Real Journeys

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Real Journeys
Industry Tourism, Travel
Founded 1954
Founder Sir Les & Olive Lady Hutchins
Area served
Te Anau, Queenstown, Stewart Island, Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Wanaka, Christchurch

Real Journeys is a major South Island and New Zealand award winning tourism company,[1] privately owned by the Hutchins family since 1954.[2] It operates world renowned cruises in Milford and Doubtful Sounds, the legendary vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu, the Te Anau-au glowworm caves, Stewart Island ferry services, excursions and lodge accommodation as well as Cardrona Alpine Resort and the International Antarctic Centre and is recognised as one of the most influential contributors to the country’s international tourism profile.

Founders Sir Les and Olive Lady Hutchins originally established the Manapouri-Doubtful Sound Tourist Company and later purchased Fiordland Travel in 1966 which was rebranded in 2002 as Real Journeys.

The early focus was on tourist boating and cruising enterprises on Lakes Manapouri and Te Anau, Lake Wakatipu, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. However in the 1980s both a luxury coach passenger service and a flightseeing air service, between Queenstown and Milford, were introduced signalling the company’s innovative and entrepreneurial stance.

Real Journeys, also highly respected for its commitment to many conservation projects in the southern region, has diversified and expanded its tourist interests in recent years.

The purchase of the prominent Cardrona Alpine Resort ski area in 2013[3] is one of its most significant acquisitions. The ski area recorded its best season on record in 2016 influenced by Real Journeys’ continued investment in facilities and infrastructure.

The group of companies owned by Real Journeys include the Stewart Island Experience launched in 2004 and Wild Kiwi Encounter, operated as a joint tourism venture with the Rakiura Maori Lands Trust, which was purchased in 2016.[4] Christchurch’s International Antarctic Centre was added to the stable in 2015[5] and Queenstown Rafting, in which Real Journeys had been a 50% partner since 1996, was bought outright in 2016 along with the company’s associate coach services company Kiwi Discovery.


Real Journeys founders Sir Les and Olive Lady Hutchins were pioneers in the Southern Lakes tourism industry in the 1950s and in for his services he was awarded the Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002 which posthumously became a knighthood.

It was the Hutchins’ vision and foresight which led to the formation of the Manapouri-Doubtful Sound Tourist Company in May 1954, after purchasing the assets – two old launches, the Pilgrim and the Constance, and a small hut – from the estate of the legendary Les Murrell who had been transporting tourists across Lake Manapouri and connecting with a walk to Doubtful Sound since 1921.[6]

The Manapouri-Doubtful Sound Tourist Company’s excursion followed the same itinerary with a cruise on Lake Manapouri to West Arm followed by a 17 km walk over Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound. Here the company built a lodge, incorporating the original Murrell hut, to accommodate tourists during the four-day trip.[6]

Later the company was awarded the transport contract during the construction of the Manapouri Power Station carrying staff and materials from Manapouri to West Arm.[6]

The Hutchins were, however, motivated by an overriding desire to share their passion for the Fiordland region with visitors and in 1966 they purchased Fiordland Travel (Te Anau).[6] The company had been established by tourism identities Lawson Burrows and Wilson Campbell in the 1940s and operated various contracts on Lake Te Anau, including tours of the 12,000 year old Te Anau-au glowworm caves which Burrows discovered in 1948.[7]

Vintage Steamship[edit]

In 1969 Fiordland Travel turned its attention to Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

Real Journeys office on Steamer Wharf in Queenstown

The TSS Earnslaw, launched by the Government on Lake Wakatipu in 1912, was floundering under the ownership of the New Zealand Railways Department. There was even talk of scuttling the vessel[8] but she was chartered to a private syndicate at the eleventh hour on January 1, 1969. The new ownership was short lived and, eyeing an opportunity, Fiordland Travel applied for was granted the lease of the historic steamer and on December 12, 1969 and began transporting freight and passengers to the head of the lake under their colours.[9]

In 1982 the company purchased the vessel outright and today the TSS Earnslaw is the oldest coal fired passenger steamship still operating in the southern hemisphere.[8]

In 1991, Fiordland Travel secured the lease of the Walter Peak high tourist operation and the TSS Earnslaw began daily excursions to the high country station on the western shores of Lake Wakatipu. Visitors to Walter Peak today can enjoy a farming experience, guided cycling excursions and horse trekking.[8]

The historic Colonel’s House restaurant at Walter Peak, which takes its name from an early owner, is recognised for its outstanding cuisine and is a popular dining out venue for visitors and Queenstown residents.

