Your New Zealand hiking vacation on the west coast is packed full of highlights including a hike through beech forest, past limestone sinkholes and across tussock-covered mountain slopes in Kahurangi NP. Watch the antics of New Zealand fur seal pups at a breeding colony. Hike through lush rainforest in a limestone canyon, wade across crystal clear rivers, and explore glowworm caves in Paparoa National Park.
Take a guided walk on the spectacular Fox Glacier and marvel at its crevasses and ice caves. Kayak the tranquil Okarito lagoon and watch native birds feeding in the shallows. Hike through podocarp forest to natural hotpools surrounded by mountain peaks in Westland NP. Throughout your New Zealand hiking vacation, you should keep watch for dolphins as you stroll along isolated beaches.
Grade: D Average 4-5 hours physical activity per day, up to 8-9 hours on longer days.
Pack weights of 12-15kgs on some days.
Altitude gains of up to 800m.
Some uneven track surfaces and river crossings. No hiking experience necessary.
Agility and fitness required.
You need to be reasonably fit and enthusiastic.
Some tracks may be slippery or rough; some off-track hiking and river crossings.
What to take
New Zealand’s weather is changeable and we can experience extremely cold weather at any time of year, especially in the mountains. Our huts/camps vary in altitude from sea level to over 1000 metres. It is necessary to have warm clothing. Jeans are not suitable for hiking.
We allow space for 120 litres per person (one large pack plus one day pack). You may be required to forward excess luggage if you exceed this. Any gear you do not need while hiking can be locked in the vehicle. Hiking New Zealand accepts no responsibility for security of your luggage. We highly recommend travel insurance.
We have high quality hiking equipment which you can hire for our Hiking Safaris. Please arrange hire gear when you book. Requests for hire equipment must be made at least 5 days before the departure date. Cancellation of gear hire must also occur at least 5 days in advance or no refund will be given.
You will travel in a 10 or 12 seat minibus towing a trailer with camp equipment and your luggage. All vehicles have a public address system, and a stereo with a variety of music. It is also equipped with a range of natural history reference books. The average driving time per day is around 2-3 hours and there will be a range of roads – sealed and unsealed. The guide will often stop the vehicle for you to take photos. On some of the nights you will be camping by the vehicle.
The first stop is usually the supermarket where everyone helps with buying food for the next few days. Everybody is involved with the preparation and cooking of meals: barbecues, salads, pancakes, curries, pasta, stir-fries, hangi…Vegetarian meals are no problem. When you are on overnight hikes the group will usually eat pasta and rice meals. There is always a lot of hiking food – chocolate, peanuts, raisins, biscuits. The vehicles carry a full range of cooking equipment including gas burners, woks, frying pans and billies. When you go on an overnight hike the group will carry a portable stove.
The Hiking Safaris use a range of accommodation: camping, backcountry huts, cribs (summer house), hostels and cabins. You will generally camp if the weather is fine, so you get to enjoy the outdoors more and it costs you less. In less pleasant weather your guide will arrange accommodation for the group.
We will camp as much as possible in a range of locations; under natural rock overhangs, on the beach, Department of Conservation campsites, established campgrounds with showers. You are provided with 2-person hiking tents to share and therm-a-rest sleeping mats. You may have a small campfire if fires are permitted.
Your guide will make use of excellent Department of Conservation huts. They are equipped with mattresses, running water and an outside toilet. Cooking is done on a portable stove. We do not have sole rights to huts and so must share with other hikers. Please be respectful of other hut users.
Cabins/Cribs – When the weather is bad your guide will seek out alternative accommodation. This can be anything that is available, from a private crib (summer house) to a cabin at a campground.
You must be prepared to go for three days (sometimes more) without a hot shower. There is always a river or lake for you to wash in. Some campsites/huts have natural hot pools!
Do we all get involved with camp duties?
Everyone is fully involved with the running of the safari, from collecting firewood, to setting up camp and cooking meals. You are expected to do your share of work. If you are not a great cook, don’t worry – your guide and other people in the group will help you.
Does it matter if I am travelling alone?
Most of the people on safaris are travelling alone. The safaris are strong on group activities and participation including playing outdoor games, going for swims, helping one another to cross rivers, explore caves, and overcome obstacles and challenges. We encourage you to participate in activities, but if it’s not your thing that is also OK. We allow time for people to be by themselves on safari if they need it.
Can I do more than one safari?
Yes. More and more people are doing connecting safaris covering the whole of New Zealand. We really are the hassle-free way to experience New Zealand’s best adventures. Safaris are timed to leave you a couple of days in between trips to get your laundry done, experience some ‘city activities’.
I am travelling and have a lot of stuff that I will not need on the safari – what should I do with it?
You can store it at your accommodation if you plan on returning to the area. Or, you can travel with it on safari. We allow a maximum space of 120 litres per person (1 large pack plus a daypack). Depending how full the safari is, we may require you to forward excess luggage if you exceed this. During overnight hikes everything is locked securely in the vehicle.
What do I do with my valuables (passport, airline tickets, money, etc.) while we are hiking?
