Day 1: Join tour in Auckland - 7km/2 hours hiking.
Your guide gives a briefing before driving south to Rotorua where the big food shop takes place. A little further south, stop beside a forest lake for picnic lunch and to organise and pack your backpack for the hike into Whirinaki Forest Park. This park covers an area of 60,000 hectares and is famous for its Jurassic-like rainforest - these podocarp trees are an ancient off-shoot of the conifer family and evolved before the flowering plants. It is thought that forests like this once covered the super-continent of Gondwana over 150 million years ago. Your first hike is an easy one, on a track through native beech forest, to a simple forest hut beside a river. While dinner is prepared there is time to relax and your guide will brief you on what to expect over the coming nine days.
Day 2: Whirinaki - 14km/6 hours hiking.
This morning continue along the valley track for about 1.5 hours. Hike up a side river through a beautiful gorge (learning river crossing techniques) to the next hut/camp. Stop for lunch on the way and often there is a chance for a quick swim in the cascades - crystal clear water you can drink. This remote wilderness is completely off the tourist trail. Rare blue ducks and robins can be seen, and kakas (a large bush parrot) heard. An evening campfire, and time to enjoy the surrounds.
Day 3: Rotorua - 10km/5 hours hiking.
Today's hike takes you out through cascading creeks on a rougher trail. Hike over a small pass into the world-renowned Whirinaki rainforest of weeping ferns and forest giants. Meet a shuttle at the track exit around midday before driving to the Rotorua area. This amazing area is festooned with thermal activity. On the way have a swim in a natural hot river hidden in bush - complete with a small waterfall. Arriving at the accommodation there is time for a shower before turning in for the night.
Day 4: Rotorua Lakes - 15km/5 hours kayaking.
Up early to kayak ($120* - optional) on Lake Tarawera, an ancient crater lake with beautiful sand beaches surrounded by forests. This area is rich in Maori history. Paddle past the site of a Maori village that was buried under the ash from the 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption. There are numerous steaming thermal springs along the lake edge you will paddle through. At lunch you can also soak in a hot stream in the bush. Drive south to a thermal area before vehicle-camping beside the impressive aqua-blue waters of the Waikato River.
Day 5: Taupo - 5km/1.5 hours hiking.
A leisurely breakfast before heading a short distance south to the clear waters of Lake Taupo for some swimming and relaxing. Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand - a 600 sq km volcanic caldera crater created when the largest volcanic explosion known to human-kind erupted in 186 AD. After lunch, continue on to Tongariro National Park. Established in 1887, it is New Zealand’s first National Park, gifted to the people of New Zealand by a far-sighted Maori chief who saw this as a way of protecting the tapu (respect, sacredness, preciousness) of this land - in particular the summits of the active volcanoes. Have an afternoon hike across alpine grasslands between these volcanoes to a hut set in native beech forest beside a bubbling stream (in warm weather you will usually camp nearby).
Day 6: Tongariro World Heritage Area - 7km/4 hours hiking.
Explore this area of beech forests, springs, and desert landscapes before hiking to the next hut/camp on this remote side of Tongariro National Park. The volcanoes in the park rumble from time to time: the most recent was in September 2007 when Mount Ruapehu, the highest mountain in the park at 2,797m spewed clouds of ash and steam. Another much younger volcano, Mount Ngauruhoe is almost perfectly symmetrical and stands 2,291m. All around this scarlet moonscape are turquoise and green-blue crater lakes, adding their surreal colours to the landscape.
Day 7: Tongariro National Park - 15km/6 hour hiking.
Traverse the volcanic moonscape of contorted lava flows and ash fields before a steep climb up the last steep section to the emerald lakes - the usual lunch stop. Cross this diverse volcanic plateau - lava valleys, scarlet moonscapes, steaming explosion craters, before descending on the western side. In good conditions, there is an option to climb one of the volcanic peaks. A short drive takes the group to an excellent lodge in a sleepy little farming town. Relax in front of a fire and cook up a big meal after having glorious hot showers. Sometimes the group might check out the classic kiwi "gumboots at the door" rural pub down the road.
Day 8: Waitomo - 1km/1 hour caving.
After an early start, drive two hours westwards through a hill country farming region to the Waitomo Caves area. The name Waitomo comes from the Maori wai (water) and tomo (shaft). This limestone area is famous for its thousands of caves. Explore a secret river cave - glow worms, waterfalls and limestone formations. Later, drive through the remote Waitomo back-country to the wild west coast, stopping on the way to look at rock formations in limestone scenic reserves. Camp beside the beach, swim, and cook our meal on the beach in a hangi (Maori earth oven). In the evening enjoy being beside the ocean with a beach fire.
Day 9: Mount Egmont/Taranaki National Park - 3km/1.5 hours hiking.
Spend the morning at the coast; clambering through the bush and exploring the site of an ancient Maori pa (fortified Village). After relaxing, swimming and exploring the cliffs and beaches drive south to Mount Egmont National Park. Its dormant volcano stands at 2518m and it last erupted in 1755. It was smoking when Captain James Cook (British explorer) sailed past in 1769, naming it after the Earl of Egmont. Maori know the mountain as the spirit/god Taranaki. It is considered a sacred place and the rocks represent his bones while the vegetation represents his hair. Hike in the late afternoon through twisted moss covered forest to a cosy alpine hut high on the side of the volcano. From here there are spectacular views of Mount Egmont/Taranaki and across to Tongariro National Park - usually above the evening cloud.
Day 10: Tour ends Wellington - 6km/2-5 hours hiking.
If the mountain conditions are reasonable, get up early to climb up the side of Mount Egmont/Taranaki to Fantham’s peak (1962m). There are commanding views from the summits of this solitary volcano. Late morning, descend on ancient lava flows covered in goblin forest back to the minibus. On the way south, stop at a wild Wanganui beach for lunch, a big sort out of gear and a swim. The drive to Wellington takes you through New Zealand’s flattest plains - it doesn’t last long! Arrive in Wellington between 5:00pm and 8:00pm. Our guide stays at the Wellington YHA, feel free to book yourself in there; we can however drop you off at any central accommodation. You then head out for an evening meal and farewell drink in this brilliant little capital city.
Notes: June to September - we may do different hikes (in the same areas) due to snow and river conditions.
Optional activities: Lake Tarawera kayaking NZ$120. Optional activities are paid for during the trip.
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