Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!
Travel to New Zealand, where hot springs contrast with icy glaciers and snowcapped peaks pierce the sky. There’s no better way to experience this beauty than in the pure open air—OAT’s New Zealand adventure helps you do just that. We'll immerse ourselves in this magnificent setting from North Island to South, as we discover treasures as distinct as they are unforgettable. Along the way, we’ll experience firsthand the Kiwi spirit of adventure as only small group travel allows.
You depart today on your flight to New Zealand.
You continue your flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, losing one day en route as you cross the International Date Line. You regain this day when you fly back to the U.S. at the end of the trip.
Your OAT Representative greets you at the Auckland Airport on New Zealand’s North Island and transfers with you to our hotel. We'll also be joined by fellow travelers who took our optional pre-trip extension, New Zealand's Bay of Islands. Later, we meet our Trip Leader who will lead us on an orientation walk, then we'll transfer to a local restaurant for a Welcome Dinner.
This morning, we’ll embark on a Tamaki Hikoi—a walking tour led by a Maori guide from the Ngati Whatua tribe, who provides a uniquely Maori perspective. During this fascinating tour, we’ll learn about the early settlement of New Zealand, ancient tribal traditions, and controversial issues confronting modern-day Maori.
We return to our hotel by mid-afternoon. Enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure. You can visit the War Memorial Museum, which houses the largest collection of Polynesian artifacts in the world, and a volcano exhibit that explores these wondrous landscapes that have existed for more than 250,000 years. Auckland also has many beautiful parks, trendy restaurants, and a revitalized waterfront area that contains America's Cup Village for visitors to enjoy. Dinner is on your own tonight.
After breakfast, we drive to Rotorua. Our journey takes us through lush green pasturelands in the center of the North Island.
We stop at a local farm to enjoy a Home-Hosted Lunch and visit with our hosts.
We continue on to Rotorua, arriving before dinner. Rotorua is still a center for the Maori culture. It’s believed that New Zealand’s Maori people settled on North Island about a thousand years ago, and they have held on firmly to their identity and traditions. Nearly a quarter of a million indigenous Maori still maintain their unique lifestyle and culture, adding to the rich heritage of New Zealand.
Relax this evening over an included dinner at our hotel.
Rotorua is often called a thermal wonderland because of its volcanic activity. The region is replete with bubbling mud pools, geothermal geysers, and steam vents—a place where it's not at all unusual to spot the occasional small vapor stream rising from a crack in the pavement. Here, on the Volcanic Plateau, it simply comes with the territory.
After breakfast, we transfer overland to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. This relatively young geothermal site was created by nearby Mount Tarawera’s last eruption in 1886. We take a leisurely hike, descending into the lush valley of green vegetation, pink silica terraces, and blue waters. We’ll discover the Inferno Crater, filled with brilliant turquoise water, and Frying Pan Lake, the world’s largest hot spring. We’ll also embark on a cruise of Lake Rotomahana, where our captain explains more about the history of Rotorua and shows us more geothermal sites that aren’t accessible by land.
This afternoon, we’ll experience A Day in the Life of a Murupara community—many of whom are of Maori heritage. We’ll begin by sharing a Home-Hosted Lunch with a local family, where we’ll learn about daily life. Then, we’ll visit with teachers and students at a school supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation (when in session). The men in our group can learn the "Haka" war dance with the boys, while the women will learn about traditional girls' activities from the younger girls. After leaving the school, we'll stroll the town’s main street, where our Trip Leader will provide insight into the struggles faced by those living in the town, which range from the damaging effects of drugs and alcohol to widespread unemployment.
But none of these struggles can dampen the pride that the Murupara have for their heritage. We’ll be taken to a location off the beaten path to view rare Maori rock art. And at the Marae (a Maori meeting place), we’ll be welcomed in traditional Maori fashion as we learn about community activities such as cooking and basket-weaving, and even participate in a traditional Maori dance.
Your evening is at leisure and dinner is on your own.
Today, we fly to Queenstown. Depending on your departure time (which is subject to change) you may have a chance to explore more of Rotorua before heading to the airport.
Via Christchurch, you'll arrive in Queenstown where you'll be transferred to your hotel. Dinner is included tonight.
We rise early this morning for a full day of adventure. Today we travel to Milford Sound—dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World" by Rudyard Kipling—situated in the heart of Fiordland National Park.
