Walking New Zealand: Splendor of the South Island

Small wonder Kiwis have perfected the art of “tramping”: With its soaring mountains, crystalline lakes, verdant meadows and pristine beaches, New Zealand is truly a walker’s paradise.

  • Activity Level: Easy / Moderate
  • Daily Mileage: 2 - 6 mi
  • Daily Walking: 1 - 5 hr
  • Small Groups: 20
  • Walking
  • Easy / Moderate
  • Plane

Why You'll Love This Tour


Walking New Zealand: Splendor of the South Island

Especially the South Island—and you’ll discover

why during invigorating walks in the foothills of the Southern Alps and along the scenic shores of the Marlborough Sounds. As we “tramp,” we’ll enjoy closer looks at fascinating plants and wildlife. And we’ll stay in remote, intimate lodges with splendid settings, including a two-night stay in the heart of Abel Tasman National Park. Join VBT and experience the singular beauty of the South Island firsthand!

Cultural Highlights

  • Delight in the alpine landscapes of Nelson Lakes National Park
  • Gaze skyward to view the Southern Cross, visible only from the Southern Hemisphere
  • Hike the spectacular Abel Tasman Coastal Track, passing by secluded coves and palm-fringed beaches
  • Savor the flavors of the South Island, from fresh Greenshell Mussels to award-winning Sauvignon Blanc
  • Step outside our lodge’s door and kayak through the Marlborough Sounds’ scenic inlets
  • Enjoy a rejuvenating soak in the thermal, mineral-rich waters of Hanmer Springs

What To Expect

This tour features a combination of easy terrain mixed with moderate hills. We walk primarily on dedicated footpaths, which may be rough at times and can become wet and muddy on rainy days. While in the Marlborough Sounds, we travel via water taxis, which require stepping over a transom. Our VBT on-tour support vehicle is available at specific meeting points for those who need assistance. It is ideal for both enthusiastic beginners and experienced walkers. Several of the walks require a transfer from our hotel to the start of the walk. Our tour leaders often use this time in the van for our morning route review, so we can enjoy a more leisurely morning at breakfast.

Average Daily Mileage: 2 - 6 miles
Average Cycling Time: 1 - 5 hours

Climate Information

Average Daily Temperature (°F) – Christchurch
Jan 71°  Feb 69°  Mar 67°  Apr 62°  May 56°  Dec 67°

Average Rainfall (in.) – Christchurch
Jan 2.1  Feb 1.8  Mar 2.1  Apr 2  May 2.7  Dec 2.2

What’s Included:

Walking Tour Only – without Air

  • 8 nights in comfortable lodgings
  • 17 meals – 8 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 4 dinners

Air Package Plus

  • Roundtrip international airfare
  • 9 nights in comfortable lodgings
  • 18 meals – 9 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 4 dinners
  • Transfers
  • AND the option to add our Low-Cost Trip Extensions: Pre-trip: Sydney – 3 nights for only $1095 • Post-trip: Queenstown – 2 nights for only $395

Both Vacation Options Include

  • FREE use of our custom VBT walking poles
  • Service of two or three VBT Trip Leaders
  • On-tour full vehicle support
  • Daily route directions and maps
  • Welcome reception
  • Sightseeing and cultural activities
  • 5% Frequent Traveler Credit to use on your next VBT vacation
  • Special Good Buy Discount
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Air Package Plus Single Supplement: $545 | Land Only Single Supplement: $495

Please note: Web Special savings cannot be combined with any other offer. Standard Terms & Conditions apply when purchasing this trip. 2015 Prices include all airline surcharges and Government taxes and fees. Ask our Tour Consultants for details. Every effort has been made to produce this information accurately. We reserve the right to correct errors. Prices are based on preferences selected above, including meals and sightseeing as specified in What's Included. All prices are subject to change. Departure dates and prices shown may be updated several times daily, and apply to new bookings only.

Itinerary & Map
Or, Expand All Days
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. If you are early, you may store your luggage at 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.

Hotel: Chateau on the Park

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 your Trip Leaders.

VBT Air and Pre-Trip Extension guests: Meet your VBT Trip Leaders at 8:30 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 be 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 subalpine 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.

Hotel: Alpine Lodge
Meals: B, L, D
Daily Options: 0.5 miles during transfer plus 2.5 miles on flat, dirt paths with some tree roots and stones

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 provide details.

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 close together, making it very easy to spot.

Hotel: Alpine Lodge
Meals: B, L
Daily Options: 5 to 7 miles on rolling dirt paths with an option for higher ascent/descent.

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-walk 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.

Hotel: Peppers Awaroa Lodge
Meals: B, D
Daily Options: 3 miles on sand paths with short ascents/descents and a low tide water crossing.

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, which are limited and subject to change, depending on 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—a leisurely 2.5-hour walk one way—and/or the reverse. The trail traverses the Awaroa inlet, then 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 Island, where you can choose from a 3- to 4-hour walk to Torrent Bay or a 2.5-hour walk to Medlands (one way). Anchorage Island’s 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. You will also have an opportunity 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, birdwatch or seek out other wildlife in the Awaroa wetlands.

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

Hotel: Peppers Awaroa Lodge
Meals: B, L
Daily Options: 4 to 8 miles on sand paths with short ascents/descents and a low tide water crossing.

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.

