Day 1: Join trip in Auckland
Our trip starts in Auckland, New Zealand's largest and most diverse city. Surrounded by volcanoes and volcanic cones, beautiful beaches and rolling countryside, Auckland offers a great introduction to New Zealand. Depending on your arrival time you could take a short city tour of Auckland before we all meet for a briefing this evening.
Day 2: Travel south through Waikato region to volcanic Rotorua
After breakfast this morning, we depart Auckland and travel southwards through the Waikato Region to Rotorua, the North Island's most famous destination for overseas visitors and an important cultural centre. You'll soon adapt to the distinctive sulphur smell, which comes from many vents to the underground thermal region. The region is known for its many geysers, steaming lakes and streams, and mud and hot mineral pools known for their curative properties. On arrival we will explore Rotorua town or take an optional walk in the area before we check in.
This afternoon there are optional walks include around Blue Lake / Lake Tikitapu, and a trail through the magnificent Redwood and Douglas Fir trees of Whakarewarewa Forest . For those interested in walking you Explore leader will recommend the most suitable walk for the weather and accompany the walkers. In the evening we get to experience a Maori 'hangi' dinner - cooked using heated rocks in a pit oven.
Today's optional five-and-a-half kilometre walk around Lake Tikitapu is expected to take around one-and-a-half hour and the optional three-and-a-half kilometre walk in Whakarewarewa Forest is expected to take around one hour.
Day 3: Visit to Waimangu Valley geothermal park. Lake walk
This morning we visit Waimangu Valley, a fascinating geothermal park of bubbling mud pools, hissing geysers and steaming lakes created in 1886 following the volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera. We walk amongst the hot springs and steaming cliffs, with panoramas over the valley and the Southern Crater. We take the steps up to inferno Crater which erupts to 8m high, every 38days.
Leaving Rotorua we travel through an important forested area via the picturesque Huka Falls to Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. Later we drive to Tongariro National Park where there is a choice of several short walks.
Our two kilometre sightseeing walk today in Waimangu is expected to take around one hours on a marked trail.
Day 4: Walk the iconic Tongariro Crossing
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing track passes over diverse and dramatic volcanic terrain and has been described as 'the greatest day walk in the world'. In the presence of active volcanoes we can experience some of Tongariro National Park's special gifts: a cold mountain spring, steam vents, an active crater, lava flows, magnificent views and emerald-coloured lakes, all combining to make this an enjoyable and memorable trip. We start hiking in the Mangatepopo Valley, then continue at a gentle gradient as the main track climbs alongside a stream and around the edges of old lava flows. The climb from the valley to Mangatepopo Saddle between Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro is steep, but on a clear day, we may be rewarded with views of Mount Taranaki to the west. The track continues along a poled route across South Crater to a ridge leading up Red Crater from where we can get views of Mount Tongariro. From the highest point on the Tongariro Crossing, the summit of Red Crater (1,886 metres), the track leads down to three water-filled explosion craters called the Emerald Lakes. Minerals that have leached from the surrounding thermal area are the cause of their dazzling greenish colour. Below Ketetahi Hut the track continues down through tussock slopes to the forest bushline. At two points the track passes over the tongue of a lava flow from Te Maari Crater and for a distance, travels alongside a stream containing minerals from Ketetahi Springs.
Today we are accompanied by a local guide as today is a free day for our Explore Leader and driver. Warm clothing including scarf, gloves and hat, is recommended for today's walk. For those not wishing to partake in the long Tongariro Crossing day walk there is the opportunity to go on a shorter (unescorted) walk.
The 19.4 kilometre Tongariro Crossing is expected to take around eight hours with 860 metres of ascent and 1,290 metres of descent. The terrain is boardwalks and unmade mountain paths, steep in places (there are toilets available along the track).
Please note that this hike is not an 'Easy' grade walk but has been included because it is so special. This a proper Alpine Crossing with some steep climbs and requires a certain level of fitness, proper hiking boots and walking poles.
Day 5: Explore Wellington
The trip continues southward through the fertile farmlands of Levin to Wellington (approximately six hours drive). New Zealand's capital lies partially on reclaimed land at the harbour and the steep hillsides adjacent to the Cook Strait. Wellington has been the capital city since 1865 and as such is also the country's political centre. We take a city sightseeing tour and drive to Mount Victoria from where we can enjoy a beautiful view over the city. The rest of the afternoon is free to explore.
Day 6: Cross the Cook Strait and Marlborough Sound to the South Island
This morning, we visit Te Papa Tongarewa, the modern National Museum, which gives a good insight into New Zealand history, Maori Culture and Pacific culture. More than 20 galleries house imaginative exhibitions and interactive experiences that explore New Zealand's unique natural environment, dynamic art heritage, fascinating history and the vitality of Maori culture. In the afternoon, we say farewell to the North Island and board the Interisland Ferry to cross Cook Strait and cruise through the scenic Marlborough Sounds, an area of 'drowned' valleys, which resulted from the geological sinking of a mountain range. Today the Sounds are a maze of deep channels, sheltered waterways and secluded bays, encompassed by verdant bush-clad hills. After an approximately three-hour journey often described as one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world we reach the idyllic harbour town of Picton.
