Hobbiton, hot springs and hatcheries in New Zealand
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For many people, New Zealand is perched atop their bucket list, promising adventure and natural wonders galore.
Perhaps the reason for the islands' rise to fame as a popular tourist destination can be attributed to the spectacular landscapes featured in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, enticing wannabe travellers with dramatic panoramas of towering mountain ranges, vast mystical forests and gorges in which the most crystal blue waters flow.
However, planning a trip to these islands can be overwhelming - how do you fit all of the islands' marvels into a short break? If you are going to spend the money on a flight here, you need to make sure you hit all the best bits that New Zealand has to offer.
One solution would be to travel with one of the many tour operators in New Zealand - save yourself the stress of planning your own schedule and meet other travellers along the way.
We spoke with Richie Pepene, the Operations Manager for Contiki Holidays, a company which promises adventure, relaxation and environmentally conscious, culturally sensitive travel. In particular, we discussed their collaboration with Rainbow Springs Nature Park's Kiwi Conservation Project, based in the beautiful Rotorua.
First of all, could you tell us a little about Rotorua itself? What makes this destination unique and worth a visit?
Rotorua is one of the most culturally-rich areas of New Zealand. Contiki guests visit Mitai Village to experience a traditional hangi (food cooked in large pits underground) and enjoy a performance of the haka.
As well as being steeped in history and Maori culture, Rotorua is also a uniquely beautiful place, with naturally-heated hot springs, bubbling mud pools and steaming geysers – and you can’t miss its distinctive sulphur smell!
The relationship between Contiki and Rainbow Springs Nature Park appears to be collaborative - how do Contiki trips benefit the local conservation effort here?
Contiki guests receive a behind-the-scenes tour of the hatchery at Rainbow Springs, where Contiki has sponsored an incubator which is vital to helping baby Kiwis thrive until they are strong enough to be released back into the wild. All entry fees to the encounter are included in our trips, with 100% of the profits going straight back into the project.
Of the many Contiki trips to this area, which one is your personal favourite and why?
Contiki’s six-day Sun & Steam is a fantastic exploration of New Zealand’s North Island and combines the best of culture, sightseeing and natural wonders. Starting in Auckland it heads up north to the Bay of Islands for a dose of nature, then down to Rotorua to delve into the heart of Maori culture. There’s even a visit to Hobbiton on the way!
New Zealand is a hub of cultural and natural wonder - how do you decide which activities and projects to include on the trips? Are ethical and sustainability issues considered when planning itineraries?
It’s a tough job trying to fit as many incredible experiences as possible into each itinerary! We explore our own backyard a lot and have great relationships with local suppliers who always point us in the direction of off-the-beaten-track experiences for our guests. Ethical and sustainability is always front of mind in everything we do.
Could you tell us a little about your partnership with The TreadRight Foundation? How did this collaboration begin and how do both partners influence each other's work?
The TreadRight Foundation is a not for-profit organisation supported by The Travel Corporation’s family of brands, of which Contiki is one. TreadRight was founded in 2008 to ensure the environment and communities our brands visit remain vibrant for years to come. Together with TreadRight, Contiki and our other Travel Corporation brands partner with many wildlife, culture and heritage projects worldwide, some of which would no longer exist if not for our support.
Why should people choose Contiki over other travel companies?
Contiki is the original youth travel company, with more than 55 years’ experience creating incredible trips specifically designed for 18 to 35-year-olds. We offer travellers the best experiences at unrivalled value, a perfect balance of free time and included activities, and a range of travel styles to suit everyone
In your opinion, what are the benefits of travel for young people?
Contiki recently conducted a study called The Power of Travel, which revealed travel really does make us better humans!
We compared the personality traits and values of nearly 3,000 travellers and non-travellers (those who have never left their home country) and found that travel positively enhances the lives of young people in many ways, including their careers, relationships and self-belief. The findings overwhelmingly proved that those who have travelled internationally are generally more positive about themselves, their place in the world and what they can achieve. Findings suggest they have stronger interpersonal relationships and actively seek out new friendships, they’re more successful in their careers as they’re better equipped with more marketable skills such as flexibility, openness and out-of-the-box thinking, and are more globally and economically aware.
A frequent criticism of travel companies which cater for young people is that excessive drinking/partying can actually harm the local community and environment. How does your company balance this, encouraging conservation and cultural respect while creating fun trips?
Contiki includes a diverse range of cultural and adventure activity options into our itineraries and we find that our travellers visit destinations to expand their horizons and give them a deeper understanding of the destination and the culture. Treading lightly is one of our core values and our travellers leave a positive impact on the places they visit; a good example of this is our collaboration with Rainbow Springs and the Kiwi breeding program. One of the beauties of travelling with Contiki in New Zealand is that you gain a deeper cultural understanding with inclusions such as the Mitai evening with the hangi and Maori cultural experience.