Print

Day by Day Itinerary

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.

Auckland Wellington Expand All
  • hidden

    You depart today on your flight to New Zealand.

  • hidden

    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.

  • hidden

    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.

  • hidden

    This morning, we’ll embark on a Host Tribe Native Walk—a walking tour led by a Maori guide. 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 the America's Cup Village for visitors to enjoy. Dinner is on your own tonight.

  • hidden

    Encounter Maori traditions and culture during a trip to New Zealand

    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 Maori culture. It’s believed that New Zealand’s Maori people settled on the 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.

  • hidden

    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 immerse ourselves in a New Zealand community—and enjoy a unique opportunity to learn about daily life in this region—with a visit to the town of Murupara. Many of its residents are of Maori heritage, which we'll learn more about as we share a Home-Hosted Lunch with a local family. Then we’ll visit with teachers and students at a school supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation (when in session). Activities will vary on every visit, ranging from experiencing a "Haka" war dance to learning to sing traditional Maori songs.

    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—such as the damaging effects of drugs and alcohol, to high levels of unemployment. Despite these hardships, the Maori community takes great pride in their heritage, and we'll learn how local leaders are working to revitalize their town, and how OAT travelers have helped as well, starting with schools supported by Grand Circle Foundation.

    Your evening is at leisure and dinner is on your own.

  • hidden

    Encounter students at a local school near Rotorua

    Today we fly to Queenstown and travel to Arrowtown, where the main street has been faithfully reconstructed with wooden buildings that evoke a bygone era. The town today is charming and picturesque with some of the best shops in the country—selling popular products like jewelry, gold nuggets, jade, and woolen goods.

    Dinner this evening is included at a local restaurant.

  • hidden

    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.

  • hidden

    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.

  • hidden

    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.

  • hidden

    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 and Fox Glaciers.

    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 valley 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 and is now in a slow retreat. 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.

  • hidden

    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.

  • hidden

    Discover Flock Hill Sheep Station and rural farm life in New Zealand

    After breakfast at our hotel, we experience rural 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.

    Afterward, we'll travel overland to Christchurch with a stop for lunch en route. Christchurch is a departure point for Antarctic expeditions, and we'll have a short visit to the city's Antarctic Center to view fascinating exhibits about the white continent. Later in the day, we fly to Wellington, New Zealand’s cosmopolitan capital, where we have the evening at leisure and you get dinner on your own.

  • hidden

    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.

  • hidden

    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.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:

    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 Port Douglas and Sydney, Australia.

Extensions

Traveler Reviews

There's no better way to learn what a trip is like than from the firsthand experiences of your fellow travelers, and our Traveler Reviews are the real deal—unbiased and unedited—giving you an honest appraisal of the experiences that await you on this trip.

Have you been on this trip? Share Your Thoughts, Sign In

Please note: If you have taken this trip, please log into your My Account & return to this page. You will be prompted to post your review. Reviews are limited to 10,000 characters. Due to our moderation process, please allow up to 72 hours for your review to appear.

Striving for Excellence

Read about our goals >

Our #1 commitment is delivering the best travel experience at the best value, so we take feedback from our travelers seriously as we strive to improve what we do. And one of the best ways for us to measure how travelers have rated our trips—including their experiences and the value we offer—is from our post-trip surveys, sent in by travelers.

Ratings based on percentage of travelers who rated these features "Excellent".

Overall Trip Excellence
87%
Trip Leader Excellence
98%
loading reviews

Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 6 locations in 14 days with one 1-night stay
  • International flights from Los Angeles to Auckland depart around midnight, losing one day en route as you cross the International Date Line, regained on the return trip, and internal flights require early wake ups
  • Airport transfers in Auckland and Wellington take approximately 1 hour

Physical Requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility aids
  • You must be able to walk 2-3 miles unassisted and participate in 4-6 hours of physical activities each day
  • Agility and balance are required for embarking boats in Milford Sound

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 40-80°F depending on time of year
  • New Zealand’s climate is mostly temperate: December-February are the warmest months, May-September are the coolest months; Weather conditions can change quickly

Terrain

  • We’ll travel over city streets on foot, with occasional uphill walks along uneven glacial and rocky mountain terrain

Transportation

  • Travel by 19-passenger coach and 20-150 passenger boats
  • 4 overland drives 5-8 hours long; 2 internal flights

Accommodations & Facilities

  • Hotel rooms are smaller than U.S. and offer simple amenities
  • All accommodations feature private bathrooms

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary:

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • New Zealand: No visa required.
  • Australia (optional extension): Visa required.

