New Zealand’s Natural Wonders: North & South Island with Evolutionary Biologist Greta Binford

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Dates: March 1st - 15th, 2025

Trip Length: 14 Nights/ 15 days

Group Size: About 15 -18 people

Cost: 

O $7,995 per person in a double

O $8,990 for a single

Included Meals:

14 Breakfasts, 12 Lunches, 14 Dinners

 

Overview

With its mountains, glaciers, fiords, lush subtropical forest, and miles of sandy coastline, one might call New Zealand a version of paradise. These features are indeed noteworthy, but their impact will be even greater as backdrop for New Zealand’s unique complement of endemic flora and fauna found nowhere else! On this voyage of discovery, we will become acquainted with this amazing country and its diversity through a variety of excursions both on land and at sea. Among other places, we visit the incomparable lushness of Pureora Forest Reserve with its 1000-year-old trees and endemic birds. We will engage in a night-time search for the flightless Southern Brown Kiwi, one of the nation’s five kiwi species that lend the human inhabitants of this country their name. Elsewhere, a boat tour off the Kaikoura Peninsula will lead us to Sperm Whales as they feed in the nutrient-rich waters. At Milford Sound we will cruise on the deep, icy blue waterways to search for dolphins, fur seals and the rare Fiordland Penguin. The country’s wildlife and wild spaces are juxtaposed with the pastoral agricultural settings where we will appreciate the importance that sheep farming has had here. We will also have the chance to experience some of New Zealand’s seismic features such as steaming geysers and boiling mud. All throughout, your “kiwi” tour guide will provide real time interpretation of what we are seeing and experiencing and provide context to our discoveries.

Itinerary at-a-glance:

1 Arrive in Auckland

2 Ferry to predator-free island nature sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi

3 Firth of Thames, Waimangu Thermal Valley, Māori experience

4 The Pureora forest, a prime example of fantastic flora and bird life

5 Fly to South Island, to Kaikoura

6 Spot Sperm Whales on your cruise in Kaikoura Peninsula

7 Kaikoura Peninsula / Christchurch

8 Explore the tranquil Peel Forest, sienna tussock grassland of Mackenzie Country

9 Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

10 Queenstown

11 Drive alongside Lake Wakatipu and into the Fiordland World Heritage Area

12 Fiordland World Heritage Area

13 Travel to Stewart Island for a kiwi safari

14 To Dunedin and cruise by the entrance of Otago Harbour

15 Depart Dunedin

 

DETAILED ITINERARY

Day 1: Arrival in Auckland

To give us a chance to rest after our long journey, no activities have been planned for today. Your New Zealand naturalist leader will be meeting the group flight and will assist us with the city transfer and check-in at the hotel. An orientation meeting is planned for the late afternoon, prior to dinner.

Overnight: Hotel Grand Millennium, Auckland

Meals: Welcome Dinner

Day 2: Tiritiri Matangi

Today we take a ferry from the Auckland docks to one of the most sensational conservation areas in the country: the island nature sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi. The crossing will take approximately an hour. On the way, we will look out for Australasian Gannets, fluttering shearwaters and perhaps Little Penguins.

Tiritiri Matangi is a predator-free island in the Hauraki Gulf where extensive plantings of native trees by voluntary workers have established large areas of regenerating forest. As a result, several species of endangered endemic birds have been successfully introduced. We will walk along well-maintained trails fringed with trees and shrubs in full-bloom and be on the lookout for such birds as the Tui, Red-crowned Parakeet and the North Island Saddleback. Our path through the forest will take us along a magnificent boardwalk that winds through different woodland habitats. We will hear the remarkable songs of a variety of other endemic songbirds. We will have a picnic lunch by the lighthouse where there are several Takahes, a flightless bird that was thought to be extinct and was found in the remote Fiordland Mountains in 1948. We return to Auckland in the middle of the afternoon.

