Multi-Day Backpacking, Sea Kayaking, or Biking, Beaches and Rainforest of the West Coast, Sea Kayaking in Okarito & Milford Sound, Hiking Routeburn Track, Paparoa National Park, Franz Josef Glacier & Mt Cook, Cycling to Milford Sound.
Arrive and snorkeling with seals in Kaikoura
Most people leave the Northern hemisphere on a Saturday evening and arrive in Auckland early on Monday morning. You'll lose a day to the dateline - but you get it back on the way home! You'll immediately take the short flight to Christchurch in the South Island where we'll meet you. You'll need to arrive in Christchurch by 10 am or so, then we'll meet you and drive up the coast to the seaside town of Kaikoura, where we will spend the afternoon and evening. We'll take you out to the Kaikoura Peninsula for a snorkeling trip at the seal colony. You'll be supplied with a wetsuit, a mask and a snorkel, and you can swim within a couple of feet of the native New Zealand Fur Seals as they cavort in the water. This makes for a cruisy introduction to New Zealand and gives you the chance to spend most of the day relaxing and recovering from your flight. Depending on where you're coming from, you'll probably find jetlag is no big deal. For instance, it's a 12-hour direct overnight flight from the West Coast of the USA to Auckland and there's only a 3 hour time difference between New Zealand and US Pacific time. If you're coming from further afield, you'll appreciate the gentle start to your New Zealand adventure.
ACCOMMODATION: A lovely local Bed & Breakfast, Kaikoura.
Tuesday - Visit vineyard & Bike Marlborough Sounds
We'll drive north for a couple of hours to Blenheim, in the heart of the Marlborough wine region. We'll visit Forrest Estate Winery, where you can sample some of their fantastic wines while we picnic on the vineyard lawn.If you prefer hiking, we’ve got just the thing! Our hike starts at the charming village of Saint Arnaud, on the edge of Nelson Lakes National Park. To keep our hiking group sizes down in this beautiful but fragile environment, we keep our exact route and group composition flexible. We’ll spend the afternoon hiking the relatively gentle trail alongside Lake Rotoiti. We’ll stay at Lakehead Hut overnight, a small mountain cabin in a gorgeous setting at the head of Lake Rotoiti, with a river running by and mountains everywhere you look. Nelson Lakes National Park straddles the northern part of the Southern Alps, an area composed of beech forests, big lakes and even bigger mountains. It’s a special place and in our opinion, vastly superior to its more famous neighbor, Abel Tasman National Park. This is serious wilderness country - no roads, no shops, no TVs - just incredible views and marvellous solitude. You don’t have to carry a very heavy pack - our guides are pretty tough and they’ll carry the lion’s share of the load. You’ll be carrying a sleeping bag, a few spare clothes, and some food - no need for any more than that, although we’ll provide tents and so on if you’d prefer to camp out under the stars.
ACCOMMODATION: Tanglewood Lodge, Queen Charlotte Sound (B,L,D)
Wednesday - Bike Marlborough Sounds
A big ride today, if you like, or a gentle cruise. We have some challenging single-track riding on the renowned Queen Charlotte Track for the more experienced. Along the way, you’ll ride past some of the pristine beaches, native forest and birdlife that characterize this area. If a gentle cruise is more your style, you can road cycle past wide-sweeping views and coastal forest of the Kenepuru Road. It’s worth noting that you don’t just cycle on either of these options - again, you have plenty of time to stop for short beach and forest hikes as well.
ACCOMMODATION: Tanglewood Lodge, Queen Charlotte Sound (B,L,D)
Thursday - Bike Marlborough Sounds
We’ll spend the morning biking back towards Anakiwa, either by road or single track, where we’ll have lunch. We’ll then transfer to Saint Arnaud to rejoin with the hikers and the kayakers in the afternoon and carry on to the coast. After regrouping in Saint Arnaud we’ll head to the wonderful West Coast area - 500 miles of gorgeous coastline with a population of only 40,000 people on the whole coast! For dinner this evening, we’ll stop at the tiny seaside settlement of Charleston to pick up the quintessential kiwi dinner - fish and chips! If it’s a fine evening, we’ll enjoy our fish and chips on the beach before heading south down the stunning coastline towards the coastal village of Punakaiki.
