Queenstown, New Zealand
If outdoor adventure is your travel goal, Queenstown, New Zealand, 300 mi southwest of Christchurch on the South Island, is the place to go. Scores of well-equipped and experienced adventure-tour operators there do a good job of organizing activities for you, and the scenic beauty of the surroundings will satisfy even idle vacationers. But before strapping on your bungee cord, take the Skyline Gondola above Queenstown for a wonderful view of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables mountain range. (The Remarkables are particularly beautiful at sunset.) Before heading back down, try the luge track a couple of times.
For even bigger thrills, try bungee jumping off a bridge over the Kawarau River on the road toward Lake Wanaka. Choices when it comes to jet boating or white-water rafting are available on the Shotover, Kawarau and Dart rivers. The Shotover River has narrow canyons, so it probably offers the greatest thrill value. Opportunities abound for canoeing and kayaking, as well.
For less of a white-knuckle experience, take a walk through Queenstown Gardens or a cruise on the lake on the old steamboat Earnslaw (it's been operating since 1912). Other options include fishing, horseback riding, four-wheel-drive safaris, an excellent golf course and, in winter, excellent snow skiing at nearby Coronet Peak or the Remarkables.
For a day trip, drive to Arrowtown (an old gold-mining camp with an excellent museum and several greenstone factories) and then over to Lake Wanaka for some fishing. Macetown (a mining ghost town, accessible only by foot, bike or horse) is another option.
Fox and Franz Josef Glacier
The Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, the most famous glaciers in New Zealand, are located on the South Island, on the western side of the Southern Alps within Westland National Park. Both are spectacular, especially their proximity to the sea (15 mi separate the two), but if your time is limited, plan to see at least one. You can walk over the moraine and right up to the edge of the glaciers, but we recommend that you take a guided walk on the glaciers. Or, if you feel like splurging, take a flight-seeing tour by helicopter or plane (helicopters land on the glaciers and let you out to walk around).
Rotorua, New Zealand
Rotorua, New Zealand, 145 mi southeast of Auckland in the center of the North Island, sits on top of the most active geothermal region in the country, which explains why the town reeks of sulfur.
The boiling mud pots and geysers at the Whakarewarewa and Wai-O-Tapu thermal reserves are outstanding, and you can take mineral baths and marinate in mud packs at one of the many spas in and around town. Boiling mud pots present interesting hazards at Rotorua Golf Club—we suggest you take the penalty stroke.
Rotorua's history museum and art gallery are worth a look. The art gallery building was once a spa and is a sight in itself.
The city is also a key center of Maori culture: Attend a Maori hangi (feast and concert) and take a Maori-village tour. Near the main entrance to Whakarewarewa is the Maori Arts and Craft Institute, a replica of a traditional Maori village with wood-carving and weaving demonstrations.
Other attractions include a skyride with stunning views, the Agrodome, featuring sheep-shearing displays and shows, and two large mazes, one of hedges, the other an incredible three-dimensional wooden maze that has to be seen to be believed.
Outside of town are the famous Tarawera Lake Craters (a dormant volcano) and the historic Te Wairoa village, sort of a Maori Pompeii: The village was covered in volcanic ash during the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera. It has since been partially excavated