Overnight: Hotel Grand Millennium, Auckland

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: The Firth of Thames / Lake Taupo

We have an early start today and drive south to the spectacular geothermal region of Lake Taupo. On the way we will visit Miranda, on the Firth of Thames, one of the finest wading bird habitats in the country. We can watch for such beauties as Pied Oystercatcher, Pied Stilt and New Zealand Dotterel, as well as such Arctic migrants as Bar-tailed Godwit, famous for flying here from Alaska to overwinter! As we continue south, we drive onto the high central volcanic

plateau and explore the fascinating and volatile Waimangu Thermal Valley. It lies across from Mt. Tarawera, whose giant eruption formed this eerie valley of boiling cauldron lakes, steaming fumaroles and numerous boiling springs. This evening, we will enjoy a Māori cultural experience at Mitai Māori Village.

Overnight: Distinction Rotorua

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Pureora Rainforest, Tongariro National Park’s volcanoes

Pureora has one of the finest rainforests anywhere and hosts an array of fine plants and endemic birds. These forests are the so-called ‘dinosaur forests’ that have changed little over 100 million years and are typical of the forest cover of Gondwana. This morning, we undertake a pre-dawn start, in order to experience the forest at its most mysterious, when the haunting call of the rare, endangered Kōkako rings through this misty environment. The Kōkako belongs to a very ancient bird family that does not appear to be related to any other in the world. As day breaks, we will note a variety of other endemic birds here as well. The plant life here is marvellous and diverse, dominated by a selection of coniferous trees collectively called podocarps, with such names as Kahikatea, Rimu, Matai, Miro and Totara, which form the canopy and loom over the smaller broad-leaved trees and luxuriant tree-ferns. There are also many interesting invertebrates here. In short, Pureora is a spell-binding environment!

Overnight: Distinction Rotorua

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Wellington / Cook Strait / South Island

This morning, we will fly to Wellington, the nation’s capital, then transfer for a short flight across Cook Strait to Blenheim on the South Island. Afterwards, we will drive down the coast of Kaikoura, where we will spend the next couple of nights.

Overnight: White Morph Hotel

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Kaikoura Peninsula / Sperm Whales

After breakfast we will enjoy a three-hour boat trip. This part of South Island, in the lee of the towering Kaikoura Ranges, is an excellent area to view the huge Sperm Whales that feed in the deep waters just off the coast. This promises to be an action-packed cruise because we will also be looking for three species of dolphins in these waters, including boisterous leaping Dusky

Dolphins, plus the many species of Southern Ocean pelagic seabirds found here. Hutton’s Shearwaters, which breed in the mountain ranges overlooking the bay, may be active at this time of year and often form huge rafts in the ocean.

In the afternoon, with feet firmly back on dry land, we will have a relaxing afternoon with an opportunity to take a walk into town or perhaps a leisurely stroll along the Kaikoura Peninsula.

Overnight: White Morph Hotel

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7: Kaikoura Peninsula / Christchurch

If the weather did not co-operate yesterday for our boat excursion, we will take the whale watching trip this morning. However, if we were successful, we have scheduled a special nature walk to some of the varied forest and alpine habitats in the Kaikoura region.

In the afternoon, we will drive down the dramatically moody Kaikoura coast to the city of Christchurch. Christchurch is a serenely beautiful garden city that radiates the understated charm of a small English town, with its nineteenth century neo-Gothic architecture. The Avon River, fringed by weeping willows, flowering rhododendrons and tall English trees, weaves through the downtown area and Christchurch’s first-class botanical gardens. We have the afternoon and evening to explore this fascinating city on foot.

Overnight: Fable Hotel, Christchurch

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 8: Peel Forest Park / Twizel / Aoraki Mount Cook

Today we will travel across the fertile Canterbury Plains to the foothills of New Zealand’s Central Alps. Our first stop is Peel Forest, a tranquil reserve that has a strangely tropical feel. Although dominated by giant Fuchsias, it has an abundance of huge tree ferns and branches covered in epiphytes. There are some excellent walking trails in this forest where some of the magnificent trees are estimated to be up to 1000 years old.

After lunch, in sharp contrast to the quiet forests we have just explored, we will enter the sienna tussock grassland vistas of Mackenzie Country. As we wind across the foothills, with snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps in the background, we will overlook the vivid turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo and other large glacial lakes.

There will be time for those of us who wish to take an optional flight over Mount Cook National Park, to fly over the highest peaks and glaciers of the Southern Alps. We will then make our way to Aoraki Mount Cook.

