The following itinerary lists a range of site visits which we plan to visit. Many are accessible to the public, but some require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight schedules and confirmation of private visits. The tour price includes breakfast daily, lunches/picnics and evening meals indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch/packed picnic and D=dinner.
Wellington - 3 nights
Day 1: Monday 7 November, Arrive Wellington
- Tour commences at 5.00pm in the foyer of the Copthorne Hotel, Oriental Bay
- Welcome Meeting
- Literary orientation walk
- Pre-dinner talk from Dr Nicholas Wilson
- Welcome Dinner
Meeting Point: The tour commences at 5.00pm in the foyer of the Copthorne Hotel, Oriental Bay in Wellington. Note: check-in at the hotel is from 2.00pm.
Following a short welcome meeting, Susannah will lead a walk around the bay to Wellington Waterfront, to view the Writers Walk which showcases 23 unexpectedly placed sculptures featuring literary quotations. These include quotes by James K. Baxter, Fiona Kidman, Bill Manhire, Vincent O’Sullivan and Katherine Mansfield. All the quotes are about Wellington and you can read them while admiring the spectacular harbour location.
Before our welcome dinner we will be entertained by Susannah’s brother, Dr Nicholas Wilson, whose medical research into the James Bond movies is both intriguing and comic. (Overnight Wellington) D
Day 2: Tuesday 8 November, Wellington – Days Bay – Wellington
- Katherine Mansfield’s Birthplace and Thorndon Walk
- Wellington Botanic Garden
- Days Bay and Muritai
Katherine Mansfield is not only NZ’s greatest writer, but she is internationally recognised as one of the world’s finest writers of short stories. Virginia Woolf once said that Mansfield was the only writer she had ever felt jealous of! This morning we visit her birthplace in Thorndon. She was born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp in 1888, disappointing her parents because she was not a boy. The house is now a museum, with photographs, a short film, period furniture and a shop – all giving an excellent feel for the era of her childhood which was so important an inspiration for her writing. We will enjoy a traditional morning tea at the house.
To young Katherine and her friend Molly, walking in Thorndon was “an adventure, the unknown lurking round every corner”. We will follow in their footsteps, viewing the home the Beauchamps lived in at the turn of the century, the high school she attended, and the place where the girls went swimming in “long tunics with short sleeves made of navy blue (very occasionally) red serge trimmed with white braid, and worn over navy-blue bloomers”.
From there we visit the city’s Botanic Gardens, setting of her story about a young woman who goes off the path, In the Botanical Gardens. Katherine loved to walk here and think and dream. We will enjoy lunch in the Begonia House café.
Much of Katherine Mansfield’s short life was spent in England and Europe, but almost all her best stories are set in NZ. After lunch we drive to Days Bay, setting for her story At the Bay. There we will view from the outside the holiday home where Mansfield stayed with her family and which she often wrote of in her stories. Days Bay is a pretty harbourside resort that was once accessible only by ferry. We will also drive further around the harbour to Muritai where the Beauchamp family also stayed, to view the outside of the cottage they once rented. There will be time for a stroll and coffee before we drive back to Wellington along scenic Marine Drive. (Overnight Wellington) BL
Day 3: Wednesday 9 November, Wellington
- Drive up Victoria Lookout
- Katherine Mansfield Statue
- The Katherine Mansfield collection at the Alexander Turnbull Library
- Afternoon at leisure with optional visit to Te Papa
- Dinner at Bellamys by Logan Brown at the Beehive
Before she died, Katherine Mansfield asked her husband John Middleton Murry to burn all her papers. Controversially, he ignored this request. That means that we can view letters and manuscripts in the fabulous Katherine Mansfield Collection held by the Alexander Turnbull Library, NZ’s National Library. The collection includes her notebooks, correspondence, sketches, photos and the typewriter on which, even when dying, she determinedly typed out her wonderful stories.
