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Ultimate New Zealand - Hiking New Zealand - 23 Days

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Itinerary

Day 1: AUCKLAND - WHIRINAKI 11km/3 hours hiking

Stop At: Whirinaki Te Pua A Tane Conservation Park, Whirinaki Forest Park 3079, New Zealand
We head south to Rotorua, with a café stop at 9am for those who missed breakfast. Rotorua is renowned for its steaming thermal vents, bubbling mud-pools and stunning lakes. The area is also rich in Māori and early European history, including the violent 1886 Mt Tarawera eruption that buried a Māori village. We enjoy a quick stop by Lake Rotorua before heading away from the beaten track – southeast into the Whirinaki.

After a picnic lunch, we sort out gear and pack our backpacks for the hike into the rainforest. A further hours’ drive get us to the south end of this huge park.

The Whirinaki Forest is a preserved remnant of the vast forests believed to have covered the super-continent of Gondwanaland more than 150 million years ago. Our first hike is an easy one, descending 300m on a track through native beech forest, to a simple forest hut beside the stunning Whirinaki river. We cook up our meal together and relax.
Duration: 3 hours

Meals included:
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: We either camp or stay in the nearby hut with an evening campfire

Day 2: WHIRINAKI - TE UREWERA 16km/5 hours hiking

Stop At: Whirinaki Te Pua A Tane Conservation Park, Whirinaki Forest Park 3079, New Zealand
This morning we continue down the valley track. This wilderness is off the tourist trail and we rarely see others, but we do often see rare blue ducks and robins, and hear kaka (a large bush parrot)! Lower down the valley, we hike beneath giant tree ferns and some of New Zealand’s most stunning podocarp rainforest trees.

Later in the afternoon we drive east, into the rugged forest ranges of Te Urewera. This is the traditional home of the Tūhoe (Māori tribe) and one of the last places to have been reached by European settlers.

After two hours winding through the most incredible rain forest, we reach the western arm of remote Lake Waikaremoana. We continue around the lake before stopping for the night at a camping area with sweet little cabins. Here we relax and cook a meal together in the communal kitchen.
Duration: 5 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: We usually stay in the simple cabins but occasionally camp at Lake Waikaremoana

Day 3: LAKE WAIKAREMOANA 17km/8 hours hiking

Stop At: Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk, Onepoto Road, Te Urewera, Wairoa New Zealand
This morning we drive 20 min to the trail-head at the south end of the lake and ready ourselves for some spectacular views.

We climb up the Panekiri Range through gnarled beech and bright green tawa forest ascending to a point over 500 metres above the lake.

From here, we hike along with breath-taking vistas in every direction. After enjoying a lunch stop at Bald Knob, we return back along this undulating trail, and if time permits once back at the road end, we explore the fascinating ’caves’ trail.
Duration: 8 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: We usually stay in the simple cabins but occasionally camp at Lake Waikaremoana

Day 4: LAKE WAIKAREMOANA - TAUPO 4km/2 hours hiking

Stop At: Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, 201 Waiotapu Loop Road Rd 3, Rotorua 3073 New Zealand
This morning we drive to the Volcanic Plateau where we explore an extraordinary thermal park (price included), bathe in a natural hot river and view the impressive Huka Falls. Feel the spray here as the mighty Waikato River plunges 11 metres into a stadium-like pool. This is New Zealand’s longest river.

Later we arrive at Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. Incredibly, this 600 square kilometre crater lake was formed in 186 AD by the most powerful volcanic explosion in recorded history.
At Taupo, we either grab takeaway food (own cost) or rustle up a quick ‘trailer’ meal at a lovely lake-side spot. Here we can relax on the unusual pumice beach and in summer enjoy an evening swim before continuing to our cabin accommodation in Tongariro National Park.
Duration: 2 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
Accommodation included: Cabin accommodation in Tongariro National Park

Day 5: TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK 15km/6 hours hiking

Stop At: Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Off State Highway 48 Mangatepopo Valley, Whakapapa Village, Tongariro National Park New Zealand
Tongariro National Park is the oldest National Park in New Zealand and the fourth oldest in the world. In 1993, the park became a UNESCO mixed cultural and natural World Heritage Site. Although many hikers walk the busy one-day Tongariro Alpine Crossing, few explore the more remote and drier east side of this volcanic range.
Enjoy our secret side trips and short cuts but rest assured we will hike the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing – considered one of the world’s finest day walks – but at a less busy time of the day whenever possible.

