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Wildlife Encounters

from £5037 excluding flights

  • 21 nights
  • Jan-Mar, Oct-Dec


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Discover the pristine wilderness of Doubtful Sound

Catlins Coast Forest Park

Explore the beautiful Catlins Coast Forest Park

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Spot native wildlife such as kiwi, tuatara, kea and Hector's dolphin

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Cross the Southern Alps on the scenic TranzAlpine railway

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Stay overnight on the island sanctuary of Kapiti

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Meet some of the world's rarest penguins on the Otago Peninsula

Why this trip...

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Tailor made

This itinerary can be tailor made to suit you and is intended to give you a guideline of what is possible in a given timeframe

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Activities included

This itinerary features a range of included activities

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Explore at leisure

With the route, transport and accommodation sorted, each day offers the freedom to explore


This 22-day independent holiday focuses on the rich and diverse natural heritage of New Zealand, home to a number of species of flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth. Bird life and marine mammals take centre stage on this self-drive journey that will lead you through pristine rainforests, alpine valleys and secluded beaches.

On Tiritiri Matangi Island near Auckland you will find tuataras, reintroduced to the Island in recent years. Often referred to as the living fossil, the tuatara is the sole survivor of an ancient order of reptiles called Rhynchocephalia.

Stewart Island is the only place in New Zealand where the timid nocturnal little brown kiwi can be reliably seen in the wild. Stewart Island’s brown kiwi has been recognised as a separate species, adapted to life in the south where during the summer months days are very long and nights short. On occasion, these kiwis can be seen foraging during daylight hours.

Yellow-eyed penguins (megadyptes antipodes) are found only in New Zealand waters and are one of the world’s rarest penguins. They inhabit an area rich in wildlife on the Otago Peninsula. Numbers on the mainland are declining and their habitat is under threat. Their survival is very much reliant on human understanding and goodwill.

Hector’s dolphin (cephalorhynchus hectori) can be easily recognised by its small rounded dorsal fin and distinctive black and white markings. One of the world’s rarest dolphins they are endemic to the coastal regions of New Zealand. The largest populations live on the east and west coasts of the South Island, most notably on Banks Peninsula and Te Waewae Bay while smaller local groups are scattered along South Island coasts.

The kea is the world’s only alpine parrot. They are best seen in Arthur’s Pass National Park, Mount Cook (either in the Tasman or Hooker Valleys) and on the Milford Sound Road at Homer Tunnel. Renowned for their mischievous tendencies they are often responsible for demolishing vinyl ski tow seats and windscreen wipers and for raiding remote huts in search of food.


On arrival in Auckland you’ll be met and transferred to your city hotel. Known as the ‘City of Sails’, Auckland’s bustling shopping district, chic waterfront bars and restaurants combine with the city’s sights, such as the Harbour Bridge and the distinctive Sky Tower, which offers inspiring views of the city and its stunning surrounds.

The following day board a half-day cruise into the Hauraki Gulf, considered to be one of the most biologically and geographically diverse marine parks in the world. It is also one of the world’s richest habitats for marine mammals: 22 species of dolphins and whales have been seen here. You may spot small pods of dolphins playing around the boat or be spellbound by the spectacle of a feeding frenzy involving sea birds, dolphins, and whales.

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Collect your rental car from the city depot and drive to the seaside township of Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula, a region filled with rainforest-clad gorges and pohutukawa-fringed beaches, such as Cathedral Cove.

Explore at your leisure today, perhaps enjoying a soak in the thermal springs on Hot Water Beach, or a kayaking adventure at Cathedral Cove. Coromandel Town, at the northernmost part of the peninsula, is also worth a visit, with wonderful restaurants, bars and local craft shops on offer.

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Cathedral Cove
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This morning continue your journey along the Pacific Coast to Napier, New Zealand’s Art Deco capital, for a 2-night stay. Napier is set in the heart of Hawke’s Bay Wine Country and is best known for its Art Deco architecture. The city was rebuilt in the early 1930s, following a major earthquake and subsequent fires which destroyed most of its commercial heart. Nowhere else can you see such a variety of buildings in the styles of the 1930s – Stripped Classical, Spanish Mission and Art Deco – in such a concentrated area.

