A New Zealand Small Group “Nature Adventure”, set amidst the Scenic Splendours of the South Island.
Amongst travellers who appreciate spectacular natural settings, New Zealand is legendary. We focus on the South Island, whose rugged coastline contains a land of topographic extremes, from seaside rain forests and volcano craters to jagged peaks, active glaciers and icy fjords. On this dramatic itinerary, we are immersed in nature at its showiest. Within the diverse landscapes we explore, we find intriguing and rare creatures such as Fiordland crested penguins and brown kiwis. We also experience the human side of New Zealand, equally renowned.
We’ll meet sheep farmers; learn about Maori culture, and find a bit of Scottish heritage in the South Pacific.
The South Island of New Zealand is vast and varied, and we attempt to take in as much of this beautiful land as possible without rushing, from mountain passes to ocean fjords (some long drives are involved). Our Expedition Leader knows the land and its flora and fauna intimately as well as its less-visited sites.
Group Size Limit: Approximately 12 Travellers in a private mini-coach. A very important feature of our New Zealand ecotourism expedition is the limited group size.
Image: Stewart Island © Venture Southland
- Cruise the fjords of Milford Sound, where mists weave through glacial valleys and waterfalls pour from vertical peaks above
- Fly by Small Plane to Stewart Island to Look for Unique Wildlife
- Enjoy an exclusive stay on wild, rarely visited Stewart Island, where our Expedition Leaders guide us in search of the famed endemic flightless brown kiwi. This island is also a breeding and nesting site for one of the world’s rarest birds: the Fiordland crested penguin.
- Just minutes from Stewart Island lies the wild world of Ulva Island, a predator-free environment for rare and endangered birds such as the yellow-eyed penguin. Here, we explore pristine trails and beaches, observing bird species that no longer exist on the main islands.
- From secluded wilderness eco-lodges, search for wildlife on guided rain forest hikes, paddle a mountain lake, and stargaze under some of the darkest skies on Earth
- Visit a Working Sheep Farm. We visit an authentic working sheep farm to learn from our hosts about the roles these animals have played in the country’s history and about the significance they hold in the present.
- Small Chartered Boats for Private Wildlife Viewing
- Cruise on several privately chartered small boats for a quiet, intimate experience of nature.
- Stay in Nature’s Most Dramatic Locations: from simple to luxurious, all of our lodgings place us in the most striking natural places New Zealand has to offer. Sleep in a lodge tucked naturally into an open forest clearing, run by a family that traces its farming roots back to 1860. On the shores of Lake Wanaka, enjoy spectacular views of the lake and the magnificent Southern Alps. In every case, accommodations on this small group nature tour are chosen for their authenticity, history, atmosphere and proximity to nature.
- Our guides average 15 years of experience and training, with additional resources and access to WWF’s top scientists. On this trip, you’ll also have the advantage of a native New Zealander as your guide, for a truly personalized interpretative experience.
Accommodations, meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on final day, bottled water, services of Expedition Leader, local guides and lodge staff, most gratuities, airport transfers on Day 1 and final day, permits and entrance fees, all taxes.
Travel to and from start and end point of trip, alcoholic beverages, some gratuities, passport and visa fees, optional activities, items of a personal nature (phone calls, laundry, etc.), airline baggage fees, airport and departure taxes, optional travel insurance.
Physical Requirements: Moderate
This trip involves several walks of approximately 1-2 miles each but can include longer hikes for those who desire. Many days involve long drives on winding roads over mountain passes at altitudes as high as 6,000 feet. We spend significant time on boats out on the open sea, where conditions may be rough. Guests prone to motion sickness may wish to take precautions. A night time kiwi-spotting walk will involve a boat ride followed by an approximately 1-mile night hike over slippery, uneven terrain with some steep inclines. Guests are advised to bring head lamps, with sufficient batteries, to illuminate the trail before them. Depending on how much time it takes to locate these elusive birds, it is possible that we will be walking in the dark for several hours.
Getting There & Getting Home
Please note that this trip begins and ends in two different cities. Arrive in Christchurch in time for a 7 pm orientation at the Hotel Montreal. For those travellers who wish to participate in the optional Christchurch Botanic Gardens and Canterbury Museum tour, plan to arrive in Christchurch no later than 1:30 pm on Day 1. You may depart Dunedin any time on the final day.
Take a look at our Accommodation tab to see where you will lay your head each evening.
Day 1: Christchurch, New Zealand
Our New Zealand adventure tour begins on arrival in Christchurch, where we’ll meet for a welcome dinner this evening. Those arriving early may wish to join our Expedition Leader for an optional outing to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.