Lunch will be at leisure in the city, and we then view the Lambton Quay statue of Katherine Mansfield which was erected in 2016. It is called ‘Woman of Words’. Her 3m high stainless steel figure is covered with her own words, nicely reflecting the fact that she wished to be seen as a writer first, and a woman second. That will be followed by a drive up to Victoria Lookout for fabulous views of New Zealand’s capital city (recently voted the country’s “coolest city” by Lonely Planet.
There will be free time in the afternoon to explore Te Papa (meaning ‘Our Place’), the national museum which has art collections, Maori artefacts, and items relating to Pacific cultures and the natural history of NZ.
This evening we enjoy a very special dining experience at Logan Brown’s in the Beehive. The Beehive is the nation’s Parliament Building, opened in 1981. Situated on its third floor, this restaurant has only recently been opened to the general public with a new chef. NZ is famed for its cuisine and our dinner should be a memorable culinary experience. (Overnight Wellington) BD
Dunedin - 2 nights
Day 4: Thursday 10 November, Wellington – Dunedin
- Morning flight from Wellington to Dunedin (0835-0950)
- Literary Walking tour of Dunedin with Beverly Martens
- The Reed Rare Book Collection, Dunedin Public Library – with Librarian Julian Smith
This morning we fly to Dunedin, the ‘Edinburgh of the South’. The city had its heyday in the 1860s gold rush and Scottish immigrants named it after their own capital (Dun Edin = Edin Burgh), replicated the street names and called its river ‘The Water of Leith’.
A few years ago Dunedin was designated a UNESCO Creative City of Literature. We will learn about some of its rich literary heritage on a guided walk with Beverly Martens, to see the Octagon statue of Robert Burns, and hear stories about NZ writers past and present.
The Dunedin Public Library has a superb rare book collection because author and publisher Alfred Reed donated all his books to the institution. These include his Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson and Walt Whitman collections, and also incunabula, letters, pictures and literary memorabilia. We will have a special viewing of the collection in the afternoon. (Overnight Dunedin) D
Day 5: Friday 11 November, Dunedin – Otago Peninsula – Dunedin
- Special Collections & Printing Presses, University of Otago Library
- Robert Lord Writers Cottage
- Larnach Castle: Lunch in the Ballroom and Guided tour of the Castle
- Caselberg Trust, Broad Bay
- Royal Albatross Colony
The University of Otago is the oldest university in NZ. Its library holds some amazing special collections, including one about poet Charles Brasch, another one about Scottish writer (and friend to Sir Walter Scott) James Hogg. There is even a first edition of Frances Burney’s Camilla to which a young Jane Austen subscribed. We will enjoy a viewing of these collections and of the university’s historic printing presses.
The Robert Lord Writer’s Cottage has been run for some years as a rent-free residency for writers. The tiny house has three rooms and a courtyard garden. Playwright Robert Lord stayed there on a Burns’ Fellowship. We will pay a brief visit to see where more than twenty Kiwi writers have been inspired.
Larnach Castle is the country’s only castle – it’s actually a ‘mock’ castle built on the ridge overlooking the scenic Otago Peninsula. Its gardens are officially “of national significance”, while its rooms have attracted ghost-hunters. The castle, built by entrepreneur William Larnach, has inspired several writers. Owen Marshall wrote his novel The Larnachs, while Michelanne Forster wrote a play, Larnach – Castle of Lies. We will explore the castle and grounds and lunch in its ballroom.
The Caselberg Trust house was once holiday home to one of New Zealand’s most important poets and editors, Charles Brasch. There he entertained literary friends Janet Frame, CK Stead and Ruth Dallas and he bequeathed it in his 1973 will to poet and playwright John Caselberg. John and his artist wife Anna used it as a studio. Today it is another place of residency for writers, artists and film makers. We will visit this interesting historic and literary building.
