New Zealand Hike and Explore
Enjoy the South Island's Dramatic West Coast
Our New Zealand itinerary features comfortable lodges and some of the country’s most breathtaking National Parks. Hike the South Island’s West Coast and soak in some of the world’s most incredible vistas. You’ll spend your nights in lodge and cabin accommodations and take day trips along glacial lakes, through old-growth rain forests, kayaking in Okarito Lagoon, and into alpine highlands. Visit golden beaches, bird sanctuaries, and hidden waterfalls in the nation’s most beautiful National Parks. Your journey along coastal and inland trails offers a stunning variety of environments and activities.
For standard meeting places and times, see Dates & Fees tab.
DAY 1: The tour begins after breakfast in Christchurch, which is also know as the Garden City. After a trip orientation from your guide, you will head across the Canterbury Plains towards the Southern Alps, which form the backbone of the South Island. Drive through Arthur’s Pass National Park and stop for a short hike before continuing down to the West Coast and the town of Greymouth. From here, head north to Punakaiki and the Fox River. Visit the Pancake Rocks. These 30 million-year-old limestone rocks have formed into what looks like immense layers of pancakes. When the tide is high, or the weather rough, water surges into caverns below the rocks and squirts through mighty blowholes, bearing a great resemblance to natural geysers. Take an optional stroll along the coast to check out sea caves that were once used as shelter by early Maori. Stay at Havenz, set in a rainforest near the beach.
DAY 2: You will have a whole day to hike and explore Paparoa National Park. It has natural attractions including mountains, limestone cliffs, caves, rivers, and wilderness areas. Hike from Bullock Creek and follow the Inland Pack track back to Punakaiki. We may make a side trip down into the Cave Stream resurgence. Towering podocarp trees cloaked in moss surround this limestone cave. Then you will hike down the Pororari River track, which passes through groves of Nikau palms as it winds its way out of a spectacular limestone canyon. During the hike there may be opportunities to swim in the beautiful deep pools of the Pororairi River. In the afternoon, enjoy exploring this wild section of coast or relax at Havenz, where we will spend a second night.
DAY 3: Take a short drive down the coast to the historic and quaint town of Hokitika. Today you will have the opportunity to mountain bike along the West Coast Cycle Trail. The stunning route runs between Milltown and Kumara and follows a series of old bush tramlines built in the 1860s to cart coal. The trail is wide and great for beginners and experienced cyclists alike. The 21-mile ride starts at the quirky collection of replica Wild West themed buildings at Cowboy Paradise and winds through a mixed landscape of lush farmland and beautiful regenerating rainforest. It crosses a series of bridges over mountain streams before winding around several reservoirs to the historic town of Kumara. After the day's adventures, relax on a drive to Fox Glacier, home for the next two nights.
DAY 4: Visit Okarito and take a self-guided kayaking trip across Okarito Lagoon, the largest unmodified wetland in New Zealand. The lagoon is surrounded by virgin rainforest and home to huge variety of migratory birds, including the white heron. After lunch, hike along the wild beach of the Tasman Sea and up to a trig point for panoramic views of the Southern Alps. In the afternoon hike up to the terminal face of the Fox Glacier, one of the few places in the world where glaciers extend down into rainforest. Stunning views of New Zealand's highest peaks dominate the vista at the head of the glacier.
DAY 5: Drive south along the coast and through the pristine wilderness of South Westland World Heritage Area. Stop for a short walk at Ship Creek, along a boardwalk through a swamp forest. Drive from here across the Southern Alps at Haast Pass. Take a hike along an old bridle track, through virgin southern beech forest. Then we will drive along the shores of lakes Wanaka and Hawea before crossing the Crown Range and arriving in Queenstown, a beautiful and vibrant city cradled in the mountains.
DAY 6: Today is a free day in Queenstown, New Zealand’s famous alpine resort. If weather permits, a Milford Sound trip will be included. A half day which includes a spectacular flight over the mountains and a 2-hour boat cruise on the fjord. An alternative option is to join a guide for a hike through native beech forest and alpine meadows that goes to an old miner’s hut near Moke Lake.
