Tane Mahuta (21 Days)
Join us for a three week Small Group Journey that will take you on an adventure like no other. Experience the breath taking scenery of snow-capped Alps, wander through lush tropical rainforests and relax on wide sandy beaches. You will learn how this beautiful land has been shaped by ancient volcanoes and southern seas, by Maori warriors and colonial settlers. Friendly local guides will share their cultural, historical and ecological expertise; vineyard owners and farmers wives will extend a warm welcome to their own homes.
Day 1 Arrive Auckland
Haere mai - welcome! Arrive into Auckland and spend the afternoon and evening getting to know the 'City of Sails' and your fellow travellers. City Hotel
Day 2 Auckland - Bay of Islands (B)
Leaving the City of Sails behind, we travel up Northland's west coast skirting Kaipara Harbour and following the Kaihu River to Kai Iwi Lakes and the primeval forest of Waipoua, which translates as 'water falling at night'. Our Maori guide leads us deep into the forest, explaining the spiritual significance of the giant Kauri trees and introducing us to his ancestors, including the lord of the forest Tane Mahuta. At 150 feet tall this tree is a rare survivor of a species that was exploited by the pakeha to the point of extinction. Taking minor roads heading east, we follow the path of the Ngāpuhi Iwi warriors to the Flagstaff battlegrounds and finally to tranquil Paihia set right beside the sparkling Pacific. Local Bed & Breakfast - 2 nights
Day 3 Bay of Islands (B)
144 islands are scattered across this beautiful bay, in warm shallow waters that are perfect for marine life and travellers alike. After breakfast, we cross to Russell by ferry to meet a local guide for an insight into this pretty little town's rip-roaring past, when drunken sailors earned it the name 'the hell hole of the Pacific'. We finish our tour at the fine old Duke of Marlborough Hotel, where you may wish to have a cool beer, or a light lunch (at your own expense). The afternoon is free for you to same some of the optional activities on offer such as a boat trip on a specially-designed craft, seeking out the sheltered coves where bottlenose dolphins congregate. Conditions permitting, there is a chance to swim with these intelligent creatures! Or perhaps try your hand at kayaking - paddle up the sheltered Waitangi Estuary to spend time exploring the fascinating Mangrove Forests and Haruru Falls.
Day 4 Bay of Islands - Coromandel Peninsula (B)
We are welcomed to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where modern New Zealand was in essence founded on the signing of the 1840 treaty between Maori tribes and British settlers. Enter the magnificent meeting house, be awestruck at the size of the war canoe and stroll across the lawns for views over the sea. Head south, stopping in Whangarei (a 'flat white' coffee at Nectar cafe highly recommended), then to Auckland and driving through the lush farmland of Waikato to the Firth of Thames. Amazing annual migrations, whirling flocks of thousands of shorebirds, the rare geology of shell bank cheniers and the ebb and flow of the estuary - all of these come together at the Miranda Shorebird Centre (bird viewing dependent upon tides). Later, we cross the neck of the peninsula for a two-night stay in an idyllic spot on Tairua harbour, where Pacific-Island-style chalets are set in lush gardens that run down to the sea. Private Hotel - 2 nights
Day 5 Explore the Coromandel Peninsula (B,D)
White cliffs and golden beaches, inviting turquoise waters and green forests are the colours of the Coromandel, with scarlet highlights courtesy of the flowers of Pohutukawa trees in summer, making this one of our favourite regions. Rightly famous is Hot Water Beach, where warm springs bubble up through the sand, and when the tide is right you can dig out your very own 'spa' pool for a wallow. Our recommendation for lunch is under the fruit trees at Colenso Café. In the afternoon, it is well worth putting on your boots to walk to Cathedral Cove. This marine reserve is accessible only on foot or by boat: our efforts are rewarded with one of the most photogenic beaches in NZ, with water-worn rock formations sparkling against the blue-green of the Pacific. Tonight we share on the cooking duties enjoying a Kiwi Favourite - a BBQ dinner in the garden of our accommodation.