Hotel: Raetihi Lodge
Meals: B, L
Daily Options: 1 to 5 miles on sand paths with short ascents/descents and a low tide water crossing.

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 features 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 to 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.

Hotel: Raetihi Lodge
Meals: B, D
Daily Options: 5 to 10 miles on a dirt path with several moderate ascents/descents.

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 carboNZeroCertTM 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.

Hotel: Select Braemar Lodge & Spa
Meals: B, L
Daily Options: 3 miles on flat, paved and dirt paths.

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.

Hotel: Select Braemar Lodge & Spa
Meals: B, D
Daily Options: 3 miles on dirt paths with an option for a moderate extension ascent/descent.

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.

Hotel: Hotel St. Mortiz
Meals: B


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Sir Stamford at Circular Quay

This boutique luxury hotel features an outdoor heated pool and deck that overlooks Sydney Harbor and Circular Quay. The award-winning restaurant and bar has views of the Royal Botanic Gardens. In the heart of Sydney on historic Macquarie Street, the hotel is a 5-minute walk from the world-famous Sydney Opera House. Each room features an executive work desk with broadband Internet access and a marble bathroom with a double vanity, a bathrobe and slippers. Some of the rooms have an intimate Juliet balcony with stunning views. Sir Stamford at Circular Quay has one of Australia's largest private collections of fine art, and features 18th-century antiques, open fireplaces and crystal chandeliers. The dining room has modern Australian cuisine and exceptional service in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere. Ideal for high tea, fine wines or cocktails, “The Bar” features a stylish gourmet bar menu.
Free WiFi Included

Select Braemar Lodge & Spa

Offering the largest Suites in Hanmer Springs and only a ten-minute drive from the village, the lodge boasts outstanding views across the valley towards the mountains and alpine forests. The location is perfect for those wanting to be close to the village, but far enough away for peace and tranquility. Each one of the 24 open-plan suites has floor-to-ceiling windows and doors that open to a private balcony. Some suites come with the added indulgence of a private outdoor hot tub. Spa Braemar offers a full range of spa treatments, from traditional and therapeutic body treatments, to premium beauty therapies. The treatment rooms are spacious and serene.
Free WiFi Included

Raetihi Lodge

The Marlborough Sounds are one of New Zealand’s iconic playgrounds. For more than 100 years, they have attracted local and international visitors who share a passion for activities such as boating, fishing, hiking, sailing, diving, relaxing … and the finer things in life. Raetihi Lodge has built a reputation as a popular destination in the Marlborough Sounds since the 1930s. Extensively rebuilt, this 4-star accommodation offers luxury and comfort amid the serenity and nature of the Marlborough Sounds.
Free WiFi Included

Peppers Awaroa Lodge

Located in the heart of Abel Tasman National Park, this 26-room ecolodge is both intimate and remote: Inaccessible by road, it can be reached only by air, sea, or on foot. Surrounded by the lush Awaroa wetlands, it’s just minutes away from the spectacularly scenic Abel Tasman Coastal Track, a 75-mile route along the South Island’s northeastern tip. Amenities include a café, a library, and a restaurant serving fresh produce picked daily from the on-site organic garden. Each air-conditioned room features a private deck area, en suite bath with hair dryer, mini-fridge, and tea-and coffee-making facilities.

Alpine Lodge

Alpine Lodge is located in St. Arnaud's Nelson Lakes National Park neighborhood, close to northern shore of Lake Rotoiti. The Lodge’s restaurant proudly offers fresh, local cuisine. Alpine-style rooms feature natural woods and large windows to take in the forest views. High-speed, wired Internet access (surcharge) is available in public areas. Wireless Internet access is available in the lobby for a surcharge. All guestrooms at Alpine Lodge feature coffee/tea makers. The property is family owned and operated by the daughter of the lodge’s founder and her husband. Alexandra and Leighton will take great care of you!

New Zealand Guided Walking Tour Traveler Photos

  • Ratings Summary

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    • Value:
    • Trip Leaders:

    2 out of 2 travelers would recommend this tour to a friend.

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  • New Zealand is a beautiful place.

    We were lucky to have great weather. Our guides were friendly, helpful and knowledgable. The hotels got better and better as we went along. I like saving the best for last. The scenery was gorgeous and the people were friendly. Some of us wanted to live there.

    Yes, I recommend this tour.

    Posted on: April 03, 2014
    Posted by: LindaLou
    From: Akron, OH, USA
    Age: 55 to 64
    # Of Trips: 2-4

    • Value:
    • Trip Leaders:
  • Great trip with experienced local guides.

    The cold and snow that most people were facing at home was a great motivation to go South to enjoy warmer weather. The new addition to the VBT tours, is one located way South, all the way to the Southern Island of New Zealand. The new walking tour is geared for easy to moderate hikers, as we had both, and allows one to enjoy the scenery of New Zealand including it's beaches, rolling hills, wineries, mountains, and numerous Sounds. The accommodations were luxurious and some were isolated, reachable only by boats. Great local white wines supplemented the fish, mussel, beef, and lamb meals served elegantly at the various hotels we stayed. It was a wonderful trip that exposed us to the hospitality and beauty of New Zealand. We wished it was a longer stay.

    Yes, I recommend this tour.

    Posted on: March 22, 2014
    Posted by: Coos
    From: Colorado
    Age: 65 or over
    # Of Trips: 2-4

    • Value:
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