14 Days Active New Zealand Trip
This is an action-packed trip. It's a multi-activity trip, with plenty of options to suit your fancy! We do a snorkeling trip to a seal colony, an incredible 3-day guided backpacking, biking, or sea kayaking trip, take some of New Zealand's most stunning day hikes, and do some unforgettable sea ...Read Full Description
- Blenheim, New Zealand; Kaikoura, New Zealand; New Zealand; Queenstown, New Zealand
- Trip Length:
- 14 days
- Best Time to Go:
- Any time.
- Recommended for:
Infants (under 2)
Children (2 - 5)
Children (6 - 8)
Children (9 - 11)
Children (12 - 14)
Children (15 - 17)
Adults (18 - 20)
Adults (25 - 29)
Family Trip, Group Retreat, Summer Vacation
Detailed Trip Description
This is an action-packed trip. It's a multi-activity trip, with plenty of options to suit your fancy! We do a snorkeling trip to a seal colony, an incredible 3-day guided backpacking, biking, or sea kayaking trip, take some of New Zealand's most stunning day hikes, and do some unforgettable sea kayaking and cycling in various parts of the South Island. We maintain plenty of options so we can make sure the trip works for everyone and we have two guides to take good care of you. It is an awesome way to see New Zealand if you enjoy the outdoors and like a bit of a challenge. The accommodations vary - for over half the trip we stay in accommodations of very comfortable standards (B&Bs, lodges, etc.) and for the rest of the trip we have chosen more rustic accommodations in order to be in the most beautiful, isolated and off-the-beaten-track places in New Zealand. This is simply an awesome trip.
Day 1 - Kaikoura
Arrive, snorkel with seals in Kaikoura.
Most people leave the Northern hemisphere on a Saturday evening and arrive in Auckland early on Monday morning. You’ll lose a day to the dateline - but you get it back on the way home! You’ll immediately take the short flight to Christchurch in the South Island arriving by 10am or so.
Private Car Service
We’ll meet you there and drive up the coast to the seaside town of Kaikoura, where we will spend the afternoon and evening.
We’ll take you out to the Kaikoura Peninsula for a snorkeling trip at the seal colony. You’ll be supplied with a wetsuit, mask and snorkel, and you can swim within a couple of feet of native New Zealand Fur Seals as they cavort in the water. This makes for a cruisy introduction to New Zealand and gives you the chance to spend most of the day relaxing and recovering from your flight. Depending on where you’re coming from, you’ll probably find jetlag is no big deal. For instance, it’s a 12-hour direct overnight flight from the West Coast of the USA to Auckland and there’s only a 3-hour time difference between New Zealand and US Pacific time. If you’re coming from further afield, you’ll appreciate the gentle start to your New Zealand adventure.
Bed & Breakfast
ACCOMMODATION: A lovely Bed & Breakfast, Kaikoura (L,D).
Day 2 - Blenheim
Visit vineyard, start multi-day options.
Private Car Service
We’ll drive north for a couple of hours to Blenheim, in the heart of the Marlborough wine region.
We’ll visit Forrest Estate Winery, where you can sample some of their fantastic wines while we picnic on the vineyard lawn.
At the time of booking, you have the choice of one of three different 3-day/2-night options - a backpacking trip in Nelson Lakes National Park, a 3-day/2-night sea-kayaking trip in the Marlborough Sounds, or a 3-day/2-night biking trip on the Queen Charlotte Track.
The backpacking trip entails staying in mountain huts while the cyclists and sea kayakers stay in more conventional lodging, often with amenities such as hot tubs, private bathrooms and even a bar! Add US$399 + tax for the sea kayaking or biking options. After lunch, we head off for our various activities.
If you prefer hiking, we’ve got just the thing! Our hike starts at the charming village of Saint Arnaud, on the edge of Nelson Lakes National Park. To keep our hiking group sizes down in this beautiful but fragile environment, we
keep our exact route and group composition flexible. We’ll spend the afternoon hiking the relatively gentle trail alongside Lake Rotoiti. We’ll stay at Lakehead Hut overnight, a small mountain cabin in a gorgeous setting at the head of Lake Rotoiti, with a river running by and mountains everywhere you look. Nelson Lakes National Park straddles the northern part of the Southern Alps, an area composed of beech forests, big lakes and even bigger mountains. It’s a special place and in our opinion, vastly superior to its more famous neighbor, Abel Tasman National Park. This is serious wilderness country - no roads, no shops, no TVs - just incredible views and marvellous solitude. You don’t have to carry a very heavy pack - our guides are pretty tough and they’ll carry the lion’s share of the load. You’ll be carrying a sleeping bag, a few spare clothes, and some food - no need for any more than that, although we’ll provide tents and so on if you’d prefer to camp out under the stars.
