Take an unforgettable journey exploring mountains in Mount Cook National Park and Nelson Lakes National Park, walking the West Coast rainforest and coastlines, getting up close to glaciers in Franz Josef, cycling incredibly scenic trails such as the Alps to Ocean trail, hiking sections of the famous Great Walks, and even cruising on Milford Sound. You’ll experience our unique culture and wildlife along the way. Each night, you’ll stay in carefully hand-picked accommodation in some of New Zealand’s most stunning settings.
You’ll explore the most beautiful, famous and little-known places in the South Island with legendary hospitality and unsurpassed attention to detail on our 14-day Ultimate South Island Adventure tour. Be prepared to leave a piece of your heart in New Zealand.
This trip is also available in 8 and 12-day options. The 8-day option starts on Day 1 of the itinerary and ends on Day 8. The 12-day option starts on Day 1 of the itinerary and ends on Day 12. Contact us for more information and prices.
Duration: 8-14 days
Activity Level: 3-4
Trip Start: Christchurch
Trip Ends: Christchurch
Arrive, visit Gore Bay and explore Kaikoura
Most people leave the Northern Hemisphere on a Saturday evening, arriving in Auckland early Monday morning. You’ll lose a day crossing the dateline – but you get it back on the way home! It’s a short flight from Auckland to Christchurch on the South Island where we’ll meet you. We’ll start your trip by travelling up the coast, stopping off at Gore Bay for a picnic lunch, and exploration of the rugged coast with it’s fresh air. We’ll continue onto the seaside town of Kaikoura, passing weathered limestone cliffs, where we can walk to view fur seals basking on the rocks and playing in the eddies from a look-out point. This stretch of rugged coastline that was uplifted in the Kaikoura earthquake – it’s amazing to see this brand new land! Today is a relaxed introduction to New Zealand. Depending on where you’re coming from, you’ll probably find jetlag is no big deal. It’s a 12 to 13 hour direct overnight flight from the West Coast of the USA to Auckland so you’ll appreciate the gentle start to your New Zealand adventure.
Visit vineyard, start multi-day options
From Kaikoura, we’ll travel along spectacular coastline for a couple of hours to Blenheim, a town in the Marlborough wine region. We’ll visit Forrest Estate Winery to sample some of their fantastic wines and have a picnic lunch before we head off for our various activities.
Our hike begins in the charming village of Saint Arnaud, on the edge of Nelson Lakes National Park. This is serious wilderness country, with incredible views and marvellous solitude. The park straddles the upper Southern Alps, an area composed of beech forests, big lakes and even bigger mountains. We’ll hike the relatively gentle trail through the forest alongside Lake Rotoiti to Lakehead Hut, a small mountain cabin at the head of the lake and our home for the night. Our guides are pretty tough and they’ll carry the lion’s share of the load. All you’ll be carrying is a backpack with your sleeping bag, a few spare clothes, and a share of our food. To protect this beautiful and fragile environment, we always keep our group sizes small and our exact route flexible.
Today is an unforgettable day – the scenery gets better with each step! We follow the Travers River through beech forest, before heading up the Hukere Stream towards the ridgeline. This is a challenging hike, with an elevation gain of 1000 metres (3280 feet), but it’s absolutely worth it. The Angelus Circuit has exceptional scenic diversity, so it provides a great reward for the efforts you put in. There’s no rush and we’ll be there to encourage you the whole way. It’s a tremendous feeling at the top when you reach Angelus Hut, nestled beside a gorgeous alpine lake. Many people tell us this hidden gem was the highlight of their New Zealand adventure, and a lot of Kiwis prefer the Angelus Circuit to better-known tracks.
Wake up on top of the world! After breakfast, we’ll hike out along the barren Robert Ridge with dramatic views of Tasman Bay and the mountainous Kahurangi National Park in the distance. We’ll descend below the treeline again into native beech forest completing our hike on the shores of Lake Rotoiti. Here, we’ll meet up with the Rotoiti Circuit explorers and share stories of our adventures, before carrying on to the West Coast.
Option B, Nelson Lakes Experience: The Rotoiti Circuit (extra fee applies)
Our hike begins in the charming village of Saint Arnaud, on the edge of Nelson Lakes National Park. This is serious wilderness country, with incredible views and marvellous solitude. The park straddles the upper Southern Alps, an area composed of beech forests, big lakes and even bigger mountains. We’ll hike the relatively gentle trail through the forest alongside Lake Rotoiti to Lakehead Hut and jetty. From here, we’ll board a water taxi to take us back to St Arnaud, where we’ll stay for the next couple of nights.
