Sometimes travel is all about the destination and not the journey. The annoyance of dealing with passports (has it expired already?), border controls, overpriced taxi rides and disappointing hotels (mould and roaches in the bathroom isn't five-star?) is like, so 2019.
Thankfully we don't need these hassles, or time in airport gate-lounges with bored kids, to escape to an island of golden sands, warm(ish) waters and lush vegetation. There are plenty right on our doorstep and dotted all around Aotearoa.
Although many of us can't get out and about right now due to lockdown restrictions, it's a good time to do your research because some of these destinations will require booking and planning ahead. We've started with the easiest-to-get-to options where you can stay overnight closest to Auckland, before moving further afield. Although please note, Waiheke and Great Barrier Island are open to residents only under current lockdown restrictions.
New Zealand's most heavily populated offshore island, Waiheke is known for gorgeous beaches and delicious vineyards, a popular choice for day-trippers and weddings. But the Hauraki Gulf's second-largest island, a 40-minute ferry trip from downtown Auckland, is more than a charming spot to sit, celebrate and imbibe.
Once alert level restrictions allow non-residents to visit again, start by checking in and gearing up at Ecozip Adventures on Trig Hill for one of three 200m dual flying-fox ziplines that'll have you soaring down a stunning tract of original and regenerating native bush.
Once you're pumped, use that energy over a surf and turf – along the Matietie Walk, that is. Considered an advanced tramping track, it starts along the coast with the first section accessible only an hour either side of low tide.
There are other short walks from Stony Batter Historic Reserve on the eastern end of the island, including the return trip to Opopo Bay through farmland, native bush and gravel beach.
The Onetangi Loop Track is a popular hour-walk with spectacular sea views (plus regular orca and dolphin sightings), and an impressive reserve with kauri groves and chatty birdlife.
See the real Waiheke with a local guide from Terra & Tide. Tailored tours help small groups discover the flora and fauna, or what the local artists and viticulturalists are up to. Terra & Tide also offer wellbeing workshops, including forest therapy, as well as the island's only sailing tour, aboard luxury 41ft catamaran Pacific Star.
Aotea Great Barrier Island
It's said to have a way of getting under your skin, although that could be the friendliness of the less than 1000 locals who live an off-grid lifestyle. You won't find supermarkets or fast-food chains, banks, guaranteed 24-hour electricity, streetlights, footpaths or island-wide cellphone coverage.
That's the charm of the place. No rush hour, no crime, no queues, no worries. There is, however, an emerging eating and sipping culture with locally produced mānuka honey, beer and gin.
Time your post-lockdown visit right and there are several annual events worth the 4½-hour ferry trip or 35-minute flight from Tāmaki Makaurau: the Great FitzRoy Mussel Fest, the Wharf to Wharf Marathon, where athletes walk, run or cycle across the island; and the Great Barrier garden tour, which showcases stunning houses and gardens.
Events aside, Great Barrier's dramatic and rugged landscape, with mountains and bluffs running down to the clear ocean and picturesque beaches – 60 per cent of the island is a DoC nature reserve - means it's a great spot for outdoor activities on and off the water.
Then there's the stargazing. Gazetted an International Dark Skies Sanctuary in 2017, whether you prefer to lay your head at a tent site or an eco-lodge, you'll get the same extraordinary view of the glittery night sky.
Largest of the 140 islands in the Bay of Places That Aren't On the Mainland, Urupukapuka's beauty and tranquillity might have you switching off your mobile.
There's plenty of other stuff to do: walk or picnic on world-class beaches, enjoy just about any water sport including hiring a paddleboard or kayak; book a scuba-diving experience to check out the reef life.
Get the grey cells going by touring sites along the 7.3km Urupukapuka Island Archaeological Walk. The island was settled by Ngare Raumati, one of the oldest tribes in the area, and this walk - one of many fantastic tracks across the island - takes you past a prehistoric pā, villages, gardens and food storage, right up to early 20th-century buildings used by American author Zane Grey for his fishing expeditions.
To learn more about Māori culture, book a six-hour experience for flax weaving, remedies, poi and traditional food. Later, try more contemporary fare at the fully licensed cafe at Otehei Bay or aboard the dining ferry.
