Day to Day Itinerary:
Monday - Arrive, hike Castle Hill
Most people leave the Northern Hemisphere on a Saturday evening and arrive in Auckland early on Monday morning. You’ll lose a day to 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 head west into the heart of the Southern Alps to Castle Hill in the Kuru Tawhiti Conservation Area, for our first hike. We’ll take a gentle one-hour walk among imposing limestone tors, which were once a meeting place for Moa hunters of the Ngai Tahu tribe. The Dalai Lama visited this area in 2002 and described it as a “spiritual centre of the universe”. This afternoon we’ll continue on to the West Coast and the gorgeous seaside village of Punakaiki where you’ll have the rest of the afternoon to relax or walk on the beach. We always make sure the first day of our trips is relaxing and undemanding so you can 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 Los Angeles to Auckland, and there’s only a three-hour time difference between New Zealand and US Pacific time. If you have more time, by all means arrive in New Zealand a day or so early.
Accomodation: West Coast lodgings, Punakaiki – comfortable and quiet (L),(D).
Tuesday - Rainforest and beach hikes in Punakaiki
We have all day in Punakaiki and we’ll certainly make the most of our time. We’ll hike part of the Inland Pack Track from Bullock Creek to the Pororari River, starting at a classic ‘submergence’, where the river suddenly dries up mid-stream and goes underground for a mile or so before resurfacing at Cave Creek. The rainforest in this area is unbelievably lush, and the limestone canyons and distant hazy mountains of Paparoa National Park make this an awesome day hike. We’ll also follow the Truman Track to a small surf beach and stroll around Punakaiki’s famous Pancake Rocks and blowholes. The Punakaiki coastline is a magnet to marine mammals, like the Hector’s dolphin, the world’s smallest marine mammal, often seen close to the inner shoreline. There’s also a great deal of marine birdlife, including Little Blue penguins that can be spotted at certain times of year.
Accommodation: West Coast lodgings, Punakaiki (B,L,D)
Wednesday - Coastal hike, arts and crafts in Hokitika
We’ll start with a short drive down the coast for a hike through coastal forest and native flax. A traditional resource for the local Maori, flax was a widely used plant – from footwear and mats to rope and woven food storage baskets. Next it’s on to Hokitika where we’ll spend a little time checking out local art galleries and pounamu carving workshops (‘pounamu’ is Maori for jade). From here it’s a couple of hours down the coast to Franz Josef for dinner at a local restaurant. After dinner, we can head out for a short night walk to look for the eerie lights of Arachnocampa luminosa – the native glow worm – and listen for some of New Zealand’s nocturnal birdlife, such as the distinctive hoot of the Morepork owl.
Accommodation: Franz Josef lodgings, Franz Josef (B,L,D)
Thursday - Hike to Franz Josef Glacier
Today we’ll visit one of the formidable West Coast glaciers. We’ll take a morning hike to the historic Tatare Tunnels, and then continue on to Franz Josef Glacier, where we walk to a great view of the terminal face. Franz Josef Glacier is an enormous river of ice, unusual in that it comes right down through the rainforest to sea level from its névé high in the Southern Alps. It is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world, moving up to ten times faster than other glaciers of its type, and if we’re lucky we may even see sections of ice calving off its massive face – from a safe distance of course!
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 all 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 directly next to Mt. Aspiring National Park. At Makarora we have a lovely family-style homestead in the shadow of the mountains to ourselves for the evening.
Accomodation: Makarora cottages, Makarora (B,L,D)
Friday - Hike Mt. Aspiring National Park, Queenstown
We begin with a drive from Makarora to Raspberry Creek, where we start a stunning hike up the Matukituki Valley in the heart of Mt. Aspiring National Park. This is one of the best one-day hikes in the South Island, taking in tumbling rivers, towering snowfields, and huge mountain peaks straight from the set of “The Lord of the Rings”! We hike up a narrow glacial valley, coming out of the forest in a dramatic alpine cirque, with fabulous views of the Southern Alps. After lunch, we hike back to the trailhead and head to Queenstown. Queenstown, where ACTIVE NEW ZEALAND is based, is a picturesque town set in a basin on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by mountains. It’s a great place to spend a couple of days before heading out to Fiordland.