After breakfast we’ll return by water taxi to the top end of the lake, and this time we’ll arrive to Coldwater hut and jetty – just across the river from Lakehead hut. From here we’ll follow the trail as it gently winds its way around Lake Rotoiti to Whisky Creek, and the beautiful Whisky Falls. Feel free to fill up your water bottles from Whisky Creek, but it IS only water, honest! After a picnic lunch on the lakeshore, we’ll continue on to West Bay and looping back to St Arnaud for the evening.
After breakfast we’ll clamber back into our hiking boots to set out for this morning’s walk. We’ll explore the beautiful peninsula track, stretching out into Lake Rotoiti, before making our way to the Pinchgut Track. This trail gives access to Mt Robert, and Robert’s Ridge, where the rest of the group will be approaching from the Angelus Circuit. We’ll wind our way up the trail through the native beech trees and manuka scrub to meet the group. Once we’re back together we’ll enjoy a picnic lunch, before carrying on to the West Coast.
Finish multi-day backpacking
After regrouping in Saint Arnaud, we’ll head across the Southern Alps to the West Coast – a dramatic and rugged coastline stretching 600 kilometres (372 miles), with a population of only 40,000 people. We’ll mingle with the ‘coasters’ tonight in the seaside village of Punakaiki, exchanging tales of our adventures over dinner.
Hike Punakaiki Rainforest, explore Hokitika
We’ll spend the morning hiking the Inland Pack Track through temperate rainforest and limestone canyons, following in the footsteps of gold miners who established this trail over a century ago. While we’re in Punakaiki, we’ll also check out the famous Pancake Rocks and blowholes – aptly named limestone formations that have been sculpted through the relentless pounding of the Tasman Sea. Travelling along the scenic coastline, we’ll stretch our legs in Hokitika and check out local art galleries and pounamu-carving workshops (pounamu is Maori for jade), before carrying on to the township of Franz Josef where we’ll stay for the next couple of nights. Nestled in the rainforest- clad foothills of the Southern Alps, Franz Josef is the heart of New Zealand glacier country.
Kayak Okarito Lagoon, hike coastal forest and beach
This morning we’ll take a short journey over to Okarito, a little-known beach community on the coast. We’ll take to the water in sea kayaks and glide along a picturesque lagoon, set against a stunning backdrop of snow-capped peaks. Okarito is home to the only native white heron colony in New Zealand, as well as a host of other interesting birds. Later we’ll head back to Franz Josef where you’ll have the option to take another walk or relax in the hot tub, before enjoying a traditional Kiwi roast dinner.
Hike near Franz Josef Glacier
With some 140 glaciers making their way down from the Southern Alps, this area is fittingly known as glacier country. Few sights equal the spectacle of two of these giant frozen rivers (Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers) imperceptibly grinding their way down through temperate rainforest to just 250 metres (820 feet) above sea level. We’ll spend most of the day near Franz Josef Glacier hiking up through the forest to Alex Knob or toward the Glacier on the Terminal Face trail, both of which give incredible views of the ice. Wet weather can inhibit these hikes, so we may opt to hike around Lake Matheson and to the Blue Pools near Haast Pass instead.
Optional Heli-hike (extra fee applies)
An outrageously scenic alternative to today’s hike is to heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier itself. After being fitted with crampons, you’ll board a turbine helicopter and fly towards the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, landing on the glacier at 1300 metres (4265 feet) above sea level. Led by specialist glacier guides, you’ll hike through the grand ice formations of the glacier, checking out its crevasses, seracs and tunnels – no previous experience is required! The constant movement of the glacier means every day is different, so your guides will cut steps in the ice to make the most of the conditions. At the end of your hike on the ice, you’ll take another helicopter ride out of the mountains and back to civilisation.
The heli-hike is extremely popular, so we offer advance reservations with the helicopter operators and guiding company. At the time of booking, or up until one month before your trip, we can reserve a space for you, or you can leave your decision until the start of your trip and your guides will get you a spot if it’s available
From Franz Josef, we’ll travel down the coast through lush forest and then inland to Makarora, a small village bordering Mt Aspiring National Park, with incredible views of the snow-capped mountains.
