New Zealand’s South Island is split by the snowcapped spine of the Southern Alps, fringed with karst cave systems and wild beaches, laced with gorgeous fjords, and iced with glaciers. It’s no wonder that the “adventure capital of the world” is found here. Set off on a multi-sport adventure, paddling along the pristine northern coast in a sea kayak, hiking coastal trails between soaring mountains and the Tasman Sea, trekking across a glacier that descends through a rain forest, and black-water rafting on a subterranean river. Get to know the charm and personality of towns like Nelson and Wanaka, and opt to try bungee jumping in Queenstown, birthplace of the commercial sport. Then cap off the adventure with an overnight cruise on the sublime Milford Sound.
Sea kayak among dolphins and fur seals on the coast of Abel Tasman National Park.
Trek across Franz Josef Glacier, exploring the maze of crevasses and towering icefalls.
Go tubing through caves lit up by glowworms.
Stargaze and watch for wildlife on an overnight cruise in glorious Milford Sound.
Itinerary - 12 Days
Day 1 — Nelson, New Zealand
Arrive in Nelson, a sunny hub of artists and craftspeople on the northern shores of the South Island. Gather for an orientation at our waterfront hotel and enjoy time to discover this vibrant town before our welcome dinner tonight. Rutherford Hotel Nelson (D)
Day 2 — Abel Tasman National Park
Travel to Kaiteriteri and catch a water taxi into Abel Tasman National Park. Set out on the Abel Tasman Coast Track, declared one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” by the Department of Conservation. Hike through lush native forests and along granite and limestone cliffs and pristine gold-sand beaches, and arrive at our eco-lodge on the edge of Awaroa Bay. (4 miles hiking, 3–4 hours) Awaroa Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 3 — Abel Tasman National Park
Spend the day exploring the spectacular Tonga Island Marine Reserve by sea kayak. Paddle into inlets and intimate coves, keeping an eye out for dolphins, fur seals, and little blue penguins. From our take-out point on the beach at Onetahuti, hike the Coast Track back to our lodge. (1 mile hiking, 1 hour; 4–5 miles paddling, 4–5 hours) Awaroa Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 4 — West Coast/Punakaiki
After a leisurely morning, return to Kaiteriteri by water taxi. Follow the Buller River gorge to the wild west coast, where the snowcaps of the Southern Alps rise above the rugged shores of the Tasman Sea. Time permitting, stop at Cape Foulwind to see its resident fur seal colony before checking into our beachfront hotel in Punakaiki. Punakaiki Resort (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Paparoa National Park
Ride the Charleston Nile River Rainforest Train into a jungle-covered karst canyon to our black-water cave rafting adventure. Head through a jagged wonderland of stalactites and stalagmites to an underground river, where we’ll float in innertubes through passages lit up eerily by glowworms. Return to Punakaiki for a visit to the fantastic Pancake Rocks, then continue to Hokitika and enjoy free time to wander through town or stroll the beach. Beachfront Hotel Hokitika (B,L,D)
Day 6 — Okarito
Hit the trail in Okarito, taking in a magnificent panorama of wild coastline and soaring, icy peaks including, on a clear day, Mount Cook, the highest summit in New Zealand. Continue into Westland Tai Poutini National Park, part of southwest New Zealand’s extensive World Heritage area. (3 miles hiking, 2–3 hours) Te Waonui Forest Retreat (B,L,D)
Day 7 — Franz Josef Glacier
Set out on a hike this morning with our guide to explore the Franz Josef area by foot. Weather permitting, perhaps choose to book an optional flightseeing helicopter ride for views of the glacier (additional cost). This afternoon, relax at a café, or enjoy the glacier hot pools. (2 miles hiking, 2–3 hours) Te Waonui Forest Retreat (B,L)
Day 8 — Southern Alps/Wanaka
Travel into the Southern Alps today, crossing the Main Divide on our way to the Southern Lakes District and the charming town of Wanaka. Trace the shores of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, and stop for short hikes along our route. Grand Mecure Oakridge Resort (B,L,D)
Day 9 — Mt Aspiring National Park
Follow the Matukituki River valley into Mount Aspiring National Park. Spend the day hiking the Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain tracks, and take in stunning alpine views of Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring National Park. (6 miles hiking, 4–6 hours) Grand Mecure Oakridge Resort (B,L,D)
Day 10 — Queenstown
Drive to Queenstown, known as the adventure capital of the world. Enjoy free time this afternoon to visit a local winery, go on a hike, or try out an adventure sport—bungee jumping, jet boating, and skydiving are just a few of the possibilities. Scenic Suites Queenstown (B,L)
Day 11 — Milford Sound
Journey into Fiordland National Park today, taking short hikes along the way. In the afternoon, set sail on the Milford Mariner on the magnificent Milford Sound, cruising the full length with a nature guide. Celebrate our adventure amid the majesty of this fabled fjord with a farewell dinner on board. Milford Mariner (B,L,D)
Day 12 — Queenstown/U.S.
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast on the ship before returning to Queenstown. This afternoon, transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B,L)
National Geographic Adventures are unique, active itineraries for intrepid travelers that combine spectacular places, cultural interaction, and physical challenge. You'll explore fascinating, off-the-beaten-path places with top guides, and wherever possible, meet National Geographic experts in the field.
On this multi-sport adventure, explore some of the best hikes and paddling on the South Island. Hikes range from 1 to 6 hours (1 to 6 miles) on good trails with moderate elevation gain. On our kayaking excursion, we will paddle stable, two-person kayaks for 4 to 5 hours (4 to 5 miles). No previous kayaking experience is necessary.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.
What To Expect
We stay 10 nights in comfortable eco-lodges and hotels, and 1 night on a traditional sailing boat in Milford Sound.
Contact Us: 1-888-689-2557
Call to speak with an Adventure specialist about this trip.