Big Five Tours & Expeditions

New Zealand Custom Tour

About New Zealand 

Homesteads of New Zealand: New Zealand excels at being exceptional. Among its many assets are a range of extraordinary homesteads on both islands, and Big Five has selected the finest that meet its sustainability standards. What unites these homesteads are their profound respect for the land, local culture and their reputations for excellence. Yet each has its own distinctive character. For example, one began as a successful farming operation in the mid-1800s; another is an elegant island retreat accommodating just seven guests; and yet another is ideally located at the edge of a national park. These gems offer rewarding experiences of life in New Zealand. 

North Island

Auckland: The largest city in New Zealand is both cosmopolitan and relaxed. It is classified as a Beta + World City because of its importance in commerce, the arts, and education. The University of Auckland, established in 1883, is the largest university in New Zealand. Landmarks include Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Harbour Bridge, Sky Tower, The National Maritime Museum, Parnell Colonial Village and Rose Gardens as well as many museums, parks, restaurants and theaters. Howick Historical Village reflects life as it was in the mid-1800s. The National Maritime Museum, Parnell Colonial Village and Rose Gardens are interesting. A diverse and multicultural city, Auckland is home to the largest Polynesian population in the world. The surrounding hills are lush rainforest and dotted with dozens of dormant volcanic cones. The central part of the urban area sits on a narrow isthmus between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Auckland is one of the few cities in the world to have a harbor on two separate major bodies of water. The isthmus was first settled around 1350 by indigenous people with the first Europeans arriving almost five centuries later.

Bay of Islands: The Bay of Islands is regarded as the birthplace of modern New Zealand, since it was here that European settlement first began in 1814. Ninety Mile Beach, which is only 88 km/55 mi. long, runs west of Kaitaia towards Cape Reinga along the Aupouri Peninsula. Cape Brett’s 1908 lighthouse sees the majestic display of the Tasman Sea melding with the Pacific Ocean. The area offers some of the best deep-sea and big game fishing in the world. 

Hawke’s Bay:The Hawke’s Bay region includes the hilly coastal land around the northern and central bay, the floodplains of the Wairoa River in the north, and the Heretaunga Plains around Hastings in the south. Hawke’s Bay has dozens of wineries as well as orchards and olive groves. Year-round events related to food and wine include the annual Harvest Hawke’s Bay in February. Napier is known for its remarkable Art Deco architecture. The city experienced a devastating earthquake and fire in 1931, but it was rebuilt in the style popular at the time. Today, it represents the most significant collection of Art Deco buildings in the world. 

Rotorua: Rotorua is the remarkable “Thermal City.” Te Puia Thermal Reserve and Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserves have boiling mud pools and active geysers. The area’s farms showcase the talents of working sheep dogs and the variety of sheep that contribute to New Zealand’s worldwide reputation for fine wool products. The Waitomo Glow Worm Caves are a stunning underground wonderland, magically lit by glow worms.

Taupo: The town sits on the shore of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake and a trout fishery stocked with brown and rainbow trout. It is a center of volcanic and geothermal activity and hot springs. The lake was created nearly 2,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption so intense that darkened the skies over Europe and China. The Craters of the Moon reveal evidence of the lake’s beginnings with its geysers, steaming craters and boiling mud pools.

Wellington: New Zealand’s capital city is set on the edge of a peaceful harbor and surrounded by rolling hills. It is an amiable city with boutique shops, galleries and great restaurants – all within easy walking distance of downtown. The city is bordered on three sides by water. In 1839, the first Europeans settled here. As the nation’s capital, Wellington has a rich cultural life that includes the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre and the National Portrait Gallery.

South Island 

Cape Minaret Station: Accessible only by helicopter, this remote station is a 20,234 ha/50,000 ac. working, high country farm. It supports some 10,000 deer, 7,000 sheep and 1,000 cattle. Rich and authentic experiences in the Southern Alps, West Coast and Fiordland make this a unique destination. Depending on season, guests may witness sheep herding dogs in action, experience a sheep being shorn in summer or during spring months, meet the newest residents including spring lambs, calves and fawns. For high adventure, premier alpine experiences include guided hikes, fly fishing, heli-skiing, and unforgettable helicopter excursions to West Coast and Fiordland. The UNESCO World Heritage Listed Mt Aspiring National Park nearby recalls dramatic landscapes in the “Lord of the Rings.”

Christchurch: According to Maori history, the Maori have inhabited this area for more than a millennium. In 1840, the first Europeans settled on the plains and Christchurch became a city by Royal Charter in 1856. Today, Christchurch, the garden city, is known for its festivals that encompass arts, hot air ballooning and flowers. It also boasts fine restaurants, galleries, gardens and shops. The unique International Antarctic Centre is the only attraction where you can experience an Antarctic storm, first hand.

Glenorchy: The gold rush of the 1860s brought miners flooding to the area seeking their fortunes. Remnants of several mines still exist. But today’s travelers come here for the dramatic scenery and the vast options for adventure. Scenic helicopter flights provide birds-eye views of this breathtaking alpine countryside. Hiking is done along renowned trails such as Routeburn, Greenstone and Milford Track, often described as “the finest walk in the world.” Horseback riding, mountain biking, heli-skiing in winter and kayaking are popular as well as jet boating the Dart River. The wild and untouched rivers offer outstanding fly fishing.