Hike Rocky Mountain
The landscape this morning changes rapidly from dense beech forest to semi-arid mountainous terrain. We’ll hike the Rocky Mountain track today, a spectacular circuit through an area carved out by ice age glaciers, with stands of native forest and shrubland. We’ll enjoy lunch after our hike in Wanaka before a short but dramatic journey over the Cardrona Saddle to Queenstown on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, our base for the next couple of days. You’ll sleep sweetly tonight at a lakefront hotel located in the heart of Queenstown.
Free day in Queenstown
Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand (if not the world!) and all the comforts of civilisation are packed into this tiny resort town: restaurants galore, sidewalk cafés, stylish lounge bars, day spas and boutiques. You’ll also find incredible optional activities here including horse trekking, a gondola, kayaking, fishing, winery tours, hang gliding, mountain biking, bungy jumping, jet boating and skydiving, as well as some great hiking opportunities. Or you can just soak up the atmosphere or lounge about reading a book.
Hike Kepler Track
This morning we’ll make our way around Lake Wakatipu, leaving behind the towering Remarkables and head west to the small town of Te Anau, the gateway to Milford Sound. This afternoon we’ll take a hike on the famous Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks – we follow the track through mountain beech forest and along the Waiau River. It’s an awesome hike with spectacular views! Tonight we’ll stay on the edge of Lake Te Anau, enjoying the scenery and the delicious local fare.
Milford Sound Cruise, Hike Key Summit
It’s an early start this morning as we set off for our largest and perhaps most spectacular national park, Fiordland. We’ll take a short drive through the Homer Tunnel and emerge at the top of a spectacular glacier-carved valley for a memorable descent to the shore of Milford Sound. Rudyard Kipling rated this fiord as the eighth natural wonder of the world and it is truly breath-taking, with steep granite walls plunging over a thousand metres to the Tasman Sea and waterfalls cascading into deep inky water. We’ll jump on board the first boat cruise of the day, where we’ll have the water to ourselves, as we gaze in wonder at the waterfalls tumbling down enormous vertical rock faces all around and journey right out to the entrance of the fiord. We may be lucky enough to encounter the friendly fur seals and dolphins that are sometimes in the area. After the cruise, we’ll enjoy a tasty lunch before heading out to explore more of Fiordland’s wilderness on foot. We’ll hike part of the Routeburn Track for unsurpassed views of the Hollyford Valley, as well as Lake Marian and Mt Christina, before making our way back to Te Anau for the night.
Journey over Lindis Pass, Bike the Alps to Ocean trail
After an early breakfast, we’ll head back through Queenstown and head North, driving through the tussock-country of Lindis Pass to Lake Pukaki, where we’ll hop on bikes and ride a portion of the Alps to Ocean Trail, following the well-groomed trail around the alpine lake with views across to the magnificent Aoraki Mount Cook, passing a range of native plants including Kowhai (with brilliant yellow flowers, popular with endemic Tui birds), flax and tussocks. The trail then cuts through farmland across the Mackenzie Country basin and we’ll make our way back to Twizel. We’ll bike straight to our accommodation for our last two nights, with stunning views stretching across the Southern Alps. We’re in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, with light pollution strictly controlled in the area, so it’s the ideal spot to stargaze!
Note: The 12-day trip option ends today in Queenstown.
Hike Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Mt Cook, named Aoraki or ‘cloud piercer’ by South Island Maori, is the highest mountain in New Zealand. Directly opposite the mountain, we have a stunning day hike to the main ridge above Mueller Glacier. It’s a challenging hike, but you’ll remember the view of the glacier and the surrounding peaks forever! The weather conditions are very important in this area, as it’s a true alpine climate notorious for sudden weather shifts. If we aren’t able to do the Mueller Glacier hike, or you’d like to take it a little easier, there’s an impressive hike up to a glacial lake (complete with icebergs!) at the base of the Hooker Glacier. Then we head back to our accommodation for the last night of the ‘Rimu’, where we’ll enjoy a celebratory dinner together and watch the sunset over the Southern Alps.
Depart for home
After breakfast we’ll head to Christchurch, arriving in time for afternoon flights. This is the end of your ‘Rimu’ trip and we’ll leave you refreshed and invigorated from the good food, exercise, rest, and great times you’ll have had with us in New Zealand! For a great way to see the North Island too, where you’ll experience Maori culture, pristine beaches and geothermal areas, you can combine this trip with our 11-day ‘Kauri’ (5-day ‘Kauri’ options available).
