Most people leave the Northern Hemisphere on a Saturday evening, arriving in Auckland early Monday morning. You’ll lose a day crossing the dateline – but you get it back on the way home! You’ll immediately take a short flight to Christchurch in the South Island arriving by around 10am. We’ll meet you there and travel up the coast to the seaside town of Kaikoura where you can snorkel with friendly New Zealand fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri). You’ll be supplied with a wetsuit, mask and snorkel, and have the chance to swim to within a couple of feet of seals as they cavort in the water. If you prefer not to snorkel, you can hike out to the scenic Kaikoura Peninsula past weather-sculpted limestone cliffs to watch another local seal colony bask on the rocks and play in the eddies, all from the comfort of dry land. Today is a relaxed introduction to New Zealand, giving you the chance to recover from your flight. Depending on where you’re coming from you’ll probably find jetlag is no big deal. For instance, it’s a 12-hour direct overnight flight from the West Coast of the USA to Auckland and there’s only a 3-hour time difference between New Zealand and US Pacific time. If you’re coming from further afield, you’ll appreciate the gentle start to your New Zealand adventure.
ACCOMMODATION: A cosy bed & breakfast, Kaikoura (L,D)
CUSTOMISE YOUR TRIP: When you book, you have the choice of one of three multi-day options – a backpacking trip in Nelson Lakes National Park, a sea-kayaking trip in the Marlborough Sounds, or a biking trip on the Queen Charlotte Track. The backpacking trip stays in mountain huts while the cyclists and sea kayakers stay in
conventional lodgings, with private rooms and sometimes hot tubs!
Tuesday (morning) - Visit vineyard, start multi-day options
From Kaikoura we’ll travel north for a couple of hours to Blenheim, in the Marlborough wine region, and visit Forrest Estate Winery to sample some of their fantastic wines and enjoy a picnic on the vineyard lawn. After lunch, we head off for our various activities.
OPTION 1: Hiking in Nelson Lakes National Park
Tuesday (afternoon) - Hike Angelus Circuit
Our hike begins in the charming village of Saint Arnaud, on the edge of Nelson Lakes National Park. To keep our group sizes down in this beautiful but fragile environment, we keep our exact route and group composition flexible. Occasionally overnight hiking is unavailable, so we will stay in Saint Arnaud and do day hikes into the national park instead. We’ll hike the relatively gentle trail alongside Lake Rotoiti to Lakehead Hut, a small mountain cabin at the head of the lake. Nelson Lakes National Park straddles the upper Southern Alps, an area composed of beech forests, big lakes and even bigger mountains. It’s a special place and in our opinion, vastly superior to its more famous neighbour, Abel Tasman National Park. This is serious wilderness country – no roads, no shops, no TVs – just incredible views and marvellous solitude. You don’t have to carry a very heavy pack – our guides are pretty tough and they’ll carry the lion’s share of the load. All you’ll be carrying is a backpack with your sleeping bag, a few spare clothes, and some food and we’ll provide tents and so on if you’d like to camp under the stars.
ACCOMMODATION: Nelson Lakes National Park (B,L,D)
Wednesday - Hike Angelus Circuit
Today is an unforgettable day – the scenery gets better with each step! We walk along the Travers River through beech forest, before heading up the Hukere Stream towards the ridgeline. This is a steep hike, with an elevation gain of 3000 feet (1000m), but it’s absolutely worth it. There is a gorgeous alpine lake at the top and we have plenty of experience in getting people to the top, whatever your fitness levels. If you’re still keen for more, we’ll scramble up a nearby peak to enjoy stunning views in every direction. If you prefer to relax with a cuppa, that’s fine too! Many people tell us that the Angelus Circuit – still unspoiled and non-commercial – was the highlight of their New Zealand adventure, and a lot of Kiwis prefer this trip to some of New Zealand’s better-known tracks. The Angelus Circuit has exceptional scenic diversity, so it provides a great return for the effort put in.
ACCOMMODATION: Nelson Lakes National Park (B,L,D)
Thursday - Hike Angelus Circuit
This morning we’ll wake up on top of the world. After breakfast, it’s a four to five hour hike out along Robert Ridge with dramatic views of Tasman Bay and the mountainous Kahurangi National Park, before dropping below the treeline into native beech forest. It’s a challenging walk, but it’s worth every drop of sweat! We’ll hook up with the kayakers and cyclists before carrying on to the West Coast.
