Imagine, if you will, a magical island floating somewhere near the bottom of the world. On this island, it is possible to sit under the shade of a giant 1,000-year-old Matai tree before breakfast, then chopper up to an alpine glacier in time for lunch. You can commune with colonies of molting albatrosses, swim with dolphins (or, if you’re unlucky, like me, a killer whale or two), and observe seven different species of penguin. There are belligerent alpine parrots, world-class vineyards, and streams populated by brown trout the size of bulldogs – not to mention pearly Tahitian beaches, snow-clad Austrian peaks, and sparkling Norwegian-style fjords flowing down to the sea. Welcome to the South Island of New Zealand, a place where natural wonder is a prideful local commodity, like tulips in Holland, say, or truffles in Toulouse.
Lake Rotoroa Lodge (doubles from $446; 011-64-3-523-9121) is famous for brown-trout fishing; you can experience almost any other kind of outdoor pleasure – tramping (that’s Kiwi for hiking), bird-watching, kayaking – at one of two eco-friendly wilderness lodges: Arthur’s Pass (doubles from $264; 011-64-3-318-9246) and Lake Moeraki (doubles from $240; 011-64-3-750-0881).
Bungee jumping was invented in Queenstown, a place Kiwis like to call “the adrenaline capital of the world.” For the uninitiated, bungee jumping is probably still best at the Kawarau Bridge, outside of Queenstown (011-64-3-442-1177). Dolphin Encounter (011-64-3-319-6777) will set up dolphin-swimming expeditions in Kaikoura.
Brush up on your driving skills before you visit: The mountain roads tend to be precipitous one-lane affairs, and if you read the fine print on your rental-insurance agreement, you’ll find several of them aren’t covered.