Why book this trip?
Combining the best of New Zealand’s North and South islands, explore the land of giants and discover jaw-dropping scenery and dramatic landscapes around every corner. Sailing through mist-shrouded fjords, hiking in spectacular glacial valleys and spotting coastal wildlife on the very southern tip of the country, discover a little bit of magic at the other side of the world.
- Doubtful Sound– Cruise through the towering fjords of this UNESCO Heritage Site, quieter and more rugged than its famous neighbour, Milford Sound
- Abel Tasman– Discover the sparkling blue waters and golden coastline of this beautiful national park, by boat and on foot
- Hawke’s Bay– Sample authentic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in this famous wine-making region
- DAY 1– Join trip in Auckland
Arrive in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest and most diverse city. Surrounded by volcanoes and volcanic cones, beautiful beaches and rolling countryside, Auckland offers a great introduction to New Zealand. The city lies sprawled across a narrow isthmus between the harbours of Waitemata and Manukau.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Auckland at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you’ll need to arrive at Auckland Airport (AKL) which is around 20 minutes’ drive from the hotel. Should you miss the meeting, your leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to take a stroll around the city centre and wharf, or get a bird’s eye view with a trip up the Sky Tower. If you are due to arrive prior to 3pm on Day 1 you may not be able to check-in to your hotel room, but baggage storage is available for you if you wish to explore the city.
- DAY 2– Explore Auckland; visit Hobbiton and drive to the Bay of Plenty
This morning we take in the delights of Tamaki Drive and Mission Bay, during our tour of the city of Auckland.
Departing in the late morning, our journey today takes us into the heart of North Island and the diverse landscapes of the Waikato region. We visit the Hobbiton movie set at Matamata where some of the original Hobbit holes from the Lord of The Rings still sit amongst the fertile hills that lie in the shadow of the Kaimai Ranges. We will discover the real Middle Earth on the most picturesque private farmland near Matamata in a fascinating two hour guided tour. The set has been completely rebuilt and can be seen as it appeared in the films. A knowledgeable guide will accompany us through the ten-acre site recounting fascinating details of how the Hobbiton set was created. The Hobbit holes, the Mill and other structures created for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films can be viewed. We will then head to Whakatane, a seaside town in the sunny Bay of Plenty.
- DAY 3– Free day on the coast; take a boat trip to a protected wildlife colony or visit the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal pools. Evening Maori banquet
We’re free today to discover the beautiful area of Whakatane. Two of New Zealand’s top beaches, Ohope Beach and Otarawairewe Bay, are close by – Otarawairewe Bay is only accessible on foot, making it one of the country’s secluded jewels. Alternatively you can walk to the tumbling Wairere Falls, visit the Awakeri Hot Springs or see an art exhibit at the Whakatane Exhibition centre. There are also excursions to the nearby islands on offer; one of these is a boat trip and land-based walking tour of one of New Zealand’s most protected wildlife sancuaries on Whale Island. Here, you’ll visit a fur seal colony and keep an eye out for some of New Zealand’s endangered birdlife, including the tuturiwhatu (New Zealand dotterel), the red-crowned parakeet and bell birds, before swimming at the secluded hot water beach of Sulphur Pool and even digging your own private hot pool. Alternatively, there is the possibility of taking a helicopter flight over the nearby active volcano on White Island, or of visiting the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Park, an impressive array of enormous hot springs located near Rotorua.
This evening we attend a traditional Te Po banquet, where we are treated to a ritual Maori welcome. We’ll be introduced to the customs and traditions of the local Maori, as well as visiting the Marae (meeting house) before we have a feast prepared in a traditional hangi (underground oven). Normally fish, chicken and plenty of kumara (sweet potato) bake alongside cabbage and other root veg like pumpkin, a method of cooking that has been used by the Maori for hundreds of years.
- DAY 4– Drive to Gisborne through the Waioeka Gorge
The road from Whakatane to Gisborne takes us through the remote Waioeka Gorge, a stunning forest-lined road winding past clear rivers and native farmland. There are plenty of stops to visit en route, which will all depend on timings and weather. These might include checking out the views from the Tauranga Suspension Bridge or many of the other rest stops along the river, which all have tracks and paths to follow so that you can stretch your legs along the route. The hikes are easy and well marked, normally varying between 15 and 45 mins.
