Start Auckland; afternoon free to relax at your central hotel or wander the downtown to get your bearings in New Zealand's largest city. Catch a ferry to Devonport or clamber up the Mt Eden volcanic cone to get panoramic views of the city and its bright blue harbours and gain a sense of the city’s complex volcanic past. There will be a briefing in the hotel foyer at 6pm this evening.* *
We depart Auckland and head south through the dairy farming plains of the Thames Valley before passing over old ignimbrite flows to reach Lake Rotorua with its stunning crater lakes and volcanoes. We savour a picnic lunch sitting on the beach of Lake Tarawera - an ancient caldera crater amongst forest and volcanoes. In the afternoon we enjoy a bush walk along a good trail alongside this splendid lake - there are plenty of great swimming spots. Sample good kiwi kai (food) with an evening meal at one of the many cafes and restaurants in Rotorua.* *
En-route to the Whirinaki we visit Waiotapu Thermal Reserve, where you can walk at your own pace through this fascinating thermal wonderland of geysers, bubbling mud, steaming ground, expansive vistas, huge volcanic craters and sinter terrace formations. From here it is a 2-hour drive to the Jurassic-like rainforest of Whirinaki Forest Park. This park covers an area of 60,000 hectares and is famous for its podocarp trees, an ancient off-shoot of the conifer family that evolved before flowering plants. It is thought that forests like this once covered the super-continent of Gondwanaland more than 150 million years ago. This is where the BBC ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ series was filmed. Step back in time as you hike amongst weeping ferns, forest giants and rare birdlife. On our way back to the vehicle we keep an eye out for the rare Blue Duck that are sometimes seen in this river. We drive on to Taupo, situated on the shores of the largest lake in New Zealand. The lake was formed by a series of massive volcanic eruptions over the last 2000 years. We'll visit Huka Falls before arriving at our accommodation.* *
Seize the day with a morning dip in Lake Taupo before the short 1-hour drive around the shores to Tongariro National Park. Established in 1887, it was New Zealand's first National Park, gifted to the people of New Zealand by a Maori chief (Tukino Te Hue Hue) who saw this as a way of protecting the tapu (respect or sacredness) of the land - in particular the summits of the active volcanoes. It is also a dual World Heritage Area, a status which recognises the park's important Maori cultural and spiritual associations as well as its outstanding volcanic features. We hike through waving tussock-grasslands between the volcanoes to a hut set in an enclave of native beech forest. It was here that the great battles from Lord of the Rings were filmed. We then traverse up across stony deserts to an alpine hut perched on the toe of an old lava flow. From this hut there are fantastic views of the three main volcanic peaks in the park. The sunrises here are spectacular. We generally stay in the huts but very occasionally camp nearby. Everyone in the group carries a bit of the group food and cooking equipment for the overnight hikes. Sometimes, usually for weather reasons, we may do this hike in reverse. Please note that whilst the hut here is very basic (see accommodation notes), there are usually hikers from all over the world that contributes to a real community atmosphere to the place.
We hike gently up through a moon-like valley of contorted lava flows and ash fields before climbing up the last steep section to the Emerald Lakes - our usual lunch stop. All around this scarlet moonscape are turquoise and blue-green crater lakes, adding their surreal colours to the landscape. We cross this volcanic range before descending on the western side. In good conditions there is an option to climb one of the lower volcanic peaks. This is a tough walk and will challenge even the fittest of walkers. The last 3-4 hours of this day are spent trekking the best section of the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Expect to see lots of other walkers on this section; it is easy to see why when we see how spectacular the views are! An evening drive takes us to a lodge beside the park with great views of the volcanoes. Soak in a hot tub with a cold beer as you gaze out across the volcanoes.* *
This morning we drive to Wellington, arriving in the early afternoon. Wellington is New Zealand’s wonderful harbour capital. The giant fault-created harbour almost encircled by steep suburbs gives it a giant coliseum feel. You have free time to enjoy walking around the central city and absorb the lively atmosphere. Wellington is well known for its vibrant café, art and culture scenes. There is no shortage of places to have a coffee or a drink - with more bars, cafes and restaurants per capita than New York. You may like to visit the museum of New Zealand, called Te Papa, or the beehive (Parliament House).
