New Zealand Hiking & Kayaking – South Island

Trip Length 12 Days
Group Size 4–14
Activity level
Starting from
$6,199 for REI Members
$6,749 for non-members
Departures Jan 2021-Apr 2022

Spend 12 days hiking, kayaking and adventuring in this rugged South Pacific paradise.

We begin by exploring the South Island’s west coast, dotted with flowing rivers, gorgeous rainforests and icy glaciers. Paddle by kayak among diverse and fascinating flora, and hike the terminal face of the formidable Franz Josef Glacier. To witness this majestic force of nature grind dramatically downhill to just above sea level is a highlight.

An overnight cruise in Fiordland National Park offers world-class scenery with mountains rising high above the sea, spectacular waterfalls and wildlife. We kayak on Okarito Lagoon and Lake Wanaka, and enjoy a free day in Queenstown, known as the adventure capital of the world. Our last two nights are spent surrounded by mountains and native flora and fauna at a comfortable lodge near Mount Cook. Watch the stars of the Southern Hemisphere shine brightly on clear nights, completely undisturbed by competing lights.

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Trip Highlights

  • Visit Franz Josef Glacier, Fiordland National Park, Mount Cook and much more
  • Kayak on Okarito Lagoon and Lake Wanaka
  • Spend a day exploring Queenstown, adrenaline capital of the world
  • Hike to waterfalls and lakes and follow tracks to enormous glaciers
  • Take in panoramic views from the summit of Rocky Mountain and Key Summit Track


This trip is rated Moderate [3]. Trip participants should be capable of hiking up to 8 miles (up to 6 hours) per day. Sea kayaking is suitable for beginners; knowing how to swim is helpful but all trip members wear a PFD while kayaking. This trip is group participatory, with the trip leaders responsible for meal preparation. This is a very dynamic adventure; most days are filled with a steady stream of activities from morning until late afternoon. 

  • Hiking
  • Kayaking

What's Included

All accommodations, all kayaking equipment, meals as noted in the daily itinerary, scheduled airport transfers, ground transportation, sightseeing arrangements as noted in the itinerary, entrance fees, permits, experienced local guide.


Small inns/hotels, 10 nights; private cabin on boat, 1 night

Your Adventure Itinerary

Day 1

Travel from Christchurch across the Southern Alps to Punakaiki.

Our trip begins in Christchurch, New Zealand. Dressed in hiking clothes and ready for adventure, we meet our guides and fellow travelers at a Christchurch hotel at 8:30am. We immediately set out for the west coast, stopping en route for lunch and a short hike to Devils Punchbowl Waterfall (430'). Reaching the village of Punakaiki, we check into our lodgings located between Paparoa National Park and the Tasman Sea. If time allows, we’ll stroll to a small grotto to see glow worms. The larvae have tails that glow due to bioluminescence, creating a light to lure prey to their web-like threads. Lunch and dinner included.

Hiking: 1.5 miles, 1 hour, Elevation gain/loss +/-500' with 240 stairs; Transfers: 4 hours

Day 2

Coastal forest and limestone cliffs await us in Paparoa National Park.

The Paparoa National Park has a lush temperate rainforest and steep limestone bluffs. We follow the Truman Track through this park to a small surf beach and visit the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. These stacked, flat limestone formations offer a wonderful geyser-like display when incoming surf surges through the openings to push water high into the air. In the afternoon we drive to Franz Josef village, which is surrounded by the rainforest of Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Checking into our lodgings, we have free time before dinner. All meals included.

Hiking: 5 miles, 3 hours, Elevation gain/loss +/-500'; Transfers: 3 hours

Day 3

Kayak in Okarito Lagoon, home to more than 75 species of birds.

The Okarito Lagoon is host to the only white heron colony in New Zealand; it is also the country's only unmodified tidal inlet. With orchids, rainforest and more than 75 species of birds, it can be compared to the Amazon region in South America. We paddle in kayaks, moving at our own pace, following a self-guided sea kayaking trail in the lagoon. Views include the magnificent Rimu and Kahikatea Rainforest and the snow capped Southern Alps. This afternoon we take in the views from the Okarito Trig Walk, a raised boardwalk that winds through an open estuary. This is a prime opportunity to scout "kotuku" (white heron) and royal spoonbill. Or you can opt to spend the afternoon on your own in Franz Josef, to explore this quaint town. We finish the day with a relaxing soak at a local hot springs. All meals included.

Kayaking: 3.5 hours; optional hike: 2.5 miles, 1.5 hours, Elevation gain/loss +/-500'.

Day 4

Hike to Franz Josef Glacier, close to the rainforest and ocean.

The terminal face of the Franz Josef Glacier is the location of today’s hike. The enormous "river of ice" cuts right through the rainforest, dropping more than 8,000 feet almost to sea level. It is one of the steepest and fastest moving glaciers in New Zealand. In inclement weather, there are several options for multiple short hikes that allow us to explore the moderate rainforest and waterfalls. Next, we cross the Main Divide to Wanaka, a town that sits at the foot of the Southern Alps on Lake Wanaka. All meals included.

Hiking: 3.5 miles, 1.5 hours, Elevation gain/loss: +/-300'; Optional hikes up to 1.6 miles, 1.5 hours; Transfers: 5 hours.

Day 5

Hike the famed Rob Roy Glacier, free evening in Wanaka.

