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Days: 15 days
(River crossings, some uneven terrain, you need to be reasonably fit and enthusiastic)
Start/Finish: Nelson iSITE 9:30am
Christchurch - 6pm (approx.)
March 2019: 5, 19
Period 1st Sep 18 - 31st Aug 19
Period 30th Apr 19 - 31st May 20
Our trip starts at 9.30am in Nelson, giving you time in the early morning to wander around this vibrant and charming city. Before driving to Nelson our guide introduces us to the people joining from the North Island portion of the Ultimate New Zealand.
From Nelson, we take a picturesque drive around Tasman Bay to Kaiteriteri, the gateway for our two nights and three days in Abel Tasman National Park. Our guide advises us on how to pack light and smart as we ready ourselves for this next adventure.
A drive to Caanan Downs, on Takaka Hill, takes us through groves of ancient beech forests, alpine meadows and craggy outcrops of limestone that might look familiar to fans of Middle-earth.
Today’s hike starts near Harwoods Hole, a 183 metre vertical limestone shaft. We walk through beech, rata and dracophyllum forest into Moa Park, before eventually arriving at Castle Rocks hut. The hut is small, so we find a nearby clearing to pitch our lightweight tents. We come together for dinner and to chat about our day. Includes lunch and dinner.
A relaxed breakfast prepares us for a hike through subtle changes in forest vegetation as we descend to sea level. The sparkling blue waters and golden sands of Anchorage and Torrent bays offer tantalising views along the way.
On arrival at Anchorage campsite, we set up camp among groves of kānuka trees. We have time to explore more of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track with a brisk hike to Cleopatra’s Pools or the serene Watering Cove. Otherwise we can relax on the beach or take a swim – we’ve earned it! Includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It’s time to hit the water and explore the Abel Tasman’s magical coastline.
We have a treat today because we get to paddle a waka (Māori canoe).*
After a traditional karakia (blessing) we learn the etiquette associated with joining a waka team. Then it’s time to climb aboard and paddle!
Depending on conditions, we explore several coves on the mainland and the wildlife refuge of Adele Island, stopping for some kai (food) along the way. Our waka guide enlightens us with stories of local Māori history and customs. We paddle into the beautiful Kaiteriteri beach at around midday, where our Hiking New Zealand guide awaits with our backpacks.
It’s just a short drive from the beach to the Riwaka Resurgence, where the Riwaka River emerges from the depths of the Takaka Hill. The brave among us might plunge in for a cold water swim. Our campsite tonight is near Murchison, overlooking the confluence of the Buller and Maruia rivers. We enjoy an organic meal that is home-cooked by our hosts. Includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.
*Note: The waka experience requires a minimum of 6 people. With smaller groups, we hike the coastal path to Medlands Beach and return to Kaiteriteri via water taxi.
After driving through the Buller Gorge to the West Coast, our first major stop this morning is Cape Foulwind. Here we observe a breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals – beautiful animals that were almost hunted to extinction in the 1800s.
After lunch, we begin our hike up a spectacular limestone river canyon in Paparoa National Park. Established in 1987, this park covers more than 30,000 hectares. Its attractions include mountains, limestone cliffs, caves, rivers, wilderness areas and coastlines.
The first half of the trail is on a reasonably well-formed track and is relatively flat, while the second half involves multiple river crossings and sections where the riverbed itself is our route. Some boulders here can be slippery, and good hiking shoes or boots are essential.
Our guide teaches us how to cross rivers by linking arms with our companions.
We collect firewood along the way, and set up camp under the massive Ballroom Overhang. Includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We splash up a beautiful side canyon, following the stream until it disappears into a cave. Our return hike will either be on the track we came in on yesterday or if the river conditions are right and the group is feeling adventurous we will follow the river all the way out the canyon – offering a great chance to use our new river-crossing skills.
After hiking out, we head to the West Coast town of Punakaiki to check out the famous Pancake Rocks and seawater blowholes. Then it’s down the coast to tonight’s accommodation in Hokitika. A thriving gold rush town in the 1870s, Hokitika is now a great place to buy pounamu (greenstone), which was highly valued by early Māori for tools, jewellery and weapons.
