New Zealand Hiking & Kayaking – South Island

Trip Length 12 Days
Group Size 4-14

Starting from


for REI Members

$6,545 for non-members


Oct 2019-Apr 2021

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 glowworms. 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 snowcapped 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 Track and kayak on Lake Wanaka.

Our morning adventure takes us to Lake Wanaka, one of New Zealand’s largest lakes. Situated in a glacier-carved basin and surrounded by the snow-capped Southern Alps, the views while paddling are outstanding. In the afternoon we hike the Rob Roy Glacier Track located in Mount Aspiring National Park to see active glaciers up close. We begin our hike 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’; kayaking 2+ hours; transfers: 2.5 hours.

Day 6

Hike up Rocky Mountain, then drive to Fjordland National Park.

Our hike takes us through a fuchsia forest, then winds up to the summit of Rocky Mountain. The panoramic views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains are magnificent. This hike is mostly out in the open, offering views of the distinctive non-forested mountains of the Central Otago region and Aspiring National Park. After lunch, we travel across the spectacular Crown Range, following the highest main road in New Zealand. This portion of our journey provided the backdrop for "Lord of the Rings" and its sequel, "The Hobbit." We make our way to Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park. After checking into our hotel, there’s time to explore the lakeside town. All meals included.

Hiking: 4.5 miles, 3 hours; elevation gain/loss 1,230'; transfers: 4 hours.

Day 7

Cruise on Milford Sound to the Tasman Sea and overnight aboard a boat.

Rated the Eighth Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling, Milford Sound is a World Heritage Site and the most stunning fjord in Fiordland National Park. By way of the famous Homer Tunnel, we travel through some of the most breathtaking scenery in New Zealand. Upon reaching Milford Sound we board a boat and settle into overnight cabins. We cruise the full length of Milford Sound to the Tasman Sea, accompanied by an onboard naturalist guide. The views include the fjord's spectacular waterfalls, rainforest, mountains and wildlife. There are options to explore the shoreline by tendercraft (small engine-powered boat) or take a guided walk on a section of the renowned Milford Track. Tonight we anchor in a sheltered cove, relax in the company of fellow travelers, and indulge in some stargazing. All meals included.

Optional: 1 hour nature walk or nature boat ride; transfers: 2.5 hours. Solo travelers please note, all cabins on the Milford Sound Cruise are shared.

Note: Trips departing in October 2020 and beyond will cruise and kayak in Doubtful Sound, a remote, beautiful and dramatic part of Fiordland National Park.​

Day 8

Hike Rainbow Reach Trail in Te Anau and overnight in Queenstown.

Disembarking in Milford Sound, we drive to Queenstown. The drive is one of the finest in the world. Lush rainforests carpet the lower slopes of the mountains, giving way to the massively steep, glacier-carved slopes and waterfalls of the Darren Range. After passing through Homer Tunnel, the sweeping views include jagged, snow-capped peaks that rise over the Greenstone Valley. Reaching 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. Following our hike we continue to Queenstown and check into our hotel. All meals included.

Hiking: 6 miles, 2.5 hours; transfers: 4 hours.

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.

New Zealand Hiking & Kayaking – South Island Departures

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

Packed by REI

  • Group First Aid Kit
  • Kayak and All Paddling Gear

Packed by you (Required)


You might also consider

Travel Documents

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

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 1-800-622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales (1-800-426-4840) 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.

Meet your guides

Christine C.

First a teacher, then a guide, Chris has pursued her passion for multiday adventure racing and competitive cycling, led sea-kayaking and hiking tours, and taught Spanish and creative dance. On days off she enjoys time with her adult daughters.

Meet your guides

Merisha M.

Enthusiastic, warm and knowledgeable, this guide, yoga instructor and former pilot has traveled extensively, navigated jet boats, been a geology field assistant in Brazil, and rock climbed her way through Argentina. We know you'll love her can-do spirit!

Adventure Expert


Pure perfection; the absolute best way to see New Zealand. A highlight for me was Milford Sound in a rainstorm. Counterintuitive, I know, but the multitude of waterfalls it created was a total sensory overload. Ahhmazing!


Beautiful New Zealand

Guides were well-informed, friendly, and industrious. They prepared great meals for us and readily found good alternatives when a planned hike was washed out due to heavy rains. To me the only real drawback was the am...

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