Please sign in to post.

New Zealand: South Island Hiking Tour

Hello, I am starting to research visiting New Zealand in late January 2022 with my 27 year old daughter. We are considering a hiking tour (e.g. Backroads) and then supplementing that with other experiences (wine, rafting, city visit) We are not interested in driving ourselves. Has anyone done a hiking tour that they would recommend, moderate level hikes? 5-6 days, nice accomodations.

Thanks for your help.

Posted by
1857 posts

We've always done this independently, but I'm sure that if you just do a Google search for "hiking in New Zealand" you'll turn up a number of locally based companies that will answer your requirements.
Know that NZ has become a popular destination for Asian visitors - especially those from mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore. In late January you'll be there during the height of the Chinese New Year celebrations - a popular vacation time that stretches from mid-January to around the middle of March. On our most recent trip a couple of years ago we were frankly surprised at how crowded some of the destinations had become, especially some of the towns on the South Island. Most of the accommodations in Queenstown, Wanaka, Christchurch and many smaller towns were booked solid - you couldn't get a room if you hadn't booked well in advance. Would strongly suggest that you solidify your plans at least 6 months before your proposed trip to avoid disappointment.

Posted by
11929 posts

My husband and I went to Australia and New Zealand's South Island for most of January, 2015. We spent 2+ weeks in New Zealand, and 3 days in Australia on either side of New Zealand. We are avid hikers and generally include a lot of hiking in our trips, and New Zealand was no exception. The best thing we did, and what I would recommend to you, is the 5-day guided Milford Track trek with Ultimate Hikes.

https://www.ultimatehikes.co.nz/multi-day-guided-walks/milford-track

The Milford Track has justly earned its reputation as one of the world's great treks. And the only way you can do it is self-guided, staying in the rustic huts along the track, or guided with Ultimate, staying in very comfortable hotels they have built along the track. No other company can use those hotels, so Backroads and other travel companies cannot lead tours on this track.

Everything about the trip was topnotch---the transport to and from the hike by coach and boat, the guides (very professional but lots of fun), the accommodations (we booked a private double room with ensuite bath for each of the 4 hotels), the food ( excellent in every way, with nice 4-course dinners with a choice of main), the scenery, the camaraderie of the other guests (our group was almost 50-50 Australian and Japanese, and we were the only Americans). We enjoyed the evening pre-dinner gatherings in the bar, socializing with the other guests and sipping a glass of wine.

The trip is 5 days/4 nights, starting and ending in Queenstown. They take care of everything, from the pre-trip meeting the night before departure to the cruise on famous Milford Sound and coach ride back to Queenstown on Day 5. There are 3 full days of hiking, around 10 miles each day, but it is mostly fairly level and easy walking. The one big ascent has a climb of 2400 feet over a pass. The scenery is peaks, cliffs, waterfalls, rain forest, rivers . . . All by way of a well-built and safe trail.

Cost for the trip in January 2021 is $2730 NZD, which comes to about $1965 in US dollars. It will be more in January 2022, but not a great deal more. Compare that to the $5400 or so that Backroads wants for their 9-day/8 night South Island hiking trip. That trip is longer than you want, and the itinerary did not look all that great to me---most days the hike is only 3 or 4 miles. They do include a cruise on Milford Sound, but none of the walking on the track itself.

We have done a lot of hiking around the world---Swiss Alps, Italian Dolomites, Patagonia, and Japan are all wonderful, but the Milford Track stands out in our minds as a unique adventure.

You could add to that with some of what we did on our 2015 trip that did not involve renting a car. (We did rent a car for one week, to tour from Christchurch to Queenstown, but I will leave out that part).

Starting in Christchurch, we took the train north up the coast to Picton. There we met a water taxi that took us out to an eco-Lodge on the Queen Charlotte Track ( hiking and kayaking on offer).

https://www.lochmara.co.nz

After two nights there, we returned to Picton by water taxi and caught a coach to Nelson, a city famous for good food and wine. We used this as a base to explore Abel Tasman National Park, but one could also book a 2-or 3-night stay in the park at the lodges, with hiking and kayaking. (I will have to find the name of the company that offers this as a tour from Nelson).

Then fly from Nelson to Queenstown for the Milford Track. Add several days in Queenstown to explore the town and the adventures offered all around there---rafting, bungee jumping (fun to watch, even if you don't care to jump).

That should more than fill two weeks. How much time will you have?

Posted by
4 posts

One company that immediately comes to mind is Trips and Tramps https://tripsandtramps.com/

I know they have a 3 day tour but not sure if they have any longer than that.

One other tip that might help you is that “hiking” is generally referred to as “tramping” here in New Zealand 😁

Posted by
3 posts

WOW! WOW! WOW! Thank you all so much for your detailed and thoughtful responses. This is enormously helpful and I will dig into these thoughts and recommendations. I welcome any additional input and will keep you posted on our progress. Cheers!

