Hiking, Wildlife, and Cultural Adventures on the South Island


Join us to experience the wildest and most untouched corners of New Zealand.  For this new WT trip on the South Island, we take in some of our favorite places to explore, from the thyme-covered hills of Central Otago, southernmost wine-growing region in the world, to wild and remote Stewart Island, with its rare native birds. Along the way, we head out for wonderful hikes, including some on three of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” (the Kepler Track, the Routeburn Track, and the Rakiura Track) as well as the remote and spectacular Hollyford Track. We enjoy unique wildlife encounters as we explore, looking for Hooker’s sea lions, New Zealand fur seals, yellow-eyed penguins, Fiordland crested penguins, and more. One memorable evening, we’ll go “kiwi spotting,” searching on foot and by boat for the strange, flightless, and nocturnal bird whose name is also used to refer to the people of New Zealand.  Arriving in Milford Sound we’ll be whisked away by helicopter through the fiords to our own exclusive wilderness retreat at Martins Bay, our base for a hike on another famous trail in Te Wahi Pounamu World Heritage Area. Our accommodations are at welcoming local places of character, and we can expect delicious and fresh food, most of it locally sourced. Our group size is a maximum of 12 people, which makes for a more intimate encounter with these rarely visited South Island gems. Come along and discover for yourself why author Jared Diamond said “New Zealand is as close as we will get to the opportunity to study life on another planet.”

Itinerary at a Glance

Days 1-2
Gibbston Valley / Wine Tasting / Routeburn Track

We meet in Queenstown and head out to taste wines in the beautiful Gibbston Valley, with its famous pinot noir vintages, then hike along the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks.” We cross swinging bridges above the crystal-clear jade waters of the Routeburn River as we follow a well-graded track through the forest.

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Days 3-4
Central Otago / The Catlins Coast

A hike along the Catlins Coast brings us out to the picturesque lighthouse at Nugget Point, where gannets, cormorants, and sooty shearwaters soar along the cliffs and feed in the rich waters of the Pacific. There are a number of beaches and walks all along the coast, and we’ll sample a few. On one night, we walk to a nearby waterfall, waiting for the darkness to envelope the forest and reveal the glow worms living within.

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Days 5-6
Stewart Island / Kiwi-Spotting / Rakiura Track

A short flight brings us to Stewart Island, famous for its glowing sunsets and variety of bird species. Here we have the best opportunity for spotting kiwi, New Zealand’s signature bird, in the thick forest or foraging for crustaceans on the beach. The next day we enjoy a hike on our second “Great Walk,” the Rakiura Track, passing through Maori Beach, where relics of early saw mills can still be seen.

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Days 7-10
The South Coast / Kepler Track / Milford Sound / Hollyford Track

Flying back to the mainland, we hike along the Kepler Track, following a route through southern beech forest and along the Waiau River to its outlet at Lake Te Anau. A scenic helicopter flight takes us from spectacular Milford Sound to Martins Bay. On our walk along the rugged coast, we have a chance to see the rare Fiordland crested penguin and a rookery of native New Zealand fur seals. Our last adventures find us boarding a jet boat for a scenic ride up Lake McKerrow to the Hollyford River, then hiking along the Hollyford Track through native beech forest and beside tumbling waterfalls beneath the gaze of the peaks of the mighty Southern Alps. Depart on Day 10 via Queenstown.

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Day hikes on three of New Zealand’s famed walking tracks: the Routeburn, the Kepler and the Rakiura Track
Amazing wildlife, from Hooker’s sea lions and yellow-eyed penguins to kiwis (with a kiwi-spotting evening)!
Friendly local accommodations, relaxed rural settings, amazing star-gazing, delicious New Zealand wines
Wonderful cuisine, mostly locally sourced, including fresh seafood, delightful picnics


Length: 10 days
Cost From: $5495  
Arrive: Queenstown, New Zealand
Depart: Queenstown, New Zealand
Lodging: 9 nights in hotels and simple lodges
Meals: All meals included except 1 lunch and 1 dinner
Activity: Wildlife & Natural History, Hiking / Trekking
Trip Level:

Moderate hiking, 3-6 hours a day on hiking days, and Queenstown extension activities

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