We venture out to see active glaciers up close with a hike on the Rob Roy Glacier Track located in Mount Aspiring National Park. We begin hiking in a beech forest, and soon discover waterfalls and a lush understory of ferns and mosses. Reaching the tree line, we take in the spectacular views of sheer rock cliffs and hanging glaciers beneath Mount Rob Roy. We return to our lodgings on Lake Wanaka and the evening is free to enjoy dinner on your own. Breakfast and lunch included.

Hiking: 6.2 miles, 3 hours, Elevation gain/loss: +/-371'; Transfers: 2.5 hours

Day 6

Kayak on Lake Wanaka, one of New Zealand’s largest lakes.

Our morning is spent kayaking on Lake Wanaka, New Zealand’s 4th largest lake. The clear blue waters, scenic coastline, and panoramic views of the impressive Southern Alps are all we need to create wonderful memories—and photos! After lunch in Wanaka we transfer to Te Anau, the gateway to Fjordland National Park. All meals included.

Kayaking: 4 hours; Transfers: 3.5 hours

Day 7

Hike on Rainbow Reach Trail, cruise and kayak and overnight on Doubtful Sound.

Departing our hotel in Te Anau, we set out on a scenic hike on Rainbow Reach Trail, part of the famous Kepler Track. The walk winds through dense beech forests beside the Waiau River. Next we head to the convergence of the Waiau River and Lake Manapouri to board a ferry to journey across the lake. We'll picnic aboard the ferry, admiring the views, then transfer by motor coach over scenic Wilmot Pass to reach Doubtful Sound. This is a remote, beautiful and dramatic part of Fiordland National Park, less visited than Milford Sound and famous for its dramatic scenery and wildlife sightings. In particular, we will look for bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and penguins. We board our overnight vessel and check into our cabins. In the afternoon there is an opportunity to kayak and explore one of the three arms: Hall, Crooked or First. Tonight, we anchor in a sheltered cove, relax in the company of fellow travelers, and indulge in some stargazing in pristine​ nature. All meals included.

Hiking: 6 miles, 2.5 hours; Kayaking: 1 hour (weather dependent); Transfers: 1 hour. Ferry: 1 hour. Solo travelers please note, all cabins on the boat are shared in double and quad rooms. ​​

Day 8

Doubtful Sound in the morning, then on to Queenstown for the night.

Sometimes called the "Sound of Silence", Doubtful Sound is the deepest (421 meters) and second longest (40 kilometers) of the South Island's fiords. The powerful serenity of the fiord, named Doubtful Harbour by Captain James Cook, is mesmerizing. There are several splendid waterfalls tumbling into the Sound including Browne Falls (619 meters) and Helena Falls (220 meters). After a peaceful morning of cruising or sailing (weather dependent) we return to Deep Cove and retrace our route across Lake Manapouri. We then drive to Queenstown and check into our lodging in the early evening. Free time is followed by dinner in the quaint town. All meals included.

Transfers: 3 hours; Ferry: 1 hour

Day 9

Enjoy a free day of exploring or relaxing in Queenstown.

We have a free day in Queenstown, which is aptly called the "adrenaline capital of the world". There are numerous opportunities to join in optional activities, including jet boating, bungee jumping; horse trekking, hiking or bike riding. Or simply enjoy the sidewalk cafes in Queenstown, wine tasting or shopping for fine New Zealand wool sweaters. Breakfast included.

Day 10

Explore Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park’s rugged landscape.

Departing Queenstown after breakfast, we journey to Mount Cook National Park. Native Maoris consider Mount Cook a hallowed place and call it Aoraki or "Cloud Piercer." At Lindis Pass we stop to stretch our legs and admire the views of tall, tussock-covered mountains. Reaching our lodgings at the base of New Zealand’s highest mountain, we check in and have lunch. The afternoon is free to spend on a hike, visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre or rest up for tomorrow’s activities. All meals included.

Walking: 1+ hours; Transfers: 3.5 hours

Day 11

Hike the Hooker Valley Track past alpine streams and glaciers.

We begin the day with a hike on one of most scenic tracks in the Mount Cook National Park. We follow the Hooker Valley Track to Hooker Glacier Lake. Reaching Hooker River, we cross it twice on swing bridges. We follow the river to our destination, the Hooker Glacier terminal lake, to admire the views of Mount Cook and Mueller Glacier. During New Zealand’s summer months, we should see Mount Cook buttercups, the world’s largest buttercup, which can grow to one meter tall. Another option, time and weather dependent, is a hike to Sealy Tarns and onward to Mueller Hut. Returning to our lodge for the evening, we gather for a farewell dinner. All meals included.

Hiking: 6.2 miles, 3 hours, Elevation gain/loss +/-350'; optional hike to Mueller Hut: 6 miles, 6–7 hours, Elevation gain/loss: +/-3,300' with 1,810 stairs

Day 12

Transfer from Mount Cook to Christchurch for departing flights.

Departing Mount Cook, we drive to Christchurch. We plan to arrive at the Christchurch Airport by 3pm; departing flights can be booked after 5pm. If you are staying longer, transfer from the airport to your next destination on your own. Breakfast and lunch included.

Transfers: 6 hours

Gear List

The key to staying comfortable while on an active trip is layering. To get maximum comfort with minimum weight, you need versatile layers that mix and match to create the right amount of insulation, ventilation and weather protection. This gear list has been created to help you in choosing your equipment for the trip. Try to bring only what is necessary, as this will help you and the field staff.

What to pack

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Travel documents

  • Airline Tickets (Confirmation and Itinerary)
  • Electronic Travel Authority (ETA)
  • Final Bulletin (Emailed Prior to Departure Date)
  • Valid Passport

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 800-622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales (800-426-4840) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.