Tonight’s lodge accommodation is centrally located and just a short distance from the beach. Tuck in to traditional Kiwi fish and chips on the beach or eat at one of the many cafés in this bustling little seaside town.
Our guide goes off duty for 24 hours from this afternoon but you will be well looked after by our local guide Chris who will meet with you on arrival in Hokitika. Includes breakfast and lunch.
Before meeting the group grab breakfast at one of the great cafés in town. Today we get to cycle the stunning West Coast Wilderness Trail between the Arahura River bridge and the historic township of Kumara. Chris will transport us out to the trail and ride with us for a short distance before returning to the vehicle. We will pedal our way through majestic native forest, cross crystal-clear rivers, and pass old reservoirs and water races.
The beautifully restored Theatre Royal Hotel in Kumara is the perfect place to celebrate our ride with a drink. Our guide Chris, meets us here and whisks us back to Hokitika. We then drive on to the charming coastal village of Okarito, where we stay in a small campground near the pounding surf.
Tonight offers the chance for the real birders amongst us to hike with a kiwi-spotting guide to find kiwi* in their natural habitat. The lowland native forests around Okarito are the last mainland habitat of the rowi (brown kiwi), and we have a very good chance of hearing their distinctive calls and perhaps even seeing them. Includes lunch and dinner.
For those not wanting to go on the bike ride, Chris can drop you off at Lake Kaniere for an unguided hike alongside the historic water races (2-3 hours).
*Cost: NZ$75 book and pay upon arrival at Okarito
We rise early for a quick dash (optional) up to the Okarito trig for superb views of the lagoon, forests and Southern Alps before returning to camp for breakfast.
After breaking camp, we leave the coast and drive a short distance to the Franz Josef Glacier access road. We hike the Roberts Point track. Hike along a groovy old gantry bolted to a rock face, cross a very long swing bridge, climb through some gnarly West Coast rain forest before the trail emerges onto some glacially smoothed rocks which offer superb views of the valley below. The hike ends at a viewing platform with great views of this dynamic glacier, which is retreating back up the valley. We return the same way. Depending on the weather, we may instead visit Gillespies Beach.
In the afternoon we enjoy a scenic drive through the heart of South Westland World Heritage Area - Te Wāhipounamu. We stop at Ship Creek to look for the rare Hector’s dolphin before leaving the coast and crossing the mountains at Haast Pass.
Tonight we sleep in cabins at Makarora, beside Mount Aspiring National Park. It’s been another epic day, so relax in the local bar, have dinner and a game of pool in classic West Coast style. Includes breakfast and lunch.
We drive alongside the pretty glacier lakes of Hawea and Wanaka – both are great for a swim - if it’s warm enough.
We continue through Wanaka township before heading along Matukituki Valley to the end of the road. We grab our packs and hike along the valley, perhaps opting to climb up for a view of Rob Roy Glacier. Cheeky and inquisitive kea (alpine parrots) often mingle with our group at lunchtime, so we might need to keep an eye on our gear (kea love shiny zips)!
In the afternoon, we enjoy stunning alpine views as we hike the valley to Aspiring Hut. Between high peaks we catch glimpses of the Matterhorn-like Mt Aspiring (3033m). Includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We return down the valley, enjoying pretty views from the river flats and a picnic lunch by Lake Wanaka.
Next up is a remarkable drive over the Crown Range, offering breath-taking summit views of Wakitipu Valley and lakes. By late afternoon, we’re past Te Anau and well on our way to Milford Sound.
We camp for the next two nights at the beautiful Knobs Flat campsite, relaxing and making the most of the welcome hot showers. Includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.
This morning we drive beside imposing granite cliffs and through hanging valleys into the heart of Fiordland National Park. This amazing World Heritage Site is one of the largest national parks in the world, with its huge glacial lakes of Te Anau and Manapouri bordering a series of spectacular fjords. By mid-morning, we are at Milford and ready to join one of the world’s great day-cruises.
Our vessel takes us out to Anita Bay and the entrance to Milford Sound. We enjoy stunning views of cascading waterfalls and the iconic Mitre Peak, which soars 1722 metres above the sea. We keep our eyes peeled for dolphins, Fiordland crested penguins, and New Zealand fur seals, which often play near our boat.
