Arrive Auckland; afternoon free to relax at the hotel or join an afternoon tour of Auckland city to get your bearings in the largest city in New Zealand. Clamber up the Mt Eden volcanic cone to get panoramic views of the city and its bright blue harbours and gain a sense of the city's complex volcanic past.
We depart Auckland and head south through the dairy farming plains of the Thames Valley before passing over old ignimbrite flows to reach Lake Rotorua with its stunning crater lakes and volcanoes. We enjoy a picnic lunch and arrive at our accommodation - complete with its own thermal pool. In the afternoon you have the option to take a 1 hour rafting trip (optional extra: NZ$99) on the thundering Kaituna River. This trip is for the wild at heart as it travels down one of the highest commercially rafted waterfalls in the world. Alternatively, enjoy a bush walk alongside the beautiful Lake Okataina (lake of laughter). Sample good kiwi kai (food) with an evening meal at one of the many cafes and restaurants in Rotorua.
3 hours hiking
En-route to the Whirinaki we visit Waiotapu Thermal Reserve, where you can walk at your own pace through this fascinating thermal wonderland of geysers, bubbling mud, steaming ground, expansive vistas, huge volcanic craters and sinter terrace formations. From here it is a 2-hour drive to the Jurassic-like rainforest of Whirinaki Forest Park. This park covers an area of 60,000 hectares and is famous for its podocarp trees, an ancient off-shoot of the conifer family that evolved before flowering plants. It is thought that forests like this once covered the super-continent of Gondwanaland more than 150 million years ago. This is where the BBC 'Walking with Dinosaurs' series forest scenery was filmed. Step back in time as you hike amongst weeping ferns, forest giants and rare birdlife.On our way back to the vehicle we keep an eye out for the rare Blue Duck that are sometime seen in this river. We drive on to Taupo, situated on the shores of the largest lake in Australasia, the lake was formed by a series of massive volcanic eruptions over the last 2000 years. We'll visit Huka Falls before arriving at our lakeside accommodation.
5 hours hiking.
Enjoy a relaxing morning, with optional swim in the lake.
A short 1-hour drive around the shores of Lake Taupo, where we enter Tongariro National Park. Established in 1887, it was New Zealand's first National Park, gifted to the people of New Zealand by a Maori chief (Tukino Te Hue Hue) who saw this as a way of protecting the tapu (respect or sacredness) of the land - in particular the summits of the active volcanoes. It is also a dual World Heritage area, a status which recognises the park's important Maori cultural and spiritual associations as well as its outstanding volcanic features. We hike through waving tussock-grasslands between the volcanoes to a hut set in an enclave of native beech forest. It was here that the great battles from Lord of the Rings were filmed. We then traverse up across stony deserts to an alpine hut perched on the toe of an old lava flow. From this hut there are fantastic views of the three main volcanic peaks in the park. The sunrises here are spectacular. We generally stay in the hut but occasionally camp nearby. Everyone in the group carries a bit of the group food and cooking equipment for the overnight hikes.
5 to 8 hours hiking
We hike gently up through a moon-like valley of contorted lava flows and ash fields before climbing up the last steep section to the emerald lakes - our usual lunch stop. All around this scarlet moonscape are turquoise and blue-green crater lakes, adding their surreal colours to the landscape. We cross this volcanic range before descending on the western side. In good conditions there is an option to climb one of the lower volcanic peaks. This is a tough walk and will challenge even the fittest of walkers.
An evening drive takes us to a lodge beside the park with great views of the volcanoes. You may eat at the bar-restaurant but self catering facilities are also available.
This morning we drive to Wellington, arriving in the early afternoon. Wellington is New Zealand's wonderful harbour capital. The giant fault-created harbour almost encircled by steep suburbs gives it a giant coliseum feel. You have free time to enjoy walking around the central city and absorb the lively atmosphere. Wellington is well known for its vibrant café, art and culture scenes. There is no shortage of places to have a coffee or a drink - with more bars, cafés and restaurants per capita than New York. You may like to visit the museum of New Zealand, called Te Papa, or the beehive (Parliament House).