ACCOMMODATION: West Coast lodgings. Comfortable and quiet.
Friday - Hiking in Punakaiki
We’ll spend most of the day in Punakaiki to hike amongst the limestone canyons and lush rainforest of the Inland Pack Track. The gold miners who first opened up the area over a century ago established this trail. We’ll also check out Punakaiki’s famous Pancake Rocks and blowholes. This is one of our favorite places in the world, and you’ll see why. Finally, we’ll leave in the afternoon to drive down the scenic coastal road and stop at Hokitika to check out the local art galleries and pounamu carving workshops (“pounamu” is Maori for jade). Then we’ll carry on to Okarito Lagoon, a gem of the West Coast that is all but untouched due to it being 10 miles down a one-way road from an obscure highway turnoff. With a population of only 31 people, there are no shops, no restaurants and no traffic here - and watching the sun set over the Tasman Sea is definitely not to be missed!
ACCOMMODATION: Okarito Beach House, Okarito. Off-the-beaten-path, isolated and comfortable. (B,L,D).
Saturday - Kayaking in Okarito Lagoon, hiking & beach
You've got a lot of options at Okarito. You can spend a cruisy day in this sleepy but beautiful beach town to recharge your batteries, or do some awesome hiking and kayaking. The Okarito Lagoon is unique in that it hosts the only white heron colony in New Zealand. You can sea kayak on the lagoon with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains for a few hours, then spend the rest of the day exploring the deserted beach or hiking in the rainforest. This evening - after a traditional Kiwi roast dinner (with vegetarian options of course) - we can head out to listen for New Zealand's most famous bird, the rare and elusive kiwi. You'll almost never see a kiwi, as they are nocturnal and very shy, but they have a very distinctive call, so it's great fun to go out and listen for them. And the sunsets around here are definitely not to be missed.
ACCOMMODATION: Okarito Beach House, Okarito. (B,L,D)
Sunday - Hiking near Franz Josef Glacier
Just south of Okarito there are two formidable glaciers descending from the mountains to the sea. In terms of
scenery, this place is just off the chart, and we'll spend most of the day hiking at Franz Josef Glacier. We'll hike up through the rainforest to either Roberts Point or Alex Knob, both of which give great views of the terminal face, lower reaches and lateral moraine of the Franz Josef Glacier. We only do these hikes in good weather, as the rocks get very slippery in the rain. If it's raining, we'll do a shorter walk to the terminal face of the Fox Glacier, hike around Lake Matheson and visit the Blue Pools near the Haast Pass.
Heli-hike option (add US$240 + tax)
A less strenuous, but outrageously scenic option today is to heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier itself. After being fitted with crampons, ice axes and so on, you'll board a modern turbine helicopter and fly towards the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, landing on the glacier at 4,000 feet above sea level. Led by specialist glacier guides, you'll hike through the grand ice formations of the glacier, checking out its crevasses, seracs and tunnels - no previous experience required! The constant movement of the glacier means every day is different, so your guides will cut steps in the ice, and make sure you make the most of the conditions. At the end of your hike on the ice, you'll take another helicopter ride out of the mountains, and back to civilization.
The heli-hike is extremely popular with the general traveling public, so we offer advance reservations with the helicopter operators and guiding company. At the time of booking, or up until one month before your trip, you can reserve a space on the heli-hike, and we'll make sure a spot is held for you. You can leave your decision until you're actually on your trip, and we'll get you a spot if it's available.
ACCOMMODATION: The Homestead, Makarora. Very comfortable and spacious. (B,L,D)
Monday - Mount
Aspiring National Park to Queenstown
We'll head down the road to Lake Wanaka for a short hike over-looking the lake and the surrounding mountains. A short drive across the mountains at Cardrona Saddle and we drop into Queenstown in time for lunch. Queenstown is a great place to spend a couple of days. It's the adventure capital of New Zealand - you'll find all the comforts of civilization: massage therapists, restaurants, sidewalk cafes, window shopping, and adrenaline pumping activities! You'll find some incredible optional activities here, such as hang gliding, bungy jumping, jet boating, skydiving, horse trekking, fishing, and wine tours - it's all here! There are also incredible hikes and bike rides as well. Queenstown is not a big place - the population is about 5000 - but there's plenty to do! Or you can do nothing, if you prefer to just soak up the atmosphere. Many of our clients enjoy lounging about just reading a book after the hiking and paddling on the West Coast.
