NZ Aurora Australis Adventure – Day by Day Itinerary

Not only might you see the beautiful aurora display, but in the clear unpolluted air in NZ, you’ll have a wonderful view of the Milky Way, too.

Yes, in New Zealand, there’s more to the night sky than “just” an occasional aurora.  You’ll get to view the amazing entirety of the Milky Way – a veritable sea of stars, such as is seldom visible these days in our northern skies due to light and particulate pollution.  Plus, keep an eye out – there’ll be regular shooting stars flashing through the sky – lots of chances to make a wish!

And that’s just the nights.  There’s so much to enjoy during the days, too.  This page tells you more about what we will see and do each day on our 2020 New Zealand Aurora Australis Adventure, and how the main itinerary (with the green border) fits together with the optional pre and post extensions (with the blue borders).

For more information on this tour, and of course, to join, please go to our 2020 New Zealand Aurora Australis Adventure main page.

As a quick reminder, you can join and leave the tour on any day.  We generally recommend you should enjoy the entire main tour portion, and if time allows, of course the pre and post options too, but it is your time, your money, and so, totally your choice.  Just let us know what works for you, and we’ll make the arrangements accordingly.

 

Optional Pre-tour Itinerary for 2020 NZ Aurora Australis Adventure
Please now continue reading the main itinerary (green border) for main itinerary of our Aurora Australis Adventure, which is immediately below. Skip down to the part starting from the same Monday 16 March date.
A typical scene in the Rotorua area - a thermal hot pool, and beautiful natural bush in the background.
Possibly Monday 9 March (or earlier)
To arrive in time for the start of the pre-tour on Wednesday, you will probably need to leave the US today (or earlier if you want extra days in Auckland before the pre-tour starts).
You are free to choose your own preferred airline and travel dates for your flights to and from New Zealand.
The date you leave the US will of course depend on if you wish to spend extra time in NZ prior to the pre-tour. If time (and budget) allows, you might enjoy an extra night in Auckland.

It is usually an overnight flight from the US to New Zealand, and you skip ahead a day as you cross the date line.

Let us know if we can help you choose airlines, flights, and airports to use when flying to and within New Zealand, or for other travel as part of your complete vacation.

We're happy to advise and assist any which way.
Tuesday 10 March : Crossing the International Date Line
Today won't exist for you due to crossing the international date line.

But - don't worry. You'll "get it back" on your return, when you'll amazingly arrive back in the US before you left New Zealand.
Wednesday 11 March : Auckland
The Auckland city skyline as seen from a harbor ferry.


Looking over to the very symmetrical volcanic Rangitoto Island just off Auckland's shores.
Most flights arrive into Auckland early in the morning.

You should make your way from the airport to the city, and in the early afternoon we'll meet for a half-day tour around Auckland, ending up over the harbor bridge and on the other side of the city, allowing for a lovely short ride back across the harbor on a ferry.

We'll have a welcome drink this evening, and an optional visit to one of our favorite Auckland restaurants for a great dinner if you wish as well.
Thursday 12 March : To Rotorua via the Waitomo Caves and Otorohanga
The boat silently gliding through one of the glowworm grottos in the Waitomo Caves


We'll explain the significance of these NZ "Kiwiana" items when we approach Otorohanga.
This morning we head down through lush dairy farming country to the Waitomo Caves, where we'll enjoy a tour through parts of the cave system and then a boat ride on an underground river going through a couple of dark caverns that are illuminated by countless thousands of glowworms suspended from the cavern ceilings. An amazing sight.

We then go to the small town of Otorohanga for a lunch stop - a town that proudly celebrates its "Kiwiana" and its unsophisticated nature.

A bit further on and we arrive into our destination for the next two nights, Rotorua. We'll smell it before we arrive - the mildly sulfurous smells tell us we're entering an area with lots of geothermal activity.
Friday 13 March : A lovely combination of experiences around Rotorua
You'll see how a sheep is sheared (shorn?) plus plenty more at the Agrodome this morning.


A contemporary painting of the eruption that created the Buried Village in 1886.


We'll be welcomed in a special ceremony to the Tamaki Maori Village.
We've four amazing experiences for you today, each one totally different to the other.

We start at the Agrodome where you'll enjoy a presentation all about sheep and sheep farming - the backbone of NZ's economy.

Next we go to Te Puia - one of the best and most intense areas of geothermal activity. You'll be given a guided tour, and the site includes a kiwi house where you can (hopefully) see some of New Zealand's distinctive and nocturnal kiwis in a darkened area that makes them think it is night.

