Commoners' guide to following royal footsteps in New Zealand

Here's how to get a little regal in New Zealand - following in the footsteps of a long line of royal visitors.

British royals have a long history of visiting Aotearoa, 'the land of the long white cloud'. And so, to celebrate Harry and Meghan's upcoming visit, we've compiled a list of stunning spots where 'commoners' can follow in royal footsteps.

While Prince Harry was a popular and much photographed royal visitor to New Zealand in 2015, it’s a much lesser known fact that Meghan Markle holds a special flame for New Zealand – in fact, she wrote a “love letter to New Zealand” posted on her (now-defunct) The Tig blog in 2014. She had travelled in a campervan on that trip; something the couple are unlikely to emulate next time round. 

The inn crowd: where to stay

Wharekauhau Lodge
Bounded by hills and sea and overlooking the magnificent Palliser Bay, Wharekauhau Lodge hosted the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka Wills and Kate) and Prince George when they graced New Zealand’s shores in 2014. Since then, the lodge’s executive chef Marc Soper snagged the New Zealand Chef of the Year title, and general manager Richard Rooney was named one of the world’s top luxury resort managers. With rooms starting from $655 a night (off-peak), it’s good to know the help is top-notch. 

Huka Lodge
Huka Lodge is as quintessentially Kiwi as the All Blacks and the silver fern. Claiming pride of place on the banks of the Waikato River near Taupo, the lodge has hosted both the late Queen Mother and the Queen, along with a long list of other European royals. Renowned for its excellent trout fishing (the Queen is rumoured to have cast a line or two on her visit), Huka Lodge is a much-lauded luxury escape.

Art Deco Masonic Hotel
When the Queen and Prince Philip visited New Zealand for her Coronation Tour in the summer of 1953-54 (the country’s first visit by a reigning monarch), they spent their time in Napier at the Art Deco Masonic Hotel – then just the Masonic Hotel. The hotel is still operational, and features some deeply impressive art deco architecture and interiors: in fact, the whole town of Napier is something of an art deco wonderland. 

Matakauri Lodge
Matakauri – on the shores of Lake Wakatipu just outside of Queenstown – also hosted Wills and Kate on their 2014 tour, sans Prince George, who reportedly stayed with his nanny back in Wellington. With unparalleled views of The Remarkables and Cecil and Walter peaks, the lodge features clean architectural lines, oodles of glass and wood, and complete privacy. 

Stewart Island Lodge
Man-of-the-moment Prince Harry stayed at Stewart Island Lodge in Oban when he briefly visited New Zealand’s southernmost island in 2015. The small but upmarket lodge has views of Halfmoon Bay; each room has an ensuite and a shared balcony that allows visitors to soak up the magnificent views. 

Right royal activities

Wine tasting at Wither Hills
On their 2014 tour, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took time out to taste the Marlborough region’s famed Sauvignon Blancs at Wither Hills winery. The estate is also renowned for its food, which the royal couple undoubtedly enjoyed during their private lunch. 

Ride the rapids
No trip to Queenstown would be complete without a jet boat ride. Clearly, Wills and Kate felt the same, as they spent their first day in New Zealand’s adventure capital with an exhilarating ride on the iconic Shotover Jet. 

Horse racing at Ellerslie
Queen Elizabeth II has always loved the gee-gees; not surprising, then, that she spent Boxing Day 1953 listening to the thunder of hooves at the race meet at New Zealand’s premier racecourse, Ellerslie in Auckland. 

Underground excitement
The dramatic and spectacular subterranean caverns at Waitomo are also likely to have delighted the young queen when she visited in 1953. Glow worms, stalagmites and stalactites (plus a local hotel that’s rumoured to be haunted) make Waitomo Caves a must-visit. 

River-run
One of the highlights of Prince Harry’s trip in 2015 was paddling a Māori waka (canoe) down the Whanganui River on the North Island. After the 40-minute experience, the royal admitted he was “knackered”. Whanganui experiences for mere mortals include jet-skiing, fishing, white-water rafting and kayaking.  

New Zealand's helpful i-SITES
When Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, visited New Zealand in 2014 she was full of praise for network of i-SITES which help tourists and locals with visitor information. The Duchess of Sussex was so impressed she wrote about them on her old blog The Tig saying, “All over NZ are i-SITE Visitor Information Centres where you get all sorts of information. You pop in and they'll tell you the best nearby campsite, local intel, park info, etc. Many people don’t book accommodation in advance—you can book places to stay through i-SITES, and the people who work there are super friendly and helpful.”

Fast facts 

  • Huka Lodge has 20 private dining spots, both indoors and out.
  • The Māori name for Stewart Island, home to the Stewart Island Lodge, is Rakiura, which means “land of the glowing skies”.
  • Matakauri Lodge is named after the Māori warrior chief who killed the giant Matau by fire so that he would never threaten his wife or tribe again.
  • The first Masonic Hotel in Napier was destroyed by a fire in 1896. In 1931, the rebuilt hotel was ravaged by fire again, this time after the massive Hawkes Bay earthquake. It was rebuilt in 1932.
  • Wharekauhau Lodge is part of Wharekauhau Country Estate, a 1200ha working farm home to Angus cattle and 2500 Romney sheep.
  • Huka Lodge executive chef Paul Froggatt, a Brit, has worked at four Michelin star restaurants, including the three-starred Le Relais Bernard Loiseau in France.
  • Renowned New Zealand interior designer Virginia Fisher is behind the crisp clean style of Matakauri Lodge.
  • Stewart Island is NZ’s third largest island, but it only makes up 0.6 per cent of the country’s total land area.
  • Huka Lodge’s guest list is remarkable, and includes such luminaries as Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Diana Ross, The Spice Girls, John Cleese, Muiccia Prada, Billy Crystal, Tilda Swinton and Sir Edmund Hillary.
  • At Matakauri, cocktail hour is held every evening in the Picasso Bar, where three unglazed white ceramic plates by Picasso adorn the walls. 
  • The Queen wasn’t the only famous guest at the Art Deco Masonic Hotel: both Mark Twain and Anna Pavlova stayed at the Napier landmark, and have suites named in their honour.
  • Spring water from Wharekauhau is used to make the acclaimed Lighthouse Gin.
  • Stewart Island is featured in the book Top 100 Birding Sites of the World, and has New Zealand’s largest accessible population of native birds. 
  • The coffee table in the Upper Lounge at Matakauri is made from timber washed up on the north-west coast of NZ after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
  • Wharekauhau is home to an almost 60-year-old Meyer lemon tree, which is used to create the house lemonade.
  • American novelist James A. Michener wrote part of his novel Return to Paradise while staying at Huka Lodge.

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