We transfer to Wellington airport for the short flight across the Cook Strait to the South Island. Here we meet our South Island-based guide. A pleasant drive through the orchards and vineyards of Nelson Bay takes us to Kaiteriteri, a popular holiday spot for kiwis and a gateway into Abel Tasman National Park. Abel Tasman’s wilderness flows unhindered to a coast of golden beaches and granite headlands; there are no roads here - just boat and walking access. We hail a water taxi to reach the lovely Onetahuti Beach in the heart of the park. From here we start our hike on the famed coastal track and hike through to our tranquil campsite at Bark Bay. A great spot to gaze at the stars before falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean.
Today we wander through lush coastal forests, cross Falls River via a 47 metre suspension bridge then depending on the tides we may cross an estuary or follow the all tide track. Cleopatra's Pool is a worthwhile side trip, here the river has carved a smooth slide down the rocks into deep clear pools - you may not be able to resist taking a dip! We finish our hike on the golden sand beaches of Anchorage, where a water taxi takes us back to Kaiteriteri and our vehicle. We spend the night in Murchison, a quiet rural town on the edge of the wilds. This is the north eastern limit of the vast wilderness ranges and rivers that dominate much of the South Island.* *
This morning we drive west beside the mighty Buller River to the rugged West Coast. At Cape Foulwind we take a short walk to view a seal colony. The New Zealand fur seal pups are born in December and January. We might see the young pups frolicking around in rockpools sheltered from the heaving waves that pound this part of the coast. After lunch we start an overnight hike in Paparoa National Park. Amongst the largest remaining tract of coastal native forest in New Zealand are towering limestone cliffs, caves and rivers - an ideal area for hiking. Starting at the mouth of the Fox River, we take a historic pack-horse route to Dilemma Creek, and then follow the river upwards to the Ballroom Overhang where we spend the night. Your guide will show you river crossing techniques and you will be thankful for your proper hiking boots, which are essential in this terrain. The Ballroom is a large limestone overhang which shelters a serene campsite just above the Fox River. The evening is spent sitting around the campfire and enjoying a delicious meal.* *
After a leisurely breakfast we hike back down the Fox River before driving south along the coast to Punakaiki and the Pancake Rocks. These 30-million-year-old limestone rocks have formed immense features with thousands of layers. Continuing south, we stop at Hokitika. Originally known as the 'Capital of the Goldfields', Hokitika was once a thriving and prosperous port. Much of its old character remains and it is now a major centre for greenstone (pounamu) or jade. This hard stone is treasured by the Maori who used it for decorative jewellery and for carving some of their lethal weapons – the war clubs known as meres. From Hokitika we continue south to Fox Glacier, one of the few places in the world where you will see glaciers descending into the level of the rainforest.* *
Today you have the opportunity to join the guide for a challenging but stunning hike to Roberts Point. The Roberts Point track crosses several suspension bridges, passes through luxuriant west coast rainforest, and weaves its way across ice smoothed rock outcrops before emerging at a high viewpoint looking out over the glacier of Franz Josef. Situated in the South Westland World Heritage Area this dynamic glacier falls 2400m over 12kms as it makes its journey from high in the Southern Alps to temperate rainforest just 250m above sea level. After we return from the hike we drive on to Makarora crossing back over the Southern Alps en route at Haast Pass. Tonight we stay in cabins right on the doorstep to Mt Aspiring National Park. There is an option of a restaurant or self catering for dinner. A half day glacier heli hike (extra cost) is available subject to weather conditions. Please discuss with your South Island guide if you are interested.* *
We start the day by boarding a helicopter for an exciting 10 minute flight to the remote Siberia Valley. Part of the South Westland World Heritage area, the park is characterised by glaciers, ice carved peaks and large areas of wilderness. Just upstream from our landing site is Siberia Hut, which will be our home for the night. We leave any surplus gear here (sleeping bags etc) and head off for a hike up to Lake Crucible. This challenging hike takes us even further into the awe-inspiring mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park and right up to the shores of an old glacial lake at the foot of Mt Alba. Set at 1172m this lake often stays frozen well into the summer, so you may prefer to save your swim for the river! In late spring this valley is dotted with the large white and yellow flowers of the Mt Cook lily. After lunch we make our way back down the valley to the Siberia Hut. Together we prepare a tasty meal, before relaxing on the verandah gazing at the southern stars with the freedom from light pollution. Enjoy the wonderful peace and quiet that goes with spending a night in the wilderness.* *
