Ultimate South Island Adventure

New Zealand

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Book this tour through our partner: World Expeditions

A comprehensive exploration of South Island natural highlights and secrets by foot, kayak and bike


Nelson to Abel Tasman National Park

After meeting at the Nelson i-Site at 10:00am we drive out of town around Tasman Bay to Kaiteriteri, the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. Here we pack our gear for a 2-night stay in the park and then board the water taxi. A boat cruise around the coast takes us to the beautiful and less visited part of the park at Awaroa. We enjoy a picnic on this idyllic beach before starting our hike following the Abel Tasman Coastal track south to Bark Bay, where our tents and some gear have been dropped been by boat. We pitch our tents and enjoy a delicious meal together. Fall asleep to the sound of waves lapping the shore.Activities: 4 hours hiking, 13.5kmAccommodation: Camping

Abel Tasman National Park

After a relaxed breakfast we continue our hike on the Coastal Track to Anchorage. The hike from Bark Bay takes us through glades of manuka, over a low saddle and across a 47-metre suspension bridge at Falls River. The optional side trip to Cleopatra’s Pool is a must and a perfect place for a refreshing swim, and if you are feeling nimble you can join the guide for a boulder hop further up the valley exploring idyllic pools and waterfalls. Your guide may also talk you into taking another side trip up to the Falls River cascades another stunning swimming spot. We camp tonight at the bush-fringed and bright blue inlet of Anchorage. Relax, read a book and go for a swim – before we meet together in the evening to cook and eat together.Activities: 3-5 hours hiking, 8.5-12kmAccommodation: Camping

Abel Tasman to Murchison

It’s time to hit the water and explore the Abel Tasman’s magical coastline by waka (Maori canoe).* After a traditional karakia (blessing) we learn the etiquette associated with joining a waka team. Then it’s time to climb aboard and paddle!Depending on conditions, we explore several coves on the mainland and the wildlife refuge of Adele Island, where we observe a breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals – beautiful animals that were almost hunted to extinction in the 1800s. Along the way our waka guide enlightens us with stories of local Maori history and customs. We paddle into the beautiful Kaiteriteri beach at around midday, where our Hiking New Zealand guide awaits with our backpacks. After a picnic lunch and a restock on supplies in Motueka we drive south to our private campsite near Murchison, overlooking the confluence of the Buller and Maruia rivers. We enjoy an organic meal that is home-cooked by our hosts.Activities: 3 hours paddling, 15kmAccommodation: Camping*Note: The waka experience requires a minimum of 6 people.

Murchison to Paparoa National Park

After driving through the Buller Gorge our first stop and experience of the wild west coast is at Charleston. We take a short hike through lush West Coast bush checking out the dramatic headlands, wild waves and secluded bays. After the hike we enjoy a picnic lunch and pack up for our next hike that takes us up a spectacular limestone river canyon in Paparoa National Park. Established in 1987, this park covers more than 30,000 hectares. Its attractions include mountains, limestone cliffs, caves, rivers, wilderness areas and coastlines. The first half of the trail is on a reasonably well-formed track and is relatively flat, while the second half involves multiple river crossings and sections where the riverbed itself is our route. Some boulders here can be slippery, and good hiking shoes or boots are essential. Our guide teaches us how to cross rivers by linking arms with our companions. We collect firewood along the way, and set up camp under the massive Ballroom Overhang, a fluviatile river cave. For those that are keen on more hiking you can join the guide and explore up a beautiful side canyon, following the stream until it disappears into a cave.Activities: 3-4 hours hiking, 8kmAccommodation: Camping

Paparoa National Park to Hokitika

After a relaxed breakfast we hike back out the same way and head to the West Coast town of Punakaiki to check out the famous Pancake Rocks and seawater blowholes. Then it’s down the coast to tonight’s accommodation in Hokitika. A thriving gold rush town in the 1870s, Hokitika is now a great place to buy pounamu (greenstone), which was highly valued by early Maori for tools, jewellery and weapons. Tonight’s lodge accommodation is centrally located and just a short distance from the beach. Tuck in to traditional Kiwi fish and chips on the beach or eat at one of the many cafés in this bustling little seaside town. On arrival in Hokitika we get fitted out with bikes for tomorrows ride.Activities: 3 hours hiking, 6kmAccommodation: Lodge

