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Ultimate Hiking Tour of New Zealand’s South Island

Daniel Murphy, Malcolm O’Neill, Hiking New Zealand
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Reserve spots for 5 or more people, and get $57 off for each


On Day 13, you can join a Milford Sound kayaking tour. If you would like to participate, let us know how many people in your group will be joining in.

1 Person
15 day
Daniel Murphy, Malcolm O’Neill, Hiking New Zealand
Reserve deposit (25%) $0
Second Payment Amount: $0
  • Explore a colorful blend of New Zealand’s iconic Great Hikes and lesser-known gems on a 15-day hiking and multisport adventure. Ride, walk, paddle, and sail along the South Island’s greatest natural landmarks, learning about the native Maori culture. Off the trails, unwind with fellow adventure-lovers in cozy campsites, lodges, and panoramic mountain huts. 

    • Meet your guides and fellow hikers in Nelson i-Site at 9:30 am and head out of town to Kaiteriteri, the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. Your guide will advise you on how to pack smart and light as you ready yourself for the first adventure, a 2-night stay in the park. A boat cruise around the coast takes you to Tonga Quarry, where you’ll enjoy your snack. Follow the Abel Tasman Coast Track south to Bark Bay, where your tents and gear will be waiting for you. Pitch your tent, enjoy a delicious meal, and fall asleep to the sound of waves lapping the shore.

      Distance covered: 7 km / 4 miles
      Hiking time: 2 hours
      Meals: Lunch and dinner


      Abel Tasman Bark Bay
    • Depart from Bark bay through contrasting stands of manuka and luxuriant mixed forest, over a low saddle, and across a high and airy suspension bridge above the Falls River. You can take a side trip to the Falls River Cascades or Cleopatra’s Pool, both awesome swim spots. If you’re in the mood, you can also join your guide for a boulder hop among the idyllic pools and waterfalls, before settling at the bright blue inlet of Anchorage. Relax and go for a swim before meeting in the evening to cook and eat together.

      Distance covered: 8.5 / 12 km
      Hiking time: 3-5 hours
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner


      Cleopatras Pools
    • Explore Abel Tasman’s coastline by Waka (Maori canoe). Learn about local waka teams and their customs before climbing aboard and paddling. Explore several coves on the mainland and the wildlife refuge of Adele Island to observe a breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals—beautiful animals that were almost hunted to extinction in the 1800s. Along the way, hear stories of local Maori history and customs. Paddle into the beautiful Kaiteriteri beach, have a picnic lunch, and restock on supplies in Motueka before driving to a private campsite near Murchison, overlooking the Buller and Maruia rivers.

      Distance covered: 15 km / 9.3 miles
      Paddling time: 3 hours
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner


      Travelers in a traditional Maori Waka in New Zealand.
    • After driving through the Buller Gorge, your first stop on the wild West Coast is Charleston. Take a short hike through lush West Coast bush checking out the dramatic headlands, wild waves, and secluded bays. After a picnic lunch, hike to the spectacular limestone river canyon in Paparoa National Park. The first half of the trail is on a relatively flat well-formed track, while the second half involves multiple river crossings and sections where the riverbed itself is the route! Some boulders are a bit slippery, so apart from good hiking shoes, what’s also essential is learning from your guide how to cross rivers safely. Collect some firewood, and set up camp under the massive Ballroom Overhang fluviatile cave. Hungry for some more hiking? Join your guide for an extra hike!

      Distance covered: 8 km / 5 miles
      Hiking time: 4 hours
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner


      Fox River
    • After breakfast, head to the West Coast town of Punakaiki to check out the famous Pancake Rocks and seawater blowholes, before retreating down to tonight’s accommodation in Hokitika, a gold-rush town full of cool local jewelry. Hokitika is now a great place to buy pounamu (greenstone), which was once highly valued by early Maori for tools, jewelry, and weapons. Tonight’s lodging is centrally located and just a short walk from the beach. Tuck in to traditional Kiwi fish and chips or eat at one of the many spots in this bustling seaside town. As you reach Hokitika, get fitted for tomorrow’s bikes!

