Some of the best New Zealand tours are those customized to suit a group, couple, or family’s special interest. New Zealand is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, wine afficionados, Lord of the Rings fans, photographers, bird watchers, geologists, golfers, stargazers, fly-fishers, and much more–but in such a large country, it can be hard to find the best places for these special interests.
This is where our customized special interest New Zealand tours come in. Working alongside the team at New Zealand Guided Tours, you can pick and choose your personal highlights to create the focused trip of a lifetime. And your guide will help you make the most of those one-of-a-kind destinations.
From wine tastings and Lord of the Rings location-hunting to corporate incentive travel, read on for which locations you shouldn’t miss on your special interest New Zealand tour.
New Zealand has recently gained international recognition for its superb wines, grow in diverse wine regions spread throughout the North and South Islands.
If you wish to plan a New Zealand tour around visiting the very best of New Zealand’s vineyards, tasting exquisite wines at the source, the following regions and wineries should be at the top of your list.
New Zealand’s largest wine region, Marlborough is home to the exquisite Sauvignon Blanc that first drew international attention to the New Zealand wine scene in 1980s.
With sunny, cool weather and diverse soils, Marlborough is still the top destination for Sauvignon Blanc anywhere in New Zealand. Many other varietals are grown in this region as well, including Pinot Noir and Riesling.
Giesen Winery–the special reserve tasting is worth savoring
Brancott Estate–the winery that vaulted New Zealand onto the world stage
Sunny, warm Hawke’s Bay offers an established trail of cellar door tastings and other wine experiences that include festivals and museums.
This is the second-largest wine region in New Zealand, notable for its Cabernet and Merlot blends, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.
Te Mata Estate–one of the oldest family-owned wineries in New Zealand
Mission Estate–New Zealand’s oldest winery, establishd in 1851, with stunning views of the countryside
As one of the southernmost wine regions in the world, Central Otago was once thought unsuitable for growing wines. Instead, Central Otago became one of the world’s premier Pinot Noir regions, noted as well for its Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc.
With rugged, mountainous terrain and rocky soil, Central Otago is New Zealand’s most spectacular wine region.
Maori Point Winery–hidden on a country road 20 minutes outside of Wanaka, Maori Point is known for its exquisite Pinot Gris. The Gold Digger and Honi are unexpected yet superb.
Rippon Winery–perched on a hilltop overlooking Lake Wanaka, Rippon Winery is worth visiting for the views alone. Wines are produced by unique biodynamic processes.
The unique microclimate on Waiheke Island, with its rich volcanic soils, has given rise to a small yet notable wine region.
Visit the island to sample world-class Syrah, superb Chardonnay, and rich Cabernet blends.
Stonyridge Vineyard–excellent Cabernet blends and an olive plantation adjacent to the vineyard
With an extensive and diverse wine-growing region, Canberbury is home to boutique vineyards producing outstanding Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and other aromatics.
Waipara Valley is a star of the Canterbury wine region, with several notable vineyards clustered within its micro-climate.
Terrace Edge Vineyard–voted New Zealand’s best organic vineyard in 2018, this family-run business has perfected its small range of wines
Pegasus Bay–award-winning varietals at this acclaimed winery include Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay
The boutique wine region of Nelson, which benefits from a sheltered coastal climate and high sunshine hours, produces superb Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.
This picturesque region also has a strong cafe and artistic culture, both of which can be sampled during a wine-tasting tour.
Neudorf Vineyards–though small, Neudorf has made an impression overseas and exports to 16 countries
Covering a diverse set of landscapes in the countryside surrounding New Zealand’s largest city, the Auckland region offers a staggering array of wine varieties. These include Syrah, Chardonnay, Cabernet blends, Merlot, and Pinot Gris.
These unique micro-regions surrounding Auckland share volcanic soil rich in clay and a temperate coastal climate.
Kumeu River–helped establish Auckland’s reputation as a world-class wine region
Those who visit New Zealand to explore the best Lord of the Rings filming locations inevitably discover that Middle-earth is even more beguiling in real life.
Some of the most recognizable Middle-earth destinations that you should not miss in your Lord of the Rings location tour include the following:
No Lord of the Rings fan should miss this idyllic, charming miniature village. With dozens more Hobbit-holes than ever appeared in the movies, each crafted with exquisite attention to detail, the Hobbiton movie set is so much fun to visit that even non-fans will love exploring its winding paths.