DAY 7: Drive up Matukituki Valley to Mt. Aspiring National Park and start a half-day hike to the Rob Roy Glacier. This trek is on a well-graded track alongside the Rob Roy Stream and takes you through a range of landscapes, from wide-open river flats, to lush rainforests, to a splendid view of the Rob Roy Glacier. Have lunch at this great vantage point, where the Kea, a curious alpine parrot, may join you. Hike the same path back and then drive to the lakeside resort town of Wanaka. There will be time in the afternoon for a hike along the lakeshore, which is a great way to soak up the majestic mountain views.
DAY 8: Drive up through the Central Otago High Country and cross 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 square acres. The area is known for high quality fine wool, which comes from the hardy merino sheep that graze here. Arrive at Mount Cook Village in the afternoon and hike up steep glacial moraines to the Red Tarns, which are named for a red pondweed that grows in them. Accommodations are in Mt. Cook Village at the foot of New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki, which in Maori means “Cloud Piercer.”
DAY 9: Set off with a daypack to hike up to Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut. There are impressive views of Hooker and Mueller glaciers, Mount Sefton icefall, and Aoraki/Mount Cook. On this walk you can see both slow and fast forces of nature at work. There are huge moraines deposited over thousands of years by glaciers and avalanches that tumble down distant mountain faces. There is time in the afternoon to choose between a hike up the Hooker Valley, relaxation at the accommodation, or a visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. This is the last night of the trip and will be spent 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. Afterwards we will head down to the local pub.
DAY 10: Before turning east to Canterbury we will 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.
Travel, Terrain, Etc...
TERRAIN/ROUTE: You'll primarily travel on established yet rugged trails, through foothills, mountain paths, and across the marshes and beaches on the South Island of New Zealand.
TYPE OF TRAVEL/DISTANCE: Hikes range from 2 to 8 miles a day and an average of 4-5 hours of physical activity per day. You will carry your day pack with only what you will need for each day hike. No previous experience is needed to complete this trip; however, some trails are fairly steep and being relatively fit and enthusiastic is important. The group will travel in 12-passenger vans.
WEATHER: Weather in New Zealand changes frequently. Temperatures range from 45 - 75 degrees and you will frequently experience cool southerly wind from the sub Antarctic. Be prepared for all types of weather. Rain is likely along the west coast so a good raincoat is important.
YOUR GROUP: The group size will be 6-11 participants, 1-2 Wilderness Inquiry guides, and a local guide. Each group could consist of people of various ages, backgrounds, and abilities, including people with disabilities. Our trips are cooperative in nature. Staff will assist you in whatever areas you need, however most people pitch in where they can.
ACCOMMODATIONS: We will sleep in a variety of lodges, cabins and motels at night. Typically there are 2-3 people per room, matched by gender or requests to room together. In most rooms, solo travelers have single beds and couples share beds.
SINGLE TRAVELERS: If you are traveling alone, you will feel at home with a welcoming group. If you would like to have your own room throughout the trip, you may purchase a single supplement for an additional fee. Please email or call us if you would like this option.
MEALS: Everybody is involved with the preparation and cooking of meals using fresh, healthy ingredients for bountiful dishes. Vegetarian meals and other dietary needs are easy to accommodate. There will be plenty of snacks provided through out each day. The vehicles carry a full range of cooking equipment including gas burner for hot drinks at lunch. We'll enjoy happy hours together, but the purchase of alcoholic beverages is not included in the trip fees.
EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING: Wilderness Inquiry will provide all group equipment. You will need to provide your personal gear as outlined in the packing list. If you are new to outdoor activities, you do not need to spend a lot of money. Wilderness Inquiry can usually arrange for you to borrow most items.
HEALTH: There are no required vaccines needed to visit New Zealand, however we strongly recommend that you talk with your doctor regarding any health concerns related to traveling outside of the United States. We encourage you to check the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's website for the most up-to-date recommendations.
PASSPORT/VISA: U.S. citizens need a passport to enter New Zealand. One blank passport page is typically required for entry stamp. You will acquire a tourist visa upon entry for stays under 9 months. We encourage you to check the State Department website for the most up-to-date entry requirements: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/new-zealand.html Be sure all outdoor or camping gear is clean when going through customs. They will check to see if there is any soil on boots, backpacks, tents, etc. and will likely sanitize any equipment, however they do reserve the right to confiscate soiled items.A note about the itinerary: Our trips are real adventures in the outdoors. While we'll make every effort to follow the itinerary listed here, elements may change due to weather or reasons beyond our control.
