The one thing that has always attracted me to New Zealand--and what I continue to search for while I'm leading Backroads Trips here--is the feeling of living in the moment. In New Zealand there are so many ways to escape and be present with the people that you're traveling with. I recently had the opportunity to tour the country with my family, and while everything was truly incredible, there were three unique experiences that stood out above the rest.
Get Out on the Water. I took my family out to paddle up the Moeraki River from where we could enjoy our first views of the glacial lake that lay ahead of us. Surrounded by towering podocarp trees, a white heron made its way overhead and a trout jumped out of the water. This seemed to be an appropriate time to link up the kayaks, enjoy a cold Scrumpy's and take it all in with the family.
You don't necessarily need to find yourself on Lake Moeraki while you're here, but I do recommend you leave everything behind and get out on the water. Whether on a kayak in Cathedral Cove, a raft on the Tongariro River or a stand-up paddleboard on Lake Wanaka, experiencing New Zealand on any of its amazing bodies of water is an experience not to be missed.
Stay in a Rustic Hut. The sun was setting one evening as we were nearing the end of a full day of hiking and, off in the distance, we caught sight of the unmistakable red walls of our home for the night. We couldn't hold back our smiles. It was the Brewster Hut--a place that definitely didn't have the comfiest beds, the bathroom was a pit, and there was certainly no Wi-Fi. But it was definitely one of the best places we could have ever rested our heads. After changing from sweaty hiking clothes into cozy sweatshirts, the four of us settled in for a world-class nighttime show: the stars of the southern hemisphere.
While this particular hut is special to me, there are over 900 more scattered about the unforgiving landscape, and I couldn't more strongly recommend staying in one of them. There are some huts like this, perched on top of a mountain in the "Southern Alps," that sleep twelve and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Other huts have fifty beds, need to be reserved in advance and are located on the coast of the Tasman Sea. The choices are endless and you can't go wrong. So whether you're on a "Great Walk" and staying in the Routeburn Falls Hut or walking through the Matukituki Valley and staying in the Aspiring Hut, I promise it'll be an extremely rewarding stay.
Fly to Milford Sound. The next afternoon I had a surprise for my family. When we pulled into the Wanaka Airport, smiles began to creep across their faces as they understood what was in store. Minutes later we were in a small plane flying over Mount Aspiring National Park with views of Mount Cook off in the distance. Those smiles wouldn't go away for the next four hours. We dropped into Milford Sound, jumped onto a boat and took a two-hour cruise along the world-famous fjord. The whole experience was just magical, seeing the incredible Southern Alps from above before descending to experience it up close.
New Zealand is so spectacular that, to really appreciate it and get a full perspective, you just have to see it from above. And there are plenty of ways to do it. Fly over the Southern Alps by plane, land on a glacier by helicopter or go skydiving over Lake Taupo. Whichever method you pick, I promise you won't regret it.
These days it's hard to disconnect and get lost with family and friends, but in New Zealand I'm able to truly feel present with some of my favorite people. Sometimes you travel to say you've had that meal or you've slept in that hotel, but this isn't one of those places. In New Zealand, the ability to get away from it all by surrounding yourself with nature and friends is second to none. This is why you come here. So when you do find yourself in this magical country, make it a priority to get out on the water, find a secluded hut or soar high above it all on a plane. Then you'll get to say you've enjoyed the best part of New Zealand: living in the moment here.