After lunch you’ll head for Anakiwa on the edge of Queen Charlotte Sound to begin our three days of paddling. The waters here are calm and isolated, surrounded by lush forests and rocky coastline. Here you’ll be matched with a modern sea kayak and all the necessary safety equipment for paddling. You don’t need any experience to do this option, but if you are an experienced sea kayaker, you won’t be bored. After a thorough safety briefing, you’ll head out with your guide for a fairly gentle first day’s paddle.
Another option over this period of time is to do some biking. After lunch you’ll head for Anakiwa on the edge of Queen Charlotte Sound, where you’ll be fitted with a modern mountain bike for a fairly gentle ride to start. We have a lot of flexibility with this option, so this afternoon’s ride will give your guide the opportunity to tailor the next two days to your level of experience. We offer a range of fantastic single track and road riding to suit your experience and interests. The Queen Charlotte Track is rated as one the best mountain biking tracks within the South Island and is one of the few areas of New Zealand wilderness where mountain bikes are permitted. Road cycling along Queen Charlotte Drive allows you to cover a greater distance and take in more of the Marlborough Sounds - it’s your call! In the evening we’ll enjoy an awesome dinner in a local lodge before the big day tomorrow.
Day 3 - New Zealand
Enjoy backpacking, sea kayaking or biking.
Today is an unforgettable day - the scenery gets even better with each step! We walk alongside the Travers River, through native beech forest, before heading up the Hukere Stream to spend the rest of the day hiking up to the ridgeline of the mountains. This is a steep hike, with an elevation gain of 3000 feet (1000m), but it’s absolutely worth it. There is a gorgeous alpine lake at the top and the remote but comfortable Angelus Hut is ideally situated right on the edge of the lake. We have plenty of experience in getting people to the top, whatever your physical fitness level and age. If you’re still keen for more, from Angelus Hut we’ll scramble up a nearby peak to enjoy stunning views in every direction. If you prefer to hang out at Angelus hut with a cuppa, that’s fine too! Many of our clients who have chosen the hiking option tell us that the Angelus Circuit - still unspoilt and non-commercial - was the highlight of their New Zealand adventure, and many kiwis prefer this trip to the better-known Routeburn and Milford Tracks.
Today we’ll have a full day’s paddling in the more untouched bays of Queen Charlotte Sound. You can paddle at your own pace and we’ll make sure that you get as much or as little “sea time” as you like! Along the way we’ll
check out the secluded beaches and native forest that characterize the area, and we’ll see all sorts of native birds. With a bit of luck, we’ll be paddling alongside the local dolphins, New Zealand Fur Seals and even penguins! It’s worth noting that you don’t just paddle on this option - you have plenty of time to stop for short beach and forest walks as well. After the day’s activities, you’ll be able to have a hot shower, and enjoy a great dinner and a comfortable night’s sleep.
A big ride today, if you like, or a gentle cruise. We have some challenging single-track riding on the renowned Queen Charlotte Track for the more experienced. Along the way, you’ll ride past some of the pristine beaches, native forest and birdlife that characterize this area. If a gentle cruise is more your style, you can road cycle past wide-sweeping views and coastal forest of the Kenepuru Road. It’s worth noting that you don’t just cycle on either of these options - again, you have plenty of time to stop for short beach and forest hikes as well.
Day 4 - New Zealand
Enjoy backpacking, sea kayaking or biking.
This morning we’ll wake up on top of the world. After breakfast, it’s a four to five hour hike out, first along the stark ridgeline with dramatic views down to Tasman Bay and the mountains of Kahurangi National Park beyond, then down through native beech forest. It’s a challenging walk out, but it’s worth every drop of sweat! We’ll hook up with the kayakers and cyclists before carrying on to the coast.
We spend the morning paddling to our takeout point at Anakiwa. It’s another chance to spot local wildlife before having lunch. After taking our kayaks out of the water, we’ll transfer to Saint Arnaud, where we hook up with the rest of the group before carrying on to the coast.
We’ll spend the morning biking back towards Anakiwa, either by road or single track, where we’ll have lunch. We’ll then transfer to Saint Arnaud to rejoin with the hikers and the kayakers in the afternoon and carry on to the coast.
After regrouping in Saint Arnaud we’ll head to the wonderful West Coast area - 500 miles of gorgeous coastline with a population of only 40,000 people on the whole coast! For dinner this evening, we’ll stop at the tiny seaside settlement of Charleston to pick up the quintessential kiwi dinner - fish and chips! If it’s a fine evening, we’ll enjoy our fish and chips on the beach before heading south down the stunning coastline towards the coastal village of Punakaiki.
ACCOMMODATION: West Coast lodgings - comfortable and quiet (B,L,D)
Day 5 - New Zealand
Hike in Punakaiki Rainforest.