One of the greatest poems ever written is about an albatross. Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner depicts the fateful killing of one of those magnificent birds. To learn more about them we will make an evening visit (the best time of day to see the birds) to the world’s only mainland albatross colony, about one hour’s scenic drive from Dunedin along the Otago Peninsula. We can take a tour of the centre, watch a David Attenborough film and take a guided walk with a ranger around the colony.
Our literary guide for the day will be Dunedin resident and author, Ruth Williamson. (Overnight Dunedin) BL
Ashburton - 2 nights
Day 6: Saturday 12 November, Dunedin – Oamaru – Ashburton
- Janet Frame Collection, Oamaru Public Library
- Janet Frame Heritage Walking Trail
- Janet Frame Family Home
This morning we set off for Oamaru, stopping en route to admire the extraordinary spherical Moeraki Boulders. These rocks are the subject of Maori myth which tell that they are the remains of calabashes, kumara (sweet potato) and eel baskets that washed ashore after the legendary canoe, the Arai-te-uru, was wrecked.
Oamaru is the main town of the north Otago region, with many of its buildings dating from the 1880s. Janet Frame, prize-winning NZ writer, was born in Dunedin in 1924, but she was brought up in Oamaru. She turns it into ‘Waimaru’ in her early novels, and it is the setting of her autobiographical To the Is-Land and An Angel at my Table. Her father worked on the railways and her mother had once been housemaid for Katherine Mansfield’s family. The family home, which we will visit, is a small, very simple cottage. There the Frames had to cope with the death by drowning of two of the family. Before seeing where the Frames lived, we will visit the Oamaru Public Library. “I read every book in the Oamaru Library”, Janet once boasted. Becoming dux of her primary school gave her a free subscription to the place. The library now has a collection of her books, foreign language editions, reviews, DVDs and other material about her life and writings.
We will take a 90-minute Janet Frame walk through the town, looking at places from her 11 novels, short stories, poems and autobiographies. NZ film director Jane Campion made a popular film about Janet Frame, An Angel at my Table.
In Ashburton there will be a group evening meal at the hotel. (Overnight Ashburton) BD
Day 7: Sunday 13 November, Ashburton – ‘Erewhon’ – Ashburton
- Tour of ‘Erewhon Station’ by Clydesdale drawn wagons
- Tour of Lord of the Rings country by 4WD
Today we enjoy some spectacular scenery as we head deep into McKenzie Country – remote and magnificent. In 1860 a young Englishman called Samuel Butler (today best known for his novel The Way of All Flesh) came here as a migrant to work on a sheep station called ‘Mesopotamia’. He wrote A First Year in Canterbury Settlement and, after returning to England, his satirical novel Erewhon (‘Nowhere’ (nearly) spelled backwards). Erewhon is still a sheep station today and we will visit to see the landscape that so impressed Butler and which has changed little since his time. We will have a picnic lunch in the shearing shed of ‘Erewhon Station’ and enjoy a tour of the farm in wagons drawn by Clydesdales.
This is also Lord of the Rings country. In the Peter Jackson movies, it was the site of Edoras, capital of Rohan. We will travel through this glorious countryside accompanied by a local expert on the area, who will show us some of the locations used in the trilogy. (Overnight Ashburton) BLD
Christchurch - 2 nights
Day 8: Monday 14 November, Ashburton – Whitecliffs – Christchurch
- Steventon Homestead, Whitecliffs
This morning we drive to ‘Steventon Homestead’, about one hour from Christchurch. This station property was first established by Jane Austen’s two great-nephews Arthur and Richard Knight in 1852. They named it ‘Steventon’ after the tiny Hampshire village where their famous aunt Jane was born.
Steventon Homestead has also been the actual residence of a best-selling writer, Lady Barker. This remarkable woman, who was born in Jamaica, lived in England and then came to NZ, wrote Station Life in New Zealand which sold extremely well at home and overseas. She was the author of many other books as well, including books about cooking, Station Amusements in New Zealand, and Colonial Memories which also covered the time she spent in Western Australia. In her books ‘Steventon’ became ‘Broomielaw’. We will enjoy a traditional lunch at the homestead, listen to a talk about its history, and take a guided walk around the property.
