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, spending your nights in comfortable lodge and cabin accommodations. Day trips include hiking 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; enjoy an afternoon hike in Arthurs Pass National Park.
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 and stop for a short hike before continuing down to the West Coast, visiting Punakaiki and the Fox River. See the Pancake Rocks. These 30 million-year-old limestone rocks have formed into what looks like immense layers of pancakes. Take an optional stroll along the coast to check out sea caves that were once used as shelter by early Maori. Stay at beautiful Havenz, set in a rainforest near the beach.
Day 2: Spend the day exploring Paproa National Park followed by a relaxing evening in Havenz.
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: 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 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: Kayak across Okarito Lagoon and hike along the beaches of the Tasman Sea.
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 a 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 Franz Josef 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: Visit the South Westland World Heritage Area and make your way to Queenstown.
Drive south along the coast and through the pristine wilderness of South Westland World Heritage Area. Stop for a short walk along a boardwalk at Ship Creek. From here, we will drive across the Southern Alps at Haast Pass. Take a hike along an old bridle track, through virgin southern beech forest. We will end the day with a drive along the shores of Lakes Wanaka and Hawea before crossing the Crown Range and arriving in Arrowstown, a beautiful and vibrant town cradled in the mountains.
Day 6: Enjoy an Adventure in Queenstown or Marvel at the sights of the Milford Sound.
Enjoy a free day in Arrowtown and/or Queenstown, New Zealand’s famous alpine resort and adventure capital. Enjoy beautiful views of the Remarkables, the mountain range used as the backdrop for Lord of the Rings. Choose to spend the day shopping, hiking, or any number of adventure sports. Or take an amazing flight through the mountains to Milford Sound and enjoy a boat cruise on the fjord. Milford Sound is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight that will take your breath away. Note: The flights are very weather dependent, so if bad weather an alternative option is a breathtaking hike to Moke Lake.
Day 7: Enjoy a hike to Rob Roy Glacier followed by an evening on the shores of Lake Wanaka.
Drive up Matukituki Valley to Mt. Aspiring National Park and start a half-day hike to the Rob Roy Glacier. This trek takes you through a variety of landscapes, from wide-open river flats to a splendid view of the Rob Roy Glacier. The evening will be spent in the lakeside resort town of Wanaka. Hike along the lakeshore, soaking up the majestic mountain views.
Day 8: Arrive at Mount Cook Village and take in the stunning vistas as you trek up glacial moraines.
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 populations, which produce high-quality merino wool. Arrive at Mount Cook Village in the afternoon and, if you are up for it 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: Hike up the Hooker Valley to see the Cloud Piercer up close.
Hike up the Hooker Valley and enjoy impressive views of Hooker and Mueller glaciers, Mount Sefton icefall, and Aoraki/Mount Cook. Eat lunch overlooking Hooker Lake at the base of Mount Cook--awesome view! Visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. This last night of the trip will be spent in the heart of the Southern Alps. 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 out your lodge window.
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 by wandering around the glacial moraines and tarns. Our final drive takes us across the plains to Christchurch, where the tour ends.
Dates & Fees
WI leads trips to New Zealand but currently has no dates scheduled for this itinerary. If you have a group of people interested, we can set up a customized adventure just for you! Please contact us or request a trip quote below if you are interested in a group trip to this destination.Request Trip Quote »
What to Expect
ACCOMMODATIONS: We will sleep in a variety of lodges, cabins and motels at night. 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: 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. We’ll enjoy happy hours together, but the purchase of alcoholic beverages is not included in the trip fees.
EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING: WI provides all cooking, first aid and other gear. You are responsible for your 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.Read more »
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 »