ACCOMMODATION: Queenstown apartments. (B,L)
Tuesday - Free day in Queenstown
It's all up to you today - enjoy!
ACCOMMODATION: Queenstown apartments. (B)
Wednesday - Hike Routeburn Track, cycle Hollyford Valley
This morning we head down to Te Anau for lunch, before continuing on to The Divide, where we’ll hike part of the famous Routeburn Track. The Routeburn is one of the best-known hiking tracks in New Zealand and we do the best part of the track, which overlooks the Hollyford Valley, Lake Marian and Mt. Christina. After hiking back to the trailhead, you’ll be fitted with a 21-speed front-suspension Specialized mountain bike for a spectacular ride through the Hollyford Valley. This remote and gently-rolling backcountry road is lined with unspoilt beech forest and surrounded by towering peaks - take your time or go as hard as you want - either way, this is a ride you’ll never forget! If cycling isn’t your thing, you can skip it and just enjoy the scenery - like all our activities, the cycling is completely optional. We’ll all end up at Hollyford Camp, an isolated and rustic establishment, originally set up in the 1930s for the workers who built the nearby Homer Tunnel and Milford Road. This is a beautiful, tranquil place, with a dozen cabins scattered around a museum and historic general store, still operating to this day. Hollyford Camp is right next to the Hollyford River and is surrounded by the mountains of Fiordland National Park. It’s definitely not a 5-star hotel, but it’s a great little place, and a wonderful location to hang out at the end of such an adventurous day!! Gunn's Camp , in the Hollyford Valley. Gunn's Camp is an isolated and rustic establishment, originally set up in the 1930s for the workers who built the Homer Tunnel and the Milford Road. They didn't live in luxury, but they lived in a beautiful, tranquil place, with about a dozen cabins scattered about a central building. Gunn's Camp is right next to the Hollyford River and is surrounded by the towering peaks of Fiordland National Park. It's definitely not a 5-star hotel, but it's a great little place, and a wonderful place to hang out at the end of such an adventurous day!
Note from Andrew Fairfax, Active New Zealand 's owner:
Gunn's Camp is a famous kiwi icon, but the facilities are pretty rugged compared to all the other awesome places we stay on our trips. Many of our clients love it, but some have told us they feel it needs a lick of paint, better bathroom facilities, and so on. We have asked the owner to upgrade the facilities in time for the 05/06 NZ summer season. We're pretty serious about hot showers and a comfortable bed :) If the 05/06 revamp is not done to our satisfaction, we'll be staying somewhere else.
ACCOMMODATION: Gunn's Camp, Hollyford Valley. Rustic but
Thursday - Sea kayaking in Milford Sound
It's an early start today. First we'll have a short drive through the Homer Tunnel, which comes out at the top of a spectacular alpine road that winds its way downhill to Milford Sound. The lush rainforest carpeting the lower slopes of the mountains gives way to the massively steep glacier-carved slopes and waterfalls of the Darren Range. Milford Sound, rated the 8th Natural Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling, is breathtaking. Sheer rock walls plunge thousands of feet to the sea, surrounded by snow-capped mountains! Most people see Milford Sound from the deck of a cruise ship, but we've got a better way - gliding along in a sea kayak, causing minimum disruption to the seals and dolphins, which are very friendly and often eager to visit. This is an awesome trip, run by specialist kayak outfitters, and it's equally suitable for beginners or experts. When you get back from your morning's paddle, we'll head to Lake Manapouri, where we'll stay at the Lake Manapouri Inn, beautifully located on the lake's edge. You'll love the great views out over Lake Manapouri and the surrounding mountains of Fiordland National Park. We'll arrive by mid-afternoon so you can relax and enjoy the surroundings or take the bikes out to explore the countryside.
