MoaTrek minibus amid the Kauri trees in the 1970s

MoaTours turned 50 in November 2021!

In November 1971 the first ever MoaTour departed, Kiwi Guide Tim looks back over the years with founder Ena Hutchinson and son Miles as they celebrate 50 years of small group touring in New Zealand.

17 November 1971 – MoaTours is born

Early morning on the 17th of November 1971, Ena Hutchinson farewelled seven Australians and one Japanese guest as they departed Auckland on the very first Moa tour. The Ford Transit minibus, driven by business partner and typical West Coast character Steve Berry, was loaded up with tents, pots, pans, chilly bins, lilos and sleeping bags. First stop was a supermarket to purchase supplies for the camp cookouts over the next 17 nights.

Ena’s itinerary included many memorable highlights. There were ‘Rocket Fuel Parties’ at the Orakei Korako thermal wonderland, backcountry rafting at Buttercup Ranch in the Tongariro National Park, horse trekking on a farm above Lake Tekapo and flying into the remote Jumboland wilderness near Makarora before hiking to meet a jetboat for the journey back to civilisation.

The first MoaTour was a roaring success and the business, aimed at 18-35 year-olds grew very quickly. Billed as “the young way to see New Zealand”, the company soon had a fleet of nine custom made 21-seater coaches and incorporated features unique to MoaTours. In summer, guests stayed in custom made “Pyramid Tents” (designed so travellers could put their jeans on while standing up) and in the colder months were hosted in private hideaway lodges on farms and wilderness settings.

The early years

As well as running the company and creating the tours, Ena’s early role included a wide variety of tasks, including queueing at the Auckland Railway Station to buy Interisland Ferry tickets, filling up gas bottles pre-tour, flying around Australia delivering brochures by hand to travel agents and co-ordinating sales which came by telex, letter or telephone calls.

She was assisted by a team of Kiwi Guides, who were skilled at driving and camp management, with good local banter and friendly Kiwi natures.

Several of the early Kiwi Guides ended up marrying their travellers – it was the 70s and things were different back then!

For those who are interested in a closer look at what life was like on an early MoaTour, here is a fascinating 1976 video by David Barker, showing original footage.

The family story continues – Miles joins MoaTours

After his studies at Otago University, Miles travelled extensively overseas and has visited almost 90 countries. He returned from Sydney in 2008 to join his mother at the helm of MoaTours. Miles brought with him his knowledge of travel and experience in marketing, human resources and operations.

He has been instrumental in taking the company into the internet age and leading development of the excellent website and technology systems to help tours run smoothly. It is a partnership that has stood the test of time and ensures MoaTours will remain within the family and New Zealand owned into the future.

50 years of small group touring

50 years later and tourism within New Zealand has changed dramatically. So much happens on the internet now, which wasn’t around in 1971. Health and Safety practices are much more a part of every day on tour than they were in the early days.

As a current MoaTours Kiwi Guide, I cannot imagine how Ena and her team ran tours in the early era without a smartphone. It is my essential companion on tour as a source of information, for directions on the road, as my camera, and for contacting suppliers and the office team.

There are some things however that have not changed in 50 years. New Zealand’s spectacular scenery and unique flora and fauna is as magnificent as ever, and the locals are still just as friendly. The company’s focus is still firmly on being the best small group tour operator in New Zealand and Ena remains at the helm of MoaTours.

As the demographic has matured, camping has been replaced by comfortable accommodation and the company fleet has been upgraded to modern, comfortable Mitsubishi Fuso buses. But the formula is still the same. Small groups, expert Kiwi Guides, backed by a supportive office team, travelling on creative itineraries, designed by Ena.

Small group travel, then and now

Even today, MoaTours continues Ena’s firm belief in the value of small group travel. Smaller groups are able to access many places that larger groups cannot. They are able to make good connections with locals, as well as each other and their Kiwi Guides. Ena’s tours are always well researched, she visits every host and location, which explains why after 50 years, she has made so many friendships and is held in such high regard within the tourism industry.

I always enjoy meeting my MoaTours groups as we start a tour. I know that within a short time, as we journey together, we will bond and become like a family (or “whānau” as we say in New Zealand). MoaTours as a company, has been family and Kiwi owned since 1971 and has bucked the trend of New Zealand tourism companies being taken over by overseas interests. The family connection was strengthened when Ena’s son, Miles Clark, joined the company as a co-director.

In 2021 Ena is still creating new itineraries

With 50 years in the New Zealand tourism industry, Ena has made extensive connections and many friends throughout the country. As one of New Zealand’s best tour designers, this knowledge was invaluable when she started creating shorter, regional tours designed to help Kiwis see their own country in 1999 which was the beginning of “MoaTours”, the regional touring side of the business.

As of 2021 Ena has designed 27 different MoaTours itineraries (with more in the pipeline) throughout New Zealand. These tours explore the best of New Zealand including festivals, private garden tours, high-country stations and Kiwi hospitality.

These fully guided, all-inclusive tours with leisurely paced itineraries, lead to a relaxed and inclusive small group touring experience.