Top tip: If you can time your visit right, book the Evening Banquet Tour, which only takes place on select days. On top of the regular movie set tour, this fantastic experience gains you exclusive twilight access to a lantern-lit Hobbiton once the crowds have gone home—plus a delicious Hobbit-themed feast.
Paradise Valley, just north of Glenorchy, is easily recognizable as the Valley of Isengard. This stunning region also starred in numerous other Lord of the Rings scenes, including the Misty Mountains and the Forest of Lothlorien.
Top tip: The best way to see Paradise Valley is on the Dart River Jet Wilderness Safari. Or, if you want an in-depth tour of exact filming locations, book a tour with Nomad Safaris. There are countless filming locations in the Queenstown and Glenorchy regions—dedicated fans should devote at least a full day to visiting as many as possible with Nomad Safaris.
Tucked away in the isolated Rangitata River valley, Mt Sunday—better known as Edoras—is surrounded by towering peaks. Even with the set removed, you will feel as though you stepped into the heart of Rohan as you ascend the short rise.
Top tip: Your private guide can take you to the foot of Mt Sunday, or, for a more immersive Lord of the Rings experience, join a tour from Christchurch, which includes film props and lunch.
Several filming mementos still remain in the lovely stand of forest north of Wellington that once housed the ethereal city of Rivendell. Though you won’t see the cascading waterfalls that formed a backdrop to this elven paradise, the forest is atmospheric and lovely.
Top tip: Combine a visit to Rivendell with Weta Workshop (below) and several other Wellington-area filming locations on a day trip with Rover Ring Tours.
While the conical Mt Nguaruhoe has the dubious honor of starring as Mt Doom (dubious because it was altered so much with CGI that the real mountain is unrecognizable in the films), there are countless other volcanic filming locations spread throughout Tongariro National Park. Just walking past twisted lava formations and over barren craters will give you a sense for the desolation that awaited Frodo and Sam when they reached Mordor.
Top tip: The famous Tongariro Crossing day hike is a great way to see Mt Nguaruhoe, or book a Lord of the Rings-focused day trip with several short hikes to filming locations on Mt Tongariro and Mt Ruapehu.
The world’s top special effects, fantasy costume, creature design, and prop studio, Weta Workshop is where the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were truly brought to life. Go behind-the-scenes and learn how artisans brought Gollum and the Orcs to life, designed armor and weapons for the heroes, and created both miniature and life-sized sets for filming Minas Tirith and other great cities of Middle-earth.
Top tip: The “Window Into Workshop” tour is well worth doing, with its hands-on look into exactly how the props and characters were created.
Some of the most memorable visuals in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies are the gorgeous aerial shots that soar above snow-capped mountain peaks and forests rising like dark walls from the grassland. If helicopter flights are within your budget, a whole new realm of stunning filming locations opens up to you, from the entrance of the Mines of Moria to the craggy peaks where the beacons of Minas Tirith burst into flame.
Top tip: Queenstown and Te Anau-based helicopter companies both offer extensive helicopter tours of the Lord of the Rings filming destinations nearby. Not just for Middle-earth fans, these unforgettable flights soar past jaw-dropping vistas of glaciers, braided rivers, soaring peaks, and mysterious fiords. Another major helicopter-accessed location is the entrance to the Mines of Moria, which is reached from Nelson.
New Zealand boasts some of the world’s finest hiking. If you want to experience true wilderness and spectacular natural scenery, these fantastic trails should definitely be part of your New Zealand tour.
Just 3-5 hours return will take hikers to the foot of one of New Zealand’s prettiest hanging glaciers. The Rob Roy Glacier Track climbs steadily through lovely beech forest before emerging into an alpine meadow ringed by rocks, with Rob Roy Glacier above, waterfalls cascading from its base.
The most famous of New Zealand’s hikes, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing traverses a volcanic cone. The trail climbs unrelentingly to a high point on the flank of Mt Tongariro, where views over the other side open up, revealing three startlingly brilliant lakes. Even with the crowds, this stunning volcanic day hike is well worth doing.
With so much vertical terrain, helicopters are more common in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world. Where better to try a heli-hike, which combines breathtaking aerial scenery with an alpine trek? Tasman Glacier is the best destination for a heli-hike–enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience of exploring the glassy blue ice formations of a magnificent glacier and take in spectacular views of New Zealand’s highest mountains on the flight to and from the glacier.
The Routeburn Track boasts some of the most varied mountain scenery you will find anywhere in New Zealand, all in one compact trail. Typically done as a three-day hike, the Routeburn Track can also be walked in part as rewarding day hikes beginning from either trailhead.
