#1 Trip of 2017: New Zealand + Laucala Island, Fiji

Drumroll Please….our #1 Trip of 2017 – and maybe ever! – is a New Zealand + Laucala Island, Fiji combo!

If there’s anyone who has followed my travels over the course of the year, (hi, Mom!), you’ll be quick to point out that I’m cheating a little here, since I went to New Zealand and Fiji over the course of two separate trips (Fiji in June, New Zealand in September). However, while both are wonderful on their own, my ideal itinerary combines both. Together, they are the perfect match of new culture, adventure + tropics, and easy flights from the U.S.

Where did I go (and how do you get there – isn’t it far)?

In New Zealand, I did a North + South Island combo, working my way from North to South. We checked out the country’s top luxury lodges, which double as some of the best in the world. With the help of our in country partner Southern Crossings, we explored Kauri Cliffs, Huka Lodge, Cape Kidnappers, Otahuna Lodge, Blanket Bay, and Eichardt’s Hotel.

 

kauri cliffs new zealand luxury lodge

Sunrise at Kauri Cliffs

Alan Pye Cottage Huka Lodge

The stunning Alan Pye Cottage at Huka Lodge

Cape Kidnappers

Cape Kidnappers’ upscale farmhouse decor is the perfect compliment to its dramatic surroundings on the seaside cliffs.

Otahuna Lodge owners

My dear friends Miles Refo and Hall Cannon, the owners of Otahuna Lodge, and the creative minds behind this homey yet luxurious award-winning Relais & Chateaux property

Blanket Bay’s Lodge is located on the most pristine, rural area of Lake Wakatipu – just minutes from some of New Zealand’s most famous and scenic surroundings.

Eichardt's Hotel

The View from our room at Eichardt’s Hotel, the most centrally located 5* hotel in Queenstown.

In Fiji, I headed to the world’s most fantastic private island – Laucala -with Janine Cifelli Representation, which helps spread the word about Laucala in the U.S. The island is every bit as good as they say. Rates start at $6,000/nt, but include nearly everything – from dining wherever you want to jetskiing around the island, to taking an underwater submarine to check out the amazing coral reefs. The island is remarkably sustainable, with many foods being made on the island, and service is second to none. For a bucket list trip, this is where you go. I recommend at least 4 nights here. They are very good about allowing early check in/late check out, really allowing you to stretch the experience, and take advantage of the early AM arrivals into Fiji/late night departures back to the states.

 

An old coconut plantation, gorgeous trees provide a beautiful backdrop to the ocean.

7am Landing in Nandi + 45 minute flight to Laucala + 8:00 am coconut welcome drink in hand.

Laucala Island Fiji

Private beachside service – just 3 hours from New Zealand

Laucala Island

Sunset in Fiji

 

Getting to both destinations is extremely easy: depart LAX/SFO (or Houston!) in the evening, and arrive into Auckland in the early morning two days later. Then take a short ~3-4 hour flight to Nadi (pronounced Nandi), where you’ll arrive in the morning and head to Laucala via the resort’s ~45 minute private plane. From Fiji, take the nonstop overnight Fiji air flight (returning “before” you depart…the morning of the same day). Despite the International Date Line’s games, jetlag wise, it’s actually quite an easy adjustment.

Destination Highlight:

New Zealand: We arrived in the midst of the rainiest spring on record….everyone we spoke with talked about how nearly every day had been rainly for four months. Despite this, we were blessed with the first crystal clear day in months, on the same day we had arranged for a helicopter trip to White Island from Huka Lodge. Seeing the geothermal region of New Zealand from the air with perfect visibility was one of the most magical experiences I have had. Even our helicopter pilot said that they day was one that reminded him of why he became a pilot in the first place.

White Island

White Island – an active volcano off the coast of the North Island

A special bonus for New Zealand was traveling with my husband, who is most often at home when I travel!

Fiji: Leaving my comfort zone – heading on a jet ski (which I had never been on) and circumventing Laucala Island. It was exhilarating, beautiful, and one of those “pinch me” moments, to be in an area that is still largely undeveloped, yet luxurious and authentic.

Laucala Island

Endless water sports are all included on Laucala Island

 

Why Travel Here?

New Zealand’s luxury travel sector has enjoyed an unprecedented level of popularity the past few years, and for good reason. The level of service, food, wine, adventure, and natural beauty of its best lodges is among the best in the world. Combine that with a high level of safety, local friendliness, and little cultural barrier, and it’s an ideal bucket list trip. New Zealand isn’t cheap – a trip done right can average ~$20k or more for two over the course of 10-14 days, but it is absolutely the trip of a lifetime.

 

New Zealand’s natural beauty, high level of luxury, and safety make it an easy bucket list destination.

Queenstown harbour

 

Laucala Island, likewise, is a bucket list trip, but truly, I have yet to speak to someone who doesn’t put it at the top of their list. After a few weeks “hopping” around New Zealand (the layout of the country often results in moving around every 2-3 nights from lodge to lodge), vegging out a Laucala is the perfect icing on the cake.

Fiji in general has development plans by many major resorts for the coming years, and I predict it will become much busier in the next few decades. I would travel now, before even the more far-flung islands become busier.

Laucala Island villas

The villas on Laucala are spacious, private, and perfect for couples, families, or friends traveling together.

 

Favorite Meal:

The flawless 5-course meal with wine pairings at the Relais & Chateaux Otahuna Lodge. Known country-wide as home to the best chef in the country, it delivers big time with its top notch, yet accessible, food (no endless foam on fish, as I like to say!). Even if you’re not a foodie, this small 7-room lodge is a must stop on any itinerary for its history, cuisine, and feeling that you are staying as a guest in an upscale country home.

 

Otahuna food

A “casual lunch” the Otahuna chefs whipped up for me on arrival. Perfection!

 

Otahuna Lodge

Chef Jimmy – The most awarded and down to earth chef in the country.

 

Insider Tip:

Milford Sound is the most popular helicopter tour in NZ, but there are countless dramatic trips you can take in the (likely) event that Milford is too rainy to visit during your time. If you must see Milford, be flexible…we’ll likely recommend you book it for the first day you are in the Queenstown/Glenorchy area, though know it may get pushed out several days due to weather. Flexibility is key!

Milford Sound Helicopter

A heli to Fjordlands/Milford Sound is stunning, but so worth it!

 

Know before you go:

New Zealand is most popular December – February, but my favorite times to travel are mid-Oct through March. Fiji is wonderful really any month of the year, though it is recommended to avoid Feb/March due to typhoon season. Do the math, and it means October & November are the perfect times to enjoy the weather and avoid the crowds.

New Zealand weather

You don’t have to travel to New Zealand in the peak season to receive amazing weather. Our vote is to aim for the shoulder seasons of Oct, Nov, and Mar.

 

Laucala, though expensive, has the same rates year round. This means you can spend the same amount here over Christmas week (where there is just a 4 night minimum) as you would at a lower caliber resort in the Caribbean that jacks up rates and has a 7-10 day minimum stay over the holidays. This is the best kept holiday secret out there…and dare I say it…it becomes a value over this week!

Another perfect view from the all-waterfront villas.

Laucala Island

Laucala’s Own Hydroponic Garden

Laucala Island

Sunset Cruise on Laucala Island

 

Packing Tip:

New Zealand is famous for four seasons in a day, so layers are key. In Fiji, you’ll only really need a swimsuit and cover up. Don’t over pack, though…having one suitcase with all your belongings will make moving between lodges less stressful.

 

Who Would Like This Trip?

~ Those looking for a milestone trip – perfect for a big birthday celebration, honeymoon, or anniversary.

~ Multigenerational Families, and Families with older children (there are family friendly hotels, but we recommend 8 and up for the best experience)

~ Golfers, wine lovers, adventure seekers, lovers of nature, lovers of beach, and those who are looking for a new & different trip of a lifetime.

~ If you loved Australia and want another Down Under experience, but without the long plane flights within country

 

Laucala pool

Laucala’s iconic pool .