Many New Zealand hiking vacations focus on the South Island and the Secret South hiking safari will reveal to you some of the best reasons why. This safari includes hiking into the rugged mountains of Fiordland National Park to beautiful alpine lakes with stunning mountain views.
You’ll kayak beneath massive sea cliffs in Milford Sound while watching out for basking seals and leaping dolphins. Explore the spectacular Catlins coast, with beautiful beaches, luxuriant rain forest, fossilised trees, and rare species of sea lions, dolphins and penguins. Hike up the rocky slopes of the Ohau Range and look down on turquoise glacial lakes.
Gaze in awe at the contorted forms of glaciers and the snow capped peaks of Mount Cook. Explore the remarkable volcanic topography of Mount Somers with its waterfalls and narrow canyons. This is one of New Zealand’s most beautiful, varied and interesting hiking vacations.
Grade: D Average 4-5 hours physical activity per day, up to 7 hours on longer days
Pack weights of 10-12kgs on some days
Altitude gains of up to 800 metres
Terrain mostly tracks
Some slippery, rough or uneven track surfaces and river crossings
Some off-track hiking
No hiking experience necessary
Agility and fitness required
You need to be reasonably fit and enthusiastic
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.
Camping – 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.
Huts – 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 3 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 and explore caves, and overcoming obstacles and challenges. You will be encouraged 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. There is an allowance of 120 litres per person (1 large pack plus a daypack). Depending how full the safari is, you may be required to forward excess luggage if you exceed this. During overnight hikes every thing 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. You will be given a small plastic bag to keep them dry and keep them with you while you are hiking.
Can I be picked up at my hostel or accommodation?
No. 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!). Leaving the city early means spending more time in the wilderness.
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 a lot of time is spent. Some days the group can be broiling in 30 degrees and then the next day freezing in a cool southerly from the sub-Antarctic. It is best to be prepared for the worst conditions – see the ‘What To Take’ section. You may experience 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 hike 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 there have been 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 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.
Sunday - Join tour in Queenstown - 6km/3 hours hiking - Monday - Milford Sound - 8km/4 hours kayaking - Tuesday - Fiordland National Park - 12km/7 hours hiking - Wednesday - Catlins Coast - 7km/3 hours hiking - Thursday - Cannibal Bay - 6km/2 hours hiking - Friday - Central Otago - Rest day/optional cycling - Saturday - Ohau Range - 7km/3 hours hiking - Sunday - Ohau Range - 14km/7 hours hiking - Monday - Mount Cook National Park - 8km/5 hours hiking - Tuesday - Mt Somers - 5km/4 hours hiking - Wednesday - Tour ends in Christchurch - 5km/4 hours hiking
Meet at the Queenstown Visitor Centre at 8:00am and after a briefing by our guide, head south into Fiordland National Park. This spectacular World Heritage Site is the largest national park in the country and one of the largest in the world. The huge glacial lakes of Te Anau and Manapouri border the spectacular inland coastline that is Fiordland. The area is dominated by water, either in the form of lakes or as falling rain, which has enabled the establishment of temperate rainforest. We prepare for our first hike to Key Summit on the renowned Routeburn track – a fantastic hike of around three hours. From here there are fantastic views across to the Darran Mountains. We return to the vehicle and make our way to the historic “Gunns Camp” in the Hollyford Valley.
We rise early and drive through the Homer Tunnel and down to Milford Sound itself. Here we hire kayaks ($110* – optional) and paddle out into the fiord with its cascading waterfalls and views of Mitre Peak (1722 metres straight out of the sea). Fiordland crested penguins and New Zealand fur seals often play near the kayaks. This is the ideal way to experience the fiord. While kayaking you can stop to view and photograph the wildlife and scenery. After returning to shore, we drive back over the divide to a campsite on the shores of Lake Monowai.
This morning we drive to Borland Saddle (at 1000 metres) in Fiordland National Park where we have lunch and organise food for the first overnight hike. The visual impact of this park is stunning; during the Ice Age, the glaciers gouged the fiords and lakes, hollowed out the rounded valleys, and shaped the granite mountain peaks. There are different forest types all over the park; on the eastern side red, silver and mountain beech fill the valleys, and in the northern sections, podcarp forests of matai, rimu, and totara can be found. From Borland Saddle we hike up above the bush line onto the Hunter Range with great views over Fiordland National Park. We traverse these tops to Mount Burns (1634 metres optional climb) and descend to Great Lake, to a backcountry hut or to camp nearby.