Day 7: Visit Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary. Walk along Queen Charlotte Track
This morning we board a water taxi and cruise to Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary (1 hour) where we enjoy a short hour's walk from the jetty to the lookout over Marlborough Sounds. Later we are dropped off at Resolution Bay to walk part of the Queen Charlotte track. This 67 kilometre coastal walking track stretches from historic Ship Cove to Anakiwa in the spectacular Marlborough Sounds, and enjoys a temperate climate which allows good year-round walking conditions. Today we are walking from Resolution Bay to Endeavour Inlet. The verdant, subtropical native bush is home to many of New Zealand's native birds. In the late afternoon, we reach Endeavour Inlet, and board the water taxi again to cruise back to Picton.
Today's 11 kilometre walk is expected to take around three-and-a-half hours with an ascent and descent of 300 metres on a marked coastal trail.
Day 8: Explore Abel Tasman National Park by boat and on foot
After breakfast, we take the Queen Charlotte Drive between Picton and Havelock, one of New Zealand's most delightful scenic drives. Winding past the Sounds' numerous bays, this bush-fringed road takes us to the head of Pelorus Sound and the seaside village of Havelock. Once a thriving gold-mining town, Havelock is New Zealand's primary producer of Greenshell mussels. We then continue on to Keiteriteri, (approximately three hours drive), where we take a water taxi in Abel Tasman National Park to Onetahuti. We will pass several offshore islands that provide a protected habitat for native wildlife including Tonga Island famous for its seals.
From Onetahuti we walk along the Abel Tasman Coast Track downto Bark Bay with beautiful goldan beaches and stunning coastal views. The return boat transfer from Bark Bay takes us to Nelson, the town with the most sunshine hours in the country. Many years ago New Zealand's first roadside cafe opened here and today the town is home to craftsmen and artists.
Today's five-and-a-half kilometre walk is expected to take around two hours with an ascent and descent of 230 metres along a marked coastal trail. The walk is shorter at low tide.
Day 9: Fossils, fur seals and Pororari River Track
Our journey today takes us inland through an unbelievably scenic region with excellent roads and minimal traffic. Rugged, green and wild, the West Coast was in the nineteenth century one of the busiest and richest areas, when gold drew men from all over the world. On the way to Westport we'll travel through Murchison, where we can learn about the earthquake of 1929. At Hawks Crag we'll drive under a spectacular overhang, where the road has been cut out of solid rock. Just past Westport is Cape Foulwind, where we will take the Tauranga Bay Seal Colony Walk (20 minutes) to have a close encounter with a colony of New Zealand Fur Seals in their natural habitat.
From Westport, we journey to Punakaiki, where visit the famous Pancake Rocks with dramatic blow holes during high tides and take a walk along the Pororari River Track; this track follows a magnificent limestone gorge with two main features - a river with huge rocks in deep pools, and beautiful forest featuring subtle changes from sub-tropical to temperate.
Today's seven kilometre walk is expected to take around two hours. The duration of the walk will depend on the weather and time available, but will be up to two hours.
Day 10: Walk in glacial valley
Leaving Greymouth behind us we take a short drive to our next stop, Hokitika, known as New Zealand's Greenstone capital. Most of this precious stone is found in this region and then turned into beautiful pieces of jewellery. We pass the forgotten gold miners' towns of Hari Hari and Ross on our way down the West Coast to Westland National Park. In the afternoon we reach the spectacular Southern Alps and the region of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. Unfortunately at present the glaciers are in a state of retreat and as such we cannot walk to either of the terminal faces. We will however make our planned walk in the valley as the receding glaciers have carved out an impressive landscape which is fascinating to explore. If the weather is good then we will be able to view the glaciers from a distance. To get a closer view there is also the option, weather permitting, to take a scenic flight which offers a bird's eye view of the glaciers and surrounding landscape. Please speak with your Explore leader who can help you arrange this activity locally.
Today's three kilometre walk is expected to take around one hour through the glacial valley. The exact walk will be decided upon by your Explore leader dependant on the day's weather conditions.
Day 11: Experience Gondwanaland. Drive to Wanaka
In the morning (weather permitting), we will go for a walk around Lake Matheson, which could provide us with an excellent opportunity to take that perfect photo of Mount Cook with its mirrored reflection on the lake's calm water. We then continue our trip through Westland National Park, a World Heritage Park. The rainforest is very impressive and has subtropical character. Here we undertake a walk through the coastal brainforest to reach the seldom-visited Monro beach, which once joined part of Gondwanaland. Your Explore leader will explain the different species of native trees, such as Rimu, Kahikatea and Beech. We continue driving via Haast Pass towards Wanaka, in Aspiring National Park, with breathtaking views of the surrounding snowy peaks and the glacier lakes Hawea and Wanaka.
The two-and-a-half kilometre walk around Lake Mathesonis expected to take around one-and-a-half hours and the five kilometre walk to Munro Beach is expected to take around two hours.
