The Ultimate New Zealand experience! This trip encompasses the very best that New Zealand has to offer - hike the best sections of the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk and explore the volcanic wonderland of Tongariro National Park. In the South Island swim in the crystall waters of the Abel Tasman National Park, kayak through NZ's largest unmodified wetland before being exhilarated by the adrenalin-packed activities of Queenstown. Be dwarfed by the peaks of Milford Sound and the awe-inspring Aoraki/Mt Cook. The range of accommodation includes mostly camping, back country huts, lodges and cabins, so you need to have a real sense of adventure and be able to revel in the outdoor atmosphere while sitting round a campfire. Rotorua Thermal Park, Okarito sea kayaking, cycling the West Coast Wilderness Trail and the Milford Sound cruise are all included in the tour price.
This trip can be split into two: the 7 day Ultimate North and the 15 day Ultimate South Adventures.
Average 4-5 hours physical activity per day, up to 8-9 hours on longer days. Pack weights of 12-15kgs on some days. Altitude gains of up to 800m. Some uneven track surfaces and river crossings. No hiking experience necessary. Agility and fitness required. You need to be reasonably fit and enthusiastic. Terrain mostly tracks. Some may be slippery or rough; some off-track hiking and river crossings.
We head south to Rotorua (with a café halt at 9am for those who missed breakfast). Rotorua has thermal areas and stunning lakes, and with a backdrop of distant volcanoes it is quite unique. The area is also rich in Maori and early European history including the tragedy of the 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption that buried a Maori village. We have a quick stop by Lake Rotorua before driving south and exploring one of the extraordinary Department of Conservation thermal parks (price included). After a picnic lunch we head east and off the tourist route to hike one of tracks in the Whirinaki Forest. This park is huge but relatively un-visited. It is famous worldwide for its Jurassic-like rainforest - the podocarp trees are an ancient off-shoot of the conifer family and evolved before the flowering plants. It is thought that forests like this once covered the super-continent of Gondwanaland over 150 million years ago. We do a short nature walk, wandering amongst these giant trees to the river canyon before driving back to our simple cabin on a farm property with a mix of bunk rooms and camping. Just us here usually. We cook up a meal together and chill out by the outdoor fire brazier.
This morning we drive east and further into the rugged forest ranges of the Te Urewera National Park. Home of the Tuhoe (Maori tribe) this area was so remote it was one of the last places in NZ where European influence was felt. After two hours winding through the most incredible rain forest we stop for a cuppa (cup of tea) before finally getting to the western arm of the remote Lake Waikaremoana. We drive on to the southern end of the lake and stop for a picnic lunch and a chance to finish organising backpacks for the first hike. Jump into a water taxi and enjoy the 20 minute jaunt across the lake. We usually drop our packs at the lake-side hut or the campsite perched above a small beach before doing a 2 hour lake-side hike to a lovely waterfall. On return we set up camp here and as a group cook a meal. Soak up the surrounds; the reflections of wilderness in the lake, forest and mountains, bird song and tranquillity. On a still evening you can sometimes hear kiwi calls echo across the lake.
Activities: 2 hours hiking, 7km
Hoist your pack and follow the track as it climbs up through bright green tawa and beech forest to the Panekiri Range, over 500m above the lake. The trail climbs gently at first and later more steeply - so pack lightly! As we trundle along the ridge to Panekiri Hut you get great views beyond Lake Waikaremoana to the contiguous wilderness stretching for hundreds of kilometres to the north, south and west. At the hut take a rest and devour a well earned lunch. From here the track undulates along the ridge through gnarled beech forest and passes many brilliant viewpoints before the final descent to the road end. A 20 minute drive takes us to the sweet little cabins/camp area beside the wharf. Relax, sit on the wharf and drink a beer. We cook a meal together in the communal kitchen.
Activities: 8 hours hiking, 17km
Accommodation: Cabin or Lodge
This morning we hike on an easy 1 hour track up to the usually calm waters of Lake Waikareiti. If conditions allow (light wind) tumble into row-boats (included) and row out across this most splendid of lakes to a wee island in the middle. This tranquil paradise of bird life, ancient forest and pure waters really feels like a forgotten world. If weather prevents rowing, then there are plenty of other forest walks or viewpoints to explore. After, we drive west then south to Lake Taupo. This is the largest lake in New Zealand – a 600 sq km volcanic caldera crater created when the largest volcanic explosion known to humankind erupted in 186 AD. On the drive towards Taupo we pause to bathe in a natural hot river, one of those secret spots only the locals know about. There is also time for a stop at the Huka Falls where you can feel the spray as the mighty Waikato River plunges seven metres. At Lake Taupo we either grab takeaway food (own cost) or rustle up a quick 'trailer' meal at a lovely lake-side spot on route. Just relax on the strange pumice beach or take a swim in the evening light while dinner does it's thing. The sun may set before driving the last hour to Tongariro National Park.