Accommodation: Queenstown apartments, Queenstown (B,L)
Saturday - Free day in Queenstown
You’ll find all the comforts of civilisation in Queenstown: massage therapists, restaurants, cafés and window-shopping. You can also go fishing, kiwi viewing, wine tasting, horse trekking, hang gliding and even bungy jumping! Your guides will help you arrange any extra activities and can also point out the best local hikes. Or you can do nothing and just soak up the atmosphere. This afternoon we’ll have a pre-departure briefing for the ACTIVE Great Walks Discovery and Milford Track Guided Walk.
Accommodation: Queenstown apartments, Queenstown.
Customize Your Trip: Fiordland is one of the world’s largest national parks and a renowned UNESCO World Heritage site that harbours treasures like Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and two of the Great Walks of New Zealand. Of the more than 800 hiking tracks The Department of Conservation (DOC) manages, they selected 9 "Great Walks" that are exceptional and showcase the best of the New Zealand backcountry. When you book, you’ll have a choice of either ticking off part of 3 Great Walks, visiting Milford Sound and finishing off with an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, or completing the 5-day Milford Track Guided Walk.
Option 1: Active Great Walks Discovery
Experience the diversity and grandeur of Fiordland National Park with your ACTIVE guides. Start with a memorable hike up Ben Lomond, for incredible views of Queenstown. Explore Lake Marian and Humboldt Falls along the Hollyford Valley. Then visit Milford Sound and do day walks on the Milford, Routeburn and Kepler Tracks (all Great Walks within Fiordland National Park) before finishing with a stunning cruise on Doubtful Sound.
Sunday - Gondola ride and hike Ben Lomond
After a relaxed breakfast, we’ll ride up the gondola to the top of a tree-covered rocky crag, known as Bob’s Peak, to start our alpine hike. Ben Lomond, one of Queenstown’s prominent peaks, was named by the early Scottish settlers in the area who were reminded of the highlands of their home country. From Bob’s Peak, we hike through open alpine tussock-land to the Ben Lomond saddle and will be rewarded with panoramic views of Queenstown Bay and Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by the often snow-covered Southern Alps. For those keen to press on to the top, Ben Lomond’s summit reveals views of Mt. Earnslaw and Mt. Aspiring, two of New Zealand’s highest peaks, and even a glimpse of Mt Cook on a clear day. Once back at the bottom, we’ll give our legs a break and drive around the lake to Te Anau.
Accomodation: Matai Lodge, Te Anau (B,L,D)
Monday - Hike to Lake Marian and Humboldt Falls
This morning we’ll drive through the Eglinton Valley (an incredible vista named after yet another Scotsman who never set foot here!) and into Fiordland National Park. After crossing the crystal clear Hollyford River, we’ll climb up through this lesser known track to view Lake Marian, a majestic glacial lake in endless hues of greeny blue! From the tranquil lake, we’ll head further down the valley and take a short hike through the rainforest to see Humboldt Falls. After a day of hiking, we’ll stay in Milford Lodge for another good night’s sleep.
Accommodation: Milford Lodge, Milford (B,L,D)
Tuesday - Hike Milford and Routeburn Tracks
It’s worth getting up early to take a photo of Mitre Peak – quite possibly the most photogenic mountain in New Zealand – but your challenge is to find a unique angle! Today is a day of contrasts. In the morning we’ll take a short boat ride across Milford Sound (actually it’s a fjord!) to hike the famed Milford Track from Sandfly Point to the Giant Gates. Here we’ll enjoy the track to ourselves, which is a comluxury others seldom get. After lunch we’ll head back towards the great divide to the start of the Routeburn, another one of the Great Walks. We’ll follow this track for a while before a 20-minute climb to Key Summit, passing through beech forest, sub alpine shrublands and picturesque alpine tarns. Key Summit is a cool spot, sitting at the head of three different valleys and rivers offering panoramic views of the Hollyford, Eglington and Greenstone. Tonight it’s back to Te Anau for another comfortable stay at the Matai Lodge.
