“What’s a new idea? A really cool bucket list destination?”

Well, mate, I just got back from Auckland and Queenstown, and they’re my new favorite.

Clients seeking a change of pace from sun and sand beach trips should consider an incentive trip to Auckland, New Zealand. It’s English speaking, friendly folks, tasty food, stunning natural scenery (including Lord of the Rings scenes everywhere you turn), and outstanding values with a strong US dollar.

NZ has direct flights from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Houston. The 12-hour flight from LAX to Auckland was surprisingly easy – departing LAX at 11:00 pm, so it was very easy to sleep overnight.

Incentive Trip to Auckland

This is the perfect time to plan an incentive trip to Auckland

Auckland is a beautiful harbor city, reminding me a bit of Vancouver. It is home to a multicultural population of 1.5 million people of the total 4.5 in NZ.  The “City of Sails” is an apt nickname with many marinas and yachts and boats, including a few cool America’s Cup racers.

This cosmopolitan city has several good incentive class hotels (The Langham where I stayed, plus the Hilton, Pullman, Sofitel, and more). Still, the real gem of Auckland is the unique incentive travel experiences. Here are a few I enjoyed.

Sky Tower

Personally, I like city tours when arriving at a new international destination to get a broad overview of the city. Most are bus tours. On an incentive trip to Auckland, the Sky Tower gives you a 360-degree panoramic view from 1,076 feet high.

Sky Tower is the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere and the 25th tallest tower in the world.

The observation deck includes signs identifying all the key landmarks, volcanoes (dormant), and other historical locations. The Orbit 360˚ revolving restaurant or the Sky Cafe are good spots to grab lunch or rest your feet.

At the base of the Sky Tower, the SKYCITY Auckland entertainment complex is home to a premier dining precinct with over 20 bars and restaurants. See the interactive view from the Sky Tower.


Waiheke Island Vineyard Tour

Pronounced “why heck eee” – it sounds like a cool kiwi stop. It was my favorite natural experience on the North Island. It feels like a little island, but it’s supposedly the second-largest island in the area, after Great Barrier Island. It is the most populated island with 8,000 residents.  Waiheke was voted the 4th best island in the world in the Condé Nast Best Islands in the World List (2015), but most of us Americans have never heard of this distant beauty.

I visited with fellow IRF Trustees on a delightful January (summer) day, arriving via a yacht from Auckland Harbor after a scenic 13 mile and 45-minute cruise.

Upon arrival, a quick shuttle delivered us to the Mudbrick Winery for a tour and amazing (did I say amazing?) lunch in the loft private dining room overlooking the water, grapevines, and lavender.

For a sensational ending, Tourism New Zealand arranged a scenic helicopter flight back to Auckland. Wow! What a day.


Hobbiton Movie Set

I swayed back and forth on this one. It’s a 2-hour drive to Matamata. The Lord of Rings trilogy was excellent watching, but by now, I’ve forgotten it. My IRF colleagues raved – loved the movie stories and the natural scenery.

Well, I concur. The 2-drive was a mini-tour of NZ countryside with lots of hills, greenery, sheep, rocky outcroppings, and more sheep. As evidence of Hobbiton’s popularity, the tours sell out most days, and it’s truly in the middle of Middle Earth nowhere (which is part of the moviemaker’s plan with no buildings, roads, or power lines in the background).

It was beautiful and charming, and now I know more Hobbit trivia and film tricks. Visit the official tour website for more information.

Piha Black Sand Beach

I started this blog suggesting a change of pace from beach, beach, beach incentive trips, but I am still partial to the natural beauty of beaches and the unusual touching of land and ocean. I loved this unique black sand beach. I’d rate it a close 2nd place to the black sand beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii because the massive, rocky coast is a cool contrast to sand. Incentive planners could combine a picnic here to get out the big city of Auckland and see stunning beaches, unlike any others.

 Other Unique Incentive Experiences

When considering an incentive trip to Auckland, know that it has something to offer for everyone. Other incentive activity options include:

  • Learn the ropes of an America’s Cup racing yacht cruising Waitemata Harbour
  • Jetboat tour of the city coastline
  • Auckland Harbour Bridge climb
  • Bungy jumping from the bridge
  • And lots of museum options

I look forward to returning soon, hopefully with an incentive group with a budget of $7,500 per person.

Cheers mate!

For more information on how Brightspot can give you the “something extra” for your incentive trips, check out our Incentive Travel page!


Mike May

Author Mike May

President | Author of 12.5 Steps to a Perfect Incentive Program and recognized as one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in the Incentive Industry. Expertise: bucket-list incentive trips, motivational incentive program design, matching event goals with the perfect destination & hotel, cost savings strategies, global channel reward programs, and targeted communications.

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