We arrive at Gisborne in the afternoon, the first part of New Zealand to be sighted by James Cook’s deckhand in 1769. Long beaches invite you to take a swim. Alternatively, take the 30 minute climb up Kaiti Hill for views across the city.
- DAY 5– Drive to Napier; visit Hawke’s Bay vineyard
We’ll continue in a southward direction, first past the coast, then over the hills and a gorge to Napier, one of the country’s most famous grape-growing areas. Arriving in Napier we visit one of Hawke’s Bay’s oldest and most famous vineyards and take a tour, as well as enjoying a tasting of gourmet cheeses and some of the best wine that the area has to offer. Famed for its Chardonnays and superb reds, the area is home to over 80% of the country’s Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes, and produces some of the richest and most exquisite wines in New Zealand.
The engaging town of Napier lies on the southern edge of Hawke’s Bay. Its unique collection of art deco buildings makes it one of the most popular attractions on North Island. In 1931 Napier was destroyed by a massive earthquake that registered 7.9 on the Richter Scale. Following the wholesale destruction of the city, its centre was rebuilt in the popular art deco style of the period and we’ll explore a little of this heritage during an expert-led walking tour with the art deco society of Napier.
- DAY 6– Free time in Napier; drive to Wellington
Today we head south, towards New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, who’s engaging mix of culture and art, combined with stunning harbour views and a backdrop of steep hills and forest, makes it one of the country’s most captivating cities. On arrival we will have some free time take a wander through Wellington’s quirky city streets. This afternoon we will visit the superb Te Papa National Museum, one of the finest museums in the world, filled with a staggering collection of Maori treasures, artworks and a unique Marae.
- DAY 7– Free day to explore the capital
Today is a free day to explore the diverse city of Wellington, with several options for you to do. The top of the cable car, a Wellington icon running from Lambton Quay, gives a great close-up view of the city. From here, you can visit the Observatory and stroll back through Botanic Gardens, extending all the way down to the parliamentary complex. The Parliament’s Buildings, including the ‘Beehive’, are well worth visiting. Apart from its importance as the political centre, the city offers a large cultural choice of museums and art galleries and an abundance of cafes, restaurants and boutique shops, many situated around Cuba Street. You could visit Zealandia and see some of New Zealand’s rarest birds, reptiles and insects living wild in their natural environment, including the hihi, tuatara, saddleback, kaka and (at night) little spotted kiwi. Or simply enjoy a leisurely stroll along the harbourside, which is particularly beautiful on a fine day or when lit up in the evening.
- DAY 8– Ferry across the Cook Strait to Picton; drive to Nelson
This morning we cross the Cook Strait and make our way to the bustling port of Picton, at the head of the picturesque Queen Charlotte Sound. On arrival we drive west, following the coastline of the South Island to the town of Nelson. A lively city on New Zealand’s northwest coast, Nelson is a haven for hikers, beachgoers and kayaking fans, and is often known as the ‘sunshine capital’ of the country. Located next to the wine making region of Marlborough, Nelson also has its fair share of wineries as well as being a great starting point for visiting the Abel Tasman National Park, full of golden sandy beaches, rocky outcrops, seals and forest birds. Our hotel is located just outside the city, so after taking some time to explore, our tour leader will drive us on to our hotel.
- DAY 9– Explore the Abel Tasman National Park by boat and on foot
Today we explore New Zealand’s coastal paradise, the Abel Tasman National Park, discovering its pristine waters and secluded coves by boat and on foot. Taking a water taxi from Kaiteriteri Beach, we’ll glide through the cobalt blue ocean to the golden beach at Torrent Bay. The shallow waters here mean our final approach to the beach will be in adventurous fashion – wading through the shallows! From here, we’ll take a leisurely two-three hour walk through the lush native forest towards Medlands Beach, crossing an impressive suspension bridge as well as numerous coves en route. Medlands Beach has some of the whitest sand around, and on arrival we’ll have time for a packed lunch (not included, but our Tour Leader will help us to collect snacks and food to bring along), as well as a swim, before taking the water taxi back to Kaiteriteri. Our route today is a small section of one of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’ – the Abel Tasman Coastal Path – and the water taxi service here gives us the great opportunity to discover it in just a day.
Tidal considerations could mean that we complete the walk in the opposite direction, or change the route to accommodate weather or sea conditions.
