River.
IFLY is Queenstown's newest high-adrenaline arrival, an indoor vertical wind tunnel that simulates free fall skydiving.
In Christchurch, recently reopened Christchurch Adventure Park has NZ's longest (1.8km) chairlift to the top of Port Hills and a dual zip-line ride back down.
FOLLOW THE HAPPY TRAILS
In 2009, the New Zealand government set about creating a national network of cycle trails to complement the country's world-famous Great Walks. Nga Haerenga, The New Zealand Cycle Trail, now has 23 Great Rides that showcase New Zealand's landscape, environment, culture and heritage.
The newest trail, Alps 2 Ocean, extends 300km from the foot of Aoraki/Mount Cook through the Mackenzie Country to Oamaru on the South Canterbury coast. Like the other Great Rides, Alps 2 Ocean is well supported with touring infrastructure and can be sampled in half-day to multi-day rides.
Keep in mind there are hundreds of walking trails throughout the three main islands, many of them free. Te Paki Coastal Track in the far north, Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds and Hump Ridge Track in Fiordland are vying for inclusion as new Great Walks.
THE KAI (FOOD) IS FINE
Food lovers heading across the Ditch are in for a treat: the dining scenes in Auckland and Wellington are vibrant and it's hard to find a bad coffee anywhere. You'll even find Michelin-star chefs at five-star lodges like Te Waonui Forest Retreat on the South Island's West Coast.
Wellington, recently named the world's Most Liveable City by Deutsche Bank and Lonely Planet's top New Zealand destination for 2018, continues its long run as a hospitality epicentre with a spate of recent craft beer bar openings and an urban distillery.
Nationally, one of the most interesting trends is a focus on unique New Zealand ingredients including horopito (Maori bush pepper) kahikatea (native pine) peppercorns and cooking over pohutukawa (native myrtle wood) fires.
Traditional hangi cuisine is experiencing a renaissance (it's being showcased at Taste of Auckland food festival on November 1-4) and New York star chef Monique Fiso is returning home to open a restaurant in Wellington this month with a focus on Michelin-style Maori cuisine.
Best till last: you can now dine in style at the New Zealand Parliament. Previously reserved for the use of pollies only, Bellamys at The Beehive in Wellington opened for public bookings in May with a fine-dining menu of premium New Zealand food and wine served with exemplary Kiwi hospitality. Go Jacinda!
IT'S NICE AND GREEN
New Zealand's big commitment to sustainable environmental practices makes traveller eco-guilt a minor thing. This is, after all, the nation that has set aside one third of its land area for conservation purposes and embarked on a program to eradicate introduced predators like stoats and possums by 2050.
You can see some of the work in progress at predator-free Kapiti Island north of Wellington, Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre in Wairarapa, and Zealandia, a biodiversity sanctuary right in the heart of Wellington City.
Environment-conscious travellers can also enjoy a growing national network of accommodation and activities with Qualmark Green and Enviro-Gold status, and detailed travel information resources like Organic Explorer.
Visitors who want to tread ultra-lightly can now stay at the country's first Net Zero energy accommodation at Camp Glenorchy near Queenstown.
IT'S KIWI AS
It's not just hearing Kiwis say "Choice" and "Yeah, nah" that makes you realise you're in a distinctly different place: road trips inevitably bring encounters of a uniquely Kiwi and often quirky-wonderful kind.
Some examples: in Invercargill, Bill Richardson Transport World is a must-see. The largest private automotive museum of its type in the world, it is gearing up to launch a New Zealand version of Dig This in which guests can operate heavy machinery including bulldozers and excavators in a giant, adult-sized sand pit.
If you can tear yourself away from sauvignon blanc tasting in Marlborough, Sir Peter (Lord of the Rings) Jackson's jaw-dropping private collection of original and replica WWI and WWII aircraft at Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is worth a look.
In the Ruapehu region, multi-award-winning Forgotten World Adventures celebrates New Zealand's railway legacy with motorised rail kart journeys along heritage rail tracks.
In neighbouring Taranaki province, Tawhiti Museum in Hawera offers a fascinating collection of life-size and small-scale diorama displays depicting early New Zealand history. And while you're in Hawera, don't miss a visit to Kevin Wasley's Elvis Presley Memorial Record Room. Elvis has definitely not left this building.
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