Auckland | Matakohe | Hokianga | Russell | Bay of Islands | Waitangi | Waikato | Rotorua | Lake Rotoiti | Wanaka | Pioneers Camp | Skippers Canyon | Queenstown
Aotearoa, the indigenous Māori name for New Zealand, is the last significant landmass of the world to be settled by humanity. Occurring around 1300CE from a cluster of island groups in Eastern Polynesia, the arrival of these skilled navigators and explorers marked the birth of a fascinating new society that evolved into the distinct Māori culture.
This one-of-a-kind expedition tells the story of Aotearoa, delving deep into its history, people, culture and incredible wilderness environments. As we journey north to south in the company of renowned archaeologist Dr James Robinson and award-winning Māori guide Ceillhe Sperath, each destination is a new chapter in the story. In the North Island we immerse ourselves in Māori culture and traditions, with a number of exclusively curated encounters with Māori people and access to significant sites that few have experienced. We learn from them their myths and legends, and stories of war and invasion. Using all of our senses to engage with the past, present and future, we will be offered a privileged insight and connection to this vibrant living culture that is the fabric of modern New Zealand.
After exploring the Bay of Islands through the eyes of its earliest Polynesian visitors and Captain Cook, we head to Rotorua before venturing to the South Island, where we embrace the pioneering spirit of the early European settlers – a specially prepared riverside camp enables exclusive access to remote environments to retrace the steps of these trailblazers. A thrilling helicopter ride into the pristine wilderness around Wanaka, and explorations of crystal-clear rivers by raft and jetboat, give us a welcome chance to reconnect with nature.
With spectacular food and wine to accompanying us throughout, this unique expedition will connect our travellers with the land and people of this remarkable country like never before.
Every Arcadia expedition provides you insider access to the most unforgettable and thought-provoking local experiences, curated exclusively by us for our travellers. Here are some of the Arcadia Exclusives on this trip:
Day 01 – Arrive Auckland
Upon arrival into Auckland, you are met at the airport by an Arcadia representative, who will transfer you by private vehicle to your hotel. At our 6pm group meeting, you will meet our expedition team, Storyteller Dr James Robinson and Māori guide Ceillhe Sperath, which will be followed by a very special welcome dinner at the Libraries, located in our hotel.
You will be greeted with a mihi whakatau (brief welcome) by your Kaiãrahi (host guide) – your first opportunity to hear the Māori language. This timeless ceremony continues to be reserved for valued visitors to New Zealand and gives time and space to acknowledge and share our collective past and present, a poignant precursor for the coming days as our journey unfolds.
Over dinner, as you get to know your fellow travellers, we will learn about the Māori creation story and given some important cultural insights to make your experience ahead more meaningful.
Hotel Britomart, Auckland | Meals: D
Day 02 – Auckland
After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we spend the day experiencing Auckland from a different perspective. The largest Polynesian city in the world, Auckland is surrounded by 3 harbours and over 50 volcanoes. It is known by locals as Tāmaki Makaurau – meaning ‘desired by many’ in the Māori language.
We start our day visiting Auckland Domain, a beautiful inner-city park where we explore the Auckland Museum, the ideal place to set the scene for our story. The museum is renowned for its Māori treasure gallery, displaying over 2,000 priceless artifacts that include rare carvings and one of the last great Māori war canoe carved from a giant tōtara tree.
Later this morning, we visit the wondrous archaeological site at Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill), an important place of memorial for New Zealander’s. Over half a million cubic meters of soil were moved to create the terraced slopes of this pā (hill fort), making it the largest Neolithic settlement in the southern hemisphere. At Cornwall Park, we hear the Māori and European story of this narrow fertile isthmus between Manakau and Waitemata Harbours.
After lunch at historic Devonport, we drive atop of Mt Victoria, the highest volcano on the north shore, offering impressive views over New Zealand’s largest city. We then make some further explorations around Auckland before enjoying the remainder of the afternoon and evening at leisure.
Hotel Britomart, Auckland | Meals: B,L
Day 03 – Auckland to Northland
Departing early this morning, we leave the City of Sails and venture north to explore the upper region of the North Island. We travel through the Hibiscus Coast through to the Mahurangi Region before heading north-west along the Kauri Coast.
