The South Island of New Zealand hardly needs an introduction - its reputation as an outdoor lover's paradise ensures its presence on many people's bucket lists. The South Island is divided north to south by an incredible mountain range, known as the Southern Alps. The Alps are responsible for the South Island's numerous unique climatic zones; from lush, temperate rainforest on the West Coast, to beech forests further inland, and the wide fertile plains on the East Coast.
Of course, nature's diversity provides the ultimate playgound, and there's a long history to all of our hiking trails, many of which were first developed by Maori and early settlers, being used for both recreation and access to gold, coal and jade mining. Nowadays we have over five hundred incredible hiking trails here in the South Island, of which nine of the most popular trails (including the Milford Track), have been developed into 'Great Walks'.
These 'Great Walks' have impressive backcountry facilities, they're very popular and hiking passes need to be booked well ahead of time during the high season. Now, these nine Great Walks deserve their fame, they're simply stunning and we experience most of them on our trips down this way... but unfortunately, what most visitors to New Zealand don't realise is that there are literally hundreds of other trails that take you to cosy backcountry huts, in equally as stunning surroundings, with slightly more rustic amenities, but without the crowds of hikers you might find on the Great Walks. It's these lesser-known trails that us locals stick to, in our eyes it's the best way to see New Zealand, and you'll get a truly unforgettable wilderness experience.
If this sounds like something you'll enjoy - you're keen to get off that beaten path and discover the more wild and remote parts of our great kiwi countryside, you'll find that not all of these spots are easily discovered on foot, which is why we like to sprinkle a bit of kayaking and biking into some of our itineraries. Our coastline offers world class exploration by kayak, and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area (all 2.6 million hectares!) has incredible fjords and lagoons to explore. Likewise, moutain biking is the perfect way to cover longer distances in a short amount of time, and under your own steam. In recent years the trail network in New Zealand has exploded, to the point where most locals can't even keep up with the new tracks on offer!
There are two main gateways to the South Island; Christchurch, which is the midway point on the East Coast, and Queenstown, which is nestled on the edge of the Southern Alps, near the Southern end of the island. Both places have an international airport, though most of our trips start and finish in Christchurch, as it's the logical hub for a 2 week tour of the South Island.
South Island Hiking Tours:
Rimu Ultimate South Island Adventure
- 14 Days
- US$4,999 + tax
This is our signature adventure and a great, outdoorsy way to see New Zealand. We’ve been fine-tuning this perennial favourite since 1996 and it’s simply an awesome trip. You’ll explore the most beautiful, famous and little-known places in the South Island – up close and personal – with legendary hospitality and our unsurpassed attention to detail. For a great way to see the North Island too, combine this trip with our 11-day 'Kauri' (5-day 'Kauri' options available).
Activity level: The ‘Rimu’ is one of our more adventurous trips, but has options to suit a wide range of ages and outdoor experience. Typically, hikes on the ‘Rimu’ trip range between two and five hours to complete, with longer hikes available on the multi-day option. If you think you’d prefer a more relaxed pace and shorter one to three hour hikes, we recommend checking out our ‘Kiwi’ trip. Please get in touch with us if you’d like to chat about the various options.
Kiwi South Island Explorer
- 14 Days
- US$5,299 + tax
New to adventure vacations or not quite ready to hang up your hiking boots just yet? On this South Island walking tour you'll experience beautiful, famous and little-known places – taking plenty of time to explore along the way! For a great way to see the North Island too, combine this trip with our 11-day 'Kauri' (5 day 'Kauri' options available).
Activity level: The ‘Kiwi’ suits anyone who enjoys walking and likes to give things a go. The pace is flexible and relaxed with most hikes taking one to three hours to complete on well-formed tracks with some undulations.
Manuka Milford Hiking Adventure
- 14 Days
- US$5,899 + tax
If you wish to concentrate on hiking the iconic tracks of New Zealand and like your creature comforts, we’ve crafted this trip just for you. It has a strong focus on New Zealand’s natural history. Our guides have plenty of time to interpret the flora and fauna and explain the geological and social history of the areas you’ll visit. You also have the choice of a selection of the best day hikes Fiordland National Park has to offer, along with an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, or hiking the famous Milford Track in its entirety. The ‘Manuka’ really is hiking New Zealand in style!
