It’s official – New Zealand’s on top of the world. The country has been declared the best in the world in the UK Daily Telegraph’s travel awards for the fifth year running. And among an impressive line-up of international awards by tourism leaders and travel publications, New Zealand has also been named one of the top 10 countries in Lonely Planet’s 2018 Best of Travel.
Almost 90,000 readers voted on the British newspaper’s annual list of the world’s 50 greatest countries, and New Zealand again led the charge. Daily Telegraph voters gave abundant urban adventures and wilderness activities as reasons for their choice, along with scenery on a Lord of the Rings scale, living Māori culture, having family and other connections, and New Zealand’s mild climate, fine wine and food, low rates of crime and pollution, and lack of creepy crawlies. Air New Zealand came fourth in the top 10 long-haul airlines.
Lonely Planet placed New Zealand fifth on its roll call of the top 10 countries to visit in 2018. It’s the country’s second time on the list, after first appearing on it in 2010. The global travel authority focused on New Zealand’s nine Great Walks through pristine landscapes, and its natural effervescence – volcanoes, glaciers, Rotorua’s geysers and bubbling mud pools, and geothermally heated beaches like Hot Water Beach on Coromandel Peninsula. It referred to drawcards such as the beaches of Abel Tasman National Park, the mountains of Tongariro and Aoraki Mt Cook National Parks, and Route 6, the state highway running the length of the South Island’s west coast.
The vitality and character of Auckland and Wellington also received honourable mentions by Lonely Planet. Travel & Leisure magazine named both cities, plus Queenstown, among the top five cities in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, and Waiheke as the region’s best island.
New Zealand continues to go from strength to strength as a travel destination. The Readers’ Travel Awards hosted by British magazine Conde Nast Traveller rate New Zealand as one of the 20 best countries in the world (coming in at No. 15). And for the second year running, the World Travel Awards – considered the Oscars of the travel world – named New Zealand as Australasia’s Leading Adventure Tourism Destination. Air New Zealand was named Australasia’s leading airline and airline brand, and Auckland the leading airport.
Distance clearly presents no barrier, as New Zealand is increasingly a magnet for visitors from Europe, the United States and Asia. Airlines have added new itineraries as well as boosting capacity on existing routes. More and bigger cruise ships are visiting. Official figures show rising tourist spending, with international visitors now contributing a fifth of all export earnings. Overseas arrivals grew 9 percent in the year ended March 2017 to more than three and a half million, most of the visitors intent on relaxation and adventure. More than 38 million guest nights were recorded in short-term accommodation – that’s a lot of people resting their heads after heady days packed with the kinds of experiences for which New Zealand is famed.
New Zealand has not only been recognised as a standout destination – many of its hotels, lodges and resorts are lining up among the world’s finest luxury accommodations.
The World Travel Award for the leading boutique villa resort has gone to Eagle’s Nest near Russell in the Bay of Islands. The five-villa resort, which melds luxury with scenic splendour, privacy and adventure, was also named Australasia’s leading villa resort and New Zealand’s leading resort.
Annandale, a working farm on Banks Peninsula in Canterbury, won the World Travel Award for leading experiential luxury property, while Huka Lodge, the countryhouse hotel considered the birthplace of luxury in New Zealand, won the leading luxury lodge award.
The World Luxury Hotel Awards – “the Oscars for luxury properties”, voted by more than 300,000 international travellers – gave top honours to Treetops Lodge and Estate near Rotorua as the world’s best luxury wilderness lodge. The century-old Heritage Christchurch won the award for Australasia and Oceania region luxury heritage hotel. Once the workplace of 600 civil servants, the Italian Renaissance-style building has been a luxury hotel since 1996. In the same awards, Millbrook Resort in Arrowtown was named Australasia and Oceania region luxury golf resort.
Several New Zealand properties feature in Travel & Leisure’s World’s Best Awards. The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs in Northland and The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay appear in the magazine’s Top 100 hotels in the world, in fourth and 40th place respectively. Both are listed among the Top 5 resort hotels in Australia and New Zealand, in first and second place, accompanied by Matakauri Lodge in Queenstown in fifth place.
Two New Zealand destinations have won accolades in the Andrew Harper Travel Awards, an annual wrap-up of the world’s best boutique hotels and travel experiences, selected from 1,000 small, personalised properties visited anonymously during the year. Peter and Bobbie Martin, who host guests in their expansive Nelson home, Edenhouse, were named hotel owners of the year. Edenhouse also won a luxury hotel Grand Award.
The manager of Poronui Lodge, Eva Reilly, was named hotel manager of the year. The 6,500 hectare (16,000 acre) wilderness retreat in the Taharua Valley east of Taupo was a leading candidate for Hideaway of the Year and also won a luxury hotel Grand Award.
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs in Northland, where golfers can enjoy a championship course set on 2,400 hectares (6,000 acres) facing the Pacific Ocean, featured 12th in Andrew Harper’s Top 20 Hideaways of the World. Huka Lodge at Taupo was also recognised in 15th place.
Another New Zealand property has taken the highest honour awarded to any of the 550 member properties of the worldwide Relais & Chateaux luxury group. The Moet et Chandon Welcome Trophy for 2018 – awarded for the quality of service to guests – has gone to the Christchurch estate Otahuna Lodge, once New Zealand’s largest private home and still graced by Victorian-era woodland gardens.
Another South Island property winning world acclaim is Eichardts Private Hotel in Queenstown and its waterfront restaurant The Grille, named luxury hotel and restaurant of the year in the Luxury Travel Guide Awards. Eichardts also picked up gongs in the World Luxury Hotel Awards as Australasia’s best luxury ski resort and Oceania’s best luxury romantic hotel.
Conde Nast Traveller’s Readers’ Travel Awards placed Huka Lodge at the head of 20 best hotels in Australasia and the South Pacific. Also on the list were Blanket Bay (No. 7), Eagles Nest (No. 17) and Kauri Cliffs (No. 19). The magazine also included The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke’s Bay on its Gold List of its favourite 20 hotels in the world.
Its American counterpart, Conde Nast Traveler, placed The George in Christchurch 7th and Auckland’s The Langham (now renamed Cordis) 12th among the hotels considered to be the best in Australia and New Zealand. The Readers’ Choice Awards, decided by more than 300,000 travellers, also recognised The Farm at Cape Kidnappers as Australasia’s third-best resort.
Heights of indulgence
Luxury spa experiences are increasing in popularity and New Zealand venues hold their own against the world’s best. The World Spa Award for Oceania’s best spa destination has gone to New Zealand, and to SkyCity’s East Day Spa for the region’s best hotel spa. Travel & Leisure also named New Zealand as Oceania’s best spa destination in its World’s Best Awards.
New Zealand is also celebrated for its innovative cuisine and luscious wines. The prestigious British-based Wine and Spirit competition has awarded both the Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc trophies to New Zealand wines – the Takapoto Single Vineyard Bannockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012 and the Tesco Finest* North Row Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 made by Villa Maria. New Zealand’s gold medal haul included a noble Sauvignon from Marisco Vineyards, a late harvest Sauvignon from Giesen, a botrytised Riesling from Oyster Bay and a Gewurtztramminer from Spy Valley.
As the icing on the cake, the World Happiness Report for 2017 has named New Zealand the 7th happiest of more than 150 countries, surpassed only by five nations in northern Europe plus Canada. The report assesses incomes, life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust (measured by a lack of corruption). Such a glowing report card is, on its own, a compelling reason to visit and share some of New Zealand’s special brand of joy.