Our first stop is in rural Matakohe, which, apart from fertile farming land, seems unassuming until you arrive at one of the country’s best kept secret treasure troves – the Kauri Museum. Known for its storytelling, its hospitality and the legacy left behind by the ancient kauri trees which once covered northern New Zealand, this is the world’s first carbon-zero certified Museum. After morning tea, we will enjoy a private guided tour of the museum and end with a light café lunch before we set off on a spiritual journey to the Cradle of the Nation – Hokianga.
Arriving first at the Waipoua Forest, we join a local Māori custodian for an intimate and spiritual encounter as we wander through the magnificent forest. Be mesmerised by the largest Kauri giant, Tane Mahuta (God of the Forest) and a national icon. Here we experience the affinity that Māori have with the forest and the deep spiritual respect they have for nature. We learn more from our Storyteller James about the special Māori archaeology of the Waipoua Valley, which is focused on cultivation, and your guide will share thought-provoking information, stories, and legends before respectfully greeting the oldest and largest known kauri tree in the world with spine-tingling chants and song.
We then visit Manea to discover the Footprints of Kupe – a legendary Polynesian navigator and explorer connecting all Pacific peoples. Here we will connect with the local people and experience a multisensory journey of guided storytelling of the Māori creation story through art, taonga (cultural treasures), film and performance.
As we depart the cradle of the nation, we turn towards the birthplace of the nation and make our way across Northland to the beautiful Bay of Islands, taking the passenger ferry to Russell. As the sun begins to set, settle into your accommodation at the grand Duke of Marlborough and enjoy a lively group dinner at the Duke’s restaurant this evening.
Duke of Marlborough, Russell | Meals: B,L,D
Day 04 – Russell & Bay of Islands Cruise
Awakening in the historic town of Russell this morning, you will see why this place was popular with colonial visitors of yesteryear and continues to be a favourite for locals too.
In the whaling days, this calm haven was dubbed the ‘hellhole of the Pacific’ due to its wild and lawless inhabitants consisting of mainly drunken sailors and debaucherous whalers. While the town is still a favoured spot for boaties seeking refuge in its sheltered waters, today’s Russell is a world away from its former uncivilised self. The village now exudes a genteel colonial charm with its excellent restaurants, superb galleries and quaint boutiques lining the now calm and tranquil waterfront.
The Bay of Islands is aptly named and today is when we get to experience the wonders of Tangaroa – the God of the Sea. Setting out from Russell wharf after breakfast, we board our exclusive marine research vessel for a private charter through the Bay of Islands.
Our time on the water allows us to see the stunning coastline and marine life of this area and learn about the strong values Māori hold in their role as guardians of the natural world. The exciting core of this trip will see us visiting those places where Lt Cook and Marion du Fresne interacted with iwi in the three dramatic years when those European explorers first came to Aotearoa between 1769 to 1772.
The leisurely day out is intended to be informative but also fun and relaxing. With that in mind, you will be treated to good old kiwi hospitality with an onboard gourmet lunch as well as ample time to head onshore, including a visit to Moturua Island Scenic Reserve. Here we walk from Waiwhapuku Bay via the Hikurangi pa site and onto the bay at Mangahawea – a significant archaeological site where our Expedition Leader James has conducted field research and where the first colonisers to Aotearoa began their journey to become Māori. One of the features of this site is a Pou, a marker post named ‘Te Pou Herenga Waka o te Moananui o Kiwa’ translated as ‘A stake that brings together the people of the great Pacific Ocean’ that was erected within the archaeological excavation in 2019 which reconnects Maori with their Pacific ancestors.
During our cruise we learn about the famed explorer Lieutenant James Cook, commander of the HMS Endeavour, which was the first European ship to visit New Zealand since Able Tasman in 1642. The five days Cook and his crew spent in the Bay of Islands resulted in some of the best information we have in words and drawings about what the Maori world was like just prior to European arrival and details of the inevitable cultural misunderstanding that occur when two worlds meet for the first time.