The TSS Earnslaw, affectionately known as the Lady of the Lake, is one of New Zealand’s best known tourism icons. When she celebrated her 100th birthday in October 2012 thousands of people took part in the festivities reinforcing the high regard she is held in around the world.[10]

Exploring Fiordland[edit]

One of the company's ships on Milford Sound

In 1966 Milford Sound was on Fiordland Travel’s radar but discussions with the Tourist Hotel Corporation (THC) to buy their tourist launches broke down and it was not till 1970 that the Hutchins made their foray into Milford, challenging the government monopoly there.[11]

The Department of Lands and Survey indicated at the time that it would let another concession for a tourist launch service in Milford Sound. Determined to win the privilege the Hutchins purchased a 16-metre cruiser, the MV Friendship, which was tailor made for the purpose. However, when the Department inexplicably decided not to appoint another concessionaire Fiordland Travel was left at the crossroads.[11]

Standing firm over their plan to enter into the Milford Sound market the Hutchins sailed the MV Friendship from Doubtful Sound to Milford overnight late in December 1970 and set up business from a prefabricated pontoon wharf, catching the THC unawares.[11]

Business quickly took off largely because Fiordland Travel already had a contract with inbound operator, Trans Tours, to provide Milford Sound cruises for their tour groups.[11]

Despite the strong opposition from THC, Fiordland Travel held its ground playing a major role in the development of tourism in Milford Sound which has led to the area becoming one of the country’s most significant tourist destinations.[11]

In 1974 the company launched its first tourist vessel at Doubtful Sound. Today Real Journeys operates over 15 vessels in Fiordland and provides both daytime and overnight cruises in Milford and Doubtful Sounds.[12]

Discovery expeditions to Dusky Sound in Fiordland and along the Stewart Island coast are also operated ranging from five to seven days on the Milford Wanderer which is purpose-built for the voyages.[12]

Buses constructed to improve view through glass roof

In 1984 Fiordland Travel introduced a luxury coach service from Queenstown to connect with their tourist excursions at Manapouri, Te Anau and Milford Sound. Today the distinctive Real Journeys “bullet” coaches, with their glass roofs and tiered and angled seating for better viewing, are state-of-the-art.[12]

Air Tourism[edit]

Fiordland Travel added another dimension to its tourist activities in 1987 establishing a flightseeing air service between Queenstown and Milford Sound. Firstly it flew Cessna planes followed by the introduction of Nomad aircraft.[12]

In 1993 Fiordland Travel’s airline operation and the Mount Cook service to Milford merged to form a joint venture under the banner of Milford Sound Flightseeing. Fiordland Travel subsequently purchased the company outright.[12]

Later, Real Journeys combined its fixed wing airline services with those of Totally Tourism in another joint venture called Milford Sound Flights.[12]

Totally Tourism’s 50 per cent shareholding was subsequently purchased by Skyline Enterprises and in late 2015 Real Journeys sold its half share to Skyline, retaining a supply agreement for air services to Milford.[12]


Conservation has an important place in the Real Journeys story and is a cornerstone of its business. Inspired by Sir Les Hutchins who was committed to Fiordland and its protection the company is dedicated to continuing his legacy to protect the heritage and preserve the environment of the communities it works in.[13]

Considerable funds are donated annually to conservation projects that support habitats, recovering species and clean-up initiatives. An annual Birds of the Feather charity ball organised by Real Journeys helps fundraise for the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) work in the area. In 2015 the inaugural ball raised $40,000 for the preservation of the endangered kakapo (Māori: kākāpō or night parrot).[14]

In 2016 the function raised $65,000 for the Tamatea/Dusky Sound Restoration Project.[15] Some of the funds are earmarked for a $300,000 project, adopted by Real Journeys, to make Cooper Island in Dusky Sound predator free.