Travelers who are booked on this adventure will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your adventure, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Trip Leaders and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • CityLife Auckland Hotel

    Auckland, New Zealand

    The CityLife Auckland Hotel is conveniently located in Auckland's CBD (Central Business District), close to the city’s best restaurants, bars, and attractions including the Sky Tower and Ferry Terminal. The hotel features an on-site restaurant and bar and an indoor swimming pool. Each of the air-conditioned rooms features Internet access, telephone, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, iron and ironing board, and a private bath with hair dryer.

  • Rydges Rotorua

    Rotorua, New Zealand

    Offering panoramic views of Lake Rotorua and Mokoia Island, Rydges Rotorua is located within walking distance of downtown. Guests have access to on-site amenities including a gymnasium, thermally heated rooftop pool and sauna, and laundry. The hotel features 135 rooms, each with a private balcony, refrigerator, and hair dryer.

  • Millbrook Resort

    Queenstown, New Zealand

    The contemporary Millbrook Resort is set on a beautiful golf course designed by famous New Zealand golfer Bob Charles. The resort offers three restaurants, a health spa, and indoor pool. Set amidst pretty country gardens, the 170 quaint and cozy rooms feature a TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath.

  • Distinction Hotel Fox Glacier

    Fox Glacier, New Zealand

    Located in the small township of Fox Glacier, the Distinction Hotel Fox Glacier offers fine mountain views. Hotel facilities include a lounge with a fireplace. Each of the 20 rooms also has its own balcony, plus a TV, CD player, telephone, Internet access, coffee- and tea-making facilities, iron and ironing board, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Ashley Hotel

    Greymouth, New Zealand

    Situated in the heart of the South Island’s scenic west coast, the Ashley Hotel is just a few minutes’ walk from the Tasman Sea. There is a restaurant on the premises, an indoor heated pool complex, and 60 rooms with a TV, refrigerator, coffee- and tea-making facilities and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Travelodge Wellington

    Wellington, New Zealand

    The Travelodge Wellington sits in the commercial district, walking distance from the harbour. This modern high-rise hotel features an on-site restaurant and breakfast buffet. Your air-conditioned room includes a TV, high-speed Internet, tea- and coffee-making facilities and private bath.

    Select departures feature similar accommodations.

Extensions

  • Paihia Pacific Resort

    Bay of Islands, New Zealand

    The tranquil, boutique-style Paihia Pacific Resort is just a short stroll to the ocean and a five-minute walk to Paihia’s town center. Facilities include a restaurant and bar, swimming pool, spa, and sauna. Each of the 35 rooms features a direct-dial phone, TV, refrigerator, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Pullman Port Douglas Sea Temple Resort & Spa

    Port Douglas, Australia

    The central feature of this contemporary coastal resort is a large, lagoon-style outdoor pool. Other amenities include a full-service day spa, fitness center, restaurant, poolside bar, and 18-hole golf course. Each of its 194 air-conditioned rooms features a minibar, balcony, safe, and private bath with Jacuzzi.

  • Vibe Hotel Sydney

    Sydney, Australia

    This stylish hotel is a short stroll from the city’s bustling Darling Harbour and entertainment districts. If you can resist the call of the city, you’ll find a rooftop pool and trendy bar and restaurant on-site. The hotel’s 190 air-conditioned rooms feature private bath and hair dryer, TV, minibar, telephone, and coffee- and tea-making facilities.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two adventures to maximize your value. Here are more ways to create the OAT adventure that’s right for you:

  • Extend your adventure and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip extensions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your adventure
  • Choose to “break away” before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of OAT adventures to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent traveler miles

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $3795
w/ standard air $5195

Photos From Our Travelers

On location in New Zealand

Here’s how OAT travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our Pure New Zealand adventure. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite OAT trip photos.

   

Vacation Ambassadors and 13-time travelers Flora and Jim Lee of Santa Fe, New Mexico, pause for a picture along a trail in New Zealand’s back country.

Thumbnail 1 Thumbnail 2 Thumbnail 3 Thumbnail 4 Thumbnail 5

How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to: OATtravelerphotos@oattravel.com.

Please be sure to include the name of your OAT adventure, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.

Private Departures

Explore New Zealand in an Exclusive Group

Reserve a Private Departure of Pure New Zealand for your exclusive group of as few as 8 travelers, and enjoy a truly special adventure for just you and your family or friends—for an additional $900 per person.

For more details—or to reserve your Private Departure—call your Group Sales Account Representative toll-free at 1-800-353-6262 and select Option #3.

Please note: Some restrictions apply. See our Private Departures page for details.

Land of the Long White Cloud

The culture & traditions of New Zealand’s Maori people

by Pavi Kulatunga

Mana can be earned throughout a person’s life through acts of compassion and courage.