We sort out gear and pack our backpacks ready for our two nights away. In the late morning hike out of Whakapapa through tussock-grasslands and over the low saddle that cuts between the volcanoes Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. Late afternoon we arrive at a simple but modern hut beside a quiet stream and among patches of mountain beech forest. There are great mountain-views from the spacious common room.
Duration: 6 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: We stay at a simple but modern backcountry hut beside a quiet stream and among patches of mountain beech forest

Day 6: TONGARIRO 12km/6 hours hiking

Stop At: Tongariro National Park, Manawatu-Wanganui 4691, New Zealand
The trail to the next hut takes just 3 hours, so we have the morning to explore.

Either amble (about an hour) to the splendid Ohineopango Springs and visit an historic hut and then return to hut for lunch, or we can negotiate an adventurous off-trail route over ash-moraine ridges and skirt lava cliffs to reach a viewpoint high above a remote lake. After lunch continue on, traversing stony deserts to an alpine hut at 1400m situated on the edge of an old lava flow.

We stop to enjoy fantastic views of the Park’s three main peaks: Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. The latter starred as Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. It’s an extraordinary landscape of active volcanoes and lava valleys.

Evening provides an opportunity to share an alpine hut with hikers from all over the world. Oturere ‘sardine tin’ Hut is small, quite busy, but still our favourite spot.
Duration: 8 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: Share an alpine hut with hikers from all over the world. Oturere Hut is small, busy, but still our favourite spot

Day 7: TONGARIRO 8-15km/3-8 hours hiking

Stop At: Tongariro National Park, Manawatu-Wanganui 4691, New Zealand
We hike through a moon-like valley of lava flows and ash fields before climbing steeply to the remarkable Emerald Lakes, which have graced the covers of many guidebooks.

From here we join the spectacular Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
The next few hours of hiking take us through an unforgettable wonderland of lava valleys, steaming craters and brooding volcanoes before our descent through bonsai-like alpine foliage and alongside mineral-infused streams. In good conditions, we have the option of climbing high on the volcanic peaks.

An evening drive takes us to a lodge in the heart of the National Park – the perfect place to relax with a beer and enjoy million-dollar volcanic views before dining in the alpine village.
Duration: 6 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
Accommodation included: An evening drive takes us to a lodge in the National Park – the perfect place to relax and enjoy million-dollar views

Day 8: TONGARIRO - WELLINGTON 1km/1-2 hours hiking

Stop At: Central Park, Brooklyn Rd Brooklyn, Wellington 2004 New Zealand
Driving south, we leave the volcanoes to descend through the beautiful river valleys of the Rangitikei and along the coast to Wellington, where we arrive mid-afternoon after a café break.

Wellington is so much more than just New Zealand’s capital. It is also the nation’s stylish hub for arts, culture, cafés and politics. Enclosed by hills and a harbour, this compact city has many attractions within easy walking distance.

Options include enjoying the National Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa) or watching the political shenanigans of the ‘Beehive’ (Parliament House). Many visitors immerse themselves in the vibrant café scene and the accessible downtown area.
Duration: 2 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
Accommodation included: YHA Wellington

Day 9: WELLINGTON - ABEL TASMAN 13.5km/4 hours hiking

Stop At: Abel Tasman Coast Track, Harvey Road, Marahau, Abel Tasman National Park 7010 New Zealand
We keep our options open this morning – some might prefer to relax, others might opt for a dash around the CBD or a walk along the waterfront. In any case, we regroup in time for our shuttle to the airport and our short flight to Nelson – our first stop in the South Island. Here, our South Island guide introduces us to the people joining us for the South 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 boat cruise around the coast takes us to the beautiful and less visited part of the park at Awaroa. We enjoy a picnic on this idyllic beach before starting our hike following the Abel Tasman Coastal track south to Bark Bay, where our tents and some gear have been dropped by boat. We pitch our tents and enjoy a delicious meal together. Fall asleep to the sound of waves lapping the shore.
Duration: 8 hours

Meals included:
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: Camping at Bark Bay, Abel Tasman National Park

Day 10: BARK BAY - ANCHORAGE 8.5 - 12 km/ 3-5 hours hiking

Stop At: Abel Tasman Coast Track, Harvey Road, Marahau, Abel Tasman National Park 7010 New Zealand
After a relaxed breakfast we continue our hike on the Coastal Track to Anchorage. The hike from Bark Bay takes us through glades of manuka, over a low saddle and across a 47-metre suspension bridge at Falls River. The optional side trip to Cleopatra’s Pool is a must and a perfect place for a refreshing swim, and if you are feeling nimble you can join the guide for a boulder hop further up the valley exploring idyllic pools and waterfalls.