After time for lunch at Te Puia, we continue on to the Buried Village - New Zealand's equivalent of Pompei, where a settlement was completely buried in a violent volcanic eruption in 1886. Interesting excavations show us the before and after. A beautiful bushwalk and waterfall add to the appeal of this lovely place.

After some free time to freshen up at the hotel, we go out for a very memorable dinner event at the Tamaki Maori Village. You'll get to see a typical Maori village as it was prior to the European settlers, and then after being guided through that, you'll enjoy a traditional Maori "hangi" meal and some of their cultural entertainment.

As we said, a tremendous day filled with experiences.
Saturday 14 March : Traveling on to Hawkes Bay

One of the very many Art Deco buildings in Napier.


Part of the structures on Napier's Marine Parade, with lovely gardens on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. We hope to have a picnic lunch here.
This morning we continue on to Napier, the Art Deco city in Hawke's Bay. Its prominent Art Deco architecture is the result of an earthquake that destroyed much of the city in 1931, and the rebuilding was therefore in Art Deco style.

We include a stop on the way at the impressive Huka Falls, just north of Taupo. Almost 60,000 gallons of water every second rush over this narrow waterfall, and the color of the water is a lovely bright blue streaked with white from the foam of the falls.

We should get to Napier in time for a late picnic lunch (weather permitting). We'll eat traditional NZ food - meat (and other) pies, and fish and chips, while seated in a nice area along Napier's Marine Parade.
Sunday 15 March : Sightseeing and Wine Tasting
A wonderful climate and fertile ground allows for world-class wines in the Hawke's Bay region.


David and a couple of tour members enjoying wine on a previous visit to Hawkes Bay.
After an easy morning in Napier, we'll head out this afternoon for some sightseeing around the beautiful Hawkes Bay area, and, best of all perhaps, to enjoy visits to a couple of the local wineries, to sample some of the region's extraordinarily high quality wines.

We also visit David's favorite ice cream shop in Hastings - Rush Munroe's Icecream Garden. Try some of NZ's most popular flavor "Hokey Pokey" icecream, or one of their other distinctive flavors such as feijoa or passion fruit.
Monday 16 March : Travel to Queenstown - Main Tour starts today
Today is the end of this optional North Island extension to your tour. You should fly down to Queenstown today (you book your own flight) - we recommend the Air NZ flight that leaves Napier Airport at 11.25am and goes to Auckland, then connects from there to a non-stop flight down to Queenstown.

 

Itinerary for the Main NZ Aurora Australis Adventure, March 2020
Please now continue reading the Post Tour itinerary (blue border) for the optional extension on up to Christchurch and Wellington, and even all the way back up to Auckland if you choose. This is immediately below.
Milford Sound is so huge that it is only when you see how it dwarfs a large cruise ship that you get a sense of its true scale and size.
Saturday 14 March (or earlier): Leave the US
You can fly on any of the many different airlines that go to New Zealand.
If you are not joining us for the optional pre-tour (see above) you should leave the US today or earlier. It is usually an overnight flight from the US to New Zealand, and you skip ahead a day as you cross the date line.

Let us know if we can help you choose airlines, flights, and airports to use when flying to and within New Zealand, or for other travel as part of your complete vacation.

We're happy to advise and assist any which way.
Sunday 15 March : Crossing the International Date Line
Today won't exist for you due to crossing the international date line.

But - don't worry. You'll "get it back" on your return, when you'll amazingly arrive back in the US before you left New Zealand.
Monday 16 March : Arriving into Queenstown
It is a stunningly beautiful flight from Auckland to Christchurch. On a clear day, you can see from one side of the country to the other.


Perhaps enjoy outdoor dining at one of many restaurants in the Queenstown Mall this evening.
Most international flights arrive into Auckland.

From there you'd change to a domestic flight on down to Queenstown. This is a stunningly beautiful flight - hopefully there's not too much cloud, so you can see right across the country - and culminates in an amazing approach into Queenstown, where there are literally hills on both sides of the plane, higher than the plane itself, as it flies through a twisting valley to reach the airport.

It is totally safe, and absolutely spectacular - be sure to ask for window seats.

You should then make your way to our Queenstown accommodation for the next three nights.

We'll meet up this afternoon with the people who were on the pre-tour option in the North Island.
Tuesday 17 March : A free day in Queenstown
The gondola ride up to the top of Bob's Peak is a Queenstown "Must Do".


