The day is free to relax and recover from the jet lag. Auckland is a beautiful city and worthy of some time to explore without an organised itinerary. The nearby Viaduct restaurants are an ideal means of overcoming the last of the jet lag and the day just slowly passes by. If you are feeling lucky visit the Sky City Casino tower for one of those lunches you just don't forget. Those not flying with the group should meet at the start point at the Auckland City Hotel at 6pm for a full briefing with your leader.
Auckland is the City of Sails, so what better way to start your holiday than to take a cruise across the Gulf to the beautiful island of Tiri Tiri Matangi, a stunning island recovery centre operated by the Department of Conservation and home to a major native bird recovery program. This day allows us the luxury of a private guide to inform us of the program and be introduced to some of our rarest birds, plus the chance to relax, and swim from the local beach.
Leaving the city behind us we head south entering the limestone belt. The quiet rolling farmland on the surface belies the fascination of the incredible network of limestone caves that lie beneath. We take a guided walk through the Nikau Cave. We enter the underground wonderland and experience the sub-terrain world with its awesome glow-worms to show us the way. After our picnic lunch with a New Zealand farming family, we head for Rotorua and our lakeside accommodation. The evening highlight is the Marae (ceremonial ground) visit. Our Maori hosts welcome us in their traditional manner before entertaining us with a concert and hangi (traditional meal).
The day starts with a visit to the Rotorua Bathhouse museum where we explore aspects of the Maori culture and watch a short video presentation which explains the awesome forces that helped form this famous thermal wonderland. We explore one of New Zealand's most colourful thermal areas with boiling mud pools, hot streams and silica terraces. The natural wonders that first attracted the Maori in the 14th Century, and later the European's, still draw large numbers of tourists every year. Despite the number of people visiting, Rotorua is a unique natural wonder and a must see destination. Leaving Rotorua we drive south to Mt Ruapehu. On the way we visit the steaming Wai-O-Tapu geothermal valley and impressive Huka Falls.
From the many walking options that exist, you are free to take your choice as we explore this volcanic landform. Two half-day walks to beautiful waterfalls and bush lands, a rugged full day ascent of Mt Ruapehu (2796m January to April only) or the amazing 8hr Tongariro Crossing are on offer. The Tongariro Crossing has been called one of the greatest one-day walks in New Zealand and provided the weather is kind the rugged volcanic desert, craters and glacial valleys combined with the incredible views make this a day to remember. The crossing should not be under estimated and there are a number of steep sections where the loose surface can make it tough going so come well-prepared. The crossing can take 8-10 hours depending on walking ability. A magnificent scenic flight option also exists for those wanting to understand the volcanic origins of the area.
Relax following yesterday's efforts as we drive south to Wellington. Continue across the Rangitaki and Manawatu Plains and down the Kapiti Coast to Wellington. Across from our hotel is Te Papa, the NZ national museum. In the early evening twilight we journey to the new wildlife sanctuary where our guide will explain the many issues surrounding the local endangered wildlife. This will be one of the few chances to see or hear the native kiwi.
After an early breakfast we board the ferry and leave the North Island behind as we cross the Cook Strait, passing the Marlborough Sounds with 1500kms of beautiful coastline. Using our very stable double kayaks, we paddle on the sheltered waters of the picturesque Queens Charlotte Sound, stopping en-route for morning tea at a beautiful secluded cove surrounded by forest. After lunch we drive to Nelson and continue onto the edge of the Abel Tasman National Park, with its beautiful golden sand beaches and forests.
Out of Marahau, this morning coastal walk takes us through the beautiful beaches and ancient forests as the track weaves through the park, providing a kaleidoscope of impressions. The path is well maintained and today's walk will take approx 3-4 hours. We meet our sailing boat at the Anchorage Bay, providing the return to Marahau and some time to relax dining out at the small town of Motueka.
Our departure from the Abel Tasman National Park is followed by a scenic drive down the mighty Buller River. Here we join our raft guide for a stimulating grade 3 (this may vary depending on local conditions) ride through the gorge to our take-out point. Further down the coast we stop at Punakaiki, home of the famous Pancake Rocks for a beautiful river walk as we watch the setting sun. If the tide is up the ground can physically shake and water spurts from the blow-holes and fissures that dot the coastline.
