Road-tripping across America can mean “long, high-mileage days crossing vast distances”, But New Zealand’s “wild and rustic” South Island offers “comparable natural grandeur, with much less driving”. Even a relatively short visit can encompass everything from “wine tasting to seal watching, shopping in cities to hiking on glaciers”. Marlborough is New Zealand’s most important wine region, and makes for a good starting point. Spend some time admiring its “rolling hills blanketed in vivid green”, then head to the coast at Kaikoura, where you might spot the resident seals, with coats so slick they seem “recently oiled”. There are plenty of places to stay in and around Kaikoura, but be sure to make time for lunch at The Pier Hotel, the town’s oldest pub, which serves crayfish by the weight.
More wineries dominate the Waipara Valley as the road winds closer to Christchurch. In the city itself, consider staying at The George, a “comfortable, hyperlocal” luxury hotel that looks out over a park. While you’re in town, it’s worth visiting the striking Transitional Cathedral, which was erected after the 2011 earthquake, and which has been nicknamed the “Cardboard Cathedral”, because of its use of the material. From Christchurch, you could drive to the Southern Alps, and witness the land changing before your eyes, from grassy plains to wild and barren mountains dotted with lakes whose “turquoise water” seems to stretch to the horizon. Don’t miss the chance to eat at the Mount Cook Alpine Salmon shop in the Mount Cook National Park, “the highestaltitude salmon farm in the world”. Its sashimi is so fresh it feels as though the fish has “just leapt out of the water”. So is New Zealand worth the trek? On my last visit in 2013, “I thought this country was beautiful, but perhaps not exciting”. Now, its tranquil beauty seems “not commonplace, but revelatory”.