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New Zealand's North and South Islands brim with geological drama and natural beauty. Volcanic forces simmer on the North Island, leaving craters, caves, and geysers considered sacred by the indigenous Maori people. The Southern Alps shelter sparkling lakes and unfurl into majestic fiords. Encounter unusual wildlife in astonishing landscapes and get acquainted with New Zealand's vibrant cultures on your way from Auckland to Queenstown.
Meet conservationists dedicated to protecting New Zealand’s endangered wildlife, and seek out rare species like tuataras, flightless takahes, and kiwis.
Go behind the scenes at the famous Weta Workshop, the special effects firm behind The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.
By special permission, sit down to a private dinner with Maori tribe members and enjoy a traditional music performance.
Take an insider’s tour of the Te Papa Tongarewa national museum, folllowed by a viewing of its private galleries.
Itinerary - 11 Days
Day 1 — Auckland, New Zealand
Arrive in Auckland and settle into our historic hotel. Join your fellow travelers for a welcome dinner this evening.
Heritage Hotel or Hilton Auckland (D)
Day 2 — Tiritiri Matangi Island/Auckland
Board a ferry to Tiritiri Matangi Island, home to one of New Zealand's most important wildlife sanctuaries. Learn about conservation efforts here while seeking out endangered bird and reptile species, including the flightless takahe and the tuatara. Back on the mainland, explore the coastal cliffs and beaches of Shakespear Regional Park with a ranger before meeting with members of the local conservation community. This evening, enjoy free time to discover Auckland, known as the "city of sails" for the many sailboats that teem in its harbor.
Heritage Hotel or Hilton Auckland (B,L)
Day 3 — Waitomo Caves/Rotorua
Travel to Waitomo and cruise through an otherworldly cave system illuminated by the turquoise light of thousands of tiny glowworms. Continue to Rotorua, a city built on geothermal landscapes, and visit a traditional Maori meeting house in Whakarewarewa village to take part in a Maori mihi whakatau welcome ritual, followed by dinner with members of the local community. Novotel Rotorua Lakeside (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Lake Tarawera
Delve deeper into Maori traditions, exploring the Lake Tarawera region in the company of a guide from the Tuhourangi tribe. Attend hands-on weaving and carving demonstrations, and participate in a specially arranged poroporoaki farewell ceremony to bid goodbye to your Tuhourangi hosts. Novotel Rotorua Lakeside (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Rotorua/Wellington
During a private tour of the Rotorua Museum, learn about the region's rich cultural history and remarkably volatile landscape. Fly to Wellington, New Zealand's charming capital city. Visit the famous Weta Workshop, the special effects group behind several blockbuster movies, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Take a behind-the-scenes tour of their design studio and participate in a hands-on demonstration of the creative process used to develop their props. Copthorne Hotel (B,D)
Day 6 — Wellington
Join a local expert at the impressive Te Papa Tongarewa national museum for an insider's tour, followed by a special viewing of cultural artifacts in the private galleries. Spend the remainder of the afternoon on a guided tour of Wellington, including a walk along the waterfront and a visit to the botanical gardens. This evening, search for kiwis during a guided after-dark walk at Zealandia, an important mainland wildlife sanctuary whose innovative predator-proof fence was the first of its kind. Copthorne Hotel (B,D)
Day 7 — Wellington/Christchurch
Take a privately guided tour of the Wellington Museum, then fly to Christchurch and spend the afternoon with a local police officer who was on call during the earthquake that all but leveled the city in 2011. Get a personal perspective on the city's resurgent cultural scene and its efforts to rebuild, visit the intriguing Quake City exhibit at the Canterbury Museum, and gather for afternoon tea at our guide's home. The George Christchurch or Hotel Montreal (B,L)
Day 8 — Christchurch/Queenstown
After a morning at leisure to further explore Christchurch, fly to Queenstown. Wander the quaint streets of Arrowtown, a historic gold-mining town, then have dinner at a winery in the world’s southernmost wine-growing region. This evening, settle into our hotel on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Doubletree by Hilton Queenstown (B,D)
Day 9 — Doubtful Sound/Queenstown
Journey into Fiordland National Park for a wilderness cruise through magnificent Doubtful Sound. As we navigate these pristine waters, take in the majesty of the fiords and their surrounding cliffs, blanketed in lush forest and sprinkled with waterfalls. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and fur seals! Doubletree by Hilton Queenstown (B,L)
Day 10 — Lakes District/Queenstown
Venture into the undulating landscapes of the Lakes District and experience the tranquility of Lake Wakatipu. After taking in the spectacular surrounding landscapes along the way, arrive at the historic Kinloch Lodge for a lakeside lunch. Return to Queenstown for our farewell dinner. Doubletree by Hilton Queenstown (B,L,D)
Day 11 — Queenstown
Transfer to the airport for your return flight home. (B)
Native New Zealander Malcolm Campbell is a professional naturalist and birder who has worked for 20 years on conservation issues in his country's national parks, forests, and coastal marine environments. He has led many National Geographic Expeditions in New Zealand. Malcolm looks forward to sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of his country's people, political history, flora and fauna, and indigenous Maori culture, which he imparts with warmth and zest.
Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives, or easy hikes, with options for more physical activities such as hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and biking.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.