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Enjoy your time exploring the history of New Zealand, its culture and its native inhabitants, the Maori people. This self-drive itinerary is designed to allow you to make your way through New Zealand by car, allowing you plenty of time to take in the beautiful scenery and landscape. Rest your head at night at a series of country estates, lodges and boutique hotels, all known for the warm and friendly New Zealand hospitality they offer.

Inclusions:

  • International roundtrip Economy Class flights from Los Angeles (domestic US flights can be added at an additional cost)
  • Domestic New Zealand flights
  • 1 night Auckland in 4* accommodation
  • 1 night Bay of Islands in 4* accommodation
  • 1 night Waipoua in 4* accommodation
  • 2 nights Rotorua in 4* accommodation
  • 1 night Turangi in 4* accommodation
  • 1 night Wellington in 4* accommodation
  • 1 night Kaikoura in 4* accommodation
  • 2 nights Christchurch in 4* accommodation
  • 11 days medium automatic transmission car rental (coach transportation is available if a self drive is not preferred)
  • Interislander Ferry Crossing from Wellington to Picton
  • All taxes & fuel surcharges

Itinerary

Customize this itinerary - Contact Us

Day 1 - Depart US
Ask about our options with Premium Economy and Business class airfare.

Day 2 - Cross International Date 

Day 3 - Arrive Auckland
Meet and greet service with rental car pick up at Auckland Airport. Start your 11 day cultural trail in the city of Auckland, desired by many and so fiercely fought over for its riches, including its forested hills, productive volcanic soils and harbours full of seafood. 

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image: Tourism New Zealand

Day 4 - Auckland - Bay of Islands
Head north, home of the legendary explorer Kupe and home of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Bay of Islands, where two peoples forged a relationship that has grown into nationhood. 

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Auckland to Orewa
36 km (23 miles) Approximately 0.5 hour

Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, is situated between two enormous harbours and dotted with 48 extinct volcanic cones. It’s a place to enjoy marine adventures, wine trails, forest walks and urban sophistication.

At the beginning of your journey, you’ll drive over the Auckland Harbour Bridge towards the bays and beaches of Auckland’s North Shore. The motorway will quickly sweep you northward, until the suburban scenery gives way to peaceful farmland.

Before you reach Orewa, you have the option of taking an exit that leads to Silverdale and Gulf Harbour. Silverdale is famous for its factory and outlet stores. Gulf Harbour, at the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, has a breathtaking golf course. Beautiful beaches can be found up and down the peninsula.

The town of Orewa spreads along the edge of a large, white sand surf beach. You can explore bush trails at the northern end of the town, visit the friendly shopping centre or dive into the waves for a refreshing swim.

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Orewa to Warkworth
27 km (17 miles) Approximately 0.5 hour

Driving north, you’ll pass Hatfield’s Beach before coming across Waiwera, which means ‘hot water’ in Maori. The hot springs are the main attraction in this small, seaside village.

The next place of interest is Puhoi, a town originally settled in 1863 by immigrants from Bohemia. Cheese is the local claim to fame – buy some for your next picnic.

Enjoy native forest and farmland scenery all the way to Warkworth, a pretty town located on the banks of the Mahurangi River. From here it’s easy to explore the many attractions of the district – surf beaches, marine and wildlife sanctuaries, vineyards, golf courses, regional parks and islands.

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Warkworth to Whangarei
99 km (68 miles) Approximately 1.25 hour

Warkworth is a pretty town on the banks of the Mahurangi River. From here it's easy to explore the attractions of the district - surf beaches, marine and wildlife sanctuaries, vineyards, golf courses, regional parks and islands.

A drive through the Dome Forest will lead you into the rural service town of Wellsford. From here you can take a side trip to Pakiri - a great beach for surfing and horse treks. Kaiwaka is the next town on the map - pause here if you like Dutch cheese. At this point consider an eastern detour past the spectacular beaches of Mangawhai Heads, Langs Beach and Waipu Cove.

Just before Whangarei a right turn will take you to the Marsden Point oil refinery. The visitors' centre has an interesting display that explains the refining process.
Whangarei is a subtropical city on the edge of a beautiful harbour. At the Quayside Town Basin complex you'll find stylish cafes and restaurants, as well as museums, art galleries and shops. Be sure to visit Whangarei Falls.

