Photo by Dan Heller

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New Zealand: Off the Beaten Path

Hiking, Wildlife, and Cultural Adventures on the South Island
with Jon Imhoof

Trip Details at-a-Glance

Cost From: $5795  
Length: 10 days
Arrive: Queenstown, New Zealand
Depart: Queenstown, New Zealand
Lodging: 13 nights in hotels and simple lodges
Meals: all meals included
Activity: Wildlife & Natural History, Hiking / Trekking
Trip Level: Hiking / Trekking, Wildlife & Natural History


  • 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

Choosing the Right Trip

We work hard to help you choose the right trip for you, paying attention to your individual interests, abilities, and needs. If you have questions about the level of comfort or any of the activities described in this itinerary, please contact us.


We are proud to have an exceptionally high rate of repeat travelers. For more information, we would be happy to put you in touch with a client who has traveled with us.

Join us to experience the wildest and most untouched corners of New Zealand with our veteran Trip Leader Jon Imhoof! Jon is sometimes asked “If your work as a Trip Leader takes you to such beautiful places, where do you go for vacation?” For this new WT Expedition on the South Island, we take in some of Jon’s own 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) and on beautiful trails below mighty snow-capped Mt. Cook. We enjoy unique wildlife encounters as we explore, looking for Hooker’s sea lions, New Zealand fur seals, yellow-eyed penguins,  royal albatross, and more. One memorable evening, we experience amazing star-gazing at the Mount John University Observatory in the International Dark Sky Reserve, the largest such reserve in the world, and on another night, 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. 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 10 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

For a more complete description, Download Full Detailed Itinerary

Days 1-3
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 visit the former gold mining town of Bannockburn and hike along the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks.”

Days 4-6
Fiordland / Kepler Track / Stewart Island / Kiwi Spotting / Raikura Track

We visit a wildlife park to view the rare flightless takahe, then set out for a hike along the Kepler Track through southern beech forest. Our next hike is along deep Lake Manapouri, with stunning views of the snow-capped mountains of Fiordland. A short flight brings us to Stewart Island for nighttime kiwi-spotting on a remote beach and a great hike across the coastal Rakiura Track.

Days 7-9
Ulva Island / The Catlins

We boat to Ulva Island, a predator-free sanctuary for native birds and a great place to see rare species at close quarters while enjoying the hiking trails. Flying back to the mainland, we head to Curio Bay, where low tide reveals a petrified forest—180 million-year-old fossils left over from the Jurassic period. We beachcomb at Porpoise Bay, home to Hector’s dolphins playing in the waves, then explore the little-known Catlins Coast, with its lighthouses, bird colonies, and waterfalls. From the tiny village of Portobello, we cruise out to a royal albatross colony and explore headlands and beaches for Hooker’s sea lions, New Zealand fur seals, and the world’s rarest penguin, the yellow-eyed penguin.

Days 10-14
Portobello / Moeraki / Sheep Station / Lake Tekapo

We explore the Scottish heritage of the city of Dunedin (the old Gaelic name for Edinburgh), then follow the coast north to the sleepy fishing village of Moeraki to see the mysterious huge spherical boulders on its beach. After an early morning excursion to watch little blue penguins (the world’s smallest penguin) head out to sea, we explore Waitaki Valley’s historic sites, fossil deposits, Maori rock drawings, and vineyards. Our lodging on Day 11 is a charming sheep and cattle station, Omahau Downs, an incredible location to enjoy a barbecue and a hot tub under the stars. Heading into Mt. Cook National Park, we hike beneath the glaciated peaks, and get an introduction to the wonders of the southern night sky at Mount John University Observatory in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, one of only four such reserves in the world. Our final hike is along a glacial terrace above Lake Tekapo, and we depart on Day 14 for Christchurch.

For a more complete description, Download Full Detailed Itinerary

Optional Extensions

If you would like to continue your adventure, we offer the following extension:

What the Trip is Like

The trip is Level 2+, Easy to Moderate. It is a journey for people who enjoy hiking. In general you can set your own pace and there is no need to keep up with the fastest walkers. On our hikes, you’ll find the trails very well maintained, allowing for easy to moderate hiking. Although you carry only a daypack, there are a few ascents and descents, so for your own enjoyment, we recommend you make a special effort to be in good physical condition for the trip. Daily walking and/or regular hiking (or using a stair-climbing machine at your gym) are excellent preparatory exercises. You should wear sturdy, well-broken-in hiking boots for maximum comfort on the trail.

This South Island adventure really is off the beaten track! We’ll stay in local accommodations that have character and are clean, comfortable, and well located,. The guest rooms will have a private bathroom (and often a great view). We’ve kept the group size small (maximum 10 trip members) due to availability of accommodations. We’ve also kept the travel distances between locations short, never more than three hours driving in a day. Travel is on good roads. Some of them are gravel and can a bit dusty but they are still well graded roads. As with accommodation, so with food—no chain restaurants for 14 days! One of the highlights of this trip is the chance to enjoy the fresh local food New Zealand is famous for. We’ll be close to the source of much of the food we eat, experiencing a variety of dining experiences, most of which will also be memorable for the location and the company. Most lunches will be either a picnic or packed lunch on the trail. We will no doubt experience every conceivable type of weather on this trip, so it's best to be prepared. Days 1 and 2 and Days 12 to 14 are in areas east of the Southern Alps and so are generally drier, but we can't make any promises.

