The magnificent Hamilton Gardens are worth a visit. © Corin Walker Bain

15 Must-Do ideas for a long weekend getaway

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Make the most of Queen’s Birthday – the last public holiday weekend before Spring – with some Must-Do escapes around New Zealand.

1. Matakana

Already spoiled with a million great activities and natural attractions and close enough to Auckland that it’s a great day trip, so much has sprung up in Matakana in the last decade or so. Vineyards and local produce abound, with all of the local delights available at one of the country’s best farmers markets. 

If you need a bit more action, the nearby Leigh Sawmill hosts bands and brews its own beers as well and Pakiri is a beautiful, wild beach – perfect for long wintery walks.

2. Mount Maunganui

It’s wonderful that the most significant landmark of the Bay of Plenty is so accessible. And because there is a range of tracks you can tackle the summit at your own pace. Athletic types run up and down the Mount regularly, but there are gentler tracks to too, as well as plenty of low-level ways to weave your way around the lower slopes. 

Once you’re up, the views are spectacular – the great sweep of coastline, with the active volcano Whakaari/White Island in the distance and to the north, Matakana and Rangiwaea Islands.

3. The Grand Traverse

For something truly memorable, take to the skies in Canterbury. The Grand Traverse is a spectacular scenic flight that explores the Aoraki Mt Cook and Westland Tai Poutini national park, covering about 200km of unforgettable scenery. 

This 45-minute sweep of the terrain takes in some of the most outstanding sights you will see in a lifetime of outstanding sights. Snowy mountains and turquoise glacial lakes – their greens and blues too vibrant to be true. Swathes of golden tussocklands and concrete-coloured braided river systems spread out as you swoop past. 

It gives you perspective, context, understanding and the chills. 

4. Hawke’s Bay Wine Trails

There’s never a bad time of year to visit the vineyards in Hawke’s Bay. Glimpsed behind ancient stone gateposts, like Sacred Hill, far up the Dartmoor Valley, or boldly front and centre, architecturally announcing their vinous delights, à la Te Mata and Craggy Range there are70-plus wineries to visit in this region.

The surroundings and the sipping will seduce you into staying – so to maximise your time and effort, a hosted wine tour is often the way to go.

5. Cook Strait Crossing

Sometimes the journey itself is the destination. That’s certainly the case on the famous – or infamous, depending on the weather – Cook Strait Crossing

While Cook Strait is known as one of the roughest and most unpredictable stretches of water on the planet, it’s also one of the most breathtakingly beautiful. 

From Wellington Harbour it’s only about three hours to Picton and you’ll want to be on deck as you come into the Marlborough Sounds – sedate and absolutely beautiful as inlet after inlet, and secluded beach after secluded beach, slide by.

6. Nelson Market

The Nelson Market puts a lot of other markets in the shade which, with Nelson regularly being New Zealand’s sunniest place, stands to reason, really. 

From sophisticated jewellery to cheeky critters made of steel; exquisite ceramics to amazing original art. But while there are handicrafts, clothing and other finery, you kinda keep gravitating to the food. The Nelson region is plump with produce. Loads of it is organic, straight out of the ground. The artisanal cheeses, preserves, jams and pickles will surprise and delight with their taste and texture. Made here, with heart and much skill. And much cheaper, too! It’s a market! It’s been here for 30 years and is a tightly run ship.

7. Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Discover the epicentre of New Zealand’s bicultural history at Waitangi. This is where two cultures met, clashed, talked, argued and signed – as marked by a damn fine flagpole – the Treaty of Waitangi, in 1840. This is one of those historical sites that even people who don’t much care for history are wowed by. 

The bulk of the Treaty Grounds cover a hill overlooking the beautiful Bay of Islands. It’s a wonderful spot for a stroll outdoors, the winterless north invariably providing sunlight for your steps. There’s a lot of indoor activity here, though, with the Museum, Treaty House and Visitors’ Centre all adding depth to what is already a rich experience.