Begin and end your New Zealand adventure in Christchurch, known as the Garden City for its well-maintained public gardens and parks. As New Zealand’s second largest city, it is the jumping off point for a journey across the South Island. Founded in 1856 by English settlers, Christchurch is rich in natural and cultural history. The city center and surrounding area is a popular place for tourists to wander and enjoy arts, crafts, museums, and Kiwi culture. Other popular sites to visit are Cathedral Square, Colombo and Worcester Streets, Arts Centre, and the Canterbury Museum.
New Zealand’s South Island is divided down the middle by the dramatic and majestic Southern Alps. At the northern end of the Southern Alps, Arthur’s Pass National Park is a great place to experience the contrasts of the region. An area rich in biodiversity where subtropical and cool climate vegetation overlap, you can see dry beech forests in the east and lush rain forests on the western slopes of the mountains. The kea, a New Zealand mountain parrot, can be found here. Many of the area’s plants are endemic, meaning they can’t be found anywhere else and suggesting the region’s importance as a botanic refuge during the ice ages. To the west of the divide is Paparoa National Park, which was founded in 1987 to protect its spectacular coastline and unique rock formations from the mining and forestry industries. One such feature is Pancake Rocks. This fascinating formation was created millions of years ago by organic marine sediments that gradually settled on the ocean floor and solidified over time by intense water pressure. As the earth continued to move and change, this new limestone formation rose above sea level where the rain, wind, and pounding seawater shaped the rocks into the strange formations we see today, which resemble pancakes. Paparoa National Park is also famous for the Ballroom Overhang, another spectacular rock formation. This huge fluviatile overhanging rock cliff, carved out by the Fox River, is the largest in New Zealand and makes for an unforgettable natural shelter for campers.
Located on the central Tasman Coast, Okarito Lagoon is a coastal lagoon and the largest undisturbed wetland in New Zealand. This lagoon acts as a sanctuary to many species of bird, the most notable of which is the Kotuku, or White Heron, an extremely rare bird featured on the New Zealand $2 coin. The Kotuku is highly endangered and exclusively breeds in the Okarito Lagoon. Overall, roughly 350 species of birds are intensively cared for by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation in the rain forests between the lagoon and the glaciers.
On the inland side of Okarito, visitors can take the Copland Track to Welcome Flat where they are rewarded with a soak in natural thermal pools while taking in views of some of New Zealand’s highest peaks. Nearby, and within this range lie popular hiking spots. The Franz Josef and the Fox Glaciers, bordering Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the Alpine Fault, can be hiked with a guide and provide stunning views of massive ice caves, crevasses and seracs. Of the 140 glaciers in New Zealand, only these two border the rain forests and foster such a unique ecosystem. These glaciers are also famous for their views of the Southern Alps, especially New Zealand’s tallest peak Aoraki (or Mount Cook), which stands at 12,316 feet elev.
The Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, have a legend surrounding the formation of this mountain and the surrounding range. The story says that a young boy named Aoraki, along with his brothers, became stranded on a reef while canoeing. One side of the canoe sunk down into the water, so to keep from drowning the brothers climbed to the high side and awaited rescue. No rescue ever came, but the south wind did and it was so cold the boys froze on the high side of their partially submerged canoe, thus forming the multiple peaks of the Southern Alps. Because Aoraki was the youngest brother, he was given the highest spot in the canoe and therefore became the highest peak in the range. The legend of the brothers represents the importance of sacred ancestors in Maori culture. Also named after Captain James Cook in 1851, the area has been protected as Aorkai/Mount Cook National Park since 1887 because of the area’s significant vegetation, landscape, and cultural history.
Because of geographic isolation, the early Maori developed its own unique culture, language, mythology, craftwork, and performing arts. The tribal society they created revolved around Polynesian social customs and organization. The oldest settlers to the area became hunters who depended on a large, flightless bird called the takahe for their food supply. Within several hundred years, the bird had been mostly wiped out due to excessive hunting and modifications to their natural grazing lands. This resulted in horticultural practices that defined the “classic period” of the Maori, which lasted until the arrival of European settlers. These 19th century Maori created finely made pounamu (a form of Jade) ornaments and weapons, possessed advanced canoe-building skills, and developed an extensive warrior culture. The Maori culture has undergone a strong revival within New Zealand since the 1960s, and the New Zealand government now recognizes and protects the Maoris’ status as an indigenous people. Making up roughly 16 percent of the country’s population, they lend their extensive cultural heritage to the nation and their influence can be seen in all spheres of New Zealand culture and society, with independent representation in areas of media, politics, and sports.