Explanation of Trip Levels


Departures & Leaders

Nov 23-Dec 6, 2014  Jon Imhoof
Feb 1-10, 2015  Jon Imhoof

Trip Cost

Prices valid through Spring 2015

Feb 1-10, 2015 Departure

$5795 (10-12 members)
$6295 (6-9 members)
Single supplement: $695
Forced single supplement: $495

Nov 23-Dec 6, 2014 Departure

$6495 (8-10 members)
$6795 (6-7 members)
Single supplement: $1250
Forced single supplement: $895
more on pricing

Extension Costs
Queenstown Extension
   from: $995

Trip Cost Includes:

  • Expert leadership of a Wilderness Travel Trip Leader and local guides
  • Accommodations in hotels and guesthouses as noted
  • all meals included
  • Entrances to museums and sites mentioned in itinerary
  • Round-trip flights Invercargill to Stewart Island
  • Land transportation, airport transfers as indicate

Trip Cost Does Not Include:

International airfare, any meals not specified after each itinerary day, airport departure taxes, transfers other than those provided for group flights, optional tipping or gratuities to leaders or staff, additional hotel nights that may be necessitated by airline schedule changes or other factors, travel insurance, and other expenses of a personal nature (alcoholic beverages, laundry, telephone calls).

Trip Payment Schedule

At time of reservation: $500
120 days prior to departure: 20% of trip cost
60 days prior to departure: Balance

Cancellation and Transfer Fee Schedule

More than 90 days prior to departure: No charge!
46-90 days prior to departure: 25% of trip cost
45 days or less: 100% of trip cost

Jon Imhoof

Jon Imhoof has a degree in Anthropology from the University of Hawaii, where he first began leading hiking and sailing trips in the 1980s. He moved to Queenstown, New Zealand in 1989. Jon has been an innovator in adventure tourism, starting the first river-surfing company in the world in Queenstown, New Zealand, and then also on the Zambezi River in Southern Africa. During the southern summer, Jon leads our hiking trips in New Zealand, and in the winter, guides our snorkeling and whale watching journeys in Tonga. He enjoys kite-surfing, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, mountain biking, and just about anything outdoors. “What I think surprises most people about New Zealand is the effect it has on their world view,” says Jon. “The first thing that is immediately apparent is a more relaxed pace of living. And in conversation, people are not in such a hurry to move on—a remark to a stranger can become a lively conversation. The lack of crowds and the clean environment also have an effect on visitors, like suddenly being able to take a deep breath. New Zealand inspires adventure!” Jon also loves to introduce people to the wonders of Polynesian culture. “Tonga’s Ha’apai islands are off the tourist route and not easy to get to, so the traditional Tongan way of life still predominates. When I lived in Hawaii, I always found myself thinking ‘I wish I had been here 50 years ago.’ Of course you can’t turn back the clock—but you can go to Ha’apai!” Jon lives in Queenstown, New Zealand, with his wife and two children.

Upcoming Trips:

New Zealand: Off the Beaten Path, November 23-December 6, 2014
New Zealand: Off the Beaten Path, February 1-10, 2015

Recent Photo Blog Posts

Client Testimonials:

Jon was a great leader. Well organized, fun, and professional. A. I., Manhasset NY John was our best guide ever. He did it all, including care and concern for each traveler. Truly amazing. R. K., Woodland TX Jon is a joy—informed, involved, fun, and concerned about each trip member. S. B., Redondo Beach CA Jon was patient with all and gave us his full attention. We all enjoyed his company and appreciated his excellent arrangements. Karen H., Albuquerque
Serious Fun in New Zealand
Jon is like Mary Poppins—practically perfect in every way. We covered an amazing amount of territory and did a lot in two weeks, but we never felt rushed. We may have been clients, but Jon treated us like friends. Lisa P., Falls Church VA Trips with Jon are always a blast. He makes every activity fun. Stephanie G., Saddle Brook, NJ
Island Kingdom of Tonga
Jon is an extraordinarily able and knowledgeable guide. Information on history, geography, flora, fauna, etc., was deep and well presented. He is organized and exceptionally good at adapting to changing circumstances. He makes everyone feel special and he has a super sense of humor! Brenda J. Jon was very knowledgeable about the Tongan people. He is very bright and a great joy to travel with. Cindy C., Santa Barbara, CA
Island Kingdom of Tonga
Jon is an excellent guide. He was very patient, helpful, and happy to share Tonga with all participants. Jeanne S., Charlotte, NC
Sea Kayaking and Snorkeling in Ha’apai
Jon was the best tour leader I have had the priviledge to travel with. His knowledge of the history and geology of New Zealand was so enlightening and enhanced our appreciation of this wonderful country. I did not want our trip to end! Marlene S., Washington, DC
New Zealand: South Island Adventure
Jon's enthusiasm for his country was contagious and his gracious hospitality was quintessentially Kiwi. He was helpful in all aspects of our travel - from photography to culture to hiking tips - and his ability to deal with diverse personalities was remarkable. Love him! Bonnie B., Bakersfield, CA
New Zealand: South Island Adventure
Jon is at the absolute top. It was like spending two weeks with a good friend with an extraordinary level of knowledge about the country. Bruce N., Oakland, CA
New Zealand: South Island Adventure
Jon is the best tour leader I have had the privilege to travel with. His knowledge of the history and geology of New Zealand was so enlightening and enhanced our appreciation for this wonderful country.
Marlene S., Washington, DC
New Zealand: South Island Adventure

Optional Extensions

If you would like to continue your adventure, we offer the following extension:

New Zealand

Queenstown Extension

Cultural Adventures, Walking
4 days  -  Level 2