Activities: 2 hours hiking, 4km
Accommodation: Cabin or Lodge
Established in 1887, Tongariro National Park is New Zealand's first National Park, gifted to the people of New Zealand by a far-sighted Maori chief who saw this as a way of protecting the tapu (respect, sacredness, preciousness) of this land – in particular the summits of the active volcanoes. Although most other hikers walk the busy one-day Alpine Crossing, only a fraction explore the remote and dryer east side of this volcanic range like us, and almost no one does the side trips and short cuts we know about. But rest assured, we do exit (or enter) the area via the 'crossing' so you still see that remarkable scenery - usually when its less busy if we can be cunning about it!
After being dropped off at the trail start, hike through waving tussock-grasslands between the volcanoes to a hut set in an enclave of native beech forest. After lunch traverse across stony deserts to an alpine hut at 1400m, perched on the edge of an old lava flow. From this hut there are fantastic views of the three main peaks in the park: Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. It's an extraordinary landscape of active volcanoes and lava valleys, dynamic and changing even in recent years (2013!). Enjoy the experience of sharing an alpine hut with hikers from all over the world. We usually sleep in the hut but very occasionally camp.
Activities: 5 hours hiking, 13km
Accommodation: Back country hut
Hike up through a moon-like gentle valley of contorted lava flows and ash fields before ascending steeply to the Emerald Lakes. This is where our route joins the spectacular Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Once here we Traverse the volcanic plateau, which boasts lava valleys and steaming explosion craters, flanked by the brooding volcanoes, before descending on the western side. In good conditions, there is an option to climb one of the volcanic peaks. Tongariro National Park is full of landscapes the likes of which are found nowhere else in New Zealand. An evening drive to a lodge right inside the National Park is the perfect place to relax with a beer and enjoy the million dollar views across to the volcanoes. Enjoy a meal out in the alpine village.
Activities: 6-8 hours hiking, 15km
A relaxing start today allows you to check out the Park Visitor Centre with espresso in hand before departing. Those taking the bus back to Auckland can be dropped at National Park Village mid morning; the train passes through National Park the following day. Drive south, eventually leaving the National Park and the volcanoes behind. Descend through the beautiful river valleys of the Rangitikei and finally along the coast to Wellington, New Zealand's wonderful harbour capital, arriving in the mid afternoon - cafe stop on route. This giant fault-created harbour is almost encircled by steep suburbs giving it a giant 'coliseum' feel. Nowhere is very far in this stylish little city. Enjoy. You might like to visit the museum of New Zealand, called Te Papa, or the beehive (Parliament House) to see some ranting politicians – or you might not. Wellington is well known for its vibrant café scene and its accessible downtown area. People come into the city to enjoy the lively atmosphere.
Activities: 1-2 hours hiking, 1km
You have the option of either a relaxing start to the day, a quick dash around Wellington CBD or a walk along the waterfront before catching the group shuttle to the airport for your short flight to Nelson. Your South Island guide will have collected those people who are joining the South Island portion of the trip from the centre of Nelson and will collect you from outside the airport terminal at 12:30pm. From Nelson it is a picturesque drive around Tasman Bay to Kaiteriteri, the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. Here you can pack your gear for a 2 night stay in the park and then board the water taxi. A beautiful cruise around the coast takes you to Onetahuti. There is plenty of time to take a dip at this sheltered and idyllic beach before following the Abel Tasman Coastal track south to Bark Bay where the tents and guide have been previously dropped by boat. Pitch your tent and enjoy a delicious meal together. Fall asleep to the sound of waves lapping the shore.
Activities: 1.5 hours hiking, 5km
Today offers the opportunity to hike in this magical National Park and wander along the sheltered coastline marvelling at the crystal clear waters and stunning scenery of this marine reserve. 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 swim on a warm summer’s day. Tonight’s campsite is at Anchorage, a stunning bush-fringed bright blue inlet. Time to take another swim, read a book or have a snooze, before preparing and enjoying another delicious evening meal together. Abel Tasman Sea Kayaking can be arranged for this day (4-5 hours) if requested at the time of booking ($175). The kayaking starts and finishes in the same place so you will hike as well as kayak if you take this option at the time of booking.