The distinct natural history of southwestern New Zealand has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Te Wahipounamu. The village of Haast sits at the entrance to the site. From Haast, visitors can experience fur seal and penguin colonies, sea fishing, and Jackson Bay, one of the most remote villages in New Zealand. The Te Wahipounamu Park encompasses almost 5 million acres of rain forest, covering a tenth of the country and making it the least-disturbed land in the nation. Glacial formations and tectonic plate movements created the extremely mountainous terrain that Te Wahipounamu is known for. Accompanying the varying terrain, the biodiversity is indicative of the rest of New Zealand and is particularly rich and pristine. At high altitude, alpine vegetation flourishes, and at lower altitudes, the rain forests grow dense and tall. This area also provides a core habitat for many of the country’s native fauna, including the “rediscovered” takahe bird, which is now recognized and protected as an endangered species.
Acting as the gateway to Te Wahipounamu, Lake Wanaka offers great relaxation opportunities. Wanaka is a westernized form of the Maori word “oanaka,” meaning place of Anaka. Anaka, a Maori chief, created the settlement as a summertime village for his people, but it was attacked and mostly destroyed by a northern Maori war in 1836. A few years later, in 1853, Nathaniel Chalmers became the first European to put down roots on the shores of the lake, but it was a gold rush in the 1870s that created a population wave. Tourism started in 1881 after all the gold had been mined, and people kept coming back to recreate on one of the deepest lakes in the world, with the surface sitting at 1,132 feet above sea level and the bottom reaching 213 feet below sea level.
To the South of Lake Wanaka, on the shores of another glacial lake, sits Queenstown. A major hub for adventure tourists, it is best know for winter sports including downhill and cross-country skiing on the surrounding mountains. Lake Wakatipu also provides recreation opportunities, and visitors can take a ride around the lake on a 100 year old coal-fired steamship. This steamship is a throwback to Queenstown’s days as a gold mining destination.
New Zealand’s South Island is full of breathtaking scenery, unique and abundant flora and fauna, and deep-rooted cultural history. All of this and more provide for countless recreation opportunities at an accessible level. Experience snow-capped mountains surrounded by glaciers, rain forests teeming with life, and local towns bursting with culture.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Do I need international travel insurance if my health insurance doesn’t cover me on an international trip?
If your health insurance doesn't cover you while abroad, it is a good idea to consider a basic travel-specific insurance. We refer our participants to Travel One for travel insurance needs. You can reach Travel One at 800-247-1311 or click here to visit their website.
Can I pay more to have my own room on a lodge-based trip?
Yes, most times a single supplement is available on a lodge-based trip. Exact cost and availability depends on the trip.
How safe are international trips with Wilderness Inquiry?
Safety is our top priority on all Wilderness Inquiry trips. We maintain awareness of all State Department travel advisories and ensure our itineraries follow appropriate routes. We have an excellent record of safety on all international trips and only run trips when we feel comfortable and confident in participants having an excellent experience.
Which immunizations are recommended when traveling to New Zealand?
We recommend that you are up to date on all standard immunizations and that you consult your doctor for any specific recommendations. Typically no additional immunizations are required for travel to New Zealand.
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Standard Meetings Places and Times
Start: Camelot Motor Lodge at 8:00 AM (local time)
End: Camelot Motor Lodge at 6:00 PM (local time)
This trip begins in Christchurch, New Zealand, at 8:00 AM at the Camelot Motor Lodge. The trip ends at 6:00 PM at the same location. If you are flying from the U.S., you will need to fly out two days earlier, to accommodate crossing the International Date Line. For assistance in making your travel arrangements for this trip, we recommend contacting Travel One, at (800) 247-1311 or www.traveloneinc.com. They are very familiar with our trips and can help you make the best flight connections at the best prices. Detailed meeting place instructions will be sent to you when you are confirmed for the trip.