Another of the New Zealand Great Walks, the Abel Tasman Coast Track follows golden-sand beaches, circles around tranquil bays, and passes through lush forest. Hike the full 3-day trail, switch it up with sections of kayaking, or sample the best stretches of the Abel Tasman Coast Track on a cruise/walk day trip.
Though close to downtown Queenstown, the hike up Ben Lomond allows trekkers to quickly escape the bustle. Offering sweeping views over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, the Ben Lomond Track can be hiked either to the saddle or the peak, depending on time and fitness levels.
Perched on a hillside overlooking Aoraki/Mt Cook, Mueller Hut is surrounded by New Zealand’s most dramatic mountains. This trail can be tackled as a day hike or an overnight trip with a stay in Mueller Hut.
New Zealand is a photographer’s paradise. With dramatic mountain and coastal scenery, colorful sunsets, and dark night skies, New Zealand is a fantastic destination for photography enthusiasts, from amateurs to professionals.
If you want to take home a collection of winning shots from your New Zealand tour, don’t miss these especially photogenic locations.
The iconic view of Mitre Peak rising over Milford Sound is at its most alluring around sunrise and sunset.
Thirty minutes from Queenstown, the road to Glenorchy turns a bend and the view suddenly opens up toward the head of the lake, where snow-capped peaks frame the vivid blue waters of Lake Wakatipu.
New Zealand’s most famous day hike captivates photographers from the high point on the trail, with the Emerald Lakes glittering below.
Aoraki/Mt Cook is staggering from any angle, though the Peter’s Lookout brings photographers closer to New Zealand’s highest peak, with the startling turquoise expanse of Lake Pukaki in the foreground.
Nugget Point and its accompanying pillars of rock crumbling into the sea make for captivating coastal photography, especially at sunrise.
The most photographed tree in the world, the Wanaka Tree is partially submerged in the waters of Lake Wanaka, forming a perfect focus for photography of the mountain backdrop. The Wanaka Tree is at its most scenic in autumn, when the nearby trees turn gold, and in winter, with a dusting of snow on the peaks behind the lake.
Especially popular with astrophotographers, the Church of the Good Shepherd, which sits near the shores of Lake Tekapo, is also captivating with summer lupins in bloom all around.
New Zealand’s most iconic beach frames sand and sea with a dramatic rock arch. Visit at sunrise for the most picturesque lighting and a chance at escaping the crowds.
The stretch of coastline south of Dunedin known as the Catlins is filled with photogenic waterfalls; Purakaunui Falls is one of the loveliest.
One of the best places to catch a famous West Coast sunset, the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki and the beach just south of the unusual formation make for dramatic evening photos.
Mt Taranaki, a perfect volcanic cone, is best seen from the reflective Pouakai Tarns. Dawn light on the tussocks and mountain is sublime.
Perched on a rugged, rocky stretch of coastline, Castlepoint Lighthouse is one of the most picturesque in New Zealand.
Surrounded by verdant redwood forest, the brilliant blue-and-green waters of Hamurana Springs make the perfect photographic subject.
The gruelling hike to the summit of Roy’s Peak, near Wanaka, rewards photographers with arresting views over Lake Wanaka and the surrounding peaks.
The night skies in New Zealand are among the clearest in the world. From the Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve to nighttime hiking in the backcountry, it is easy to find world-class stargazing destinations throughout New Zealand.
These are some of the best places in New Zealand to see the night sky.
Famed for both the telescopes at the Mt John Observatory and the iconic astrophotography shots of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo is the first destination any avid stargazer should visit. Situated in the Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, Lake Tekapo boasts some of New Zealand’s darkest skies.
Perched on Bob’s Peak, overlooking Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, the Skyline Complex offers nightly stargazing tours with a backdrop of the Remarkables Range. Peer through telescopes at the clear night sky—the elevated location means light pollution is minimal.
Also situated in the Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, Mt Cook Village offers fantastic stargazing whenever the skies are clear. Take a stargazing tour and peer through telescopes or, on cloudy nights, watch planetarium shows at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre.
One way to beat the crowds on the famous Tongariro Crossing is to start your hike several hours before sunrise. Not only does this give trekkers unbeatable sunrise views, it also provides several hours of fantastic stargazing as you climb toward the ridge. As the North Island is far more populous than the South Island, Tongariro National Park is one of the best places to escape light pollution for uninterrupted views of the night sky.
