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Although we had a brief respite last week, now it really feels like summer is behind us. A couple of weeks ago we wrote about how we'll be inspiring you to get away from it all this winter, and for the first of our features on winter sun holidays, we're heading to New Zealand - about as far away as it's possible to go.
Virgin Atlantic now have a code sharing agreement with Air New Zealand, who are also one of our Flying Club partner airlines, and this means that passengers will be able to book with Virgin Atlantic to travel on connecting journeys on a wide range of Air New Zealand routes, using Virgin's VS flight code.
So if getting to NZ is now easier than ever, what to do when you arrive? Well, this is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, voted the winner of various 'best destination' awards by British travellers on multiple occasions. The variety of landscapes, activities and wildlife on offer in comparison to its size is simply overwhelming, so we've put together a list of our highlights; places that show off New Zealand's amazing diversity and beauty. This is by no means exhaustive (we haven't included any cities, for example) but gives a flavour of what you can expect to find in the land of the long white cloud...
Bay of Islands, North Island
With a subtropical climate, the Bay of Islands' wide natural harbour in NZ's Northland Region contains 144 islands ripe for sailing, fishing, diving, dolphin spotting and scenic flights and is the most popular holiday destination in the country.
Coromandel Peninsula, North Island
The steep and hilly Coromandel Peninsulalies about 55km east of Auckland and is covered in subtropcial rainforest. Its geothermal origins can be found in plenty of hot springs, especially at Hot Sand Beach where you can dig a hole and sit and wait for the gurgling water to filter up through the sand - don't get burnt!
Huka Falls, North Island
The Huka Falls are a series of waterfalls on the Waikoto River, near Taupo in the centre of the North Island. Popular with adrenaline junkies, a jetboattakes willing passengers on an exhilarating journey down the narrow canyon, complete with 360 degree spins at more than 80km per hour.
Tongariro National Park, North Island
Tongariro National Park is the oldest national park in the country, and has dual cultural and natural World Heritage status. This diverse mountainous, volcanic region was given to the nation by a Māori chief and contains many important religious and spiritual sites, as well as the Tongariro Crossing, an alpine 'tramping' track widely regarded as one of the most beautiful day hikes in the world.
Marlborough wine region, South Island
Marlboroughis where the modern day New Zealand wine industry began in the 1970s, based on a single grape varietal - Sauvignon Blanc. It's one of New Zealand's sunniest and driest regions, which makes it perfect for growing vines and perfect for tourism too. Just north of the vineyards are the tranquil waterways and virgin native forest of Marlborough Sounds, and the entire area has become known as a food and wine haven and unspoilt retreat.
Abel Tasman National Park, South Island
Abel Tasman National Parkis beloved for its coastal walking track, huge granite cliffs, untouched beaches and water in every shade of blue and green from turqoise to teal, sky blue to sapphire. Sea kayaking is hugely popular here; the sea is generally calm and there are plenty of sheltered bays to picnic in and caves to paddle in and out of.
Lake Matheson, South Island
Near the Fox Glacier on the South Island's west coast, and probably one of the most photographed views in New Zealand, Lake Mathesonoffers picture-perfect reflections of Mount Tasman and Mount Cook. An easy 40 minute walk through native forest leads to the lake, where a small wooden pontoon over the water makes it simple to get a professional looking shot.
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, South Island
Home to some of the country's most scenic drives and truly awe-inspiring scenery, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park contains 19 peaks over 3,000 metres tall. Skiing, mountaineering and mountain biking are popular activities but sitting on a rock and gawping at the view for hours is just as enjoyable, we say.
Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo, South Island
If you make it out to Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo, you'll thank yourself for years to come. This is where you'll find utter stillness and absolute silence. And you'll wonder, as you continue to travel through the South Island, can it really get any better than this? The shores of these alpine lakes to the east of Mount Cook are laden with huge granite boulders making for an interesting scramble down to the milky blue water's edge. When you get there, take some time to reflect. It's a long way back.
Queenstown and the Remarkables, South Island
While Queenstownitself is not quite as remarkable as the Remarkables mountain range that surrounds it, it is still an enormously popular resort town, known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. From here, you can do almost any outlandish activity you can think of - hangliding, parascending, tandem skydiving, white water rafting, jet boating, bungee jumping, aerobatic flights... or you could just get a coffee, sit in the park and watch the paddle steamers ply the waters of Lake Wakapitu.
Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, South Island
Milford Soundis the most popular fjord in Fiordland National Park, probably due to it being the only one accessible by road - and what a road it is. The journey to get there, over steep mountain passes with precarious drops and hairpin bends, is almost as much of an experience as the Sound itself. Once at Milford you can travel the length of the fjord by boat, out to the open ocean and back again past lush rainforest and roaring waterfalls, penguins, seals and dolphins. Rain or shine (though very often rain) it's an unforgettable sight.
Kaikoura, South Island
Still on the south island, but further north on the opposite coast, is the small town of Kaikoura, renowned for its whale and dolphin watching opportunities, and as one of the best places in the world to see open ocean seabirds like albatrosses and shearwaters. For a truly special experience, swim in the wild with a pod of acrobatic dusky dolphins in their natural environment.
For help planning the ultimate NZ itinerary, visit Virgin Holidays who can help put together tailormade trips to New Zealand's North Island and South Island, as well as stopovers en route in the South Pacific.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.