See Christchurch from the back of a Harley and go punting on the River Avon... walk on Tasman Glacier... jetboat the Dart River and hike wilderness trails through what feels lik "Middle-earth"... dance at a Gatsby-style gala in Napier... discover Maori culture and a Hobbit village in Auckland... with adventures in world-class wine and cuisine along the way.
Immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring landscapes, cultures, and cuisines of New Zealand on this 14-day journey far off the beaten tracks. Your journey begins with two nights in Christchurch at a luxury hotel on the River Avon; tour the city sights by foot, bicycle, or motorcycle... go punting on the River Avon... Stay at a lodge inside Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park where the landscape of rugged peaks and glaciers calls you to its hiking trails; ride a plane and/or helicopter to Tasman Glacier; lose yourself in the spectacular night sky (the park is one of the best places in the world for stargazing)... Hike the Arrow River and pan for gold in Queenstown... ride a jet-boat on the Dart River, bicycle-ride, zip-line, play golf, or take a 4WD "safari" to landscapes featured in the Lord of the Rings movies... Stay two nights in the heart of New Zealand's winemaking region at Blenheim, where you'll visit a winery and a sheep farm, and cruise the fjord-like sunken valleys of the Marlborough Sounds... Discover the town of Napier, a treasure-trove of 1930s Art Deco architecture... Fly to Auckland on North Island for two nights at a waterfront luxury hotel, your base for exploring the city; tour the Auckland Museum with a private Maori dance performance... visit the artisan village of Matakana and more.
Tour begins 4:30 PM. A transfer is included from Christchurch Airport to the George Hotel in the heart of the city, overlooking Hagley Park and the Avon River. Tonight, join us for an exclusive welcome reception and dinner in the historic Riccarton House – a grand, restored 19th-century homestead.
Quake City and Sightseeing
Begin the day with a visit to Quake City, a museum that documents the disastrous earthquakes that struck Christchurch and the surrounding Canterbury region in September 2010 and February 2011; exhibits tell of heroism and loss, the science behind earthquakes, the efforts of emergency workers and volunteers who pitched in to help, and recovery projects still going on. Leave the museum and go punting on the River Avon; punting is among the city's English traditions, like cricket, rugby, gardening, and afternoon tea, and today a punter in Edwardian outfit will pole your flat-bottomed boat along the idyllic Avon from the boatsheds to the Botanical Gardens. Lunch at the historic Mona Vale homestead and peruse the park, then take your choice of afternoon adventures. See the city sights from the back of a Harley* (helmet, jacket, and gloves provided); take a walking tour of the city's amazing street art with an art historian; explore Hagley Park and the riverside on a bicycle* (manual or electric, as you prefer); or choose a guided tour of the famous Botanical Gardens, where you'll learn why Christchurch is called The Garden City. Spend the rest of the day and evening as you please.
Aoraki / Mt. Cook National Park
Today, drive to Aoraki / Mt. Cook National Park, a land of skyscraping peaks and expansive glaciers in the heart of South Island, a mountain-climbers' mecca; here, the famed mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary practiced his climbing skills on Mount Cook before tackling the conquest of Mt. Everest. After lunch, board a MAC boat* for a close-up look at Tasman Glacier. The 16 mile-long glacier is continually melting and calving, creating an ever-expanding lake with icebergs; cruise the lake and its eerie iceberg-islands to the towering walls of the glacier. Dine at your hotel inside the park this evening; tonight, you'll have a chance to go stargazing with an expert who will guide you through the constellations. The park is one of the few places in world officially recognized as an International Dark-Sky Reserve, and the night skies here are rare and spectacular.
From glaciers to Queenstown
Set off to explore the stunning Tasman Valley and the mountains and glaciers of the South Island from the air on an Ultimate Alpine Experience that combines flights in both a ski plane* and a helicopter*. Soar up to the valley and over glacial lakes and the breathtaking Southern Alps for an eagle-eye’s view of the astonishing Hochstetter Icefall and famous Mt. Cook. Touch down on Tasman Glacier for a stroll on its surface before returning to Mt. Cook Airport; during your flight back, your guide shares insights on the area’s geology, ecology and history. Depart on a scenic drive to Queenstown after lunch and arrive late afternoon at your luxury hotel on Lake Wakatipu, ringed by glacier-carved alpine mountains.
Nature trails and jet boats
Head to Glenorchy at the north end of Lake Wakatipu for an exhilarating jet boat ride* through Mt. Aspiring National Park along the Dart River; the park's strikingly diverse landscapes of alpine mountains, forests and valleys are laced with braided rivers and easy hiking trails where local guides will introduce you to the area's rich history and Maori legends. If you get the feeling that the beech forest along the Greenstone trail reminds you of a forest in Tolkien's Middle-earth, there's a good reason why: it was used as a location in Sir Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. Return by helicopter* back to Queenstown where the rest of the day and evening are yours.