Your guide may also talk you into taking another side trip up to the Falls River cascades, another stunning swimming spot. We camp tonight at the bush-fringed and bright blue inlet of Anchorage. Relax, read a book and go for a swim – before we meet in the evening to cook and eat together.
Duration: 8 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: Camping at Anchorage, Abel Tasman National Park

Day 11: ANCHORAGE - MURCHISON 15km/3 hours paddling

Stop At: Abel Tasman Coast Track, Harvey Road, Marahau, Abel Tasman National Park 7010 New Zealand
It’s time to hit the water and explore the Abel Tasman’s magical coastline by 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, where we observe a breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals – beautiful animals that were almost hunted to extinction in the 1800s. 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. After a picnic lunch and a restock on supplies in Motueka we drive south to our private campsite near Murchison, overlooking the confluence of the Buller and Maruia rivers. We enjoy an organic meal that is home-cooked by our hosts.

*Note: The waka experience requires a minimum of 6 people. With smaller groups we return to Kaiteriteri via water taxi.
Duration: 8 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: Private campsite near Murchison, overlooking the confluence of the Buller and Maruia rivers.

Day 12: DAY 12 MURCHISON - BALLROOM OVERHANG 8km/3-4 hours hiking

Stop At: Paparoa National Park, New Zealand
After driving through the Buller Gorge our first stop and experience of the wild west coast is at Charleston. We take a short hike through lush West Coast bush checking out the dramatic headlands, wild waves and secluded bays.

After the hike we enjoy a picnic lunch and pack up for our next hike that takes us 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, a fluviatile cave. For those that are keen on more hiking you can join the guide and explore up a beautiful side canyon, following the stream until it disappears into a cave.
Duration: 8 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: Camping under the massive Ballroom Overhang, a fluviatile cave

Day 13: BALLROOM OVERHANG - HOKITIKA 6km/3 hours hiking

Stop At: Hokitika Beach, Beach Street, Hokitika New Zealand
After a relaxed breakfast we hike back out the same way and 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. On arrival in Hokitika, we get fitted out with bikes for tomorrow's ride.
Duration: 8 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
Accommodation included: Lodge accommodation in Hokitika

Day 14: HOKITIKA - ARTHUR'S PASS 39km/4-5 hours biking

Stop At: Arthur's Pass National Park Visitor Centre, State Highway 73, Arthur's Pass National Park 7654 New Zealand
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.

We will pedal our way through majestic native forest, cross crystal-clear rivers, and pass old reservoirs and water races. Today’s ride is unguided, but the trail is very well marked, and our local partners will give you a very thorough briefing on riding the trail. The thoughtfully restored Theatre Royal Hotel in Kumara is the perfect place to celebrate our ride with a drink.

After the ride sit back and enjoy the mountain and rainforest landscapes as we turn east to drive into the Southern Alps and stay in the quaint mountain village of Arthurs Pass. Lodgings tonight are at a private hut with showers and electricity. We prepare dinner together and get ready for tomorrow's hiking adventure into Edwards Valley.
Duration: 8 hours

Meals included:
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: Private hut in Arthurs Pass Village

Day 15: ARTHUR'S PASS - EDWARDS HUT 7km/5-6 hours hiking

Stop At: Arthur's Pass Walking Track, Punchbowl Road Off State Highway 73, Arthur's Pass National Park New Zealand
While not as well-known as some of the other National Parks visited on the tour, Arthur’s Pass will awe you with its rugged alpine peaks, wild rivers and adventurous hiking trails. Our overnight hike takes us up the Edwards Valley to the Edwards Hut which sits just above the treeline with a great view up and down this beautiful valley.*

It is a challenging hike on a real ‘kiwi-style’ track. There are several river crossings and parts where you will need to use your hands for extra grip as the trail is rugged with steep slippery sections.