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Whangarei to Paihia
71 km (44 miles) Approximately 1 hour

A series of small settlements will lead you north. Just before Kawakawa, a side road runs to the glow-worm cave at Waiomio. Take a rest stop in Kawakawa, because it has a remarkable public toilet designed by Austrian artist Frederick Hundertwasser.

From here the road to the Bay of Islands becomes quite twisty, but you’ll enjoy some delightful scenery along the way. A short detour takes you to the port of Opua, where cruise ships often call.

The resort town of Paihia makes an excellent base for exploring the Bay of Islands. Catch a cruise to the outer islands or a ferry to the charming township of Russell. The historic Treaty House at Waitangi marks the beginning of New Zealand as a nation.

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image: Tourism New Zealand

Day 5 - Paihia - Waipoua
Experience the ancient and primeval feel of yesteryear when you reach the giant kauri trees in the Waipoua forest. Recommended optional tour: Footprints Waipoua Twilight Encounter Tour

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Paihia to Kerikeri
23 km (14 miles) Approximately 0.55 hour

Just beyond Paihia you’ll have to chance to visit Haruru Falls. These falls tumble down in a perfect horseshoe. A walking track runs from the falls all the way to Waitangi and includes a board walk through mangrove forest.

The road leading into Kerikeri is bordered by orchards. Roadside stalls offer the chance to buy seasonal fruit. Look also for signs showing the way to artists’ studios – resident potters and painters have given this district a creative personality.

Kerikeri is a town of things to do. You’ll find galleries, cafes and vineyards, gourmet food shops, several golf courses and historic sites such as the Stone Store and the Mission House. There are superb bush walks in the area – Rainbow Falls is a perfect picnic spot.

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Kerikeri to Kaitaia
99 km (62 miles) Approximately 1.25 hours

Scenic side trips on the road to Kaitaia include Matauri Bay (the resting place of the Rainbow Warrior) and Tauranga Bay. Nearby Whangaroa Harbour is a game fishing mecca. Further north, the beautiful beaches of Doubtless Bay will tempt you with white sand and crystal clear water. Sailing, sea kayaking, horse treks and golf are some of the other activities available in this district. If you have time, make the trip to the Cape Reinga lighthouse - then you can say you've been to the very top of New Zealand.

Kaitaia is the main centre for the 'subtropical' north. From here you can catch a bus trip along Ninety Mile Beach. Other local attractions include the Far North Regional Museum and the nocturnal park.

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Kaitaia to Dargaville
211 km (135 miles) Approximately 2.75 hours

The backcountry route to Dargaville takes you past the Herekino Forest, where you can stretch your legs on the Kaitaia Walkway. In Kohukohu you'll find some charming historic buildings. A vehicular ferry will carry you over the harbour to Rawene, a great stop for coffee and crafts. Further on is Opononi, where you can arrange to go sand dune surfing.

Your next adventure is the awesome Waipoua Forest, home of New Zealand's largest kauri trees. The Trounson Kauri Park is another opportunity for tree gazing. Not far from Dargaville are the Kai Iwi lakes. These beautiful sand dune lakes are popular for camping, swimming, fishing and kayaking. Dargaville is a perfect base for exploring the Kaipara Harbour, which offers fishing, quad biking, schooner trips and bird watching. The west coast beaches in this area form part of the longest driveable beach in New Zealand.

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image: Tourism New Zealand

Day 6 - Waipoua/Dargaville - Auckland
Your circuitous journey takes you back to Auckland via the rugged West Coast. You may like to stop off at Muriwai Beach to marvel at the black sands and take time to visit the gannet colony. Muriwai is one of New Zealand's most spectacular black sand surf beaches. At its southern end, Otakamiro Point is the site of one of this country's few mainland Gannet breeding colonies. The Takapu Refuge is located at the southern end of Muriwai beach and is an established breeding area for gannets. About 1,200 pairs of adult gannets nest here each summer and can be seen between August and March each year. Fur seals feed and rest at Oaia Island, 1.6km off the coast and can sometimes be seen during spring. Recommended optional tour: Tamaki Hikoi guided walk

