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New Zealand

Epic South Island New Zealand: 15 Days

Hidden Treasures and Great Walks

Epic South Island New Zealand: 15 Days

Hidden Treasures and Great Walks

Immerse yourself in the captivating landscapes and rich culture of the South Island, embarking on hikes that explore both hidden gems and the renowned Great Walks. Start your adventure with a scenic boat ride along the Abel Tasman National Park coastline, followed by a coastal trail hike and beachside camping. Navigate the park's waters in a modern-day waka with a local guide, seeking out seals and dolphins.

Journey south to the lush rainforests of the West Coast, where you'll hike through a limestone canyon, sleep beneath a massive rock overhang, and cycle the West Coast Wilderness Trail. Venture into the heart of the Southern Alps at Arthur’s Pass, embarking on an overnight hike to a remote backcountry hut. Explore the hiking trails surrounding the majestic Aoraki/Mt Cook before heading south to Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks. Here, hike and camp amidst the soaring peaks, glaciers, and fiords of the South West New Zealand World Heritage area.

The Ultimate South Island experience features four overnight hikes in Abel Tasman, Paparoa, Arthur’s Pass, and Mount Aspiring, along with day hikes in Fiordland and Aoraki/Mt Cook National Parks. Optional activities like glacier heli-hiking at Aoraki/Mt Cook and sea kayaking in Milford Sound make this tour ideal for the active and adventurous traveler.


  • Explore the golden sand beaches along the Abel Tasman Coast Track and delve into Māori culture with a waka experience.
  • Traverse a crystal-clear river through the dramatic limestone canyon of Paparoa National Park.
  • Cycle the scenic West Coast Wilderness Trail, immersing yourself in nature's beauty.
  • Discover the majestic Aoraki/Mt Cook region, where rugged landscapes of rock and ice await.
  • Experience the pristine waters of Milford Sound through a tranquil cruise or adventurous kayaking excursion.

START: Nelson Visitor Information Centre 9:30am
FINISH: Queenstown
ACCOMMODATION: Lodges, cabins, camping and backcountry huts

Departures 2024/2025:

  • November: 22
  • December: 6
  • January: 3, 24
  • February: 14, 28
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Trip Itinerary


Hiking Distance: 4.3 miles/7 km | Duration: 2 hours

Gather with your guide and fellow hikers at the Nelson Visitor Information Centre at 9:30 am. We'll pick up participants joining from the North Island at the airport before departing for Kaiteriteri, the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, along the scenic Tasman Bay.

Your guide will provide tips on packing light as we prepare for our initial adventure—a two-night stay in the park. A coastal boat cruise leads us to Tonga Quarry, where we enjoy a snack on the picturesque beach. Our hike begins along the Abel Tasman Coast Track, heading south to Bark Bay, where our tents and some equipment await, having been transported by boat.

Pitch tents, savor a delightful meal, and fall asleep to the soothing sound of waves lapping the shore.

Included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Accommodation: Tent

Bark Bay Camp is a Department of Conservation campsite alongside the renowned Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Enjoy a restful night in a tent listening to the waves (inflatable sleeping mat provided). Having a tent to yourself is no problem. Sleeping bags are required and can be hired when booking. There are flush toilets and filtered water. With the camp situated just meters from the beach, you can wake early and wander along the beach as the sun rises.


Hiking Distance: 5 - 7.5 miles / 8.5 - 12 km | Duration: 3-5 hours

After a leisurely breakfast, our journey from Bark Bay traverses stands of manuka and lush mixed forest. We cross a low saddle and a high suspension bridge above the Falls River. Descending to Torrent Bay, the landscape reveals golden sand beaches.

At Torrent Bay, consider a side trip to the Falls River cascades or Cleopatra’s Pool for a refreshing swim. For the nimble, join the guide in a boulder hop further up the valley to explore idyllic pools and waterfalls.

Camp tonight at the bush-fringed, bright blue inlet of Anchorage. Relax, read, and swim before an evening gathering for cooking and shared meals.

Included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Accommodation: Tent

Located in Anchorage Bay along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, this Department of Conservation campsite is well-located to enjoy the lush coastal native bush and golden beaches. Sleep in tents with an inflatable sleeping mat (provided). Having a tent to yourself is no problem. Sleeping bags are required and can be hired when booking. Sit around the fireplace stargazing and listen to the water lapping on the golden sand. There are flush toilets and filtered water.


Paddling Distance: 9.3 miles / 15 km | Duration: 3 hours

Embark on a waka (Māori canoe) to explore the magical coastline of Abel Tasman. After a traditional karakia (blessing) and learning waka etiquette, paddle along the mainland and Adele Island. Observe a New Zealand fur seal breeding colony and hear stories of local Māori history.

