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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. We grew pre-Covid to 11+ staff and contracted to 3-4 staff during Covid. With business having started again our plan is to grow slowly and carefully, focusing on our core values of connection, sustainability and authenticity. We are now at 5 staff with another two on the horizon.

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