Late afternoon and evening will be at leisure in Christchurch, with time for a stroll in the Botanic Gardens, founded in 1863 and considered some of the finest gardens in the Southern hemisphere. Or you might like to explore Cathedral Square, with its deconsecrated cathedral (severely damaged in the earthquake) and its statue of John Robert Godley, founder of the Canterbury Settlement and friend of Anthony Trollope. (Overnight Christchurch) BL
Day 9: Tuesday 15 November, Christchurch
- Kate Sheppard House
- Riccarton House: Deans Cottage, Heritage Bush Walk and Guided tour of the House
- Ngaio Marsh Museum
- Victoria Park
In 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the vote. The campaign was spearheaded by Kate Sheppard – she wrote to the press and politicians, organised demonstrations and spoke at public meetings. There has been a rock musical created about Kate’s life – it was called That Bloody Woman. Her Christchurch home is in private hands, but we hope to visit and to learn more there about this forceful woman who achieved so much.
Lunch will be eaten at historic Riccarton House, a home set in beautiful gardens bordering the Avon River. Deans Cottage, on the property, is the oldest building on the Canterbury Plains. Bushland by the house is probably the oldest protected natural area in the country and contains an extraordinary variety of species. We will learn about John Deans and his wife Jane who were important in the history of Canterbury – they are the subject of the book Pioneers of the Plains by Gordon Ogilvie.
This afternoon we visit the Ngaio Marsh Museum. Ngaio Marsh was one of the ‘Queens of Crime’ (along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham) and her mysteries have never been out of print. Several are set in NZ. Ngaio Marsh was also a keen actor and director of plays and a passionate Shakespearian – she was made Dame Ngaio in recognition of her services to NZ theatre. Her home and garden are full of interesting exhibits about her ‘dramatic’ life and her work as a crime writer.
Christchurch is famous for its lovely parks. One of them is Victoria Park, opened for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. In 1954 it was the site of a gruesome murder when Juliet Hulme and her friend Pauline Parker murdered Pauline’s mother. Juliet later changed her name to Anne Perry and, under that name, became an extremely successful writer of murder mysteries. The story inspired the film Heavenly Creatures starring Kate Winslet and directed by Peter Jackson, and also a French film, several plays and documentaries. We will visit the park and enjoy its views of the Port Hills. (Overnight Christchurch) BL
Lake Moeraki - 2 nights
Day 10: Wednesday 16 November, Christchurch – Arthur’s Pass – Fox Glacier – Lake Moeraki
- Scenic drive from Christchurch to West Coast via Arthur’s Pass
- Fox Glacier Lookout
- Optional Evening rainforest walk, Lake Moeraki
Today we journey across the South Island. Our route will take us via the Canterbury Plains and then through the spectacular gorges and valleys of the Waimakariri River, before climbing the Southern Alps to the high township of Arthur’s Pass. The route known as Arthur’s Pass was first used by Maori tribes crossing the island from east to west in search of pounamu (jade). Today it’s a sophisticated mountain pass, memorable for its scenery as well as its breathtaking civil engineering.
From Arthur’s Pass we descend through lush beech rain forest to the West Coast town of Hokitika. Misty mountains gradually give way to classic west coast river and bush scenery, rushing water, impressive bridges and tiny, picturesque towns. Hokitika was first settled in 1860 after the discovery of gold on the west coast. This is the setting of Rose Tremain’s novel The Colour and Booker-prize winning The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton is also set in and around the town. Made up of lovely old buildings, Hokitika still has the feel of a frontier town. The road south to Fox Glacier travels through farmland that constantly threatens to revert to wilderness.