Paddle into Kaiteriteri beach, reunite with your guide, and enjoy a picnic lunch. Drive south to a private campsite near Murchison, overlooking the confluence of the Buller and Maruia rivers. Indulge in an organic, home-cooked meal by our hosts.

*Note: The waka experience requires a minimum of 6 people. With smaller groups, we return to Kaiteriteri via water taxi.

Included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Accommodation: Tent

A private rustic campsite with pre-placed pitched tents and stretcher-beds. Sleeping bags are required. Overlooking the confluence of two rivers it is worth the short stroll down to the river. Nearby is a small historic cottage for cooking.


Hiking Distance: 5 miles / 8 km | Duration: 4 hours

Following a scenic drive through Buller Gorge, our introduction to the wild West Coast begins in Charleston. A brief hike through lush West Coast bush reveals dramatic headlands, wild waves, and secluded bays. Enjoy a picnic lunch before gearing up for our next adventure—an exhilarating hike through a spectacular limestone river canyon in Paparoa National Park. Established in 1987, this expansive park spans over 30,000 hectares, showcasing mountains, canyons, caves, rivers, wilderness areas, and coastlines.

The initial part of the trail is on a well-formed track, gradually giving way to multiple river crossings and sections where the riverbed becomes our route. Some boulders may be slippery, emphasizing the need for sturdy hiking shoes or boots. Learn river-crossing techniques from your guide as we support each other by linking arms. Along the way, gather firewood for the night and set up camp beneath the impressive Ballroom Overhang, a captivating fluviatile cave.

For those seeking more hiking, join the guide in exploring a beautiful side canyon, following the stream until it disappears into a cave.

Included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Accommodation: Tent

Experience sleeping under a massive overhang, a fluviatile limestone outcrop located in Paparoa National Park. The impressive Ballroom Overhang needs to be seen in person to truly appreciate its enormity. No facilities, other than a rustic toilet, can be found here. A sleeping bag is required, while inflatable sleeping mats are provided.


Hiking Distance: 3.7 miles / 6 km | Duration: 3 hours

After a leisurely breakfast, we retrace our steps and head to Punakaiki on the West Coast to marvel at the famous Pancake Rocks and seawater blowholes. Continuing down the coast, we reach tonight’s accommodation in Hokitika. Once a thriving gold rush town in the 1870s, Hokitika is now known for its Pounamu (greenstone) market—a valued resource for early Māori tools, jewelry, and weapons.

Our lodge is centrally located, just a short distance from the beach. Indulge in traditional Kiwi fish and chips on the beach or explore the bustling seaside town's cafes. Upon arrival, we gear up with bikes for tomorrow’s ride.

Included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Accommodation: Lodge

Enjoy ensuite twin room accommodation at Stumpers, located in the heart of Hokitika. Linen, electric blankets, hairdryer, tea/coffee making facilities are all provided. An onsite bar and café with delicious homemade food is available all day from 7am.


Biking Distance: 24 miles / 39 km | Duration: 4-5 hours

Before our group meeting, enjoy breakfast at one of the charming town cafés. Today's adventure involves cycling the breathtaking West Coast Wilderness Trail between the Arahura River bridge and the historic township of Kumara.

Pedal through majestic native forest, cross crystal-clear rivers, and pass old reservoirs and water races dating back to the gold rush days. While today’s ride is unguided, the well-marked trail, coupled with thorough briefings from our local partners, ensures a smooth experience. Celebrate the ride at the thoughtfully restored Theatre Royal Hotel in Kumara.

After the ride, soak in the mountain and rainforest landscapes as we head east into the Southern Alps. Our lodging tonight is a private hut with showers and electricity in the quaint mountain village of Arthur’s Pass. Prepare dinner together and gear up for tomorrow’s hiking adventure into Edwards Valley. Includes lunch and dinner.

Included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Accommodation: Private Mountain Hut

Kennedy Lodge is a privately-owned mountaineering club hut that has all the facilities of a modern chalet. Two upstairs bunkrooms accommodate up to 20 guests. Sleeping bags are required. Full kitchen facilities are provided, along with showers and toilets. Mains power ensures you can recharge devices before your next sojourn into the wilderness.


Hiking Distance: 5.6 miles / 9 km | Duration: 5-6 hours

While perhaps not as renowned as some other National Parks on our journey, Arthur’s Pass captivates with its rugged peaks, untamed rivers, and thrilling hiking trails. Our overnight hike leads us up the Edwards River to Edwards Hut, perched just above the bushline, offering a splendid view of this scenic alpine valley.*

This challenging 'kiwi-style' track involves multiple river crossings and sections with steep, slippery terrain where hands come into play for added grip. Accommodation, whether camping or staying in the hut, depends on the presence of other hikers. As night falls, listen for the distinctive call of our national bird, the kiwi, particularly the Roroa or great spotted kiwi known to inhabit this area.