ACCOMMODATION: Lake Manapouri Inn, Lake Manapouri. (B,L,D)
Friday - Exploring high country sheep farm
Today we have a mid-morning start, to head back up the road to Queenstown, where we stop for a couple of hours. This gives you the chance to get some lunch, do any last minute shopping or send postcards to friends and family, or whatever you might need to do before heading back into the wilderness for the remainder of your trip. We'll drive up to Lake Pukaki, near Mt. Cook, where we stay on a 60,000-acre working, high-country sheep farm, called Braemar Station. ("Station" is the New Zealand word for a big ranch.) While we're here, we stay in the shearers' quarters. Again, it's not a 5-star hotel, but many of our previous clients have told us this was one of their favorite places on the whole trip! The view out the kitchen window in the morning will knock your socks off - one huge mountain, rearing towards the sky on the other side of a gorgeous cobalt-blue lake. And with no lights for miles around, the stars on a clear night are like nothing you've ever seen - just the place for your last couple of nights in New Zealand!
ACCOMMODATION: Shearers' Quarters, Braemar Station. A little rustic but the views are breathtaking! (B,D)
Saturday - Hiking near Mt. Cook
This morning it's an hour or so to Mt. Cook village, at the head of Lake Pukaki. Mt. Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, and we have a stunning and little-known day hike (weather permitting) to the main ridge above Mueller Glacier. It's a tough slog up, but you'll remember the view of the Mueller Glacier and the surrounding peaks of the Main Divide forever! There are other hiking options if you'd like to take it a little easier. The weather conditions are very important in this area, as it is a true alpine climate notorious for sudden weather shifts. If we aren't able to do the Mueller hike, we'll take an impressive hike up the Hooker Valley to a glacial lake at the base of Hooker Glacier, complete with icebergs! Then we head back to the shearers' quarters for the last night of the Rimu . We'll enjoy a traditional Kiwi BBQ and a cold drink as we sit outside and watch the sun set over Mt. Cook.
ACCOMMODATION: Shearers' quarters, Braemar Station. (B,L)
Sunday - Depart for home
This is the last day of your two-week trip around the South Island. See the itinerary for the Kauri trip if you want to take a few more days to see the North Island as well maybe. We'll leave after breakfast for the three-hour drive to Christchurch, and arrive in the afternoon in time for the flights back to Auckland. Any flight after 4pm is ideal but we can make 3pm flights if we have a little notice. International flights from Auckland usually leave early evening, so if you're heading back to North America, you'll get home some time on Sunday, even though you left on Sunday evening! Flights back to Europe, of course, take a little longer. You'll be refreshed and invigorated from the good food, exercise, rest, and great times you'll have had with us in New Zealand! (B,L)
"Great. Better than I expected. I'm not sure who to credit most - the staff, or the other trip members. In any case, the combination of the two worked out very well. I went into this trip with that sort of snobby disdain that backpackers often have with respect to going on 'guided' trips, and came out a convert. The guides on our trip have somehow figured out the perfect mix of activities, locations, etc. to preserve a sense of exploration for the clients, while catering to the more mundane everyday tasks like planning, cooking, and driving so that the client gets the best experience. At the same time, there is an informality that virtually eliminates the 'Client' 'Guide' division. The trip was really very well put together and I couldn't have asked for better guides, or a better group. Fantastic. Thanks for a great vacation! "
-- Jim Bishop (Knoxville, TN) Nov 2002 Rimu
TRIP ACCOMMODATIONS: The Rimu is an activity-oriented trip around the South Island. We've chosen interesting and comfortable accommodations throughout. In some places it's quite luxurious. But many of the other places we stay are off the beaten track - and don't have many accommodation options - but they are really, really spectacular. Our clients often say a real highlight of the trip is meeting their New Zealand hosts. You'll love the places we stay! We prefer to stay in comfortable bed and breakfasts, lodges and apartments. You will always have your own bedroom where it's available. As there's such a variety of accommodations on this trip, some places will have ensuite bathrooms and some will have shared bathrooms -- so we may ask you to share a bathroom with other group members on occasion.
