Be amazed by the splendor of New Zealand on a 15-day guided tour. So many adventures to be had - from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South. Venture down into the depths of a glowworm grotto, experience the fun and frivolity of a sing-along on a cruise in Queenstown, then fall asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the beach outside your hotel in Punakaiki.
After clearing customs and immigrations and claiming your bags, you will be transferred from the airport to your Auckland hotel in your private car. After you check-in, you can head out and explore Auckland. Take a walk down Queen Street, to the main shopping precinct by the Viaduct Harbour and the Auckland Waterfront region. This recently developed area of central Auckland has cafes and restaurants galore. Take a seat in the sunshine, enjoy a glass of one of New Zealand's famous Sauvignon Blancs and watch the maritime activity on Waitemata Harbour. Tonight's welcome reception and 'Highlight Dinner' is at The Langham. Your personal degustation menu is made from the freshest, quality ingredients, including mouth-watering seafood and desserts. Meet your fellow passengers and your AAT Kings Travel Director. (B, HD)
The Langham Auckland
A city sights tour will start your morning in Auckland. Travel around the waterfront from central city out to Mission Bay. Prepare your camera for the stop at Bastion Point and the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial, as you will get stunning shots of Auckland, the North Shore and the Waitemata Harbour. After leaving Auckland, you will follow the meandering trail of the Waikato River to Waitomo Caves. Tour the amazing limestone caverns and sail through the still waters of the sparkling Glow Worm Grotto. From Waitomo to Rotorua you will venture through the King Country region which was at the center of the New Zealand Wars in the 1860s. On arrival in Rotorua an orientation tour takes in views of Lake Rotorua.
Tonight, an evening of culture, history and scrumptious food awaits you at the Tamaki Family Marae. Wander through the ancient forest village and learn about Maori art forms and traditions, followed by a concert featuring local performers. Experience an authentic Maori Hangi meal, steamed underground in the traditional way. (B, HD)
Millennium Hotel, Rotorua, 2 nights
Today, choose one from a range of Included Choice sightseeing experiences. You have the option to join the Kiwi Encounter at Rainbow Springs Nature Park, discover Maori culture at Te Puia Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, see the Agrodome Farm Show, relax in the seclusion of your own hot mineral pool or unwind with a facial treatment in the Lake Spa Retreat at the Polynesian Spa. Maybe ride the amphibious Rotorua Duck or take a scenic flight out over Lake Rotorua for a bird's eye view of the region. You may even want to stop at the top of Mt Tarawera, the site of the largest eruption in New Zealand's living memory! Your Travel Director will assist you in booking all of your chosen Included Choice experiences. (B)
Tonight you have the option of staying at your hotel or on a nearby farm. (Those that choose not to do this option will spend the night at the Millennium Hotel, Rotorua.
OPTIONAL: A warm welcome awaits you on your New Zealand rural homestay and your hosts will provide you with the wonderful Kiwi hospitality that really makes you feel 'at home'. Enjoy dinner and breakfast, a tour to introduce you to their way of life and comfortable accommodation in their home or cottages. You may choose to meet the animals, which may include sheep, cows, deer and many others, or simply relax and enjoy the company of your hosts and the scenic surroundings.
Say Haere Ra (goodbye) to Rotorua this morning and journey out through pine forests and farmland to a little hidden spot, the turquoise torrent of rapids known as Huka Falls. The road ahead unfolds in a broad panorama of Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake. The stunningly blue fresh water of Lake Taupo is home to some of the best trout fishing in the world. You will then journey south over the Central Plateau, New Zealand's main volcanic area. In a country of contrasts, perhaps nothing is more striking than the three peaks of Tongariro National Park rising starkly from the surrounding plateau of tussock and near-desert. Pass through a number of small towns along the road to Wellington, each with their own personality and quirks. Probably the quirkiest of all would have to be Taihape….the self-proclaimed gumboot capital of the world.
This afternoon, 'You're invited' to Shenandoah for a unique experience. The historic villa's owners, Simon and Claudia, will show you around their property, which includes a unique private collection of Harley Davidson motorcycles. Enjoy afternoon tea in their garden then take a short tour to see the local wildlife including friendly Highland cows. Continue along the Kapiti Coast to Wellington. Tonight dinner with wine is included at our hotel. (B, AT, D)
James Cook Grand Chancellor, Wellington
Why not discover more of Wellington this morning. There's time to visit the Parliament buildings and the Beehive, home to New Zealand's politicians.