*Note: Most departures will have two guides for this hike.

Included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Accommodation: Mountain Hut or Camping

Edwards Hut is a classic New Zealand backcountry hut, sited on a pleasant grassy terrace just above the bushline. While facilities are basic a logburner ensures your comfort. Sleeping bags are required.


Hiking Distance: 5.6 miles / 9 km | Duration: 5-6 hours

Take advantage of the remote alpine valley's beauty by optionally exploring further towards Falling Mountain in the morning, where the views of surrounding peaks expand. After returning to the hut, pack up and hike back to the road, enjoying lunch along the way.

As we head east, the scenery transforms dramatically from the steep forested slopes of the west to wide braided rivers, tussock grassland, mountains adorned with scree, and the surreal limestone formations of Castle Hill. Departing from the main highway, we follow an inland route past Lake Lyndon, through Rakaia Gorge, and reach the village of Methven for an overnight stay. Includes breakfast and lunch.

Included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Accommodation: Lodge

Ski Time offers fantastic hospitality, atmosphere and creature comforts to ensure your stay here at the foot of the Southern Alps is memorable. The cozy ambiance of the restaurant and bar with a large open fire, complement the rooms.

Hiking Distance: 6.2 miles / 10 km | Duration: 6 hours

The morning takes us along the western edge of the Canterbury Plains into the breathtaking Mackenzie Country, characterized by vast glacial lakes and snow-capped mountains.

Arriving at Aoraki/Mt Cook village by late morning, we make the most of the afternoon with a daypack hike to Sealy Tarns, possibly extending to Mueller Hut. Revel in views across two valley glaciers to icefalls on Mount Sefton and Aoraki/Mt Cook. Moraine walls, glacial lakes, and distant avalanches serve as reminders of nature's immense power in this dynamic landscape.

Returning via the same track, we reach our accommodation at a private hut, surrounded by the commanding presence of the Southern Alps. With luck, witness Aoraki/Mt Cook's summit transition from white to pink with the sun's last rays. Includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Accommodation: Private Mountain Hut

Wyn Irwin Lodge is a private mountaineering club hut, perfectly situated just a short walk from Aoraki/Mt Cook village and close by popular trailheads. The Lodge has 16 bunks, solar powered lighting, gas cooking and hot water. Communal bathroom and kitchen facilities are shared with other club members. Sleeping bags are required.


Hiking Distance: 2.4 miles / 4 km | Duration: 2 hours

Begin the day with a leisurely breakfast, accompanied by a picturesque view of Aoraki/Mt Cook from our dining room window.

Today presents the option to join a local operator for a guided heli-hike on the Tasman Glacier (from NZ$795).* Experience a helicopter flight to the upper glacier, where you'll attach crampons to explore ice formations and caves, marveling at the jagged landscape. For those not heli-hiking, the guide leads a hike up Sebastopol's steep slopes to the Red Tarns for more stunning views. Alternatively, relax at the hut, stroll the valley floor, or visit the information center to delve into the park’s natural history and pioneering mountaineers' feats. Another option is the Hooker Valley Track (3hrs, 10kms), a scenic trail starting near the hut, meandering gently to Hooker Glacier Lake, featuring three suspension bridges.

By mid-afternoon, regroup with the heli-hikers and depart Aoraki/Mt Cook to continue south through the Mackenzie Country and over Lindis Pass into Central Otago. Spend the night near Lake Hawea, a vast glacial lake surrounded by mountains. Skip cooking and dine at a local restaurant. Includes breakfast and lunch.

*Price correct at the time of publishing.

Included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Accommodation: Cabins

The Camp, offering basic, yet comfy, cabins on the shores of Lake Hawea, is set amongst mature trees on spacious and sheltered grounds. It is located just a short 15-minute drive from Wanaka, overlooks the lake and has stunning mountain views. Shared kitchen and bathroom facilities.


Hiking Distance: 8.7 miles / 14 km | Duration: 6 hours

This morning, drive to Wanaka township for coffee and a stroll in this vibrant lakeside resort town. Continue up the Matukituki Valley to the road end, where you shoulder overnight packs. Enjoy stunning alpine views as you hike across grassed flats to Aspiring Hut, catching glimpses of the Matterhorn-like Mt Aspiring (3033m) between high peaks.

This afternoon, opt for a steep yet rewarding climb through beech forest on the Cascade Saddle Track. Keep an eye out for cheeky and inquisitive kea (alpine parrots) as you rest and admire the uninterrupted view across the upper Matukituki to Mt Aspiring and the Southern Alps.

Included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Accommodation: Mt Aspiring Hut

Aspiring Hut is an historic stone hut in the spectacular Matukituki Valley. Its large picture windows offer a tantalising partial view of Mt Aspiring with full views of the spectacular mountain ranges just a short walk away. Facilities are basic but comfortable, with bunk beds, mattresses, wood stove, common room, and flush toilets. Sleeping bags are required.