Overnight: The Hermitage

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 09: Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

Today will be a leisurely day and a first-rate opportunity to savour the grandeur and unparalleled beauty of one of the most beautiful regions in the world. We will drive along the road beside the deep turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook National Park where we will spend the day. There are some excellent walking trails in the area, one of which will take us through Hooker

Valley to the glacial lake at the foot of Mount Cook and give us a panoramic view of the mountain. The spring wildflowers are in full bloom and add magnificent colour to the alpine backdrop. We will leave the main road and visit some small ponds where we will look for the world’s rarest wading bird, the endangered Black Stilt.

Overnight: The Hermitage

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 10: Queenstown

After leaving Mackenzie Country, we will travel over the striking Lindis Pass, through the stark tussock highlands, to Queenstown, New Zealand’s ultimate picture postcard resort town. It is mirrored in Lake Wakatipu’s calm waters and fringed with massive sierra-like snow-capped mountain ranges stretching as far as the eye can see.

Overnight: Novotel, Queenstown

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Days 11 – 12: Visit Sheep Station / Fiordland World Heritage Area

After travelling alongside Lake Wakatipu, the road winds into the upper Mataura Valley. Located here are several backcountry sheep stations, the backbone of the New Zealand wool industry. We plan to visit one of these stations to watch the mustering and shearing of the sheep and also enjoy seeing the renowned sheep-dogs at work.

To the west of Queenstown lies the Fiordland World Heritage Area. At times stunning, at others awesome and in places even tranquil, this area encompasses New Zealand’s largest national park. Valleys gouged by glaciers and lakes nestled between ranges upon ranges of snow-capped mountains characterize the landscape. This will be our location for the next two days as we discover some of the magic of this incredible region.

We will explore Eglinton Valley, famed for its red beech forests, and hope to see some of the forest birds found in this unique habitat. Even more spectacular than Eglinton Valley is Hollyford Valley. It contains little-visited cirque basins that are botanical treasure troves set in impressive alpine surroundings. We will walk in the Gertrude Cirque to study the diversity and character of New Zealand alpine flora; we may also glimpse the endemic New Zealand Rockwren. We will also be on our guard against the noisy Kea, a large, bold alpine parrot that has been known to steal food and even lens caps from the unwary.

We also cruise on the deep, icy blue waterways that flow into the Tasman Sea. We hope to sail on the Milford Adventurer that will allow us to search for Bottlenose Dolphins, New Zealand Fur Seals, and the endemic Fiordland Penguin.

Overnight: Distinction Luxmore Hotel, Te Anau

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner on two nights

Day 13: Stewart Island

Today we make our way south to Invercargill, whence we will board a plane for flights to Stewart Island, also known by the Māori name of Rakiura. This is the third largest island of the New Zealand archipelago and relatively undisturbed, hence it contains a high density of endemic wildlife. Our quarry will be the Southern Brown Kiwi, one of the five kiwi species in New Zealand and the one that offers the highest probability of being seen on a night walk. Beforehand we have an opportunity to seek out the three penguin species that live around the island’s shores.

Overnight: South Seas Hotels, Stewart Island

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 14: Otago Harbour / Dunedin / Taiaroa Head

Today we will return to South Island and travel to Dunedin, a very beautiful city rich in Victorian architecture. This afternoon, we cruise by the entrance to Otago Peninsula and Taiaroa Head. Although we will not be able to see the Northern Royal Albatross on their nests, we do expect to see them as they are returning to their colony. Stewart Island Shags and Spotted Shags will be here in full breeding plumage, New Zealand Fur Seals bask on the rocks below the colony, and we

may also see the rarest penguin in the world – the Yellow-eyed Penguin – in the water. We will have our Farewell Dinner on board our charter yacht while returning from the headland.

Overnight: Southern Cross Hotel, Dunedin

Meals: Breakfast, Farewell Dinner

Day 15: Dunedin / Depart Dunedin

This morning is at leisure to explore this delightful Victorian city with its rich architectural heritage. We will have a chance to enjoy lunch at leisure in the expansive botanical gardens before transferring to Dunedin Airport for our departing flights.

Meals: Breakfast




Questions, contact Andrew McPheeters, Associate Vice President for Community Education and Travel Programs at: mcpheete@lclark.edu or 503-768-7936.