In the early days, MoaTrek was New Zealand’s flagship youth tour company. We started in the early 70’s, offering camping tours that ran the length of the country. Today, we still visit all our favourite spots from those days, but have moved up in the world in terms of where we sleep each night, no more tents! If you're anything like us, you've got plenty of fun stories from the 'good old days' that we would love to share and give you a true feel for where MoaTrek began and a very special thing we call the ‘MoaTrek’ difference.
In 1971, two keen kiwi blokes started a camping tour company in New Zealand. Catering for young travellers wanting to see New Zealand on a budget, we unashamedly based our business model on the Europe Contiki Tours – which we knew rather intimately, you could say, with one of us having been a Contiki guide. Armed with this knowledge, the first tour we offered was available for the grand sum of $89.50, with an extra 75c per day for the food kitty. Sixteen days venturing round New Zealand in an old beat-up minibus, sleeping in tents and exploring pristine beaches, mountains and lakes. But it wasn’t quite as straightforward as that – there were permits to sort out, logistics to organise, and, of course, we needed to sell the actual seats! This was the inauspicious beginning of MoaTrek – and what a ride it’s been since.
The formula was simple. Take a minibus full of predominantly young females, put a driver at the helm who’s got what it takes, chuck in a few tents and sleeping bags and away we’d go. We bought a second-hand Ford Transit delivery van and did the fit-out ourselves with carpet, side windows, seats and a roof rack for luggage. We had the van signed off by the transport authorities at the very last minute, picked up our first group of eight happy, excitable passengers on the footpath at 8.30am. Moa Trek hit the highway running!
On the road
Six outgoing, chatty Aussie sheilas and two very quiet, respectful Japanese girls made up MoaTrek’s inaugural tour group. We began with a visit to the Waitomo Caves followed by a stop at Orakei Korako. Afterwards, we pitched our tents amidst geothermal, steaming bush, miles from anywhere, made dinner on the BBQ and had a few happy hour drinks before jumping in the hot pool. A very successful first day on tour all round.
Grand vistas of Lake Taupo and the volcanoes of the Central Plateau were followed by a night in Taranaki (the most exciting feature of this little campground was the tiny shop selling pies and classic tip top ice cream) and on to Wellington to catch the Inter Island ferry. Heading down the coast, we drove to Kaikoura for a lunch of crayfish and a spot of seal viewing before arriving in New Zealand’s Garden City, Christchurch.
We learnt a valuable lesson on this very first trip – most of our young guests (especially if they were from Australia) didn’t want to see sheep, sheep and more sheep. They wanted discos, dj’s and late night partying, man. So from Christchurch we drove deep into the Southern Alps (not a lot of socialising round these parts back then) for a chilly night camping in the foothills of Mount Cook followed by a much anticipated arrival in Queenstown the next day.
Everyone loved Queenstown – yes, the surroundings were spectacular, but what all eight of our guests wanted was to soak up the nightlife. So we stopped for two nights here; enjoying evenings boogying atop the Skyline gondola and restaurant and (very) slow days exploring the lake and nearby surrounds. From Queenstown, we drove deep into the New Zealand back country to the tiny town of Makaroa. No discos, nightclubs or partying here; rather a uniquely kiwi wilderness experience made up of a scenic flight, hiking and jet boating in the isolated Siberia Valley. Not surprisingly, everybody loved it.
The local lads of Haast
After the seclusion of Makaroa it was on to Haast, another quiet New Zealand town on the West Coast. All eight guests were once again asking about the clubs and discos on offer here – and for anybody who knows this part of the world, dancing and clubbing are worlds away from life in Haast. But in a carefully planned twist of fate, we happened to meet up with a truckload of young kiwi males, fresh from a few days’ deerstalking in the bush. Offers of homemade whitebait fritters, a roaring fire and a friendly rub of sand fly repellent made up one of the most memorable evenings on tour for our eight female guests. Since this first visit went so well, we returned to Haast on many more tours to come - MoaTrek is probably the best thing that’s happened to the locals here since the days of the gold rush. Despite the exciting attractions at Haast, we had to press on the next day – the Punakai Pancake Rocks, glaciers and seal colonies of the West Coast were calling our names.
Wrapping up on the final stretch home
We camped in Tahuna Beach Motor Camp in Nelson for the night, where another rowdy party ensued before we caught the ferry back to Wellington from Picton to continue the journey north. A short city tour of the Beehive, the CBD and the cable car and we were off, out of the city, to pitch our tents on one of the only flat pieces of land in Wellington – the Hutt Motor Park. We were a touch too far from the discos and clubs of the central city, so several beers around the BBQ sufficed for the night. Continuing north, we drove the Kapiti Coast and up to Rotorua for a Maori concert and feast as well as photos around the bubbling mud pools. After dinner, one final raucous night of disco dancing was a great way for our guests to bid farewell to their newfound tour buddies, and, of course, New Zealand. The next day, we all enjoyed a rather late start for the drive to Auckland and a fond farewell.
We had done it – we had survived our very first tour, and, what’s more, we had pulled it off without a hitch. Things could only get better and bigger from here! And they did, but that’s another story.
Like fine wine, MoaTrek’s tours have matured with age but the funny thing is the people who come on our tours now are exactly the same generation as these early travellers from the 70s! Instead of camping, we stay in really comfy accommodation in some of the country’s most picturesque locations. Instead of cooking on the BBQ, we enjoy fine dining in award-winning restaurants, of course trying NZ's best wines too. Our small, frienly groups mean that you’ll enjoy your trip with like-minded people, each with their own great 70s travel memories to share over dinner. See more about how our trips look now, or get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.
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