After breakfast we transfer to Wellington airport for the 35-minute flight across the Cook Strait to Picton in the South Island. Here we meet our South Island-based guide. On our drive through to Abel Tasman National Park we have lunch by the deep, crystal clear pools of the Pelorus River. Abel Tasman's wilderness flows unhindered to a coast of golden beaches and granite headlands; there are no roads here - just boat and walking access. We hail a water taxi to reach the lovely Onetahuti Beach in the heart of the park. Star gaze from our tranquil campsite and fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean.
3.5-hours kayaking (optional)
You have the option today to kayak, walk or simply relax in this incredible location. A local guide will take kayakers on a paddling trip exploring bush fringed lagoons, idyllic bays and rocky headlands where fur seals can be seen. Those not kayaking can explore some excellent walking trails to many beautiful beaches before we all take a water taxi out of the park. We spend the night in Murchison, a quiet rural town on the edge of the wilds. This is the north eastern limit of the vast wilderness ranges and rivers that dominate much of the South Island.
3 hours hiking
This morning we drive west beside the mighty Buller River to the rugged West Coast. At Cape Foulwind we take a short walk to view a seal colony. The New Zealand fur seal pups are born in December and January. We might see the young pups frolicking around in rockpools sheltered from the heaving waves that pound this part of the coast. After lunch we start an overnight hike in Paparoa National Park. Amongst the largest remaining tract of coastal native forest in New Zealand are towering limestone cliffs, caves and rivers - an ideal area for hiking. Starting at the mouth of the Fox River, we take a historic pack-horse route to Dilemma Creek, and then follow the river upwards to the Ballroom Overhang where we spend the night. Your guide will show you river crossing techniques and you will be thankful for your proper hiking boots, which are essential in this terrain. The Ballroom is a large limestone overhang which shelters a serene campsite just above the Fox River. The evening is spent sitting around the campfire and enjoying a delicious meal.
4 hours hiking
After a leisurely breakfast we hike back down the Fox River before driving south along the coast to Punakaiki and the Pancake Rocks. These 30-million-year-old limestone rocks have formed immense features with thousands of layers. Continuing south, we stop at Hokitika. Originally known as the 'Capital of the Goldfields', Hokitika was once a thriving and prosperous port. Much of its old character remains and it is now a major centre for greenstone (pounamu) or jade. This hard stone is treasured by the Maori who used it for decorative jewellery and for carving some of their lethal weapons - the war clubs known as meres. From Hokitika we continue south to Fox Glacier, one of the few places in the world where you will see glaciers descending into the level of the rainforest. Tonight we dine out at a local restaurant or you can self-cater at the accommodation.
Optional Glacier hike 4 hours
Today you have the opportunity to take a guided hike (~NZ$109) on Fox Glacier - situated in the South Westland World Heritage Area. This dynamic glacier falls 2600m over 13kms as it makes its journey from high in the Southern Alps to temperate rainforest just 250m above sea level. Your glacier guide will lead you on a walk following ice steps cut by the guides. The route takes you onto the ice amongst crevasses and ice ridges and leads you onto the middle of the glacier for spectacular views of the icefall and lower glacier.
After we return from the hike we drive on to Makarora crossing back over the Southern Alps en route at Haast Pass. On the way we stop at Ship Creek to look out for Hectors Dolphins, The world's smallest marine dolphin that is only found in NZ inshore waters. Tonight we stay in cabins right on the doorstep to Mt Aspiring National Park, there is an option of a restaurant or self catering for dinner.
5 hours hiking
We start the day by boarding a helicopter for an extraordinary flight around the ice carved mountains and glaciers of the World Heritage, Mount Aspiring National Park. We land in the remote Siberia Valley. Just upstream from our landing site is Siberia Hut, which will be our home for the night, we leave any surplus gear here (sleeping bags, etc) and head off for a hike up to Lake Crucible. This challenging hike takes us even further into the spectacular mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park and right up to the shores of an old glacial lake at the foot of Mt Alba. Set at 1172m this lake often stays frozen well into the summer, so you may prefer to save your swim for the river! In late spring this valley is dotted with the large white and yellow flowers of the Mt Cook lily. After lunch we make our way back down the valley to the Siberia Hut. Together we prepare a tasty meal, before relaxing on the verandah gazing at the southern stars with the freedom from light pollution. Enjoy the wonderful peace and quiet that goes with spending a night in the wilderness.
