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Our Team

We are a tight, clever, hardworking and empowered team - justifiably proud of what we deliver to our clients. Corporate culture is open and there is no hierarchy. Service and excellence are what it's about. We have a reputation in the market for creativity, innovation, flexibility, openness and friendliness. Most importantly, our people care, they care about our clients, they care about doing the very best possible whatever the circumstances.

Gillian Buckley

Born in Auckland, Gillian grew up on the southern edges of the district before settling in the Far North of New Zealand with her husband.  She has a long background in the New Zealand Inbound Travel Industry and a wealth of knowledge about our beautiful country. As well as assisting clients achieve their dream New Zealand itinerary, Gillian works part time as an artist with several exhibitions and one award under her belt.  Her artist website can be seen here: Email Gillian.


Fabienne Mareel​

Fabienne was born in Belgium but became passionate about New Zealand after a student exchange when she was only seventeen. Twenty years later she has immigrated with her Belgian partner. Fabienne joins the team at Ahipara Luxury Travel with a long background in tailoring New Zealand itineraries and quite some travel experience herself throughout the country. Based in Queenstown, she loves to be active and explore new places on the one condition that it is away from the crowds. Email Fabienne.

Karen Jefferson 

Karen, our current CEO, has come into the business more as the kids have grown up and given Jean-Michel a break after a good twenty years of effort.  Responsible since the beginning for finance, systems and staff, Karen has designed and implemented some state of the art finance and itinerary IT applications.   Together with Jean-Michel, Karen has been instrumental in setting our strategy, in redirecting our focus towards agency relationships and in establishing our innovative focus on emerging markets. Email Karen

Jean-Michel Jefferson

Jean-Michel Jefferson is the founder of Ahipara Luxury Travel.  Educated at various schools in North Africa and the Middle East (son of a diplomat), then Rugby School, and the universities of Exeter and Sheffield, Jean-Michel spent 9 years with Price Waterhouse as a Management Consultant and Aviation Strategist in London and Moscow before ditching the corporate life and starting Ahipara in New Zealand.  He grew up with authentic and meaningful travel and this is what he enjoys creating for our clients.  He has mentored promising tour providers for a number of years and is always looking for a way to push boundaries, particularly with regard to transformational experiences.  Jean-Michel has a special interest in Maori culture and spirituality.      Email Jean-Michel.


Ellen Chisholm 

Ellen is passionate about travel and about New Zealand itself, thus making her an ideal Itinerary Design Manager for Ahipara Travel. Based in Chatto Creek in Central Otago, Ellen is kept busy in her homelife also, mothering three small children, and her husband – Matt! Ellen likes to get the most out of life and believes travel is the greatest education we can give not only ourselves, but our children too. Email Ellen Chisholm. 

Felicity Watson

Felicity has joined Ahipara with a varied and long background in Travel, living and working in different Countries before settling back in NZ with her husband and two children in her hometown on the West Coast of the South Island.  Previously Felicity specialized in designing itineraries and managing group tours throughout NZ around major Sporting Events.  Felicity has a real passion for sharing special experiences in beautiful Aotearoa.  Her downtime is spent with her family either travelling in NZ or at the local beaches, river or hiking the native bush tracks on her doorstep. Email Felicity.

Lucy Barron-Franklin

Born in Christchurch, Lucy spread her wings and spent 10 years living in Australia, exploring the world while working in the Australian travel industry.  New Zealand was calling her home and she has recently settled in Nelson with her partner and baby girl. With a deep passion for this country, beautiful food and wine, and creating excellent experiences, Lucy is delighted to be specialising in what interests her most whilst also having the time to look after her family. Email Lucy.

Clare Almeida

Clare is originally from Wales in the UK and moved here in 2009.  The typical story of a Brit coming to New Zealand for year long working holiday and never going home.  After just 3 months, Clare had fallen in love with this special part of the world and now has passion for sharing her love of this country with others.

Having spent an extensive career in the tourism industry on the supplier side, Clare is excited to have the opportunity to be able to promote the vast array of properties, activities and experiences that NZ has to offer.  With a personal love for our award winning wine industry, breathtaking motorcycle rides and unique adventures, Clare loves to work with clients to build once in a lifetime trips that get you off the beaten track.

Having spent nearly a decade living in Queenstown as well as 2 years each in Auckland and Wellington, Clare has now made the move to the beautiful Taupo with her husband, young daughter and tribe of rescue animals. Email Clare.