Day 2 & 3: Christchurch / Arthur’s Pass
We’re joined by a local guide this morning for a short walking tour of Christchurch. A stop at the Canterbury Museum includes the Quake City exhibit, an interactive, multi-sensory attraction designed to engage and educate guests about the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes.
We depart mid-morning for Pegasus Bay where we’ll enjoy lunch at a local winery. Heading inland toward the icy heights of the Southern Alps, we continue west to the Craigieburn Range, where we find endemic scree plants, giant weta insects and dramatic views of Castle Hill Basin.
Our destination is Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge, a deluxe ecolodge on a working sheep station set amid mountain beech forest and surrounding Arthur’s Pass National Park. Some 3,000 sheep are raised on this authentic farm, which produces fine merino wool. During our stay we’ll enjoy a private paddling excursion on Lake Pearson, as well as a chance to hike some of the nature trails around the lodge.
Day 4: Westland National Park / Lake Moeraki
More of New Zealand’s stunning scenery unfolds as we travel along the west coast this morning. We stop in Hokitika to experience the Treetop Walk through the temperate coastal rain forest, communing with the birds in the ancient rimu and kamahi tree canopy as we traverse an elevated steel walkway and ascend a 130-foot observation tower.
In Westland National Park, the vast ice fields of the Southern Alps spawn glaciers that wind like frozen highways nearly to the ocean, their terminal moraines ending in primeval rain forest. In this unusual mix of habitats we find the world’s only alpine parrot, the kea. Later today, time and weather permitting, we may get a close-up look at the ice at Franz Josef Glacier, in the shadow of New Zealand’s tallest peak, Mount Cook.
This afternoon a visit to the West Coast Wildlife Center offers a behind-the-scenes tour of the rowi kiwi exhibit. Kiwis are flightless, nocturnal birds found only in New Zealand, and the critically endangered rowi is the rarest of the five subspecies, with fewer than 400 remaining in the wild. Continuing to Lake Moeraki, we check in to the Wilderness Lodge, a secluded outpost in this dramatically scenic region.
Day 5: Lake Moeraki
Lake Moeraki sits at the heart of a natural paradise in the Te Wahipounamu–South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Virtually unchanged since the Polynesians discovered New Zealand, this unspoiled landscape has been shaped by successive glaciations into fjords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, ancient forests and wild beaches of volcanic sand. Along with the kea, the rare and endangered takahe, a large flightless bird, also resides here.
From our lodge base we’ll explore the natural environs on guided excursions. Our November departure enjoys a private outing to see rare Tawaki penguins, found only on the southwest coast of New Zealand. Also called Fiordland crested penguins, these are the only penguins that live in the depths of the lush rain forest. About 2,000 pairs remain, with 10 percent of the population residing along the shores of Lake Moeraki. At other times of the year, we’ll take a rain forest hike to discover 1,000 year-old trees, myriad ferns, orchids and search for birdlife in the protected natural environs.
Day 6: Haast Pass / Lake Wanaka
Traversing moss-draped beech forest, we cross Haast Pass into the heart of the Southern Lakes high country. We’ll stop for nature walks at the pass, which is one of three main passages across the Southern Alps and was once an important Maori trading route. The scenery is glorious, and trails lead from the road’s edge into the rain forest along turquoise streams to dramatic waterfalls.
Our destination this afternoon, the vast blue expanse of Lake Wanaka, is the portal to Mount Aspiring National Park. The basin filled by Lake Wanaka was gouged out by the Wanaka Glacier born high in the ice fields that crown the jagged peaks in the distance. In the Maori language, Wanaka means “renewal of the soul,” exactly what our time here offers. The Wanaka region is one of the best places on the planet for stargazing, with some of the darkest night skies in the world.
Day 7: Lake Wanaka / Te Anau
A magnificent morning is in store with a 3-hour boat cruise on Lake Wanaka. We’ll go ashore on remote Mou Waho Island, a predator-free nature reserve that’s home to the rare flightless buff weka, a curious, even friendly bird that has been extinct on the mainland since 1920. A guided bush walk to the top of the island reveals a hidden lake on the summit, a very photogenic spot where we’ll have High Tea serenaded by birdsongs with the panorama of the Southern Alps displayed before us.
This afternoon, along the spectacular Crown Range Road, vistas of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables Range unfold. Stop for lunch at the historic Cardrona Hotel, built in 1863 during the Cardrona Valley gold rush. Said to have the most photographed pub in New Zealand, the hotel’s rustic charm and stunning setting make for a memorable meal. Continuing to the Fiordland World Heritage Area, we overnight in the lakeside resort town of Te Anau.