Passing through areas of lush forests, we continue south down the beautiful West Coast. We stop briefly at the Bushmans Centre to learn a little of the trappers life, before driving onto the small village of Okarito nestled on the lagoon, home of the rare Kotuku (White Heron). With our kayak skills of Picton, we float in on the incoming tide and explore the bush-clad waterways seeking out the abundant bird life the lagoon is famous for. Later we continue the short drive through to Fox township.
After breakfast we walk across the moraine to the spectacular Fox Glacier that descends to within 200 metres (660ft) above sea level, and then hike up beside the glaciers terminal face and out onto the ancient white ice. In the morning we stroll around the reflective Lake Matheson, a photographers dream. As an optional extra (weather permitting), you can take a helicopter ride over the glaciers that lace the Southern Alps. In the afternoon we continue south along bush-clad roads and past the dramatic coastline with its wild windswept beaches to the settlement of Haast. Turning inland we climb over Haast Pass, the southernmost crossing of the Southern Alps that forms the boundary between Westland and Otago. From here the tussock lands of the eastern slopes merge with the beech forests. We overnight at in comfortable chalets in a remote setting.
There is an early start this morning as we have a full day ahead of us with plenty of activity. We take an exciting 20 minute scenic flight over the isolated Aspiring National Park and land in a remote and peaceful valley hemmed in by magnificent mountains. We pause a while and enjoy the solitude and scenery, before hiking through the mature beech forests and grassland flats to rendezvous with a jet boat for a thrilling 20 kilometre (12 mile) ride down the braided backcountry river. These boats are specially designed to manoeuvre at speed often in shallow water. After this we drive to nearby Lake Wanaka for the night's accommodation.
From Wanaka we depart early heading for Te Anau and then into the Eglington Valley through to the start of the Routeburn Track. At the saddle we take a 2-hour walk to Key Summit from where the spectacular views put the effort of the next two days into context. We continue further into the spectacular mountains of the Milford region and then into Milford Sound itself where we join our floating accommodation for the night. The newly refurbished boat has private two bed cabins with shared facilities amidst dolphins and mighty peaks towering above the fjord.
After an early morning breakfast we cruise the inner sound again searching for dolphins and seals before disembarking and retracing our tracks to Te Anau and then a stunning lakeside hike through rainforest to Lake Manapouri. After this hike we drive onto Queenstown and our next three nights are spent here.
Above Queenstown the Remarkables Mountains tower over the lake. Opposite them and towering above Queenstown is Ben Lomond and today we take a short helicopter ride to the Saddle between the peaks which provides stunning views of the lake and the Remarkables From our spectacular view point have an option to scramble to the nearby summit and then have lunch, before hiking down the trail above the town. This beautiful day then finishes with a gondola ride down the slope and back to our vehicle.
A free day to enjoy the scenic delights of this world famous destination, home of the famous bungee jump! Optional activities available are: a 4x4 drive into the remote Skippers Canyon; a visit to the historic gold mining centre of Arrowtown and a local winery; a cruise aboard the historic steamship to Walter Peak sheep station; paragliding or bungee jumping! Then again, you may just prefer to simply spend the day shopping or relaxing (NB This day may be swapped with the previous day according to weather demands).
Travel through the barren Kawarau Gorge where large amounts of gold were dredged at the turn of the century. Drive over Lindis Pass to the tussock-covered plains of the Mackenzie basin and into the Mt Cook National Park. Beneath NZ's highest peak we walk into the Hooker Valley with its crashing glaciers and glacial lakes. By early evening we reach our motel and watch the spectacular view from the warmth of the restaurant.
On our last morning we join a unique trip. On small inflatables we enjoy a 2-hour journey around a glacier lake, formed by the glacial retreat. Finally, no visit to NZ is complete without the chance to watch the sheep dogs work their skills on some of NZ's 55 million sheep. Later in the day the mosaic of the Canterbury Plains passes as we travel out to Christchurch and the end of our journey.