Activities: 3-4 hours hiking, 8.5-12km
Have a sleep in or join the guide for a stroll out to Te Pukatea Bay and Pitt Head – the site of an old Maori Pa. From our campsite it’s a gentle ramble over a saddle, through lush beech forest with large Kanuka trees. We'll pass through several picturesque bays before eventually emerging out into the estuary. Finish walking the track by crossing the Marahua causeway where your guide will meet you with the van. Time to rest the legs on the drive to tonight’s campsite near Murchison, overlooking the confluence of the Buller and Maruia Rivers. Enjoy some local hospitality with an organic home-cooked meal prepared by our hosts.
Activities: 5 hours hiking, 14km
After driving down the Buller Gorge to the West Coast, the first stop this morning is Cape Foulwind. Here is an opportunity to observe a breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals – almost hunted to extinction in the 1800s. After lunch begin the group hike up a spectacular limestone river canyon in Paparoa National Park. Established in 1987, the park covers over 30,000 hectares. It has natural attractions including mountains, limestone cliffs, caves, rivers and wilderness areas. The hike involves several river crossings (your boots will get wet). Collect firewood along the way and set up camp under the massive Ballroom Overhang.
Activities: 3-4 hours hiking, 8km
Before hiking back splash up a beautiful side canyon, following the stream until it disappears into a cave. Depending on weather and river conditions your guide may alter the route out to include more time in the canyon away from the track. This can be a good chance to use the river crossing skills learnt yesterday! After the hike there is a stop in Punakaiki and a chance to check out the famous Pancake Rocks and blowholes before continuing down the coast to tonight’s accommodation in Hokitika. A thriving gold rush town in the 1870s, Hokitika was described as ‘the most rising place on earth’. Hokitika is better known now for the Wildfoods Festival held every year in March. It also a good place to buy pounamu (greenstone), which was highly valued by early Maori for tools, jewellery and weapons. Tonight’s lodge accommodation has magnificent sunset views over the Tasman Sea. It is a night off cooking tonight; tuck in to fish and chips on the beach or eat out at one of the many cafés in this bustling little seaside town.
Activities: 3-4 hours hiking, 8km
Today we mountain bike the stunning West Coast Cycle Trail between Kawhaka Intake and Lake Kaniere, if those feeling keen they can carry on and cycle into Hokitka township. Pedal your way through majestic native forest, cross crystal clear rivers, passing old reservoirs and water races, before gradually climbing up through lush rainforest. A stop at the Cowboy Paradise Tavern (this really is the Wild West) is always a highlight. Push back the saloon doors, grab a cold beer and enjoy the views – until the sheriff asks you to leave town. Have lunch beside one of New Zealand’s most beautiful lakes – Lake Kaniere, before the trail follows a historic water-race down a sweeping tree lined pathway known as the pipeline. Choose to either finish your ride here or cruise the last 10km into Hokitika.
For those who do not wish to cycle, a lovely 4 hour hike around the shores of Lake Kaniere can be arranged. In the afternoon relax on the drive to the charming coastal village of Okarito where you camp for the night. End a great day by watching the sun set over the pounding surf.
Activities: 4-5 hours cycling, 39km
Start the day by exploring the areas main attraction – the exceptional Okarito Lagoon. Here you can observe some of New Zealand’s famous native birds, including white herons and tui, all from the comfort of your sea kayak. Paddle up secluded river channels where 60m native Kahikatea trees tower above you, and admire the snow capped Southern Alps in the distance. After lunch, we drive to the village of Fox Glacier. We will hike up to the terminus of the glacier so you can view this monstrous river of ice close up, one of the only glaciers in the world to descend into rainforest. After your time hiking to the glacier we drive down into South Westland and over Haast Pass to Makarora. We will stop to see if we can spy any Hectors dolphins at Ship Creek, and take a short hike near Haast Pass to see the aptly named Blue Pools.
Activities: 4 hours kayaking, 10km
Drive alongside the impressive glacially formed lakes of Hawea and Wanaka; both are great for a swim on a (hot) summer’s day. Continue through Wanaka town and wind up the Matukituki Valley to the end of the road. Hoist your pack and head up the valley. A worthy side trip is the steep climb to view the Rob Roy Glacier (you can leave your packs at the bottom of the valley and pick it up on the way back). Cheeky kea (alpine parrots) often mingle with the group at lunchtime, so watch out that your gear is not borrowed, or eaten! Back at the Matukituki River we follow the valley up to Aspiring Hut. The majestic mountain scenery is revealed as you hike gently up the valley. Through the dips in the high peaks glimpse views of the Matterhorn-like Mt Aspiring (3033m) in the distance.
