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Mt. Cook

New Zealand Uncut: North & South Islands

Small Group Departure - Example 15 Day Tour
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Set out on a 15-day hiking adventure across New Zealand, from the geothermal wonders of Rotorua to the diverse and rich terrain of the adventure capital, Queenstown. Start your adventure in the stunning Waitomo glow worm caves, leading you to the geothermal wonders of Rotorua. Next, the dramatic volcanic landscapes of Tongariro National Park await, offering challenging trails with rewarding panoramic views. Fly south, where Abel Tasman National Park greets you with its golden beaches and crystal-clear waters, ideal for a rejuvenating coastal hike. Discover the lush rainforests of Punakaiki in Paparoa National Park, where famous pancake rocks and blowholes exist. As you reach the Southern Alps, take hikes in Aoraki, Mt. Cook, and Mt. Aspiring National Parks. A hiker's paradise trails through valleys carved by glaciers, turquoise lakes, and the shadow of New Zealand's tallest peaks.
Tasman GlacierHiking in Abel Tasman National ParkCastle HillMt. Tongariro, Mt. Ngauruhoe, and Mt. RuapehuCascading waterfall in the Milford SoundAbel Tasman National ParkLake TaraweraHooker Valley, Mt. CookMt. Aspiring National ParkMt. Cook
  • Visit the magical subterranean world of Waitomo glow worm caves
  • Experience a Māori cultural performance and traditional hangi dinner
  • See the spectacular volcanic terrain of Tongariro National Park
  • Discover the picturesque golden sand beaches of the Abel Tasman Coast
  • Explore rainforest-clad limestone canyons on the South Island West Coast
  • Hike the majestic peaks and lakes of Aoraki/Mt. Cook and Mt Aspiring
  • Trek parts of the Great Walks of Fiordland National Park
Places Visited
Activity Level: Moderate
Activities that provide a reasonable level of physical challenge and elevate the heart rate. Focused on more active pursuits including multisport tours. Travelers may be active 5-7 hours total each day. Recommended for travelers with active lifestyles.

Full Itinerary

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Day 1: Auckland | Rotorua

Meet your North Island guide and the rest of the group in the Heritage Hotel foyer at 7 am before driving south through classic patchwork green farming country alongside the Waikato River. Arriving at the Waitomo Caves area, descend into the vaulted galleries of the Ruakuri Cave with its limestone formations and crystals. Thousands of tiny glowworms that cling to the cave ceiling to simulate a starry night sky will enchant you.

Later, emerge into the sunshine and wander on a loop trail through an outstanding limestone canyon. You will arrive in the volcanically active area of Rotorua late in the afternoon. Enjoy a dinner and a cultural show this evening in Rotorua, which is also the hub of Maori cultural tourism in New Zealand.

Hiking Distance: 1-2 km / .5 - 1 mile
Hiking Duration: 2 hours

Day 2: Rotorua | Lake Taupo

Hike alongside the beautifully clear Lake Tarawera, enjoying the shade that towering tree ferns and ignimbrite cliffs offer. Plunge into the lake to cool off at one of the tiny pumice beaches as you wait for the others to catch up. As you hike along this trail, you will be amazed at how vast the volcano wilderness, lake, and forest are.

Discover some of the incredible thermal regions situated slightly south of Rotorua during the afternoon. Wander along boardwalks that connect pools of bubbling mud, mineralized hot pools, and plumes of rising steam, and wonder at the uniqueness of this area. Grab a cuppa before driving toward the lakeside town of Taupo.

Feel the force of the Waikato River as it squeezes through a slender rock passageway at Huka Falls. Your accommodation is in Taupo. Relax with a drink and enjoy the views.

Hiking Distance: 8 km / 5 miles
Hiking Duration: 5 hours

Day 3: Tongariro | Tongariro National Park

Drive around Lake Taupo’s shores to New Zealand’s first national park, Tongariro. Take a leisurely morning walk through the stunning forest around the slopes of Mt. Pihanga and to the mystical Lake Rotopounamu (Lake of Greenstone). 

You will be spending the next two nights in a hotel near the park, giving you plenty of time to explore the area at your leisure. Hike to Taranaki Falls in the afternoon, cascading 20 meters over a 15,000-year-old lava flow. Enjoy dinner with the group in the comfort of your hotel.