Day 6 Coromandel Peninsula - Rotorua (B)
We take the Pacific Coast Highway through the beachside towns of Whangamata and Tauranga in the beautiful Bay of Plenty before turning inland. Rotorua is the epicentre not only of New Zealand's geothermal activity but of Maori heritage. There is an extensive choice of sites and experiences here, and we start with an included guided walk through the Government Gardens taking in the buildings, battles and historic places of these magnificent grounds. We also take you to Te Puia, not only an active geothermal site, but the nation's centre for indigenous arts and crafts and a Kiwi conservation project. City Hotel - 2 nights
Day 7 Rotorua (B,D)
This morning we visit the Waimangu Volcanic Valley - site of the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886, which destroyed the world-famous 'Pink & White' silica terraces and devastated local Maori villages. This catastrophic event changed the landscape forever and created the valley we now walk through, past boiling craters and jewel-coloured steaming lakes. Take a cruise across Lake Rotomahana to the site of the old silica terraces, hear the story of Guide Sophia and see the new terraces of silica slowly forming. This afternoon we have time out to relax at our hotel before travelling to a local Marae (Maori Village). Maori legend has it that Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga used a magical jawbone as a hook to fish North Island from the depths of the sea and that Hawke's Bay is that jawbone. On their land experience a formal welcome (powhiri) including the hongi - that is sharing breath. Delve into Maori life, both past and contemporary. Listen to their fascinating reality - how things are and what is important to their family, their connection to their land, the importance of whakapapa (lineage) and life amongst their people. The iwi (tribes) are equal partners in caring for New Zealand's natural beauty and Maori language and culture have official status, but this equality has been hard-won in the last 100 years. Finally this evening enjoy a powerful cultural performance, storytelling & Hangi (feasting).
Day 8 Rotorua - Napier (B,D)
Today we head south, past Huka Falls to the vast Lake Taupo - more inland sea than lake, though its fresh waters teem with trout. Across the lake - weather permitting - we should see the mighty peaks of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro rear their heads. Napier is one of the world's most complete examples of Art Deco architecture, second (arguably) only to Miami Beach. And yet this joyful seaside town had a tragic birth, being virtually levelled by fierce fires that followed the devastating 1931 earthquake. With typical Kiwi spirit Napier was rebuilt in just two years in the most up-to-date style of the time, which today we call Art Deco.
This afternoon our local guide brings history and architecture alive with entertaining stories as we discover Napier on foot. Today's journey has brought us to the North Island's wine country, so this evening's treat is a dinner, with a glass of wine, at the Mission Estate Winery. French missionaries planted the first vines here in the mid-19th century: today award-winning wines are produced and we enjoy a glass of wine with dinner in the restored seminary buildings that that are Mission Estate Winery and offer sweeping views of Napier. Private Hotel
Day 9 Napier - Wellington (B)
This morning we travel through vineyards and orchards, through the bush-clad ranges of the Wairarapa, which has an off-the-beaten-track charm that belies its proximity to New Zealand's capital, and into Wellington. Full of artists, writers and film-makers - the most famous of whom is Sir Peter Jackson - Wellington has a lively arts scene and café culture. We take the cable car up to the Kelburn lookout before walking back down through the Botanic Gardens, enjoying tea in the Lady Norwood Rose Garden. A visit to Te Papa, one of the most exciting museums in the world, is highly recommended for New Zealand insights - the shaping of its land, the spirit of its diverse peoples, its unique wildlife, landscapes and its distinctive popular culture. City Hotel
Day 10 Wellington - Nelson (B)
We board the Interislander ferry to cross the Cook Strait on a journey of 3½ hours that's often accompanied by dolphins riding the bow wave, before entering Queen Charlotte Sound and disembarking in Picton. This corner of South Island is blessed with a sunny microclimate which has long been a draw to artists and adventurers alike, many of them settling in the delightful town of Nelson, our base for two nights. This afternoon we stretch our legs along the pleasant Matai River on a section of the Centre of New Zealand Walkway. With a wide range of eateries, you are free to make your own choice for dinner, though we can recommend the bay scallops, not to mention the local Sauvignon Blanc! Local Bed & Breakfast - 2 nights
Day 11 Abel Tasman National Park (B)
Paradise found! Abel Tasman National Park is a mosaic of golden coves and turquoise lagoons sheltered by forested ranges to the south. With few roads in this pristine wilderness, most journeys are made by boat. Today at Kaiteriteri, we board a small cruiser for a day of exploration, with native wildlife a highlight of our scenery and opportunities for swimming and walking, dreaming and discovering.
