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Walking Vacation Walking New Zealand: Splendor of the South Island​

Activity Level: Easy / Moderate  |  Daily Mileage: 2 – 6 mi  |  Daily Walking: 1 – 5 hr
Air package plus
12 days from only
Price includes roundtrip airfare.
Land only
9 days from only
Pre-trip Extension:
Sydney · 3 nights $795*

Post-trip Extension:
Queenstown · 2 nights $445* 
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Detailed Itinerary 

Please note: For those traveling in 2015, your itinerary may vary slightly from what is presented below. 

Day 1 - Depart U.S. and begin your flight over the Pacific Ocean

Depart the U.S. for Christchurch, New Zealand. The particulars of your arrival are detailed with your flight itinerary and airline tickets. 

Day 2 - In flight to Christchurch

Flying from the U.S. to New Zealand requires crossing the International Date Line, so this day is “lost.”

Day 3 - Arrive in Christchurch

Upon arrival at the Christchurch airport, gather your luggage at the international baggage collection area and proceed toward the main exit past the International Free phone area. Around the corner, look for the Super Shuttle vehicle. It will be parked in the International Shuttle Rank on your left. Use it to transfer (approximately 30 minutes) to your Christchurch hotel. If your flight is delayed, please notify Super Shuttle at 64 9 522 5100. Once you arrive at the hotel, the rest of the day is yours to relax or explore on your own.

Your hotel room may not be available until 2:00 pm, but you may store your luggage with the reception desk. VBT provides you with City Information in your Final Travel Booklet that includes information and recommendations about what to see and do in Christchurch during your stay.

Please note: VBT transfer times and departure points are finalized in advance and cannot be modified for individual guests. If you arrive earlier than the scheduled program dates, transportation from the airport will be at your own expense.

Day 4 - All guests meet at Christchurch / Travel to Nelson Lakes National Park / Brunner Peninsula Walk / Welcome reception

VBT No-Air Package guests: Please plan to arrive at our Christchurch hotel by 8:30 am. If you are unable to arrive before 8:30 am, please contact the hotel, which will notify our Trip Leaders.  

VBT Air and Pre-Trip Extension guests: Meet your VBT Trip Leaders at 9:00 am at the hotel reception area. Trip Leaders will be wearing VBT staff garments. Please be checked-out of the hotel and have your luggage with you, including your day pack and dressed for walking.  

We’ll transfer from Christchurch to St. Arnaud and the Nelson Lakes National Park. The longest transfer of the entire tour, today’s very scenic drive will take about five hours. We travel in comfortable 12-seat Mercedes Benz Sprinter van(s) that feature(s) tall windows, perfect for taking in the ever-changing landscapes of New Zealand’s South Island. We will stop en route for a short 20 minute sub alpine walk and to have lunch.

Upon arrival in St. Arnaud, there is time to settle into our rooms at the lodge. In the late afternoon, we’ll meet for some stretching, a safety briefing and instruction on using the provided walking poles. Then we head off directly from the lodge on a loop trail along the Brunner Peninsula. This mostly-flat trail offers views from Kerr Bay and West Bay across Lake Rotoiti to the surrounding peaks. It’s possible to spend time on the lake’s nearby beach before returning to the lodge.

Nelson Lakes National Park is situated in the northernmost ranges of the Southern Alps. Although best known for its sparkling alpine lakes, most notably Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa, the 250,000-acre park also boasts robust beech forests, soaring mountain peaks and clear, tranquil streams.

Tonight, we’ll join our Trip Leaders for a welcome reception followed by dinner. Our lodge’s quiet setting is sure to invite a restful night’s sleep.

Day 5 - Nelson Lakes National Park / Mt. Robert Circuit

Today a short shuttle carries us to the start of the Mr. Robert Circuit. This five-hour walk circles Mt. Robert’s flanks and offers incredible views. The first half features a steady climb. We take our time and make use of the huts and shelters along the route to enjoy the dramatic scenery before us. Our Trip Leaders will provide a picnic lunch for us to carry in our day packs. 

Due to New Zealand’s unpredictable weather particularly in the mountains there will be wet weather options provided.  Your guides will inform you of the options nearer the time.

Back at the lodge, you can relax or go for a swim in the lake.

Dinner tonight is at your leisure. In addition to our lodge’s dining room, options for an evening meal include the lodge’s bar, local fish-and-chip shop and the historic Tophouse Hotel (a short shuttle ride away; reservations required), which claims to be New Zealand’s smallest bar (participation may be limited!). 

Later, you might take a walk and look skyward for the Southern Cross, a constellation that can be seen year-round, but only from the Southern Hemisphere. Among the smallest constellations, the Southern Cross contains four bright stars located closely together, making it very easy to spot.

