Our trip starts at 9:30am in Nelson, giving you free time in the morning to wander around this vibrant and charming city. From Nelson, we take a picturesque drive around Tasman Bay to Kaiteriteri, the gateway for our two nights and three days in the Abel Tasman National Park. Our guide advises us on how to pack light as we ready ourselves for this next adventure.
A drive to Caanan Downs, on Takaka Hill, takes us through groves of ancient beech forests, alpine meadows and craggy outcrops of limestone that might look familiar to fans of Middle-earth. Today's hike starts near Harwoods Hole, a 183 metre vertical limestone shaft. We walk through beech, rata and dracophyllum forest into Moa Park, before eventually arriving at Castle Rocks hut. The hut is small, so we find a nearby clearing to pitch our lightweight tents. We come together for dinner and to chat about our day.
Activities: 4 hours hiking, 8km
A relaxed breakfast prepares us for a hike through subtle changes in forest vegetation as we descend to sea level. The sparkling blue waters and golden sands of Anchorage and Torrent bays offer tantalising views along the way.
On arrival at Anchorage campsite, we set up camp among groves of kanuka trees. We have time to explore more of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track with a brisk hike to Cleopatra's Pools or the serene Watering Cove. Otherwise we can relax on the beach or take a swim we've earned it!
Activities: 5-6 hours hiking, 14km
It's time to hit the water and explore the Abel Tasman's magical coastline. We have a treat today because we get to paddle a waka (Maori can). After a traditional karakia (blessing) we learn the etiquette associated with joining a waka team. Then it's time to climb aboard and paddle!
Depending on conditions, we explore several coves on the mainland and the wildlife refuge of Adele Island, stopping for some kai (food) along the way. Our waka guide enlightens us with stories of local Maori history and customs. We paddle into the beautiful Kaiteriteri beach at around midday, where our Hiking New Zealand guide awaits with our backpacks.
It's just a short drive from the beach to the Riwaka Resurgence, where the Riwaka River emerges from the depths of the Takaka Hill. The brave among us might plunge in for a cold water swim. Our campsite tonight is near Murchison, overlooking the confluence of the Buller and Maruia rivers. We enjoy an organic meal that is home-cooked by our hosts.
Please Note: The waka experience requires a minimum of 6 people. With smaller groups, we hike the coastal path to Medlands Beach and return to Kaiteriteri via water taxi.
Activities: 3 hours paddling, 15km
Accommodation: Cabin or Camping
After driving down the Buller Gorge to the West Coast, the first major stop this morning is Cape Foulwind. Here we observe a breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals almost hunted to extinction in the 1800s. After lunch, we begin our hike up a spectacular limestone river canyon in the Paparoa National Park. Established in 1987, the park covers over 30,000 hectares. It has natural attractions including mountains, limestone cliffs, caves, rivers, wilderness areas and coastlines.
The first half of the trail is on reasonably well-formed track and is relatively flat, while the second half involves multiple river crossings where the riverbed itself is our route. Some boulders here can be slippery, and good hiking shs or boots are essential. Our guide teaches us how to cross rivers by linking arms with our companions. We collect firewood along the way and set up camp under the massive Ballroom Overhang.
Activities: 3-4 hours hiking, 8km
We splash up a beautiful side canyon, following the stream until it disappears into a cave. Our return hike will either be on the track we came in on yesterday or if the river conditions are right and the group is feeling adventurous we will follow the river all the way out the canyon, offering a great chance to use our new river-crossing skills. After hiking out, we head to the West Coast town of Punakaiki to check out the famous Pancake Rocks and seawater blowholes. Then it's down the coast to tonight's accommodation in Hokitika. A thriving gold rush town in the 1870s, Hokitika is now a great place to buy pounamu (greenstone), which was highly valued by early Maori for tools, jewellery and weapons.
Tonight's lodge accommodation is centrally located and just a short distance from the beach. Tuck in to traditional Kiwi fish and chips on the beach or eat at one of the many caf s in this bustling little seaside town.
