Hike up the rocky slopes of the Ohau Range and look down on turquoise glacial lakes. Gaze in awe at the contorted forms of glaciers and the snow capped peaks of Mount Cook. Explore the remarkable volcanic topography of Mount Somers with its waterfalls and narrow canyons. This is one of New Zealand's most beautiful, varied and interesting hiking vacations.
Sunday - Join tour in Queenstown - 6km/3 hours hiking
Meet at the Queenstown Visitor Centre at 8:00am and after a briefing by our guide, head south into Fiordland National Park. This spectacular World Heritage Site is the largest national park in the country and one of the largest in the world. The huge glacial lakes of Te Anau and Manapouri border the spectacular inland coastline that is Fiordland. The area is dominated by water, either in the form of lakes or as falling rain, which has enabled the establishment of temperate rainforest. We prepare for our first hike to Key Summit on the renowned Routeburn track – a fantastic hike of around three hours. From here there are fantastic views across to the Darran Mountains. We return to the vehicle and make our way to the historic “Gunns Camp” in the Hollyford Valley.
Monday - Milford Sound - 8km/4 hours kayaking
We rise early and drive through the Homer Tunnel and down to Milford Sound itself. Here we hire kayaks ($145* - optional) and paddle out into the fiord with its cascading waterfalls and views of Mitre Peak (1722 metres straight out of the sea). Fiordland crested penguins and New Zealand fur seals often play near the kayaks. This is the ideal way to experience the fiord. While kayaking you can stop to view and photograph the wildlife and scenery. After returning to shore, we drive back over the divide to a campsite on the shores of Lake Monowai.
Tuesday - Fiordland National Park - 12km/7 hours hiking
This morning we drive to Borland Saddle (at 1000 metres) in Fiordland National Park where we have lunch and organise food for the first overnight hike. The visual impact of this park is stunning; during the Ice Age, the glaciers gouged the fiords and lakes, hollowed out the rounded valleys, and shaped the granite mountain peaks. There are different forest types all over the park; on the eastern side red, silver and mountain beech fill the valleys, and in the northern sections, podocarp forests of matai, rimu, and totara can be found. From Borland Saddle we hike up above the bush line onto the Hunter Range with great views over Fiordland National Park. We traverse these tops to Mount Burns (1634 metres optional climb) and descend to Green Lake, to a backcountry hut or to camp nearby.
Wednesday - Catlins Coast - 7km/3 hours hiking
A leisurely breakfast in this most idyllic site, before hiking out through beech forest and across tussock basins to the road. Have lunch and then drive through to Invercargill for a food shop. This is the southernmost city in New Zealand and its roots, as reflected by its name, are from Scottish settlers who came here in the late 1800's. Many of the city's tree-lined streets bear the names of Scottish rivers. We carry on to Curio Bay in the Catlins, an unspoiled scenic region of coast, rivers and podocarp forest - once an area inhabited by the giant moa (largest bird in the world - now extinct). We relax here and stay in a cosy crib (a New Zealand summerhouse). (*in peak season summer season we may camp at local beach camp ground.) There is a chance to enjoy a swim in the sea and then a hot shower to complete your day.
Thursday - Cannibal Bay - 6km/2 hours hiking
This morning we explore Curio Bay and often see Hector's dolphins surfing on the waves. We walk to a nearby tidal platform that contains tree stumps from a fossilised forest 180 million years old - it is one of the most extensive fossil forests in the world. The platforms are a palaeontologist's dream. The fossils are evidence of New Zealand's location in the ancient Gondwana; plant species identified here are similar to those found in South America. We drive along the coast and reach the next destination, Cannibal Bay. The bay takes its name from human bones discovered here in the 19th century that were possibly part of a Maori feast. We have a chance to see New Zealand sea-lions and yellow-eyed penguins, the rarest breeds of sea-lion and penguin in the world. We camp near the beach and prepare a hangi feast (Maori earth oven).
Friday - Central Otago - Rest day/optional cycling
Today is an optional rest day in the picturesque town of Alexandra, in the heart of Central Otago. We arrive in Alexandra late morning. If you are feeling energetic you can join a cycle tour ($90* - optional) on the historic rail trail that winds its way through the vast and mountainous landscape of Central Otago through tunnels and across many viaducts. Alternatively, you can relax in Alexandra, visiting the local cafes or vineyards. We take a night off cooking, and eat out at one of the excellent local restaurants.
Saturday - Ohau Range - 7km/3 hours hiking
After a leisurely breakfast we continue driving through the high country. This part of the South Island is home to some of New Zealand's largest sheep stations, many measuring tens of thousands of hectares. After crossing Lindis Pass into Mackenzie Country we arrive at Lake Ohau. There is time to relax and have a swim at this spectacular setting before packing for the next overnight hike. We head up through beech forest to a camp beside Freehold Creek, just below the bushline.
Sunday - Ohau Range - 14km/7 hours hiking
Up early, we leave the campsite and head off with day packs to explore a beautiful basin filled with tarns (small alpine lakes). The basin contains an incredible variety of alpine plants, including Spaniards (prickly), and the world's largest buttercup, named Mount Cook Lily (Ranunculus lyalli), because of its large round lily-like leaves. The fit can climb up onto the Ohau range (1915 metres) to enjoy the views of the Southern Alps, including Mount Cook, and the Mackenzie Basin. We return to pack up camp, and hike back to the vehicle. Tonight we stay at "Buscot Station" a high country sheep station. There is the option of camping of staying in the homestead.
Monday - Mount Cook National Park - 8km/5 hours hiking
After a short drive we set off with day packs to hike up to Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut in Mount Cook National Park. Spectacular views of the Hooker and Mueller glaciers, Mount Sefton icefall, and views of New Zealand's highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook - 3754 metres (the Maori name translates to "Cloud Piercer"). On the walk your guide will talk about glaciers, mountain building and the New Zealand climate. We descend to the vehicle and drive to the southern end of Lake Pukaki - artificially raised 30 metres for hydroelectric power generation. This lake is a beautiful turquoise colour caused by the fine glacial silt suspended in the water. We camp on its shores, with beautiful views across to New Zealand's highest peaks.
Tuesday - Mt Somers - 5km/4 hours hiking
Continuing through the Mackenzie Basin, an area named after a legendary sheep rustler, we pass Lake Tekapo before reaching the next destination, Mt Somers. We hike up a river canyon and climb out to Trig Point with great views into the Rakaia Basin. There are several altitudinal plant sequences during the hike, along with regenerating beech forest. We frequently see the New Zealand falcon flying in this area. Tonight we stay in a mountain hut.
Wednesday - Tour ends in Christchurch - 5km/4 hours hiking
We spend the final day together exploring water caves (you get a bit wet!), Tri-falls Stream and swimming in Emerald Pool or under a pounding waterfall known as the "Spa". Before leaving this beautiful park we'll have lunch and then hike back along the canyon rim to an abandoned coal mine to explore some relics. It's then a short hike back to the vehicle. After cleaning up the vehicle and sorting out gear we drive across the Canterbury plains. We arrive in the early evening.
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