Adventure Choices in Queenstown
You have a choice of excursions in Queenstown today: ride in a 4WD vehicle* through breathtaking scenery on a Lord of the Rings safari to locations used in the movies (including Minas Tirith, Misty Mountains, Argonath, the Ford of Bruinen and more), following an historic mining road along the Arrow River and try your hand at panning for gold. Alternatively, you can zipline* through the treetops of a beech forest for incredible scenic views; or enjoy a round of golf. Spend the afternoon as you please, then dine in Queenstown this evening.
Gardens & Marlborough wine tasting
Fly to Blenheim in the Marlborough region by private charter, then head to a working sheep farm where a garden tour with lunch (accompanied by popular New Zealand wines) is followed by sheepdog and sheep-shearing demonstrations. After checking into your hotel in Blenheim, enjoy dinner tonight at the Arbour Restaurant, boasting a relaxed environment, innovative cuisine and an extensive wine list; the menus showcase local producers and Marlborough stories.
Marlborough Sounds Cruise
Sail along the enchanting Marlborough Sounds, a vast network of sunken valleys, islands, secluded bays, and fjord-like vistas at the northern tip of South Island, on a private wine and green-lipped mussel cruise that includes lunch; the sheltered waters are home to dolphins, seals, gannets, and occasionally orcas. Return to the hotel for free time on your own, then stop in at the Wine Station where you can sample from a selection of 80 premium local wines. Dinner is at your leisure at the hotel in Blenheim this evening.
Vintage planes, then Art Deco treasures in Napier
Start your day with a tour of the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, a museum presenting an astonishing array of vintage aircraft from the world wars, including many World War I planes from filmmaker Sir Peter Jackson's personal collection; not merely displayed, the aircraft are featured in vivid dramatic scenes and settings designed by Jackson's film studios to show them in action. Following lunch in Blenheim, fly via private charter to Napier in Hawke's Bay on the east coast of North Island. Napier was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and rebuilt in the Art Deco style that was popular at the time; today the city is famous for its well-preserved 1930s architecture, and is known as the Art Deco Capital of New Zealand. A short documentary film will brief you on the 1931 earthquake and its aftermath; then see the city sights on foot and in a chauffeured vintage car with stories and commentary by local guides. Dine at leisure at your hotel this evening.
Te Mata Peak & a Gala 1930s evening
Drive this morning from Napier up to Te Mata Peak, 1300 feet above Hawke's Bay, with panoramic views of the city, the bay, and Heretaunga Plains. Drop in at Birdwoods Gallery, an art gallery sporting a sculpture garden, café, and old-fashioned sweet shop in a charming colonial cottage. Next, visit family-run Mangarara Farm for a tour of their sustainable farming methods and a barbecue lunch. Return to Art Deco Napier and get dressed up (in costume) for our exclusive evening event, a "Gangsters and Flappers Party" in the appropriately named Gatsby Room, featuring "Prohibition-era cocktails," dinner, and a swing band.
Adventures in Hawke's Bay
Sleep in this morning... or explore Napier on your own, then lunch at Elephant Hill, an eco-friendly wine estate and restaurant on the Te Awanga Coast in Hawke's Bay. This afternoon you have a choice of activities. Choose a “safari” to one of the largest and most accessible Gannet colonies in the world; a "Walk with the Ancestors" tour with a member of the Waimarama Tribe, who will walk you through a sacred site and share stories of his family's history and culture, and an insider's perspective on being a Maori in contemporary society; or a visit to three local craft breweries, where you'll meet some of the owners, taste their product, and learn about the meteoric rise of artisan ales and lagers in New Zealand. The rest of the day and evening are yours.
Napier to Auckland
This morning, take a private charter flight from Napier to the "City of Sails," Auckland, before enjoying lunch in Ponsonby. A visit this afternoon introduces you to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, one of New Zealand's most treasured institutions of history, culture, natural history and military history, known for its collections of Maori and Pacific treasures; the museum is also a war memorial for the Auckland province. Enjoy a private Maori performance and guided tour of the Maori exhibit. Early this evening, check into your luxury hotel, the Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour, located in the heart of Auckland's thriving waterfront. Tonight, enjoy dinner at the hotel.
A Choice of Auckland Sights
Take your pick of excursions this morning in Auckland, called the "City of Sails" for the abundance of yachts in its harbors. One is a City Highlights Tour that includes major highlights, bays and residential suburbs, and the Domain, the city’s oldest park. Another is a coastal drive to the artisan enclave of Matakana, where you'll visit an oyster farm and enjoy a tour and lunch at Brick Bay Winery and Sculpture Trail. A third invites you to check out the historic, beautiful Hamilton Gardens, which employs the unique concept of showcasing the cultural meaning and context of gardens over the past 4,000 years. Or you can explore Waitomo Caves, where thousands of glow worms light up the dark like a glorious constellation of stars. Spend free time on your own, then join us for a farewell reception and dinner tonight.
Tour ends: Auckland. Fly home anytime. A transfer is included from Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour to Auckland Airport. Allow three hours for flight check-in.