Keep them with you in your hiking pack. We pack all those things in plastic bags to keep them dry and keep them with us while we are hiking.
Can I be picked up at my hostel or accommodation?
No. On safari we try to leave the city early so we can spend more time in the wilderness. It is much easier for everyone to meet at a central location – usually the local Visitors Information Centre – and it doesn’t cost much to get there on a taxi, shuttle or bus (or walking!).
I’m a vegetarian – is that a problem?
Not at all. We often have vegetarians in the group. All the guides are familiar with vegetarian cooking. We also have lots of excellent vegetarian recipes. Sometimes the whole group will cook vegetarian or we may cook a separate vegetarian meal. The hangi is always a mixture of vegetarian and meat foods. We can also cater for other dietary requirements, but please notify us when you book.
What is the weather going to be like?
New Zealand experiences very changeable weather – especially in the remote mountainous regions where we spend most of our time. Some days we can be broiling in 30 degrees and then the next day we could be freezing in a cool southerly from the sub Antarctic. It is best to be prepared for the worst conditions we are likely to expect – see the ‘What To Take’ section. We may get some rain on the trip so a good waterproof raincoat is important.
Will I be fit enough?
Our safaris are graded B, C or D. Read the section ‘Hiking and Fitness’ and choose a trip to suit you. If you are concerned about your fitness get out there and do day hikes in the weeks prior to your safari departure.
Who is in my group?
A small group (maximum 11 people), with a range of ages, nationalities and work backgrounds. Seventy percent of people are between 20 and 40, though we have had people from 17 to 72. On average, half are women and half are men. Everyone shares an enthusiasm for outdoor adventure and an appreciation of nature.
How far in advance do I need to book?
The sooner the better for safaris departing in the peak season (November to April). We get many advance bookings so it is important to book early to avoid disappointment. Availability for our trips is updated regularly on our departure dates page.
What type of gear should I buy?
If you intend to do a lot of hiking then it is worth buying quality equipment – good leather hiking boots and hiking clothing. If you think you might not do any more hiking after safari then you could buy cheaper alternatives – just remember that it won’t last as long nor do the job as well. You may also rent certain items from us.
What if I can’t keep up with the rest of the group?
We hike together as a group, stopping often for snacks and a good lunch. Some activities are optional if you feel like having some time out.
Are we going to encounter dangerous animals?
New Zealand does not have any snakes, bears, lions or alligators. We have a small poisonous spider called the katipo that is so rare it was recently made a protected species. At certain times of the summer and autumn, wasps can be a problem in some of our beech forests. If you are allergic to them make sure you carry medication, and tell your guide about it at the beginning of the safari. Otherwise, it is great to climb through the bush and lie in the grass without a thing to worry about.
Can I charge my camera/phone/laptop, etc. while on safari?
About two or three times per safari we stay at places that have electricity so you will be able to recharge batteries. If you have a vehicle adapter, bring it along as there may be an opportunity to charge items while we are driving.
Can I do laundry on safari?
Yes, at least once, usually half way through the safari. We recommend bringing items that are quick drying and plenty of spare pairs of socks and underwear, since you will most likely have to line-dry clothing.
Monday - Join tour in Nelson - 11km/4 hours hiking - Tuesday - Buller Gorge - 15km/7 hours hiking - Wednesday - Paparoa National Park - 8km/4 hours hiking - Thursday - Punakaiki - 12km/6 hours hiking - Friday - Okarito - 5km/2 hours hiking - Saturday - Okarito - 10km/4 hours kayaking - Sunday - Fox Glacier - 12km/5 hours hiking - Monday - Welcome Flat - 18km/7 hours hiking - Tuesday - Welcome Flat - 8km/4 hours hiking - Wednesday - Moeraki - 18km/6 hours hiking - Thursday - Tour ends in Queenstown - 3-8km/2-5 hours hiking
Your tour begins in Nelson, in the north of the South Island. After collecting food supplies, we drive to Motueka and up to Flora Saddle (at 1000 metres). We have an early lunch and organise our packs for the first hike. Leaving our vehicle behind, we hike through beech forest, following a stream, in the tussock covered tablelands of Kahurangi National Park. Gold was discovered here in the late 1850’s and tracks began to be laid, and in many areas gold finds weren’t as rich as expected. Scientists were attracted to the unique flora of the Heaphy area and conservationists managed to get this area made into a scenic reserve in 1915. Tonight we stay in an old goldminer’s rock shelter, a great place to get to know each other with introductions around a cosy campfire.
We have an early start this morning, and after a quick breakfast we continue across the Tablelands to explore a New Zealand Karast landscape of sinkholes and caves. This whole area is of geological interest as it is in a range of marble and limestone hills, the interior being riddled with potholes. We climb up through mossy forest to the bushline and then onwards to Gordon’s Pyramid (1489 metres). We continue across a basin of crystalline marble karst to the shoulder of Mount Arthur and, if weather and time permit, fitter members can trek to the summit (1795 metres) for panoramic views of the Nelson region. We return to Flora Saddle and drive to a character cottage overlooking the Buller Gorge where we camp for the night. Enjoy a home cooked meal made from locally grown organic produce.
