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South Island

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! 

Kayaking Okarito Lagoon with Active Adventures

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. 

For a great way to see the North Island too, combine this trip with our 11-day 'Kauri' (5-day 'Kauri' options available).

South Island Hiking Tours:

 

For a great way to see the North Island too, combine this trip with our 11-day 'Kauri' (5-day 'Kauri' options available):

 

Trip Reviews

  •   4.64 out of 5 (from 565 reviews)

    I wasn't ready for the trip to end!

    I don't even know where to begin...so let's start at the beginning. I spent the last year dreaming about going to New Zealand, trying to talk just one friend into going with me, and finally, with some encouragement from family, booking this trip as a first time solo traveler. And let me be clear- that was the best decision I could have made! I enjoyed every single minute of my trip and wouldn't change the experience of traveling solo for anything. From the moment I met Gary and Mel, I knew that I had made the right decision. They were welcoming, to all, from the moment they met us. Right away I knew I had nothing to worry about, and worry I did prior to the start of the trip. I could not have asked for a better group of travel mates; it was as if you had hand-picked who should be on the trip together. They were amazing! The experiences on the trip would not have been nearly as amazing if it wasn't for these awesome people with whom I had the good fortune to travel.
    Gary and Mel were kind, patient, and so easy to be around. They answered every question a novice like myself asked, without ever making me feel like an idiot. Gary was witty, kept us going, and a super safe driver! ( I am not a big fan of mountain roads with cliffs on the edge that lead to instant death and not once did I fear for my life.) Mel's cooking...holy smokes was it good; so much so that the pounds I was so sure I would lose on the trip didn't happen. She has even inspired me to try to cook a couple of her dishes this winter. She made it look so easy, even with the varied diets of the group. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I had chatting with both Gary and Mel wherever we were: on the bus, hiking, eating or playing cards. They brought us all together.
    Now, for the adventures! Every day was different from the day prior. I saw and experienced so many new things that I can't stop talking about it. I loved the really challenging hikes (Sealy Tarns and Alex Knob) and the slower paced treks through the rain forest and valleys. The night sky at Mt. Aspiring Hut is indescribable! While we were unable to go on the second overnight hike due to weather, Gary and Mel didn't miss a beat. We were so busy and had so much fun, even in the rain, that you would never have known that we were doing almost 3 days of alternate activities. Major kudos to them for this! I could keep going on how much I enjoyed every aspect of my trip. This was the first vacation I have been on where I didn't want it to end and it truly was the trip of a lifetime. I can't wait to book my next trip with Active Adventures!
    Melissa Munno Review Image
    – California, United States
    Winter Rimu, August 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4984 reviews)

    Rimu is Wonderful - A few tips if you plan to go...

    My husband and I took the Rimu trip in early November 2016 and had a really terrific time. I encourage everyone who is seriously considering the Rimu to go ahead and sign up. That being said, with all of the fun we had, I do wish we had known a few things ahead of time. I include these tips for you, the soon-to-be Rimu traveler, to make your trip more enjoyable. However, I can promise that even if you do none of these things, you will still have a marvelous time:

    1. Guys, if you opt to snorkel with the fur seals be sure to shave your mustache before you leave home. It seems obvious now, but it never occurred to my husband that the mask wouldn’t seal properly to his face with his mustache. Do yourself a favor and shave it off or spend the afternoon dealing with a leaky mask.

    2. I also wish I had known just how intense and challenging the 3-day multi-hike through Nelson Lakes would be. If you’re an office worker and occasional hiker like me, then I encourage you to take this trip but do lots of practice/fitness training in advance. Load up your pack and get on the stair-master or start climbing really steep hills. The hike is gorgeous and worth it, but I can promise you it will be a lot more enjoyable if you’re in good shape for it. Also, there are no showers at the huts and only latrines (port-a-potties) for toilets, so bring baby wipes for exactly the same reason you would use them on a baby (wink wink). And also bring hiking poles! I know it says optional on the gear list, but I really found them to be essential. As for the water bottle – leave that at home and invest in a good water bladder system (a “Camelback” or similar). We found the water bottle to be a hassle to take in and out of the bag (forcing us to stop each time), which made us want to drink less water. The water bladders allow you to keep moving and you’ll find you’re more hydrated.

    3. The sea kayaks (and, honestly, New Zealand in general) are not made for people over 6’ 2” in height (187 cm). Watch your head everywhere you go, and as for the kayaks, it may help to have the taller person sit in the front seat of the kayak instead of the back.

    4. Also, pack enough clothes for a week and then expect to do laundry. Bring some travel-sized laundry soap packets to help save money and make sure you have enough 1$ and 2$ coins for laundry before you get to the hotel (the machines are generally pretty expensive: about $3 for the washer and between $3 - $5 for 30 minutes in the dryer).

    5. Bring good cycling shorts – yes, the ones with the weird-feeling padding on the bum. It will help prevent the dreaded ‘grumpy grundle’.

    6. And finally, a heads-up to my fellow outgoing introverts (yes, we exist): this trip contains long days of social interaction (think 7:15 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.), with few breaks for introspection/solitude. If you need some down time, skip dinner or unfurl all of the emergency blankets and build your own fort at the back of the bus and hang a sign that says, “Stay Out!” (just kidding about that last one).

    A great big thank you to our guides, Rachel and Jordan, who were informative and helpful beyond measure. How they managed to remain cheerful and engaging considering they had to do all of the exertion we clients had to do, plus all of their work on top of it, is beyond me. They are the embodiment of Kiwi hospitality! We are already thinking of coming back for a North Island tour sometime soon.
    Lauren Gerth Review Image
    – Missouri, United States
    Rimu, November 2016
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1888 reviews)

    Virgin Active Adventurist-When can I do it again?!

    Fabulous trip! Not having to drive, research stops, plan activities, arrange accommodations and decide what to eat made this so relaxing, letting us enjoy every minute of every activity and even the down time! I can't wait to sign up for another trip!
    Karen Basil Review Image
    – Minnesota, United States
    Tui, March 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4984 reviews)

    New Zealand is Majestic...Thanks Active Adventures!

    This was my first trip traveling alone and traveling overseas. Active Adventures made this trip amazing and so easy. From initial planning of trip, to the moment of pick up at the airport, until drop off at the end of the adventure all details were taken care of. The guides (Amanda and Joe) were fabulous and the prepared meals were fantastic. New Zealand is truly beautiful. Thanks for sharing your country, can't wait to go back!
    Jennifer Smith Review Image
    – Arizona, United States
    Rimu, December 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4984 reviews)

    Experience of a Lifetime!

    Active Adventures was an incredible trip. We had two excellent and knowledgeable guides that were a real team and complemented themselves very well--plus the meals they prepared were awesome. They REALLY made our trip special! There were so many new activities for me that I had never done before that I can't even pick a favorite--I loved them all. New Zealand is a beautiful country, and your well thought out itinerary certainly allowed us to see and experience it in unique ways--hiking, cycling, kayaking, wine tasting, etc. Celebrating my 66th birthday with champagne and fresh strawberries after hiking up Searly Tarn trail was a birthday I will truly never forget! Thank you Active Adventures!
    Stephanie Nelsen Review Image
    – Michigan, United States
    Rimu, November 2016

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Approx NZ flight times

Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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