Here’s how the world began: Ranginui (the Sky Father) and Papatuanuku (the Earth Mother) once were locked together in a tight embrace. Their children, however, were tired of living in darkness and violently pushed their parents apart to separate the Earth and the Sky. Rangi and Papa still yearn for each other, though, as can be seen by Rangi’s tears falling as raindrops and the mist rising from the body of the Earth.

This legend is part of the rich mythology of the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. Though the country’s oldest inhabitants, they are not native to these islands. It is thought that they migrated to New Zealand from French Polynesia, traveling over the vast sea by canoe. Leading the way was said to be the mythical Polynesian navigator Kupe, who is believed to have arrived on New Zealand’s shores around 950 A.D.

Though the Maori today reside throughout New Zealand, the early settlers preferred the North Island, with its warmer climate and easier access to the rest of civilization. They named their new home Aotearoa—the “Land of the Long White Cloud.”

Looking back to the future (or forward to the past)

Not much else is known about the early days of the Maori in New Zealand. There is no written record because theirs is an oral tradition. While scholars and many others may dismiss oral histories as unreliable, to OAT Trip Leader David Hill, this method of recording the past is remarkable. “Most people can’t even name their own great-grandparents,” he says. “The Maori can recite their genealogy back 1,000 years. That ability to remember and recite oral histories is profound.”

The importance of oral history is rooted in a uniquely Maori way of looking at the world. For the Maori, the past isn’t something that’s already happened and can be forgotten. Instead, it’s something that still lies ahead. It’s the future that the Maori put behind them, since it’s something that can’t be seen or evaluated. The past, on the other hand, can offer guidance and instruction.

Whakapapa, or genealogy, is a fundamental part of this concept. Named for broad, flat rocks that can be stacked, Whakapapa refers to the layers of relationships that define each individual.

Strength in unity

Language is one key reason why the Maori have been successful while other indigenous people have not. Like Native Americans, Native Canadians, and Aborigines, for example, the Maori consist of several tribes. Uniquely, however, all Maori tribes share a common language and a central authority.

“The Maori are a more cohesive community because of their common language,” David explains. “The Aborigines have a wonderful culture, but because they lacked a common language, they didn’t have the same potency. They couldn’t organize to resist.”

The Maori, by contrast, have been able to get back much of the land that had been confiscated from them by European explorers throughout the 17th to 19th centuries. In some cases, they are using the land for enterprises that help them to establish themselves in the mainstream. For example, many of the traveler services OAT uses on the South Island are Maori-owned and operated. According to David, the reconciliation effort has been so successful, native people from other countries around the world look at New Zealand as a model.

Practicing mana

“One reason the Maori have become an active and vigorous part of the mainstream is because of their character,” David says. “It’s a non-material culture, where the greatest value is mana.”

The concept of mana, so central to Maori philosophy, may be described as authority or guardianship. Mana can be earned throughout a person’s life through acts of wisdom, compassion, and courage. It can also be taken away by transgressions. David further explains that Maori society is divided into two classes: ordinary Maori (in fact, the word Maori itself means “ordinary person”), and the Rangatira, the class of the chieftains. People may move between classes during their lives based on their actions. To illustrate the concept of mana, David tells a true story from the early 1800s, of Te Rauparaha, who became leader of the Ngati Toa tribe—a very small tribe—and Te Wherowhero, a Rangatira who was chief of the Waikito, a very powerful tribe that wanted to drive the Ngati Toa tribe out of its territory:

A legendary warrior, Te Rauparaha and his forces managed to overwhelm the much larger army. Though he could have vanquished Te Wherowhero, he approached the other leader instead and offered to let him go home. Te Wherowhereo, however, knew that, if he did so, his mana would evaporate. He made a counter-offer to Te Rauparaha: Send your warriors to face me, one by one. Now it was Te Rauparaha who would lose mana if he said no. When 50 of his men had been killed or wounded, Te Rauparaha halted the battle and retreated.

An Enduring People

 By the beginning of the 21st century, the Maori population had risen to 600,000, about 14% of the total population on New Zealand. This is not to say that contemporary Maori people do not face discrimination and other problems associated with minorities, especially in urban settings where their rates of unemployment, crime, and poverty are higher than that of the general pakeha (European) population. Still, with so many more Maori people assimilating into the mainstream New Zealand lifestyle, there is a generally more widespread celebration of maoritanga—all things Maori.

“When you visit, you get the feeling that the Maori are really part of New Zealand life,” says 9-time traveler Nancy Belis from Denver, Colorado. “A lot of modern nations don’t cherish the past. But the Maori are an integral part of Kiwi culture, and that’s admirable.”