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Dargaville to Auckland
185 km (116 miles) Approximately 2.25 hours

Travel across the river plain to Matakohe’s kauri museum, where you’ll discover the district’s fascinating history. In the village of Maungaturoto you can explore antique and craft shops. At Brynderwyn you’ll turn towards Kaiwaka, a village known for its Dutch cheese. Further south is Wellsford, where you’ll take a right towards Helensville. The hilly rural road provides amazing views of the Kaipara Harbour and surrounding farmland. There are hot springs at Parakai if you have time to spare.

At Kumeu you’ll turn towards Waitakere, where you’ll embark on a beatiful scenic drive through the Waitakere Ranges. Auckland will reveal itself as you drive down from Titirangi village.

Day 7 - Auckland - Rotorua
Travel on to Rotorua and the volcanic belly of the country, where locals have introduced visitors to the natural wonders of their home for more than 600 years. This welcoming tradition has been carried on from generation to generation and you will be spellbound by stories relayed through song, dance and art in this heartland of Maori Culture. Today you will be welcomed into an authentic maori village nestled in Rotorua forest. Discover Maori art forms, ancient rituals, song and dance performances and Maori traditions before sharing a buffet hangi dinner feast with your hosts.

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Auckland to Hamilton
127 km (79 miles) Approximately 1.5 hours

As you cruise down the southern motorway, suburban scenery gradually gives way to the farmland of South Auckland, an area favoured by bloodstock breeders. You’ll enjoy motorway speeds all the way to Bombay, a major market gardening area.

The Waikato River will accompany you for much of your journey through the green countryside. Places of interest along the way include the wine growing area of Te Kauwhata and the coal mining town ofHuntly. Before you get toHamilton, you’ll notice side roads leading to Waingaro Hot Springs and Raglan, a surf resort on the west coast.

The city of Hamilton is carved in two by the mighty Waikato River. Attractions include gardens, riverboat cruising and a giant free flight aviary. Excellent restaurants and cafes can be found at the southern end of the city’s main street.

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Hamilton to Waitomo Caves
71 km (44 miles) Approximately 1 hour

The Waitomo Caves region is famous for its subterranean splendour. Beneath the surface of this ancient limestone region is a series of vast cave systems decorated with stalactites, stalagmites and glow-worms. Some caves open to the public, and are easy to walk through, others require specialised caving equipment.

Waitomo Caves to Rotorua
136 km (85 miles) Approximately 1.5 hours

Your journey to Rotorua will take you through a mixture of farmland, lakeland and forest. You’ll know you’ve arrived in the city of Rotorua when you see (and smell!) the geothermal steam plumes of Whakarewarewa. Rotorua sits squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire, so there’s evidence of volcanic activity everywhere you look. Explore the geothermal areas and discover the unique culture of New Zealand’s Maori people

Explore Waitomo at your leisure or consider adding one of our tour options - Some of our favorites:

  • Glowworm Caves
    Inside the ancient limestone caves live tiny insects whose iridescent light has amazed visitors of the Glowworm Grotto for over 100 years. Guided walks lead visitors through the amazing Cathedral, a high ceiling cave with acoustics to rival the most modern arena, to a small boat. From here the boat is towed across the water to where hundreds of tiny lights flicker on the cave roof above.
  • Black Water Rafting
    The Black Labyrinth is the original classic adventure. Tube down the 'hidden' waterfall, through rocky chutes and vaulted limestone galleries and emerge in the Waitomo forest.
  • Lost World - Abseiling
    Abseil 100m into this unique and spectacular chasm - the descent takes around 30 minutes and is followed by a dry caving trip exploring huge chambers en route to the surface. See giant speleotherms, including flowstone and spagatites, the famous glowworms and all manner of weird and wonderful rock sculptures. There's a 30m ladder climb and walking along narrow ledges, at all times protected by specialist safety equipment and systems. Unbelievable
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image: Tourism New Zealand

Day 8 - Rotorua
Explore Rotorua at your leisure or consider adding one of our tour options - Some of our favorites:

  • Discover Rotorua
    Experience Te Puia, a place of Maori culture and a thermal wonderland of impressive geysers and boiling mud pools. Explore Rainbow Springs Nature Park, which showcases native flora and fauna as well as the New Zealand Kiwi. Then see NZ's agricultural industry in action with a sheep shearing display and sheep dog trials at the Agrodome.
  • Te Puia Steambox Lunch
    Visitors can choose what they want to have cooked for their lunch before heading out on a special guided tour. As they participate in an interactive session, learning how to weave a flower, and tour the carving and weaving schools, their food is placed in a Nga Wha (steam vent) Puapua, which is located in the geothermal area that is the backdrop to the famous Pohutu Geyser.Heading down into the geothermal valley to the mud pools and hot springs, the tour concludes when, after watching their lunch being lifted from the Nga Wha, guests sit and enjoy a steam box picnic lunch on the geyser terrace.
  • Rotorua Redwoods Mountain Biking - Half Day
    Right on the Rotorua's doorstep lies the best mountain biking area in New Zealand. There’s a little something for everyone in the Redwood Forest. The dirt here holds together better than anywhere in the world, and the area is packed with something for everyone from beginner to expert, and the forest is spectacular! Grade 1-5 riding - beginner to expert.
  • OGO Rotorua
    OGO Rotorua is an all-weather, all seasons, adventure with the longest downhill ball rolling tracks in the world! Speed up on the straights before riding up the sides of the 6 massive corners. Wet and Dry ride options - warm water in winter, cool in summer. Dry option available in Winter month. Hot tubs at top and bottom of hill.
  • Hobbiton
    Your guide will escort you through the ten acre site of where the Lord of the Rings movie set used to be. Your guide will explain all about what was needed to create the Hobbiton set and tell stories about what went on during filming. Check out the Hobbit holes from the film set. After viewing the Bag End, you can pet and feed the hand reared sheep and hand bottle feed lambs.
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image: Tourism New Zealand

Day 9 - Rotorua - Tongariro National Park (Turangi)
Tongariro National Park – covering almost 80,000 hectares – was gifted to the nation by Maori chief Te Heuheu Tukino IV in 1887. Just over a hundred years later, the park was awarded dual World Heritage Site status.

Emerald lakes, alpine meadows and hot springs surround the largest volcanoes in the North Island, offering an environment of stunning diversity.

All three volcanoes are very much alive, with Mount Tongariro erupting as recently as August 2012. But this doesn’t deter people from skiing down the slopes and hiking to the craters – a monitoring system provides early warning of eruptions.

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Rotorua to Taupo
81 km (51 miles) Approximately 1 hour

The road to Taupo will keep you entertained with its unusual, volcanic geography. You’ll also drive through large tracts of plantation pine forest. Take a side road to a geothermal park, where you’ll discover geysers, silica terraces and craters of boiling mud. Towards the end of your journey you’ll encounter the Wairakei Geothermal Power Station. Other diversion include Huka Falls and a world-acclaimed golf course.

The resort town of Taupo sits on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake, which is well stocked with sizeable trout. You’ll find everything a traveller could wish for, including an excellent choice of restaurants. Most accommodation establishments make good use of the underground thermal activity to provide hot spas for relaxation.

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Taupo to Turangi
47 km (29 miles) Approximately 0.75 hour

You’ll follow the eastern edge of Lake Taupo to reach Turangi. The drive is very scenic and there are many picnic opportunities along the way. Where streams run into the lake, you’ll often see trout fisherman trying their luck.

The town of Turangi is the trout fishing capital of New Zealand. There are famous fishing spots in almost every direction, including ‘The Delta’, ‘The Hole’, ‘Little Big O’ and ‘Tailrace’ (believed to contain the world’s fattest trout). The nearby hot springs of Tokaanu are another attraction, or you can try rafting the Tongariro River. The walks and ski fields of the Tongariro National Park are also close by.

