Every incentive travel trends study puts at the top of the list – unique, local, authentic experiences. I met the Kiwis in Queenstown, New Zealand “this summer” (early January) and sampled a bunch of seen-nowhere-else activities.
New Zealand has flights from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Houston. The 12-hour flight from LAX to Auckland was surprisingly easy – departing LAX at 11 pm, so it was easy to sleep (a fairly solid 7 hours for me).
The confusing aspect is the time zones. You cross the dateline, so NZ is one day ahead and minus 5 hours from CST. I left Dec. 29 and arrived Dec. 31, losing one day of my life forever.
From Auckland, Air New Zealand flies 1 hour 50 minutes to Queenstown, which is a beautiful little airport in a small town of 30,000 people.
Enough about travel. The big story of Queenstown is the unique, local, authentic experiences. They’ve got more of them in one place than any incentive travel destination.
TSS Earnslaw and Walter Peak
It’s difficult to pick a #1, but if you force me to choose, this was my favorite. The beautiful scenario on Lake Wakatipu, a deep lake with mountains rising high above. Unique 100-year old steamship, powered by a ½ ton of coal. A little history, the ship was originally a local freighter. Local culture lessons with the sheep farm tour, followed by a walking tour of beautiful gardens at the homestead. And then, finish off the tour with a delicious Kiwi BBQ lunch.
For the guys (or “mates”), the high-speed jet boat is a big adrenaline rush. Shooting through the canyons at 50 mph while narrowly avoiding the massive rock faces makes the brain zoom… “This feels dangerous. The driver has strong skills. No dents on the boat. He said the boats cost $600,000. Was that USD or NZ dollar? He must be safe, or they’d fire him. Prince William and Kate were in the pictures. Their security said it was safe. Hey, this is a blast!”
Milford Sound Scenic Cruise
Rudyard Kipling described Milford Sound as the “eighth wonder of the world.” The best way to enjoy this full-day incentive travel activity is coach-cruise-fly. I recommend Real Journeys NZ (email me, I can share a good contact). It takes 9 hours for three distinct, amazing experiences.
The luxury motorcoach takes 4-5 hours from Queenstown, which feels surprisingly quick while enjoying the scenic countryside, a few stops for postcard-perfect photos, and the little town of Te Anau.
The 1-hour 40-minute scenic cruise on Milford Sound is the bucket list activity – or unique, local, authentic experience (the subject of this blog). It is a mix of the Canadian Rockies, their emerald lakes, and the Na Pali coast of Kauai. However, the Canadian Rockies and the Na Pali coast are their own, one-of-a-kind experience for a President’s Club.
Then, the flight back is the speedy return, offering another magnificent view of the south island. The locals always ask: “fixed-wing or heli?”
Drives to Scenic Arrowtown or Glenorchy
I recommend one more local, authentic experience that was much better than expected. Arrowtown is a quaint, old, little mining town. The primary activity is shopping and walking on Main Street (technically Buckingham Street). Most “mates” don’t enjoy the shopping, but my sweetie did, and I enjoyed the change of pace.
Glenorchy is another tiny town, but this is more about the scenic drive along Lake Wakatipu. Think of it as New Zealand’s version of Maui’s road to Hana. The New Zealanders say it’s Lord of the Rings territory. To clarify, I heard “Lord of the Rings filmed here” for 6-7 places, so you realize the trilogy used most of the north and south islands at some point.
More Authentic Queenstown Incentive Experiences
After four full days, I ran out of time, so I hope to return one day soon with an incentive trip! See these below – plus the Kiwi’s say their wineries and golf courses are splendid too.