Before returning to Knobs Flat, we enjoy a hike up to Key Summit. This is the final section of the famous Routeburn Track, which is another of New Zealand’s Great Walks. We enjoy an informative nature walk and views of the Darran Mountains and Hollyford Valley. Includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.
* Those of us kayaking are picked up at 6.30am by the kayak company to travel to Milford Sound. We spend 3 to 3.5 hours paddling in double kayaks to waterfalls, spotting rare wildlife, and generally feeling dwarfed by the enormity of the fjords. Returning to land, we will be reunited with the group after their cruise. Please advise us at the time of booking if interested in the kayaking option, as space is limited. Cost: NZ$100
Our drive to Queenstown takes about three hours.
Our lodge is within easy walking distance to town and with two nights here you have plenty of time to enjoy the area’s many attractions. Take time to relax in twin ensuite rooms, plug into the free wi-fi and catch up on some laundry.
Those keen for a hike (unguided) can head up the steep tussock-lands of Ben Lomond, enjoying views of the region’s beautiful lakes and mountains. There are several other great day hikes from the town centre into the surrounding mountains, promising stunning views of Lake Wakatipu and the aptly-named Remarkables mountain range.
Queenstown earns its reputation as New Zealand’s adventure capital with heart-stopping activities such as bungy jumping, canyon swings, skydiving, mountain biking and jet boating. Those wanting to schedule some of these high-adrenalin activities in advance can talk with our team while booking, or chat with our guide at the beginning of the tour. Includes breakfast and lunch.
We regroup this morning before driving north through the Central Otago high country, over Lindis Pass and into Mackenzie Country.
This area is home to some of New Zealand’s largest sheep stations, including some that encompass thousands of hectares. It is renowned for the high quality of the wool produced by the merino sheep which graze these mountains.
After arriving at Mount Cook Village, we spend our afternoon hiking steep glacial moraines to the Red Tarns, so named for the colour of their pond-weed.
Our campsite or lodge accommodation is at the foot of New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook (3754 metres) – the Māori name means ‘cloud piercer’. We hit the local pub for some wholesome Kiwi kai (food). Includes breakfast and lunch.
We hike with day-packs up to Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut, enjoying views across two glaciers to the Mount Sefton icefall and Aoraki/Mount Cook. Towering moraine walls, glacial lakes, and the frequent rumbling of distance avalanches are reminders of nature’s sheer power in this dynamic landscape.
An alternative to this option is a helicopter ride with a local operator onto Tasman Glacier (NZ $575). Here, we attach crampons to our boots and marvel at the jagged landscape while exploring ice formations and possibly ice caves.
This afternoon offers time to relax or visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. Here, we learn of the park’s natural history and the feats of pioneering mountaineers.
Tonight is our last night of the trip – and what a place to spend it! We’re in the heart of the Southern Alps, surrounded by huge mountains of commanding presence. With luck, we can watch the summit of Aoraki/Mount Cook turn from white to pink with the sun’s last rays. Includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Before turning east to Canterbury, we have time to explore the longest glacier in New Zealand. The Tasman Glacier is retreating so rapidly as to leave an astonishing melt-water lake at its snout. The guide will drop you at your central Christchurch accommodation by 6pm. Includes breakfast and lunch.
Average of 4-5 hours physical activity per day, up to 8-9 hours on the longer days.
Altitude gains of up to 800m.
Some uneven track surfaces and river crossings.
No multi-day hiking experience necessary.
You need to be reasonably fit and enthusiastic, and have good agility.
Terrain mostly tracks. Some may be slippery or rough; some off-track hiking and river crossings.
Note on days 1, 2, 4, 5, 8 and 9 your backpack (with sleeping bag, food and equipment etc) will weigh approximately 10-12kgs*.
*Will vary depending on the weight of personal discretional items.
New Zealand's weather is changeable and we can experience extremely cold weather at any time of year, especially in the mountains. Our huts/camps vary in altitude from sea level to over 1000 metres. It is necessary to have warm clothing. Jeans are not suitable for hiking.
Watch the video of our Kiwi-Style Hiking packing list.
Optional items: (but highly recommended)
Gaiters, binoculars, earplugs, walking poles, camera.