Day 6 - St. Arnaud to Kaiteriteri / Abel Tasman Coastal Track / Awaroa Bay 

We leave St. Arnaud and the mountains, heading north for the coast. We shuttle along quiet, scenic roads and arrive at our destination, Kaiteriteri, in about two hours. Here, you’ll have time to find a spot to pick-up something for lunch before we transfer by Sea Shuttle to Abel Tasman National Park. Our Sea Shuttle boards directly from the beach, with easy walk on-off access. You may enjoy your lunch under cover or on open decks as we cruise past the famous Split Apple Rock, a massive granite boulder cleaved in nearly equal halves by wind and water; Tonga Island, known for its colony of fur seals; and pristine beaches edged by crystal-clear turquoise waters.

We disembark at one of the beaches and walk along the well-known Abel Tasman Coastal Track to our lodge at Awaroa. Designated one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks,” by the Department of Conservation this route will take us past rocky outcrops, sheltered coves and golden, palm-fringed beaches. 

We arrive at the lodge in the late afternoon. You may choose to head down to the beach for a swim or relax on your room’s private deck. While the lodge is a bit busier during the day with walkers passing through, evenings and mornings are quiet, with just a lucky few having overnight accommodations within the Park.   

You may want to try the fresh seafood during our included dinner this evening.

Day 7 - Abel Tasman Coastal Track / Awaroa Beach 

Today we’ll experience more of the spectacular Abel Tasman National Park.  Our overnight accommodations in the middle of the park—together with our three-day Sea Shuttle Pass—allow us flexibility in choosing walks with the option to shuttle to and from various trail heads within the park.  Note: Park walks to and from Awaroa Lodge involve tidal crossings; crossing times are limited and subject to change, depending upon tidal activity. While the location or direction of our walks may change, our experience will always be rewarding.

Today’s suggested walks are either: Walking from our lodge to Totaranui and/or the reverse; leisurely 2.5-hour walk one-way, this trail traverses the Awaroa inlet. Further on, it passes through beech, rimu and matai forest, and then descends into Totaranui, passing giant rata trees in their cliff top habitats. At Totaranui’s National Park Headquarters there is an informative ecological display. You have the option to return to the lodge by Sea Shuttle or by foot.

Or, December to March only, catch the sea shuttle to Anchorage 3-4 hour walk or Torrent Bay 2.5 hour walk to Medlands one way.  The trail weaves through gullies of large tree ferns including New Zealand’s native Silver Fern.  The lush coastal bush opens to reveal stunning views of the coastline and turquoise sea. There will be opportunities to visit the beaches and take a swim before you catch your sea shuttle back to Awaroa.

Again, we will time our walks and shuttles to work with the tides. The lodge will pack a lunch for us to carry in our day packs. After returning to the lodge, you’ll have time to visit beaches, swim, bird-watch, or seek out wildlife in the Awaroa wetlands.  

You may choose from the lodge’s two restaurants for dinner on your own tonight.  

Day 8 - Sky Track Walk / Nelson / Greenshell Mussel Cruise / Marlborough Sounds / Skiddaw Reserve Walk

This morning, have “a lie in,” as the locals say, and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Once you’re fueled up for the day, you might want to try the Sky Track trail. Open only to lodge guests, the 40-minute circular walk is a 300-foot scenic climb above the inlet. You’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the coastline.

In the late morning, we walk the five minutes from the lodge to the beach where we catch the Sea Shuttle back to Kaiteriteri. Here we are reunited with our vans, and shuttle to Havelock— gateway to the Marlborough Sounds. En route, we’ll stop in the Moutere Valley, where we’ll enjoy lunch at a boutique vineyard, and have an opportunity to sample some excellent local wines. 

In Havelock we leave our vans behind again, and board our private cruiser to reach our lodge on the Kenepuru Sound. As we cruise, we’ll learn about Greenshell Mussels, a local delicacy, from our Captain Mike. We’ll gather some mussels to sample later at the lodge and enjoy a glass of award-winning Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc while we sail past some of the most spectacular scenery on the South Island. Our 75-minute chartered cruise saves us a long and winding trip by road to Double Bay and Raetihi Lodge, our home for the next two nights.

After settling in to our rooms, those who wish to stretch their legs may head off to Skiddaw Reserve, a 90-minute roundtrip amble from the front door of the lodge.

Day 9 - Queen Charlotte Track / Marlborough Sounds

Raetihi Lodge is ideally positioned, affording easy access to all things on Kenepuru Sound from the lodge dock. Row boats and kayaks are available for use at no charge to VBT guests. Across the sound in front of us lies the Queen Charlotte Track, one of the country's most spectacular walks.