Later, you'll visit Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand and explore the fascinating exhibits at your leisure, including their unique Marae (Meeting House). Indulge in Wellington's renowned coffee culture, take a walk along Lambton Quay or join a tour out to Weta Studio in Miramar, home to the special effects wizards behind Sir Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. This afternoon, we cruise the Cook Strait into tranquil Queen Charlotte Sound. The village of Picton is next, then it's on to Blenheim. Tonight, enjoy a 5-course 'Highlight Dinner' prepared from local produce and matched with wines of the Marlborough region, including selections from Villa Maria and Saint Clair wineries. (B, HD)
Scenic Hotel Marlborough, Blenheim
Today you will get the opportunity to spend some time observing some pretty special wildlife. Get up close and personal with New Zealand fur seals at Ohau Point, and watch as they frolic and play in the tidal currents, and sun themselves on the rocks. Or, take a helicopter flight out of Kaikoura (optional experience – at your own expense) and coast out over the Pacific Ocean for whale and dolphin viewing. If a helicopter flight is not your style, why not wander down the main street, stop in at one of many local eateries and sample a Kiwi seafood delight - crayfish. There is no way to avoid these sea creatures… even the town's name reflects an abundance of crustaceans – 'kai' in Maori means food and 'koura' means crayfish. This afternoon's journey follows the Pacific Ocean coastline where roaring sea meets enormous bush-clad mountains. As the mountains turn to rolling hills and lush river flats, you will travel across the Northern Canterbury Plains and into Christchurch. Tonight, speak with your Travel Director about dining recommendations in Christchurch's inner city. (B)
This morning you may wish to take a brief walk around the city center and Cathedral Square before departure. See how Christchurch is rebuilding after the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, and pop into the Transitional Cathedral in Latimer Square, the temporary home of the ChristChurch Cathedral. It is the world's only cathedral made substantially of cardboard! After a Christchurch city sights tour, we travel over the patchwork countryside of the Canterbury Plains to soak up some spectacular sightseeing. 'You're invited' to Morelea Farm, a typical working sheep farm, where you'll get a taste of traditional New Zealand country life. You'll be welcomed into the home of Angie and Stan Taylor and their 240 hectare garden. You'll have the chance to experience sheep shearing and farming demonstrations before enjoying a BBQ lunch, and wait until you try Angie's famous pavlova dessert! Listen to the family's story of growing up in rural New Zealand and their challenges of farming in the foothills of New Zealand's Southern Alps. Sweeping views across the turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo framed by a backdrop of rugged hills and snow-capped mountains provide stunning alpine photography opportunities. You will visit the little stone-hewn Church of the Good Shepherd, and stop for a quick photo with the bronze statue of a collie dog, the touching tribute to the sheepdogs which helped develop the Mackenzie Country. You may want to take in Mount Cook National Park from the air this afternoon, on a scenic flight out over New Zealand's highest peak, the Southern Alps and on to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers (optional experience – at your own expense). Your day finishes in the heart of the Mackenzie Country in Twizel. Tonight, enjoy dinner at your hotel. (B, YL, D)
MacKenzie Country Hotel, Twizel
Your day starts with a journey along the Waitaki River, and a photo stop at the Waitaki Hydro Power Scheme and Benmore Dam. The Waitaki River marks the boundary between the regions of Canterbury and Otago, and with its large catchment it is an ideal source of hydro-electric power. The Benmore Dam holds back New Zealand's largest artificial lake, and when the Benmore Power Station was opened in 1965 it was the largest power station in New Zealand. Even today, it is still the second largest, and generates enough electricity each year for about 298,000 average New Zealand homes. From the Waitaki Valley, you will then travel through to the township of Oamaru, with its stately tree-lined streets and its famous white limestone buildings. As well as shipping limestone to the bigger cities of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin for construction of their Town Halls and various churches, Oamaru locals made sure that their own town represented the best in limestone building the mid-late 1800's had to offer. This afternoon you will make your way down to the Southernmost New Zealand city, Dunedin. With the rest of your free afternoon you may wish to take part in an optional excursion to see more of the region. Take a Wildlife Cruise out to Otago Peninsula, visit the Speights Brewery – a New Zealand institution or ride the historic Taieri Gorge Railway. Tonight, enjoy dinner at your hotel. (B, D)
Scenic Hotel Southern Cross, Dunedin
