- Witness the geothermal wonders of Rotorua, and immerse yourself in Maori lore and legend on a visit to a tribal village.
- Seek out rare endemic bird and reptile species with an expert guide on Tiritiri Matangi Island, and hear about the island’s conservation successes.
- Cruise the serene waters of the stunning Milford Sound, keeping an eye out for the resident seals, dolphins, and penguins.
- Take an exclusive tour of the Weta Workshop, the special effects studio behind blockbuster Hollywood movies like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar, and more.
In New Zealand, epic landscapes brim with geological drama and harbor the rich cultural heritage of the Maori, who have inhabited the islands for hundreds of years. Venture from the bucolic North Island to the Southern Alps, where soaring peaks unfurl into majestic fjords, and witness age-old Maori traditions in the midst of a volcanic wonderland. Encounter a wealth of unusual creatures in subtropical wildlife sanctuaries, and discover vibrant lakeside cities that tell the stories of the diverse peoples that call this Pacific nation home.
Arrive in Auckland and settle into our downtown hotel. Discover the highlights of this multicultural city on a guided walking tour, and enjoy a welcome dinner near the waterfront this evening.
Board a ferry to Tiritiri Matangi Island, home to one of New Zealand’s most important wildlife sanctuaries. Learn about the island’s remarkable conservation efforts, including a volunteer-led reforestation program and the eradication of invasive species; and seek out some of the country’s fascinating birds and reptiles, such as the red-crowned parakeet and Duvaucel’s gecko. With luck, you might even spot the rare flightless takahe and the tuatara—an ancient creature dubbed a “living fossil” by scientists. Savor a picnic lunch on the island before returning to the mainland. This evening, enjoy free time to discover Auckland, known as the “city of sails” for the many sailboats that teem in its harbor.
Depart for Rotorua, known for its dramatic geothermal landscapes and thriving Maori community. Stop en route at the spectacular glowworm caves of Waitomo, and float through this otherworldly subterranean realm on a private boat, enveloped in the turquoise light of thousands of tiny glowworms. After lunch, continue to Rotorua. Settle into your comfortable lakeside hotel, then gather for dinner.
Join our local guide for an exploration of Te Puia—the ancestral homeland of the Te Arawa tribe and a geothermal park. Tread past boiling springs and bubbling mud pools, and encounter the massive Pohutu Geyser, which erupts approximately every hour. Visit the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, dedicated to preserving traditional Maori art forms; and observe master carvers teaching their craft at the National Wood Carving School. Then immerse yourself in Maori culture in Ohinemutu village. Our hosts will greet us with a mihi whakatau—or welcome speech—then give us a tour of the village as they share captivating tales of their ancestors’ journey to New Zealand from Polynesia more than six centuries ago.
After breakfast, fly to Wellington, New Zealand’s charming capital city. Visit the impressive Te Papa Tongarewa national museum for an exclusive tour, and see an exquisitely carved wharenui, the oldest surviving Maori meeting house in the country. Then step into Bush City, the museum’s unique outdoor exhibit, for a look at specimens of New Zealand’s diverse foliage and fascinating geological features. Continue to “the Beehive,” the innovatively designed executive wing of New Zealand’s parliament. Learn about the country’s system of governance as you explore the parliamentary complex, and perhaps get a chance to meet with local politicians.
Please note: On the December 28, 2020 departure, due to New Zealand’s parliament not being in session, “the Beehive” tour will be replaced with a scenic cable car ride through Wellington’s hillside neighborhoods, followed by a visit to the Botanic Garden.
Visit the famous Weta Workshop, the special effects group that worked on Avatar and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and take a behind-the-scenes tour of their design studio. Later, venture to Zealandia, an extraordinary urban wildlife sanctuary whose predator-proof fencing was the first of its kind in the world. Stroll picturesque pathways alongside a private guide, spying dozens of species of endemic birds, reptiles, and amphibians—many of which were reintroduced here after more than a hundred years.
Fly to Queenstown this morning, set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and ringed by the Southern Alps. Continue to Te Anau, the gateway to rugged Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound. Explore the cozy, mountain-framed town at your leisure this evening, or relax and enjoy the views from your lakefront hotel.
Discover Fiordland National Park, home to nearly three million acres of verdant, glacially carved wilderness. Walk through the beech forest of remote Hollyford Valley, then embark on a cruise through Milford Sound, one of New Zealand’s most breathtaking natural wonders. Glide past cascading waterfalls and sharply hewn cliffs, and keep your eyes out for bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, and little blue penguins.
Return to Queenstown and drive into the idyllic, tussock-covered countryside of Central Otago. Enjoy lunch and sample the region’s award-winning wines at a local winery; then explore the quaint streets of Arrowtown, a historic mining settlement where thousands of Chinese immigrants worked during the late 19th-century Otago Gold Rush. Back in Queenstown—often called the “adventure capital of the world”—hit the shallow waters of the Shotover River on an adrenaline-filled jet boat ride through rocky canyons.
Venture to Mt. Nicholas Station, a historic farmstead nestled amid snowcapped peaks and rolling meadows at the edge of Lake Wakatipu. Cruise the sapphire-blue waters of the lake on a catamaran, taking in delightful views of The Remarkables mountain range, and disembark at the secluded farm. Here, we’ll enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour of a working sheep and cattle ranch, and sit down to a traditional ploughman’s lunch before heading back to Queenstown.
Visit the Kiwi Birdlife Park, a family-run sanctuary in the heart of the city harboring more than 20 species of native wildlife. Join a zoologist for a private tour of the park, encountering brightly colored parakeets, majestic falcons, and the kiwi—an emblematic icon of New Zealand. Enjoy the rest of the day at leisure in Queenstown, then gather for a farewell dinner.
Transfer to the Queenstown airport after breakfast to connect to your flight home.