IFTA IN NEW ZEALAND: Onward Travel’s grand apple adventure
By Molly Crist

Our travelers and friends know Onward Travel as a boutique tour operator, focused on planning and hosting small group tours. We partner with businesses and organizations to plan tours often with a theme such as food & wine, tea, art & design, or beer. But when an opportunity came along to plan two large Study Tours for members of the International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA), we jumped at it! Read on to learn all about the experience.

I live on an apple farm in the Hudson Valley, NY where my husband Joel is a fifth generation farmer. His family is part of IFTA, an industry association for fruit tree growers that focuses on travel and research as tools to advance the industry. Here at Onward Travel, we are passionate about combining travel and education plus dedicated to planning meaningful experiences. So in Summer 2016 we partnered with IFTA to plan two Study Tours to New Zealand, and embarked on our biggest project yet, at the intersection of apples and travel.

View Tour Brochure Here

The twist: each tour had over 100 participants! Even though we’re used to planning tours for ~16 travelers, we had a fabulous time working with a larger group. We love being creative and resourceful and we worked with an amazing team from IFTA: Karen Lewis of Washington State University Cooperative Extension and association president Rod Farrow of Fish Creek Orchards in Western NY. The Study Tours were 11-nights each and they overlapped in Napier, New Zealand for two nights for IFTA’s Annual Conference at the beautiful Napier Conference Centre.

Scroll Down for IFTA NZ Photo Gallery

Why two tours? We wanted to keep the numbers manageable since the orchards and cities are relatively small on North American standards. But there was huge demand from the association members and we knew 200+ people wanted to participate. The tours sold out in 20 minutes so we were delighted we’d decided to offer two Study Tours!

Study Tour participants at a honeycrisp orchard near Timaru, New Zealand

During the Study Tours we visited three apple growing regions: Hawke’s Bay, Nelson-Tasman and Timaru. Participants visited 4-6 orchards each day and enjoyed social lunches. And of course we stuck in great food and sightseeing activities along the way. Onward Travel also organized a Companion Sightseeing Tour program for spouses and friends to enjoy in lieu of orchard tours. And we had two 5-night South Island Extension tours of 25 travelers each that quickly sold out. These folks enjoyed a longer tour and more time on the South Island, traveling between Queenstown and Christchurch.

Kat and I spent 6 weeks in New Zealand preparing for and then leading these tours. A winter spent in the South Pacific was a treat! That said, meeting the needs of 100+ travelers day after day was no small feat. We were lucky to have our mom – and inspiration/guru – Peggi Clauhs along for the ride, plus our friend Emily Diehl and IFTA’s supportive board of directors helping along the way.

I always say that apple farming isn’t a job, it is a lifestyle. So even though I do not “work” at Crist Bros. Orchards, I am firmly entrenched and in many ways my life revolves around apples. So it was an absolute pleasure to work closely with IFTA and create an unforgettable learning opportunity for growers from across North America and beyond.

Scroll down for IFTA NZ Photo Gallery

Can we brag a little? IFTA members are a great group of people and we enjoyed getting to know each and every person. After working on this project for nearly 2 years, their compliments and kind words warmed our hearts! Here are some excerpts from the feedback survey:

  • Kat, Molly, et al did an amazing job. The planning was spot on, but when the unforeseeable happened (like a Cyclone), their ability to modify and adapt while leading a 100+ person group was impressive.
  • They did a awesome job both for the educational part and the extended touring. Gave us many things and options and showed us New Zealand from the northern tip of the North Island to the southern tip of the South Island.
  • Great job bringing together diverse groups of people for unique excursions and celebrating the culture while focusing on the priority of the educational study tour.
  • The ladies at Onward Travel did an outstanding job, the best, most well organized tour I’ve attended so far. Great attention to every detail.
  • You were the perfect blend of professional and personal. You make people feel valued. You embraced the fine details of the tour and put your own stamp on it. You didn’t seemed stressed but you took each challenge with optimism. Well done!
  • I felt they did a terrific job. Under some of the circumstances they managed to pull off some amazing things. There seemed to be no item too small that they would not help out with. They put out a 110% effort at all times.
  • Truly a trip of a lifetime – I told my non-apple growing friends that NZ is like the Taj Mahal of apple growing – highest yields in the world, and I always wanted to see their orchards. The beauty of the whole country, and its various landscapes was more than I expected. Very friendly country, we felt so comfortable, and Onward Travel exceeded our expectations for taking care of us. Thanks so much!

Here are links to itineraries and further info if you’re interested in digging deeper:

Tour Brochure

Detailed Itinerary ~ Week 1 Study Tour

Conference Program ~ IFTA Annual Conference in Napier, NZ / Feb 26, 2018

Field Notes Guide

Pre-Trip Notes

Destination Guide: New Zealand

South Island Extension Itinerary ~ Week 1

Companion Sightseeing Tour Itinerary ~ Week 1

Facebook Photo Album

IFTA NZ Photo Album