Activities: 6 hours hiking, 14km
Accommodation: Back country hut
We return back down the valley. Enjoy the views from the trail as it meanders down the river flats. Stop for a picnic lunch by Lake Wanaka before the remarkable drive over the Crown Range. From the summit there are breathtaking views across the Wakatipu Valley and lakes. Our late afternoon drive takes us past Te Anau and much of the way to Milford Sound. We camp for 2 nights at the beautiful Knobs Flat campsite. Grab a hot shower and relax.
Activities: 3 hours hiking, 8km
From the gentle valley flats the road punches through into an imposing alpine landscape of granite cliffs and hanging valleys. Lean forwards and enjoy this striking drive into the heart of Fiordland National Park. This amazing World Heritage Site is the largest national park in the country and one of the largest in the world. The huge glacial lakes of Te Anau and Manapouri border the spectacular inland coastline that is Fiordland. The area is dominated by water, either in the form of lakes or as falling rain. Arriving at Milford by mid morning you join a cruise that takes you all the way out to Anita Bay and the entrance to Milford Sound. Enjoy the views of cascading waterfalls and Mitre Peak (rising 1722 metres out of the sea). Fiordland crested penguins, dolphins and New Zealand fur seals often play near the boat. On the way back to Knobs Flat we enjoy a hike up to Key Summit, the final section of the famous Routeburn Track. On the summit, take time to learn about the vegetation and geography of the area along an informative nature walk, and soak up the views of the Darran Mountains and Hollyford Valley to the west.
Activities: 2 hour cruise, 3 hours hiking, 5km
The drive to Queenstown takes about 3 hours. Hike the afternoon away, up the steep tussock-lands of Ben Lomond. Expansive views of the lakes and mountains of the Queenstown region lay spread before you. Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand; bungy jumping, canyon swings, skydiving, mountain biking and jet boating are just some of the activities available. There are also some great day hikes accessible from the town centre into the mountains that offer stunning views of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding peaks. We stay at a centrally located lodge that is an easy walking distance from the town. Two nights in Queenstown in twin ensuite rooms gives you a chance to catch up on laundry and take some ‘chill out’ time if you wish. If chilling out is not on your list of priorities we will give you a hand to book as many adrenalin-packed activities as you wish prior to your arrival in Queenstown, talk to our team on booking or to your guide at the beginning of the tour.
This is a free day to get your adrenalin pumping on one of the many activities offered around town. Or you can sit back with a really good coffee and relish the dining choices on offer. This is your day to spend as you would like. Your guide will happily offer advice on the many options available to you. Queenstown is a stunning spot and a playground for outdoor activity; you’ll be spoilt for choice in how to occupy your day here.
Spend the morning driving up through the Central Otago High Country crossing Lindis Pass into the Mackenzie Country. This area is home to some of New Zealand’s largest sheep stations, which measure tens of thousands of acres. It is renowned for high quality fine wool production, thanks to the hardy merino sheep which graze these mountainous areas. Arrive at Mount Cook Village. In the afternoon hike up the steep glacial moraines to the Red Tarns, named for the red pondweed that grows in them. Tonight’s campsite is at the foot of New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook (3754 metres) – the Maori name translates to Cloud Piercer.
Activities: 2 hours hiking, 4km
We set off with day packs to hike up to Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut. There are impressive views across the Hooker and Mueller glaciers to the Mount Sefton icefall and Aoraki/Mount Cook. On this walk you can see the forces of nature at work – huge moraines deposited over thousands of years by glaciers, and more recently avalanches and rocks that tumble down distant mountain faces. If you don’t wish to hike this morning you have the opportunity to join a heli-hike onto the Tasman Glacier with a local operator (NZ$550). Get kitted out with crampons (for your boots) and fly up onto the Tasman Glacier where it runs beside the biggest mountains in New Zealand. Marvel at the ice-carved landscape and explore the amazing ice formations and possibly ice caves. Experience this enormous landscape first hand.
There is time in the afternoon to relax at the campsite or visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. This is a great place to be inspired by the courageous stories of pioneering mountaineers and to learn about the park’s natural history. Tonight is the last night of the trip and what a place to spend it – in the heart of the Southern Alps surrounded by that special kind of silence that only big mountains can command. If you are lucky you will see the summit of Aoraki/Mount Cook turn from white to pink as it catches the last of the sun’s rays. We head down to the local pub for some wholesome kiwi kai (food).
Activities: 5 hours hiking, 8km
Before turning east to Canterbury we explore the Tasman Valley. The Tasman Glacier is the longest glacier in New Zealand. It is rapidly retreating and has an astonishing melt water lake at its snout. Make the most of being in this special place and wander around the glacial moraines and tarns. Our final drive takes us across the plains to Christchurch where the tour ends at approx 6:00pm.
Activities: 3-4 hours hiking, 8km
Per Person, Twin Share