How to plan a trip to New Zealand: An easy 5 step guide.
Not many travel companies will share these unbiased truths about how to choose your trip. Read on to discover the 5 essential steps that you should take, to make sure that you choose the New Zealand hiking and adventure tour that you’ll talk about for the rest of your life, for all the right reasons.
See this button, we’ll talk about that in step 1:
Step 1: Information is FREE! Collect as much as you can
It may be an obvious point we make here, but unlike purchasing a new car, you can’t test-drive a trip to New Zealand! So make sure you have the right tools to satisfy the test-driving requirement, from the comfort of your own home.
For most people, an adventure trip to New Zealand is a chance to get offline and disconnect with the digital world, so why not start before you leave home? There’s nothing like making a hot cuppa coffee, kicking your feet up and immersing yourself in a physical booklet – which we’ll send to you – wherever you are in the world, from all the way down here in Queenstown, New Zealand!
But if you love trees as much as we do, we’ve created an interactive, digital version of our popular New Zealand travel brochure. It comes complete with incredible videos of our trips, and it’s a direct path to checking a trip’s availability, or chatting online with one of our epic New Zealand travel experts.
Step 2: Pick a travel date
Relax – there’s never a bad time to visit New Zealand! Most of our guests either have a specific set of dates in mind, or they’re open to ideas. Either way, this is one of the most enjoyable parts of planning your trip – because when you look at a calendar and pick a date, you’ll realise that’s only ‘this many sleeps’, or ‘that many weeks’, or ‘Christmas seems to come around sooner every year, and we leave just after!’ So this is your first big hit of reality.
We (like most operators) run trips all year round. New Zealand’s wider summer window spans from October to April, and the winter months are still mild enough to hike through the valleys and lower mountain passes on the South Island (there are loads of blue sky days with snow capped mountains, which makes for epic photography!), and the North Island's tropical climate almost seems winter-less.
The most popular time to visit is in the height of summer – from December through February, and for good reason. These days are long, warm and the trails are bustling with life. And as busy as our trails get at this time of the year – it’s important to remember that we’ve specifically designed our trips to take you off the beaten path, on trails that us Kiwi’s hike to avoid the crowds.
Step 3: Decide what sort of hiking you would like to do
Before you wonder what’s wrong with the ‘less popular’ trails we mentioned above in 'step 2', we’ll stop that thought in its tracks. As we’re sure you already know, New Zealand’s wilderness is some of the most wild and dramatic in the world. Epic granite mountain peaks are clad in lush rain forest, overseeing beautiful meadows full of lakes, rivers and (you guessed it) over 500 incredible hiking trails! Trails that are easily lost, just by taking a few steps off the path.
So in years gone by, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation required all hikers to check into the local DOC office at the start and finish of a hike. Before embarking on the journey, hikers would register their intention for a hike – including start and finish dates, where they’ll sleep etc. Upon their return, all hikers had to check back into the office to say that they made it out of the mountains safely. But the system was flawed – people forgot to check in at the end of their hike, and helicopters with Search and Rescue teams were deployed to find them – while the 'apparently lost' hikers were already sipping a late in the next town! So the decision was made by the New Zealand Government to create the 10 Great Walks of New Zealand.
The Great Walks of New Zealand offer a safe and easily navigable trial network, which dramatically reduces the number of hikers getting lost in the wilderness. These trails are 4 feet wide at their narrowest point, and a huge marketing effort by New Zealand Tourism has put trails like the Milford Track, Tongariro Crossing and Abel Tasman Coast Track on the world map, and priority on most hiker’s ‘bucket lists’.
But what most people don’t realise, is that amazing single-day hiking options are available on the Great Walks – so it’s easy to indulge yourself in the Great Walks, while not having to spend your entire trip to New Zealand on one single trail. Wouldn’t you rather spend your back country multi-day hike on a trail that you can hike for days on end without seeing another hiker?
Here’s an example to wet your appetite, the little-known Angelus Circuit in the Nelson Lakes National Park:
Step 4: Make sure you trust your information
Trusting an adventure tour company goes beyond their impeccable safety record (like ours!), the fact that they only hire the best guides (like ours!) and the fact that they have 2 guides on every trip, so every person can take their own pace (like on our trips!).