Hiking Distance: 8 km / 5 miles
Hiking Duration: 2–4 hours

Day 4: Tongariro National Park

Join your guide today for a full day of walking on the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, regarded as one of the best day walks in the world. The well-built track climbs, steeply at times, to the craters of Mt. Tongariro. Stop and admire the views of the Red Crater, Emerald Lakes, and steaming vents that make this hike outstanding. After a sometimes long and physically challenging day, celebrate your achievement at dinner with a bottle of fine New Zealand wine.

Those who prefer a more restful day can find plenty to do at the village: Soda Springs walk, Taranaki Falls walk, or simply drink coffee and view the great exhibits at the Park Visitor Centre. Enjoy your second night in this village.

Hiking Distance: 23 km / 14 miles
Hiking Duration: 6–8 hours

Day 5: Tongariro | Wellington

Rest your legs this morning as you drive south through rolling green hill country to the capital city of Wellington. Stroll along the fabulous waterfront and absorb some of New Zealand’s history in the national museum, Te Papa, or get lost admiring the heritage houses along one of the many improbably steep streets. Nowhere is very far in Wellington. Enjoy the vibrant café and restaurant scene here.

Day 6: Wellington | Fly to Nelson

There is more time to enjoy this busy harborside capital or relax before grabbing an early lunch and heading to the airport. Enjoy a scenic early afternoon flight over the Cook Strait as you hop from the North to the South Island. Your driver will meet you at Nelson Airport to transfer you to the Tides Hotel, where you will later meet your guides and those joining for the Southern Slice tour at 4 pm.

There will be an opportunity for a guided hike up Botanical Hill, known as the “Centre of New Zealand.” Enjoy the sweeping views of Tasman Bay and Nelson City, or you can go for an alternative option to explore the lively town on your own, as suggested by your guides.

Later, celebrate the start of your South Island tour by dining together in one of Nelson’s fine restaurants.

Hiking Distance: 2.5 km/ 1.5 miles
Hiking Duration: 1 hour

Day 7: Abel Tasman National Park

After an early breakfast, you will travel to Abel Tasman National Park. At the beach resort of Kaiteriteri, board a water taxi and cruise the coastline past golden sand beaches, rugged granite headlands, and bush-clad islands. Step ashore at Bark Bay and follow the famed Abel Tasman Coast Track through native forests and past cascading streams. A well-formed trail leads us up and over gentle ridges to Torrent Bay, where the lovely, clear, fresh waters of Cleopatra’s Pool may tempt you to take a dip or, for those more daring, a slide down the naturally formed hydro-slide!

At Anchorage, you will meet the water taxi for a return journey to Kaiteriteri before heading back to Nelson in the late afternoon. There is an opportunity to further explore this vibrant and arty little town this evening, with the many excellent restaurant dining options.

Hiking Distance: 12 km / 7.5 miles
Hiking Duration: 4 hour

Day 8: Punakaiki

While traveling to the West Coast, make a stop to hike and observe the beauty of the ancient natural flames that have been burning since the 1920s. With the help of a local guide, you can access this phenomenon via a privately owned working deer farm. Unlike the Eternal Flames of the Chimera in Turkey, the natural flames are surrounded by thick beech forests and tree ferns. This experience has a very 'kiwi' flavor, enhanced by hot cakes cooked over the fire and a cup of 'billy tea.'

Your journey resumes alongside the mighty Buller River as it cuts its way through the massive wilderness of the upper South Island to the coast at Westport. Explore this stunning stretch of the West Coast's coastline and discover its fascinating history before heading south to Punakaiki to watch the sunset and have dinner at a local pub.

Take an evening stroll around the famous pancake rocks and blowholes. If you can, try to visit the rocks during high tide; if not, you can wait until tomorrow to explore the rocks.

Hiking Distance: Up to 8 km / 5 miles
Hiking Duration: 3 hours

Day 9: Methven

Hike the Inland Pack Track from the Pororari to the Punakaiki River. This historic route, once used by prospectors and miners to avoid immense coastal cliffs while traveling the West Coast, is now part of our newest Great Walk, the Paparoa Track. Pass through a deep limestone canyon and a towering rainforest with groves of tropical Nikau palms. You may not be able to resist a speedy swim in one of the many deep, clear pools you pass on the way!

