Day 1Kaikoura peninsula hike
Welcome - kia ora! We’ll meet you at your hotel at 10am, or at the Christchurch airport at 11am, and head straight out of the city. It’s a scenic ride to Kaikoura, with wide-open farmland, loads of sheep, expanding wine growing regions, and vistas of the piercing-blue Pacific Ocean and snow-capped Southern Alps.
Upon arrival in Kaikoura, we’ll settle into our accommodations and then head out for a short hike around the Kaikoura Peninsula where we're sure to spot fur seals frolicking on the rocks, and maybe even dolphins cavorting in the sea. Kaikoura is a place of rich marine wildlife – in Maori, the language of the indigenous people of New Zealand, Kaikoura means “bountiful food”, so we head out for a sumptuous first dinner together tonight!
- Accommodation: Kaikoura accommodations, Kaikoura (L,D)
Day 2Swimming with dolphins and whales
The dolphins and whales are at their most playful first thing in the morning, so we'll make an early start to catch them at their best! When you book your trip, you’ll choose the option that suits you best – swimming with dolphins, or spotting whales (we’ll help you decide). If the idea of both sounds too good to miss, it’s possible to do both – just let us know, and we’ll sort out the details!
Swimming with the wild Dusky dolphins in their natural environment is an experience you’ll never forget. There’s something very special about these marine mammals. If you’ve always dreamed of jumping in the sea and having dolphins playing around you, this is your moment! Dusky dolphins are very social, and live together in groups called pods, which in the Kaikoura region can consist anywhere from 100 to 800 individuals. During the summer months of October to April the duskies will come in each day to the inshore waters of the Kaikoura Peninsula – so this is one of the best times to spend time with these wonderful creatures.
Whale watching has really put Kaikoura on the map in recent years – and deservedly so! Kaikoura is one of the few places in the world where Sperm Whales can be seen close to shore, and to see them surfacing, blowing air, spinning and playing in the water is an awe inspiring, majestic experience. They congregate here because the 3km deep Kaikoura Canyon runs right up against the coast creating a rare system of sea currents that sustain an incredibly rich marine food chain. Sperm Whales are at the top of this food chain and the abundance of fish ensures they make the waters of Kaikoura their home.
After lunch, we’ll head out for a walk through the bush to a stunning waterfall where playful seal pups often hang out at this time of year. Alternatively, feel free to take the afternoon to stroll around the village of Kaikoura, have a session learning how to weave flax like the Maori people used to before Europeans arrived, or just relax on the beach with a book. Kaikoura’s a great place to chill out and get yourself into full holiday mode!
- Accommodation: Kaikoura accommodations, Kaikoura (B,L,D)
Day 3Learn about Marlborough wine, hike to New Zealand’s centre
A slightly more relaxed start today, as we travel through the Marlborough wine region to sunny Nelson. There’s been a striking change to the Marlborough countryside in the last 10 to 20 years, with vineyards taking over from traditional sheep farming land. New Zealand has become well known on the international stage for spectacular wines, and the Marlborough region produces some top-notch Sauvignon Blancs, along with other varieties such as Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. We’ll lunch at one of our favourite wineries in the region, learn about the wine process, and of course have a tasting session!
In the afternoon we head through to Nelson. Upon arrival we’ll take a stunning walk up to the geographical “centre of New Zealand”. The views out over the town, Nelson Bay and the ocean are worth the short slog up the hill. Later we head to our lodgings near the beach.
- Accommodation: Central Nelson lodgings, Nelson (B,L,D)
Day 4Kayaking or hiking Abel Tasman National Park
This morning we’ll head up towards the northern tip of the South Island, and the famed Abel Tasman National Park. No trip to New Zealand is complete without a visit to this glorious area – and you’ll know what we mean as we meander away around gorgeous white sandy beaches. Well known for receiving more sunshine hours per year than any other part of New Zealand, Abel Tasman is a popular place for Kiwi holidaymakers. At this time of year though, Kiwi’s are still working, so it’s a lot more relaxed. We’ll hike around a section of the Abel Tasman track – a three to four day tramp for those tackling the whole thing. Remember to pack your togs (bathers, swimming costume), as you’ll no doubt be keen for a swim in one of the many bays along the way.