Combine rare native wildlife with stargazing on a kiwi-spotting tour on Stewart Island. In addition to stars, Stewart Island is the best destination in New Zealand for seeing the Southern Lights.
For a truly unique New Zealand stargazing experience, combine an on-mountain stay at Cardrona Alpine Resort with a stargazing tour. Only available in summer, when the ski field converts to an alpine retreat, Cardrona’s stargazing tour is a chance to see the night sky from an isolated perch high in the mountains, far from any light pollution.
Golfers will be spoilt for choice in New Zealand, with a range of world-class golf resorts to play at, incorporating the most dramatic scenery in the country.
These courses are some of the top choices for an unforgettable New Zealand golf tour.
Perched atop towering cliffs with dramatic ocean views, Cape Kidnappers is widely regarded as New Zealand’s top golf course. Every serious golfer should visit this unique course, hailed as one of the great modern marvels in golf.
With many courses nearby, Queenstown in New Zealand’s premier golf destination, and Jack’s Point is the most notable golf course in the area. Framed by a backdrop of rugged mountains, Jack’s Point golf course weaves through natural contours of dramatic rocky outcrops and tussock grassland overlooking Lake Wakatipu.
The visually captivating course at Kauri Cliffs offers both coastal holes, six of which are played alongside cliffs plunging to the sea, and inland holes winding through forest, marshes, and farmland.
New Zealand’s premier championship course, Clearwater Resort is home to manicured greens and natural spring-fed lakes, all within easy reach of Christchurch.
Often compared to classic link courses in Scotland and Ireland, Kinloch Club boasts panoramic views of Lake Taupo and the surrounding farmland. This world-class championship course was voted New Zealand’s number one golf course in 2014.
Millbrook Resort is another prestigious golf course near Queenstown, offering immaculately manicured fairways with a variety of natural hazards including streams, tussocks, schist formations, and trees.
Whether you want to embark on a multi-day bike journey through spectacular countryside, staying in charming settlements along the way; stretch your legs with a scenic half-day bike ride; tackle some of New Zealand’s downhill mountain biking runs; or bike past picturesque vineyards as you visit cellar doors for tastings, New Zealand has plenty to offer cyclists.
The government has invested heavily in expanding its network of cycle trails in recent years, so your options have never been better.
Here are some of the cycling destinations you should not miss on a New Zealand bike tour.
Cutting through New Zealand’s best mountain scenery, the Alps2Ocean Trail travels from the foot of Aoraki/Mt Cook down to the ocean. Take advantage of luggage transfers and charming, rustic accommodation in small settlements along the way to bike the whole length, or sample one of the most scenic sections.
Arguably New Zealand’s most spectacular cycle trail, the recently opened Old Ghost Road traverses across dramatic mountainsides and through lush rainforest as it links historic mining settlements. Although the full length of the trail is a challenging endeavor, day trips and heli-bike excursions cut the Old Ghost Road into more manageable sections. Even beginners can sample a section of this wilderness adventure.
Traveling through rugged, spectacular gorge and hill country in Central Otago, the Otago Rail Trail links little-visited historic settlements. The charm of this classic multi-day bike ride lies is its isolation.
For bikers short on time or families with younger children, the Station to Station Trail gives travelers a taste of the best cycling in New Zealand on an easy, short trail. This fantastic experience is accessed on either end by a boat ride across Queenstown’s stunning Lake Wakatipu; the trail connects two high country sheep stations by remote farm roads. Round off the experience with a delightful lunch at Walter Peak High Country Station before catching the steamship back to Queenstown.
With both downhill and flat sections, the Redwoods near Rotorua is an extensive network of fantastic mountain biking trails. The trails pass through gorgeous forest scenery, with sections catering from everyone from beginners to experts.
For cyclers wanting to give lift-accessed mountain biking a try, Cardrona Alpine Resort is the perfect place to start. This ski field transforms into a mountain-biking playground in summer, with sweeping views over the surrounding mountains and plenty of wide, gentle slopes for beginners. Experts are well catered for as well, and the daily Peak to Pub adventure (which takes bikers all the way to Cardrona Hotel, at the foot of the mountain) is a great challenge.
Many of New Zealand’s wine regions are easily explored on bike-to-wine excursions; the best-known of these wine trails is the Great Taste Trail around Nelson. Not only stopping at wineries, this trail takes cyclists past cafes, galleries, and breweries as it explores the picturesque coastline and hills around Nelson.