Once you have completed the hike, head over the Southern Alps and onto a stunning highway that will transport you from the verdant rainforests of the West Coast to the soft, yellow tussock grasslands of the eastern high country. In New Zealand, this road has some of the most ingenious engineering. East of Arthur’s Pass, stretch your legs and stroll around the enchanting limestone outcrops of Kura Tawhiti (Castle Hill). This area was an important meeting place and food gathering area for early Maori people. Interestingly, it was named “Spiritual Center of the Universe” by the Dalai Lama when he visited in 2002. Today, the area is a popular destination for rock climbers who enjoy scaling a variety of rock formations.

Then, leave the highway and follow the back roads around Lake Lyndon and on to Methven, a ski town by winter and a laid-back rural town the rest of the year. The Southern Alps form a spectacular backdrop.

Hiking Distance: Up to 10 km / 6.2 miles
Hiking Duration: 3 hours

Day 10: Methven | Aoraki / Mount Cook

Continue to travel south, at first following the edge of the extensive Canterbury Plains, then up into the intermontane Mackenzie Basin to Lake Tekapo, famous for its stunning turquoise waters and the quaint Church of the Good Shepherd, perched daintily by the lake. During a picnic lunch, revel in broad views of the patagonia-like landscape. The sweeping Mackenzie “Country” is a sparsely populated region in the rain shadow of the Southern Alps; tawny-brown drylands, braided riverbeds, and startling glacial lakes extend to distant mountains.

Upon arrival at Mount Cook village, hike in Governors Bush and up to Red Tarns for magnificent elevated views of Aoraki/Mt Cook and the surrounding Alps. After enjoying the views, take a stroll back to your accommodation, where you will be staying for the next two nights.

Hiking Distance: Up to 5 km / 3 miles
Hiking Duration: 3 hours

Day 11: Aoraki / Mount Cook

Hike up to Sealy Tarns and enjoy the breathtaking views of Mt. Sefton, Mueller Glacier, and up the Hooker Valley to Aoraki/Mt. Cook. If you’re feeling energetic, join the guide for an extended climb above the tarns to the crest of Mueller Ridge for even broader views of this spectacular alpine landscape. Those who want an easier alternative to the Sealy Tarns can explore the valley floor independently. Walk up the Hooker Valley for views of the Mueller and Hooker Glacier terminal lakes and the towering south face of Aoraki/Mt Cook, or learn more about the wonders of the national park in the world-class visitor center.

Hiking Distance: Up to 5 km / 3 miles
Hiking Duration: 4 hours

Day 12: Aoraki / Mount Cook | Wanaka

Travel up the Tasman Valley towards the Tasman Glacier, the longest glacier in New Zealand. Take a short walk through the glacial moraine and board a custom-built boat for a unique spin around the terminal lake. Like most glaciers in the world, the Tasman Glacier is retreating, and the terminal lake increases in size every year. This dynamic environment is dotted with icebergs of all shapes and sizes from the collapsing terminal face of the glacier.

Drive to Wanaka and follow the Mackenzie Country south before climbing over the tussock lands of the Lindis Pass into the southern lake district of Central Otago. Grab the opportunity to sample the wine and learn about the sustainable natural winemaking practiced at an award-winning vineyard in this burgeoning wine region, or simply enjoy a walk among the vines. Wanaka is a lovely lakeside holiday town.

Hiking Distance: 3 km / 1.8 miles
Hiking Duration: 1 hours

Day 13: Wanaka | Te Anau

A beautiful drive alongside Lake Wanaka leads you toward the peaks of Aspiring National Park. Hike in the lower Matukituki Valley on the Diamond Lake walk and up Rocky Mountain, a distinctive glacially sculpted “roche moutonnee” (rock sheep), for spectacular views over the lake and to the Southern Alps and Mount Aspiring/Tititea. This area has several hike options, from the gentle Diamond Lake circuit to the more energetic Rocky Mountain summit climb.

After the hike and lunch, travel to Te Anau, the entrance to Fiordland National Park, by driving over the Crown Range and along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. In the afternoon, you can unwind or walk along the picturesque lakeshore, which offers breathtaking views of the vast Fiordland wilderness across the water.