- DAY 10– Scenic drive on the Great Coast Road to Hokitika
We have an early start today as we head down the Great Coast Road towards of Hokitika at the mouth of the Hokitika River. This journey takes us on one of the greatest coastal drives in the world, passing through Punakaiki Rocks, where we’ll stop to visit the amazing coastal rock formations, as well as taking in the seal colony at Cape Foulwind. The wild and rugged beauty of the west coast surrounds us on our journey, before finally arriving into the old gold mining town later this afternoon.
Founded in 1864, Hokitika was once a thriving community of over 30,000 until the end of the gold seams saw its population drift away. Today it is home to around 4,000 people and as well as gold still being found here, it is also home to New Zealand greenstone (similar to jade), with a prolific number of craft galleries and open studios. It still retains something of its frontier spirit though and a stroll through its historic heart makes for an interesting diversion. The town was put back on the map in 2013, after it was used as the gold-rush era setting of the winner of the 2013 Man Booker prize, Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. If the weather is clear, the sunsets from Hokitika are amazing, and there is a handily-named Sunset Point that looks over the beach – perfect for a cold beer or fish and chips as you watch the sun go down.
- DAY 11– Visit Franz Josef Glacier en route to Fox Glacier
Crossing the Hokitika River this morning we head south on a short two hour drive to Fox Glacier, passing through native bush of Rimu (red pine) and Kahikatea (white pine). The first European to discover the west coast was Abel Tasman in December 1642. Long and thin and enclosed by the Tasman Sea to the east and the Southern Alps to the west, it is a land of glacial deposits and alluvium that flows from the rivers and glaciers of the Alps. There are some 60 glaciers in the park, but Franz Josef and Fox are the most famous. Up to 10 years ago the Franz Josef Glacier was one of the few glaciers worldwide that actually crept down below the vegetation line. Today however this glacier has receded so much that you can only see the terminal face at a distance. Needless to say the whole landscape of this glacial region is quite fascinating and there are a number of optional excursions available today, including glacier valley walks (short walks that within the old valley of the glacier), heli-hikes that take you up onto the glacier itself and scenic helicopter flights over both Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. We overnight in Fox Glacier town.
- DAY 12– Explore Fox Glacier then travel to Wanaka
A short drive south this morning brings to the breathtaking setting of Lake Matheson, where weather permitting we are treated to a picture perfect image of Aoraki/Mount Cook reflected in the lake’s dark, mirrored waters. Following this we will head to Fox Glacier, named after a former Prime Minister of New Zealand. The walking track from the car park along the glacial valley crosses a landscape of ancient moraine that testifies to the continual advance and retreat of the glacier over the centuries. Our journey then continues across the River Haast and away from the coast, passing through the beautiful scenery of the Haast River Valley as we snake our way through the Aspiring National Park and onto the town of Makaroa. After a brief stop to refresh, we head next for the lakeside setting of Wanaka, impressively situated amongst an encircling ring of mountain peaks before the still waters of the lake.
- DAY 13– Free day in Wanaka
Wanaka is one of the favourite vacation spots for New Zealander’s because of its beautiful environment. Mount Aspiring dominates this area with its glaciers. Today is at your leisure, and there are a number of optional activities to choose from, including an exhilerating jet boat ride and wilderness walk through moss-covered forest, waterfalls and glacier-fed streams. Alternatively, there is the option to take a boat across Lake Wanaka to the remote Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve, which is predator-free and home to the rare flightless Buff Weka (extinct on the mainland since 1920). Wanaka is a hikers paradise so there are plenty of other walking trails in the vicinity, from short 1 hour hikes to full day trails.
- DAY 14– Visit Queenstown and see glowworms en route to Te Anau
We’ll drive out of Wanaka this morning in the direction of Queenstown, on the shore of Lake Wakatipu. Before arriving there we stop en route at the pretty goldmining town of Arrowtown, and discover some of New Zealand’s gold rush history with its clapperboard buildings and historic Chinese settlement. From there, we continue to the adventure capital of New Zealand, Queenstown, where we’ll experience some of the resort-like nature of the place and take a short walk around the foreshore and town.