      Distance covered: 6 km / 3.7 miles
      Hiking time: 3 hours
      Meals: Breakfast and lunch


    • Enjoy group breakfast at one of the great cafés in town before leaving for a cycling tour of the awesome West Coast Wilderness Trail between the Arahura River bridge and the historic township of Kumara. Pedal your way through majestic native forest, cross crystal-clear rivers, and pass old reservoirs and water races dating back to goldrush days. Today’s ride is unguided, but the trail is very well marked, and local partners will give you a very thorough briefing on the trail. Celebrate your ride with a drink at the Theatre Royal Hotel in Kumara! After the ride, sit back and take in the landscapes as you drive into the Southern Alps and the quaint mountain village of Arthur’s Pass. Eat and spend the night in a private hut (with showers and electricity), preparing for tomorrow’s hiking trip into Edwards Valley.

      Distance covered: 39 km / 24 miles
      Biking time: 4-5 hours
      Meals: Lunch and dinner


    • While not as famous as some of the other National Parks visited on the tour, Arthur’s Pass will amaze you with rugged peaks, wild rivers, and adventurous trails. The overnight hike takes you up the Edwards River to the Edwards Hut which sits just above the bushline with a great view of the alpine valley. It’s a challenging hike on a real “kiwi-style” track—there are several river crossings and parts where you will need to use your hands for extra grip. Camp outside or stay in the hut, depending on how many hikers are out there. Fall asleep listening out for the call of the Kiwi, New Zealand’s national bird that is known to inhabit this valley.

      Distance covered: 9 km / 5.6 miles
      Hiking time: 5-6 hours
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner


      Edwards valley
    • Make the most of this alpine valley with an optional hike before packing up and hiking back out to the road. This hike takes you up towards the Falling Mountain, where views of surrounding peaks open up right before you. Have lunch on the way. Watch the scenery change dramatically, with the steep forested slopes of the west replaced with wide braided rivers, tussock grassland, mountains flanked with scree, and the surreal limestone formations of Castle Hill. Leave the main highway and follow an inland route to the tiny village of Methven, where you’ll spend the night.

      Distance covered: 9 km / 5.6 miles
      Hiking time: 5-6 hours
      Meals: Breakfast and lunch


      Castle Hill
    • Spend the morning driving along the western margin of the Canterbury Plains and into the Mackenzie Country, an intermontane basin of huge glacial lakes and snow-capped mountains. Arrive at Aoraki/Mt. Cook village and get ready for a hike to Sealy Tarns, and maybe even Mueller hut. Enjoy views across two valley glaciers to icefalls on Mt. Sefton and Aoraki/Mt. Cook. Experience the towering moraine walls, glacial lakes, and the frequent rumbling of distant avalanches, before returning to your accommodation in a private hut. With luck, you can watch se summit of Aoraki/Mt. Cook turn from white to pink with the sun’s last rays.

      Distance covered: 10 km / 6.2 miles
      Hiking time: 6 hours
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner

    • After a relaxed breakfast with a postcard view of Aoraki/Mt. Cook from the dining room window, you get the option to join a local operator for a guided heli-hike* on the Tasman Glacier. At an additional cost, a helicopter will take you onto the upper glacier where you’ll attach crampons to your boots and explore ice formation, ice caves, and marvel at the jagged landscape. Alternatively, join the guide for a hike up the steep slopes of Sebastopol to the Red Tarns for more stunning views. If you feel like you need to rest today, relax at the hut—or you can take a walk on the valley floor and visit the info center to learn more about the park’s natural history and the feats of pioneering mountaineers. By mid-afternoon, reunite with the group and continue south through the Mackenzie Country and over Lindis Pass into the Central Otago region. Spend the night near the shores of the glacial Lake Hawea, ringed by the mountains, and enjoy a meal in a local restaurant.

      *Please note that the heli-hike is very weather-dependent and therefore not guaranteed. If you’re interested, the guide will call ahead a day or two in advance and book the tour if possible. You will then pay the local heli-hike operator directly on the day of.