Before heading back to Russell, we will round out our decadent day on the water by heading across the bay to encounter a traditional waka war canoe on the water (weather permitting). A rare experience, this ancient seafaring activity has been revived by locals and is considered today to be one of the strongest cultural connections to their Polynesian heritage. New Zealand’s abundance of wide-girthed trees such as tōtara meant that Māori could build much more diverse waka than in their Polynesian homeland. For those with an adventurous spirit, you will have the opportunity to hop into the waka and experience paddling with the local crew.
This afternoon we return to Russell and freshen up before an unforgettable evening at the stunning Sage Restaurant, where we feast on a sharing menu accompanied by a private wine tasting from the nearby Paroa Bay wines.
Duke of Marlborough, Russell | Meals: B,L,D
Day 05 – Russell, Kerikeri & Waitangi
This morning is free for you to enjoy at your own pace – take a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, contemplate what we have seen so far by the water or wander the charming streets of Russell and soak up the atmosphere.
Later we follow the fascinating story of the sack of Kororareka (as this area was known before it became Russell). This whaling town dates at least to 1827 and was the scene of the first battle in the Northern Wars in March 1845. Our Storyteller James will talk us through the battle and its historical importance whilst we see first-hand the bullet holes in the Anglican Church and have a tour of the rammed earth Catholic printery that was deliberately preserved by the attacking Māori – the only buildings to survive the burning of the town.
Next, we travel to nearby Kerikeri township to uncover its rich history. Here stands Kororipo Pā, belonging to the famous Rangatira Hongi Hika, the first to bring muskets to New Zealand and the patron of the missionaries who built here the earliest surviving wooden building in the country and the second oldest stone building, all associated with the Church Mission Society.
We then have a special evening planned at Waitangi, the ‘birthplace of the Nation’. Signed in 1840 by representatives of the British Crown and over 500 Māori chiefs in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi is perhaps the most important document in the history of New Zealand. It has played a central role in the political and social conscience of the nation, drafted for the purpose of establishing a British Governor of New Zealand, yet at the same time recognising Māori ownership of land and giving the Māori the same rights as British subjects.
We take part in an exclusive and unique experience at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds tonight. The two contemporary and interactive museums, Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi and Te Rau Aroha will be open exclusively for our exploration, with expert staff on hand to answer questions and explain how the treasured taonga and images were curated and the stories behind them. A gourmet barbecue will be served, and a bar is open throughout the night. After our meal, we make our way to the Upper Grounds to enjoy dessert and drinks under the magnificent Pōhutukawa trees, while taking in stunning views over the Bay of Islands.
Duke of Marlborough, Russell | Meals: B,L,D
Day 06 – Northland to Rotorua
This morning we transfer by private vehicle to Kerikeri Airport to take our flight back to Auckland. We continue our explorations as we head south for the first time, driving beyond the Bombay Hills and following the flow of the mighty Waikato River.
Known locally as King Country, a term dating back to the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s, Waikato is very significant in New Zealand’s history. When colonial troops invaded the Waikato, forces of the Māori King Movement withdrew south of what was called the aukati (boundary), a line of pā alongside the Puniu River. The land behind the aukati remained native territory and Europeans were threatened with death if they crossed the line.
Today, we will meet Buddy Mikaere, a respected Māori author and historian, and travel with him on the Māori Wars drive where we will learn more about the Kingitanga movement and how past events have shaped positive outcomes for the Tainui Iwi generations now and in the future as we pass through the Waikato-Hamilton region.
Our historical account continues around the Māori Wars as we head through Pokeno, where we visit partially restored earthworks that mark where the British launched their crushing invasion of the Waikato, and then on to Meremere and Rangiriri, one of the key battlefields where the British suffered more casualties than in any other conflict in New Zealand. Buddy will join us for a picnic lunch while bringing some of the history and sites to life through his vivid storytelling, before heading to the spa town of Rotorua.
Later this afternoon, we arrive to the luxurious Treetops Lodge & Estate and settle into our accommodation. This elegant and rustic lodge is centred around genuine kiwi hospitality and the sense of Hauora (the Māori philosophy of health and well-being), which we will endeavour to capture during our stay. Treetops will be our base to encounter Māori history and culture, including its development into the modern era, and it will also be a place to relax, reflect and absorb our previous explorations.
