This article is an excerpt from our new Steppes Traveller magazine – please get in touch with us to receive your free copy

Imagine packing up your Landie and heading off to explore a wild and inaccessible part of New Zealand. Behind the wheel, the landscape stretches open and the possibilities are endless in this magnificent country.

Several years ago, we were approached by a group of clients who enjoyed annual 4WD expeditions to places like Namibia and Mongolia. The task was to do the same in New Zealand – and the accommodation brief was either the best in the country or a tent. Thus, experience was king.

We sourced manual vehicles, negotiated agreements with landowners, and put together six days of top-grade off-road driving. Mountain tracks with enormous drop-offs, multiple river crossings and technical switchbacks, and epic scenery that’s unreachable by most.

Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand

They liked it so much they decided to return this year. This time, with a much better understanding of the client, we were able to put together a trip with gear for high-quality expedition camping. A three-man tent per person with enough room to stand, comfortable mattresses on raised beds, showers and electrics powered by several solar generators, a composting throne of a toilet with a view, a Maori wild-food chef with a specially designed menu throughout and local characters to join us by the fireside – regaling us with stories of Maori folklore and the odd bit of acoustic guitar or a wild West Coast Bluegrass outfit.

Vibrant blue ice with view through carved hole to six people standing on ice.
Glacier, New Zealand

By day, we swam with dolphins and seals, embarked on a private rally driving day, were thrilled by a simulated formation divebombing mission on 1930s Harvards, learnt to spearfish and gather crayfish while diving, spent a day on advanced racing off-road and experienced some of the finest helicopter flying in the world with two legendary pilots. The special dining menu was designed daily with ingredients foraged from local surroundings, supplemented by a couple of cases of 18-year-old Macallan.

Common Dolphin, New Zealand

The trip culminated with a party at a secluded villa in its own cove on Waiheke Island – just a short 15 minutes by helicopter from Auckland Airport, for an effortless departure. We were accompanied by a videographer with a drone to ensure the remarkable memories were not lost. An experience, in my opinion, that has never been done before in New Zealand.

Fiordland Lodge, New Zealand

New Zealand’s geography and topography lends itself to such trips. About the same size as Great Britain and Northern Ireland (although long, like Italy), but with a population of only 4.5 million, places are relatively easy to access and there are large areas of remote wilderness, much like the Scottish Highlands. Like in the UK, the terrain varies markedly every three hours or so of driving.

Black and white image of Maori people with tatoos, traditional jewellery and feathers in hair.

The exceptional environment here means we can focus on a number of outdoor themes while still giving you more than a glimpse of the iconic New Zealand experiences. The two consistent favourites are a Maori welcome on a sacred mountain (think of the All Blacks, plus some women in traditional dress, in a place which feels like Stonehenge) and a day over Fiordland with one of our helicopter legends. This is some of the finest scenic flying in the world and again can be further tailored to cater to interests, such as understanding our greenstone (jade), meeting local hermits and whitebaiters, or finding wildlife. And, in terms of themes: hiking; fishing; cycling; cultural immersion; and sailing, to name a few.

Thanks for reading

Author: Jean-Michel Jefferson