Therm-a-rest sleeping mat, tents, cooking equipment, plates/cutlery, first aid kit, safety equipment and maps.
We allow space for 120 litres per person (one large pack plus one day pack). You may be required to forward excess luggage if you exceed this. Any gear you do not need while hiking can be locked in the custom-built trailer. We highly recommend travel insurance.
*Ultimate New Zealand only - for the flight between Wellington and Nelson, the checked luggage allowance is 23kgs per person, with a carry-on luggage allowance of 7 kg.
We have high quality hiking equipment which you can hire for our Kiwi-Style Hiking trips. Please arrange hire gear when you book. Requests for hire equipment must be made at least 5 days before the departure date.
The average driving time per day varies, some times you are in the wilderness and won't see the vehicle for 2 or 3 days! On other days you might be in the vehicle for 2-3 hrs or occasionally more. The driving time is a chance to rest and enjoy the fantastic scenery which is forever changing. You will travel in a 12 seat minibus towing a custom-built trailer with camp equipment and your luggage. They are also equipped with a range of natural history reference books. There will be a range of roads - sealed and unsealed. The guide will often stop the vehicle if there is a great photo opportunity or primo ice cream shop!
As well as being the time to rest, refuel and recharge, meal times are also a great time to get to know your fellow travellers better, sit back and enjoy the amazing surroundings and enjoy some great food! Everybody has a turn with the preparation and cooking of meals: barbecues, salads, pancakes, curries, pasta, stir-fries, hangi... Vegetarian meals are no problem. On the "wild nights" the group will usually eat pasta and rice meals (special "secret" recipes used). There is always a lot of hiking food - chocolate, nuts, raisins, biscuits. The vehicles carry a full range of cooking equipment including gas burners, woks, frying pans and billies (cooking pot). When you go on an overnight hike the group will carry a portable stove.
"Wild nights" vs nights in civilisation...The Ultimate South is a combination of “wild nights”, which are the nights where you are truly in the wilderness, staying in backcountry huts or camping in locations that may be several hours walk from the nearest road or populated area, versus nights in civilisation where you may stay in cabins or camp by the vehicle at Department of Conservation campsites. Some of these locations may still be relatively remote and in the wilderness but they can be reached by the vehicle.
Huts - New Zealand has an excellent network of backcountry huts and you will stay in huts on several nights. They are equipped with mattresses, running water and an outside toilet. Cooking is done on a portable stove. Huts are only accessible on foot and shared with other hikers. You also have the option of camping near the hut if that is your preference.
Lodges - You will stay in lodge type accommodation on some of the nights, the lodges are usually conveniently located near the start or end of a hike and have multi-share and sometimes twin/double rooms generally with shared bathrooms.
Camping - You will camp in a range of campsites. On the "wild nights" you may camp under natural rock shelters, on remote beaches or even sleep out under the stars (single tent available on request)! On the non -"wild nights" you will camp near the vehicle in Department of Conservation campsites. If the weather is not great for camping, eg very wet, stormy or cold conditions, your guide will seek out alternative accommodation, eg lodge, cabin or crib.
Cabins/Cribs - Some nights may be spent in private cribs (summer house) or cabins at a campground. Staying in the cribs is a real authentic New Zealand experience and you may even start to feel like a kiwi on holiday! Often you can put a tent up if you want a 'room' to yourself on these nights.
Bathroom facilities - On the wild nights there will be long drop (pit) toilets. There will be rivers or lakes nearby for washing, and sometimes there are even natural hot pools! The kiwi-Style Hiking Tours are set up so after a couple of nights of "roughing it" in the wilderness, you will stay somewhere where you can enjoy a shower and a few home comforts (including laundry facilities) before the next foray into the wild!
Meals: Meals that are not included in the trip price are detailed at the bottom of each day’s itinerary.
Optional activities: Milford sea kayaking (NZ$100*), Heli-hike (NZ$575*), Okarito kiwi walk (NZ$75*)
*Prices are correct at time of publishing.
All other activities are included in the price: Abel Tasman waka experience, cycling on the West Coast Wilderness Trail and the Milford Sound cruise.
