Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Travelers Joe Tobin and Mary Lou Voytko on a glacier in Whitcombe Valley, New Zealand.

Joe Tobin and Mary Lou Voytko perch on the edge of a glacier in Whitcombe Valley.

We just completed an absolutely fabulous month-long trip to New Zealand that was designed with Jean-Michel Jefferson and arranged by his teammates Lucy and Ellen. Jean-Michel took to heart our interests of where we wanted to visit and the various things we wanted to see and do on our trip. With his extensive relationships, especially with the Maori, Jean-Michel crafted a truly unique trip that we would never have been able to create on our own. We traveled throughout all of New Zealand, with the most time spent in the South Island. We felt that a month was perfect in seeing as much as we could without rushing. We were equally glad that we started in Auckland and traveled our way down to Manapouri/Te Anua in Fiordland. Many travelers that we met along the way, who were traveling in the opposite direction, told us that they wished that they had saved the South Island until last because of the indescribable beauty of the mountains, glaciers and fiords. Both islands however have their share of wondrous things to see, do and experience that we loved. Along the way, we stayed at exceptional hotels in the cities and beautiful intimate lodges, with our final five days at the extraordinary Cabot Lodge with unobstructed views of Fiordland National Park and Lake Manapouri.

Besides cruising Milford Sound, we had three major interests for our trip: interacting with Maori to learn about their culture, going to the MacKenzie-designated Dark Sky region to stargaze, and being on a glacier. Jean-Michel came through in spades for us on all counts. Instead of going to touristy places to see the Maori, Jean-Michel set us up with several unbelievable one-on-one days with individual Maori, including Tom Loughlin, who cooked us a fabulous traditional Hangi meal in the ground at his 5,000-acre wilderness cabin; Delani Brown, a famous master carver who creates enormous masterpieces of complexly intricate carved wood scenes of Maori culture; and Bevin Climo, a master pounamu (New Zealand greenstone or jade) carver, who took us to his tribe’s portion of the Arahura River where I found a lovely piece of greenstone! For our dark sky experience, Jean-Michel arranged for a privately guided astral viewing at the Matuka Lodge in Twizel where we were staying. The stargazing was fabulous and to not to have to do the 3-hour round trip to the St. John’s Observatory was priceless. As for the glacier experience, Jean-Michel again came up with an amazing intimate experience in the Whitcombe Valley, instead of the over-touristy Franz Josef glacier. Matt, our helicopter pilot, came with over 30 years of flying experience and was even the pilot for Tom Cruise when he was filming in the region! Matt created a once-in-a-lifetime experience with views of numerous glaciers and glacier lakes, highlighted by a landing at a glacier that we walked up to and sat on! Talk about being at the top of the world and having your dream come true!

Excellent 13-nite trip to New Zealand. Dealt with Fab to plan everything and she was patient, knowledgeable, and prompt. She asked enough questions to make sure our needs were met. Jet-boating, helicopter rides with Marc and the hiking were standouts. Lynn watched over us while we were in country.

We can’t thank Jean-Michel’s team enough for curating and organizing an amazing vacation to their beautiful country, New Zealand. From the planning through the flawless execution, attention to detail and real-time communication—they are without peer.

Jean-Michel’s office more than hit the mark with their selection of accommodation, activities, guides and dining. We loved every minute of this epic vacation and plan on coming back and working with them again to plan another Aotearoa trip.

This is my 5th trip to NZ and first with Jean-Michel’s team as our trip planners. It was superb. The jet boat experience in Fiordland was one of my most favorite days ever in NZ.

Geoff met us at the Fiordland Lodge in Te Anua for our 90-minute drive to Lake Hauroko. Geoff is a chill Kiwi and former guide on the Milford Track. He plans to do a night trail run on the next cloudless full moon on the Kepler Track. In Fiordland, the mutable weather means rain every 2 days on average. We had a perfect day for our jet boat: grey clouds, warm air, and still waters.

Kevin met us at Lake Hauroko and took my wife and daughters, along with Geoff and me, across the lake and down the rapids of the Wairaurahiri River to the bottom of the South Island. The vastness of Fiordland National Park hit me more here than in busier areas that more tourists frequent. Kevin began to hike and camp along the coast alone with a buddy when he was only 13. Twenty years later now and here he hunts and goes out fishing for blue fin tuna. While we gazed out to Stewart Island, he noted that the South Pacific was as calm as he had ever seen it and that 5-meter great whites lurked below.

Lunch was at the Wairaurahiri Lodge a few hundred meters from the ocean. While Kevin and his stepfather prepared a great lunch of fresh venison and vegan dishes, Alan told us about the lodge on the 5,000 acres owned by a Māori tribe in Trust. He lives alone on the isolated lodge surrounded by a magnificent podocarp virgin forest. After a short hike past Rimu and Rata trees, we walked across the river on a new swinging bridge designed with a door to keep possums and stoats off. Kevin’s mom monitors 300 traps in the region, all baited with peanut butter. It’s working, as we saw many ducks, pigeons, and a pair of Kea parrots flying over the river.

From the bridge, Kevin picked us up and revved the engines for the ride back up the Class 2 rapids. On the eerily calm lake, we dallied at Teal Beach to skip rocks. We stopped on a creek to peer at eels and brown trout. We did donuts just below a waterfall. Before departing Lake Hauroko, we quietly passed Mary Island, where the remains of the Māori princess from 1640 lie in repose in a cave.

Geoff drove us back to Te Anua and I enjoyed the thousands of white sheep along the beautiful drive back. It was a stellar day in Fiordland.

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