4 hours hiking
Head down the valley - sidling above the Siberia River. We gain spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and waterfalls of the lower Siberia Valley. A jetboat picks us up at the forks and carries us on a thrilling 45 minute journey down the braided Wilkin River back to Makarora. After lunch we drive beside the milky turquoise Lake Wanaka and over the golden tussocks of the Crown Range, stopping off at the historic Cardrona Hotel for a drink before arriving in Queenstown in the late afternoon.
Labelled the adrenalin capital of New Zealand, Queenstown offers the chance to sample many adventure activities - skydiving, bungy jumping and white water rafting, to name just a few. You may choose to sit back, relax and take in the amazing views from the shores of Lake Wakatipu on this free day. There are also some great day walks (some up to eight hours) that leave from this bustling little town. Your guide will outline all the options on how to make the most of your day.
3 hours hiking
We head into Fiordland National Park - World Heritage Area that is the largest National Park in New Zealand. The huge glacial lakes of Te Anau and Manapouri are the border of Fiordland's dramatic inland coast. The area is dominated by water, either in the form of lakes, ocean fiords or as falling rain - which has enabled the establishment of temperate rainforest. We hike to Key Summit (the tail end of the renowned Routeburn track) for fantastic views across to the gneiss and granite Darren Mountains. We stay the night in the eclectic historic cabins at the 'Hollyford Valley Camp'. The late Davey Gunn, who was one of the first people to guide on the Hollyford Track set up the camp; he also farmed cattle in the area until the 1950's when the valley became a National Park and the cattle were driven out. There is a quirky museum with a great collection of relics from days gone by.
Optional 2 hour boat cruise
We rise early and drive through the Homer Tunnel and down to Milford Sound itself. Here we have the option to take a cruise (NZ$75) on the fjord with its cascading waterfalls and views of Mitre Peak (1722m). Fiordland Crested penguins and New Zealand Fur seals often play near the boat. On the drive south to Te Anau we pass through the stunning Eglinton Valley, one of the only road-accessible valleys in Fiordland National Park.
4 hours hiking
Today we drive through Central Otago's majestic high country landscape, which contains some of New Zealand's largest high country sheep stations, many measuring tens of thousands of hectares - Pategonian-like in size and splendour. Crossing Lindis Pass we continue through the MacKenzie country to the shores of Lake Pukaki and then west to Aoraki/Mt Cook (3754m). We hike up the Mueller Ridge via Sealy Tarns, with awesome views of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman (the two highest peaks in New Zealand) and Mueller Glacier with its terminal meltwater lakes.
4 hours hiking
We continue north through the MacKenzie country, taking a break at Lake Tekapo - aqua blue waters framed by the Southern Alps. Tekapo is filled by glacially fed rivers which deposit tons of glacial flour (finely ground rock) into the lake; this flour is so fine that it is suspended in the water and refracts the light giving the lake a stunning colour. At Mt Somers we hike through beech forest and alpine tussock with superb views of the Arrowsmith Mountains. The whole area is of volcanic extruded rock (rather than a volcano) and is characterised by deep canyons and dramatic rocky outcrops. We stay the night in a mountain hut.
4 hours hiking
We spend our final day together exploring nearby canyons and swimming in the Emerald Pool or under a pounding waterfall known as the 'Spa' (optional swim!). Before leaving this beautiful park we'll have lunch and then hike back along a route known as 'Rhyollite Ridge' back to the car park. After packing up we drive across the Canterbury Plains to Christchurch, and here the trip concludes after 3 weeks of hiking through volcanoes, thermal wonderlands, rainforests, glaciers and remote mountain valleys. We celebrate by heading out to dinner for our final night in New Zealand.
Those on the flight inclusive package will depart for London this evening for the flight back to London; Land Only arrangements will finish after check-out from the hotel.