Following pre-dinner drinks & canapés in the Great Room, we will enjoy a gourmet ‘Estate to Plate’ dinner in the lodge dining room this evening which utilises 100% pesticide free produce reared from the estate.
Treetops Lodge & Estate, Rotorua | Meals: B,L,D
Day 07 – Rotorua
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
This morning our travellers can choose from the following included options at Treetops:
Focussed on relaxation, reconnection, and well-being, sink into the nurturing comfort of time-honoured ritual as a spa therapists guides you through a realm of reflection and serenity. Catch the alluring scent of native plants and oils and be transported to a place of blissful relaxation and pure escape.
Māori Food Trail
Slip off into the wilderness with your private guide as you are lead on an illuminating expedition through the abundance of the forest. Search for native plants and herbs, learn about their nutritional and medicinal properties, and discover their ties with Māori cultural traditions. Sample what you find, fresh from the land, or harvest it for the chefs to use in their delicious creations.
This afternoon you will be transferred by private vehicle to the world-famous Te Whakarewarewa geothermal valley – a place of gushing waters, steaming vents, and bubbling mud pools. Here you will enjoy a privately accessed guided experience of this unique geothermal valley and to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, a true bastion of the nation’s indigenous arts and one of the most salient institutions responsible for preventing Māori culture, stories, legends, and arts from disappearing.
For dinner you will enjoy a selection of fresh New Zealand produce and seafood cooked in a geothermal pool by your personal chef while you watch. Enjoy the ambience of this historically significant valley that was home to some of the earliest indigenous settlements and experience the natural wonder of the Pohutu geyser, the largest naturally occurring geyser in the Southern Hemisphere.
After your dining experience, return to the lodge and spend the remainder of your evening at leisure.
Treetops Lodge & Estate, Rotorua | Meals: B,D
Day 08 – Lake Rotoiti
After breakfast, we head to the shores of Lake Rotoiti and are welcomed on to one of the spiritual and community hubs of the local people – the Marae – for an exclusive and immersive cultural experience. You will be greeted and welcomed on to this spiritual home by the local Ngãti Pikiao families of this region in the traditional way – once the welcoming ritual has been completed you will be considered “Tangata Whenua” or people of the land – you essentially become one of the family.
For lunch we enjoy a traditional hangi meal, cooked in a ground oven by a local gourmet chef. This is a delicious way to engage the traditions of the local Ngãti Pikiao people. We spend the morning talking with locals and learning about the rich history of this tribe and the area. We will be treated to a performance and will also be able to enjoy learning about Māori arts and craft such as flax weaving and carving.
We return to the lodge this afternoon and enjoy some down time or other on-site activities before pre-dinner drinks & canapes leading into your evening meal at the lodge.
Treetops Lodge & Estate, Rotorua | Meals: B,L,D
Day 09 – Rotorua to Wanaka
This morning we transfer to the airport and fly from Rotorua to Queenstown (via a quick layover in Auckland), saying a fond farewell to the North Island and getting ready to experience a different aspect of New Zealand’s rich history in the South Island.
Over the next few days, we aim to step back in time and delve deep into the pioneering spirit of New Zealand exploration by the early European settlers. Contrasting with the stories and history of vast settlements in the North Island, the South Island was commonly used as a summer hunting ground for the now extinct, large flightless Moa and for gathering the treasured pounamu (greenstone), which was in abundance throughout the West Coast and lower South Island.
After our arrival into Queenstown, we travel over the Crown Ranges alpine pass to Wanaka, stopping at the historic Cardrona Hotel before arriving at our purpose-built Tipi Pioneers Camp, our comfortable riverside base for the next 2 nights. Combining the highest standards of service and home comforts, matched with incredible food and wine, the Pioneers Camp is our launchpad for immersive adventure experiences in these unforgettable and remote wilderness environments. Our stay here offers the opportunity to truly disconnect and unplug from daily rigours and completely relax, share, and enjoy intimate time with those around us, all whilst experiencing the natural beauty of New Zealand in an extremely unique way.