Today enjoy a half day tour to the world’s largest, most accessible gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers. You will travel through the stunning scenery of Cape Kidnappers Station, traversing riverbeds, broad rolling pastures, through stands of native bush, steep gullies and breathtaking inclines. Enjoy panoramic views of Hawke’s Bay right across to the Mahia peninsula before arrival at the gannet colony where your guide will share fascinating facts about these eye-catching birds. Please note during May-August when the gannets are overseas a scenic safari tour is included.

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This morning make your way south to New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. Set between a sparkling harbour and rolling green hills, this compact city has great shopping, theatre, memorable arts, culture and heritage and great cafes and restaurants, all surprisingly close to untouched nature spots. A visit to New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa, is highly recommended.

Make your way to Paraparaumu Beach to board the passenger ferry to Kapiti Island. This internationally renowned sanctuary is home to a number of native birds and other New Zealand wildlife, whilst the surrounding waters are a protected marine reserve. An overnight stay on this very special island includes a guided walk in search of wild kiwi.

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This morning take the ferry back to the mainland and continue by car to Wellington to board the Interislander ferry. The scenic cruise across Cook Strait offers the chance to see dolphins and other marine wildlife, as well as the beautiful islands and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds. Disembark in Picton and follow the coast road south to Kaikoura.

Today enjoy a whale watching excursion against a backdrop of the snowcapped Kaikoura Ranges.

Sperm whales are year-round residents off the Kaikoura coast but you are also likely to see New Zealand fur seals, huge pods of dusky dolphins and the endangered wandering albatross circling overhead. Orcas and the diminutive Hector’s dolphins are also commonly spotted, whilst seasonal visitors may include migrating humpback, pilot, blue, and southern right whales.

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Continue your journey south to Christchurch today. Enjoy time at leisure exploring this compact, yet vibrant city centred around the River Avon. Punt down the river and enjoy the delightful botanical gardens or visit the famous cardboard cathedral and novel container mall.

This morning rise early to board the TranzAlpine, renowned as one of the great train journeys of the world. Travel through spectacular gorges through Arthur’s Pass and on to Greymouth, located on the South Island’s wild west coast. On arrival pick up a car and continue by road to beautiful Lake Moeraki. Few places on earth can match the unique natural setting of the Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki, in the heart of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area (Te Waipounamu, or ‘the place of greenstone jade’). The lodge is the perfect base for nature lovers seeking a wilderness escape, and will be your home for the next 2 nights.

Today enjoy an included guided nature tour – perhaps hike through the surrounding rainforest, join a kayaking lesson on Lake Moeraki, or take an evening stroll to discover the stars of the southern sky and marvel at thousands of glow worms lighting up the forest. Additional guided activities can also be arranged at the lodge (payable locally), allowing the chance to explore further afield in a small group. A popular option is to head down to the beach to witness the tawaki, or Fiordland crested penguin, which is found only in the southwest corner of New Zealand. From July to December each year these rare penguins can be seen waddling from the ocean to the rainforest, where they nest.

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Continue south along the West Coast and over Haast Pass to Lake Wanaka. This beautiful lakeside town has an abundance of outdoor activities in a stunning natural setting. It lies in close proximity to Mt Aspiring National Park and is the ideal location for keen hikers and those wanting to explore pristine wilderness landscapes.

Enjoy mountain views and fertile farm country on the scenic drive to Te Anau. Situated beside a tranquil lake, this charming township is the gateway to Fiordland National Park.

This morning travel to Pearl Harbour, Manapouri from Te Anau. Here you will be transferred by lake and over a high pass to remote Deep Cove, where you will board a catamaran for a 3 hour cruise on Doubtful Sound. Enjoy spectacular waterfalls, lush rainforest and majestic mountains and watch out for fur seals or resident pods of bottlenose dolphins. As the engines are turned off you will understand why this majestic corner of paradise is nicknamed the ‘Sound of Silence’.

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Follow the Waiau Valley to the south coast and board the passenger ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island. During the crossing, keep your eyes peeled for seals, dolphins and a variety of sea birds, in particular the huge mollymawks (albatross) which often follow the vessel.

New Zealand’s third largest island is an unmissable treat for nature lovers: nearly 90% of Stewart Island is National Park, boasting lush rainforest, rugged peaks and windswept beaches. The island is home to just 400 humans and over 13,000 wild kiwi, whilst nearby Ulva Island is a predator free bird sanctuary providing a safe haven for a wealth of endemic birdlife.