The accommodation varies from trip to trip and day-to-day – you’ll stay in a variety of places from jungle lodges to mountain huts, local motels and friendly lodges. Active Adventures focuses on getting you out into amazing places in the most stunning parts of the world, so this isn’t a tour of the world’s fanciest hotels! Another focus of Active Adventures is having a good place to rest and rejuvenate at the end of a busy day, and to make sure you are fully charged for the next day’s activities, so you’ll always find yourself in a clean, comfortable room, quite often with a spectacular view.
Below is a sample of some of the amazing places you’ll stay in:
Nestled amongst the grand vistas of Mt Shrimpton you’ll find Wonderland. Listen to the Fantail and Tui as they end their day in paradise or sit outside your secluded chalet and gaze at the stars, unpolluted by the bright lights of the city. This is one of the few places in New Zealand where you can truly unplug from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
The magic of Queenstown can’t be explained, only experienced. If you haven’t visited yet, it’s time to book. Winter is a magical time to visit Queenstown and as a well equipped ski hotel with city amenties, Crowne Plaza Queenstown is an excellent choice. From the moment you leave the plane your worries will be gone. Whether your trip is a weekend away or a couple of weeks , there is plenty to keep you entertained, inspired and relaxed. Crowne Plaza Queenstown sits in the heart of Queenstown, enjoying panoramic views over The Remarkables mountain range and Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand’s longest lake. Just across the road is Steamer Wharf where you will find dining, bars and entertainment. Alternatively, you can depart from here for a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw Vintage Steamship. From luxurious bedding to spacious accommodation, we know the importance of a great night’s sleep.
All prices are per person twin share and unless otherwise stated, are in Australian dollars, are correct at the time of publication and subject to change without notice.
This tour operates January through to December. Please contact us for available dates.
CANCELLATION BY YOU (Worldwide trips)
In the event you need to cancel your trip, the following cancellation charges will apply:
• Cancellation 91 days before trip departure: Full trip payment refunded, less deposit
• Cancellation 90-61 days before trip departure: 50% of trip payment refunded. 50% forfeit.
• Cancellation 60-0 days before trip departure: 100% forfeit.
Any deposits not transferred to future trips are non-refundable and will be forfeited. All refunds are less any non-refundable expenses incurred by Active Adventures.
Requested changes to your trip and/or date must be made prior to 90 days before your departure. In the event you need to change your trip and/or date, the following will apply:
• One change (trip and/or date): free of charge
• Second and subsequent changes: A fee of 300 per person per change consistent with the currency in which your booking was made (USD $300, CAD $300, NZD $300, GBP £300, EUR €300, AUD $300)
• New trip pricing (where applicable) will apply for all changes
A cancellation or postponement will take effect from the date which Active Adventures receives written notification of the cancellation or postponement. This cancellation policy includes voluntary or involuntary early departure from a trip. No refunds will be given for missed or unused services such as accommodation, activities or meals. We strongly recommend travel insurance which covers cancellation fees at the time of booking.
*Cancellation and postponement terms and conditions may differ for certain group trips, as well as Cruises, Private Journeys, and Extensions. These exceptions are clearly indicated in the detailed itineraries for each of these trips.
BY ACTIVE ADVENTURES
We occasionally may have to cancel any trip at any time before departure for commercial reasons beyond our control, including if the minimum numbers required to operate the trip are not reached. If we do have to cancel your trip, you can transfer the fare to an alternate departure date for no additional fee or alternatively opt for a refund, including your deposit.
BY FORCE MAJEURE
In circumstances where the cancellation is due to any conditions or event outside our control, including but not limited to natural disasters, pandemics, border restrictions, terrorism or political instability, Active Adventures will re-book you on an alternative trip or will offer you a future trip credit valid for 24 months.
If you’re re-booked to a new departure, as a result of your booking being cancelled by us or force majeure, the cancellation terms in effect on the date when your booking was changed will apply for your new booking.
All credits and refunds resulting from cancellations for any reason will be less any non-refundable expenses incurred by Active Adventures. Active Adventures is not responsible for any additional expenses you may have incurred as a result of your booking, including but not limited to visas, vaccinations, medical expenses, clothing, equipment, testing, quarantine, travel insurance excess or non-refundable flights.