After meeting our hosts and private chef, we sit around the roaring fire with drink in hand while our expedition team set the scene for the coming days by regaling us with stories that bring us into the mindset of the early pioneers. An epic feast then awaits us served in the grandiose communal tipi.
Tipi Pioneers Camp, Wanaka | Meals: B,L,D
Day 10 – Wanaka & Helicopter Adventure
This morning marks one of the highlights of our trip – a remarkable helicopter-accessed hiking experience in one of New Zealand’s most pristine wilderness areas.
After a hearty breakfast at camp, we will transfer to a nearby helicopter hangar for a safety briefing before boarding our private helicopter, enjoying a stunning flight over lakes, beautiful rivers and past rugged snow-capped mountains before landing on a remote alpine tussock flat.
Here you will have options to hike/trek along flat areas suitable to your own abilities with professional guides by your side, or for the more adventurous, don crampons and explore with ice axes in the nearby snow. For those who wish to push themselves in the name of exploration, expect a truly empowering and exhilarating experience as you gently ascend the West Ridge of Black Peak before arriving at the spectacular summit blessed with panoramic 360-degree views of the Southern Alps. We come together as a group and enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch on the mountain before our helicopter swoops in and whisks us back to civilisation and waiting vehicles for the journey back to Wanaka. But the adventure doesn’t end there…
We travel to the picturesque Hawea River for a leisurely rafting/float adventure. Here we will find inflated rafts and a Tipi set by the river entrance – change into the appropriate rafting clothing provided, before commencing our journey downstream in rafts with professional guides. The Hawea is a grade 2 river with a mix of fun rapids and deep blue/green swimming holes and stunning scenery. We swim, paddle and laugh our way downstream at a comfortable pace, all while enjoying some of the historic tales of this fascinating region.
As we emerge around a bend, we are magically welcomed ashore back to the Pioneers Camp – fire roaring and drinks flowing, with an epic feast this evening prepared by private chef Pete as we share stories from our day of adventure around the dining table.
Tipi Pioneers Camp, Wanaka | Meals: B,L,D
Day 11 – Wanaka, Skippers Canyon & Queenstown
Enjoy breakfast at camp this morning and then head out to delve into the rich stories of the region’s gold mining history with today’s adventure through the gorgeous Skippers Canyon. We meet our local guides and drive up Coronet Peak Road in specialised 4×4 buses, with spectacular views across the Wakatipu Basin, before heading over the saddle and down the infamous Skippers Canyon Road. Hacked by hand and clinging to the sheer cliffside, this road is one of the most adventurous in the country. Enjoy awe-inspiring scenery as we make our way through the gorge, high above the Shotover River, which in the days of the gold rush was once known as the richest river in the world.
We venture down to the river’s edge and board a private jet boat, where we explore deeper into Skippers Canyon through narrow ravines on the Shotover River and get a first-hand experience of historic gold mining relics that remain in the river today. After all the excitement, we have a relaxed lunch and a special opportunity to discovery Winky’s private museum of relics and artefacts that have been collected over 5 generations of living in Skippers Canyon – you will even have a chance to try your hand at gold panning as gold is still being found today.
We drive to magnificent Queenstown this afternoon and enjoy a relaxed evening at your leisure, exploring the town’s lively bar and restaurant scene.
Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel, Queenstown | Meals: B, L
Day 12 – Queenstown
The final chapter in our story brings us to Queenstown and essentially to the modern-day New Zealand. In some ways, it is the epitome of European influence over the years and is now considered by many as one of the adventure capitals of the world.
After a leisurely breakfast and free time to explore the town, we embark on a specially curated wine experience guided by a professional wine expert. Travelling through Central Otago’s famed wine region, we have curated meetings with the finest wine makers and enjoy private tasting experiences along with a casual platter-style lunch at a winery. We have also gained exclusive access to artist Jenny Mehrtens gallery, where we meet with Jenny for a private viewing to talk about her work. Jenny’s ancestors came to New Zealand over 160 years ago and, through her work, she is exploring her cultural identity and a renewed interest in the history of Aotearoa through the study of artefacts and archival photos as well as learning the Māori language.