Accommodation: Matai Lodge, Te Anau (B,L,D)
Wednesday - Hike Kepler Track and overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound
Who gets to experience three Great Walks in three days? Unheard of! Today it’s the Kepler Track, home to the Kepler Challenge for ridiculously fit mountain runners and also very close to the home of New Zealand’s most endangered bird, the Takahe. Although we’re now well and truly back on the east side of the Divide, amazingly we’re still in Fiordland National Park. We’ll follow the lakeshore through red and mountain beech this morning. Interestingly, the Kepler Track differs from the Routeburn and Milford in that it didn’t actually evolve from a necessary Maori greenstone trail, but was custom-built for pleasure! At midday we’ll be whisked away and onto the Navigator for our overnight cruise of Doubtful Sound. Far larger than it’s northern neighbour Milford, Doubtful Sound is a true pristine wilderness area – in the right season you may catch a glimpse of the rare Fiordland crested penguin. Tonight you’ll sleep onboard the Navigator in a quad share room, but there is the option to upgrade to a private ensuite room if you’d prefer.
Accommodation: Navigator boat, Doubtful Sound (B,L,D)
Thursday - Cruise Doubtful Sound and return to Queenstown
Waking up on a boat in misty, mysterious Doubtful Sound is something you have to experience to believe. You may even be lucky enough to spot the bottlenose dolphin that inhabits this area. This morning we’ll cruise back to Deep Cove aboard the Navigator and then after a sumptuous lunch provided by our lovely guides in Te Anau, we’ll make the transition to the coach to head back to Queenstown. Rest those legs, because there’s more hiking to follow!
Accommodation: Queenstown Apartments, Queenstown (B,L,D)
Optionn 2: Milford Track Guided Walk (Add US$299 + tax)
The 5-day/4-night Milford Track is one of the longest established and best known walking tracks in the country. It starts on the eastern shore of Lake Te Anau and crosses McKinnon Pass to Milford Sound, taking in glacial peaks, a mountain pass, New Zealand’s highest waterfall and the dense rainforest of the West Coast. You’ll have four days of exercise, good food and great scenery as you walk 33 miles (53km) from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound. You’ll have three nights in comfortable mountain lodges, and the fourth night in Milford Sound itself, at Mitre Peak Lodge. By the end of this walk you’ll see why Rudyard Kipling referred to Milford Sound as the 8th Natural Wonder of the World. Because you are doing the guided walk, you don’t have to carry a heavy pack. In fact, you’ll just be carrying a change of clothes and a packed lunch, so your pack won’t be much heavier than what you would bring on a regular day hike. Everything else is provided, including excellent meals at the lodges and on the trail, hot showers, bedding, guiding and even hairdryers in the rooms! Rooming is in 4 and 6-bed bunk rooms with shared bathroom facilities. A great option, if you prefer your own space, is to request a private twin, queen or single room with private bathroom facilities (contact us for the latest private room rates).
Sunday - Boat ride and short hike
This morning we’ll head from Queenstown to Te Anau Downs, stopping for lunch at the lakeside village of Te Anau. Then we take the boat to the head of Lake Te Anau to the start of the Milford Track. It’s a short, easy walk to Glade House, where we stay our first night.
Accommodation: Glade House (B,L,D)
Monday - Hike in beech forest
We start the day by crossing Clinton River and wandering through unique beech forest to Hirere Falls, where we have lunch. After crossing the Prairie, the track gets a little steeper as we climb up to Pompolona Lodge. Today’s highlights include distinctive beech forest, all sorts of spectacular plants and stunning views up the ice-carved Clinton Canyon toward McKinnon Pass.