      Distance covered: 4 km / 2.5 miles
      Hiking time: 2 hours
      Meals: Breakfast and lunch

      Red Tarns
    • Drive to the Wanaka township where you’ll grab a coffee and wander around this vibrant lakeside resort town. Then, head on up the Matukituki Valley to the road end. Shoulder your pack and enjoy stunning Matterhorn-esque views as you hike across grassed flats to Aspiring Hut. There’s another optional steep, yet rewarding climb here—climb through beech forest to the bush line on the Cascade Saddle Track. Cheeky and inquisitive kea (alpine parrots) may check out your group as you rest to take in the uninterrupted view across the upper Matukituki to Mt. Aspiring and the Southern Alps. Keep an eye on your things (kea love shiny zips)!

      Distance covered: 14 km / 8.7 miles
      Hiking time: 6 hours
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner


      Matukituki valley
    • Start your return hike early, enjoying pretty views and easy walking along the floor of this wide glacially formed valley. Back in Wanaka, recharge with a lakeside picnic and a dive into the lake. Drive over the remarkable Crown Range and take in summit views of the Wakitipu Basin and lakes. By late afternoon, you’re past Te Anau and well on your way to Milford sound. Camp for the next two nights at the beautiful Eglinton Valley campsite, relaxing and making the most of the hot showers.

      Distance covered: 9 km / 5.6 miles
      Hiking time: 3 hours
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner


      Aspiring hut
    • Drive beneath imposing granite cliffs and hanging valleys into the heart of Fiordland National Park. This World Heritage Site is one of the largest national parks in the world, with its huge glacial lakes of Te Anau ad Manapouri and spectacular fjords. Then you reach Milford and join one of the world’s great day cruises. The vessel takes you out to Anita Bay and the entrance to Milford Sound. Enjoy views of cascading waterfalls and the iconic Mitre Peak, soaring 1,722 m above the sea. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, Fiordland crested penguins, and fur seals! Then take a hike to Key Summit, the final section of the famous Routeburn Track. An informative nature walk passes through a transition from forest to alpine vegetation and prolific birdlife, while the views over the Hollyford Valley to the Darran Mountains are spectacular.

      A kayaking option is also available. If you choose that, you will be picked up at 6:30 am by the kayak company to travel to Milford Sound. Paddle for 3 hours in double kayaks to waterfalls, spotting rare wildlife. Returning to land, you will be reunited with the group after their cruise.

      Distance covered: 7 km / 4.3 miles
      Hiking time: 3 hours
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner

      Milford Sound
    • After breakfast, take a short hike to check out a beautiful waterfall near our campsite, where you may want to soak up one last little bit of Fiordland by jumping under a bracing shower. Make your final drive to Queenstown in the early afternoon. Afterward, celebrate the great adventures you’ve had for the past two weeks with your new friends.

      Distance covered: 2 km / 1.2 miles
      Hiking time: 45 minutes
      Meals: Breakfast and lunch


      Sunset in Queenstown
    • Your guide departs early for Christchurch, marking the end of the tour. If you’re staying in Queenstown, keep in mind that it’s known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, so there are a ton of superb hiking and cycling tracks in the area! Don’t hesitate to ask your guides for tips on great hikes and other activities to do in the area!


    • What you get on this adventure:

        • An experienced, local guide with extensive knowledge of the area
        • 15 days of hiking and exploration
        • Cycling tour of the West Coast Wilderness trail
        • Cruise in the Milford Sound
        • Abel Tasman waka (Maori canoe) experience
        • Lodge, cabin, camping, and backcountry hut accommodations for the duration of the tour
        • Minibus transportation for the duration of the tour
        • Most meals for the duration of the tour (as indicated in the itinerary)

      What’s not included:

        • Roundtrip transportation to and from Nelson, New Zealand
        • Accommodations in New Zealand before and after the tour
        • Some meals (3 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 4 dinners)
        • Optional Milford Sound kayaking tour ($175 USD per person)
        • Optional Mt. Cook heli-hiking tour ($475 USD per person)
          • Please note that this is very weather-dependent and therefore not guaranteed. If you’re interested, the guide will call ahead a day or two in advance and book the tour if possible. You will then pay the local heli-hike operator directly on the day of.
        • Bus or train transportation from the endpoint of the tour to Auckland
    • Although this trip requires no multi-day hiking experience, you still need to be reasonably fit, agile, and enthusiastic.