Day 12 Nelson - Franz Josef (B)
Turning inland we follow the Buller River Gorge: its Maori name of Kawitiri describes the power of 'water flowing swiftly'. This is one of the world's best but least-known scenic drives, carved out of the forest by 19th century prospectors, it follows the deep river gorge, often crossing it on single-track bridges. We emerge from the forest at Westport to stretch our legs on rocky Cape Foulwind, so named in 1770 by Captain Cook after the Endeavour was blown off-shore by the 'foul winds'. The point is reached by an excellent track to viewing platforms where we may see fur seals, sooty shearwaters and blue penguins.
Continue down the coast to the small settlement of Punakaiki on the edge of the Paparoa National Park. Punakaiki is renowned for its wild, rugged coastline and the famous 'Pancake Rocks' and blowholes. These stratified limestone stacks are an extraordinary monument of nature. Travelling south along the West Coast to Hokitika where, time permitting, we visit one of the greenstone factories where a local jade-like stone highly prized by pre-European Maori is crafted into exquisite jewellery. Continue south through forests and farmland, with views of the Alps to the east and the Tasman Sea to the west, to the village of Franz Josef. The huge rivers of snow and ice of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers flow from vast snowfields high in the Southern Alps almost to sea level which is unusual in a temperate climate. Country Hotel
Day 13 Franz Josef - Wanaka (B)
Ensure you have your camera for our visit to nearby Lake Matheson for a morning stroll and where, when conditions are right, perfectly mirrors beautiful Mount Cook in its still waters. This land is the heart of Te Wahipounamu - the place of the greenstone - explored by generations of Maori but penetrated by Europeans only 150 years ago. We head up over the Haast Pass along the river road, which took more than 40 years to complete, travelling beside the icy river and deep into Mt Aspiring National Park. The atmosphere lightens as we reach lovely Lake Wanaka, reflecting the mountain peaks that in winter offer superb skiing, and the pretty resort town of Wanaka. Local Bed & Breakfast
Day 14 Wanaka - Te Anau (B)
This morning there is time to relax, you may wish to take a jet boat ride up the Matukituki River or take the opportunity to enjoy one of New Zealand's best half day walks - The Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain Trail. As we depart Wanaka we stop to quench our thirst at the much photographed Cardrona Pub before travelling around Lake Wakatipu and into Te Anau, gateway to the magnificent Fiordland National Park. Country Hotel - 2 nights
Day 15 Milford Sound Day Trip (B,L)
Depart Te Anau for a full day excursion travelling via Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound. Fiordland National Park, part of the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area is one of the great wilderness areas of the Southern Hemisphere. The scenery is spectacular with lofty mountains and deep valleys carved out by Ice Age glaciers. There are clear rushing streams and leaping waterfalls set in magnificent native rainforest. On arrival in Milford Sound, our walk begins with a short boat ride to Sandfly Point. An easy 5.5 km (11 km return) walk alongside the cascading Arthur River and moody Lake Ada, on a well maintained track through ancient temperate rainforest surrounded by an array of ferns, mosses and lichens in vibrant shades of green leads to Giant Gate Waterfall. An expansive swing bridge provides perfect photo opportunities. Return at a leisurely pace taking the time to enjoy this incredible forest. Your nature guide will provide an excellent opportunity to learn about the fascinating human heritage of the track. On completion of the walk an opportunity is made for photos at the sign marking the end the track, festooned with the boots of walkers' that have made it to the end of the walk, not a single step further. Walkers then re-join the boat for the transfer back to Milford. At Milford Sound board your cruise down the fiord past Mitre Peak to the open sea. Seals and dolphins are often seen in the clear waters of the fiord. Lunch will be served aboard your cruise. The boat returns to Milford Wharf. Return to Te Anau travelling via the Cleddeau Gorge, Homer Tunnel and the lovely Eglinton Valley.