OPTION 2: Sea Kayaking in Marlborough Sounds
(add US$499 + tax)
Tuesday (afternoon) - Kayak Marlborough Sounds
After lunch you’ll head to Anakiwa on the edge of Marlborough Sounds to begin three days of paddling. The waters are calm and isolated and surrounded by lush forest and rocky coastline. You’ll be matched with a modern sea kayak and all the necessary safety equipment for paddling. You don’t need any experience to do this option, but if you are an experienced sea kayaker, you won’t be bored. After a thorough safety briefing, you’ll head out with your guide for a gentle first day’s paddle to your accommodation.
ACCOMMODATION: Marlborough Sounds lodge, Marlborough Sounds (B,L,D)
Wednesday - Kayak Marlborough Sounds
Today is a full day of kayaking as you explore the secluded bays of the Marlborough Sounds. You can paddle at your own pace and we’ll make sure you get as much or as little ‘sea time’ as you like! We’ll check out the beaches and native forest that characterise the area and see all sorts of native birds. With a bit of luck, we’ll be visited by local dolphins, New Zealand fur seals and even penguins! You’ll also have plenty of time to stop for short beach and forest walks along the way. After the day’s activities, you can have a hot shower before enjoying a great dinner and a comfortable night’s sleep.
ACCOMMODATION: Marlborough Sounds lodge, Marlborough Sounds (B,L,D)
Thursday - Kayak Marlborough Sounds
We spend the morning paddling to our takeout point at Anakiwa. It’s another chance to spot local wildlife before having lunch. After coming ashore we’ll head to Saint Arnaud, where we hook up with the rest of the group before carrying on to the West Coast.
OPTION 3: Biking the Queen Charlotte Track
(add US$499 + tax)
Tuesday (afternoon) - Bike Queen Charlotte Track
Another option is to bike the Queen Charlotte Track, rated one of the best mountain biking tracks in New Zealand, with road options available if you prefer a smoother ride. After lunch you’ll head to Anakiwa on the edge of Queen Charlotte Sound, where you’ll be fitted with a modern mountain bike for a gentle introductory ride. We have a lot of flexibility with this option, so this afternoon’s ride will give your guide the chance to observe you in order to tailor the next two days to your level of experience. We offer a range of fantastic single track and road riding to suit your experience and interests. Biking on the road along Queen Charlotte Drive allows you to cover a greater distance and take in more of the Marlborough Sounds – it’s your call! In the evening we’ll enjoy an awesome dinner at a local lodge before the big day tomorrow.
ACCOMMODATION: Tanglewood Lodge, Queen Charlotte Sound (B,L,D)
Wednesday - Bike Queen Charlotte Track
Today is a big cycling day. You can head out as early as you like for amazing single track rides along the Queen Charlotte Track, with stunning views into the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds. This area is well known for its native beech forests, secluded golden beaches and varied wildlife, so it’s an amazing area to explore at handle bar level. If you prefer, you can bike on the road past sweeping coastal vistas and dense forest – the views are just as good whichever option you choose! There’s also plenty of time on both options to stop for short beach and forest hikes along the way.
ACCOMMODATION: Tanglewood Lodge, Queen Charlotte Sound (B,L,D)
Bike Queen Charlotte Track
We’ll spend the morning biking back to Anakiwa, either by road or single track, where we’ll have lunch. We’ll then head to Saint Arnaud to rejoin the hikers and the kayakers and carry on to the West Coast.
Finish multi-day backpacking, sea kayaking or biking
After regrouping in Saint Arnaud we’ll head to the West Coast – 400 miles of gorgeous coastline with a population of only 40,000 people along its entire length. For dinner this evening, we’ll have the quintessential Kiwi dinner - fish and chips! If it’s a fine evening, we’ll enjoy our dinner on the beach before heading south along the stunning coastline towards the coastal village of Punakaiki.
ACCOMMODATION: West Coast lodgings, Punakaiki (B,L,D)
Friday - Hike Punakaiki rainforest
We’ll spend most of the day in Punakaiki hiking among the limestone canyons and lush rainforest of the Inland Pack Track. Gold miners established this trail over a century ago, so there is a lot of pioneering history in the area. While we’re in Punakaiki we’ll also head to the famous Pancake Rocks and blowholes – bizarre limestone formations that have been sculpted by the relentless pounding of the Tasman Sea to resemble giant stacks of pancakes. Then we’ll head down the scenic coastal road to Hokitika to check out local art galleries and pounamu carving workshops (‘pounamu’ is Maori for jade) before carrying on to Okarito Lagoon. Okarito is a hidden gem that is all but untouched due to it being 10 miles down a one-way road from an obscure highway turnoff. With a population of only 31 people, there are no shops, no restaurants and no traffic – and watching the sun set over the Tasman Sea is definitely not to be missed!
