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. Drive south toward Rotorua through the bucolic Waikato countryside and stop for lunch amidst blueberry fields, then tour a stud farm where many of New Zealand’s champion thoroughbred racehorses have been bred. Arriving in Rotorua, 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. As night falls, take a guided walk along suspended walkways in the nearby redwood forest, where hanging lanterns illuminate the towering trees and giant ferns. 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. Learn about the region’s geological history with its boiling hot springs, bubbling mud pools, and Te Wairoa, a village that was destroyed when Mt. Tarawera erupted in 1886. This evening, 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
Take a walking tour of Ohinemutu village, home to the Ngati Whakaeue tribe. Built in 1914, Ohinemutu’s historic St. Faith’s church is a fascinating blend of European missionary and Maori influences, with a Tudor-style exterior and an interior featuring intricate Maori carvings and woven panels. 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. Wander the museum’s public galleries at your leisure, or enjoy some time to explore Wellington’s shops and cafés on your own. (The city is known for its vibrant café culture.) 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 in the capital’s history and impressive architecture during a guided walk through the city, including the Parliamentary Precinct, the National Library, and Old St. Paul’s Church. Fly to Christchurch and continue to Akaroa, home to the largest Little Penguin colony on mainland New Zealand. After returning to Christchurch and settling in to our hotel, take a stroll along the river or explore the surrounding neighborhood on your own. Hotel Montreal (B,L)
Day 8 — Christchurch/Queenstown
Spend the morning with a local police officer who was on call during the earthquake that all but leveled Christchurch in 2011, getting a personal perspective on the city's resurgent cultural scene and its efforts to rebuild. Fly to Queenstown and head into the picturesque surrounding countryside, wandering the quaint streets of the historic gold-mining settlement of Arrowtown. Have dinner at a winery in the world’s southernmost wine-growing region, then 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)
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.
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.