What’s it like guiding for MoaTours?

I started working for MoaTours as a Kiwi Guide in 2017. With 25 years of experience in the New Zealand tourism industry, mainly in a guiding role, I thought I knew a lot about what New Zealand had to offer. My guiding focus had been on international travellers, but with these on hold in the 2020/2021 season, I had the opportunity to guide Kiwis on the MoaTours regional tours. I soon realised that I had a lot more to learn about my own country.

Over the summer of 2020/2021, I guided lots of tours, including some with itineraries that I had not travelled before. The excellent tour plans, detailed commentary notes and superb back-up from Ena and the office/operations team meant I could smoothly and confidently run each tour. What I had not counted on was the excitement of discovering new places, seeing new scenery and meeting wonderful Kiwi people, who enjoyed sharing their homes and stories with my travellers.

How to choose a favourite tour?

I am often asked by my travellers, “what is your favourite tour?”. While I do have favourite New Zealand destinations such as the West Coast, Rakiura/Stewart Island and Northland, the reality is that, just like my fellow-travellers, I love the sense of discovery that travel brings. So, my answer to this question is always ‘the one I have done the least!’

Last summer, I explored many new places and met some amazing Kiwis, all of whom knew Ena. I was amazed by her vast network of connections throughout New Zealand and these were not just business relationships but also friendships. Everybody asked after her and had stories to tell about when she visited. My travellers would often comment that it felt like Ena was on tour with us!

For me, there were some real highlights and wonderful new discoveries. On day three of the Country Roads and Crosshills Garden Fair tour we visited Brancepeth & Te Parae Homesteads, in the Wairarapa. We met Edward Beetham at Brancepeth for a personal guided tour through his family’s homestead, built in the 1850s, and lunched nearby with Angela Williams at Te Parae homestead, built in 1905. They share a family history dating back to the Reverend Henry Williams of Paihia in the early 1800s, whose historical importance to New Zealand is felt to this day.

On day four of the Far South and Milford Sound tour, we visited the Templeton Flax Mill and Heritage Museum at Otaitai Beach. I had travelled through this area many times on other tours, but had no idea that this 100 year old mill existed, and was still processing flax fibre. I learnt so much about this very important early New Zealand industry.

There were many other new places as Ena’s itineraries took us on a journey of New Zealand discovery last summer. I look forward to returning with travellers to places such as Stonehenge in the Wairarapa, Butlers Whaling Museum in Northland, Denniston Coal Mine Ruins on the West Coast, the bulldozers at Ngawi, a quaint fishing village near the Cape Palliser lighthouse, the Hokonui Moonshine Museum in Gore and the historic Olveston House in Dunedin.

The old saying “don’t leave home until you have seen the country” is very true. With international travel about to open up again, there will be many New Zealanders ready to explore the world. Take it from a Kiwi who has travelled extensively overseas and who, after 25 years of guiding in New Zealand thought he knew it all, there is just so much more to see here in New Zealand, courtesy of Ena and MoaTours.

Ena’s new tour to Aotea Great Barrier Island is an example of this. I loved my three tours there last summer, as did my fellow travellers. Aotea Great Barrier Island is beautiful, and despite being so close to Auckland, it has a unique culture and is populated by real characters. Until our MoaTours training week in October 2020, I had never been there before, thanks Ena and Miles for taking me to this amazing island!

I am looking forward to guiding travellers on MoaTours latest itinerary this summer. As I live in Ōpōtiki, the Te Urewera, Mahia & Gisborne tour is in my backyard. There are many activity highlights, plus the tour includes learning from local Māori about the history and cultures of the Ngati Awa and Tuhoe iwis.

Currently Ena is working on a new itinerary in North Canterbury and Marlborough, for 2022. This will be based on the very popular High Country Stations, Gardens and Goldfields tour, which explores the back roads from Canterbury to Central Otago, visiting historic sheep stations and meeting the gardeners.

There are many other favourites and one thing we’re very proud of is that we cover the whole country, from the Far North right down to Stewart Island and pretty much everywhere in between.

See all our New Zealand small group tours here.

Miles & Ena at Windy Canyon researching the Aotea Great Barrier Island Escape Itinerary
Miles & Ena at Windy Canyon researching the Aotea Great Barrier Island Escape Itinerary

Family values then and now

I am very proud to be a Kiwi Guide for MoaTours as we celebrates our 50th anniversary this month. Not just family owned, it is also a family focused operation. The company combines the incredible skills, knowledge and itineraries of Ena Hutchinson, with the energy and drive of Miles, backed by an expert team of Kiwi Guides and a talented office and operations team.

However, the whānau is wider than this. It also includes 50 years of wonderful travellers, many whom have returned again and again, to enjoy Ena’s itineraries, and the welcoming New Zealand hosts who invite Moa groups into their lives.

What is the secret behind the longevity of MoaTours over the last 50 years? It is the people. As the Māori whakataukī (proverb) says:

He aha te mea nui o te ao – What is the most important thing in the world? 

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata - It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

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