New Zealand is a small country with outsized tourism draws — hobbits included. To give you a few more reasons to go, we’ve rounded up the best new hotels, restaurants and attractions in its biggest cities and (way) beyond.
It’s been a banner year for Auckland’s food scene. Inside the SKYCITY entertainment complex, Depot’s buzz is building; the new eatery and oyster bar from New Zealand celebrity chef Al Brown has already expanded its patio. Closer to the water, Roxy is a fine-dining hot spot serving dishes like wild venison and black pudding in a century-old theater. And trendy Ponsonby has whole-heartedly welcomed Tin Soldier and its seasonal, shareable plates like beer-battered mussels.
In Wellington, the brand-new Pickle Eating House & Bar is pleasing patrons — under pickle-jar pendant lights — with its own shareable dishes (mac ’n’ cheese sliders, dark chocolate and duck liver lollipops) and live music.
Hop over to the South Island for chef Josh Emett’s Rata, which opened in Queenstown in May. The chef (known for appearing on MasterChef New Zealand and MasterChef Australia and working with Gordon Ramsay) prepares locally sourced dishes, like Merino lamb rump with Pegasus Bay Aria-soaked grapes. Two minutes away, in a historic cottage on Lake Wakatipu, the anticipated Sasso is slated to open this month with a menu of rustic-chic Italian cuisine.
Since its late-2011 redesign, Auckland Art Gallery has been raking in architecture awards and hosting must-see exhibitions. The latest, “Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 – Present,” runs through March 3.
Three hours from Auckland, Rotorua — known for its Maori culture and thermal pools — recently introduced the country’s first zip line through the native tree canopy. And cyclists will find a host of new bike paths around Rotorua, and across the country, as the emerging New Zealand Cycle Trail takes shape.
When it’s time to head to the South Island, adventurous types should consider the Te Araroa path. It’s a newly created, 1,864-mile hiking trail that connects New Zealand’s islands from tip to tip. Speaking of tips: You’ll need to catch a ferry for your actual crossing to the South Island.
Christchurch, the South’s largest city, is still rebuilding after a devastating February 2011 earthquake rocked its center. While the city works to restore its iconic Gothic facades, there are plenty of innovative attractions to see. These include Re:START, a pop-up shopping and dining center; The Shed, a new venue (built in just 16 weeks) for the Court Theatre company; and an under-construction cardboard cathedral intended to stand in for the heavily damaged ChristChurch Cathedral for up to 20 years.
Auckland is home to 34 percent of New Zealand’s population and more than its fair share of the country’s luxury hotels. One of the best is the ultra-modern, waterfront Hotel Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour, new to the brand’s portfolio this year. Its spa is coming in early 2013, and if LeSpa at Sofitel’s Queenstown property is any indication, you can expect practically magical treatments like hot-Maori-greenstone massages.
For a country escape, drive up to the Northland region and check into the new Kokohuia Lodge. Literally off the grid, the boutique inn delivers eco-minded luxury and farm-to-table cuisine. The service couldn’t be more personal; it’s a hotel built for two.
On the South Island, Awaroa Lodge in Abel Tasman National Park reopened as a Peppers luxury eco-property in September. You’ll have to hike, boat or fly in, but you’ll be rewarded with incomparable access to the coastal park’s beaches, estuaries and islands.
Photos Courtesy of iStock/4FR, Pickle Eating House and Bar and Hotel Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour