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New Zealand

An Amazing And Enchanting Tour... crack

When arriving in a new country, you might be welcomed with a firm handshake or a polite bow, maybe even a kiss on each cheek. Having a towering, tattooed man press his nose against mine, however, has to be one of the more unusual - and enjoyable - greetings I have experienced.

In New Zealand, this exchange meant I was no longer considered a visitor but rather as one of the people of the land.

The ‘hongi’, a traditional Maori welcome, made an interesting start to an unforgettable trip to the country also known as Land of the Long White Cloud, after an exhausting journey through several time zones, as Air New Zealand flights from Britain to Auckland on the North Island go via either Hong Kong or Los Angeles.

We eased the jet-lag with a 45-minute drive to the west of the city, to the dramatic coast of Karekare where thunderous waves pound the iron-black sand.

After a bracing walk along the dunes, which featured in Jane Campion’s Oscar-winning movie The Piano, we headed to nearby Piha and the Waitakere ranges, a stunning wilderness area, for a lesson in nature, and even sampled some plants which provided nourishment for Maori in the past.

Our visit was rounded off with a ‘hangi’ - a feast of meats and vegetables cooked using heated rocks buried in a pit oven, and it was a perfect introduction to New Zealand.

Auckland itself is superb for fine dining: One of the best restaurants is the award-winning Dine by world-famous chef Peter Gordon at Sky City Grand Hotel. Oysters, scallops and of course, lamb, adorn an eclectic menu.

Auckland is also known as the City of Sails, so our next adventure was sailing from the massive marina to Waiheke Island on a 50ft yacht.

Pride of Auckland operates a fleet of sailing yachts where visitors - under the watchful eye of an expert crew - experience the hands-on the thrill of sailing in one of the world’s most famous bays. Huge gusts of wind might have tipped our boat over had it not been for the intervention of the skipper, so we arrived at the island’s main jetty looking slightly bedraggled.

The island, which can also be reached from Auckland by a 45-minute, and rather less eventful, ferry ride, is home to wineries, craft shops, beautiful gardens and beaches, and olive groves where tourists can sample some of the finest oil in the world.

Our next adventure was a 45-minute flight from Auckland to Hawkes Bay on the east coast of North Island and home to the oldest wine-growing area in New Zealand. It has more than 70 vineyards, around 40 with cellar doors offering tastings and a-la-carte dining.

It also boasts a stunning coastline formed from soft, grey, papa rock said to be some 15 million years old, that is slowly being eroded by the sea, which makes the impressive and unusual cliffs.

At Cape Kidnappers Gannet Reserve, home to the largest mainland gannet colony in the world where Australasian gannets have nested since the 1870s, I was able to get up close to the thousands of birds quite unperturbed by human visitors.

After a day with the gannets, we visited Elephant Hill Estate Winery which boasts a stunning restaurant as well as world-class wines. Nestled in rolling green hills, it is one of the most unusual buildings in the area.

Our next stop was the city of Nelson, on the northern shores of South Island, and at just under a two-hour flight from Auckland or from Hawkes Bay, it is said to be at the very centre of New Zealand. It is also the sunniest place in the country, protected by mountains on all sides, and is renowned for its art galleries and museums, but I was there to experience a bit of outdoors adventure in the nearby Abel Tasman National Park.

After a full day outdoors, and feeling rather exhausted, I headed to the comfort of my hotel in Nelson, Warwick House, which was built in 1854, and is a fine example of early Victorian opulence and grandeur. It has been lovingly restored and offers a unique stay in the plushest of surroundings; swags, tails and all.

For those seeking a cultured experience, visits to galleries, vineyards and even a chance to meet local celebrated artist Anna Leary, are easily arranged.

Noel Kennedy, an expert guide from New Zealand Nature Tours plans a personal and authentic itinerary for the most discerning visitors.

To make the most of a visit to New Zealand, you really need to start planning in advance. Air New Zealand’s route network includes 26 domestic destinations - covering North and South Islands - and people use the service like they would a bus. Just buy your ticket, check in automatically, put your luggage on a conveyor belt and hop on the plane without a queue in sight - and in every destination, you will find something which amazes and enchants.