Day 12: Free day to explore Wanaka
Wanaka is a hiker's paradise because of its beautiful environment. The tranquil township lies directly on the shores of beautiful Lake Wanaka, New Zealand's fourth largest lake. It reflects the snow-capped peaks of Mount Aspiring National Park whose dominant feature is impressive Mt Aspiring, towering above a magnificent glacier-sculpted wilderness. The area boasts a great variety of walking tracks. Today is free for exploring.
Day 13: Discover Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. Explore Queentown
After breakfast, we traverse the Crown Range road and take the opportunity to visit the partially restored and well-interpreted Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. This is a quiet reminder and tribute to the contribution made by the Chinese goldminers and business people to the region's goldmining, cultural and business history. We then continue on to Queenstown, the Adventure Capital of New Zealand. In the afternoon, you can take an optional walk to Ben Lomond before returning down to explore the town.
Day 14: Walk part of the Kepler Track
After breakfast, we make our way to Te Anau, known locally as 'the walking capital of the world'. Some of the most wild and dramatic scenery in New Zealand can be found in Fiordland, in the southwest corner of the South Island. Fiordland is one of the largest National Parks in the world and a World Heritage area. Here the power of nature stuns the enthralled visitor - from its waterfalls tumbling hundreds of metres into virgin, forested valleys and lonely fiords, to endless stretches of shimmering lakes and granite peaks. Today we walk part of the Kepler Track, one of the great walks of New Zealand, to Rainbow Reach.
Today's nine-and-a-half kilometre walk is expected to take around five hours. The track is gently undulating and wanders through mountain beech forest with some great river views.
Day 15: Boat cruise on Milford Sound. Walk to Key Summit
This morning weather permitting we take a walk to Key Summit, a half-day walk on the Routeburn Track (departing at 7am). This walk offers spectacular views of Fiordland National and panoramic views over the Humboldt and Darran Mountains.
In the afternoon we drive to the most accessible and best known of the fiords, Milford Sound. The Milford Road (between Te Anau and Milford Sound) is one of the finest alpine drives in the world. The scenery is exceptional, ranging from broad grassy flats, dense rainforest, and towering mountains through to glacial lakes and alpine herb fields. No other road in Fiordland offers such a diverse glimpse into New Zealand's alpine zone. We take a one-and-half hour boat trip on the Milford Sound, which is dominated by the mighty cone of the Mitre Peak, rising steeply up from the water where we will have an included lunch. Late this afternoon, we arrive back in Te Anau.
Today's nine-and-a-half kilometre walk is expected to take around three hours with 640 metres of ascent and descent. The terrain is forest sub alpine shrublands, although the majority of the walk is easy the last 30 minutes up to the summit is quite steep.
Day 16: Scenic drive to Twizel through the Lindis Pass. Free afternoon
After passing by Lake Wakatipu and through the rocky Kawerau Gorge and Cromwell village, the road winds upward to Lindis Pass. The plains of the Mackenzie highland lie before us. On the left are the mountains of the Southern Alps that we will continuously see whilst we drive to Twizel.
The afternoon is free for youe Explore Leader and driver; you can independently explore the area or relax.
Day 17: Walking in the shadow of Mount Cook
This morning we drive to Mount Cook village to enjoy the unique environment of different alpine plants and flowers and the panoramic vista of New Zealand's highest peak, Aoraki Mt Cook (3,764m). Walks may include Tasman Glacier and Tasman Lake. Blessed with a marvellous view of the surrounding peaks we overnight in the National Park.
There are different short walk available and one will be chosen by your Explore Leader depending on the weather. One of the regular walks is three kilometres and takes approximately one-and-a-half hours.
Day 18: Drive to Akaroa via Lake Tekapo
This morning we drive to the stunning turquoise Lake Tekapo, and visit the Church of Good Shepherd set on the shore surrounded by mountains. Built in the 1930's in memory of the local pioneers all the materials for the church were sourced from a within a five mile radius and the builders were instructed not to disturb the site so rocks were incorporated into the walls. We then continue our drive to the French style village of Akaroa. The afternoon is left free to explore this quiet village and harbour sitting at the centre of an ancient volcano.
Day 19: Trip ends in Christchurch
This morning we drive to Christchurch for a short city tour. The trip ends at 12.30 in Christchurch or 13.00 at Christchurch airport. If you have booked a later flights there is the option to be taken to the Heartland Hotel, where you are able to leave your luggage and be free to explore Christchurch more this afternoon. A shuttle bus transfer will then be arranged from the hotel to the airport to meet your flight. There are limited facilities available at the hotel but showers are available at the airport if required.
Touring with Explore
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From family trips to holidays for solo travellers; cycling tours to wildlife safaris; trekking on mountains or exploring miles of scenic coastline; self-guided holidays or small group trips; there is something for every kind of traveller with Explore. They will provide their expert knowledge, exciting itineraries and outstanding service as part of their sustainable travel experiences which take you under the skin of the country you're visiting for the adventure of a lifetime.