If you're interested in doing some kayaking today, we can make it happen. We work with a local company which provides the gear and an experienced sea kayak guide who’ll show you around the crystal clear waters of the Abel Tasman National Park. Have a chat with us at the time of your booking if you’re interested in this option.
After lunch we’ll cruise back to Nelson for a classic Kiwi afternoon, a game of beach cricket followed by a dinner of fish and chips.
- Accommodation: Central Nelson lodgings, Nelson (B,L,D)
Day 5Hike in the Paparoa National Park and Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks
You’ll notice the scenery change dramatically as we follow the Buller River towards the West Coast. Grasslands and beech trees give way to dense, temperate rainforest that blankets the towering Southern Alps. With broad vistas of the often wild Tasman Sea to the west, it’s no wonder Lonely Planet guidebooks have rated this as one of the most scenic drives in the world! The Coast, as it’s affectionately known to locals, is also steeped in history: the late 1800s saw an influx of rugged goldminers, and a long history of fishing, coal mining and timber milling have continued to attract hardy characters to this remote part of New Zealand.
In Punakaiki we’ve got some stunning beaches and forests within the Paparoa National Park to explore. One of the highlights is a walk around the famous Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and blowholes. These are best seen at high tide, so we keep our afternoon’s activities flexible to make sure we’re there at the best time of the day. Other stunning hikes in the Paparoa National Park include the Punakaiki river track, Pororari river track and Truman Track, and walking these tracks feels like delving back into the age of the dinosaurs – the karst limestome landscape, huge ferns, Nikau palms and tannin-stained rivers give this area a unique Jurassic Park feel! Later we’ll continue down the coast to our accommodation in Hokitika.
- Accommodation: Shining Star Hotel, Hokitika (B,L,D)
Day 6Explore West Coast beaches, discover greenstone
For hundreds of years Hokitika and its surrounding area have been nationally important as a source of pounamu. Otherwise known as greenstone, jade or nephrite, pounamu can take an edge as tough as steel, and has a beauty all of its own. Prized by the Maori for making tools, weapons and personal ornaments, it was (and still is) a taonga or great treasure. So important indeed, that the South Island takes one of its Maori names, Te Wahi Pounamu, from the stone. This morning we’ll wander among the pebbles and driftwood of Hokitika’s wild beach in search of our own gems. Before lunch there’s time to meet with local artisans and see these master carvers in action.
The Hokitika Gorge is truly one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand, and this afternoon we’ll prove it to you. After a short walk through podocarp forest we catch our first sighting of the Hokitika River as it passes through the gorge. The beautiful turquoise blue water is as breathtaking as the gorge itself, and you’ll soon find yourself lost in the sight of the whirlpools and eddies. Further up the gorge the rough water is popular with adventure kayakers. Hokitika means “place of return”, so we’ll head back there for our second night. At this time of year the sun sets pretty late – around 9pm, so we’ll head back to the beach to watch the sun set over the Tasman Sea – a moment you’ll treasure always!
- Accommodation: Shining Star Hotel, Hokitika (B,L,D)
Day 7Glacier country, kettle lakes, glowworms!
Today we head south to glacier country. Partway down the Coast we’ll stop at Hari Hari, a small settlement whose main claim to fame occurred on 7 January 1931 when Australian aviator Guy Menzies landed upside down in a swamp, completing the first solo flight across the Tasman Sea. Menzies, who had left Sydney 12 hours earlier, was aiming for Blenheim but had been blown off course and mistook a swamp for flat pasture suitable for landing, and luckily was unharmed! Here in Hari Hari we’ll hike around one of the most scenic walkways on the West Coast, with spectacular views of forest, rivers, mountains and coastline. The track features remnants of old pack tracks, an old log tramway and whitebaiters huts.
Continuing onwards to Franz Josef we have our first views of kettle lakes and other geographical features that mark the presence of glaciers that once dominated the landscape. This afternoon we’ll hike through thick forest and ferns and past old gold mining water-races of the Westland National Park to Franz Josef glacier, before settling into our accommodations in Franz Josef. An optional activity this afternoon is to kayak on nearby Lake Mapourika. It's a guided kayaking trip with local experienced kayak guides - no experience is necessary to enjoy this stunning activity!