Enjoy a cruise on Lake Wakatipu on the vintage steamer Earnslaw.
There's so much to see and do in and around the Queenstown area.

Most people will choose to take the gondola ride up the side of the mountain Queenstown is built beside, to enjoy the panoramic views of the region below. Others will enjoy a cruise on the lake, perhaps including a tour of a sheep station on the far side.

Other activities include a "Lord of the Rings" tour to some of the sites that were featured in the movies, or going river rafting, or parasailing, or bungy jumping.

Whatever you choose, you are sure to fill your day with memorable experiences.

This evening we'll meet for our formal group welcome dinner and those of us who haven't already got to know each other will have a great chance to do so.
Wednesday 18 March : Another free day in Queenstown - option for Jet Boating, Arrowtown, Goldfields, and Wine Tasting
A thrilling jetboat ride on the Shotover River is another "Must Do" in the Queenstown area for most people.


A private wine tasting in a local winery's cellar.
You're free to enjoy another day in lovely Queenstown any way you wish.

As a convenience, we've put together a wonderful optional schedule of recommended activities today. We start with jet boating in the morning (highly recommended but optional), then go to the lovely village of Arrowtown for some sightseeing and lunch.

After lunch we head on to a restored area where gold was successfully mined, and you can try your hand at some gold panning yourself.

Then we go to one or possibly two, if time allows, wineries to try some of the local wines.

A great way to spend a great day.
Thursday 19 March : An early start, but worth it
The road to Te Anau.


Distinctive Mitre Peak at the head of Milford Sound.


Get up close and personal with a waterfall on your Milford Sound cruise.
It is an early start for us when we leave Queenstown this morning, but it is absolutely worth it.

We travel a spectacularly beautiful route to Milford Sound, through mountain meadows and valleys, past the "Mirror Lakes", up to a mountain pass, and through an amazing steeply sloped mountain tunnel with unlined sides showing the bare rock it was cut through.

If the drive itself isn't amazing enough, there's more awaiting you when we get to Milford Sound. We'll enjoy a nature cruise around the Sound and out to the sea, before returning back to the tiny settlement at the head of Milford Sound.

We then retrace our footsteps part of the way back, stopping in Te Anau which will be our base for the next two nights.
Friday 20 March : Te Anau Local Touring - Equinox
It is hard to convey the feeling of Te Anau in a picture. But, trust us. You'll love it.


The glowworms use their light to lure other insects to them, and the insects get caught in their hanging lines.
After an early start and long day you might wish to take it easy today. Alternatively, or perhaps after a late start, there is plenty to do around Te Anau.

If you didn't see the Waitomo Caves (or even if you did!), there are a very different set of caves on the other side of Lake Te Anau, accessible by a launch trip.

Other activities can take you to Lake Manapouri and to Doubtful Sound, which is totally different to Milford Sound, or go elsewhere in the area.
Saturday 21 March : Down to Invercargill
Situated in a tiny NZ town, the Croydon Aviation Center has a wonderful collection of old airplanes, and, adjacent, a developing vintage steam train railway too.
We'll travel a roundabout rather than direct way to NZ's southernmost city, Invercargill, today.

David hopes to arrange for us all to enjoy a special visit to a friend's aviation and steam train museum close to the small town of Gore.

We'll add other experiences as possible to make for a lovely day of touring down to Invercargill, where we stay another two nights.
Sunday 22 March : All the way down
The only place Bluff is really close to is the South Pole!
In addition to some sightseeing in Invercargill itself, we will visit the southernmost tip of New Zealand's South Island today when we go to the town of Bluff and a little beyond.

Our time in Invercargill is probably when the chances (due to location) are the best for seeing the Aurora Australis, but we'll be on standby all the other evenings too in case there's the potential of a night display.
Monday 23 March : Up to Dunedin, the scenic way
A beautiful waterfall in the Catlins region of the South Island.
Today we take the scenic route up the coast from Invercargill to Dunedin. This road was only relatively recently improved and sealed, and even most New Zealanders don't know about the scenic splendour it offers visitors.

We end the day arriving into Dunedin, which is the most Scottish of all New Zealand's areas; indeed the name itself was the ancient name for Edinburgh.
Tuesday 24 March : Dunedin
Dunedin's much photographed and distinctive railway station.
We'll do some sightseeing around Dunedin city today, including a drive through lovely countryside and along the harbor out to Port Chalmers.