Kaikoura: Once a center for the whaling industry, it offers some of the best whale watching in the world today. Offshore pods of dusky dolphins as well as a permanent population of bachelor sperm whales can be seen. A large colony of Southern fur seals are found at the edge of the town. Bird watchers may catch sight of giant albatross, petrel and shearwater. The Seaward Kaikoura Mountains is a branch of the Southern Alps that reaches down to the sea. Hiking trails wind through this incredibly scenic setting. The area has been inhabited by Maori for 1,000 years; and Kaikoura’s rich sea life and fertile land has supported Maori and European settlements for nearly that long. Today the Kaikoura district and township of less than 3,000 individuals are home to an eclectic population of fishermen, farmers, surfers, artists and craftspeople. They have embraced sustainability to the extent that Kaikoura became the first community in New Zealand and the second in the world to achieve EarthCheck Benchmark status, the world’s only global tourism environmental certification.

Lake Moeraki: Lake Moeraki rests in the wild heart of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area boasts spectacular beaches, fur seals and crested penguin colonies, lowland rainforests, and pristine lakes and rivers that drain the snow-capped Southern Alps.

Marlborough Sounds: The region appears in stories and legends of the indigenous Maori. The famous Captain James Cook favored Marlborough Sounds as a base while charting New Zealand in the 18th century. Marlborough is known for its mussel farms. With forests, trout-filled rivers, rugged backcountry and sheltered bays, it is a favorite for outdoor enthusiasts. There are opportunities for sailing, diving, biking, kayaking and hiking. More leisurely pursuits include vineyard tours and browsing galleries and craft studios. Wildlife includes dolphin, seal and blue penguin. Beautiful Mistletoe Bay’s pristine marine environment is home to playful seals, dolphins and, possibly, some orca. Queen Charlotte Track is one of New Zealand’s best-known trails and leads through spectacular beech forest. Bellbirds, fantails and kereru are found here as well as rare marine birds such as gannets and little blue penguins. Marlborough Sounds is also known for its cuisine and includes ingredients such as Ora King salmon, scampi, paua, mussels, wild venison, pork. 

Milford & Doubtful Sound (Te Anau): The region has achieved UNESCO World Heritage status for its famous landscapes, including Mitre Peak, Milford and Doubtful Sounds and Mount Aspiring National Parks. Doubtful Sound, also called “the Sound of Silence,” possesses a sheltered serenity that contrasts with Milford Sound. New Zealand fur seals and Fiordland crested penguins inhabit many of the small islets. Doubtful also has the deepest of the fiords, with three distinct branches with several outstanding waterfalls. The area can be explored in a kayak, on a cruise, as a day trip or overnight. The hub of the fiord region is the attractive town of Te Anau, nestled on the edge of a beautiful lake, with Mt. Luxmore and the Murchison Mountain as spectacular backdrops.

Nelson & Abel Tasman National Park: Sitting at the top northwest corner of South Island, Nelson encompasses long superb beaches, unscathed forests and rugged mountains. More than 350 contemporary, traditional and Maori working artists and craftspeople have studios here. The Inland region is notable for its cave systems, and the country’s deepest vertical shaft, Harwood’s Hole. Te Waikoropupu Springs holds the world record for fresh water clarity. Abel Tasman National Park was founded in 1942, and at just 225.3 sq. km/87 sq. mi., it is New Zealand’s smallest national park. The Tonga Island Marine Reserve adjoins the park.

Queenstown: Queenstown has a rich Maori heritage as it was the Maori who discovered and first settled the area. In Maori mythology, Lake Wakatipu was formed when the indentation left by a sleeping giant flooded. Members of South Island tribes ventured into the Wakatipu Basin in search of food and New Zealand’s precious pounamu (jade) long before the first European settlers arrived. Evidence of stake nets, baskets for catching eels, spears and ashes indicate the Glenorchy area was visited by Maori. But the city began modern life as the 1860s gold rush mining camp. Queenstown retains an element of that frontier excitement and energy today. It enjoys views of nearby mountains including The Remarkables, Cecil Peak and Walter Peak. This is the place for all things adventure – bungee jumping, skiing, snowboarding, whitewater rafting, sky diving, hot air ballooning, hang gliding and mountain biking as well as golf, biking, walking, sailing and fishing. There are also opportunities to explore art, culture and cuisine in the art galleries, boutiques and fine restaurants.

Southern Alps (Franz Josef / Greymouth): Haast Pass is the entryway to UNESCO World Heritage Westland Tai Poutini National Park, which extends from the highest peaks of the Southern Alps to a wild and remote coastline and encompass dramatic mountain ranges, native forests and lakes. Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers offer rewarding adventures such as scenic flights, guided walks on one of the glaciers. Greymouth is home to the Tranz Alpine Train, which travels through lush beech forests and past the village of Arthur’s Pass before crossing the spectacular Southern Alps. The mountains are rich in flora with about 25% of the country’s plant species found above the tree line in alpine plant habitats. Wildlife in the mountains includes the endemic rock wren and the kea, a large parrot that was once hunted as a pest. Endemic insects adapted to these high altitudes include flies, moths, beetles, and bees. The beech forests of the lower elevations are important habitat for two species of birds, the great spotted kiwi and the South Island kaka. The mountains are inaccessible and retain their natural vegetation. A large proportion of the range is well protected within national parks including Westland as well as Mount Aspiring National Park and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park or protected areas such as Lake Sumner Forest Park.

Best Time to Go

There is no bad time to visit New Zealand. Plan your trip around your interests, whether that is skiing the Southern Alps or kayaking on mountain lakes. The Southern Hemisphere’s seasons are the opposite of those in North America. Summer lasts from December to February. Spring is September through November. Autumn is from March to May. Winter runs June through August.