We’ll spend most of the day in Punakaiki to hike amongst the limestone canyons and lush rainforest of the Inland Pack Track. The gold miners who first opened up the area over a century ago established this trail. We’ll also check out Punakaiki’s famous Pancake Rocks and blowholes. This is one of our favorite places in the world, and you’ll see why.
Finally, we’ll leave in the afternoon to drive down the scenic coastal road and stop at Hokitika to check out the local art galleries and pounamu carving workshops (“pounamu” is Maori for jade). Then we’ll carry on to Okarito Lagoon, a gem of the West Coast that is all but untouched due to it being 10 miles down a one-way road from an obscure highway turnoff. With a population of only 31 people, there are no shops, no restaurants and no traffic here - and watching the sun set over the Tasman Sea is definitely not to be missed!
Day 6 - New Zealand
Kayak Okarito Lagoon, hike beach and forest.
You’ve got a lot of options at Okarito. You can spend a cruisy day in this sleepy but beautiful beach town to recharge your batteries, or do some awesome hiking and kayaking. The Okarito Lagoon is unique in that it hosts the only white heron colony in New Zealand. You can sea kayak on the lagoon with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains for a few hours, then spend the rest of the day hiking through the lush coastal forest to Three Mile Lagoon, and walking back next to the waves crashing on the deserted beach. Okarito is also a great spot just to hang out in the scenery and enjoy a good book, or talk philosophy with some of the locals!
Day 7 - New Zealand
Hike at Franz Josef Glacier.
Just south of Okarito there are two formidable glaciers descending from the mountains to the sea. In terms of scenery, this place is just off the chart, and we’ll spend most of the day hiking at Franz Josef Glacier. We’ll hike up through the rainforest to either Alex Knob or Roberts Point, both of which give great views of the terminal face, lower reaches and lateral moraines of the Franz Josef Glacier. We only do these hikes in good weather, as the rocks get very slippery in the rain. If it’s raining, we’ll do a shorter walk to the terminal face of Fox Glacier, hike around Lake Matheson and visit the Blue Pools near the Haast Pass.
A less strenuous, but outrageously scenic option today is to heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier itself. After being fitted with crampons, ice axes and so on, you'll board a modern turbine helicopter and fly towards the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, landing on the glacier at 4,000 feet (1300m) above sea level. Led by specialist glacier guides, you'll hike through the grand ice formations of the glacier, checking out its crevasses, seracs and tunnels - no previous experience required! The constant movement of the glacier means every day is different, so your guides will cut steps in the ice, and make sure you make the most of the conditions. At the end of your hike on the ice, you'll take another helicopter ride out of the mountains, and back to civilization.
The heli-hike is extremely popular with the general traveling public, so we offer advance reservations with the helicopter operators and guiding company. At the time of booking, or up until one month before your trip, you can reserve a space on the heli-hike, and we'll make sure a spot is held for you. You can leave your decision until you're actually on your trip, and we'll get you a spot if it's available.
Heli-hikers generally return a little earlier, so we all rendezvous at a local café, and head south. From Franz Josef it's about three hours down the coast to Makarora (pop. 30), which is a small farming village directly next to Mt. Aspiring National Park. We'll stay at a beautifully landscaped, family-style homestead on the edge of the village, in the shadow of the mountains.
ACCOMMODATION: The Homestead, Makarora - very comfortable and spacious (B,L,D).
Day 8 - Queenstown
Mt. Aspiring National Park to Queenstown.
We’ll head down the road to Lake Wanaka for a hike over-looking the lake and the surrounding mountains.
After lunch and a short drive across the mountains at Cardrona Saddle, we drop into Queenstown, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. ACTIVE NEW ZEALAND is based in Queenstown for a good reason - it’s the adventure capital of New Zealand (if not the World!) – and you’ll find all the comforts of civilization: massage therapists, restaurants, sidewalk cafés, window-shopping, and adrenaline-pumping activities! You’ll also find some incredible optional activities here too, such as hang gliding, bungy jumping, jet boating, skydiving, horse trekking, fishing and winery tours - it’s all here! There are also incredible hikes and bike rides as well. Queenstown isn’t a big place - the population is about 8000 - but there’s plenty to do! Or you can do nothing, if you prefer to just soak up the atmosphere or lounge about just reading a book.
ACCOMMODATION: Queenstown apartments, Queenstown (B,L)
Day 9 - Queenstown
Free day in Queenstown.
It’s all up to you today - enjoy!
ACCOMMODATION: Queenstown apartments (B)
Day 10 - New Zealand
Hike Routeburn Track, cycle Hollyford Valley.
This morning we head down to Te Anau for lunch, before continuing on to The Divide, where we’ll hike part of the famous Routeburn Track. The Routeburn is one of the best-known hiking tracks in New Zealand and we do the best part of the track, which overlooks the Hollyford Valley, Lake Marian and Mt. Christina.