And did you know that only 10% of travel websites offering New Zealand travel packages are actually from New Zealand? So who are the other 90%?! They’re offshore operators, trying to get a piece of the New Zealand tourism boom. Most of them are good at what they do, but they’ll never do New Zealand as well as people from New Zealand.
So, we’re here to tell you that we’re the real deal, and here’s why. Writing this article, my name’s Will, I’m a born and bred Kiwi lad. I’ve been a part of the team here at Active HQ in Queenstown (New Zealand) for over 5 years now, and I grew up in the countryside near Nelson.
The Nelson Lakes National Park is where I learnt to fly fish with my family, Lake Rotoiti is where I learnt to sail a yacht, I spent my winters skiing in the isolated club fields of Mount Robert and Rainbow Ski Area – often skipping the comfort of sleeping in cosy mountain huts for the adventure of falling asleep to the echo of my brother’s laughter in our hand-dug snow cave high on a ridge, overlooking the valley below. And most importantly, it’s where I fell in love with hiking.
Now, I’m lucky enough to have the unique opportunity to share this beautiful part of the world (and my childhood) with avid adventurers, just like you! The Angelus Circuit is the multi-day hiking option on our signature trip – the ‘Rimu - Ultimate South Island Adventure’ trip here on the South Island. But don’t worry, we’ll only go into the park when the days are long, warm, with no sign of snow caves! Every big day of hiking will be rewarded with dramatic sunsets, followed by delicious candle lit dinners in the cosy mountain huts.
And as I’m looking around the office, I’m surrounded by friends/colleagues from all over New Zealand, brought together by a shared love for adventure. We all have a similar story to tell, from another part of this epic country that we call home. So this is what makes an Active trip to New Zealand so unique – if we’re not the real deal, who is?!
Step 5: Don't be afraid to talk to an expert
Because at the end of the day, we don’t know what we don’t know! Whether you’re travelling solo, or with friends, family or a hiking group – whether you want to spend all of your time hiking, bike or kayaking, on the Great Walks, avoiding the Great Walks, whatever your dream trip is in your mind, it’s nice to know that your perfect trip does exist! We’ve spent the past 22+ years perfecting the art of find the perfect trip for everyone – if you don’t believe us then take a look at our raving reviews – while over 40% of travellers go on to do another trip in one of our other destinations – which is a true testament to the calibre of our trips!
But at the end of the day, we want what’s best for you – and if that’s joining us to explore the most wild and remote parts of New Zealand’s countryside, then we’ll make it happen. But if you can’t find one of our trips to suit your needs, we promise we’ll point you in the right direction for a trip that does.
So go ahead, start with step 1 now! I have a load of brochures behind me that are dying to get thrown in an envelope and sent to your letterbox today. Otherwise, save a tree and get yourself a digital E-Brochure emailed directly to your inbox. And rest assured, nothing is automated, you’ll be personally emailed by one of our amazing New Zealand travel guru’s.
Rimu Ultimate South Island Adventure
- 14 Days
- South Island
- From US$5499 + 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.
Kauri Ultimate North Island Adventure
- 11 Days
- North Island
- From US$4899 + 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.
Manuka Milford Hiking Adventure
- 14 Days
- South Island
- From US$6399 + 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.
Tui Essence of the South Island
- 8 Days
- South Island
- From US$3999 + tax
This is an action-packed adventure where you’ll explore 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
- South Island
- From Adult: US$4799 + tax, Child (15 & under): US$3999 + 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.
Here's a pretty cool video of what it's like to travel with your family, on an Active Adventures trip.
Winter Rimu New Zealand Winter Adventure
- 14 Days
- South Island
- US$4599 + 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.
Kiwi South Island Explorer
- 14 Days
- South Island
- From US$5799 + 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.
Weka New Zealand Biking Adventure
- 14 Days
- South Island
- From US$5599 + 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 crafting a trip that maximises New Zealand's amazing network of gravel 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..
Takahe Great Walks Discovery
- 5 Days
- South Island
- From US$2999 + tax
Over five days you'll hike on three of New Zealand's nine 'Great Walks', all located in the Fiordland National Park - a UNESCO World Heritage area with mystical coves and dense temperate rainforest. This is a bucket list hiking trip where you need not forgo any creature comforts.
Activity level: The 'Takahe' is a hiking-focused trip, with options to suit a wide range of fitness levels and outdoor experience. Typically hikes on the 'Takahe' trip range between three and six hours to complete.