8. Fleur’s Place

Fish, famous, fabulous fish is what this culinary outpost is all about. In fact, when renowned British television chef and restaurateur Rick Stein was told by the Daily Mail newspaper that he could go anywhere in the world to write a travel article for them, he chose Fleur’s Place in Moeraki, North Otago.

The site of the restaurant is actually an old whaling station, perfectly posited for the boats to virtually unload the catch at the door, taking the authentic fish dining experience about as far as it can go.

9. Spas and relaxation in Rotorua

One of the key reasons so many folk flock to Rotorua, and have done so since the late 1800s, is the waters.

The alkaline mineral pools have given rise to some serious spa centres – the best known and located being the Polynesian Spa on the lake’s edge. Soaking in a pool at twilight while looking out over the lake – does it get any better than that? And if you want a bit more than a soak, there is a menu of treatments and ways of enjoying these natural wonders throughout the region that would take a (very relaxed) lifetime to work through.

10. Queenstown Hill Time Walk

The Queenstown Hill Time Walk is a rocky delight, and when you summit, you’ll be surprised at the staggering views from above the tree line. The Remarkables, Cecil Peak, parts of Lake Wakatipu and the Kawarau River all slide into view.

The Time Walk features a series of information panels that showcase the past, present and predicted future of this stunning part of the world, each explaining the different epochs on Lake Wakatipu. They include depictions from the first Māori settlements through the heady gold rush years to the more recent development of Queenstown into the adventure capital of the world.

11. Skydive over Taupō

If you prefer your holidays to be on the extreme side, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to jump 4500m out of a plane than Taupō – the skydiving capital of the world. And it’s pretty clear why: that bright blue lake, those snow-capped peaks, the bountiful, beautiful New Zealand landscape just stretching away.

Alone, or in tandem, you’ll get the thrill of the freefall and then the slow dive as you take in 360 degrees of stupendous natural beauty. Yep, you get time for quite a good look while you’re up there before you walk off to a gentle finish at the drop zone. 

12. Hamilton Gardens

The horticulturally inclined will be delighted that there are acres and acres and species upon species of plants; landscapers will revel in the far-sighted and enthralling design of the green spaces.

Melding with the splendour is a humorous touch of the almost irreverent: the gardens contain a botanical soup of English kitchen gardens, a Victorian flower garden and an Italian Renaissance garden, to name but a few, making this an educational, absorbing and continually surprising ramble.

Bridges and paths weave amongst surroundings so splendid you will be convinced you are on a country estate rather than anywhere near a state highway. 

13. Pukaha Mount Bruce

Here be kiwi, and while no one can ever guarantee you a sighting (clue: they’re nocturnal), if you’re going to see the national bird, this is probably the best place. At the Pukaha Mount bruce National Wildlife Centre there’s A veritable laundry list of all that’s good and great and native in the avian category: wild – yet quite gregarious – kākā, their relative the kākāpō (the world’s only flightless parrot), the rare stitchbird or hihi and the beautiful takahē. 

With all these species either vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered (on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species scale), this is a unique opportunity to see them all in one place.

14. Zealandia

For more native wildlife action, visit Zealandia – a totally protected natural environment within the environs of Wellington itself, just ten minutes from the CBD.

Species of native trees too numerous to mention are regenerating and 18 species of native wildlife have been reintroduced to the area, six of which had previously been absent from mainland New Zealand for over a century. You can spot tuatara, tūī and more: more birds, insects and other wildlife than you can shake a stick at. 

But what’s really on display here is a 500-year vision to restore the city’s forest and freshwater ecosystems to their original state. 

15. Lake Matheson walk

Lake Matheson is the ideal location to snap the perfect shot for the ‘gram. Just a 5km drive west of Fox Glacier, you’ll find the magnificent lake iconic reflections of our highest mountain. 

There’s a good walking track that loops the lake, which leads to several lookouts, the ‘View of Views’ one, weirdly enough, giving you that real moment. There are good meanderings to be had through stands of forest – especially the kahikatea and rimu – and across rolling farmland. 

But everywhere, that quiet imbues the whole place with a peace that will surprise and delight.

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