To keep our group sizes down, we run the Rimu trip in two different directions around the South Island - Northbound (refers to initial direction of travel from Christchurch) and Southbound. This itinerary happens to be written up in the Northbound format. We also occasionally run this trip starting and ending in Queenstown. Whichever trip you take, you'll do all the activities we've mentioned, just in a different order. This trip is a product of many years of evolution and fine-tuning - it works well whichever way you do it!
RECOMMENDED FLIGHTS: If you're flying in on the first day of the trip, or out on the last day, we recommend arriving in Christchurch by approximately 9 - 10 am on Monday, and departing from Christchurch after 3 - 4 pm on Sunday. Other flight times may also be possible - if you are considering other flight times please let us know.
PICKUP INFORMATION: On the first day of the trip we can either pick you up from the Holiday Inn City Centre in Christchurch at 10.30 am or at the Christchurch airport in front of the information desk at 11 am.
DROP OFF INFORMATION: On the last day of the trip we can drop you off at the Christchurch airport in time for the flights above, or anywhere in central Christchurch in mid-late afternoon.
FITNESS: You must have a reasonable level of fitness to enjoy yourself on the Rimu . You don't have to be young and extremely fit (although if you are, you won't be bored) but you should be in the habit of doing at least some exercise. Age and experience are not important. For example, a person in their 50s who hikes every couple of weeks will be happier than a 22-year-old couch potato. If you're concerned about your fitness level, have a chat with us so we can help you choose between the Rimu and our other trips.
EXPERIENCE: You don't need any outdoor experience at all to enjoy our trips. All our trips allow you to make the most of New Zealand's incredible environment. Our experienced guides are highly trained, and will look after you! You don't have to carry a heavy pack. You don't need to have been in a sea kayak to enjoy kayaking Okarito Lagoon or Milford Sound. You don't need to be a serious cyclist to enjoy some of the rides we have available. In fact we have so many options available that you don't need to ride at all, if you'd rather hike, fish, or just laze around! All we ask is that you be energetic and in reasonable shape - and we guarantee you'll have an incredible time. The challenges are there, though, if you're looking for them. For instance, on the second day of the backpacking trip we spend the day climbing to Lake Angelus on the Robert Ridge. The views are incredible - and they get better the higher you go, so the fitter members of the party often push on to the top of the ridge for some unforgettable views of both sides of the South Island, while others enjoy just staying at the hut and admiring the view. We manage the level of commitment to suit your experience, and we have an impeccable safety record. We hold all relevant government licenses and our staff are highly trained and experienced.
FLEXIBILITY: Because of the off-the-beaten-path and non-commercial nature of some of our accommodations on this trip, we sometimes need to change a night stop. For instance, every now and then the shearers' quarters at Braemar Station are required by the shearers. We try to make as few changes as possible, but we ask that you know we retain the flexibility to make sure your trip is as good as it can be.
INCLUDED: Your trip fare includes just about everything, specifically:
All guiding services. We always have at least two guides per trip, and we generally take around 12-14 people per trip, although this can vary. This means we can really make sure you have a great time!
Comfortable accommodation for the entire period you are with us. We can also organize accommodation for you if you want to arrive earlier or leave later.
All your meals, except in Queenstown where we've found people prefer to check out the wide range of restaurants. Alcohol is not generally included, although we do spring for a few drinks here and there!
All hiking, cycling, and kayaking described in the itinerary, except optional extra activities, such as the heli-hike at Franz Josef. We have estimated the rates for optional extra activities operated by local activity operators in US dollars, including all required equipment, but these rates may vary according to the USD/NZD exchange rate of the day. There are many optional activities available at extra cost, particularly in Queenstown. None of these activities are compulsory, and nor will your trip seem less awesome if you do the cheap or free options. Although some people enjoy sampling hang gliding, bungy jumping, jet boating, skydiving, and so on, others prefer to focus more on the hiking, paddling and cycling, which is of course the reason you're coming to New Zealand in the first place!
We'll see you soon!