Dense forests, shimmering Lake Te Anau, and the Homer Tunnel, a 1.2-kilometer engineering wonder drilled through pure rock, mark our route. In the early afternoon, we'll board our tour ship for an unforgettable cruise of Milford Sound. We'll marvel at towering cliffs and the stunning perfect cone of Mitre Peak, and view thundering waterfalls, impressive beech forests, and unique flora and fauna as we cruise along the sound's famous fjords. A picnic lunch is included onboard.
We end our cruise in the late afternoon and return to our hotel. Dinner is on your own this evening.
Spend today at leisure, or join a half-day optional tour for a jet-boat ride on the Dart River. We begin by traveling along the shores of Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy, a frontier town at the base of the Southern Alps. Here we switch to 4x4 vehicles for a journey through forests with huge snowcapped mountain backdrops made internationally famous by movies such as The Lord of the Rings. When the road comes to an end, we take a short walk through the forest and board our jet-boat. We head upstream on the Dart River and enjoy spectacular views in an area so remote that few ever get a chance to experience it. The historic Dart River Valley has fascinated and drawn human explorers for many centuries. On the downriver journey, our driver will demonstrate the maneuverability of the New Zealand-designed jet-boat and show you how this unique craft can spin and turn.
After returning to Glenorchy we ride back to Arrowtown. This evening, you are free to explore its quaint streets and discover a local eatery on your own.
We start the day with breakfast at our hotel and then we depart Arrowtown. En route, we’ll stop to discover some of New Zealand’s famous wines and learn about the country’s fine vineyards. We then travel over the Haast Pass to the village of Fox Glacier. This trip is the only way to see and experience the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The Haast Pass takes its name from the geologist Sir Julius Von Haast, who incredibly explored the region on foot. The pass takes you across the longest single-lane bridge in New Zealand and on across the Southern Alps from Wanaka District to Haast on the West Coast. This remains a rugged, isolated, and harsh terrain, with remote farmhouses and lonely settlements tucked into the hillsides.
After a stop for lunch, we continue along the west coast before arriving at our hotel by late afternoon. We have dinner at the hotel with the rest of the evening at your leisure.
This morning, if weather permits, you may choose to take in the region from a unique vantage point—the air—on an optional helicopter flight excursion. You’ll enjoy a bird's-eye view of the Mount Cook region, with its pristine alpine scenery and the Franz Josef Glacier.
We don’t usually think of glacial movement as something we can watch “in action.” In general, a snail’s pace is considered faster. But then, most of us have never had the chance to experience the Mario Andretti of glaciers—Franz Josef Glacier. This fast-moving mass of ice is the centerpiece of Westland National Park, a section of the UNESCO World Heritage Park on New Zealand’s South Island.
Today, after breakfast, we journey to neighboring Franz Josef Glacier Valley and take a tour of the Franz Josef Glacier with an expert naturalist guide. Located about 75 miles north of Haast, Franz Josef, as the locals refer to the glacier, is a world-famous site made all the more interesting by its recent history. After steadily advancing down the valley since 1982—at the astonishing rate of about 17 feet per week—the Franz Josef Glacier reversed course in 2003 before heading back down-valley again. The glacier has advanced to the point where the glistening ice can be seen from the rooftops of Franz Josef township. As you tour near the glacier, look back toward the ocean where several lines of low hills stand between the glacier and the water, moraines left by previous advances of the glacier.
And because glaciers are among the planet’s key indicators of global warming, it’s no wonder scientists pay special attention to the action of Franz Josef. For climatologists and geologists (and visitors like us) this glacier is a marvel to study and learn about. We’ll view the glacier from ground level and learn about its geology and history from a knowledgeable guide.
After departing Franz Josef, we stop at Ross, a pretty west coast town, surrounded by rain forest and sandwiched between the Southern Alps and the beautiful windswept beaches of the Tasman Sea. There will be time for an independent lunch and a leisurely stroll.
After lunch, we depart for Greymouth, with a stop along the way at Hokitika, a small farming community with a rich history. It boomed in the 1860s with the gold rush, and was, at that time, the busiest port in the country. A sandbar at the mouth of the Hokitika River proved a dangerous impediment, claiming many ships and lives, but still the port bustled and was a major port of entry during the gold rushes of the 1860s and 1870s. The West Coast Historical Museum on Tancred Street offers a look into this bygone era.
We arrive in Greymouth, the major town on New Zealand’s west coast, in time for dinner at our hotel. You are at your leisure this evening.