Our guide gs off duty for 24 hours from this afternoon but you will be well looked after by our local guide Chris who will meet with you on arrival in Hokitika.
Activities: 3-4 hours hiking, 8km
Before meeting the group grab breakfast at one of the great caf s in town. Today we get to cycle the stunning West Coast Wilderness Trail between the Arahura River bridge and the historic township of Kumara. Chris will transport us out to the trail and ride with us for a short distance before returning to the vehicle. We will pedal our way through majestic native forest, cross crystal-clear rivers, and pass old reservoirs and water races.
The beautifully restored Theatre Royal Hotel in Kumara is the perfect place to celebrate our ride with a drink. Our guide Chris, meets us here and whisks us back to Hokitika. We then drive on to the charming coastal village of Okarito, where we stay in a small campground near the pounding surf.
Tonight is our chance to hike with a kiwi-spotting guide to find kiwi in their natural habitat. The lowland native forests around Okarito are the last mainland habitat of the rowi (brown kiwi), and we have a very good chance of hearing their distinctive calls and perhaps even seeing them.
For those not wanting to go on the bike ride, Chris can drop you off at Lake Kaniere for an unguided hike alongside the historic water races (2-3 hours).
Please let us know when you book if you would like to do the kiwi walk. Cost: NZ$75
Activities: 4-5 hours cycling, 39km
We rise early for a quick dash (optional) up to the Okarito trig for superb views of the lagoon, forests and Southern Alps before returning to camp for breakfast. After breaking camp, we leave the coast and drive a short distance to the Franz Josef Glacier access road. We hike the Roberts Point track. Hike along a groovy old gantry bolted to a rock face, cross a very long swing bridge, climb through some gnarly West Coast rain forest before the trail emerges onto some glacially smoothed rocks which offer superb views of the valley below. The hike ends at a viewing platform with great views of this dynamic glacier, which is retreating back up the valley. We return the same way. Depending on the weather, we may instead visit Gillespies Beach.
In the afternoon we enjoy a scenic drive through the heart of South Westland World Heritage Area - Te Wahipounamu. We stop at Ship Creek to look for the rare Hector's dolphin before leaving the coast and crossing the mountains at Haast Pass.
Tonight we sleep in cabins at Makarora, beside Mount Aspiring National Park. It's been another epic day, so relax in the local bar, have dinner and a game of pool in classic West Coast style.
Activities: 5-6 hours hiking, 13km
We drive alongside the pretty glacier lakes of Hawea and Wanaka, both are great for a swim - if it's warm enough.
We continue through Wanaka township before heading along Matukituki Valley to the end of the road. We grab our packs and hike along the valley, perhaps opting to climb up for a view of Rob Roy Glacier. Cheeky and inquisitive Kea (alpine parrots) often mingle with our group at lunchtime, so we might need to keep an eye on our gear (Kea love shiny zips)!
In the afternoon, we enjoy stunning alpine views as we hike the valley to Aspiring Hut. Between high peaks we catch glimpses of the Matterhorn-like Mt Aspiring (3033m).
Activities: 6 hours hiking, 14km
Accommodation: Backcountry hut
We return down the valley, enjoying pretty views from the river flats and a picnic lunch by Lake Wanaka.
Next up is a remarkable drive over the Crown Range, offering breath-taking summit views of Wakitipu Valley and lakes. By late afternoon, we're past Te Anau and well on our way to Milford Sound. We camp for the next two nights at the beautiful Knobs Flat campsite, relaxing and making the most of the welcome hot showers.
Activities: 3 hours hiking, 8km
This morning we drive beside imposing granite cliffs and through hanging valleys into the heart of Fiordland National Park. This amazing World Heritage Site is one of the largest national parks in the world, with its huge glacial lakes of Te Anau and Manapouri bordering a series of spectacular fiords. By mid-morning, we are at Milford and ready to join one of the world's great day-cruises.
