Day to Day Itinerary:
Day 1: Arrive, hike in Arthur’s Pass. The Tui trip starts in Christchurch, the main city and airport of the South Island. You’ll need to be in Christchurch by around 9 am. We’ll meet you there and head to the Southern Alps for a hike in Arthur’s Pass to Devils Punchbowl where we’ll see an awesome 430-foot (131-metre) waterfall. We then head down the coast to the beautiful seaside village of Okarito, one of the best kept secrets of the West Coast that’s all but untouched due to its location 10 miles down a one-way road from an obscure highway turnoff. There are no shops, no restaurants, no traffic and a population of only 31 people. Because of the action-packed nature of the Tui, we get much of the driving out of the way on the first day of the trip. As an option, you can miss out most of the first day’s driving by meeting us this afternoon in the West Coast town of Hokitika, a short 30-minute flight from Christchurch, and we’ll pick you up on the way through.
Accommodation: Okarito Beach House, Okarito (L,D)
Day 2: Hike at 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 1 rain. If it’s raining, we’ll do a shorter walk to a view of the terminal face of Fox Glacier and a hike around Lake Matheson.
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 (1300 m) 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, and head south. From Franz Josef, we head down the coast to Haast, an isolated West Coast hamlet, where we’ll enjoy some local fare – venison pie! Accommodation: World Heritage Heartland Hotel, Haast (B,L,D)
Customize Your Trip: At the time of booking, you have the choice of one of two different overnight options – a backpacking trip in Mt. Aspiring National Park, or an overnight stay in the small farming village of Makarora. Each is wonderful in its own way, so we’ll let you decide!
Day 3 (morning) - Start Mt. Aspiring National Park options. This morning we’ll drive to Makarora on the eastern side of Mt. Aspiring National Park. When you book, you have the option of choosing between two different overnight options – either a backpacking trip in Mt. Aspiring National Park, or an overnight stay in the small farming village of Makarora. After lunch, we head off on our various adventures:
Option 1 - Makarora Adventure option in Mt. Aspiring National Park (afternoon). Scenic flight, hike Siberia Valley, jet boat Wilkin River. If you prefer comfortable accommodation with modern amenities instead of a mountain hut for the night, then this is the option for you! You’ll head out for a mind-blowing scenic flight into Mt. Aspiring National Park for a bird’s eye view of the lower Southern Alps, landing in the remote Siberia Valley. From here you’ll hike downstream along the Wilkin River, through beautiful silver beech (Nothofagus menziesii) forests to a jet boat rendezvous. Then it’s a thrilling ride back to Makarora for dinner and perhaps a well-earned drink at the Makarora pub. Accommodation: Makarora cottages, Makarora (B,L,D).
Day 4 (morning): Hike on Mt Shrimpton. This morning we’ll hike the Mt. Shrimpton track. It’s a steep hike with a 2500 foot (750 metre) elevation gain, but the views from above the tree-line are well worth the effort. Alternatively you can have a relaxing morning, sleep in and spend your time soaking up the mountain views from your accommodation. We’ll return mid morning, just in time to meet up with the rest of the group for lunch.
Option 2: Siberia Valley Wilderness option in Mt. Aspiring National Park (afternoon) Scenic flight, hike Lake Crucible. If you like the idea of staying in one of New Zealand’s most isolated mountain huts, then this option is for you! We’ll start with a dramatic scenic flight alongside the snowy Southern Alps to the Siberia Valley airstrip. You can hike up the trail to Lake Crucible for great views of this glacial valley while dinner is whipped up back at the hut. Tonight you’ll be served a candle-lit dinner in one of the most glorious places in the world. This is also one of the few backcountry huts where you can chat with a resident hut ranger from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. Rangers are often keen for a yarn around the camp fire, and can offer further insight into the flora and fauna of Mt. Aspiring National Park. This is the only night on the Tui where your accommodation is basic, but it’s a true Kiwi experience and a lot of fun. 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. You’ll be carrying a backpack, sleeping bag, a few spare clothes and some food – no need for any more than that, although we’ll provide tents and so on if you’d prefer to camp out under the stars. Accommodation: Siberia Hut, Mt. Aspiring National Park (B,L,D)
Day 5 (morning). Hike Siberia Valley, jet boat. After an early start, we spend the morning hiking to The Forks, at the head of the Wilkin River, where we will be met by a jet boat for an exhilarating ride back to Makarora to meet up with the rest of the group for lunch.
(afternoon) Finish Mt. Aspiring National Park options, cycle Hawea trail. After regrouping in Makarora, we’ll have a picnic lunch before taking a beautiful drive through spectacular glacier-carved valleys to the town of Hawea. Here you’ll be fitted with a 21-speed front-suspension Specialized mountain bike for a scenic bike ride along a part of 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 (17 km) to the charming mountain town of Wanaka. From there, it’s a short drive over the Cardrona Saddle to Queenstown, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Accommodation: Queenstown apartments, Queenstown (B,L)
Day 6: Hike Ben Lomond or free day in Queenstown. Today you have two options – a full day hike or a free day to yourself – it’s up to you! For those keen for a challenging alpine hike, we’ll head up Ben Lomond Track after you’ve had breakfast. 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. We hike up through forested slopes that give way to alpine tussock-land leading us to the summit of Ben Lomond. From this vantage point you’ll find yourself immersed in amazing views over Queenstown Bay and Lake Wakatipu, which are themselves dwarfed by the surrounding mountains such as Mt. Aspiring.
As an alternative, you can have a free day with no activities scheduled, although we’ll certainly help with suggestions if you like. Queenstown, where we are based, is a great place to spend a couple of days. You’ll find all the comforts of civilisation: massage therapists, restaurants, sidewalk cafés, window-shopping and adrenaline pumping activities! You’ll also find some incredible optional activities here such as biking, hang gliding, hiking, white-water rafting, jet boating, skydiving, horse trekking, fishing and wine tours – it’s all here! Your guides can help you during the trip to book any of these optional activities. Queenstown is not 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. Accommodation: Queenstown apartments, Queenstown
Day 7: 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. Then it’s a short drive through the Homer Tunnel, emerging at the top of a spectacular alpine road winding its way down to Milford Sound. The lush rainforest carpeting the lower slopes of the mountains gives way to the massively steep, glacier-carved slopes and waterfalls of the Darren Range. Milford Sound, rated the 8th Natural Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling, is breathtaking. Sheer rock walls plunge thousands of feet to the Tasman Sea and waterfalls cascade into the deep blue water. It’s basic accommodation tonight, but it’s the only place in town to stay and the location alone makes up for it! Accommodation: Milford Lodge, Milford Sound (B,L,D)
Day 8: Sea kayak Milford Sound, explore Fiordland National Park. It’s an early start today. Most people see Milford Sound from the deck of a cruise ship, but we’ve got a better way – gliding along in a sea kayak, getting up close and personal with the sound while causing minimum disruption to the seals and dolphins that are very friendly and often eager to visit. 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 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 and the Kotukutuku (fuchsia excorticate) the world’s largest fuchsia. Accommodation: Lake Manapouri Inn, Manapouri (B,L,D).
Day 9: Depart for home. Well, it’s almost time to go home. We’ll leave after breakfast for the two-hour drive to Queenstown, and arrive by late morning in time for the flights back to Christchurch or Auckland. This will have been a very exhilarating week, and you’ll be buzzing with excitement but feeling relaxed and refreshed as well! See the itinerary for the Kauri trip if you want to take a few more days to see the North Island. (B)
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