Please note, if you only have a week, today marks your first or last day of your trip. Flights to and from Hokitika are popular choices, but other options are possible too – just let us know, and we can help you with your travel arrangements. It’s also possible to join or leave the trip on other dates too, so if your time is limited just let us know, and we’ll work it out – no worries!
- Accommodation: Franz Josef lodgings, Franz Josef (B,L,D)
Day 8Franz Josef glacier walk, kiwi spotting
Franz Josef glacier is 12 km long, and along with its neighbour the Fox glacier, it is unique on the world scale in that it descends from mountaintops to almost sea level through lush temperate rain forest. These glaciers are also unusual in that they flow about 10 times faster than typical glaciers – Franz Josef glacier was found to be advancing at up to 70 cm per day in the mid 1980s! For one of the best views of the glacier we’ll take a full-day hike to Rata Lookout, and then onwards to a nearby ridge to look down on it. Another option today is a heli hike! From the Franz Josef township you’ll fly by helicopter up onto the glacier and then take a unique guided walk among ice caves, pinnacles and seracs. Up close, one of the amazing sights is the startling colours of the ice-flow. If you’re interested in heli hiking option, please let us know at the time of booking to make sure we can reserve your space, as this option is very popular.
After dinner, if you’re keen on a night out – we know the best nightspot in the area! A short drive from Franz Josef takes us to the coastal village of Okarito, which is also home to the rare Okarito Brown Kiwi. The kiwi is New Zealanders’ national symbol and namesake and being nocturnal, the best time to view them in the wild is in the late evening. Local kiwi-spotting experts guide us on our night walk, and if we manage to come across one of the 300 remaining Okarito Kiwi, you can count yourself lucky indeed!
- Accommodation: Franz Josef lodgings, Franz Josef (B,L)
Day 9West Coast beaches and forests, the journey back inland
Venturing through ancient kahikatea and rimu forests as we head further down the West Coast, we pass through the settlement of Fox Glacier before a short detour straight out to the coast. With stunning ocean vistas on one side and views off towards Mt Cook and the Southern Alps on the other, you won’t know which way to look as we walk along Gillespie’s track. In the 1860s Gillespie’s Beach became a sizeable settlement, when people discovered gold that was washing down from Fox Glacier and the surrounding rivers. Remnants of mining activity are scattered along the track – and there’s also a tunnel at one point, which is cut straight through a hill and looks over the Tasman Sea. Continuing further north to Galway Beach we’ll likely spot a few of the local fur seals.
From Gillespie’s Beach we’ll continue onwards to Makarora, stopping at some of our favourite short walks along the way. There are many walks to choose from - Lake Matheson track, Ship Creek tracks, Thundercreek Falls, Fantail Falls, and Blue Pools for instance. From the township of Haast it’s a short drive over Gates of Haast as we head into Mount Aspiring National Park’s beech forests, which dominate the eastern ranges of the Southern Alps.
- Accommodation: Makarora Wilderness Resort, Makarora (B,L,D)
Day 10Exploring and relaxing in Makarora
The Maori people who travelled through this area in their search for seasonal foods and pounamu named this village Makarora -“flowing waters”. Located at the headwaters of Lake Wanaka, Makarora has long been an ancient traditional medicine village for the Waitaha tribes - a place of healing and learning, a place of resting, of healing both body and mind from journeys past and preparation for the journeys ahead. So it is within this spirit that we’ve planned for a chill out day here in Makarora.
Our idyllic accommodation is set amid the lush rainforest and majestic mountains of the Southern Alps, and borders Mount Aspiring World Heritage National Park. The scenery here is exceptional, with views over the Makarora River into some of this country's most beautiful and untouched valleys. So, feel free to take in some of the many short bush walks, or lounge around with your favourite book. Of course, if you’re feeling adventurous, there are many options available today! Take a scenic helicopter or plane flight around Mount Aspiring – the mountain we named our company after! At just over 3,000 metres (10,000 feet), Mt Aspiring – Titiea “glistening peak” - is known as the Matterhorn of the South, and a flight over its glaciers, snowfields and mountain peaks is a breathtaking experience. Other adventurous activities include jet boating, fishing, hunting, hiking the “Siberia Experience” and more – let us know if you’re keen for a wild bush adventure, and we’ll help you plan your perfect day. After dark we’ll go exploring for glow worms.