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image: Tourism New Zealand

Day 10 - Tongariro National Park (Turangi) - Wellington
The city of Wellington was once described by an indigenous explorer as the "very nostrils of the island". Now home to Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum, offering an opportunity to experience this country's treasures, stories, nature, art, history, and heritage. Recommended optional tour: Te Papa's Maori Experience & Kapu Ti Tour

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Turangi to Wellington
322 km (201 miles) Approximately 4 hours

On the long, straight Desert Road you’ll enjoy amazing views of Tongariro National Park’s volcanoes. In Waiouru, the QE2 Memorial Museum is worth a look. As you drive south towards Taihape (the Gumboot Throwing capital of the world), the landscape becomes dominated by rivers and valleys. The Mangaweka Gorge is a scenic masterpiece.

Find time to browse the antique shops of Bulls, or spy on wading birds in the estuary near Foxton. Two beautiful dune lakes are an easy detour from Levin. Offshore from Waikanae Beach is Kapiti Island Nature Reserve. A car museum and gourmet cheese factory are other attractions in this area.

Wellington is compact, cultured and full of character. Nestled between the harbour and the hills, the downtown area is ideal for explorations on foot. Enjoy cafes, restaurants, museums, theatre and all kinds of shops.

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image: Tourism New Zealand

Day 11 - Wellington - Kaikoura
Board the Interislander Ferry to journey across the Cook Strait to Picton before resuming your journey by road. In Maori lore the Kaikoura peninsula was the place where Maui braced his foot when he fished up the North Island. The name Kaikoura, meaning meal of crayfish, was given by Tamaki-te-rangi when he stopped over to eat here while chasing his runaway wives.

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Wellington to Picton
8 km (61 miles) Approximately 3 hours

The passage across Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds is one of the most scenic ferry trips in the world. The fast ferry makes the trip in just over 2 hours, the cruise-style ferry takes 3 hours. Both types of vessel can transport vehicles. Highlights along the way include the Red Rocks seal colony, Tory Channel, Cook’s Lookout and the beautiful coves of the sounds.

The picturesque seaside town of Picton is the South Island base for the ferry service that links the North and South islands of New Zealand. It’s also the gateway to the marine, forest and island attractions of the Marlborough Sounds. Museums and interesting walks will keep you entertained while you’re here.

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Picton to Blenheim 
99 km (62 miles) Approximately 1.5 hrs

The drive to Blenheim is both beautiful and interesting. Rai Valley has a delightful cottage museum, and at Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve you can enjoy a bush walk or a swim. Nearby Canvastown gives you the chance to explore old gold mining fields – thousands tried to get rich here in the 1860s. Havelock is the place for a seafood meal – it’s known as the Green Shell Mussel Capital of the World. When you reach Renwick, which is surrounded by vineyards, it will be clear that you’ve arrived in wine country.

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Blenheim to Kaikoura
129 km (81 miles) Approximately 1.75 hours

State Highway 1 takes you through the coastal foothills, and then out into the picturesque Awatere Valley. In the township of Seddon you'll find authentic New Zealand crafts. The Lake Grassmere saltworks is an interesting stop - the ponds turn coral pink in late summer. After the small town of Ward, the road turns toward the awesome beauty of the Pacific Coast. Just north of the Ure River is a road that leads to the walking trails of the Sawcut Gorge.

Kaikoura is a base for wildlife experiences of all kinds and also a great place to eat crayfish. A whale watch tour can take you to see Minke, Humpback and Southern Right whales mixing it with dolphins and orcas. You can also walk to see fur seal colonies and spy on big seabirds such as mollymawks, albatross and petrels.

Explore Kaikoura at your leisure or consider adding one of our tour options - Some of our favorites:

  • Whale Watching
    The vessel is a modern catamaran designed especially for whale watching. The main passenger cabin is enclosed, air-conditioned and fitted with comfortable seating, while large outside decks offer great viewing and photo opportunities. Prepare for exciting up-close encounters with Giant Sperm Whales. Clients may also see migratory humpback whales (June-July), Hector's and Dusky Dolphins, Orcas (December-March) and NZ Fur Seals, as well as plenty of bird species including Royal Albatross, Petrels and Shearwaters. Cruise concludes approximately 3 hours 30 minutes after commencement
  • Dolphin Encounter Swim
    Enjoy a tour that enables you to swim or watch the dusky dolphins in their natural habitat. A complete guided commentary is given throughout the trip. There is the opportunity to swim with the dolphins (wetsuits and snorkelling equipment will be provided) during the tour for those that have booked this option. Tour concludes approximately 3.5 hours after commencement.
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image: Tourism New Zealand

Day 12 - Kaikoura - Christchurch
On arrival in Christchurch, look around the low lying areas of the city and imagine its former history as a swamp, for that was its attraction to our earliest settlers as the sprawl of wetlands provided abundant food sources and defensive positions.