Day 16 Te Anau - Queenstown (B)
Leaving Fiordland National Park behind, travel through the quaint settlements of Mossburn, Athol and Garston then travel along the shores of Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown 'Switzerland of the Southern Hemisphere'. Queenstown, nestled among glacier-rounded hills and dramatic rugged mountain peaks, is New Zealand's premier year-round alpine resort. It offers a host of holiday attractions for the visitor from helicopter flights and trips on jet-boats, to walks and tramps. The town is steeped in the history of the goldmining days, evident from the many relics scattered in and among the surrounding hills. City Hotel - 2 nights
Day 17 Queenstown (B)
Today is free for you to do your own thing - Thrill-seekers may choose to zip-line at Bob's Peak, get drenched on a Shotover jet-boat ride or go white-water rafting. But there is much more to Queenstown than bungy jumping and other adventure sports: less hair-raising, but no less enjoyable is the gondola ride up to Bob's Peak, or a 4x4 safari to Skippers Canyon and Arrowtown. Boutique wineries and local gardens welcome visitors and the classic steamship TSS Earnslaw is an elegant way to discover Lake Wakatipu during a cruise to Walter Peak High Country Farm. And when it comes to eating out, you are spoiled for choice, so you are free to make your own arrangements for dinner.
Day 18 Queenstown - Twizel (B)
Today we drive north through to historic Arrowtown - a quaint town away from the hustle and bustle with plenty of shops and historic remains from the Gold Rush days. Then continue through the rugged Kawarau Gorge, past pretty Lake Dunstan and across the distinctive Central Otago countryside to the Lindis Pass. Pass the small towns of Omarama to arrive in Twizel where we overnight near Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest peak. Country Hotel
Day 19 Twizel - Mount Cook National Park - Canterbury/Ashburton Area (B,D)
A beautiful drive this morning along Lake Pukaki to The Hermitage, our starting point for a choice of easy walks along the Hooker Valley trail for a close up of the majestic Mount Cook. Then onto Lake Tekapo where The Church of the Good Shepherd is one of New Zealand's most-photographed spots: a tiny church set against a majestic backdrop. Inside, the window behind the altar spurns the traditional stained glass to simply frame the astonishing view. Outside, a bronze statue of a collie dog reminds us that this is 'Mackenzie Country', named after a 19th Century sheep stealer. Then pass through Burkes Pass and roll across the high country's tussock plains, through the small rural towns of Fairlie and Geraldine and onto Ashburton. Here you are met in small groups by your hosts who will extend their hospitality to you to with a tour of the property, perhaps a visit with the animals, and a delicious home-cooked dinner before a cosy night's stay. Rural Homestay
Day 20 Ashburton - Christchurch (B,D)
After a hearty farmhouse breakfast we re-assemble to head across the fertile Canterbury Plains and towards Christchurch. This most English of New Zealand cities suffered a succession of terrible earthquakes in 2010/11. Christchurch is reinventing itself with typical kiwi spirit and exciting new sights including the 'Cardboard Cathedral' and various pop-up bars and restaurants. A guided tour with your driver/guide will help you understand the present and future hopes for the city. This is the final part of our journey together so tonight we relax over a farewell dinner that showcases the best of New Zealand food and wine. City Hotel
Day 21 Depart Christchurch (B)
If you are leaving New Zealand today, after breakfast we transfer you to Christchurch Airport for your flight home. Alternatively we can extend you stay in Christchurch for a few days or arrange onward independent touring by car or TranzAlpine train. Either way, we must say farewell, and wave you off home with amazing memories of your time in New Zealand.
* Itinerary and Accommodation subject to change. Meals included as per itinerary (B) Breakfast (L) Lunch (D) Dinner