After hiking back to the trailhead, you’ll be fitted with a 21-speed front-suspension Specialized mountain bike for a spectacular ride through the Hollyford Valley. This remote and gently-rolling backcountry road is lined with unspoilt beech forest and surrounded by towering peaks - take your time or go as hard as you want - either way, this is a ride you’ll never forget! If cycling isn’t your thing, you can skip it and just enjoy the scenery - like all our activities, the cycling is completely optional.
We’ll all end up at Hollyford Camp, an isolated and rustic establishment, originally set up in the 1930s for the workers who built the nearby Homer Tunnel and Milford Road. This is a beautiful, tranquil place, with a dozen cabins scattered around a museum and historic general store, still operating to this day. Hollyford Camp is right next to the Hollyford River and is surrounded by the mountains of Fiordland National Park. It’s definitely not a 5-star hotel, but it’s a great little place, and a wonderful location to hang out at the end of such an adventurous day! ACCOMMODATION: Hollyford Camp, Hollyford Valley - rustic but idyllic OR Milford Lodge, Milford Sound (B,L,D)
Day 11 - New Zealand
Sea kayak in Milford Sound, cycle to Lake Manapouri.
It’s an early start today. First we’ll have a short drive through the Homer Tunnel, which comes out at the top of a spectacular alpine road that winds its way downhill 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, surrounded by snow-capped mountains! 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 is an awesome trip, run by specialist kayak outfitters, and it’s equally suitable for beginners or experts.
When you get back from your morning’s paddle, we’ll head back to Hollyford Camp for lunch before continuing on to Lake Te Anau. From here you’ll have a chance to cycle along the peaceful country road that meanders its way through southern farmlands to the Lake Manapouri Inn, beautifully located on the lake’s edge. Again, if you prefer, you can skip the cycling and just enjoy the great views out over the lake and the surrounding mountains of Fiordland National Park.
Bed & Breakfast
ACCOMMODATION: Lake Manapouri Inn, Manapouri (B,L,D).
Day 12 - New Zealand
Explore high-country sheep farm.
Today we have a relaxed start, and head back up the road to Queenstown, where we stop for a couple of hours. This gives you the chance to get some lunch, do any last minute shopping, send postcards home, or whatever you might need to do before heading back into the wilderness for the remainder of your trip.
We’ll drive up to Lake Pukaki, near Mt. Cook, where we stay on Duncan and Carol McKenzie’s 60,000 acre high-country sheep farm, called Braemar Station. (“Station” is the New Zealand word for a big ranch.) While we’re here, we stay in the shearers’ quarters. Again, it’s not a 5-star hotel but many of our previous clients have told us this was one of their favorite places on the whole trip! The view out the kitchen window in the morning will knock your socks off - one huge mountain, rearing towards the sky on the far side of a gorgeous cobalt-blue lake. And with no lights for miles around, the stars on a clear night are like nothing you’ve ever seen - just the place for your last couple of nights in New Zealand! ACCOMMODATION: Shearers’ quarters, Braemar Station - the views are breathtaking! (B,D).
Day 13 - New Zealand
Hike in Mt. Cook National Park.
This morning it’s an hour or so to Mt. Cook Village, at the head of Lake Pukaki. Mt. Cook, known as Aoraki or “cloud piercer” by the local Maori, is the highest mountain in New Zealand, and we have a stunning and little-known day hike (weather permitting) to the main ridge above Mueller Glacier – directly opposite Mt. Cook! It’s a tough slog up, but you’ll remember the view of the Mueller Glacier and the surrounding peaks of the Main Divide forever! There are also other hiking options if you’d like to take it a little easier. The weather conditions are very important in this area, as it’s a true alpine climate notorious for sudden weather shifts. If we aren’t able to do the Mueller hike, 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 head back to the shearers’ quarters for the last night of the Rimu. We’ll enjoy a traditional kiwi BBQ and a cold drink as we sit outside and watch the sun set over Mt. Cook.
ACCOMMODATION: Shearers’ quarters (B,L,D)
Day 14 - New Zealand
Fly back home.
This is the last day of your two-week trip around the South Island. See the itinerary for the Kauri trip if you want to take a few more days to see the North Island as well. Or check out our ACTIVE AUSTRALIA trips if you’ve got a little more time and want to visit Australia, fondly known as New Zealand’s “West Island”.
Private Car Service
We’ll leave after breakfast for the three-hour drive to Christchurch, and arrive in the afternoon in time for the flights back to Auckland.
Any international flight after 4pm is ideal, and we can make domestic flights as early as 2.30pm if we have a little notice. International flights from Auckland usually leave early evening, so if you’re heading back to North America, you’ll get home some time on Sunday, even though you left on Sunday evening! Flights back to Europe, of course, take a little longer. You’ll be refreshed and invigorated from the good food, exercise, rest, and great times you’ll have had with us in New Zealand!
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