After breakfast, we take a quick 15-minute water taxi ride from our lodge's dock to Portage Bay. There we start our walk on the Queen Charlotte Track. This section of the track is rolling ascents and descents. We walk the ridge, delighting in incredible views over the sounds on both sides. Taking our time, our walk ends with a descent into Te Mahia Bay. A return water taxi takes us back to our lodge, where we'll have some time for independent exploration. As with other days, there are alternative walk options available today.

Tonight we'll gather for dinner in our lodge's dining room.  

Day 10 - Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway / Hanmer Springs

We board our chartered cruiser for a return to Havelock this morning. From Havelock we drive to Yealands Estate winery where we will discover the secrets to the achievement of carboNZero certTM certification.  We continue southeast to Kaikoura, a rugged peninsula where steep mountains tumble to the sea. As you might expect from an area whose name is the Maori word for crayfish, the area is known for its abundant marine life, including whales, dolphins and fur seals. We just might catch sight of these aquatic creatures as we stroll along the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, where an array of information panels offers insight into local history and wildlife.  

Alongside the road to the Peninsula Walkway, a number of food trucks have created a buzz with their creative and delicious menus. They have attracted attention, mostly, for their incredibly fresh seafood—including oysters, scallops, abalone, whitebait and, of course, crayfish—but other options are available as well. We’ll take a break and enjoy our late lunch here. 

Just a bit further down the road, lies Hanmer Springs and our lodge, which is located in a spectacular setting outside the town center. Rooms here boast arresting views of the surrounding wilderness.  

Tonight, dine at the lodge or enjoy a ten-minute shuttle into town for a wide range of dinner options.

Day 11 - Conical Hill Walk, Hanmer Forest / Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools 

Enjoy breakfast with a view.  

Set in the midst of a wide range of “tramping” options, Hanmer Springs is a walker’s paradise. You may opt for the Conical Hill walk, where a gentle climb will reward you with tremendous views from the lookout shelter.  As you climb, you’ll pass through exotic varieties of trees, including Japanese cypress and giant fir.  Near the shelter, you’ll notice a plaque commemorating the work of Duncan Rutherford, who helped develop the Hanmer Basin.

Later in the day, spend some time at leisure in the charming town center which offers galleries, shops and restaurants.  Then enjoy an included visit to the open-air thermal pools for which the town is named. A soak in the springs’ soothing, mineral-rich waters is sure to leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
This evening, enjoy a memorable farewell dinner with fellow guests and your Trip Leaders.

Day 12 - Depart for U.S. or begin your optional trip extension in Queenstown

VBT No-Air Package guests: After breakfast, transfer to the Christchurch airport, arriving at approximately 10:30 am. This transfer is included in your package.

VBT Air Package guests: After breakfast, transfer to the Christchurch airport, arriving at approximately 10:30 am. This transfer is included in your package.  Depending on guest flight times, a later transfer may be available. If you arrive at the airport with time to spare, we recommend a visit to the Antarctic Centre, within easy walking distance of the terminals. Visitors to the Antarctic Centre may take advantage of their complimentary shuttle bus to and from Christchurch city center.

VBT Post-Trip Extension guests: After breakfast, transfer to the Christchurch airport, arriving at approximately 10:30 am. This transfer is included in your package. You will then fly to Queenstown, arriving in the early afternoon. At the Queenstown airport you will be transferred by Super Shuttle to the Hotel St. Moritz. This transfer is included in your package.

VBT guests joining the VBT New Zealand bicycling vacation: After breakfast, leave the lodge by VBT van for the two-hour trip to Christchurch and Chateau on the Park, arriving at the hotel at approximately 11:00 am. This transfer is included in your package. You will join the first land-package day of our New Zealand bike tour, staying tonight at Chateau on the Park.

Upon arrival in Queenstown, the remainder of the day is yours to make your own discoveries. Perhaps you’ll join an excursion to breathtaking Milford Sound; climb aboard a jet-boat for a thrilling ride through the Shotover River Canyons; cruise Lake Wakatipu aboard the historic T.S.S. Earnslaw steamer for a behind-the-scenes look at a working sheep station; or embark on a scenic gondola ride. 

After a full day of exploration, relax at the hotel this evening. Dinner is on your own tonight. VBT provides you with City Information in your Final Travel Booklet that includes information and recommendations about what to see and do in Queenstown during your stay.

Please note: VBT transfer times and departure points are finalized in advance and cannot be modified for individual guests. If you extend your stay beyond the scheduled program dates, return transportation to the airport will be at your own expense
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