From rare endemic bird species to plentiful marine life, New Zealand is a wildlife paradise.
However, many of New Zealand’s most famous species are hard to find. Here are the best places to encounter some of New Zealand’s most notable species.
Stewart Island is the only place where you are likely to see New Zealand’s most famous bird in the wild. The shy, nocturnal kiwi can still be tricky to find, though visitors will hear the piercing cry ringing through the forest at night. For a guaranteed kiwi encounter, book a nighttime trip to Little Glory Cove, where guides will help you find the well-camouflaged birds.
One of the world’s premier whale-watching destinations, Kaikoura is home to sperm whales year-round. Migrating species can also be seen at certain times of the year; these include humpback whales, blue whales, southern right whales, beaked whales, and pilot whales.
Several varieties of penguins live around the South Island’s southern coast, but these can often be elusive. The most reliable destination for penguin encounters is the Penguin Place Wildlife Refuge on the Otago Peninsula, where you can see the endanged Yellow-Eyed Penguin.
Dolphins are found along countless stretches of coastline throughout New Zealand, but the Bay of Islands is one of the most rewarding places to see these playful creatures up close. With the warmest water in New Zealand, the Bay of Islands is also a great place for dolphin swimming excursions.
Like dolphins, seals are common to many parts of New Zealand, but the most memorable way to see them up-close is on a kayaking tour in Abel Tasman National Park.
New Zealand is a paradise for adventurers and thrillseekers. Whether you’re traveling as a family with active teenagers or a group of daredevil friends, you will find adventure activities to suit all tastes, from sporty outdoor enthusiasts to die-hard adrenaline junkies.
These top New Zealand adventure activities will give you an idea of the variety on offer–and the best of the best in each category.
Jet boat thrill rides are everywhere in New Zealand, but the most exciting ride of all is the Shotover Jet, which blasts through the dramatic Shotover Canyon.
There’s nowhere more scenic to skydive than Queenstown–one jump with NZONE Skydive and you’ll be hooked.
Canyoning is one of the more unusual adventure sports on offer in New Zealand, and the gorgeous canyons near Wanaka are an undiscovered playground for anyone who loves jumping, sliding, climbing, and swimming.
New Zealand’s glowworm caves are equally famous for the unique sport called “blackwater rafting”–in other words, tubing through caverns in the dark, with a galaxy of glowworms overhead. Black water rafting at Waitomo is the classic experience.
New Zealand’s very first bungy suspends thrillseekers over the brilliant waters of the Kawarau River.
Combining thrills and epic canyon scenery, the Shotover River Rafting trip tackles Grade 5 rapids in an action-packed float.
Explore the towering canopy on this family-friendly adventure in Rotorua’s redwood forest.
For serious adrenaline-seekers only, the Nevis Canyon Swing in Queenstown is New Zealand’s highest, suspended over a sheer gorge.
Combine jet-boat thrills with paddling gentle rapids in inflatable canoes on the Dart River Funyak Safari. Stunning mountain views and a hidden slot canyon turn this full-day adventure into a trip to remember.
New Zealand hosts countless events each year, from marathons and sporting championships to world-renowned festivals.
Whether your company participates in the Queenstown Marathon as part of a corporate incentive and team-building program, or you organize a group of friends to attend the Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow, guided tours are the perfect way to make the most of the event.
Several popular events that would make for a rewarding New Zealand tour are:
• Queenstown Marathon
• Warbirds Over Wanaka Airshow
• Rugby Tour
• Challenge Wanaka Half Iron Distance Triathlon
• World of Wearable Art Wellington
• Marlborough Wine Festival
• Bluff Oyster Festival
• Highland Motor Sport Park Series Races
New Zealand is one of the world’s best destinations for corporate incentive travel. With an incredible diversity of scenery and activities on offer, New Zealand is also compact enough to fit a wide range of experiences in a short visit.
Queenstown, Rotorua, and Auckland are perfect destinations for groups wishing to base themselves in a single location; each town offers countless activities, day trips, and fine dining opportunities to suit any type of group.
Short loops around the North or South Island are also the perfect way to sample the best of the region—our team will work with your company to create the ideal incentive program.
Choose from a range of world-class luxury accommodation, from five star city hotels to exclusive luxury lodges, and sample the best of New Zealand’s offerings, from wilderness cruises and jet-boat adventures to wine tours and fine cuisine. New Zealand is the perfect place for high performers to unwind and recharge.
And for corporate team-building travel, a private guide will take care of the details so your group can focus on what really matters.
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