After some welcomed sleep, dawn greeted me with the most vivid sunrise I’d ever seen, setting the perfect tone for a morning at the Hilton’s eforea: Spa. There, I indulged my jet-lagged body in a 90-minute signature full-body repair treatment consisting of an exfoliating salt scrub, a massage and a -moisturizing body wrap. The effect of the treatment, combined with the aromatic Peaceful Journey oil, was almost hypnotizing.
Half-asleep under warm towels, I tried to visualize the next item on our agenda: a helicopter trip to the Remarkables’ highest peak, the Double Cone. But no matter what I imagined, it couldn’t possibly have come close to the real thing. Stepping out of the helicopter that afternoon into a foot of fresh powder, we had an unobstructed view of a natural-wonders smorgasbord: craggy mountaintops, green fields, water shimmering in the setting sun. This was beauty befitting of a copyright.
The group shared a parting Champagne toast and choppered back down to earth, where downtown Queenstown — with its lively port, charming shops and thriving dining and nightlife scene — was beckoning.
Our restaurant of choice was Rātā, a sleek and recent addition to the Queenstown culinary scene from Michelin-starred chef Josh Emett. The menu changes regularly to accommodate the freshest local ingredients, which on our visit included a standout succulent duck.
A 15-minute water-taxi ride returned us to Hilton’s surrounding Kawarau Village. Not ready to turn in, we headed to Stacks Pub, where we ordered Isaac’s Ciders, a regional brew, and got to talking about how few locals seemed to be native to New Zealand. With the country’s unparalleled beauty and easygoing attitude, it was easy to understand why they’d come, but we reasoned that, in turn, the high number of immigrants contributed to the joyful culture. Mere birth hadn’t determined their geographical outcome; they were living in the place they chose.
Another day, another gorgeous sunrise, but the wonders wouldn’t cease there: We were bound for Milford Sound. Reportedly called the “eighth wonder of the world” by Rudyard Kipling, the majestic, cliff-flanked inlet is reachable by a scenic four-hour drive or a breathtaking 45-minute ride in a small plane. Whichever you choose, you’ll want a window seat and a camera for the journey.
Despite its name, Milford Sound is actually a fjord, which means it was carved out by glacier activity. No matter how it got there or how factually incorrect its name, the views are no less than spectacular. From the bow of our cruise boat, we gawked openmouthed at the towering mountain walls on either side, boasting waterfalls as tall as skyscrapers. As sea lions lounged lazily on a boulder, looking unimpressed, I began to worry that my face, conversely, would get stuck in a permanent, eye-bulging expression by evening’s end.
Our final day brought with it the first overcast morning. It should’ve been an omen that my course would soon alter, but I was too focused on the task immediately ahead: skiing Coronet Peak.
As a downhill novice, I began my day with a lesson, where children barely old enough to walk were skiing actual circles around me. Undiscouraged, I practiced my pizza-slice foot formation until I felt confident enough to take on a green run, dubbed The Big Easy. Though my first few tries proved just how subjective the word easy really is, I was proud to have mastered it by the end of the morning. Relieved, I knew all that remained of the day was lunch, followed by a peaceful Ziptrek zip-lining excursion.