New Zealand is packed with wonders and while scouting out some itineraries, we came across this one operated by our preferred travel provider GAdventures in conjunction with National Geographic Journeys. On this itinerary, you'd spend 11 days exploring both North and South Islands of New Zealand, traveling by train, gondola, boat, and plane. You also get to connect with locals in artsy beach towns, walk through an ancient rainforest, and learn about local legends and cuisine from the Maori.
The trip starts in Auckland, a fantastic city with so much to see and do. In fact, you might even want to arrive a few days early to recover from jetlag and explore on your own. If you do arrive early, you could opt-in to your adventure by adding the 'Auckland Sailing: America's Cup Experience' extra to your tour. Work with a crew to sail around Auckland's Waitemata Harbour on a competitive yacht, and take in the stunning views. Other options if you arrive a bit early could include the Hobbiton Movie Set or local wineries. Unless you hateses hobbitses, we think this is a no-brainer.
On day two, you'll catch a ferry to Waiheke Island and visit two local wineries to learn more about New Zealand's burgeoning wine industry and the history of wine production in the country – while sampling some of the local blends, of course! Later, enjoy a short orientation walk and some free time to explore the city. If you like, you could also visit the Maritime Museum to learn more about New Zealand’s relationship with the sea. Be inspired by the country's most celebrated mariner, Sir Peter Blake, and his many accomplishments, and see maritime art that speaks to the sentiment of a nautical nation.
On day three, you'll drive a scenic route, visiting an eel farm which focuses on developing sustainable aquaculture. Enjoy lunch, featuring food which has been sustainably produced on the farm. Then, continue to the artsy town of Raglan, stopping at Bridal Veil Falls en route, and enjoy a cruise on the harbor. (Or, rather, harbour. No need to bring an extra "u." They've got plenty.) From your short cruise, you'll have stunning views of ancient limestone rock formations and local wildlife. Keep an eye out for dolphins and (fingers crossed!) whales.
Day four starts with a drive to Rotorua, stopping for an excursion at Waitomo Caves where you'll take a boat ride through the cave and see thousands of flickering glowworms lighting up the walls. Just take a look at this!
This evening visit Tamaki Maori Village and enjoy a private welcome and talk from a “Kaumātua” (an elder in Māori society). After, enjoy an extravagant performance about local myths, and legends while dining on traditional Hangi cuisine.
Rotorua sits over an active volcano with bubbling mud pits and multi-colored pools in different areas around the town. This is a fascinating region with Maori history and culture tied directly to the geothermal aspects of the land. Opt to relax in one of the hot pools fed by water coming directly from the natural springs.
Then, we'll hop a quick flight to Christchurch, where we'll enjoy one of the world’s great scenic train trips on the TranzAlpine train, crossing the scenic Southern Alps to New Zealand's glacier region. Disembark and finish the journey over the highest pass in the Southern Alps in a private vehicle before transferring to a beautiful rainforest lodge, our home for two nights.
In Franz Josef, options for fun activities are plentiful. Choose from a helicopter hike, ice walking on the glacier, or soaking in the hot pools amongst the stunning scenery. Opt for various hiking adventures in the area, the most popular being trekking to view Franz Josef glacier. If relaxing is more your style, there are shorter day hikes and bush walks or local hot pools to take a dip. Kayaking, horseback riding, ATV rides along ancient glacial pathways--you won't be bored.
So, now we're at day eight, when we travel through the rugged rainforest along the west coast to Queenstown. We get an early start to travel to the picturesque Lake Matheson. When the weather is right, you can get a great photo of the Southern Alps reflected in the lake. Follow the wild West Coast Road, through the rainforest before stopping for some short walks and waterfall visits. When we arrive in Queenstown, we'll enjoy an evening gondola ride with spectacular views of the city.
Day nine is incredible. Embark on an amazing wilderness cruise through Fiordland National Park. Led by onboard naturalist guides we have the chance to see dolphins, fur seals, birds and penguins and an option to kayak.
Fiordland National Park, one of the most untouched, remote places in the world. Depending on the departure, the cruise will be in either Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound – two of the most stunning regions within the park. Marvel at the steep cliff walls and cascading waterfalls, and keep an eye out for area wildlife: dolphins, penguins, seals, and a variety of birds. Want to get closer to the water? Feel free to use one of the boats' sea kayaks to explore the area more in-depth.
In the evening, enjoy a delicious three-course buffet dinner prepared by our onboard chef and served in the dining saloon. Mingle with fellow travelers, savor some of the fine wines at our licensed bar (additional price) and if the skies are clear in the evening, spend some time on the upper deck gazing at the stars. (Of course, note that the itinerary for this day varies in the winter, between May and September)
As the tour winds up, we enjoy morning wildlife viewing along the fiord as we cruise back to port, then return to Queenstown for the final night. Opt for a farewell dinner with your group.
Of course, if you are interested in the countless adrenaline-packed activities in the town (known as the "adventure capital of the world," we can book additional nights for you in Queenstown. Jet boating, bungee jumping, mountain biking, and skydiving are just some of the activities available.
This itinerary includes lots of National Geographic Journeys exclusives, and while you might think that it would break the bank, it's actually surprisingly affordable. Yeah. I can hear you now. "Define affordable." Okay. All this starts at $3199 per person, for eleven days (not including air), with so much included, you'd never be able to pull it together yourself at that price. Plus, you've got the expert guide taking care of you and ensuring that you don't miss an incredible moment of your journey.