A leisurely breakfast in this most idyllic site, before hiking out through beech forest and across tussock basins to the road. Have lunch and then drive through to Invercargill for a food shop. This is the southernmost city in New Zealand and its roots, as reflected by its name, are from Scottish settlers who came here in the late 1800’s. Many of the city’s tree-lined streets bear the names of Scottish rivers. We carry on to Curio Bay in the Catlins, an unspoiled scenic region of coast, rivers and podocarp forest – once an area inhabited by the giant Moa (largest bird in the world – now extinct). We relax here and stay in a cosy crib (a New Zealand summerhouse). There is a chance to enjoy a swim in the sea and then a hot shower to complete your day.
This morning we explore Curio Bay and often see Hector’s dolphins surfing on the waves. We walk to a nearby tidal platform that contains tree stumps from a fossilised forest 180 million years old – it is one of the most extensive fossil forests in the world. The platforms are a palaeontologist’s dream. The fossils are evidence of New Zealand’s location in the ancient Gondwana; plant species identified here are similar to those found in South America. We drive along the coast and reach the next destination, Cannibal Bay. The bay takes its name from human bones discovered here in the 19th century that were possibly part of a Maori feast. We have a chance to see New Zealand sea-lions and yellow-eyed penguins, the rarest breeds of sea-lion and penguin in the world. We camp near the beach and prepare a hangi feast (Maori earth oven).
Today is an optional rest day in the picturesque town of Alexandra, in the heart of Central Otago. We arrive in Alexandra late morning. If you are feeling energetic you can join a cycle tour ($90 – optional) on the historic rail trail that winds its way through the vast and mountainous landscape of Central Otago through tunnels and across many viaducts. Alternatively, you can relax in Alexandra, visiting the local cafes or vineyards. We take a night off cooking, and eat out at one of the excellent local restaurants.
After a leisurely breakfast we continue driving through the high country. This part of the South Island is home to some of New Zealand’s largest sheep stations, many measuring tens of thousands of hectares. After crossing Lindis Pass into Mackenzie Country we arrive at Lake Ohau. There is time to relax and have a swim at this spectacular setting before packing for the next overnight hike. We head up through beech forest to a camp beside Freehold Creek, just below the bushline.
Up early, we leave the campsite and head off with day packs to explore a beautiful basin filled with tarns (small alpine lakes). The basin contains an incredible variety of alpine plants, including Spaniards (prickly), and the world’s largest buttercup, named Mountt Cook Lily (Ranunculus lyalli), because of its large round lily-like leaves. The fit can climb up onto the Ohau range (1915 metres) to enjoy the views of the Southern Alps, including Mount Cook, and the Mackenzie Basin. We return to pack up camp, and hike back to the vehicle. Tonight we stay at “Buscot Station” a high country sheep station. There is the option of camping of staying in the homestead.
After a short drive we set off with day packs to hike up to Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut in Mount Cook National Park. Spectacular views of the Hooker and Mueller glaciers, Mount Sefton icefall, and views of New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook – 3754 metres (the Maori name translates to “Cloud Piercer”). On the walk your guide will talk about glaciers, mountain building and the New Zealand climate. We descend to the vehicle and drive to the southern end of Lake Pukaki – artificially raised 30 metres for hydroelectric power generation. This lake is a beautiful turquoise colour caused by the fine glacial silt suspended in the water. We camp on its shores, with beautiful views across to New Zealand’s highest peaks.
Continuing through the Mackenzie Basin, an area named after a legendary sheep rustler, we pass Lake Tekapo before reaching the next destination, Mt Somers. We hike up a river canyon and climb out to Trig Point with great views into the Rakaia Basin. There are several altitudinal plant sequences during the hike, along with regenerating beech forest. We frequently see the New Zealand falcon flying in this area. Tonight we stay in a mountain hut.
We spend the final day together exploring water caves (you get a bit wet!), Tri-falls Stream and swimming in Emerald Pool or under a pounding waterfall known as the “Spa”. Before leaving this beautiful park we’ll have lunch and then hike back along the canyon rim to an abandoned coal mine to explore some relics. It’s then a short hike back to the vehicle. After cleaning up the vehicle and sorting out gear we drive across the Canterbury Plains. We arrive in the early evening.
|Grade||D (Some alpine hiking and uneven terrain)|
|Start||Queenstown i-SITE Visitor Centre, Cnr. Shotover & Camp Sts, 8:00am|
|Finish||Christchurch 6:00 pm (approx.)|
|Extra Costs||Optional activities|