Fed by four alpine glaciers, Fox Glacier was named after an early New Zealand Prime Minister, William Fox. At 13kms, Fox Glacier is the longest of the awe-inspiring West Coast glaciers. At its head, soaring peaks of over 3,000m dominate the horizon. This mighty river falls 2,600 metres on its journey to the West Coast. New Zealand’s glaciers are unique and among the most accessible in the world, as they terminate amongst temperate rainforest. So special is this mountain environment, that it forms part of the South Westland World Heritage Area.
We continue south to Lake Moeraki (meaning “to sleep or dream by day” in Maori) in the South Westland, where we spend the night at the luxurious lakeside Wilderness Lodge. Surrounded by untouched rainforest, it offers stunning views of the snow-capped Southern Alps. Owned by teacher Anne Saunders and biologist Dr. Gerry McSweeney, the lodge was set up to share its extraordinary setting and to protect rainforests.
This evening we will be treated to a fine meal of whitebait from the river, seafood from the coast, game from the forest and fresh seasonal produce, while enjoying the Riverside Restaurant’s gorgeous views. The owners will then accompany our group on an easy after-dinner walk to find glow-worms and morepork owls in the bush and to indulge in a little star-gazing (Fanny Price of Mansfield Park would approve). (Overnight Lake Moeraki Wildnerness Lodge) BLD
Note: We had planned to make the journey from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass by scenic train, but in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic the TranzAlpine Train is operating on a reduced timetable. The train is not operational mid-week through November 2020.
Day 11: Thursday 17 November, Lake Moeraki
- Optional: Guided walk – freshwater life of Lake Moeraki
- Guided walk – rainforest jungle & Fiordland Crested Penguins on Robinson Crusoe Beach
- Afternoon at leisure
The natural world has always been hugely important to Kiwis – their literature, art, recreational activities and culture are all closely connected with ‘the bush’. Today before breakfast, we’ll make a short excursion – our guide will introduce us to the freshwater life of Lake Moeraki. Shrimps, snails, small fish and plankton are the building blocks of life in the lake. We’ll also get to feed a tame colony of giant long finned eels.
After breakfast at the lodge, there will be a guided walk through the bush to encounter Fiordland Crested Penguins (‘Tawaki’) on Robinson Crusoe beach. The bush here is jungle-like temperate rainforest with rich bird life, vines, ferns and orchids. You’ll see giant kahikatea, rimu and silver beech. At the beach you can sit and watch the penguins waddle between the sea and their breeding areas and chicks. (Note: subject to numbers, there will be a less arduous alternative walk, which is moderately strenuous.) After our morning walk we’ll have a reviving lunch of soup, fresh foccacia, salads and a selection of meats at the lodge. The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure to stroll, read and relax.
Susannah will offer an illustrated talk on New Zealand’s history over drinks before dinner. (Overnight Lake Moeraki Wildnerness Lodge) BLD
Queenstown - 2 nights
Day 12: Friday 18 November, Lake Moreaki – Wanaka – Arrowtown – Queenstown
- Poetry Reading by Liz Breslin at the Lake Wanaka Centre
- Guided tour of Historic Arrowtown
This morning we head off to Queenstown, the adventure capital of NZ, set on the shores of lovely Lake Wakatipu in the shadow of the Remarkables mountains. After a short drive along the coast, we cross the Haast River via a long one-lane bridge. The township of Haast began as a construction camp for the Ministry of Works – it still has a touch of the Wild West. Leaving the coast, we drive past waterfalls and stunning scenery up the river valley to Haast Pass. The road snakes through the Aspiring National Park, and the vegetation becomes sparser as we travel inland to reach Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka, two gorgeous lakes.
In Wanaka, where we stop for lunch, we are privileged to be joined by poet and playwright Liz Breslin. Liz is a noted performer of her own works and she will entertain us near the shores of Lake Wanaka as we enjoy our picnic.