Hokitika to Arthur's Pass

Before meeting the group grab breakfast at one of the great cafés in town. Today we get to cycle the stunning West Coast Wilderness Trail between the Arahura River bridge and the historic township of Kumara. We will pedal our way through majestic native forest, cross crystal-clear rivers, and pass old reservoirs and water races. Today’s ride is unguided, but the trail is very well marked, and our local partners will give you a very thorough briefing on riding the trail. The thoughtfully restored Theatre Royal Hotel in Kumara is the perfect place to celebrate our ride with a drink. After the ride sit back and enjoy the mountain and rainforest landscapes as we turn east to drive into the Southern Alps and stay in the quaint mountain village of Arthurs Pass. Lodgings tonight are at a private hut with showers and electricity. We prepare dinner together and get ready for tomorrows hiking adventure into Edwards Valley.Activities: 4-5 hours cycling, 39kmAccommodation: Cabin

Arthur's Pass National Park

While not as well-known as some of the other National Parks visited on the tour Arthur’s Pass will awe you with its rugged alpine peaks, wild rivers and adventurous hiking trails. Our overnight hike takes us up the Edwards Valley to the Edwards hut which sits just above the treeline with a great view up and down this beautiful valley. It is a challenging hike on a real ‘kiwi-style’ track. There are several river crossings and parts where you will need to use your hands for extra grip as the trail is rugged with steep slippery sections. We either camp or stay in the hut depending on how many other hikers are there. At nightfall we listen out for the distinct call of our national bird the kiwi. Roroa or Great spotted kiwi are known to inhabit this area. This species of Kiwi is known as the ‘Mountain Kiwi’ and prefer to live in sub-alpine areas.Activities: 5-6 hours hiking, 7kmAccommodation: Camping or backcountry hutNote: Most departures will have 2 guides for this hike.

Arthur's Pass to Mount Somers

We make the most of being in this wonderfully remote alpine valley with an optional hike to explore further up the valley this morning towards Falling Mountain, where the views of the surrounding mountains open up even more. After returning to the hut we pack up and hike back down the valley having lunch along the way. The scenery changes dramatically on the eastern side of the divide, the steep forested slopes of the west are replaced with wide braided rivers, scree slopes and the surreal limestone formations of Castle Hill. We leave the main highway and follow an inland route past Lake Lyndon and through the Rakaia gorge and onto the tiny village of Mt Somers where we stay overnight.Activities: 5-6 hours hiking, 7kmAccommodation: Cabin or Camping

Mount Somers to Aoraki/Mount Cook

We spend the morning driving across the western boundary of the Canterbury plains and into the stunningly beautiful Mackenzie Country, an intermontane basin of huge glacial lakes and snow-capped mountains. By late morning we arrive at Aoraki/Mt Cook village ready to maximise our afternoon with a hike with day-packs up to Sealy Tarns and possibly as far as Mueller Hut. Enjoy views across two glaciers to the Mount Sefton icefall and Aoraki/Mount Cook. Towering moraine walls, glacial lakes and the frequent rumbling of distance avalanches are reminders of nature’s sheer power in this dynamic landscape. We return via the same track to our accommodation at a private hut. We’re in the heart of the Southern Alps, surrounded by huge mountains of commanding presence. With luck, we can watch the summit of Aoraki/Mount Cook turn from white to pink with the sun’s last rays.Activities: 5 hours hiking, 8kmAccommodation: Cabin

Aoraki/Mount Cook to Lake Hawea

We enjoy a relaxing breakfast together with a postcard view of Aoraki from our dining room window. There is the option today of joining a local operator for a guided heli-hike on the Tasman Glacier (own expense). A helicopter flight will take us onto the upper glacier where we attach crampons to our boots and marvel at the jagged landscape while exploring ice formations and ice caves. For those not heli-hiking, join the guide for a hike up the steep glacial moraines to Red Tarns. More stunning views from here! Those wanting to rest the legs today can either relax at the hut or visit the information centre and learn more about the park’s natural history and the feats of pioneering mountaineers. By mid-afternoon we have re-united with the heli hikers and depart Aoraki/Mount Cook to continue our journey south through the Mackenzie country and over Lindis Pass into the Central Otago region. We stay tonight near the shores of Lake Hawea, a glacially formed lake over 35kms in length ringed by mountains. We take the night off cooking tonight and dine at local restaurant.Activities: 2 hours hiking, 4kmAccommodation: Camping or Cabins