Head down the valley - sidling above the Siberia River. We gain spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and waterfalls of the lower Siberia Valley. A jetboat picks us up at the confluence of the Siberia and Wilkin valleys and carries us on a thrilling 45 minute journey downstream to Makarora. After lunch we drive beside the milky turquoise Lake Wanaka and over the golden tussocks of the Crown Range, stopping off at the historic Cardrona Hotel for a drink before arriving in Queenstown in the late afternoon.* *
Labelled the adrenalin capital of New Zealand, Queenstown offers the chance to sample many adventure activities - skydiving, bungy jumping and white water rafting, to name just a few. You may choose to sit back, relax and take in the amazing views from the shores of Lake Wakatipu on this free day. There are also some great day walks (some up to eight hours) that leave from this bustling little town. Your guide will outline all the options on how to make the most of your day.* *
We head into Fiordland National Park - World Heritage Area, the largest National Park in New Zealand. The huge glacial lakes of Te Anau and Manapouri are the border of Fiordland’s dramatic inland coast. The area is dominated by water, either in the form of lakes, ocean fiords or as falling rain – which has enabled the establishment of temperate rainforest. We hike on the Kepler track, firstly around the lake shore before climbing gently up through the forest and limestone outcrops to the bush-line. From these broad tussock tops you are rewarded with the sweeping views of the Fiordland wilderness including the Murchison and Kepler mountains and Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri. Descend back to the lake and catch a water taxi across Te Anau. We base ourselves in Te Anau for the next two nights. An ideal base to explore and experience Fiordland National Park.
Optional 2 hour boat cruise We rise early and drive through the Homer Tunnel and down to Milford Sound itself. Here we have the option to take a cruise on the fjord with its cascading waterfalls and views of Mitre Peak (1722m). Fiordland crested penguins and New Zealand fur seals often play near the boat. An afternoon hike takes us up to Key Summit (the tail end of the renowned Routeburn track) for fantastic views across the gneiss and granite Darran Mountains. After the hike return to Te Anau via the splendid Eglinton Valley, one of the only road accessible valleys in Fiordland National Park.
After several days of rigorous hiking give the legs a rest today on our drive north to Aoraki/ Mt Cook National Park. A stop in Cromwell is a good opportunity to sample some of the delicious fruit that is grown in this area as well as taking a stroll through the quaint and lovingly restored historical precinct of the town. Central Otago’s high country landscape, contains some of New Zealand’s largest high country sheep stations, many measuring tens of thousands of hectares – Patagonian like in size and splendor. Crossing Lindis Pass we continue through the MacKenzie country to the shores of Lake Pukaki and then west to Aoraki/Mt Cook (3724m). Arriving late in the afternoon the remainder of the afternoon is yours to do as you please, either hike (unguided) the nearby Red Tarns track or relax and enjoy the stunning views of Aoraki from the lodge lounge.
Today we hike up the Mueller Ridge via Sealy Tarns, with awesome views of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman (the two highest peaks in New Zealand) and Mueller Glacier with its terminal meltwater lakes. There is time in the afternoon to take another hike up to the Hooker Valley, or alternatively take a stroll around the village and visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center.* *
Time for one final hike this morning, as we explore the nearby Tasman Valley, a stunning area of alpine vistas, lakes and glacial morraines. Leaving Mt Cook we continue north through the MacKenzie country, taking a break at Lake Tekapo - aqua blue waters framed by the Southern Alps. Tekapo is filled by glacially fed rivers which deposit tons of glacial flour (finely ground rock) into the lake; this flour is so fine that it is suspended in the water and refracts the light giving the lake a stunning colour. After crossing the Canterbury plains we arrive in Christchurch in the mid afternoon, and here the trip concludes after 3 weeks of hiking through volcanoes, thermal wonderlands, rainforests, glaciers and remote mountain valleys.
* 4 nights hotels, 4 nights lodges, 7 nights cabins and 4 nights huts/camping * 15 days walking, including 4 treks with overnight stays in huts and camps (carrying overnight gear) * Group normally 4 to 11 plus tour leader and local staff. Min. age 16 yrs * Low altitude throughout * Travel by private minibus
The itinerary includes 16 breakfasts, 17 lunches and 7 dinners. Usually the group and the leader prepare the meals together as many of the meals are picnic/buffet style lunches or dinners. Breakfasts are generally buffet/continental style; lunches are sandwiches, salads and fruit. The evening meals prepared in the backcountry are a little more basic for practical reasons, but still flavoursome and nutritious (mainly vegetarian). Please note: food for lunches and dinner will be purchased during the tour by your leader, and you may be asked to help out with picking up these supplies.
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