Southern Islands Adventure
14 days / Year Round
Pricing is based on group size and seasonality, please check with us to secure the best pricing.
• A three-day hiking and kayaking trip on Stewart Island lets you explore the stunning and unspoiled wilderness of New Zealand’s southernmost landmass.
• Swim with dolphins at Akaroa, watch soaring seabirds, and perhaps glimpse the elusive brown kiwi.
• Soak in Maruia hot pools, a natural way to unwind.
Day 1: ARRIVAL IN QUEENSTOWN
Your trip starts in Queenstown, a small lakeside town set among the mountains of the South Island. We’ll meet you there and head directly for the Milford Sound area – one of the most spectacularly beautiful places on Earth. We’ll head down to Te Anau for lunch, before continuing on to The Divide where we’ll hike part of the Routeburn Track. This hike gives us unsurpassed views of the Hollyford Valley, from mountains to sea, as well as Lake Marian and Mt. Christina. We finish up with a short hike through the forest for views of Humboldt Falls, New Zealand’s third largest waterfall. Then it’s a short drive through the Homer Tunnel, emerging at the top of a spectacular alpine road winding its way down to Milford Sound. The lush rainforest carpeting the lower slopes of the mountains gives way to the massively steep, glacier-carved slopes and waterfalls of the Darren Range. Milford Sound, rated the 8th Natural Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling, is breathtaking. Sheer rock walls plunge thousands of feet to the Tasman Sea and waterfalls cascade into the deep blue water. It’s basic accommodation tonight, but it’s the only place in town to stay and the location alone makes up for it!
Day 2: MILFORD SOUND
Most people see Milford Sound from the deck of a cruise ship but we’ve got a better way – gliding along in a sea kayak causing minimum disruption to the seals and dolphins, which are very friendly and often eager to visit. This awesome trip, run by specialist kayak outfitters, is equally suitable for beginners or experts. This is one of the most incredible days paddling you’re ever likely to do, so make sure there’s plenty of room left on your camera! After a morning spent kayaking, we’ll have lunch before continuing on to Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri.
Day 3: HUMP RIDGE TRACK AND WAIRAURAHIRI RIVER
We’ll start our action-packed day with a short drive to Lake Hauroko, New Zealand’s deepest lake, where we’ll board a high powered jet boat and head across the lake and into the Wairaurahiri River. It’s a heart-pumping and beautiful boat ride down 27km of Class III rapids all the way to the Southern Coast. After lunch, we’ll hike along an old logging track and arrive at the 410-foot Percy Burn viaduct, the largest wooden viaduct in the world. The Percy Burn stream cuts a deep gorge beneath the viaduct, and great views abound. From here we’ll make our way back to civilization for a well-earned meal and rest before heading to Stewart Island in the morning!
Day 4: STEWART ISLAND
Early in the morning, we’ll board our modern aircraft for the scenic flight to Stewart Island. If the weather’s nice we’ll have great views of Bluff Harbour and the Muttonbird Islands as we fly over Foveaux Strait. Once we arrive at Halfmoon Bay – Stewart Island’s main port and only town – we’ll head out on the track. We’ll follow the contours of the sweeping coastline past Horseshoe and Lee Bay, before crossing Little River Bridge and heading inland through ancient podocarp forest, full of coniferous trees that date back as far as the Cretaceous period. We’ll emerge at Maori Beach where we’ll walk along the smooth sand before the track swings inland, ultimately descending into Magnetic Beach and Port William. Port William was once the site of a Maori village and sawmill back in New Zealand’s early pioneering days and, although it has long since reverted to wilderness, there are interesting relics to be found in the area surrounding the beach. This evening, we’ll enjoy a hearty meal in our cosy backcountry hut. This is serious wilderness country – no cars, no streetlights, no TVs – just incredible views and riotous birdsong in the early evening. If you enjoy fishing, this is also a great spot to cast a line into the sea. If you catch it, we’ll cook it!
Day 5: STEWART ISLAND
We’ll start with a refreshing walk along the beach then head inland. We’ll be hiking through stunning rimu and kamahi forest, and if you keep an eye out you’ll also notice tree ferns, ground ferns and delicate perching orchids. The track climbs over a rise, before skirting a tranquil river valley. We’ll hike over several gently rolling forested hills, steadily climbing towards the highest point in the track – a spot simply named “The Lookout.” After enjoying some spectacular views, we will descend to North Arm where we’ll make camp in a spacious backcountry hut perched on the edge of the inlet. Keen birdwatchers should look out for muttonbirds, shags, mollymawks (a relative of the mighty albatross), cape pigeons, and little blue penguins.
Day 6: HALFMOON BAY
After breakfast we will meet our water taxi at North Arm and head to Halfmoon Bay. Our experts will outfit everyone with modern, stable sea kayaks and all the appropriate safety gear. This kayaking adventure is suitable for beginners and experts alike, paddling through the flat waters off Halfmoon Bay and the shoreline heading north. We’ll also have great views of Ulva Island, a bird sanctuary that is completely free of predator thanks to the work of conservationists and New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DoC). In the evening, we’ll head back to civilization where, after your couple of nights in the wilderness, you’ll appreciate a hot shower, tasty meal and comfortable bed in Halfmoon Bay!
