Hiking, Wildlife, and Cultural Adventures on the South Island

Overview

Join us to experience the wildest and most untouched corners of New Zealand on this hiker's journey well off the trodden tourist tracks. Enjoy half to full day hikes on most days through the land referred to by filmmakers as "Middle Earth." For this active adventure 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. 

Among our hikes are two of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” (the Routeburn Track and the Rakiura Track) as well as a section of Te Araroa, New Zealand's “Long Pathway,” and the wildly remote 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 Wahipounamu World Heritage Area. Our accommodations are at welcoming local lodges 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
Glenorchy / Routeburn Track

From Queenstown, we hike the Mt. Crichton Loop Track and then enter the heart of Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area. We cross swinging bridges above the jade waters of the Routeburn River as we follow a well-graded track through the forest with an optional hike to Routeburn Falls.

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Days 3-5
Central Otago / The Catlins Coast

Our journey takes us to the Pacific Ocean and the endless wild beaches and remote coastal communities of the Catlins Coast. Along the coast of Central Otago, we hike through silver beech forests and across four wire-rope suspension bridges above the Catlins River. At Curio Bay, low tide reveals a petrified forest—180 million-year-old fossils left over from the Jurassic period and we look for yellow-eyed penguins. One night, we hike in the forest to see glow worms, a surreal experience.

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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 wilderness 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 / Te Araroa Trail / Milford Sound / Hollyford Track

Back on the mainland, we hike along the Te Araroa Trail wandering across farmland to the seaside. A breathtaking helicopter flight takes us from Milford Sound to 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. Visit a wildlife park to encounter the rare flightless takahe before departing on Day 10 via Queenstown.

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Highlights

Highlights

Incredible day hikes on the famed Routeburn, Rakiura, Te Araroa, and Hollyford trails
Amazing wildlife, from Hooker’s sea lions and yellow-eyed penguins to kiwis (with a kiwi-spotting evening)!
Helicopter flight over Milford Sound
Exclusive evening in a remote lodge in the Te Wahi Pounamu World Heritage area
Distinguished New Zealand wines, farm-to-table Kiwi cuisine, delightful picnics

Details

Length: 10 days
Cost From: $6295  
Arrive: Queenstown, New Zealand
Depart: Queenstown, New Zealand
Lodging: 9 nights hotels and remote lodges
Meals: All meals included except 1 dinner (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Wildlife & Natural History, Hiking / Trekking
Trip Level:

Moderate hiking, 3-6 hours a day with optional added hikes on several days