In the afternoon we drive via the Shotover River (famed for its terrifying jet-boat rides), Lake Dunstan and the Clutha River to Queenstown. Along the way, we stop at historic Arrowtown. Gold was discovered there in 1862 and the place still has many buildings from that era. Maxine Alterio’s novel Ribbons of Grace is set during that tumultuous time, as are parts of The Luminaries. (Overnight Queenstown) BL
Day 13: Saturday 19 November, Queenstown
- 4WD tour of Glenorchy and Paradise
- Lunch at the Gibbston Valley Winery Restaurant
J.R.R. Tolkein did not have New Zealand in mind when he wrote The Hobbit and his Lord of the Rings novels, but he has done wonders for the country’s tourism because they were all filmed in NZ by director Peter Jackson. This morning we will take an exciting 4-wheel drive tour to the town of Glenorchy, ‘gateway to Middle Earth’. The scenery is truly awesome and it is easy to see why Jackson chose it for his films. Sir Ian McKellen who acted Gandalf, was convinced he’d been transplanted to Tolkein’s Middle Earth, and decided that the town of Paradise had been aptly named. We will see sites for Rohan, Isengard, Lothlorien and Dimrill Dale on our journey through the mountains near Queenstown.
Lunch will be enjoyed at Gibbston Valley Winery, one of the most scenic vineyards you will ever see. The South Island’s cold winters have produced grapes that, turned mainly into pinot noir, have gained worldwide recognition. The area’s cheeses are also noteworthy.
The afternoon will be at leisure to explore Queenstown. You could stroll by the crystal-clear lake, take a gondola ride up Bob’s Peak, or even indulge in something more scary and energetic in the birthplace of bungy-jumping? (Overnight Queenstown) BL
Milford Sound Cruise - 1 night
Day 14: Sunday 20 November, Queenstown – Te Anau – Milford Sound
Some of the world’s most spectacular scenery is to be found in Fiordland, a National Park with dramatic mountains, deep fiords, waterfalls and plenty of rain. The area is another Lord of the Rings filming location. This morning we journey along the edge of Lake Wakatipu, through Kingston and Mossburn, to Te Anau, hub of the fiordland region and the entry to the National Park. The high country scenery, trout rivers and small towns along the way are breathtaking.
From Te Anau we continue along the Eglington Valley to the Mirror Lakes, then follow the “Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain”, past Cascade Creek and Lake Gunn to The Divide. We drive through the Hollyford Valley to the Homer Tunnel, a man-made tunnel cut out of the rock wall, to emerge into the Cleddau Valley, then on to Milford Sound, an amazing 22km long fiord dominated by Mitre Peak (1,692m). This road is one of New Zealand’s most extraordinary drives.
In late afternoon we depart on our overnight cruise of Milford Sound on board The Milford Mariner, which offers accommodation in private cabins with en-suite bathrooms. On this luxury vessel, we shall cruise the full length of this spectacular fiord to the Tasman Sea before anchoring for the night in sheltered Harrison Cove. The Fiordland National Park was made a World Heritage Area by the UN in 1986, so it will not be possible for us to step on land. You may, however, wish to go exploring by kayak with the ship’s nature guide, or simply relax on deck. (Overnight Cruise on Milford Mariner) BD
Queenstown - 1 night
Day 15: Monday 21 November, Milford Sound – Te Anau – Queenstown
- Time at leisure in Queenstown
- Farewell Evening meal at a local restaurant
We disembark this morning and return to Queenstown where the remainder of the day is at leisure. You may wish to take the opportunity to stroll in the beautiful Queenstown Botanic Gardens, or take a boat journey up and down the lake, as did novelist Anthony Trollope when he visited – the scenery reminded him of Switzerland and he loved the “wild landscape beauty” of the region.
In the evening we gather for a farewell dinner at one of Queenstown’s fine local restaurants. (Overnight Queenstown) BD
Day 16: Tuesday 22 November, Depart Queenstown
- Tour concludes in the morning
- At leisure/Check out
Our tour ends in Queenstown after breakfast. In the morning you will be required to check out of the hotel. Please contact ASA if you require assistance with a transfer to the Queenstown Airport. B