Hiking, Wildlife, and Cultural Adventures on the South Island

Overview

Join us to experience the wildest and most untouched corners of New Zealand. For this 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 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

From Queenstown, we head out to taste wines in the Gibbston Valley, with its famous pinot noirs and artisan cheeses, then hike on the spectacular Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks.” We cross swinging bridges above the 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

Our hike along the Catlins Coast, one of New Zealand’s hidden jewels, brings us to the picturesque lighthouse at Nugget Point, where gannets, cormorants, and sooty shearwaters soar along the cliffs. One night, we hike in the forest to see the glow worms living within it.

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

Incredible Stewart Island is a place the Maori people called Rakiura, which means “glowing skies.” We hike our second “Great Walk” trail, the Rakiura Track, and at twilight, head out to search for kiwi, New Zealand’s signature bird.

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

Back on the mainland, we hike the Kepler Track’s moss-draped beech forest amid prolific birdlife and cascading waterfalls. A breathtaking helicopter flight takes us to Milford Sound’s Martins Bay, where our coastal hike gives us a chance to see rare Fiordland crested penguins and native New Zealand fur seals. Our last adventures are a jet-boat ride up Lake McKerrow and a hike on the Hollyford Track through native beech forest beneath the gaze of the peaks of the mighty Southern Alps. Depart on Day 10 via Queenstown.

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Highlights

Highlights

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

Details

Length: 10 days
Cost From: $5695  
Arrive: Queenstown, New Zealand
Depart: Queenstown, New Zealand
Lodging: 9 nights hotels and simple lodges
Meals: All meals included except 1 lunch and 1 dinner (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Wildlife & Natural History, Hiking / Trekking
Trip Level:

Moderate hiking, 3-6 hours a day

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