Blast the cobwebs away in the world's most beautiful adventure playground
New Zealand is only a small country – a little bigger than Britain minus 58 million inhabitants – but the list of incredible things to see and do is dizzying. The "land of the long white cloud" is a must-see destination that more than lives up to the hype and the best time to visit is January and February, when the weather is chilly here but there's plenty of sunshine there to get out and explore the stunning landscapes.
Because the country's major draw is its diverse and beautiful scenery – from mountains and glaciers to white-sand beaches, geothermal features and lush rainforests – the best bet is
to make a list of the natural highlights you'd like to see and then book your chosen activity accordingly. Here's our pick of the best adventures…
The region around Nelson, at the northern tip of the South Island, is the sunniest in New Zealand with everything from golden beaches to rugged mountains. The Abel Tasman track is a three- to five-day walk but the most popular activity here is a sea kayaking paddle, during which you'll spot seals, penguins and the best vantage points for experiencing the coastline. Take a detour to Picton, the pretty starting point for the waterways of the Marlborough Sounds and the Queen Charlotte Track.
Where to stay: Grand Mercure Nelson Monaco Resort. All of its cottages and hotel rooms are arranged around an attractive, village-style setting.
This region on the North Island takes some beating, combining
a rugged coastline with top surf beaches and lush rural landscapes. But the cone-shaped Mount Taranaki is the main draw. You could hire a Maori guide and hike to the top or, with more than 300 kilometres of tracks, go on a nature walk or a three-day trek around the volcano instead. There's also a 14-kilometre downhill cycle ride for thrill-seekers.
Where to stay: One Burgess Hill in New Plymouth. Book a self-contained studio with views of the river and native bush.
The sparkling water of New Zealand's largest lake is a visual treat but it's the water-skiing, parasailing, jet-skiing, kayaking, skydiving and fishing that really draw people here. Fishing lodges are dotted all around and there are hot thermal pools for a relaxing dip. The drive around the eastern shore from Taupo to Turangi is a great scenic journey offering fabulous mountain views. Other highlights include the magnificent Huka Falls and the Aratiatia Rapids. It's also worth taking a trip to Tongaririo National Park World Heritage Area for excellent hiking.
Where to stay: The Lake – five motel units decorated in a retro style just 220 metres from the lake and within walking distance of Taupo's town centre.
The glacial carved valleys and deep waters of the South Island's enchanting Milford Sound cannot be missed. From the wharf on the water's edge you can take a boat cruise along the Sound, head out sea kayaking or, for an aerial view, try flightseeing. A combination of huge peaks, precipitous waterfalls and sheer rock faces around the fjord give the area a jaw-dropping presence. If you prefer to stay on terra firma the 33-mile Milford Track is often described as the finest walk in the world. The track begins at the northern end of Lake Te Anau and meanders through the wilderness where you end the journey with a boat trip from Sandfly Point to the Milford Sound wharf.
Where to stay: Takaro Peace Resort, Te Anau. Ten luxurious chalet suites with dramatic views over the Kepler mountain range.
Situated across the Hauraki Gulf from Auckland and surrounded by native rainforest, it's the dazzling white-sand beaches that entice tourists and locals
to this North Island outpost. Make sure you put the beaches of Whitianga and Mercury
Bay, Tairua and Pauanui, Whangamata and Waihi on your list. All offer great snorkelling and coastal walkways. There
are also various activities on offer from skydiving in Whitianga to guided sea kayak tours where you stop off at tranquil spots only accessible by sea. And make sure you take time to visit Miranda Hot Springs for a therapeutic dip in the hot mineral water.
Where to stay: Beachfront Resort, Whitianga. Go for a luxury unit with private balcony just metres from the water's edge.
Sitting on the shore of Lake Wakatipu on the South Island, this is New Zealand's adventure and party town. Activities such as bungee jumping, canyon swinging and river rafting are on offer all year round. More sedate options include walking and biking trails. The Lord of the Rings fans will spot many of Middle Earth's locations here – and you'll see why Peter Jackson decided to film in Central Otago. Just 40 minutes away is Paradise Valley and from here it's a short drive into Mount Aspiring National Park and the start of wonderful walks.
Where to stay: Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel. A sophisticated 19-room hotel just a short walk from the vibrant town.
Getting there Pick from major carriers including British Airways, Virgin, Air New Zealand and Emirates. Auckland Airport serves the largest number of international arrivals and departures but airports in Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown also receive flights from other countries. Or book through WEXAS at www.iod.com/travel (020 7838 5989).
Practical information The unit of currency is the dollar (NZ$). New Zealand is 13 hours ahead of GMT. You do not need a visa if you're a British citizen.
Best time to go The warmer high-season months are from November to April. Summer (December to February) is when the Kiwis host most of their food, wine and music festivals.
For more information visit www.newzealand.com