An excellent guide can make the difference between a trip of a lifetime and just an ordinary trip. That is why we work hard to make sure we hire the best guides. Our handpicked professionals come from a range of backgrounds. Each has extensive outdoor and hiking experience and a passion for New Zealand’s wild and beautiful backcountry. Our guides will ensure that your time with us is truly inspiring, a huge amount of fun and safe. All guides are trained in Mountain Safety First Aid.
Please be gentle with your guide - good guides are hard to find!
Chai Pyle is the current Hiking NZ record holder for diverse work experience. Nepal rescue Kayaker/trainer to YMCA kids instructor to dementia carer to apple picker to adventure photographer to corporate caterer to coffee barista to semi professional wheelbarrow racer. Hopefully not all these skills are used on Chai’s trips. Chai is pretty interested in sustainability - permaculture practice and healthy sustainable self-sufficient ways.
Linda Pugh somehow finds time to work for us in between her hectic schedule of sea kayaking and tramping. She rates the 142 day 'Te Araroa trail' as one of her best trips. In 'all' her spare time Linda and her husband run a craft sheepskin and possum products outfitter business. Linda is a superb camp cook - ask her about the famous cinnamon apple fritters!
Dave Murphy has spent a lot of time overseas honing his wilderness skills. He has recently come back to New Zealand after hiking the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide trails. Dave’s geology degree (including years of geology experience in Asia and Australia) and his solid understanding of environment bring a wonderful depth of wisdom to his trips. But more importantly Dave holds the current Hiking NZ pancake distance record.
Graham Frith as had a lifetime of teaching, instructing and guiding and continues to take the odd hiking trip for us. Graham (a.k.a "Grum") has spent the last two and a half years cycling around the whole planet raising awareness for prostate cancer. Grum also teaches wilderness first aid and risk management and is an avid mountain biker.
John Williamson has a BSc and has ridden a horse across Mongolia. It made enough of an impression on him (the Mongolian adventure not the BSc) that he set up a horse trekking business in Mongolia over ten years ago. He now combines guiding in New Zealand with the treks in Mongolia during the New Zealand winters. John is often complimented for his stylish retro hiking attire and usually takes out the “most stylish guide” award.
Eigill Wahlberg don’t be fooled by the exotic name, this guy is a true kiwi bushman if there ever was one! Eigill has spent most of his working life in the backcountry of New Zealand. A lot of this time has been spent working for the Department of Conservation as a ranger, a hut warden and in pest control. Three years in the army gave him superb marching skills - and occasionally you might hear him muttering to himself “left, right, left right…”. He is a great cook and has been known to bake a cake over the campfire!
Justin Cowan doesn’t just talk conservation, he’s written a thesis on it (biodiversity and sustainable development). Previously with Department of Conservation Justin also ran international conservation volunteer projects before we snaffled him. On quizz night you want this guy on your team - and don’t make the mistake of thinking he only talks environment! His sport / history and general knowledge also go the distance. As do his long legs.
Kath Watzig pretty much lives off her land in the Far North and her home is a beautiful wee mud-brick house she built herself. Amongst a myriad of other things, Kath is very active in Northland conservation groups and a keen sea kayaker - her energy seems boundless. Kath is more convincing than a politician’s PR company and has more grit than the Lake Waikaremoana road - basically she is a legend.
Simon O’Donnell is an experienced climber, kayaker, mountaineer and bushman with many years professional instructing under his belt - from rafting to climbing to hiking. Now back studying in the winter, Simon joins us for the summer guiding seasons.
Rory Hart has well and truly earned his “hiking badge”. Rory clocked up about 2900 kms when he walked the Te Araroa Trail over the summer of 2014-2015, a long distance hike which spans the length of New Zealand. He took a couple of weeks off before heading to America and walking 4300 kms on the Pacific Crest Trail from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada. A geologist by trade, Rory has an amazing knowledge and understanding of glaciers and spent several weeks camping on New Zealand's Tasman Glacier while researching for his thesis, followed by a six week stint camping on the grounding line of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Despite the long periods of enforced solitude, Rory does like people and is a great fun guide to be around!