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Kaikoura to Christchurch
184 km (115 miles) Approximately 2.25 hours

The trip south takes you along the edge of the rugged coastal ranges. From Cheviot you can detour to Gore Bay to see the fascinating cliff formations. The landscape becomes more gentle as you approach Waipara, a region known for its vineyards and olive groves. The last leg of your journey takes you past the surf beaches of Amberley, Leithfield, Waikuku and Woodend.

The South Island's largest city, Christchurch is an entertaining mixture of refined lifestyle and cultural excitement. The tranquil Avon River meanders through the city, historic buildings house a lively arts community and restored trams make it easy to get around. Visit heritage sites, museums and art galleries, and enjoy the highly developed restaurant scene.

Day 13 - Depart for US
Your journey of cultural and spiritual enlightenment of New Zealand and its people ends with your rental car return to Christchurch Airport depot.

 

Request a Quote

 

* Peak Season 1Dec18-28Feb19 pricing - Availability very restricted, package pricing may be higher Dec-Feb period, depending on availability

Note: Daily departures, this package is an independent itinerary with flexible departures (not a group tour).

 

Additional departure gateways & pricing:
- Depart on Air New Zealand’s non-stop Houston – Auckland flight for a supplement of $250 per person
- Add on airfares available from most major airports - Add $200 from Dallas, Add $320 from Denver, Seattle, Add $400 from Chicago, Minneapolis, Add $450 from NYC, Boston, Miami, Washington

 

International Economy with Air New Zealand
State-of-the-art Economy seats have been designed to provide a really comfortable seat for everybody. The armrest disappears right into the back of the seat so you can be more comfortable during our longhaul trips.

As well as the delicious and fresh meals from the kitchen, you can order tasty snacks throughout the flight, at the touch of your screen. No waiting for hours between meals - eat when you want to. And, of course, there's always a superb selection of New Zealand wines from the onboard cellar.

The vast selection of activities on our inflight entertainment will keep even the most fidgety of flyers engaged for the whole flight. Enjoy over 1,700 hours of content - including latest movies, TV box sets, video games, and a dedicated kids section - all on a 10.6” personal touch screen in widescreen format. If you need more, there are always the USB and iPod connections to plug in to.

 

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Upgrade Options
Consider upgrading Skycouch, Premium Economy or Business Class.
Skycouch - from $549 one way (based on 2 persons sharing)
Premium Economy - from $950 per person round trip
Business Class (Lie-flat bed) from $4000 round trip

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Skycouch

Whether you’re a couple who’d like a bit of extra room, parents with a young child, or a parent with two restless kids, you’ll find our innovative Economy Skycouch the perfect solution.

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Premium Economy

Premium Economy is about creating ample space and privacy. The design of our revolutionary Spaceseat™ means that the person sitting in front of you can’t recline into your personal space.

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Business Class

The luxurious 22" wide leather armchair converts to a fully lie flat 6'7.5" bed - one of the longest in the sky. Even more indulgent with a thicker mattress, fluffy duvet and full size pillows.

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Note: All upgrades are subject to availability, upgrade cost may be higher

 

Conditions

Package from pricing is based on double occupancy (2 people sharing a room) from Los Angeles or San Francisco for purchase by 31 December, 2018. Ask an Aspire consultant for pricing for other travel dates. Add-on fares are available from other cities. Certain blackout dates apply on the accommodation and tour value add offers - check with your Aspire consultant. Seats are limited and may not be available on every flight. Hotels are subject to availability. All prices reflect a discount for purchases made by cash/wire transfer/check, please see terms and conditions for credit card payments. There are no discounts for payment made by credit cards. Cancellation penalties and other restrictions apply.