Day 7: INVERCARGILL TO QUEENSTOWN
In the morning we’ll board a catamaran and travel over the water to Invercargill. The boat trip back across the strait will give us another chance to see the birdlife and islands of the area. Back on the mainland, we’ll head back to Queenstown, adventure capital of New Zealand! You’ll find all the comforts of civilization: massage therapists, restaurants, sidewalk cafés, and window-shopping. You’ll also find incredible optional activities here, including hang gliding, bungee jumping, jet boating, skydiving, horse trekking, fishing, and winery tours. Keen mountain bikers can go single-track riding in Skippers Canyon, famed through New Zealand for its mountain biking trails. There are also great hiking and kayaking opportunities here. Queenstown isn’t a big place – the population is about 8,000 – but there’s plenty to do! Or you can do nothing and just soak up the atmosphere or lounge about reading a book.
Day 8: QUEENSTOWN
You will have the whole day to explore Queenstown and pursue your own interests! Talk to strangers....
Day 9: MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK
After breakfast, we will head out around Lake Wakatipu to 12-Mile Delta, where we’ll hike the Sam Summers Track. The area was mined for gold until the 1930s and there are still many relics to be seen along the way. After this hike, we’ll head to the historic village of Arrowtown for lunch before continuing on to Amisfield Winery. This region’s dry and sunny climate is ideal for grape growing, and is becoming well known for producing world-class, cool-climate Pinot Noir and other quality wines. We’ll enjoy a glass or two, and then head north to Mt. Cook. We’ll spend the evening nestled beneath some of the tallest peaks in New Zealand.
Day 10: AORAKI/MT. COOK NATIONAL PARK
Aoraki/Mt. Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, and we will have a stunning day hike (weather permitting) to the main ridge above Mueller Glacier. It’s a tough slog up, but you’ll always remember the view of the Mueller Glacier and the surrounding peaks of the Main Divide! This area has a unique alpine environment, and includes unique native flora such as Ranunculus lyallii – the world’s largest buttercup, more commonly known as the Mt. Cook Lily. There are also other hiking options if you’d like to take it a little easier. Because this is a true alpine climate, we are always very aware of the weather conditions, which sometimes shift quite suddenly. If we aren’t able to do the Mueller hike because of weather, we’ll take an impressive hike up the Hooker Valley to a glacial lake at the base of Hooker Glacier, complete with icebergs! Then we will head back to our accommodation for dinner and a cold drink as we sit outside and watch the sun set on the Southern Alps.
Day 11: AKAROA
From Mt. Cook, we’ll head back out to the coast to the charming French settlement of Akaroa. This little-known spot is as well-hidden as it is beautiful, situated in a verdant valley filled with a patchwork of farms and forest, on the edge of a sheltered harbour. This afternoon we’ll head out of the harbour by boat, past towering volcanic sea cliffs, to visit some of the area’s marine life. Here you can see Hector’s dolphins (the rarest and smallest dolphin in the world), as well as fur seals, white-flippered blue penguins (the smallest penguin in the world), cormorants, and lots of sea birds.
But we won’t just view these amazing creatures from the deck of a boat! You’ll be fitted with wetsuit, mask, and life jacket and have the chance to slip into the water yourself. Swimming with dolphins is an incredible adventure and the small Hector’s dolphins are very inquisitive and bold despite their size, and are often as interested in you as you are in them! If you prefer to stay dry, you can choose not to swim and stay on the boat – the dolphins will often frolic around the boat’s bow, so you still have the chance to see these amazing mammals up close whether you swim or not. This evening you can meander along Akaroa Harbour, explore the village with its colonial architecture, craft stores, and cafés, or relax in the last of the afternoon sun at French Bay.
Day 12: HANMER FOREST AND MARUIA HOT POOLS
In the morning, we’ll drive to the mountain village of Hanmer Springs. You’ll be fitted with a 21-speed front-suspension Specialized mountain bike, and we’ll get our endorphins pumping with a mountain bike ride in Hanmer Forest. Biking is optional, so if you prefer not to cycle you can explore Hanmer’s small shops, bakery, golf course, and walking tracks. In the evening, we’ll head to Maruia Springs Thermal Reserve for a relaxing soak in the fresh water hot springs. This is true luxury, soaking your muscles after two glorious weeks of hiking, kayaking, and biking your way around the South Island. If you want a little bit of extra pampering, you can arrange a massage after your soak!
Day 13: MT. HAAST
After breakfast, we’ll travel into the Victoria Forest Park for a little-known hike up Mt. Haast. We’ll walk up through beech forest for an hour or so, before the trees start to thin and the landscape changes to include mountain neinei (red alpine grass trees) and takes on a distinct alpine feel. Soon we’ll arrive at the bushline and be greeted with amazing views that get better with every step. It’s about another hour to the summit, where we will be rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and river valley below. After we return from our hike, you’ll have the rest of the day to relax at Maruia and make the most of the hot springs.
Day 14: CHRISTCHURCH AND DEPARTURE
In the morning we’ll drive from Maruia to Christchurch where we’ll head to Willowbank Nature Reserve for our final lunch together. If we weren’t lucky enough to see the shy kiwi bird on Stewart Island we’ll have another chance to do so here at Willowbank. You can experience many of New Zealand’s creatures first hand here – including tuatara lizards, the elusive kiwi, and wallabies (small kangaroos). Then in the afternoon we can drop you at Christchurch airport for late-afternoon flights back to Auckland.
As part of our continued efforts at sustainability, we are sponsoring a native seedling and re-planting program on the West Coast of the South Island. This means that eventually for every client who participates in one of our adventures, we will plant a tree for them. Just by coming, you’re helping to reforest this unique ecosystem!