February - March

Dancing Maori Warrior

Maori warrior performs a welcoming dance
at Tamiki Maori Village

New Zealand is known for its stunning natural beauty, healthy environment, and a friendly, peace-loving people. This Nature Discoveries trip brings you to the great natural wonders on the North and South Island, including some areas seldom visited. You’ll see the major attractions, but we’ll also take you off the beaten tourist track to discover New Zealand’s lesser-known gems. We’ll offer short walks and other excursions, where you’ll get to know New Zealand’s rugged coastlines, lush forests, great glaciers, alpine regions, and its unusual birds and plants. You’ll see birds found nowhere else on earth, plants of ancient lineage, and spectacular scenery. You’ll also gain insight into the lives of the indigenous Maori people, as well as modern farm families.

The North Island is awash in natural wonders. You'll have a chance to amble on beaches, gather shells, watch birds, or just enjoy the seascapes.

We begin our North Island experience with a special visit to Tiritiri Matangi Bird Sanctuary, located on an island in Hauraki Gulf, just a ferry ride from Auckland. The sights and sounds of Tiritiri Matangi will leave an indelible impression on our participants. This island has been carefully managed to provide a haven for native bird species – 11 of which have been reintroduced. Expect to see many of these other native birds with hard to pronounce names: kereru, takahe, weka, tui, kakariki. Many of these are difficult to find on the mainland, but on protected Tiritiri Matangi they are common. The takahe, a flightless gallinule, was thought to be extinct, but was rediscovered in 1948.

At Rotorua, you’ll see active geysers, as well as gurgling mud pots and steaming pools. We’ll be treated to a performance of traditional Maori song and dance, and partake in a special feast, or hangi. We continue towards Tongariro National Park, but won’t overlook highlights along the way. We’ll see Lake Taupo, site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in historic time, and walk through magnificent podocarp (southern hemisphere "pines") forest, that takes us to the shoreline of a lovely lake.

Our comfortable lodge in Tongariro National Park looks out upon Ngauruhoe, a classic Fuji-type volcano. It's the perfect base to explore this unusual landscape, home to rare plants and unusual geologic formations. We'll explore this park on foot, though you'll have an option to sign up for a helicopter ride over Mt. Ruapehu or ride a chairlift to the top.  Our last night on the North Island will be in Wellington, New Zealand's capital. We should have time to visit the outstanding museum of natural and cultural history, Te Papa.

Kea - the mountain parrot

Kea - the mountain parrot*

We'll take a ferry ride from the North Island to the South Island as our adventure continues. The South Island's wonders are legendary: we'll explore rainforests, coastlines, glaciers, and snow capped mountains. We'll begin with a coastal walk at Kaikoura, with spectacular scenery and interesting tidepool life. At Kaikoura you can also choose to go whale watching in search of sperm whales, swim with dolphins, or take a pelagic bird adventure to seek out albatross and other seabirds.

We'll continue over the Southern Alps on a spectacular road that crosses Arthur's Pass. The views, great and small, are phenomenal here. We continue to the rugged west coast where photographic opportunities abound, including a close look at the unusual geologic formations at the "pancake rocks" of Punakaiki in Paparoa National Park.

Fox glacier

Fox Glacier*

Rainforest and glacier meet in the charming town of Franz Josef, in Westland National Park. We'll visit two spectacular glaciers (Fox and the namesake Franz Josef), and offer a variety of walks. There are also options to take a helicopter flight (with glacier landing) or a glacier trek.

Yellow-eyed penguins

Yellow-eyed penguins*

We'll drive through parts of Aspiring National Park to the lakeside town of Wanaka. Its pastoral setting contrasts with the rugged coastlines and glaciers we've seen. You'll have some free time here, and can schedule a flight and boat trip on Milford Sound, as many have done in past years. We continue to the Otago Peninsula, New Zealand's wildlife mecca. We'll visit the world's only mainland albatross colony, where we should see chicks in the nest from our viewing place! We cap off the day with a visit to a colony of yellow-eyed penguins, one of the world's most endangered. By scheduling an early evening visit, we should see penguins leaving the sea, and waddling to their nests a half mile away. We'll observe them from blinds, often at quite close range.

We're off to Mt. Cook National Park. We stay in comfortable roomy cabins at the Hermitage, in the shadow of Mt. Cook, New Zealand's highest peak. You'll enjoy breathtaking alpine scenery, with rushing mountain streams, awe-inspiring glaciers, and delicate mountain flowers. You'll be amused by the antics of the mountain parrot called the kea, that will try to abscond with any item you might leave. Of course you'll leave nothing but footprints, and especially won't leave your backpack unprotected!

Next we head for the Canterbury, a prosperous farming region, where, in small groups, we'll enjoy a comfortable overnight visit on a working farm. This experience will enrich this adventure even more. If our previous visits were any indication, you'll talk and share perspectives with your host families well into the evening. You'll gain an appreciation for the resourcefulness of the New Zealand farmer, with this inside look at life in rural New Zealand.

Our adventure ends in Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island, whose British charm will be immediately apparent. We'll have time to explore this lovely, cosmopolitan city and its world-class botanical gardens.

Blue entoloma

Entoloma (forest mushroom)*

We’re justifiably excited about this trip, which offers a special window into this interesting country.  Our participants have told us they’ve gained uncommon insight into the nature and culture of this interesting land.  Your trip leader and escort is Steven Daniel, who will help you appreciate New Zealand’s unique natural wonders, particularly the unusual plants, birds, and animals of New Zealand. A trained naturalist with an MS from Cornell University, Steven has guided over 140 trips for Nature Discoveries;  this will be the 7th group he has taken to New Zealand.  Our in-country driver-guide is scheduled to be Herbie Mues, who will offer a unique perspective on New Zealand’s history and culture.

Herbie is a native of Germany who has made New Zealand his home for decades.  We have worked with Herbie for years.  He is a treasure - an absolutely outstanding guide.  Our groups have always recognized the high quality of the experience that Herbie provides.  He is extremely knowledgeable about New Zealand’s history, culture, and natural history, and he is extremely articulate and considerate.  He is certain to help make your trip to New Zealand a trip of a lifetime.


* All photographs are taken by Steven Daniel and are the property of Nature Discoveries, Inc.