Our New Zealand itinerary features incredible vistas in some of the country’s most breathtaking national parks. You will enjoy hiking the South Island’s West Coast with local guides and will spend your nights in comfortable lodge and cabin accommodations. Day trips include hiking and biking along glacial lakes and old-growth rainforests, kayaking in spectacular lagoons, and exploring alpine highlands. Visit golden beaches, bird sanctuaries, hidden waterfalls, and the Cloud Piercer, Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. Your journey along coastal and inland trails offers an incredible variety of environments and activities.
ItineraryExpand All Fields
Day 1: Begin your journey in Christchurch; hike in Arthurs Pass National Park before heading to the Papora coastline.
The tour begins after breakfast in Christchurch which is also known 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 stopping for a short hike before continuing along this engineering marvel of a road as it descends from the alpine zone into the rainforests of West Coast region. From here, we follow the coastal highway to Paparoa National park and the village of Punakaiki, visiting the Pancake Rocks. These 30 million-year-old limestone rocks have formed into what look 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. Stay in a lodge perfectly situated for enjoying this wild and unspoiled piece of Paparoa coastline. Dine at the local tavern. (Lunch included)
Day 2: Spend the day exploring Paproa National Park and the wild West Coast beaches.
You will have a whole day to hike and explore Paparoa National Park and the beautiful natural attractions including mountains, limestone cliffs, caves, rivers, and wilderness areas. You will start on the Pororari River track which passes through groves of Nikau palms as it winds it’s up this spectacular limestone canyon. Pack a bathing suit as there may be great opportunities to swim in the beautiful deep pools of the Pororari River. The trail then climbs gently into the Punakaiki Valley. There is the option of a hike to Cave Creek in the afternoon, a river resurgence surrounded in primeval rainforest. Or enjoy a relaxing afternoon at the lodge fossicking on the beach and watching the thumping waves crash ashore. Before dinner at the resort restaurant we head down the Truman track through glades of Nikau palm and swathes of harakeke (native flax) to a headland. Tides permitting, do some coastal exploring of sea caves that were used as shelter by early Maori while collecting the abundant sea food found in this area. (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner included)
Day 3: Visit the quaint town of Hokitika and mountain bike along the West Coast Cycle Trail.
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 rolling route runs between Milltown and Kumara, great for beginners and experienced cyclists a like. 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 following a trail around several reservoirs to the historic town of Kumara. For those wanting a shorter ride there is an option to ride a different but no less scenic section of the trail from Hokitika. After the ride grab a coffee and have a wander around the streets of Hokitika before we drive south to Franz Josef Glacier, home for the next 2 nights. Dine out at local restaurant for dinner. (Breakfast & Lunch included)
Day 4: Kayak across Okarito Lagoon and hike along the beaches of the Tasman Sea.
This morning we visit the tiny coastal village of Okarito and kayak across Okarito Lagoon into virgin rainforest. This lagoon is New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland and home to huge variety of migratory birds, including the “kotuku” (white heron). After lunch hike along this wild, windswept and driftwood strewn beach and up to a trig point for panoramic views of the Southern Alps. Spend a second night in Franz Josef. (Breakfast & Lunch included)
Day 5: Visit the South Westland World Heritage Area and make your way to Queenstown.
In the morning hike up the Waiho Valley track to get a closer view of the Franz Josef glacier. This glacier descends from a height of 8,800 to 900 feet above sea level in just 7 miles. The West Coast of the South Island is one of the few places in the world where you will find a glacier descending into rainforest. We drive south along the coast and through the pristine wilderness of South Westland World Heritage area, stopping for a short walk at Ship Creek. This trail follows a boardwalk through a swamp forest of towering Kahikatea trees, and you may also see the rare and endangered Hectors dolphin playing in the surf here. Drive from here across the Southern Alps over Haast Pass, this remarkable journey then follows the shores of lakes Wanaka and Hawea before crossing the Crown Range and arriving in Queenstown. A beautiful and vibrant town cradled in the mountains. (Breakfast & Lunch included)
Day 6: Enjoy an Adventure in Queenstown or Marvel at the sights of the Milford Sound.
Enjoy a free day in Queenstown- New Zealand’s famous alpine resort town and adventure capital of the world. Choose from a range of adventure activities on offer or just relax and enjoy the vibe of this fun town. You may choose to visit Milford Sound, accessible by bus or plane. Your guide will talk you through the different options for this incredible day trip. Alternatively join your guide for a hike through native beech forest and alpine meadows to an old miners hut near Moke Lake. (Breakfast included)
Day 7: Enjoy a hike to Rob Roy Glacier followed by an evening on the shores of Lake Wanaka.
This morning we drive up the Matukituki Valley into Mt Aspiring National Park and start a half day hike to the Rob Roy Glacier. This hike on a well graded track alongside the Rob Roy Stream takes you through a range of landscapes from wide open river flats of the Matukituki, lush rainforests then finishing with a splendid view of the glacier and neve of Rob Roy. Have lunch at this great vantage point, you may be joined by Kea - the curious alpine parrot, a native to New Zealand. Tonight you will stay in the lake side resort town of Wanaka. Take time for a hike along the lakeshore in the afternoon, a great way to soak up the majestic mountain views. (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner included)
Day 8: Arrive at Aoraki (Mount Cook) Village and take in the stunning vistas as you trek up glacial moraines.