- Accommodation: Makarora Wilderness Resort, Makarora (B,L,D)
Day 11Central Otago wine region, Explore historic Arrowtown
Recharged by Makarora, we continue our journey southwards through the lakeside resorts of Wanaka and Queenstown. After crossing over the Crown Range, which is the highest sealed road in New Zealand, we drop down into the Wakatipu basin. Welcome to the birthplace of bungy jumping! If you’re keen to get the adrenaline pumping we’ll head straight to historic Kawarau Bridge to take part in New Zealand's favourite pastime. Established in 1988 by AJ Hackett, the 43-metre jump is not made any easier by knowing that over a million people have made the leap of faith before you!
From there we head to the quaint historic miners’ village of Arrowtown for the best lunch in the land, and then onwards south to Fiordland. Entering the Fiordland National Park we’re spending the next two nights in the Hollyford Valley. The modernised cabins were originally used by men who built the road to Milford Sound, and Hollyford Camp is a great base from which to visit Milford Sound, the Milford Track, Hollyford Track and Routeburn Track, and myriad other walks in the area.
- Accommodation: Hollyford Camp, Hollyford Valley (B,D)
Day 12Explore Milford Sound by boat or kayak, hiking in Hollyford Valley
After a hearty southern breakfast we have a short drive from Hollyford Camp to Milford Sound. Piercing the main divide at Homer Saddle, the Homer Tunnel is a manmade sight to behold. Using picks and shovels, the one kilometre long tunnel was started during the 1930’s depression, and was finally opened in 1954. Reaching the Western portal you’ll feel as though you’ve entered another world! The surrounding mountains dwarf the winding road down to Milford Sound – pictures simply don’t do the views any justice – so it’s best to simply gaze in awe. Surrounded by lush rain forests that cling precariously to sheer rock faces that rise 1,200 metres (4,000 feet) or more on either side, Milford Sound (Piopiotahi in Maori) runs 15 kilometres inland from the coast. And there are two great ways to explore it – a cruise along the sound by boat, or cruising around the inner sound by kayak. Either option is stunning and you’ll likely see dolphins, seals, penguins and maybe even the odd whale!
Heading back to Hollyford Camp for a late lunch we’ve then got the rest of the afternoon to get to know this remote part of New Zealand better. Wander around the eclectic Hollyford museum, check out the nearby river, or join us for a walk to Humboldt Falls at the start of the Hollyford Track. After dinner there’s not much to do except tell a few yarns, play some cards, or have a sing along under the gleaming stars.
- Accommodation: Hollyford Camp, Hollyford Valley (B,L,D)
Day 13Hiking in Fiordland National Park, Queenstown activities
There are many hikes to do in the Fiordland National park – Gertrude Valley, the Key Summit loop on the Routeburn Track, and Lake Marion to name a few – and we’ll choose the pick of the bunch as dependant on the weather this morning. Returning back to Queenstown via Te Anau, we’ve left this afternoon free so you can take in one of the many adventure activities that Queenstown has on offer. From adrenaline-charged activities such as jetboating with Shotover Jet, hang-gliding, rafting, canyoning, downhill mountain biking, to more serene options like horseback riding, wine tours, golfing and café hopping: Queenstown really is the adventure capital of the world! We’re happy to help you with suggestions (as locals, we’ve pretty much done them all!), or if you’d rather go for a hike we can point out some great half-day walks. Later we’ll catch up for our farewell dinner.
- Accommodation: Queenstown apartments, Queenstown (B,D)
Today is the last day of your New Zealand adventure – you’ll have had a blast, and learned a lot about New Zealand as well! If you’re flying out of Queenstown today, we’ll take you to the airport for flights any time before 2:30pm. If you’re staying on a bit longer, we can help with suggestions and plans – just let us know. Farewell! (B,L)