This evening, we gather for a spectacular farewell dinner event on Queenstown Hill at the private residence of the late Tim Wilson. Wilson was one of New Zealand’s finest landscape painters and his unique oil paintings are found in some of the most prestigious collections around the world. His Frank Lloyd Wright inspired home sits amongst beautiful, terraced gardens wrapped with incredible views over Lake Wakatipu. We embark on a private tour of Wilson’s residence and private gallery followed by our exclusive food and wine pairing evening, hosted by a Commandeur of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, the ultimate conclusion to our journey.
Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel, Queenstown | Meals: B, L, D
Days 13 – Depart Queenstown
Enjoy a leisurely morning relaxing at the hotel before your private transfer to Queenstown Airport to connect with your onward flight.
Dr James Robinson
A highly experienced historian and archivist, James is a skilled landscape archaeologist with a passion for the story of human settlement in the South Pacific. He is the Senior Archaeologist for Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, the lead heritage government agency that is responsible for protecting archaeology.
James takes a multidisciplinary approach to recording history – especially working with tangata whenua (people of the land). These collaborations incorporate traditional knowledge into interpretations about the history of mankind in the Pacific.
He is interested in questions regarding what drove people to cross such vast distances and risk so much to make a new life in a strange new world. Using a wide range of resource material to study the unique culture that Māori developed in New Zealand, as well as the later but similarly unique European society that developed in the 1800s, James incorporates a variety of European sciences and history, alongside traditional knowledge, to recreate testable stories to try and explain how and why such unique cultures developed in Aotearoa New Zealand.
James has lived and worked for over 30 years in the Northland region of New Zealand’s north island, one of the cradles for the development of Māori and Pakeha society.
A New Zealander of Māori descent, Ceillhe is from the Ngapuhi tribe in Northland with an Irish influence on her paternal side. Ceillhe is a direct descendant of two Māori chiefs that signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 – New Zealand’s founding document – including Patuone, who was known as ‘The Peacemaker’, and also traces descent from famed Ngapuhi fighting chiefs Uenuku and Kaharau.
Ceillhe is passionate about her indigenous Māori culture and loves to immerse travellers in Māori traditions and practices, offering a rare and authentic insight into the Māori in a meaningful way.
Her unmatched knowledge and respect for people and places has seen Ceillhe win several global tourism awards, including being named as one of the world’s top 25 global guides in 2021.
Duke of Marlborough Hotel
Russell, Bay of Islands
New Zealand’s first licensed hotel, the historic Duke of Marlborough is located on the waterfront in the charming village of Russell in the Bay of Islands. The Duke has a glorious colonial style that has been refreshing rascals and reprobates since 1827.
Treetops Lodge & Estate
Nestled in 2500 acres of 800-year-old native forest, Treetops is a sanctuary and retreat of breathtaking terrain located 30 minutes from Rotorua. Treetops features seven streams, four lakes and over 40 miles of adventure trails, with the lodge’s elegant, ecology inspired architectural style derived from the country’s pioneering past.
Pioneers Tipi Camp
The rustic Pioneers Tipi Camp is a unique place to experience all that the New Zealand wilderness has to offer. Comfortable individual tents are complimented by the giant communal Nordic tipi, which houses old world furniture, a bar for drinks, lounges and a dining space. Portable toilets and showers are on-site, and a roaring outdoor fire is the joyous focal point for the camp.
- Meals as per itinerary (12 breakfasts, 10 lunches, 10 dinners) including welcome and farewell dinners
- All domestic flights as per itinerary
- Private airport transfers (arrival and departure)
- Accommodation as stated on a twin-share basis
- Porterage at airports and hotels
- All land transport by private air-conditioned vehicle and boat transfers
- Services of an Arcadia Expedition Leader and English-speaking local guide throughout
- Sightseeing as specified including entrance fees to sites mentioned in itinerary
- Reusable responsible travel water bottle with daily drinking water provided
- Gratuities/tipping for local guides, drivers, hotel staff and restaurants for included meals
- All taxes
- Return international flights
- Passport and visa charges
- Items of a purely personal nature (i.e. telephone calls, laundry etc)
- Excess luggage
- Lunch and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in itinerary
- Travel insurance