- Trip Ideas
- Adventure Travel
We asked six trailblazing tour operators to map out exclusive T+L itineraries on six continents—and found 14 more ways to travel the world with new eyes.
New Zealand with Mountain Travel Sobek
20 Life-Changing Trips
New Zealand with Mountain Travel Sobek
Why We Love It: This adventure-travel company slips clients into new destinations as noninvasively and inventively as they can—in small groups led by local guides at out-of-the-ordinary sights. For T+L, 40-year-old Mountain Travel Sobek has crafted an itinerary steeped in the 1,000-year-old cultural traditions and folklore of New Zealand’s first inhabitants—the Maori tribe. Maori guides are called upon throughout the journey, whether you’re hiking the grassy battlegrounds of Ruapekapeka, scene of the last conflict between British and Maori forces in the 1846 Northern War, or group-paddling a war canoe down hidden tribal waterways.
Where It Goes: From ancient settlements at the tip of the volcanic North Island to beaches, rivers, and glaciers, then all the way down to the peak-rimmed tourist center of Queenstown, on the South Island’s Lake Wakatipu.
What You’ll Do: Sit on Tokerau Beach (North Island) to watch tribesman Hekeneukumai Ngaiwi Puhipi Busby Kaumatua demonstrate how to make a traditional ocean canoe; detour north to Cape Reinga, the last stop made by Maori spirits of the dead on their way to the afterlife; and hike nearby through the lush Waipoa Forest to see Tane Mahuta, one of the world’s largest remaining ancient kauri trees, whose girth rivals that of America’s sequoia (45 feet). On the South Island, you’ll sail with the Maori-owned Whale Watch Kaikoura to see sperm whales up close; hike alongside the Arahura River, where you can stop to search for greenstone, a jade, found only on the South Island, that is sacred to the tribe for its symbolic role in peace agreements; and trek across the Franz Josef glacier with an expert on global warming’s impact on the region.
Where You’ll Stay: Highlights include two hotels with extensive green practices: the Hapuku Lodge, whose recycled-timber tree houses are 30 feet aboveground in a grov
Some travel to change their lives, others the world. But, a truly transformative trip has the power to do both. Just ask Claire Russo, who last year spent her holiday vacation with Habitat for Humanity in the La Ceiba, Honduras, where she cleared a site, poured cement and laid the foundation for a home for a local poverty-stricken family. “We were all there because we genuinely cared about helping others, and it was wonderful to connect with both Americans and Hondurans during such a physically demanding experience.”
There’s growing evidence that the Volunteer Vacations trend is blossoming into a bigger phenomena. A 2007 Travelocity survey found that 17.7 percent of respondents had taken a vacation that incorporated volunteering or philanthropy—a number that’s up 13 percent from the previous year and expected to rise even higher in 2008. But tour operators and travel companies, new and old, are one-upping that trend through new programs and products, tapping into the feel-good Zeitgeist and our collective desire for something more from our adventures abroad, and at home.
And that “something more” depends entirely on individual interests, causes, and world view. For some eco-conscious travelers, investigating the Incan environmental practices in Peru under the guidance of Charles Darwin’s grandson may be the trip of a lifetime. For others, a journey to Cambodia’s temples and then to its villages to meet the custodians of the sacred sites is rewarding.
But lest you think the movement is more medicine than pleasure, think again. Today, creative companies are mixing such traditionally appealing activities as biking and wine-tasting in France with classes on biodynamic viticulture in an attempt to broaden travelers horizons even further—and it’s working.
Even something as simple as supporting local economy by returning with a suitcase full of crafts purchased from a local artisan can having meaningful and lasting impact. Ultimately, travelers today are seeking a connection-be it with nature, destination, culture, people—in hopes of returning home with the ultimate souvenir: a memorable one-of-a-kind experience.