Our vessel takes us out to Anita Bay and the entrance to Milford Sound. We enjoy stunning views of cascading waterfalls and the iconic Mitre Peak, which soars 1722m above the sea. We keep our eyes peeled for dolphins, Fiordland crested penguins, and New Zealand fur seals, which often play near our boat. Before returning to Knobs Flat, we enjoy a hike up to Key Summit. This is the final section of the famous Routeburn Track, which is another of New Zealand's Great Walks. We enjoy an informative nature walk and views of the Darran Mountains and Hollyford Valley.
Those of us kayaking are picked up at 6.30am by the kayak company to travel to Milford Sound. We spend 3 to 3.5 hours paddling a double sea kayak to waterfalls, spotting rare wildlife, and generally feeling dwarfed by the enormity of the fiords. Returning to land, we will be reunited with the group after their cruise. Please advise us at the time of booking if interested in the kayaking option, as space is limited. Cost: NZ$100
Activities: 2 hour cruise (or Milford kayaking option), 3 hours hiking, 5km
The drive to Queenstown takes about 3 hours. Our lodge is within easy walking distance to town and with two nights here you have plenty of time to enjoy the area's many attractions. Take time to relax in twin ensuite rooms, plug into the free wi-fi and catch up on some laundry.
Those keen for a hike (unguided) can head up the steep tussock-lands of Ben Lomond, enjoying views of the region's beautiful lakes and mountains. There are several other great day hikes from the town centre into the surrounding mountains, promising stunning views of Lake Wakatipu and the aptly-named Remarkables mountain range.
Queenstown earns its reputation as New Zealand's adventure capital with heart-stopping activities such as bungy jumping, canyon swings, skydiving, mountain biking and jet boating. Those wanting to schedule some of these high-adrenalin activities in advance can talk with our team while booking, or chat with our guide at the beginning of the tour.
This is a free day to get your adrenalin pumping on one of the many activities offered around town. Or you can sit back with a really good coffee and relish the dining choices on offer. This is your day to spend as you would like. Your guide will happily offer advice on the many options available to you. Queenstown is a stunning spot and a playground for outdoor activity; you'll be spoilt for choice in how to occupy your day here.
We regroup this morning before driving north through the Central Otago high country, over Lindis Pass and into Mackenzie Country. This area is home to some of New Zealand's largest sheep stations, including some that encompass thousands of hectares. It is renowned for the high quality of the wool produced by the merino sheep which graze these mountains.
After arriving at Mount Cook Village, we spend our afternoon hiking steep glacial moraines to the Red Tarns, so named for the colour of their pond-weed. Our campsite or lodge accommodation is at the foot of New Zealand's tallest mountain, Aoraki/Mt Cook (3754m) the Maori name means 'cloud piercer'. We hit the local pub for some wholesome Kiwi kai (food).
Activities: 2 hours hiking, 4km
Accommodation: Camping or Lodge
We hike with day-packs up to Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut, enjoying views across two glaciers to the Mount Sefton icefall and Aoraki/Mt Cook. Towering moraine walls, glacial lakes, and the frequent rumbling of distance avalanches are reminders of nature's sheer power in this dynamic landscape.
An alternative to this option is a helicopter ride with a local operator onto Tasman Glacier (NZ $575). Here, we attach crampons to our boots and marvel at the jagged landscape while exploring ice formations and possibly ice caves. This afternoon offers time to relax or visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. Here, we learn of the park's natural history and the feats of pioneering mountaineers.
Tonight is our last night of the trip and what a place to spend it! We're in the heart of the Southern Alps, surrounded by huge mountains of commanding presence. With luck, we can watch the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook turn from white to pink with the sun's last rays.
Activities: 5 hours hiking, 8km
Accommodation: Camping or Lodge
Before turning east to Canterbury we explore the Tasman Valley. The Tasman Glacier is the longest glacier in New Zealand. It is rapidly retreating and has an astonishing melt water lake at its snout. Enjoy wonderful vistas of Aoraki/Mt Cook from the moraine view point. Our final drive takes us across the plains to Christchurch where the tour ends at approx 6:00pm.
Activities: 1 hour hiking, 2km