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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 glacial landscapes, and white-water rafting through Buller Gorge. 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.
Explore the Franz Josef Glacier area by foot or on an optional helicopter ride, weather permitting.
See the towering limestone formation known as the Pancake Rocks, formed over millions of years.
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) (B,L,D)
Day 4 — West Coast/Buller River
Return to Kaiteriteri by water taxi early this morning. Leaving Kaiterteri we head west along the Wairau Valley to the town of Murchison. After donning our wetsuits we drive to the staring point of our class III-IV raft trip through the Buller Gorge. We experience exhilarating whitewater as the Buller River surges through the confines of granite gorges with lush beech forest above. Back in our vehicle, we follow the river towards the West Coast. The coastline stretches for 500 miles, but you’ll never have to worry about crowds—only 40,000 people live in the entire region! Then we’ll be checking in to our beachfront hotel in Punakaiki. Punakaiki Resort (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Paparoa National Park
This morning we set off on a hike that follows the Pororari River upstream into the Paparoa National Park. We’ll pass through the Pororari River Gorge, a valley lined on both sides by dramatic limestone cliffs and bluffs towering over the gorge and river. 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. (6 miles hiking, 4 hours) 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. (5 miles hiking, 3 hours) (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) (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. (6 miles hiking, 4–6 hours) (B,L,D)
Day 10 — Milford Sound
Journey into Fiordland National Park today, taking short hikes along the way. In the afternoon, set sail on the magnificent Milford Sound, cruising the full length with a nature guide. Celebrate our adventure amid the majesty of this fabled fjord with dinner on board. Milford Mariner or Milford Wanderer (B,L,D)
Day 11 — Queenstown
After a leisurely breakfast on the ship we leave Milford Sound and drive to Queenstown. Along the way we stop at the Divide of the Southern Alps to hike up to Key Summit, which offers panoramic views of the Southern Alps. Enjoy a farewell dinner tonight in Queenstown. (2 miles hiking, 3 hours)
Day 12 — Queenstown
After a leisurely breakfast, transfer to the airport for flights home. Or, choose from one of the many optional activities available in Queenstown, rightfully known as the adventure capital of the world. (B)
National Geographic Active Expeditions 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.
ALT indicates a departure that has a slightly different itinerary than the one shown on this page. Click the ALT icon to see the day-to-day itinerary.
Fall 2017 - Spring 2018
Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $1,500. On the December departures, there is an additional holiday surcharge of $200. International airfare to Nelson and return from Queenstown is not included in the adventure cost.
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.