This guided tour is like no other. A South Island wildlife and wilderness extravaganza, The Wild South Experience is one of our favourites and one we offer only once a year. Taking you well and truly off the beaten track, this tour will show you a South Island few visitors have the privilege of seeing:
- observe rare yellow-eyed penguins, royal albatross and Hooker's sea lions
- hike to secluded beaches and waterfalls in the remote Catlins
- be a rare visitor to the wildlife haven of Stewart Island
- take a jet boat safari into Lord of the Rings country
- hike one of New Zealand's greatest Great Walks, the Routeburn Track
- hike beneath soaring peaks and boat on a glacier lake
- stroll the quaint streets of a historic French settlement
- cruise on a scenic harbour, home to rare Hector's dolphins
- ride the TranzAlpine train to a high country sheep station retreat
- heli-hike on the Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand's Great Walks
- stay in a remote lodge in the Abel Tasman National Park and more
- starts in Dunedin, finishes in Nelson
- 21 days / 20 nights
- See Dates & Rates for tour schedule and pricing
- Update: Our 2016 tour has sold out. Click on the link above to see our 2017 departure date
Day 1: The Land Downunder - Dunedin
Your adventure begins in the South Island city of Dunedin. Visit Larnach Castle, perched on the highest point of the scenic Otago Peninsula, for a bird's eye view of your domain. Recover from your international flight with a peaceful stroll through the manor's manicured grounds. At dinner this evening, get acquainted with your fellow travelers.
Day 2: Natural Wonders - Dunedin
Rare, sub-antarctic creatures are your companions today. Local naturalists make the introductions as yellow-eyed penguins, Hooker's sea lions and royal albatross welcome you to the Otago Peninsula. Hike the labyrinth of trails that overlook this stunning coastline.
Day 3: Where Few Feet Tread - To Stewart Island
Without a tour bus in sight, feel like the region's first visitor as you explore pristine beaches and fern-fringed waterfalls on your way to Invercargill, New Zealand's southernmost city. Take a short flight to remote Stewart Island and settle into a beautiful lodge overlooking picturesque Halfmoon Bay. Open wide and say 'Aaahhhh...'
Day 4: Island Sanctuary - Stewart Island
Day 5: Queenstown Bound
Stewart Island is laid back at full recline. With its unspoiled nature and a population of roughly 400 residents, this is the ultimate retreat. Boat to an island sanctuary rich in native bird life and hike with a naturalist who interprets the unique flora and fauna here. Go fishing alongside albatross and mollymawks in the abundant waters of the bay, or remain on land and explore the nearby walking tracks.
Enjoy walking or craft hunting before flying back to Invercargill for your continued journey north to scenic Queenstown, a town always abuzz with the thrill of impending adventure. After settling into your accommodation, located against the sublime backdrop of the Remarkables mountain range, you are let loose to make your own culinary discoveries and to soak in the atmosphere.
Day 6: River Safari - Queenstown
Daytrip to the northern tip of Lake Wakatipu, beneath the spectacular peaks of the Mt. Aspiring National Park. No wonder this breathtaking location was chosen for The Lord of the Rings. Look surreptitiously at the locals for hobbit-like features. Catch a jet boat for a scenic safari up the Dart River valley, then disembark and board an inflatable canoe for a leisurely paddle back. Be carried on ice-blue waters between the sheer rock walls of the awesome Rock Burn Chasm, accessible only by canoe and seen by a lucky few. Pull your canoe up onto the shore of Paradise and return to Queenstown.
Day 7: Great Walks - Queenstown
Queenstown is the launching point for one of New Zealand’s greatest Great Walks, the Routeburn Track. We spend the day hiking a portion of the track, located in Mt Aspiring National Park. The day walk starts by following the wide and smooth track 6 kms (4 miles) to Routeburn Flats. Spend time by the river and have lunch in an alpine meadow or continue on and up the more challenging section of the track to Routeburn Falls Lodge. On your return relax back at your hotel, revelling in a day well spent in the wild.
Day 8: Mountain Splendour - To Mt Cook
This morning, it's a scenic drive north along the eastern slopes of the Southern Alps. Marvel at the impossible colour of the glacial waterways leading from the ranges. Settle into your luxurious lodging in Mt. Cook village and investigate your stunning surroundings.
Day 9: Glacier Getaway - Mt Cook
Mt. Cook is home to the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand's longest. This morning, hike to the terminal lake and board a small outboard for a trip to the glacier face. Listen to a wealth of information from your guide as you pass alongside icebergs and watch chunks of ice cleave off the glacier. Spend the rest of the day exploring the region's trails on foot, watching for unique alpine flora and fauna. This evening, try to think of yet another word for 'spectacular'.
