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Northland revels in international tourism awards

Published on November 19, 2010 from Tourism New Zealand

The Tutukaka Coast north-east of Whangarei has been named one of the top three coastlines in the world, by the prestigious National Geographic Traveler magazine.

And 23 miles off the same coast, the world-famous Poor Knights Islands marine reserve has been declared one of the world's top 10 places to see nature at its finest.

Further north in the Bay of Islands, Eagles Nest, on Tapeka Point near Russell, has been rated the world's top luxury coastal hotel and The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, Matauri Bay, has been awarded ‘best resort in the Australia and Pacific region’ by Condé Nast travellers.

Poor Knights Marine Reserve
The accolade for the Poor Knights came after a visit by Emmy-award-winning director and producer of wildlife documentaries Nick Stringer, who compiled his top 10 list for England's Guardian newspaper.

He rated the Poor Knights as the ninth best place in the world to see nature, and said the journey to the historic islands was well worth making.

Stringer, who spent several days in the Bay of Islands region, said it was a memorable visit that included seeing killer whales, dolphins and the Tolkien-esque landscape, but was mostly focused on diving at the Poor Knights.

"Its volcanic origins have created precipitous cliffs, spectacular drop offs, caves, arches and tunnels, while the converging water currents have resulted in a unique biodiversity," Stringer said.

"Subtropical and temperate marine life coexist with more than 125 species of fish, soft corals, vibrant anemones, ecklonia kelp forests and mating sting rays, to name a few."

He said it was not hard to see why French undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau rated it as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world.

Tutukaka Coast
Tutukaka - a natural harbour on the subtropical north-eastern coast of the North Island - is the gateway to the Poor Knights Islands.

National Geographic Traveler put the Tutukaka Coast in the top three coastal regions in the world - placing it second equal with the Pembrokeshire coast in Wales.

The magazine described the region as "offering a mix of land and water-based ecotourism opportunities with long stretches of sandy beaches alternating with intimate bays, steep cliffs, and deeply cut natural harbours".

Tutukaka Marina is the base port for dive companies and other tourist operators who offer game fishing, recreational diving, line fishing and sightseeing trips.

The National Geographic panelists commented on the coast's "high aesthetic appeal - virtually all natural". They also noted that limited tourism development protected Tutukaka’s natural appeal.

"This is mainly a divers’ and bush walkers’ destination, and should stay that way."

The region has a rich Māori history and early Māori pa / fortified villages should also be well protected, according to National Geographic.

Eagles Nest luxury retreat
The Northland retreat Eagles Nest - billed as "somewhere between seven stars and heaven" - has been named the world's top luxury coastal hotel.

Set within a 30ha estate near Russell in the Bay of Islands, the luxury hideaway scooped the title at the 2010 World Luxury Hotel Awards in Thailand.

The awards are considered the pinnacle of achievement for luxury hotels worldwide.

Owners Daniel and Sandra Biskind said the recognition reinforced the New Zealand luxury sector as being among the best in the world.

"We feel profoundly honoured by this global award - especially considering that Eagles Nest is a relatively young and uniquely different property."

Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart stayed at Eagles Nest early this year, and Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher reportedly spent time there last year. The property was also the setting for part of season 13 of US reality TV show ‘The Bachelor’.

The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs
Condé Nast Traveler readers have chosen The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, in Northland’s Matauri Bay, as the No. 1 lodge / resort in Australia and the Pacific in their 2010 survey.

Nearly 26,000 readers voted, ranking hotels on activities and facilities, food and dining, location, overall design, rooms and service.

Kauri Cliffs ranked No. 3 on the ‘Top 100 Hotels Overall’ list, scoring 98.4.

Owned and developed by New York’s Robertson family, Kauri Cliffs is the sister property to The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, Hawke's Bay in the North Island, and recently opened Matakauri Lodge, at Queenstown in the South Island.

All are members of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux collection, and have won a number of international awards.

Background: Poor Knights Islands

A unique combination of geographical and natural elements - warm currents sweeping south from the Coral Sea, a micro climate and thousands of years of separation from the mainland - has helped to create the unique biodiversity found on and around the Poor Knights Islands.

The marine reserve stretches nearly a kilometre out from the islands, and the land rising from the water is designated a nature reserve.

The 11-million-year-old islands are awaiting World Heritage status and claim to have the world’s largest sea cave. Volcanic origins provide a myriad of spectacular drop offs, walls, caves, arches and tunnels - remnants of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ eruptions.

Separation from the mainland, has allowed species to evolve differently - resulting in larger specimens, and a variety of unique flora and fauna not seen elsewhere in New Zealand. More than 1,000 tuatara specimens - a reptile referred to as the world’s only surviving dinosaur - live in the Poor Knights.

Surprisingly, given the apparently inhospitable nature of the craggy islands which have no fresh water source and are not easy to land on, the islands also have a fascinating human history.

Up until the early 19th century, Māori inhabited the Poor Knights - up to 400 people at a time lived in fortified pa sites and worked in the terraced gardens. Stone walls are still intact and visible on the islands today.

Both main islands were inhabited, but each by a different hapu / family tribal group. Since an invasion around 1820 the Poor Knights have been strictly tapu / sacred, and have been uninhabited ever since.

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