In the morning, we have breakfast and then depart for a scenic drive to Reefton. On August 4, 1888, Reefton was the first town in the southern hemisphere to have a public supply of electricity.
In Reefton, we take the "Historic Reefton" guided tour. It provides a good snapshot of this town full of historic buildings such as the courthouse, Masonic Lodge, School of Mines, and the Blacks Point Museum. Reefton was named for its quartz reefs, and was once a focal point for both gold and coal exploration. Today, relics of gold and coal mining are found throughout the area. We even enjoy morning tea as miners once did, in a slab hut.
We leave Reefton after lunch and travel through the dramatic gorge of the Buller River and to the scenic west coast. We continue to Tauranga Bay to observe the fur seals, which flourish along the rocky shore. The fur seal is the most common species of seal found in New Zealand, thousands being found on the miles of exposed, rocky coastlines. The colony here is one of the most accessible in the country.
Next, we visit the Punakaiki Blowholes and Pancake Rocks. If Franz Josef Glacier is an example of geologic sculpture in progress, then the Punakaiki Blowholes and Pancake Rocks are remarkable finished products.
Stacked at the end of Paparoa National Park's Dolomite Point on the northwest side of New Zealand's South Island, the bizarre formation known as Pancake Rocks represents more than 30 million years of geological history. When a considerable portion of New Zealand was still underwater, sediment from seashell beds formed hard Ogliocene limestone. Through a fairly common process known as stylobedding, the limestone and softer mudstone were deposited in alternating layers over millions of years, creating an underwater land mass.
Then the real action began. Following a period of dramatic uplifting caused by the shifting of tectonic plates, these masses were thrust above the ocean's surface to be exposed now to wind, waves and weather. Over time, the elements have disproportionately eroded the softer mudstone to leave behind the "pancake stacks" we see today. This strange sight of a pile of rocks that appears to be petrified pancakes is really a series of stratified limestone formations eroded over thousands of years into shapes that resemble a neat stack. These same forces also carved out the undersea caverns and blowholes that at high tide or during westerly storms create a breathtaking and unforgettable spectacle of dazzling sea spray. Take a short and easy walk from the main road to see these geologic wonders up close.
We arrive back in Greymouth in the evening. Dinner tonight is on your own.
After breakfast at our hotel, we experience another colorful element of New Zealand life with a visit to Flock Hill, a working sheep station (ranch) in the Southern Alps. Here, we’ll see the impressive teamwork of sheepdogs and sheep, and enjoy a hearty farm lunch. Afterward, we’ll travel overland to Christchurch, a departure point for Antarctic expeditions. Later in the day, we’ll fly from to Wellington, New Zealand’s cosmopolitan capital. Enjoy an evening at leisure and dinner on your own.
After breakfast we’ll embark on a half-day city tour of Wellington. This bustling capital city, which locals affectionately call “Welly,” is situated at the crossroads of the two islands, on North Island just across the Cook Strait from South Island. Wellington offers an energetic, big-city feel and a beautiful harbor surrounded by steep hills. A true walking city, downtown Wellington packs a lot into a small area. It is divided into four quarters. Willis Street and Lambton Quay are the main business and commercial districts. Courtenay Place and Cuba Quarter are the hubs for entertainment and nightlife, where we’ll find a dynamic cultural scene and a variety of bars and restaurants.
After lunch on your own, the remainder of the day is free for you to make your own discoveries. You can take a cable car to the Botanical Gardens, where the exhibits of flora and fauna span 67 acres; visit the Museum of City & Sea (free of charge); or take a relaxing stroll along the waterfront. Dinner is on your own this evening.
After breakfast, we’ll walk to Te Papa Tongarewa, the National Museum of New Zealand, where we’ll enjoy a guided tour. This innovative museum offers a variety of exhibits on the country’s art, history, natural environment, and Maori culture. We’ll also learn how this museum focuses on education about community development and cross-cultural interaction.
Enjoy an afternoon at leisure to further explore Wellington. Perhaps you’ll visit bohemian Cuba Street and browse eclectic shops and art galleries. Or take part in Wellington’s popular café culture by relaxing and people-watching at one of the many coffee shops. We’ll enjoy a Farewell Dinner together tonight.
Later this morning, we have breakfast and then check out of the hotel. We then transfer to the airport for your flight home, or, if you are taking the Australia's Great Barrier Reef & Sydney post-trip extension, to Sydney, Australia.