A bird's-eye view of Fiordland National Park
Considering the epic range of its beauty, Fiordland National Park does not get as much global attention as one might expect, but for those who love the sea, it is a true jewel. Rudyard Kipling called it "the eighth wonder of the world." Quite simply, it's one of the world's most beautiful spots. A New Zealand voyage of 11 days or more on Princess Cruises will take you here and to other breathtaking places not accessible by land. Established as a national park in 1952 and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990, the territory encompasses ice-carved fjords filled with pristine crystal blue water, deep lakes that seem almost primordial, spectacular snow-topped mountains that reach toward the sky, and sweeping vistas that stretch from the granite hills all the way down to the sea. The Lord of the Rings was filmed all over New Zealand, but one can easily imagine it being set only here—the landscape is that cinematic and ethereal. Ancient rainforests that shade hidden trails. Cascading thousand-foot-high waterfalls that crash into the pure fjords. Bottlenose dolphins, seals, and penguins frolicking in the waters beneath. Venture to Tauranga, a bustling port and the gateway to Rotorua, a geothermal wonderland at the heart of Maori culture. You’ll dock near the foot of Mount Maunganui, which rises 761 feet above the bay, offering sweeping scenic views of tidal beaches at Omokoroa and Pahoia. There, you can participate in big-game fishing, wade in thermal springs, and immerse yourself in Maori culture, from touring an authentic village to watching a colorful performance of dance and chants to viewing the distinctive art and crafts of this fascinating and enduring group.
Once you've sampled New Zealand's dazzlingly natural bounties, you might be thirsty for its epic vintages. From the port of Picton one can experience the South Island's Marlborough Valley, home to one of the country's most important and well-known exports: wine. The name Marlborough conjures up some of the world’s best, specifically its divine Sauvignon Blanc. This perfect setting stretches out beneath a mostly mountainous area cut through by the gorgeous Wairau River, which makes the area so incredibly fertile, producing grapes made perfect by the sublime combination of sunny days and cold nights. If you just try one vineyard’s Sauvignon Blanc, go for the Cloudy Bay label. For me, it is one of the finest anywhere, and best enjoyed in its home valley. From Napier, one can also reach Hawke's Bay, home to over 140 vineyards and 70 wineries. Visit a tasting room or take a wine tour to broaden your knowledge while taking in the spectacular scenery.
This cruise starts and ends in Sydney, one of the world's most spectacular cities. The architecture alone is worth the trip. Its iconic Opera House, designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, makes a fitting centerpiece. Considered one of the most important buildings of the 20th century (it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997), this landmark draws almost 10 million visitors a year. When Utzon received the Pritzker Prize (architecture’s highest award) in 2003, the committee wrote, "There is no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is his masterpiece. It is one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th century, an image of great beauty that has become known throughout the world—a symbol for not only a city, but a whole country and continent." Couldn't have said it better! But architecture is not the only reason to visit this capital city: It is full of gourmet restaurants, chic cafés, stylish boutiques, and cutting-edge galleries. Plus, the people who live here are sophisticated, fun loving, and proud to show off their civic treasures.
Speaking of treasures, the Blue Mountain region, near the capital, is definitely worth a side trip. This natural wonder, made from sandstone bedrock, looks as if it were carved through by a wizard, with its distinctive peaks forming natural towers along the skyline. The aboriginals, who first made their home here, said the area got its distinctive, almost scar-like effect from the epic battle between two "Dreamland" Gods, half reptile, half fish. It is easy to understand the mythic stories that remain so potent for the people who live here—and for those lucky enough to visit.