We either camp or stay in the hut depending on how many other hikers are there.

At nightfall we listen out for the distinct call of our national bird, the kiwi. Roroa or great spotted kiwi are known to inhabit this sub-alpine area.

*Most departures will have two guides for this hike.
Duration: 8 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: Camp or stay in the Edwards Hut

Day 16: EDWARDS VALLEY - MT SOMERS 7km/5-6 hours hiking

Stop At: Mount Somers Track, Flynns Road, Mount Somers New Zealand
We make the most of being in this wonderfully remote alpine valley with an optional hike to explore further up the valley this morning towards Falling Mountain, where the views of the surrounding mountains open up even more.

After returning to the hut we pack up and hike back down the valley having lunch along the way. The scenery changes dramatically on the eastern side of the divide. The steep forested slopes of the west are replaced with wide braided rivers, scree slopes and the surreal limestone formations of Castle Hill.

We leave the main highway following an inland route past Lake Lyndon, through the Rakaia gorge and onto the tiny village of Mt Somers where we stay overnight.
Duration: 8 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: Camping or in a cabin at Mt Somers

Day 17: DAY 17 MT SOMERS - AORAKI/MT COOK 8km/5 hours hiking

Stop At: Aoraki Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre, 1 Larch Grove, Mt. Cook Village, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park (Te Wahipounamu) 7999 New Zealand
We spend the morning driving along the western boundary of the Canterbury plains and into the stunningly beautiful Mackenzie Country, an intermontane basin of huge glacial lakes and snow-capped mountains.

By late morning we arrive at Aoraki/Mt Cook village ready to maximise our afternoon with a hike with day-packs up to Sealy Tarns and possibly as far as Mueller Hut. Enjoy views across two valley glaciers to the Mount Sefton icefalls and Aoraki/Mt Cook. Towering moraine walls, glacial lakes and the frequent rumbling of distant avalanches are reminders of nature’s sheer power in this dynamic landscape.

We return via the same track to our accommodation at a private hut/camp. 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/Mt Cook turn from white to pink with the sun’s last rays.
Duration: 8 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: Private Hut or sometimes camping in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Day 18: AORAKI/MT COOK - LAKE HAWEA 4km/2 hours hiking

Stop At: Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, Canterbury 7999, New Zealand
We enjoy a relaxing breakfast together with a postcard view of Aoraki/Mt Cook from our dining room window.

There is the option today of joining a local operator for a guided heli-hike on the Tasman Glacier (NZ $599).* A helicopter flight will take us onto the upper glacier where we attach crampons to our boots and marvel at the jagged landscape while exploring ice formations and ice caves.

For those not heli-hiking, join the guide for a hike up the steep glacial moraines to Red Tarns. More stunning views from here!

Those wanting to rest the legs today can either relax at the hut or visit the information centre and learn more about the park’s natural history and the feats of pioneering mountaineers. By mid-afternoon we have re-united with the heli-hikers and depart Aoraki/Mt Cook to continue our journey south through the Mackenzie Country and over Lindis Pass into the Central Otago region. We stay tonight near the shores of Lake Hawea, a glacially formed lake over 35kms in length ringed by mountains. We take the night off cooking tonight and dine at a local restaurant.

*Price correct at time of publishing.
Duration: 8 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
Accommodation included: Camping at Lake Hawea

Day 19: LAKE HAWEA - ASPIRING HUT 14km/ 6 hours hiking

Stop At: Mount Aspiring National Park, Wanaka New Zealand
We drive to Wanaka township this morning, grab a coffee and take a wander around this vibrant lakeside resort town before we drive along Matukituki Valley to the end of the road. We shoulder 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).
Duration: 8 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: Aspiring Hut - a Backcountry Hut in Mt Aspiring National Park

Day 20: ASPIRING HUT - KNOBS FLAT 8km/3 hours hiking

Stop At: Eglinton Valley, Milford Sound New Zealand
We return down the valley early this morning enjoying the pretty views and easy hiking along the floor of this wide glacially formed valley. Once we are back in Wanaka we have a lakeside picnic and you may want to dive into the lake for a swim.

Next up is a remarkable drive over the Crown Range, offering breath-taking summit views of the Wakitipu Basin 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.
Duration: 8 hours

Meals included:
• Breakfast
• Lunch
• Dinner
Accommodation included: Knobs Flat, camping
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