ACCOMMODATION: Okarito Beach House, Okarito (B,L,D)
Saturday - Kayak Okarito Lagoon, hike beach and forest
You have a lot of options today. You can spend a relaxing day in this sleepy but beautiful beach town to recharge your batteries, or get out for awesome hiking and kayaking. Okarito is home to the only native white heron colony in New Zealand, as well as a host of other interesting birds including the Okarito brown kiwi. You can sea kayak on the lagoon with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains for a few hours, then hike through lush coastal forest to Three Mile Lagoon, and walk back along deserted beach next to crashing waves. Okarito is also a great spot just to hang out and enjoy a good book, or talk philosophy with some of the locals!
Beach House, Okarito (B,L,D)
Sunday - Hike near Franz Josef Glacier
Just south of Okarito there are two formidable glaciers descending from the mountains to the sea. In terms of scenery, this place is off the charts, and we’ll spend most of the day hiking at Franz Josef Glacier. We’ll hike up through the rainforest to either Alex Knob or Roberts Point, both of which give great views of the terminal face, lower reaches and lateral moraines of Franz Josef Glacier. We only do these hikes in good weather, as the rocks get very slippery in the rain. If it’s raining, we’ll do a shorter walk to a view of the terminal face of Fox Glacier, hike around Lake Matheson and visit the Blue Pools near the Haast Pass.
Heli-Hike option (add US$350 + tax)
A less strenuous, but outrageously scenic option today is to heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier itself. After being fitted with crampons, ice axes and so on, you’ll board a modern turbine helicopter and fly towards the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, landing on the glacier at 4,000 feet (1300m) above sea level. Led by specialist glacier guides, you’ll hike through the grand ice formations of the glacier, checking out its crevasses, seracs and tunnels – no previous experience required! The constant movement of the glacier means every day is different, so your guides will cut steps in the ice and make sure you make the most of the conditions. At the end of your hike on the ice, you’ll take another helicopter ride out of the mountains and back to civilisation.
The heli-hike is extremely popular, so we offer advance reservations with the helicopter operators and guiding company. At the time of booking, or up until one month before your trip, you can reserve a space on the heli-hike and we’ll make sure a spot is held for you. Or you can leave your decision until you’re actually on your trip, and we’ll get you a spot if it’s available.
Heli-hikers generally return a little earlier, so we’ll rendezvous at a local café before heading south. From Franz Josef it’s about three hours down the coast to Makarora (pop. 30), a small farming village bordering Mt. Aspiring National Park. We’ll stay at a beautifully landscaped, family-style homestead on the edge of the village with incredible views of the mountains right outside your window.
ACCOMMODATION: Makarora Cottages, Makarora (B,L,D)
Monday - Mt. Aspiring National Park to Queenstown , cycle Hawea trail
This morning we’ll exchange mountainous beech forests for grassy foothills as we head inland to Lake Hawea. Here you’ll be fitted with a 21-speed front-suspension Specialized mountain bike for a scenic bike ride along the Te Araroa track to Wanaka. This gently undulating section of the track follows the crystal clear Hawea and Clutha Rivers through the rugged Central Otago landscape for 10 miles (17km) to the charming mountain town of Wanaka where we’ll stop for lunch.
From there, it’s a short drive over Cardrona Saddle to Queenstown, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. ACTIVE NEW ZEALAND is based in Queenstown for a good reason – it’s the adventure capital of New Zealand – and you’ll find all the comforts of civilisation: massage therapists, restaurants, sidewalk cafés and window-shopping. You’ll also find incredible optional activities here, including hang gliding, bungy jumping, jet boating, skydiving, horse trekking, fishing and winery tours. Many of our clients have noted how the Rimu caters very well to people with different interests and our time in Queenstown is a good example. For instance, keen mountain bikers can go single track riding in Skippers Canyon, famed through New Zealand for its mountain biking trails. There are also great hiking and kayaking opportunities here. Queenstown isn’t a big place – the population is about 8000 – but there’s plenty to do! Or you can do nothing and just soak up the atmosphere or lounge about reading a book.
ACCOMMODATION: Queenstown apartments, Queenstown (B,L)
Tuesday - Free day in Queenstown
It’s all up to you today – enjoy!