This morning, choose one from a range of Included Choice sightseeing experiences. You have the option to tour Larnach Castle, New Zealand's only castle, ride the historic Taieri Gorge Railway or take the Monarch Wildlife Cruise. Or, choose a tour of Cadbury World or Speight's Brewery. Later, travel across farming land to the village of Te Anau, on the shores of Lake Te Anau, the South Island's largest lake. This afternoon travel through lush green pastures, crossing sheep-filled farming land. New Zealand is internationally known for its sheep farming, and these are sights many visitors to this country recognize as typically 'New Zealand'. You are sure to find the perfect sheep photo here! As our drive continues, the rolling, grassy hills once again turn back into heavily forested, rugged mountains, and you meander your way into the Fiordland National Park to the South Island's biggest lake and the town of Te Anau. Tonight, enjoy dinner at your hotel. (B, D)
Distinction Hotel and Villas, Te Anau
After leaving Te Anau, we will journey 119km through the Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound, one of the most scenic roads in the world. Travel through native rainforests, beech forests, alluvial flats and meadows. We visit Mirror Lakes where, as the name suggests, you can see the stunning mountain scenery perfectly reflected in the waters of the lakes. Then on to the Homer Tunnel, man's attempt to master the sheer rocky ranges, still left rough-hewn around the edges. As we emerge out the other side of the tunnel, we are presented with one of the world's most dramatic alpine drives, down through the Cleddau Valley. Time to rest at the Chasm, where the roaring Cleddau River has carved its way through solid rock, and then it's on to Milford Sound, where you will cruise the waters of this natural wonder. Your cruise meanders down the sound, taking in the Bowen and Stirling Falls as these plummet from glacial hanging valleys sharply into the sea, and the sheer pinnacle of Mitre Peak, rising from the deep waters of the fiord. From the spectacular scenes of Milford Sound, you will travel on to the beautiful sights of Queenstown. An orientation tour skirting around the shores of Lake Wakatipu, takes you into the city center. Tonight you may want to take a gondola up Bob's Peak, and dine at the Skyline Restaurant, Stratosfare, (optional experience – at your own expense) overlooking Queenstown – the ultimate way to end a highlight day! (B)
Millennium Hotel, Queenstown, 2 nights
Today choose one from a range of Included Choice sightseeing experiences. You have the option to ride the Shotover Jet, join a wine tour, play 9 holes of golf or take the gondola to the Skyline Restaurant for dinner. Perhaps take a 4WD minibus through Skippers Canyon, relax with a spa treatment at Millbrook Resort or go horse riding. This evening cruise across Lake Wakatipu aboard the TSS Earnslaw to Walter Peak High Country Farm for a gourmet barbecue 'Highlight Dinner' at the Colonel's Homestead. An entertaining farm show provides a glimpse into high-country farm life. Why not join in a sing-a-long on your way back to Queenstown? (B, HD)
This morning, you will leave the alpine wonderland of Queenstown behind, and begin the passage through Central Otago to Westland. On the way out of the Queenstown region, we visit the faithfully restored gold mining settlement of Arrowtown. As you amble down the beautiful tree-lined avenues, past the 19th century wooden buildings, you will feel like you have stepped into a movie set. From here travel to Cromwell, situated next to the sparkling pristine waters of Lake Dunstan. Sample a local orchard for a taste of some of the town's delicious stone fruit. It is a day of gorgeous lakes, as after Dunstan, you will travel further into Central Otago and view the vivid blue waters of Lake Hawea, followed by Lake Wanaka, where the shoreline is charmingly lined by poplars and willows. Following an ancient greenstone trail, you will travel over Haast Pass, marking a change from the alpine scenery of the Southern Lakes, to the rainforest marvel of the wild West Coast. View the sheer drop of Thunder Creek Falls and the grand sight of Mt Hooker, flanked on three sides by extensive glaciers. Our final destination for today is the extraordinary rivers of ice that make up Franz Josef Glacier. You may want to get up close and personal with the glaciers on a helicopter flight. Your flight will hover over the snow face, and may land high up in the valley so that you can walk across the ice fall – subject to weather conditions (optional experience – at your own expense). Tonight, enjoy dinner at your hotel. (B, D)
Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier (Douglas Wing), Franz Josef
It's time for an exhilarating adventure among temperate rainforest giants on the West Coast Treetop Walkway. Explore Franz Josef Glacier – take a scenic flight or a glacier hike (both at your own expense). Then you'll depart for Hokitika, home of the native greenstone (jade) for a factory visit and jewelry demonstration. Later, travel to Punakaiki to view the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. You'll spend the night in an eco-friendly resort, right on the waterfront. This evening enjoy dinner with wine at your hotel, while watching the surf thundering at your doorstep! (B, D)
Punakaiki Resort, Punakaiki
Travel to the alpine village of Arthur's Pass and board the TranzAlpine. This spectacular train journey dates back to 1914, and is rated as one of the world's most scenic train trips. The train forges through tunnels and over viaducts with panoramic views of snow-capped peaks, icy rivers, beech forests, gorges and river valleys. Join your Travel Director this evening for a farewell dinner with wine. (B, FD)
Your holiday concludes this morning after breakfast. You'll be transferred by private car to Christchurch Airport for your onward flight. (B)