Posted by
11929 posts

This is the company that offers guided or self-guided walking in Abel Tasman NP, plus kayaking, boat transport, and accommodation in their two lodges. They pick you up in Nelson. The name is Wilson's, if you want to Google for more information.

If time is limited, I suggest giving priority to the Milford Track experience over multi-day experiences in Abel Tasman, but 1-3 days there would be good, especially if you seek beaches and kayaking. We did not find the terrain and flora there as beautiful and appealing as the Milford area, but pleasant for a day or two.

https://www.abeltasman.co.nz

Posted by
1857 posts

Just curious, but where will you be coming from, and how much total time do you plan to spend in NZ?
And would you categorize yourselves as serious or casual hikers?

Posted by
3 posts

We are coming from East Coast of US. Planning on spending approximately two weeks in NZ. I would classify us as casual plus hikers. My daughter is extremely fit. I am fit for my age and have been hiking/walking an average of 20 miles per week for the past two years. I just completed a 10-mile hike this morning. We love nature/outdoors and enjoy vacations that offer a combination of active and some relaxation.

Posted by
1857 posts

I know that you said you prefer not to drive, but I'd encourage you to reconsider renting a car for at least a portion of your trip. Having your own vehicle would permit you to set your own timetable and explore one of the world's most beautiful countries at your leisure rather being tied to an organized tour schedule ... no matter how well organized it may be. Driving in rural NZ is a pleasure - even for those with no previous experience driving on the left.

Splitting time between Queenstown and Auckland would give you a pretty good overview of the country during the limited time you have available. From Queenstown you'd have easy access (by car) to the trailheads of many of NZ's Great Walks, including the start of the Milford track which someone else mentioned. The whole country, but especially the South Island around Queenstown, is dotted with Lord of the Rings film locations with literally hundreds of moderate to lengthy day walks to some of the scenic locations from the films.

Basing yourselves in Auckland upon arrival for a few days would allow you to shed your jetlag and take advantage of relatively cheap day trips and tours to attractions around the North Island.

Not trying to talk you into something if you're just not comfortable doing this independently, but I do think you'd be short-changing yourselves by not at least reconsidering the option.

Know that no matter how you choose to organize your trip it will be great. New Zealand isn't as pretty as you've heard - it's actually a lot prettier than that.

Posted by
11929 posts

Driving on the left is not for everyone.

We rented a car for a week during our 2.5-week stay on the South Island, to drive from Christchurch to Queenstown via Lake Tekapo, Aoraki-Mt.Cook National Park, Dunedin, and Clyde, a small town on the Otago Rail trail. My husband had driven in Australia with his daughters a few years before, and said he would be fine, but it turned out to be very stressful for both of us.

He drove and I navigated, and reminded him each time he had to make a right turn which lane to aim for ( this was at his request, after turning into the wrong lane on two occasions. Fortunately no one was coming in that lane). The roads we drove were well-mIntained and well-signed, but they were very narrow, with absolutely no shoulder. Even if we drove the speed limit, there were some drivers that passed us, not always in the safest circumstances. Then there were the one-lane bridges, all marked with arrows on the pavement as to which approaching car has the right-of-way. Fine, but not all drivers respected that---some seemed to treat it as a game of "chicken".

We were very relieved to get out of the car at the end of each day's drive, which was generally only an hour or two.

After our trip, I saw discussions on Trip Advisor in the New Zealand forum about the recent sharp increase in road accidents in January and February. New Zealanders apparently blame it on the Asian tourists mentioned above, and posted links to newspaper articles about incidents involving drivers from Asia. It did appear from the newspaper stories to be a problem, but how common I don't know. I never saw the people in the cars that passed us going too fast, in one case nearly forcing us off the road, so I cannot say that was our experience. But one of the "chicken" players was Asian; whether a tourist or a local I have no way of knowing.

After that trip my husband said he is not driving on the left ever again! But I don't have to worry; we are happy taking trains in the U.K. and Japan. And we won't be going back to New Zealand. Not that we didn't like it in fact we loved the Milford Track part); but my husband's comment after we had been there for a week was "Why did we come so far to end up in a place that looks just like California?" And I had to agree much of it looks a lot like Sonoma county, with rolling hills covered in golden grassland or vineyards.

The Southern Alps, with Aoraki/Mt. Cook and the glaciers, bear some resemblance to Alaska, but do not have the same vastness and grandeur. And the north coast of the South Island might remind some of Hawaii, but the beaches are not as nice, nor the vegetation as lush. Indeed, the only really spectacular and unique places we found were the Milford Track and Milford Sound, both within a World Heritage Site, and well worthy of that designation.