ACCOMMODATION: Queenstown apartments, Queenstown
Wednesday - Hike Routeburn Track
This morning we head down to Te Anau for lunch, before continuing on to The Divide where we’ll hike part of the Routeburn Track. Located in the heart of Fiordland, our largest and arguably most spectacular national park, this hike gives us unsurpassed views of the Hollyford Valley, from mountains to sea, as well as Lake Marian and Mt. Christina. We’ll take a short drive through the Homer Tunnel, emerging at the top of a spectacular alpine road that winds its way down to Milford Sound. As we descend, the steep waterfall lined granite walls of the Darran Range give way to the rainforest carpeted lower slopes of the mountains and eventually the deep, clear waters of the sound itself. Milford Sound is truly breathtaking; sheer rock walls plunge thousands of feet to the Tasman Sea and waterfalls cascade into the deep blue water, it’s no wonder Rudyard Kipling rated it as the eighth Natural Wonder of the World. Tonight we’ll stay in some fairly basic accommodation, but it’s the only place to stay and the location alone makes up for it – take a walk outside and experience the true sound of silence.
ACCOMMODATION: Milford Lodge, Milford Sound (B,L,D)
Thursday - Sea kayak Milford Sound, explore Fiordland National Park
It’s an early start today! Most people see Milford Sound from the deck of a big cruise ship but we’ve got a better way – gliding along in sea kayaks, getting up close and personal with the sound while causing very little disruption to the friendly seals and dolphins that are often eager to visit if they’re in the area. This is an awesome trip, run by specialist kayak outfitters, and it’s equally suitable for beginners or experts. After your morning’s paddle, we’ll have a well-earned lunch before continuing on to Lake Manapouri. Along the way we’ll spend more time exploring the Fiordland wilderness, checking out some of its more interesting residents like the kea (nestor notabilis) New Zealand’s notoriously cheeky alpine parrot, the Kotukutuku (fuchsia excorticate) the world’s largest fuchsia and evidence of the landslides and avalanches that are a frequent occurrence in this dynamic landscape.
ACCOMMODATION: Lake Manapouri Inn, Manapouri (B,L,D)
Friday - Explore a high-country sheep farm
Today we have a relaxed start and head back up the road to Queenstown, where you’ll have a couple of hours to get some lunch, do any last minute shopping, send postcards home, or whatever you might need to do before heading back into the wilderness for the remainder of your trip. Then we’ll drive up to Lake Pukaki, near Mt. Cook, where we stay on Hamish and Julia McKenzie’s 60,000 acre high-country sheep farm, called Braemar Station (‘Station’ is the New Zealand word for a big ranch). While we’re here, we stay in the shearers’ quarters. It’s not a 5-star hotel but many of our clients have told us this was one of their favourite places on the whole trip! The view out of the kitchen window in the morning will knock your socks off – the biggest mountains in New Zealand piercing the sky on the far side of a gorgeous cobalt-blue lake. With no lights for miles around, the stars on a clear night are like nothing you’ve ever seen – just the place for your last couple of nights in New Zealand!
ACCOMMODATION: Shearers’ quarters, Braemar Station (B,D)
Saturday - Hike Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park
This morning it’s an hour or so to Mt. Cook village, at the head of Lake Pukaki. Mt. Cook, known as Aoraki or ‘cloud piercer’ by the local Maori, is the highest mountain in New Zealand and we have a stunning and little-known day hike to the main ridge above Mueller Glacier – directly opposite Mt. Cook. It’s a tough slog up, but you’ll remember the view of the Mueller Glacier and the surrounding peaks of the Main Divide forever! There are also other hiking options if you’d like to take it a little easier. The weather conditions are very important in this area, as it’s a true alpine climate notorious for sudden weather shifts. If we aren’t able to do the Mueller hike, we’ll take an impressive hike up the Hooker Valley to a glacial lake at the base of Hooker Glacier, complete with icebergs! Then we head back to the shearers’ quarters for the last night of the Rimu. We’ll enjoy a traditional Kiwi BBQ and a cold drink as we sit outside and watch the sun set over Mt. Cook.
ACCOMMODATION: Shearers’ quarters, Braemar Station (B,L,D)
Sunday - Depart for home
This is the last day of your two-week trip around the South Island. We’ll leave after breakfast for the three-hour drive to Christchurch, and arrive in the afternoon in time for the flights back to Auckland. International flights from Auckland usually leave early evening, so if you’re heading back to North America, you’ll get home some time on Sunday, even though you left on Sunday evening! Flights back to Europe, of course, take a little longer. You’ll be refreshed and invigorated from the good food, exercise, rest, and great times you’ll have had with us in New Zealand! (B,L)
Also see tour packages in:
Australia and Oceania New Zealand Outdoor: Land Rambler Hiking & Trekking Multi-activity
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