Karen Walker: My top 5 New Zealand escapes

Oct 04, 2012

by THE QANTAS INSIDER

Waiheke Island

Waiheke's just a 45-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, but feels like a different world. It's a wonderful mix of hippiedom and luxury, which means a weekend escape can take you from pristine beaches and organic markets to some of New Zealand's finest vineyards as well as luxury lodges and beach houses. My favourite beach is Palm Beach. The best accommodation is either renting one of waihekeunlimited.co.nz luxury homes or the fabulous new Oyster Inn (124 Ocean View Road.), which I adore for lunch and dinner.

Matakana

Just an hour or so north of Auckland, the Matakana region is home to wonderful vineyards and sensational beaches. A great place to escape for the weekend. The Matakana Farmers' Market (2 Matakana Valley Road) is one of the best and The Leigh Sawmill Caf (142 Pakiri Road, Leigh, +64 09 422 601.) is a great spot for dinner. Make sure you have time to visit some of the great vineyards.

Arrowtown

I never get tired of Central Otago. Queenstown remains the obvious spot and it does have some wonderful things about it, but I prefer Arrowtown. It’s a 20-minute drive away from Queenstown for a quieter and even prettier escape. Autumn without doubt is the best time of year to visit, though there’s definitely something beautiful about it year-round.

The best option for accommodation is one of many luxury homes available to rent through touchofspice.co.nz, my favourite being Mill Creek (MillCreek, Lake Hayes, Arrowtown Road, New Zealand. +64 03 442 8672.). Beautiful!

While you're in Arrowtown eat at Saffron (18 Buckingham Street, +64 03 442 0131.; drink at The Blue Door (18 Buckingham Street, +64 03 442 0415); grab a coffee and a picnic from Cook's Store & Deli (44 Buckingham Street, +64 03 442 0992.); and visit the many local vineyards and those in the Gibbston Valley for the best pinot noir of your life.

Taupo

Taupo's a bit of a tourist clich, but it is wonderful to escape there for a weekend at the famous Huka Lodge (271 Huka Falls Road, +64 07 378 5791). While there are plenty of activities in the area for those in a tramping (bushwalking), fly fishing or mountain-biking frame of mind, I prefer to spend a weekend at Huka Lodge lazing, gazing and grazing. The food is sensational, the interiors are cosy and luxurious, and the river running past your window is completely mesmerising.

Te Henga (Bethells Beach)

Te Henga is one of Auckland’s vast West Coast beaches. It’s all huge rolling surf, black ironsand, towering cliffs, rugged forest and virtually no people. In other words: magic. If you don't want surf, then just up the road is Lake Wainamu hidden among the enormous dunes.

For those that don’t fancy beach or lake there are wonderful forest walks all around the area. The Te Henga Caf is one of the best in Auckland. Operated out of an old caravan nestled amongst the dunes it makes sensational coffee, the best homemade organic carrot cake I’ve ever had and, for a real treat, gourmet burgers and kumera (native sweet potato) fries with aioli.

The best place to stay is the Bethells Cottages (267 Bethells Road, +64 09 810 9581.). The two cottages are perched on the cliff overlooking the beach. They’re cute, funny and homely, sort of homemade-looking – but in a good way. If you’re staying at the cottages they might allow you access to the private lake 10 minutes’ walk into the ancient forest where some of the native pohutukawa trees are 800 years old.

I love to climb out on their low-hanging branches and swing out over the lake on a rope. A few minutes' walk from the cottages is Sunset Point, which is best enjoyed with a bottle of wine and good friends. Afterwards, wander back to the cottages, settle down outside by the open fire with a blanket and listen to the thunderous surf and count the shooting stars.

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