      You’ll be walking for an average of 4-5 hours a day, up to 8-9 hours on longer days, while carrying packs weighing up to 10-12 kgs (22-26 lbs) on some days. You’ll also overcome altitude gains of up to 800 m (2,620 ft), covering some uneven terrain and river crossings. Finally, some tracks can be slippery or rough and there will be some off-track hiking and river crossings.

      If you’d like to witness both the North and the South Island, check out this guided hiking adventure in New Zealand or New Zealand uncut adventure. For those more interested in the North Island, this is a hiking tour of New Zealand’s North Island.  

    • Here’s a list of the equipment you need to bring:

        • Backpack with a minimum 60L capacity
        • Small day-pack
        • Water bottle (1L capacity)
        • Hiking boots or good hiking shoes
        • Spare lightweight shoes or sandals
        • Spare clothes for layering
        • Thermal underwear (top and bottom)
        • Shorts or lightweight hiking trousers (preferably quick-dry)
        • Short-sleeved shirts (quick-dry, polypropylene, or wool)
        • Warm fleece or wool jersey
        • At least 3 pairs of socks
        • Raincoat (Goretex or similar)
        • Sunhat
        • Warm hat or balaclava
        • Gloves or mittens (wool or fleece)
        • Swimming costume
        • Toiletries (sunscreen, hand sanitizer, bug spray, toilet paper, etc.)
        • Lightweight travel towel
        • Personal medication and first aid
        • Headlamp or flashlight
        • Sunglasses
        • Sleeping bag (minimum 3-season, preferably down, lightweight)
        • Walking pole — optional
        • Gaiters — optional
        • Camera — optional (but recommended)

      Your guide offers hiking gear rentals. If you need a hiking backpack, sleeping bag or liner, fleece, thermal clothes, raincoats, or a walking pole, contact us and we’ll help set you up.

      Bring comfortable clothes that you can move in and that is appropriate for the weather. November through March is summer in New Zealand’s South Island, offering generally pleasant weather with temperatures ranging from 18°C to 25°C (64°F to 77°F). This period enjoys longer daylight hours and is ideal for outdoor activities. However, weather conditions and occasional showers are not uncommon. Be prepared for sun, wind, and the possibility of sudden changes, especially in alpine areas. 

    • Group sizes and prices:

      • For this adventure, the usual client-to-guide ratio is 11:1.
      • The cost does not decrease as the group grows.
      • Hiking and exploring New Zealand’s South Island can be arranged for larger and for private groups.

      Contact us to make arrangements.

      Min. age requirements:

      • If you are older than 18, you’re good to go.
      • Minors younger than 18 may be permitted to join the hike on a case-by-case basis, but must be in the presence of a parent or legal guardian.
      • If your group has hikers under the age of 18, contact us prior to booking to make arrangements.
    • To start this tour, most people fly into Christchurch International Airport, New Zealand. From there, you can take a scenic 5-hour bus ride or a local flight to Nelson, where you’ll be meeting your guide.

      You will meet your guide at the i-Site Visitor Information Centre at 9.30 am on Day 1.

    • We highly recommend that you cover all your bases with both emergency medical and travel insurance. With medical insurance, if you have an accident or medical emergency on or off the mountain, you’ll avoid paying out of pocket for costly expenses. This covers everything from hospital treatments to emergency air transportation and more.

      Travel insurance covers canceled flights, natural disasters and other scenarios that may interrupt your travel plans.

      We also expect you to respect local regulations and take measures to protect yourselves, your guides, and the communities you’re traveling to. Find more information on the U.S. Department of State’s Travel Information page on New Zealand

      If you need assistance selecting the right insurance for your group, let us know and we will be happy to help!

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