Malcolm O’Neill has a BSc in physical geography. He co-authored the guidebook Classic New Zealand Adventures, which involved lots of fun all over the country. Malcolm’s interests include mountain biking, travel, skiing/boarding, photography, making furniture and jumping into rivers. Malcolm does more business stuff than guiding these days as he is a director of Hiking New Zealand, but he can still be found getting his hands dirty!
Daniel Murphy studied something years ago at university but can no longer remember what it was! From agricultural roots he worked on farms and in the rural service industry before adventures and travel lured him overseas into the tourism industry. Hiking, mountain biking and day dreaming about great adventures are his main hobbies. Dan is the Operations Manager and a director for Hiking New Zealand. Dan is either a fantastic liar, or has had the oddest things possible happen to him - be sure to probe him for stories.
Other guides may be used during peak periods.
Can I do more than one kiwi-style hiking Tour?
Yes. The Ultimate North has been designed in conjunction with the Ultimate South to make the complete package which we call the Ultimate New Zealand.
Does everyone get involved with camp duties?
Everyone is fully involved with the running of the Ultimate South, from collecting firewood, to setting up camp and cooking meals. You are expected to do your share of work. If you are not a great cook, dont worry - your guide and other people in the group will help you.
Does it matter if I am travelling alone?
Most of the people on our kiwi-style hiking trips are travelling alone. The kiwi-style hiking trips are strong on group activities and participation including playing outdoor games, going for swims, helping one another to cross rivers, exploring secret places, and overcoming obstacles and challenges. You are encouraged to participate in activities, but if its not your thing that is also OK. Time is allowed for people to be by themselves during the trip if they need it.
What do I do with my valuables (passport, airline tickets, money, etc.) while hiking?
Keep them with you in your hiking pack. You can pack all those things in plastic bags to keep them dry and keep them with you while hiking.
I have specific dietary requirements - is that a problem?
Vegetarians, gluten free and dairy free hikers join our trips regularly. Please let us know in advance as meals take more planning. Everyone takes a turn in meal preparations, if you have complex dietary requirements you may need to be involved more frequently. It is advisable to join the trip with some of your own food items if you are worried. Once you are on the trip the guide may ask you to join him/her when they go food shopping. Preparing meals for several different dietary requirements in the wilderness with limited facilities can be challenging but with your help we can make it work.
What is the weather going to be like?
New Zealand experiences very changeable weather - especially in the remote mountainous regions where you will spend most of your time. Some days you can be broiling in 30 degrees and then the next day you could be freezing in a cool southerly from the sub Antarctic. It is best to be prepared for the worst conditions you are likely to expect - see the 'What to Take' section. You may get some rain on the trip so a good waterproof raincoat is important.
Who is in my group?
A small group (maximum 11 people), with a range of ages, nationalities and work backgrounds. Seventy percent of people are between 20 and 40, though there are sometimes people from 17 to 72. On average, half are women and half are men. Everyone shares an enthusiasm for outdoor adventure and an appreciation of nature.
What if I can't keep up with the rest of the group?
The group hikes together, stopping often for snacks and a good lunch. Some activities are optional if you feel like having some time out.
Can I charge my camera/phone/laptop, etc. while on the kiwi-style hiking tour?
About two or three times per kiwi-style hiking trip you stay at places that have electricity so you will be able to recharge batteries. If you have a vehicle adapter, bring it along as there may be an opportunity to charge items while driving.
Can I do laundry on a kiwi-style hiking tour?
Yes, at least once, usually half way through the trip. It is recommended that you bring items that are quick drying and plenty of spare pairs of socks and underwear, since you will most likely have to line-dry clothing.
When booking please indicate if you would like to participate in the Milford Sea Kayaking. No refund for pre-booked optional activities cancelled within 48 hours of the activity commencing.
For bookings four or more months in advance of the departure a 25% deposit can be paid with the remainder due 65 days prior to your trip.
For bookings within four months of the departure, full payment is required.
More than 20 days prior to departure – 80% refund of full ticket price.
20 to 10 days prior to departure – 50% refund of full ticket price.
Less than 10 days prior to departure – NO REFUND.
We strongly recommend that you have comprehensive travel insurance. We ask you to fill out a disclaimer before you begin a Hiking Tour. You must follow the instructions of your guide at all times. World Nomads Travel Insurance provides online quotes.