Today you will join a guided to tour to Ulva Island Bird Sanctuary, a unique predator-free environment with easy walking tracks through temperate rainforest. This half-day tour is led by experienced natural history guides and birding specialists, who share their love of this special island and its wild inhabitants. Discover New Zealand’s rare and endangered birds and plants at close quarters and take away the knowledge that you have glimpsed a part of a unique and primeval world.

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Beach walk on Ulva Island
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Return to Bluff by ferry this morning and make your way via the spectacular Catlins Coast to Dunedin. This scenic drive weaves its way around rugged headlands alongside the lush native bush of the Catlins Forest Park. Allow plenty of time for stops along the way to discover hidden lakes, stunning waterfalls and deserted golden beaches, with the chance to spot marine life offshore.

Dunedin is a vibrant student city with historic Edwardian and Victorian architecture, but it’s the nearby Otago Peninsula that is the real draw. Here you’ll find an abundance of unique and rare wildlife, including the very rare yellow-eyed penguin. Today a guided tour through the penguin colony is included, offering close-up viewing opportunties from covered trenches and observation huts. Your guide will explain the habits and lifecycles of these fascinating birds. If time permits you may also wish to visit the nearby Royal Albatross colony (additional cost).

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Depart Dunedin and make your way to Christchurch for your final night in New Zealand.

Accommodation Options

This itinerary includes some uniquely Kiwi stays, offering an immersive experience in specially selected locations:

Kapiti Island is an internationally renowned sanctuary and marine reserve, home to many of New Zealand’s native birds. An overnight stay at the simple but comfortable Kapiti Island Nature Lodge offers the chance to see little spotted kiwi in the wild.

Lake Moeraki sits in the heart of Te Wahipounamu, the southwest New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Area. A 2-night stay at the eco-friendly Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge includes a choice of included guided nature and wildlife activities.

Throughout the remainder of the itinerary, a wide selection of hotels, lodges and B&Bs can mixed and matched to suit your individual preference – ask our team for personal recommendations.

  • Kapiti Island Nature Lodge welcome talk
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  • lake moeraki wilderness lodge
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Prices and Departures

Price from £5037 excluding flights

Airfares start from around £825 per person and are quoted separately to the holiday price.
When enquiring, our Travel Specialists will provide the best fare possible from your preferred airline / airport.
Note: Airfares tend to be cheaper the earlier you book.

What's Included

  • Accommodation in rooms with private bathroom (mix of hotels, motels, B&B's and wilderness lodges)
  • 16 breakfasts, 3 dinners
  • Car rental throughout
  • Private airport transfer on arrival
  • Interislander ferry (Premium Plus cabin)
  • Return ferry between Bluff and Stewart Island
  • TranzAlpine rail journey from Christchurch to Greymouth
  • Hauraki Gulf whale & dolphin cruise
  • Half day privately guided walk in the Coromandel
  • Gannet Safari Tour
  • Kapiti Island overnight kiwi spotting tour
  • Kaikoura whale watching
  • Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise
  • Full day Birding Bonanza tour on Ulva Island
  • Penguin Place Conservation tour
  • 24 hour emergency assistance from our team during your holiday
  • No surcharge guarantee
  • Full financial protection

This itinerary starts from around £5,037 per person, based on 2 sharing a room with private bathroom in standard hotels, and rental of a compact SUV vehicle.

Prices may vary depending on departure date and booking date, as well as any changes to the included components. The final cost of a tailored holiday will be based on the level of accommodation, size of vehicle, included activities, travel season, and how far in advance it is booked. We will confirm the exact price for your holiday in your individual quotation, based on your chosen travel dates and inclusions.

As Standard, Complete Piece of Mind

We’re listening. We always care what our fellow travellers think and love building strong customer relationships so we continuously focus on improving future experiences based on feedback. How incredible for the last three years we have received the Feefo Platinum Award.

The World's Great. Pass it On

To mark our 40th anniversary, we've launched our Education Bursary Fund to help disadvantaged school children experience the wonders of travel. A percentage of revenue from every holiday booked will go into the bursary fund to pay for at least 40 students to join one of our school trips abroad.