New Zealand’s South Island is split by the snow-capped 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.
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.
Grand Mercure Nelson Monaco Resort (D)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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 Weheka Boutique Hotel (B,L,D)
Tackle spectacular Fox Glacier today, hiking up through rain forest to arrive at this thick river of ice. Strap on crampons and trek out onto the glacier, exploring crevasses and ridges and taking in incongruous views of the icefall, the sharp peaks above, and the lush greenery just below. Enjoy the rest of the day to relax or explore the region. (2 miles hiking, 2–3 hours)
Te Weheka Boutique Hotel (B,L)
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.
Te Wanaka Lodge (B,L,D)
Follow the Matukituki River valley into Mount Aspiring National Park. Set out on the Rob Roy Glacier Track, tramping through forest before we emerge to see fantastic glacier views. (6 miles hiking, 4–6 hours)
Te Wanaka Lodge (B,L,D)
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)
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)
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast on the ship before returning to Queenstown. This afternoon, transfer to the airport for your flight home.
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.
Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $800. Airfare is not included. Economy air from Los Angeles to Nelson, New Zealand is estimated from $1,800.
GROUP SIZE: 8–16
See special terms and conditions for this adventure.
Trips rated MODERATE typically have 3-6 hours of activity per day, with hikes up to 10 miles on rolling or mountainous terrain with some steep ascents/descents and uneven trails at altitudes of up to 8,000 feet. Itineraries with kayaking will have 3-7 miles of paddling per day.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.