This morning we head out to Cape Foulwind and visit a breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals – once almost hunted to extinction. We then turn south to the old gold-rush town of Charleston for lunch at a beautiful cove. This pretty town used to boast over 80 hotels in the late 1860’s! After relaxing here for a short while, we begin our hike up a spectacular limestone river canyon in Paparoa National Park Established in 1987, it covers over 30,000 hectares. It has natural attractions including mountains, with limestone cliffs and caves, rivers and wilderness areas. During our hike we learn river-crossing techniques, so prepare to get your boots wet. We collect firewood along the way and set up camp under the massive Ballroom Overhang – a fluviatile cave, carved by river-scouring
Today we have a chance to explore the nearby limestone canyon and caves (some people may want to swim) with stalactites and stalagmites, cave wetas(large wingless insects), glowworms and the tallest moss in the world (Dawsonia superba). We then hike along the historic Inland Pack Track to Bullock Creek, and arrive back in Punakaiki by mid-afternoon. Visit the Pancake Rocks. These 30 million-year-old limestone rocks have formed into what look like immense layers of pancakes. When the tide is high, or the weather rough, the water surges into caverns below the rocks and squirts through mighty blowholes, bearing a great resemblance to natural geysers.Return to camp/cabin accommodation.
Take an optional stroll along the coast to check out sea caves that were once used as shelter by early Maori. Tides permitting, you can climb on to a headland. Driving south, we follow the coast to Greymouth, arriving late morning. Here we stock up on food and drop off/meet fellow hikers before continuing on down the coast to the peaceful coastal village of Okarito, where the rainforest meets the sea. For dinner tonight we enjoy a hangi feast (the traditional Maori way of cooking food in an underground earth oven) and everyone can be involved in the preparation. A relaxing evening spent sitting around the beach bonfire listening to the pounding surf. Camp by the beach.
This morning there is the option of taking a guided kayaking trip (from $80) to catch the in-going tide into the Okarito Lagoon (the largest unmodified wetland in New Zealand) to see birdlife – including white herons, black swans and tui. We explore a river delta and channels into Kahikatea(white pine) forest, our tallest forest type – it can grow up to 60 metres high. For people not kayaking there is an excellent four-hour coastal hike (unguided), with dramatic views of the Southern Alps. Free time in the afternoon to wander the remote beach or hike to a viewpoint of this World Heritage Park, with snow-capped mountains, rainforest and coastal wetlands. Spend a second night camping in this special location.
It’s just a short drive this morning through to Fox Glacier, one of the few places in the world where glaciers extend down into the rainforest. You have the option of taking a guided hike (from $109* – optional) on this dynamic glacier where you will explore seracs, ice caves and crevasses. Stunning views of New Zealand’s highest peaks dominate the vista at the head of the glacier. Free time in the afternoon to relax in one of the local cafés in this charming village. There is also the option to join the guide for a two hour hike around Lake Matheson or taking a stunning helicopter flight (additional cost) over the glacier and surrounding mountains and out to the coast. Stay in local cabin accommodation.
Your three day hike begins today up the Copland Valley, through podocarp forest (relatively unchanged in 70 million years). The hike will take us across swing-bridges and mountain streams, and we often see the endangered and very primitive blue duck. The pleasant hike through the forest and alongside the river finally ends at Welcome Flat, where we stay in a mountain hut. We have the opportunity of relaxing our weary muscles with a soak in natural hot pools with views of 3000 metre peaks – the best in New Zealand!
Today you can either rest or explore this alpine valley. A short off-track hike, with some boulder-hopping, takes us up to beautiful waterfalls high in the alps for a refreshing shower. On our walk, you may be lucky enough to see amazing views of Aoraki/Mount Cook (3754 metres), New Zealand’s highest mountain. We return to the hut via Welcome Flat’s alpine grasslands. Tonight we prepare dinner and afterwards spend another evening immersed in the incredible hot pools – one is too hot, one just right, the other just warm!
This morning we hike down the Copland Valley and drive south through the remote West Coast region to Moeraki. We stop at Ship Creek to look for Hector’s dolphins and take the opportunity to walk through coastal ecosystems of dunes, swamp and podocarp forest. Our last night of the tour is spent in cabins or tents at Haast. For dinner we enjoy a feast of local salmon and visit the pub for a celebratory drink.
Today marks the end of the journey. Turning inland, we drive over the Haast Pass, snaking along beside the wide Haast River. The pass was only opened in 1965. There are some great hikes we can choose from, a climb to an alpine hut high on the slopes of Mount Brewster (if the legs are not too weary). We stop at lake Wanaka for lunch, a swim and a clean-up of our vehicle. This lake is so deep that, though its surface is at an altitude of 345 metres, its bottom lies 65 metres below sea level. After this enjoyable break we head over the Crown Range to Queenstown, arriving early evening where the tour ends.
|Grade||D (River crossings, some uneven terrain)|
|Start||Nelson i-SITE Visitor Centre, Cnr Halifax St. & Trafalgar St., 8:00am|
|Finish||Queenstown 7:00pm (approx.)|
|Extra Costs||Optional activities|