In 2013 Real Journeys purchased a 155 hectare site it had previously leased at Walter Peak on the far shores of Lake Wakatipu and embarked on a major land restoration project.[16] In 2015 the company was awarded a Department of Conservation (DOC) Certificate of Appreciation,[17] for its role in clearing the land of vast areas of invasive wilding pines that threaten the Queenstown and Central Otago landscape, and replacing them with native bush and grassland.

The Certificate of Appreciation also recognised the company’s kākāpo fundraising and awareness projects and relocation support for the rare whio (blue duck) from the Milford Track to near the Routeburn Track to help boost breeding pairs.

The Leslie Hutchins Conservation Fund, set up by Sir Les Hutchins before his death, reflects his enthusiasm for supporting efforts to protect and preserve New Zealand’s southern lakes and conservation areas. The aim of the fund is also to reduce financial barriers to allow all New Zealanders to experience and enjoy Fiordland, particularly people who are “at risk” or disadvantaged.[18]

Every year visitors to Doubtful Sound contribute more than $50,000 to this fund via a $1 passenger levy. Projects supported in the past include dolphin research, protection programmes for endangered birds, track and interpretation signage, outdoor education camps and wilding pine eradication.[13]


  1. ^ "Real Journeys NZ: Awards, TripAdvisor, Rankers, Operator of the Year". Retrieved 2016-10-28. 
  2. ^ "Real Journeys media release: Real Journeys celebrates 60 years in business". Retrieved 2016-10-27. 
  3. ^ "Real Journeys purchases Cardrona Alpine Resort". Retrieved 2016-10-27. 
  4. ^ "Real Journeys NZ Media release: Rakiura Maori Lands Trust & Real Journeys announce kiwi encounter Stewart Island". Retrieved 2016-10-27. 
  5. ^ "Real Journeys NZ Media release: Real Journeys invests in Christchurch’s tourism growth". Retrieved 2016-10-27. 
  6. ^ a b c d Hutchins, Les (1998). Making Waves. Invercargill: Craig Print. pp. 30,32,86,139. ISBN 978-0473054762. 
  7. ^ "Queenstown Glow Worm Cave Tours | Everything Queenstown". Everything Queenstown. Retrieved 2016-10-27. 
  8. ^ a b c McLeod, Jenny (2012). TSS Earnslaw Celebrating 100 Years - 1912-2012. Queenstown: Real Journeys. pp. 149, 150, 51. ISBN 9780473211295. 
  9. ^ Hutchins, Les (1998). Making Waves. invercargill: Craig Print. pp. 149, 150. ISBN 978-0473054762. 
  10. ^ "TSS Earnslaw re-enacts maiden passenger voyage on Lake Wakatipu to mark centenary". Retrieved 2016-10-27. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Hutchins, Les (1998). Making Waves. Invercargill: Craig Print. pp. 161–168. ISBN 978-0473054762. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g "Real Journeys NZ: Key milestones Our History since 1954, operating for over 60 years". Retrieved 2016-10-28. 
  13. ^ a b "Real Journeys NZ Conservation: whio blue duck, kakapo, Fiordland coastal clean up". Retrieved 2016-10-28. 
  14. ^ ""Birds of a Feather" Charity Ball raises over $35,000 for Kakapo Recovery - Media Release - Real Journeys NZ". Retrieved 2016-10-27. 
  15. ^ "Real Journeys NZ Media release: "Birds of a Feather" Charity Ball helps raise NZ$65,000 for Tamatea/Dusky Sound Restoration Project". Retrieved 2016-10-27. 
  16. ^ "Real Journeys buys its Walter Peak base". Retrieved 2016-10-27. 
  17. ^ "Real Journeys NZ Media release: Real Journeys recognised for outstanding contribution to conservation in Central Otago". Retrieved 2016-10-27. 
  18. ^ "Home - - The Leslie Hutchins Conservation FoundationThe Leslie Hutchins Conservation Foundation – Funding for conservation projects in NZ | Protect and preserve New Zealand’s southern lakes and conservation areas". Retrieved 2016-10-28. 

External links[edit]