Activity level: The 'Manuka' is an active hiking trip, but has options to suit a wide range of fitness levels and outdoor experience. Typically hikes on the 'Manuka' trip range between three and six hours to complete, with longer hikes on the Milford Track Guided Walk option.
Weka New Zealand Biking Adventure
- 14 Days
- US$4,999 + tax
Our ‘Weka’ trip combines the very best of New Zealand’s cycling and hiking trails into an action-packed two week adventure. We’re keen bikers here at Active, so we wanted to create the ‘dream itinerary’ for fellow biking enthusiasts! We’ve escaped the traffic by choosing private roads and wide, smooth cycling trails. There’s plenty of flexibility and freedom if you want to ride a little further or a little less, we’ve got you covered! Our new ‘Weka’ trip will suit both road cyclists and mountain bikers alike.
Activity level: The ‘Weka’ is an active cycling and hiking trip, so it’s important that you have a base level of biking and hiking fitness. You don’t have to be young or ready to take on the Tour de France (although if you are super fit and raring to go, you won’t be bored), but you should be in the habit of doing at least some riding and be comfortable in the saddle..
Tui Essence of the South Island
- 8 Days
- US$3,799 + tax
This is an action-packed adventure where you’ll hike, bike, kayak, fly and jet boat in some of New Zealand’s most iconic and remote wilderness. It works well if your vacation time is limited, since you can fly from North America on a Friday evening, sleep on the plane, and be back at work ten days later to share your photos and stories on Monday morning. For a great way to see the North Island too, combine this trip with our 11-day 'Kauri' (5-day 'Kauri' options available).
Activity level: The ‘Tui’ suits people of a wide range of fitness levels and outdoor experience, particularly if you enjoy a variety of activities. Typically hikes on the ‘Tui’ trip range between two and six hours to complete.
Kea New Zealand Family Adventure
- 13 Days
- Adult: US$4,399 + tax, Child (15 & under): US$3,599 + tax
Let us take care of every detail so that you and your family can enjoy exploring New Zealand’s iconic places on a fun outdoorsy adventure. The ‘Kea’ is the perfect opportunity for everyone in the family to try some new activities together while our guides encourage, entertain, serve up delicious meals and ensure you make the most of your precious vacation time. You’ll be amazed how much everyone learns along the way and our guides will have you laughing as much as the kids! For a great way to see the North Island too, combine this trip with our 11-day 'Kauri' (5-day 'Kauri' options available).
Activity level: This trip has been designed to be fun and gently challenging for the young, and the young at heart. The pace is flexible and most hikes range between two and four hours to complete.
Winter Rimu New Zealand Winter Adventure
- 14 Days
- US$4,399 + tax
May to September is one of the best times to explore New Zealand. Our maritime climate ensures we have relatively mild winters, we’ll almost always have the tracks to ourselves and the snow-capped mountains make an even more dramatic backdrop than in summer – and usually you can get a great deal on flights! Years ago, we adapted our signature Rimu trip to suit the cooler conditions by adding skiing and snowboarding options, along with some of the South Island’s best hikes. This adventure is the perfect excuse to escape the heat!
Activity level: This is one of our more adventurous trips, but has options to suit a range of fitness levels and outdoor experience. Typically hikes on the ‘Winter Rimu’ range between three and six hours to complete, with a longer more challenging hike on the Copland Track.
For a great way to see the North Island too, combine this trip with our 11-day 'Kauri' (5-day 'Kauri' options available):
Kauri Ultimate North Island Adventure
- 11 Days
- US$4,499 + tax
You'll be amazed by the variety of adventures and stunning scenery as we share the iconic locations and best-kept secrets of the North Island. The perfect addition to any of our South Island trips, the year-round 'Kauri' explores the sub-tropical north, a marine reserve, white sandy beaches, unique volcanic terrain, geothermal areas, Maori culture, an underground cave system and arguably the best mountain day-hike in New Zealand. For a great way to see the rest of New Zealand, combine this trip with any of our South Island trips.
Activity level: The 'Kauri' suits people of a wide range of fitness levels and outdoor experience. Typically, activities on the 'Kauri' trip range between two and five hours to complete. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike can take a little longer, though there are shorter alternatives available.