Spend the morning driving up through the Central Otago High Country crossing Lindis Pass into the Mackenzie Country. This Patagonian like landscape makes an incredible contrast to the lush rainforests of the West Coast. Arrive at Aoraki (Mount Cook) Village in the afternoon and for a hike up the steps to the Red Tarns, named for the red pondweed that grows in them. These tarns nestled beneath Mt Sebastapol offer stunning views of Aoraki, New Zealand’s tallest mountain which translates to Cloud Piercer, and the Hooker glacier. (Breakfast & Lunch included)
Day 9: Hike up the Hooker Valley to see the Cloud Piercer up close.
Spend the morning hiking 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. In the afternoon take time to either hike up the Hooker Valley or relax in the village and 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. (Breakfast & Lunch included)
Day 10: Explore the Tasman Valley before saying farewell to your trip mates in Christchurch.
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. (Breakfast & Lunch included)
Dates & Fees
What to Expect
ACCOMMODATIONS: You will enjoy a good night’s sleep in a variety of lodges, cabins, and motels. Typically, there are 2 people per room. 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.
MEALS: Most breakfasts, lunches, and a few dinners are included in the trip price. Participants will enjoy preparing and cooking meals together using fresh, healthy ingredients for bountiful dishes. Vegetarian meals and other dietary needs are easy to accommodate – please note any special restrictions when you register. Plentiful snacks will be provided throughout each day. Most dinners will offer the chance to explore local restaurants and pubs near the accommodations, where you will have the opportunity to choose from a menu of dishes (not included in the trip price). There will also opportunities to gather as a group for happy hours (purchase of alcoholic beverages not included in the trip fees).
EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING: Wilderness Inquiry provides all cooking, first aid, and other gear. Participants are responsible for their clothing and personal gear. The weather can change quickly in New Zealand – bright and sunny one moment and drizzly the next. We will send you a recommended packing list after you register.
COVID VACCINATION: All participants (and our staff) are required to be fully vaccinated and up-to-date (including the booster). Please see our website for the most recent information. https://www.wildernessinquiry.org/covid19/
HEALTH PRE-SCREENING: We encourage you to self-screen for any signs of illness prior to your trip’s departure. Please contact Wilderness Inquiry if you are exhibiting signs of illness or have been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 within the 2 weeks prior to your trip departure date.
SAFETY WHILE ON TRAIL: All participants and staff must wear a well-fitted mask while riding in a Wilderness Inquiry van or participating with Wilderness Inquiry transportation. Masks are not required outdoors although some individuals may choose to wear a mask. Please respect these choices. Please ensure proper hygiene including, but not limited to, hand-washing and/or sanitizing before eating and after using the restroom. Individuals that become ill or test positive for COVID-19 during a Wilderness Inquiry experience are responsible for their own transportation and expenses to depart the trip.Read more »
Frequently Asked Questions:
Where do we meet?
Standard Meeting 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.
Is the New Zealand trip physically difficult?
This trip is one of our more difficult trips physically -- lots of hiking and some steep hills. However, there are always options for you if you want a less strenuous day. For example, at Mount Cook the hike to the Sealy Tarns is steep and straight up--some of our participants say it is the hardest hike they have done on a WI trip. But, if you don't want to do it, you don't have to. Instead you can enjoy the fabulous Hooker Valley hike to Hooker Lake at the base of Mount Cook. There are options throughout this trip.
Do you recommend New Zealand for persons with disabilities?
It depends. Since hiking is one of the main components, if you use a wheelchair or an assistive device for mobility we do not recommend New Zealand Hike and Explore. We have had a number of people with visual impairments or other disabilities successfully participate. If you have a disability we recommend that you call us to discuss, or complete the registration form and we'll call you.
If you use a wheelchair there are many Wilderness Inquiry trips that are well suited for you, including safari's, kayak, canoeing and dogsledding adventures. We welcome all to these adventures!
Which immunizations do you recommend when traveling to an international destination?
Prior to departure, we recommend that you check with your doctor as early as possible to ensure you are up to date on your standard immunizations. Your doctor is in the best position to recommend specific vaccinations to specific destinations.
Do I need to clean my boots before going to New Zealand?
We recommend that you clean all mud, grass and any vegetation from your boots, hiking poles or gear before entering New Zealand. As an isolated island environment, New Zealand has pretty strict customs rules for environmental hazards. If they find mud on your boots you experience a 1-2 hour delay getting in to the country.
Do you have a single supplement for New Zealand Hike and Explore?
You can elect to guarantee a single room for the duration of the trip for $450 during the registration process.
About the AreaNew 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.
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 relax on one of the deepest lakes in the world.
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.Read more »