Urupukapuka is a great place to base yourself to explore some of the other islands or stay a few days at a beachfront campsite. Get here by water taxi, or ferry from Paihia or Russell.
Lying in the Tasman Sea just 50km north of Wellington has made Kāpiti a popular tourist site, particularly for birdwatchers keen to spot some of our most endangered species. This means booking well in advance as daily visitor numbers are capped to protect the local environment.
The island is only 10km long and 2km wide, and access is only by licensed launch, which departs from Paraparaumu Beach and takes around 15 minutes to cross the marine reserve that separates it from the mainland.
Kāpiti is where the coast, shrubland and native forestry join in perfect harmony and feels a little like you've walked into "the land before time". It's an important site for bird recovery, with stitchbird, kōkako, takahē, brown teal and saddleback all transferred here since the 1980s. Some of the feathered locals have never seen a predator, so may show an endearing level of trust to visitors.
You can take your pick of guided walks covering either natural or cultural history – this was the feared Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha's stronghold and an important trading port in the early 19th century - with time to explore the island on your own. Keep your eyes peeled for eagle rays basking in the shallows close to shore, little blue penguins crossing the beach at night, or kiwi out and about during an overnight tour with Kapiti Island Nature Tours.
Chatham Islands Rekohu/Wharekauri
Our furthest-flung adventure is to the Chathams' two main inhabited islands, Chatham and Pitt, a two-hour flight from the mainland and technically the easternmost point of the country (sorry, Te Araroa/East Cape).
The islands welcome around 2000 visitors a year and, with fewer than 700 residents, no mobile reception, limited accommodation and transport and famously changeable climatic conditions, "the islands at the end of the weather report" really do feel like you've got away from it all.
It also means you'll need to plan well ahead, especially if you want to be one of the first people in the world to welcome in the New Year – the Chathams are 45 minutes ahead of the mainland.
Once here, you won't be able to stop yourself admiring the scenery, Insta-worthy beaches, dunes and lagoon. The icing on the top is the plentiful and fresh kaimoana and welcoming hosts.
The islands are probably best known for their first inhabitants, the Moriori, who continue to live here. Visiting Kopinga Marae – shaped like an albatross in flight – will give a greater insight into a unique and, for too long, misunderstood culture.
Because the place has been isolated for 80 million years, other well-known inhabitants are unique plants (forget-me-not, Christmas tree) and wildlife (black robin) as well as fascinating geology (million-year-old basalt columns and volcanic cones).
There's plenty to discover, like Taiko Trust and Gap Sanctuary that protects some of the world's rarest seabirds, the thriving seal colony at remote Point Munning, or wading the lagoon shores for ancient fossils.
Alternatively, book a fishing charter to hook blue cod and hāpuku, a seafood industry tour (tastings included), or day trip to Port Hutt with its colourful history, wrecks and relics.
Rakiura Stewart Island
"Pacific's triple star", 30km south of the South Island, is a return to a simpler, slower Kiwi lifestyle that's in tune with the sea, tides and sky.
Awarded Dark Sky Sanctuary accreditation in 2019, light pollution is controlled and natural nightscapes are protected, so you may glimpse the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) which inspired the te reo name Rakiura, "glowing skies". Although there's no guarantee, you'll still enjoy long, starry nights from anywhere on the island that has a clear view of the sky, and away from artificial lighting. There are viewing platforms at Lee Bay car park, Moturau Moana Gardens, Observation Rock & Ackers Point Lighthouse.
The island also protects its landscape – Rakiura National Park covers 85 per cent of the land - which means it has stunning natural features, epic walking and hiking routes and unique wildlife. Do not pass up any opportunity to visit the remarkable Te Wharawhara Ulva Island sanctuary.
Stewart Island is renowned for outdoor activities like kayaking, boating, fishing and hunting. If you fancy something less energetic then relax, enjoy the local seafood and cuisine, try your hand at carving your own jade gem, or get a hit of history from the recently opened $20m Rakiura Museum in Oban, the only town.
To get here, take the one-hour ferry crossing from Bluff or a 15 to 20-minute flight from Invercargill. Either trip can be … challenging. But it's all part of the adventure.
Check alert level restrictions and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz