Covering the North and South islands, this tour showcases New Zealand’s diverse culture and beauty. The New Zealand Experience tour is an experience of the best - including our best-kept secrets! Here are some of the 22-day tour highlights:
Day 1: Welcome to New Zealand! - Auckland to Bay of Islands
- sail on emerald waters to a secluded island bay
- walk beneath giant ferns with award-winning naturalists
- peer into the belly of an active volcano
- sea kayak along stunning, bush-laden coastline
- meander along winery and artisan trails
- go dolphin- and penguin spotting on a nature cruise
- float beneath cave constellations
- soar over glaciers via helicopter and land on a glacial neve
- cruise beneath towering fiords in Milford Sound
In Auckland, you're greeted by your Black Sheep guide who whisks you off to the stunning Bay of Islands for the start of your adventure.
Day 2: Set Sail on the Bay - Bay of Islands
Sail amongst the picturesque islands of the bay. Take the helm, climb the rigging, or just sit back and enjoy the sea breeze and a bit of penguin-spotting. Wash away the last remains of jetlag in the emerald waters of a secluded island bay.
Day 3: Coastal Splendour - Bay of Islands
Spend the morning walking beneath giant, ancient kauri trees and along magnificent coastline. This afternoon, a guided tour of the historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds and cultural performance provide deeper insight into New Zealand’s Maori and colonial past.
Day 4: Birdlife to Nightlife - To Auckland
Return to Auckland, taking a detour to New Zealand's largest gannet colony, perched above black volcanic sands. Study these birds in their natural habitat before settling into your own nest in the heart of Auckland's vibrant waterfront district.
Day 5: Rainforest Retreat - To the Coromandel
Walk with an award-winning naturalist through the lush, subtropical rainforest of the Coromandel Peninsula. Take an evening stroll from your lodge to one of New Zealand's prettiest beaches. At dinner, wonder how your guide knew that it was your birthday and that your favorite flavor is chocolate.
Day 6: Sea and Sand - The Coromandel
Start the day with a scenic boat tour of the region's stunning volcanic coastline, pristine marine reserve and magnificent sea caves. Back on land consider taking a self-guided hike to a remote and beautiful cove guarded by towering sandstone formations, a perfect place to contemplate natures wonders.
Day 7: Maori Culture - To Rotorua
Arrive in Rotorua and visit Te Puia, the Maori Arts & Crafts Institute, to tour the grounds, explore the adjacent thermal geothermal reserve, visit the kiwi house, and watch the students develop their craft. Test the healing theories of Rotorua's thermal water in a nearby spa and decide the theories are true. Relaxed and rejuvenated, head out this evening to explore the city’s popular and diverse dining district.
Day 8: Volcanic Wonders - Rotorua
Boat to White Island and peer into the belly of an active volcano. So this is what Dante was on about. If conditions preclude a White Island visit, take a scenic flight over the giant volcanic crater of Mt Tarawera and visit boiling lakes, turquoise pools, hot streams and other active geothermal features on land.
Day 9: Capital Culture - To Wellington
Fly to New Zealand's picturesque capital city, Wellington, and enjoy a day exploring on your own. Visit Te Papa, the country's extraordinary national museum; tour the city's government buildings; ride the historic cable car to the botanical gardens; or stroll through the galleries and along the busy waterfront--all within an easy walk of your hotel in the heart of the city.
This is the departure point for those touring the North Island only, and the kick-off for those doing the South Island portion of this tour. We gather this evening to swap stories, farewell departing friends, and welcome any new arrivals to our fold.
Day 10: Water and Wine - To Nelson
Ferry across the Cook Strait and along the spectacular coastline of the Marlborough Sounds to the South Island. On land, visit the world-renowned Marlborough wine region, stopping for lunch amongst the vines. Drink in the South Island's relaxed atmosphere (both figuratively and literally) then head to sun-drenched Nelson for our three-night stay in this arts and crafts capital (see note on Day 12).
Day 11: Abel Tasman Adventure - Nelson
Sea kayak, cruise or hike along the stunning shoreline of arguably one of the most beautiful parks in the country. Aquamarine waters, temperate forest, golden sand beaches--no arguments here. At the end of the day, note how the colloquialism 'Good day, mate' rolls off your tongue.
Day 12: Happy Trails - Nelson
After yesterday's wilderness adventure, this is a chance to relax and enjoy Nelson's more civilised side. Spend the day exploring a region renowned for its wineries, galleries, gardens and artisan food products. Visit the studios of glass blowers, potters, and the famous Jens Hansen Jewellers, maker of the Lord of the Rings One Ring. Enjoy tastings at premiere wineries and lunch at a cafe voted the best in New Zealand. (Note, the March 2017 tour exchanges this day with a night in the alpine thermal resort town of Hanmer Springs. Ask one of our Travel Shepherds for details.)
Day 13: To the Garden City - Christchurch
Pass through the beautiful Nelson Lakes region on route to Christchurch, described as the most English of New Zealand's cities. The repair work around the city is a fascinating exhibition of hope and ingenuity as the city rebuilds from the earthquake that altered it in 2011. Enjoy the city sights and perhaps a stroll through the beautiful Botanic Gardens before settling into your central city accommodation for the next two nights.
Day 14: French Frolic - Akaroa Day Trip
Take a day trip to the charming village of Akaroa. Originally a French settlement, this seaside town strives to retain its roots, from boutique cheese factory and public herb gardens to French street names and shops. Take a nature cruise on the picturesque bay, surrounded by dramatic scenery and unique wildlife, looking out for rare, native Hector's dolphin, little blue penguins and other sea birds as you learn about Akaroa's history. Return to Christchurch this evening full of joie de vivre.
Day 15: From the Mountains to the Sea - To Punakaiki
Board the renowned TranzAlpine train for a trip over the glorious Southern Alps. Cross alpine rivers, pass beneath snow-capped peaks and descend to the wild and woolly West Coast. Wind your way along stunning, bush-laden coast to your lodging at the base of the Paparoa National Park. Note that you are definitely not in Kansas.
Day 16: West Coast Wonderland - Punakaiki
In fact, today it's more like MiddleEarth as you explore the limestone cave systems that honeycomb this region. View delicate, unspoiled formations on a Scenic Caving trip, or take a Cave Rafting adventure, featuring glow-worm constellations, an underground river, a whole lot of rubber, and plenty of laughs. Above-ground, rubber-free options also available.
Day 17: Glacial Glory - To the Glacier Region
Head south to New Zealand's spectacular glacier region. Thank yourself for choosing a guided trip, because you can't take your eyes off the scenery--a serious no-no on these roads. In the village of Franz Josef, take a scenic helicopter flight, passing near Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand's highest peak, and landing on the glacier's neve. Back on terra firma, hike to the glacier face and visit a stand of old-growth rainforest. Marvel at how ferns and ice can be within cooee of each other (that's 'really close' in Kiwi).
Day 18: Scenic Journey - To Queenstown
Hike around the peaceful, reflective water of a glacial kettle lake, then head south to Queenstown, New Zealand's adventure capital. On the way, explore hidden trails and secluded waterfalls before descending into Queenstown. Resting on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and flanked by The Remarkables, this is a stunning setting in which to base ourselves for the next few days.
Day 19: Mother Nature on Steroids - Queenstown
Queenstown is New Zealand’s adrenalin center. Because there are so many things to do here to cater to your diverse interests, we have left the day free for you to pick and choose whatever optional activities you desire, be they whitewater rafting, jet boating, or bungy jumping, or more leisurely pursuits such as walking, shopping, and wine trails. Lunch and dinner are on your own this day to give you full freedom to set your own schedule and enjoy both physical and culinary adventures.
Day 20: Fiordland Escape - Fiordland National Park
Pack an overnight bag for a night in the fiords. As you travel through the Fiordland National Park, ask yourself how on earth things could get any more beautiful, then find the answer around each new corner. At the fiord, board your vessel for a unique overnight stay, highlighted by cruising, wildlife-spotting, and kayaking beneath the sheer cliffs of the fiord. Very few see Fiordland in this way and
it allows you maximum time to absorb its overwhelming beauty.
Day 21: A Time to Celebrate - To Queenstown
Cruise back to shore as a rare witness to a Fiordland dawn. On the way back to Queenstown, stop to explore the native flora and fauna. Note the caffeine-like effect of New Zealand air. Back in Queenstown, enjoy a leisurely afternoon before gathering for a farewell dinner to celebrate the friendships you've made and the memories shared. While making a speech, accidentally call your guide 'Mommy'.
Day 22: Fond Farewells - Queenstown to Home
Depending on your flight schedule, take time to relax, make final purchases, or reconsider that bungy jump before traveling home or to your next destination. Arrive home and book your next Black Sheep adventure.