After a short time in Queenstown, we will continue to the small town of Te Anau, the gateway to New Zealand’s Fjordland National Park. The town is visually stunning, on the banks of Lake Te Anau from which the town takes its name. According to Maori legend, somewhere around the shores of the lake was located a cave filled with iridescent light. There are numerous caves around this area, but in 1948 the entrance to a series of limestone cave was discovered, which was home to hundreds of glowworms – perhaps the history behind the ancient legend. This afternoon we will go to visit the glowworms, travelling across Lake Te Anau by boat to reach them. At 12,000 years old, the caves are still relatively young, and continue to be carved out by the torrent of water that flows through them. This has created a twisting network of passages hiding whirlpools, sculpted rock features and an underground waterfalls. Exploring the caves on a small boat, we’ll finally visit the small glowworm grotto. In the darkness, the glittering light is quite mesmerising.
- DAY 15– Take a cruise on the magnificent Doubtful Sound
We have a long day ahead of us, but worth it to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Fjordland National Park, a fantastic experience of New Zealand’s wild nature. We drive along the southern coast to reach Lake Manapouri, which we traverse by boat to West Arm. We then board a coach to travel over Wilmot Pass through dense rainforest. There are opportunities along the way to examine the plant life and view the spectacular scenery. In Deep Cove we will embark on the majestic Fiordland Navigator boat. As we cruise through some of New Zealand’s most stunning scenery, our knowledgeable nature guides will provide commentary – be it on the pod of resident dolphins, fur seals or penguins that we may encounter. We’ll have a picnic lunch on board the boat, surrounded by the majesty of the rugged Sounds.
After a day on the boat, we return to Deep Cove, and then drive back to Lake Manapouri, traverse it by boat and continue to our hotel at Te Anau.
- DAY 16– Drive to Dunedin; afternoon wildlife cruise to see albatross
We’ll continue south-east today, arriving on the coast at Dunedin, the city they call the ‘Edinburgh of the South’. It’s around a four-hour drive, so we’ll arrive in time to check into our hotel and have a lunch in this charming town. Dunedin was settled by Scottish settlers in the middle years of the 19th century and today is a picturesque setting of towers and spires that still retains something of its Gaelic heritage.
After lunch we’ll travel to the Otago Peninsula, where we board a boat for our wildlife cruise around Weller’s Rock and Tairua Head. We’ll see uninterrupted views of the world’s only mainland nesting place of albatross, and we may be lucky enough to see them soaring and banking, with their three metre wingspan unfurling overhead. We’ll also see the New Zealand fur seals playing on the rocks around their breeding rookeries, with expert guides telling us all about these beautiful creatures.
Depending on the timings for the wildlife cruise, we may have some free time this afternoon to visit Larnach Castle or St Paul’s Cathedral, and enjoy a hearty meal and a beer at Speight’s Brewery.
- DAY 17– Drive to Mackenzie Country via the Moeraki Boulders
After a short visit to Dunedin’s city gardens, we head up the coast to view the incredible boulders that lie strewn across Moeraki Beach before continuing to the limestone town of Oamaru, which has the best-preserved Victorian precinct in New Zealand. It was from here the the world’s first frozen meat products were exported by boat. A steam punk museum, distillery and quirky shops make this an interesting before we continue to the rural town of Twizel. Twizel is the largest town in Mackenzie Country, but at under 1500 inhabitants that’s not really saying a great deal! It sits within the International Dark Sky Reserve, where the Milky Way seems to be in high definition when the sun goes down.
- DAY 18– Drive to Christchurch
This morning we have the chance to explore the dramatic vistas of the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. There is a helicopter flight on offer, taking us directly over Aoraki/Mount Cook and the stunning park. Alternatively, weather-dependent we may drive into the park for a walk on one of the many trails, some are only 30 minutes long but even this is enough to be seriously impressed by the park’s towering mountains and glaciers. We then continue towards Christchurch, stopping en route at the glacial Lake Pukaki, where we have the opportunity to admire the magnificent glaciers of Mount Cook (weather permitting). The Maori name for the highest peak in New Zealand is Aoraki, which translates as the ‘Cloud Piercer’. We also stop at Lake Tekapo and visit the ‘Church of the Good Shepherd’, the oldest church in New Zealand. The view from the church window over the Lake and up to the snow-covered mountains of the Southern Alps is particularly beautiful. We arrive to our final destination in the late afternoon.
DAY 19– Trip ends in Christchurch
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Christchurch.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Christchurch at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Christchurch International Airport (airport code: CHC), which is approximately a 15 minute drive from our hotel.