Day 10: Scenic Journey - To Akaroa
Take a leisurely drive to Akaroa with scenic stops along the way, including the startlingly-blue Lake Tekapo and a lush native forest of stately podocarps. Originally a French settlement, the seaside town of Akaroa strives to retain its roots, from boutique cheese factory, public herb gardens and Provence-inspired wineries, to French street names and shops. Settle into your accommodation and explore this charming hamlet.
Day 11: La Bonne Vie - To Christchurch
Akaroa rests on the beautiful Akaroa Harbour. Take a cruise on the bay, looking out for the rare, native Hector's Dolphin, as well as penguins and other sea birds. Say 'magnifique' again and again. After enjoying the town's sights, shops and cuisine, we travel to the garden city of Christchurch. Enjoy exploring options for dinner at one of Christchurch's many award-winning restaurants.
Day 12: The High Life - Arthur's Pass
This morning, board the renowned Tranz Alpine train for a trip into the scenic Southern Alps. Arrive at the tiny alpine settlement of Arthur's Pass and travel to your Wilderness lodge for a two-night stay amidst the grandeur of this mountain region. The lodge, sited on its own 6,000-acre high-country sheep station and nature reserve, is a wonderful base from which to explore the area's unique features. Ponder becoming a full-time shepherd.
Day 13: High-Country Adventures - Arthur's Pass
Your lodge lies between the Arthur's Pass National Park and the Craigieburn Forest Park and is surrounded by native beech forest and tussock grassland. Guided activities and a network of mountain, forest, river, and farm walks make for a wonderful day of immersion in high-country ecology and wildlife. After your four-course dinner this evening, enjoy the mountain views, gaze at the stars in the southern night sky, and browse through the books in the lodge's well-stocked library.
Day 14: The Wild West Coast - To Karamea
Witness a dramatic change in scenery as you travel from the highest pass in the Southern Alps down to the sea and New Zealand's West Coast. Flanked by impenetrable rainforest and statuesque rock formations, wind your way along the stunning coastal road and give thanks you are free to gaze at the scenery and not the roadway. Stop at the geologically intriguing Pancake Rocks before continuing to the remote village of Karamea, near the road's terminus. This area defines "off the beaten track" and you spend the next three nights in this unique region.
Day 15: Heli-hike - Karamea
Karamea lies at the end of the Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand's Great Walks. The final leg of the track, winding through nikau forests and along pristine sand beaches, is arguably one of the most beautiful dayhikes in New Zealand. Because of its remoteness, it is also one experienced by few overseas visitors. Take a helicopter ride from your lodge to the Heaphy Hut for an unforgettable, all-day hike back to the trail end. We return to our lodging for a relaxing evening.
Day 16: Rainforest Wonderland - Karamea
The area's dense, primeval rainforest is graced with spectacular limestone arches and the vast Honeycomb Caves system. This area was home to the now-extinct giant moa, the world's largest flightless bird, whose remains can be found in these caves. A visit to the Honeycomb Caves and a
walk beneath the rainforest’s moss-laden canopy reveal the treasures of the region.
Day 17: Bayside Beauty - To Nelson
Depart Karamea and drive through the lush Buller Gorge region toward Nelson, on the Tasman Bay. Along the way, stop in the Nelson Lakes National Park for a peaceful beech forest walk along one of the lakes, rimmed by the St. Arnaud Range. Stay in a beautiful B & B in the heart of Nelson, a town renowned for its vibrant arts community. Explore Nelson's cafes and it's many great restaurants featuring seafood and other fare fresh from the region.
Day 18: The Art of Exploring - Nelson
Today is a free day to enjoy Nelson's many offerings. Galleries and studios throughout the city feature glass, ceramic, jewellery, paintings and other work from local artists and craftspeople. Take a self-guided hike to the Centre of New Zealand for stunning views or stroll through picturesque city gardens. Hire a bicycle and ride along the waterfront to a beautiful swimming beach, and more. The choices are yours.
Day 19: Abel Tasman National Park - Awaroa
This morning, we travel around the bay and board a water taxi to a remote lodge in the heart of one of New Zealand's favourite national parks. The lodge's environmentally-sensitive architecture is a blend of both modern innovation and rustic charm. Meals at the lodge feature produce from its own organic garden. Nestled amongst native bush and framed by forest-clad mountains and golden-sand beaches, this glorious setting is your base for the final two nights.
Day 20: Coastal Retreat - Awaroa
Enjoy the lodge's setting and activities, including sea kayaking, swimming, and walks along the Abel Tasman track—another of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Tonight, a farewell dinner is your chance to reminisce about the highlights of your trip and to revel in the friendships you've made. Wonder if your guide will fit in your suitcase.
Day 21: Fond Farewells - To Nelson and Home
This morning, a water taxi carries you back through the park to civilization. A last scenic drive transfers you to Nelson Airport for your final farewells. Dream about your return.