Getting There: Air New Zealand runs 13-hour direct overnight flights from L.A. to Auckland ($1,600 round-trip; airnewzealand.com). All seasons are great, but austral fall avoids summer crowds and winter’s big storms.
North Island: Get straight to the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park. Day hikers should consider an epic called the Tonga Alpine Crossing, while trampers should hit the three-day Tongariro Northern Circuit, one of the country’s nine hut-to-hut "Great Walks." NZ’s Department of Conservation operates the backcountry huts ($19; doc.govt.nz), while stately Bayview Chateau Tongariro is a good frontcountry option ($140; chateau.co.nz).
Kaikoura: If you make it to this corner of the South Island, consider bunking up at Hapuku Lodge, a warren of luxury tree houses that alone are worth the trip ($475; hapukulodge.com). Whale Watch Kaikoura runs wildlife-viewing trips ($100; whalewatch.co.nz). To reach Ohau waterfall and its fun-loving fur seals, head north of Hapuku about six miles on State Highway 1.
Mount Cook: Most visitors to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park base themselves at the 124-year-old Hermitage Hotel, which offers comfort at the edge of the wilderness ($100; hermitage.co.nz). On-site outfitter Alpine Guides provides hiking info and leads trips up Mount Cook (alpineguides.co.nz). For bush flights, drop in to Mt. Cook Ski Planes and ask for the Grand Circle, which, weather permitting, lands on the Tasman Glacier ($330; mtcookskiplanes.com).
Wanaka: You’ll have no trouble drumming up adventure in this town near Mount Aspiring National Park. For climbing guides, contact Adventure Consultants, run by Everest icon Guy Cotter (adventure.co.nz). Mountain bikers should consult Freeride NZ (freeridenz.com), while hikers should tackle the three-day Routeburn Track through Mount Aspiring. Wanaka has tons of accommodations, but the most striking is Whare Kea Lodge, a luxury outpost on Lake Wanaka ($730; wharekealodge.com). Plan a night in its heli-accessed Whare Kea Chalet.
Milford Sound & Moeraki: Paddlers ready to explore one of the world’s top sea kayaking spots should contact Rosco Gaudin’s Milford Sound Sea Kayaks (day trips from $110; kayakmilford.co.nz). The four-day, hut-to-hut Milford Track is the greatest hike in all of New Zealand. ’Nuff said. Contact the Department of Conservation for reservations ($215; doc.govt.nz). To visit the otherworldly boulders of Moeraki, cross the South Island and jog 37 miles north of Dunedin. Way worth it.