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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.
Encounter endangered species and
meet the conservationists dedicated to protecting them.
Spend time in a Maori community, getting to know their traditions and everyday life.
Go behind the scenes at the famous Weta Workshop, the special effects firm behind The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.
Cruise Doubtful Sound, and surround yourself with the eerie light of bioluminescent glowworms in the Waitomo Caves.
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 (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 (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. Novotel Rotorua Lakeside (B,L)
Day 4 — Lake Tarawera
Delve deeper into Maori traditions, exploring the Lake Tarawera region in the company of a guide from the Tuhourangi tribe. Join the villagers for afternoon tea, attend weaving and carving demonstrations, and listen to the melodies of Maori music. By special permission, our group will have the opportunity to mingle with members of the tribe over a private dinner incorporating traditional dishes. 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. 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,L,D)
Day 6 — Wellington/Blenheim
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. This afternoon, take in spectacular vistas as we ferry across the Cook Strait to the South Island. Check in to our hotel in Blenheim, in the heart of Marlborough wine country. Chateau Marlborough Hotel (B,D)
Day 7 — Blenheim/Christchurch
Set out to a nearby sheep farm to watch herding dogs at work before sitting down to a home-cooked lunch with the farm's owners. Travel 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
Enjoy a morning at leisure to further explore Christchurch, then fly to Queenstown. Have dinner at a winery in the world’s southernmost wine-growing region and 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. Wander the quaint streets of Arrowtown, a historic gold-mining town, then 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)
Kennedy Warne co-founded New Zealand Geographic magazine in 1988, and served as editor until 2004, when he stepped down to pursue his own writing and photography. He has written 14 stories for National Geographic since 2000, including four on New Zealand. He writes mostly about natural history subjects, and specializes in underwater assignments. His work for National Geographic has taken him from the sea ice of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the mangrove swamps of Bangladesh, from the rainforests of Fiordland to the coral reefs of Arabia. He lives in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, but prefers to spend his time in the overlooked and undiscovered parts of his country, especially its forests, mountains, and multitude of islands.
Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $1,765 through March, 2017 and $1,950 from Nov, 2017 to March, 2018 .
International airfare to Auckland and return from Queenstown and airfare within New Zealand are not included in the expedition cost. The group flights within New Zealand are $170 through March 2017 and $370 from Nov, 2017 to March, 2018 (subject to change).