Accommodation: Pompolona Lodge (B,L,D)
Tuesday - Hike McKinnon Pass
Today is the most spectacular day of the Milford Track! We climb a series of switchbacks to cross McKinnon Pass. From the top of the pass, the views of the Arthur Valley and the surrounding peaks are just magnificent. We’ll lunch at Pass Hut, then head down the pass to Quintin Lodge. Once we’ve arrived, those who are keen can take a 90-minute round trip to see the Sutherland Falls, the fifth highest waterfall in the world.
Accommodation: Quintin Lodge (B,L,D)
Wednesday - Hike to Milford Sound
This is your last day on the track. It’s 13 miles (21km) of varied terrain, slightly downhill, with no significant climbing. If you weren’t in top shape by the time you started your ACTIVE NEW ZEALAND trip, you certainly will be by now! The small waterfalls to be found just off the track make for a delightful day. You’ll be picked up at Sandfly Point this afternoon for a short cruise to the jetty, and arrive at Mitre Peak Lodge for the last night in Milford Sound. Now we’re back in civilisation – but you’ll almost regret it!
Accommodation: Mitre Peak Lodge, Milford Sound (B,L,D)
Thursday - Milford Sound boat cruise
After breakfast we have a morning boat cruise on Milford Sound. After exploring the full length of Milford Sound, we’ll head back to the jetty and drive back to Queenstown via Te Anau, arriving in the late afternoon. An option today is to take a scenic helicopter flight from Milford Sound back to Queenstown. It’s a stunning flight and will get you back in time for a free afternoon in Queenstown to enjoy all to yourself (scenic helicopter flight option about US$340 per person). This evening we’ll meet up with those that hiked the Hollyford Track to catch up on our experiences over dinner.
Accommodation: Queenstown apartments, Queenstown (B,L,D)
Friday - Hike Sam Summers Loop Track, visit local winery
After breakfast, we head out around Lake Wakatipu to 12 Mile Delta, where we’ll hike the Sam Summers Track. The area was mined for gold until the 1930s and there are still many relics to be seen along the way. After this hike, we’ll head to the historic village of Arrowtown for lunch before continuing on to a Winery. This region’s dry and sunny climate is ideal for grape growing, and is becoming well known for producing world-class, cool-climate Pinot Noir and other quality wines. We’ll enjoy a glass or two, and then head north to Lake Ohau Lodge. Here we’re staying beside a beautiful alpine lake, with stunning views stretching across to Mt. Cook and the Southern Alps.
Accommodation: Lake Ohau Lodge, Lake Ohau (B,L,D)
Saturday - Hike Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park
It’s a short drive to Mt. Cook village, where we have a stunning and little-known day hike up to the main ridge above Mueller Glacier. This area has a unique alpine environment, and includes endemic flora such as Ranunculus lyallii – the world’s largest buttercup, more commonly known as the Mt. Cook Lily. It’s a tough three-hour slog up this track, but you’ll remember the view of the Mueller Glacier and the peaks of the Main Divide forever! Many of our clients have said this is the best hike they have ever done and it’s a fine way to finish off a great trip. There are other hiking options for those who’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 ridge hike, we’ll take an impressive hike up the Hooker Valley to a glacial lake at the base of the Hooker Glacier, complete with icebergs! After hiking, we’ll relax in the splendid Aoraki Lodge nestled right in the heart of the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.
Accommodation: Aoraki Alpine Lodge, Mt Cook (B,L,D)
Sunday - Depart for home
This is the last day of your two-week trip around the South Island. See the itinerary for the Kauri trip if you want to take a few more days to see the North Island as well. We’ll leave after breakfast for the three-hour drive to Christchurch, arriving early afternoon in time for flights back to Auckland. International flights after 4pm are ideal, and we can make domestic flights as early as 2.30pm with a little notice. 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 take a little longer. But 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)
Itinerary Updates: Please check our website for the most up-to-date itineraries and pricing.
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