Hiking Distance: 7 km / 4.3 miles
Hiking Duration: 3 hours

Day 14: Te Anau | Milford Sound

Your day excursion will take you through the stunning Fiordland mountains to Milford Sound, one of New Zealand's most iconic visitor destinations. You'll stop at The Divide to walk a section of the Routeburn Track to Key Summit for panoramic views of the Humboldt and Darran Mountains. Easy and short walks are available, and the preferred option, if the cloud is likely to rob Key Summit of views, is located below in the Hollyford Valley.

The topography will leave you spellbound as you continue to Milford Sound and experience the true magnificence of the fjord, cruising between glaciated mountains under sheer cliffs that plummet hundreds of meters into deep, dark waters. Enjoy the incredible views of mile-high Mitre Peak and Lady Bowen Falls as you look out for marine wildlife. You may spot dusky dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, and, if you are lucky, the rare Fiordland crested penguin. You will return to Te Anau in the afternoon.

Hiking Distance: 7 km / 4.3 miles
Hiking Duration: 3 hours

Day 15: Te Anau | Queenstown | Return Home

  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch
Queenstown is a beautiful town tucked under the mountains and beside the crystal-clear Lake Wakatipu. There are a vast number of adventure activities on offer here. You might like to take a thrilling jet boat ride, face your fears on the highest bungy in New Zealand, or paddle peacefully down a river on an inflatable ‘funyak’.

This morning, you will hike part of the famed Kepler Track onto the shores of Lake Manapouri, described as the ‘loveliest of all lakes’ for its array of small islands, bush-fringed beaches, coves, and mountain backdrop. From here, explore the southern extent of your journey. Then, backtrack northwards towards the lively scene of Queenstown. Celebrate your adventures together over lunch at a classy local restaurant in the wine country just outside of Queenstown. Enjoy some fine local food and wine before arriving in Queenstown in the late afternoon, where your tour concludes.

Hiking Distance: 10 km / 6.2 miles
Hiking Duration: 3 hours

Please note: Due to difficulties with the size of the vehicle combination and accessibility of many accommodations, end of trip drop-off locations are at the guide's discretion. They may be limited to the airport and one central Queenstown location.


Distinction Hotel Rotorua

Distinction Hotel Rotorua
Distinction Hotel Rotorua
Hotel reception area

Beechtree Motel Taupo

Beechtree Motel Taupo
Hotel hallway
hotel Backyard

The Park Hotel Ruapehu

The Park Hotel Ruapehu
The Park Hotel Ruapehu
Lounge area

Copthorne Hotel Wellington, Oriental Bay

Copthorne Hotel Wellington, Oriental Bay
Reception area
Hotel restaurant

Tides Hotel Nelson

Tides Hotel Nelson
Swimming pool area

Scenic Hotel Punakaiki

Scenic Hotel Punakaiki
Scenic Hotel Punakaiki
Hotel cottages

Ski Time Methven

The Hermitage Hotel Mt. Cook

The Hermitage Hotel Mt. Cook
The Hermitage Hotel Mt. Cook
Hotel reception area

Oakridge Resort Lake Wanaka

Oakridge Resort Lake Wanaka
Oakridge Resort Lake Wanaka
Hotel accommodation

Distinction Te Anau Hotel & Villas

Distinction Te Anau Hotel & Villas
Distinction Te Anau Hotel & Villas
Distinction Te Anau Hotel & Villas

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  • 13 Breakfasts, 12 Lunches, 13 Dinners, 1 Box Lunch
  • 14 Nights Accommodations
  • 14 Days Locally Hosted Guide Service
  • Accommodations as listed
  • Ground transportation as listed
  • Activities as listed
  • Meals as listed
  • Access to a 24-7 Emergency line while traveling
  • Professional Mountain Hiking Guide
  • A luxury minibus tows a custom-built trailer with food, equipment, and luggage.
  • Maori Village Experience
  • Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland
  • Scenic flight from the North to the South Island
  • Abel Tasman boat cruise
  • Glacier boat trip and Milford Sound cruise
  • Gratuities
  • Travel Insurance
  • Personal Expenses
  • Flight costs (please request a quote)
  • Additional excursions during free time
  • Fuel and transportation surcharges (when applicable)


When to Go

Good to ideal period to travel, and many people choose to visit at this time.
Typically not offered during this period because of weather conditions.


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