If you prefer, you might choose to treat yourself to the Dunedin City Railway roundtrip excursion to the Taieri Gorge.
Wednesday 25 March : Tour ends, optional extension to Christchurch, Wellington, and even Auckland starts
Our main tour comes to an end this morning. We do hope we've seen the Aurora Australis at least once during our nine days in the southern part of the South Island.
Enjoy one last breakfast at the hotel, and then many people will continue on with us on the optional post-tour segment up to Christchurch and further north.

If you're continuing with us for the next several nights, please keep reading the next section with a blue border.

 

Optional Post-Tour Extension - To Christchurch, Wellington, and possibly Auckland
This is the end of the post-cruise option.
My favorite NZ city. An iconic view of Wellington, its cable car and its harbor.
Wednesday 25 March : From Dunedin up to Christchurch
The Steampunk HQ Art Gallery in Oamaru.


The distinctive undulating nature of Timaru's main streets is due to being built atop ancient lava flows.
This morning we'll say goodbye to anyone not continuing on with this extension, and travel up the South Island's East Coast to Christchurch.

This route takes us through some rugged country and then levels out onto long straight stretches over the Canterbury Plains, with lovely views over to the snow capped Southern Alps on our left (west).

We'll stop in the quaint idiosyncratic town of Oamaru, and the more matter-of-fact town of Timaru for lunch on our way up to Christchurch.
Thursday 26 March : A Day in Christchurch
One of the lovely restored old trams in central Christchurch.


Enjoy beautiful views on the gondola ride up Mt Cavendish just outside Christchurch.
Today's a free day in Christchurch. You might wish to enjoy the central city area, perhaps walk to Hagley Park and even go punting on the Avon River.

As well, maybe you'll take the historic street-car as a nice way of sightseeing through the downtown area - it even goes right inside a mall area on its circuit.

A bit further out there's a lovely gondola ride up the Cashmere Hills, giving glorious views out over the sweeping Canterbury Plains.

Alternatively, if you wanted to "collect" New Zealand's three world-famous scenic train journeys, today you could ride the Tranz-Alpine train to Greymouth and back to Christchurch.
Friday 27 March : By train and ferry up to Wellington
The Coastal Pacific train follows the coastline from Christchurch up to Picton.


The Interislander Ferry gives you a very beautiful 3 1/2 hour cruise between Picton and Wellington.
Today's a travel day, but as the saying goes, "It isn't the destination, it is the journey".

While, for sure, today's destination (Wellington) is great, the traveling to get there is the feature of the day. We start with a glorious train-ride from Christchurch up to Picton on NZ's Coastal Pacific train.

Upon arriving in Picton, we simply walk 100 yds or so from the train station to the ferry terminal, to experience an equally lovely ferry crossing between the two main islands of New Zealand on the large and comfortable "Inter Islander" ferry.

We'll arrive into Wellington at the foot of the North Island late afternoon/early evening.
Saturday 28 March : Either end or a day in Wellington
Wellington's "Beehive" and Parliament buildings.


Wellington is full of character, surrounded by hills and located on a lovely natural harbor.
Perhaps you're now ready to return home. You've surely already had a lovely tour of New Zealand!

But perhaps also you'd like to now spend a relaxing Saturday in New Zealand's beautiful capital city of Wellington. If so, please continue on today as well. There's a lot to see and do in and around the country's capital.

There are museums, parks and gardens, walks through the "city belt" (an green reserve circling the inner city), plenty of shops, and some wonderful lookouts with great views.
Sunday 29 March : Either end or taking the train to Auckland
The Northern Explorer passing one of the active volcanoes in the center of the North Island.


A view from the train on the journey up to Auckland.
Three days a week there's a day train between Wellington and Auckland. Today is one of those three days, and if you're wanting to experience the third of NZ's great train journeys, today would be your chance to do so.

The Northern Explorer train leaves Wellington at 7.55am and is scheduled to arrive into Auckland at 6.50pm. Yes, there's a dining car as part of the train. There's also a stop close to the airport on the south end of Auckland an hour before that.

So in theory you might be able to then connect with a night flight back to the US or elsewhere, but we'd recommend overnighting in Auckland "just in case" of train delays, and avoiding the need to feel anxious all the way on your lovely journey today.
Monday 30 March : The "extended extension" ends today
This is the end of our extended extension, but of course, you're welcome to stay on in New Zealand or do whatever else you wish.

The chances are your NZ visa is good for up to three months, after all!

Our main page detailing this tour (and booking form) is here.

 

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