Lake Hawea to Mount Aspiring National Park

We drive to Wanaka township this morning, grab a coffee and take a wander around this vibrant lakeside resort town before we drive along Matukituki Valley to the end of the road. We grab our packs and hike along the valley, perhaps opting to climb up for a view of Rob Roy Glacier. Cheeky and inquisitive kea (alpine parrots) often mingle with our group at lunchtime, so we might need to keep an eye on our gear (kea love shiny zips)! In the afternoon, we enjoy stunning alpine views as we hike the valley to Aspiring Hut. Between high peaks we catch glimpses of the Matterhorn-like Mt Aspiring (3033m).Activities: 6 hours hiking, 14kmAccommodation: Backcountry hut

Mount Aspiring National Park to Fiordland

We return down the valley early this morning enjoying the pretty views and easy hiking along the floor of this wide glacially formed valley. Once we are back in Wanaka we have a lakeside picnic and you may want to dive into the lake for a swim. Next up is a remarkable drive over the Crown Range, offering breath-taking summit views of Wakitipu Valley and lakes. By late afternoon, we’re past Te Anau and well on our way to Milford Sound. We camp for the next two nights at the beautiful Knobs Flat campsite, relaxing and making the most of the welcome hot showers.Activities: 3 hours hiking, 8kmAccommodation: Camping

Milford Sound

This morning we drive beside imposing granite cliffs and through hanging valleys into the heart of Fiordland National Park. This amazing World Heritage Site is one of the largest national parks in the world, with its huge glacial lakes of Te Anau and Manapouri bordering a series of spectacular fjords. By mid-morning, we are at Milford and ready to join one of the world’s great day-cruises. Our vessel takes us out to Anita Bay and the entrance to Milford Sound. We enjoy stunning views of cascading waterfalls and the iconic Mitre Peak, which soars 1722 metres above the sea. We keep our eyes peeled for dolphins, Fiordland crested penguins, and New Zealand fur seals, which often play near our boat. Before returning to Knobs Flat, we enjoy a hike up to Key Summit. This is the final section of the famous Routeburn Track, which is another of New Zealand’s Great Walks. We enjoy an informative nature walk and views of the Darran Mountains and Hollyford Valley.Activities: 2 hour cruise (or Milford kayaking option*); 3 hours hiking, 5km,Accommodation: Camping*Note: If you have chosen the kayaking option (additional expense) you will be picked up at 6.30am by the kayak company to travel to Milford Sound. Paddle for 3 to 3.5 hours in double kayaks to waterfalls, spotting rare wildlife, and generally feeling dwarfed by the enormity of the fjords. Returning to land, you will be reunited with the group after their cruise. Please advise us at the time of booking if interested in kayaking, as space is limited.

Fiordland to Queenstown

After breakfast we take a short hike to check out a beautiful waterfall near our campsite, you may want to soak up one last little bit of Fiordland by jumping under for a shower! We then make our final drive to Queenstown arriving in the early afternoon. The afternoon is free for you to use as you wish. Our lodge is within easy walking distance to town. We meet up in the early evening and head out to celebrate the great hikes and adventures we have had together over the last two weeks.Activities: 45 minutes hiking, 2kmAccommodation: Lodge

Tour concludes in Queenstown

Today is the end of the tour. Our guide departs early for Christchurch. For those staying on in Queenstown you will be spoilt for choice of adventure activities to try. Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand and is surrounded by stunning landscapes with superb hiking and cycling tracks. Don’t hesitate to ask one of our helpful team for tips of great hikes to do in the area at the conclusion of your trip. Please let us know if you would like to book a return shuttle to Christchurch (NZ$60 – arrives Christchurch airport at 4pm).

Additional Information

This remarkable journey truly is exactly as described - the ultimate South Island adventure. Begin with walks among the golden beaches and lapping waters of the Abel Tasman National Park before travelling south to the lush rainforests of the West Coast. We head back into the mountains at Arthur's Pass and hike into a remote backcountry hut for a night in the Edwards Valley. Explore the hiking trails around the majestic mountains of the Southern Alps at Mount Cook Village, home to NZ's highest peak, Aoraki/Mt Cook before heading south to Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks. At Milford Sound we will have the chance to explore deep canyons, hike, kayak and cruise the fiords of this magnificent South Island gem. The tour ends in Queenstown, the perfect place to spend your final night in New Zealand or to head away on further adventures. During the trip we will travel by water taxi, by foot, kayak, bike and even boat to get access to some of the South's best kept secrets as well as must-see highlights. There is even time for an optional heli-hike at Aoraki/Mt Cook and sea kayking in Milford Sound. Between all the activity there is also time to relax; at remote huts, idyllic campsites and in comfortable lodges based in stunning locations. Link this tour with the Ultimate Active North Island for a comprehensive active exploration of New Zealand!

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