Day 8: Fiordland National Park / Milford Sound
Fiordland National Park is a mythical-looking land of pyramid peaks and sheer rock walls, waterfalls and drifting mists, beneath a perpetual cap of snow and ice. It’s no wonder it was chosen as one of the major settings for the film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. Late this morning we travel to Milford Sound, where we’ll board an excursion boat for a scenic cruise, with lunch aboard.
As we ply the steep-walled fjords we look for fur seals, crested penguins and bottlenose dolphins as our naturalist Expedition Leader, an expert on New Zealand wildlife, interprets all we see. Above us, iconic Mitre Peak rises two-thirds of a mile straight out of the sea. After an exhilarating afternoon cruising these waters amid some of the most dramatic scenery on the planet, we return to Te Anau for dinner at our hotel.
Day 9 & 10: Stewart Island / Ulva Island
Drive this morning to Invercargill, at the bottom of the South Island, where we board our short flight to idyllic Stewart Island, 19 miles offshore. Much of this rugged granite island lies within the new Rakiura National Park, whose Maori name means “Land of Glowing Skies.” Its lush rain forests shelter many native plants, which we discover on nature walks through the unique habitat. The island is a haven for birds, and we’ll listen for the songs of parakeets and bellbirds. We’ll also hope to spy the elusive brown kiwi on a guided night walk. On neighbouring Ulva Island, a short boat ride away, we explore pristine trails and beaches, observing rare bird species that no longer exist on the main islands. A private boat cruise off Stewart Island offers a chance to view the multitudes of pelagic seabirds that live and breed in these coastal waters. We’ll expect to see a great variety at close range—albatrosses, shearwaters, prions, and several penguin species including yellow-eyed, blue and Fiordland crested.
Day 11: Invercargill / Dunedin
After breakfast, we fly back to Invercargill. At the Southland Museum in town we stop to view the tuatara on an exclusive visit with a local expert. These ancient reptiles, endemic to New Zealand, resemble lizards but are part of a distinct lineage, the order Rhynchocephalia, which flourished 200 million years ago. Tuatara are now extinct on New Zealand’s North and South Islands and survive only on 35 offshore islands. The museum’s successful breeding program has become a key contributor to the survival of this “living fossil.”
We stop for lunch at a farm where we’ll learn from our family hosts about local rural life and traditions before continuing to Dunedin. This historic city boomed during a series of gold rushes in the 19th century and was once the largest metropolis in New Zealand. Today it remains one of its most important commercial centres. Late this afternoon we take a guided walk through a nearby yellow-eyed penguin reserve. This penguin species, found only in New Zealand, is one of the rarest in the world, with just 4,000-5,000 remaining. Our visit to the colony is timed for dusk to watch the penguins return to land from the sea, before a festive farewell dinner at Larnach Castle, built in 1871.
Day 12: Dunedin / Depart
After breakfast, if time permits, you may tour the elegant gardens surrounding Lamach Castle before your transfer to the airport for flights home.
*Our ground handler Natural Habitat Adventures (NHA) Is World Wildlife Fund’s Travel Partner
The emissions from your trip are 100-percent carbon-offset. NHA is the world’s first carbon-neutral touring company, a feature that is especially critical when considering that many of the species and habitats we observe on our trips are under substantial threat from our planet’s warming temperatures.
Overlooking Cramner Square and situated on the edge of Hagley Park, Hotel Montreal is Christchurch’s newest luxury boutique hotel. The hotel’s aesthetic is an eclectic mix of refined elegance.
The White Morph Inn
The White Morph offers sleek and stylish waterfront accommodations in Kaikoura. A member of the Heritage Boutique Collection of intimate hotels and inns.
Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge
Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge, owned by ecologists who are part of a historic New Zealand sheep-farming family, is designed to harmonize with its setting on a high-country nature reserve.
Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge
A sister property to Arthur’s Pass, Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge sits beside the Moeraki River, surrounded by rainforest near the pristine Tasman sea coast.
On the shores of Lake Wanaka at the foot of Mt. Aspiring National Park, rooms at Edgewater Resort have private balconies to capitalize on the fabulous views.
Distinction Te Anau
Surrounded by extensive gardens and overlooking Lake Te Anau and the Fiordland ranges, the recently renovated Distinction Te Anau Hotel offers stylish contemporary accommodations.
The Southern Cross is Dunedin’s oldest and most well-established hotel. Dating back to 1883, this landmark building now blends Dunedin’s distinctive character and heritage.