DAYS 12 - 15

DAY 12: ASPIRING HUT - EGLINTON VALLEY (Hiking Distance: 5.6 miles / 9 km | Duration: 3 hours)

Embark on the return hike early in the morning, enjoying pretty views and easy walking along the floor of this wide glacially formed valley. Once back in Wanaka, recharge with a lakeside picnic and perhaps a swim in the lake.

Next, experience a remarkable drive over the Crown Range, offering breathtaking summit views of the Wakitipu Basin and lakes. By late afternoon, pass Te Anau and make your way to Milford Sound. Camp for the next two nights at the beautiful Eglinton Valley campsite, indulging in welcome hot showers.

Includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Accommodation: Camping

  • Eglinton Valley campsite is a quiet campsite nestled in the Eglington Valley in the stunning environment of Fiordland National Park. Enjoy the peacefulness this remote location has to offer. Sleep in tents with one to two people per tent. Sleeping bags required; inflatable sleeping mats are provided. Shared kitchen and bathroom facilities.

DAY 13: EGLINTON VALLEY - MILFORD (2-hour cruise (or Milford kayaking option*), 4.3 miles / 7 km: 3 hours hiking)

Begin the day with a scenic drive beneath imposing granite cliffs and hanging valleys into the heart of Fiordland National Park—one of the world's largest national parks, boasting massive glacial lakes of Te Anau and Manapouri, and stunning fiords.

By mid-morning, reach Milford Sound for one of the world's great day-cruises. Sail to Anita Bay and the entrance to Milford Sound, marveling at cascading waterfalls and the iconic Mitre Peak, soaring 1722 meters above the sea. Keep a lookout for dolphins, Fiordland crested penguins, and New Zealand fur seals playing near the boat.

Before returning to Eglinton Valley, embark on a hike up to Key Summit, the final section of the renowned Routeburn Track. This Great Walk offers an informative nature walk through a transition from forest to alpine vegetation, abundant birdlife, and spectacular views over the Hollyford Valley to the Darran Mountains. Includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Please inform us at booking if interested in the kayaking option, as space is limited. Cost: NZ$139*

Includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Accommodation: Camping

  • Enjoy a second night at the peaceful and remote Eglinton Valley campsite.

DAY 14: EGLINTON VALLEY - QUEENSTOWN (1.2 miles / 2 km: 45 minutes hiking)

After breakfast, take a short hike to explore a beautiful waterfall near the campsite, perhaps enjoying a refreshing shower beneath it. Conclude with the final drive to Queenstown, arriving in the early afternoon.

The afternoon is yours to spend as you wish, with the lodge conveniently located within walking distance to town. Meet up in the early evening to celebrate the remarkable hikes and adventures of the past two weeks. Includes breakfast and lunch.

Includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Accommodation: Lodge

  • Pinewood Lodge is only a 15-minute walk from the hustle and bustle of central Queenstown. The Lodge is set on large sprawling grounds amongst peaceful alpine scenery and is the perfect base from which to explore Queenstown. Stay in double or twin-share ensuite accommodation with mountain or garden views. Linen is provided.


Today marks the departure of your guide to Christchurch, signaling the end of the tour. For those staying on in Queenstown, indulge in the abundance of adventure activities available in the adventure capital of New Zealand. Explore stunning landscapes with superb hiking and cycling tracks. If needed, inquire about booking a shuttle to Christchurch for today ($60 – arrives at Christchurch airport at 4 pm).

Additional Trip Info

Additional Details:


"Wild nights" vs nights in civilisation...The Ultimate South Island 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!

Accommodation is subject to availability, and an equivalent style of property could be used if the advertised property is no longer available.


Meals are a time to rest, refuel and recharge, but also a great chance to get to know your fellow travellers better. So soak up the amazing surroundings and enjoy some great food! Everybody gets involved with the preparation and cooking of meals: barbecues, salads, pancakes, curries, pasta, stir-fries... On the "wild nights" the group will usually eat pasta or rice meals (learn some "secret" recipes!). There is always lots of snack food - chocolate, nuts, raisins, biscuits. The vehicles carry a full range of cooking equipment including gas burners, woks, frying pans and billies (cooking pots). On overnight hikes the group will carry a portable stove.

Whilst we can cater for vegetarians and most food intolerances, some trips are not recommended for people with very restrictive or complex dietary requirements. If you do have a restrictive eating regime please disclose this to us at the time of booking. We may ask you to provide us with an outline of what you would typically eat on a multiday wilderness trip. You may need to assist the guide with the food shopping and preparation to ensure your dietary requirements are met. For complex diets we may ask you to shop and pay for some of your specialist dietary requirements before or on the trip. Just have a chat with us on booking.

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