A Small-Group Nature Adventure Amid the Scenic Splendors of the South Island
Please note: This itinerary is for trips departing October 2018–March 2019.
Day 1: Dunedin, New Zealand
Our New Zealand adventure tour begins on arrival in Dunedin. This historic city boomed during a series of gold rushes in the 19th century and was once the largest metropolis in New Zealand. Today it remains one of its most important commercial centers. Those arriving early may wish to join our Expedition Leader for an optional tour in Dunedin, which will include an outing to Penguin Place, a private conservation reserve and rehabilitation center for endangered yellow-eyed penguins. It was founded in 1985 when just eight breeding pairs inhabited the property. This penguin species, found only in New Zealand, is one of the rarest in the world, with fewer than 5,000 remaining. We'll gather for a festive welcome dinner this evening at Larnach Castle, built in 1871.
Day 2: Dunedin / Invercargill / Stewart Island
This morning we head to a local farm where we’ll learn from our family hosts about the area’s rural life and traditions, before driving to Invercargill at the bottom of the South Island. At the Southland Museum, we stop to view the tuatara on an exclusive visit with a local expert. These ancient reptiles, endemic to New Zealand, resemble lizards but are part of a distinct lineage, the order Rhynchocephalia, which flourished 200 million years ago. Tuatara are
now extinct on New Zealand’s North and South Islands and survive only on 35 offshore islands. The museum’s successful breeding program has become a key contributor to the survival of this “living fossil.” This afternoon, board a short flight to idyllic Stewart Island, 19 miles offshore. Much of this rugged granite island lies within the new Rakiura National Park, whose Maori name means “Land of Glowing Skies.” Its lush rain forests shelter many native plants, which we discover on nature walks through the unique habitat. The island is a haven for birds, and we’ll listen for
the songs of parakeets and bellbirds.
Day 3: Stewart Island / Ulva Island
Today we take an intimate nature walk with a local naturalist who collaborates with Stewart Island native and birder extraordinaire Ulva Goodwillie, namesake of the Ulva Island sanctuary. On neighboring Ulva Island, a short boat ride
away, we explore pristine trails and beaches, observing rare bird species that no longer exist on the main islands. On a private boat cruise off Stewart Island, we view the multitudes of pelagic seabirds that live and breed in these coastal waters, expecting to see a great variety at close range—albatrosses, shearwaters, prions, and several penguin species including yellow-eyed, blue and Fiordland crested. This evening, we'll also hope to spy the elusive brown kiwi on a guided night walk that delivers us to a starlit beach on New Zealand’s southernmost point.
Days 4 & 5: Te Anau / Milford Sound / Fiordland National Park
After a short flight back to the mainland this morning, we travel to Te Anau, the the lakeside village that is the gateway to Fiordland National Park's glacier-carved wilderness. The next day, we board a private chartered yacht for a scenic cruise around Milford Sound, including lunch aboard. As we ply the steep-walled fjords, look for fur seals, crested penguins and bottlenose dolphins while our naturalist Expedition Leader, an expert on New Zealand wildlife, interprets all we see. High above, iconic Mitre Peak rises two-thirds of a mile straight out of the sea. Fiordland National Park is a mythical-looking land of pyramid peaks and sheer rock walls, waterfalls and drifting mists, beneath a perpetual cap of snow and ice. It’s no wonder it was chosen as one of the major settings for the film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring
Day 6: Te Anau / Lake Wanaka
This morning we leave Te Anau , skirting around Lake Wakatipu and climbing spectacular Crown
Range Road, where vistas of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables Range
unfold. We'll stop for lunch at the historic Cardrona Hotel, built in 1863
during the Cardrona Valley gold rush. Said to have the most photographed
pub in New Zealand, the hotel’s rustic charm
and stunning setting make for a memorable meal. Spend the afternoon admiring the vast blue expanse of Lake Wanaka, the
portal to Mount Aspiring National Park. The basin filled by Lake Wanaka
was gouged out by the Wanaka Glacier born high in the ice fields that
crown the jagged peaks in the distance. In the Maori language, Wanaka
means “renewal of the soul"—exactly what our time here offers. After nightfall, step outside and look up: the Wanaka region has some of the darkest night skies and best stargazing in the world.
Day 7: Lake Wanaka / Haast Pass / Lake Moeraki
A magnificent morning is in store with a 3-hour boat cruise on Lake Wanaka. We’ll go ashore on remote Mou Waho Island, a predator-free nature reserve that’s home to the rare flightless buff weka—a curious, even friendly bird that has been extinct on the mainland since 1920. A guided bush walk to the top of the island reveals a hidden lake on the summit, a very photogenic spot where we’ll have high tea serenaded by birdsong with the panorama of the Southern Alps on display before us. As we traverse moss-draped beech forest this afternoon, we cross Haast Pass into the heart of glacier country. We’ll stop for nature walks at the pass, which is one of three main passages across the Southern Alps and was once an important Maori trading route. The scenery is glorious, and trails lead from the road’s edge into the rain forest along turquoise streams to dramatic waterfalls. Continue to Lake Moeraki where we check in to
the Wilderness Lodge, a secluded outpost in this exceptionally scenic region.
Day 8: Lake Moeraki
Lake Moeraki sits at the heart of a natural paradise in the Te Wahipounamu–South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Virtually unchanged since the Polynesians discovered New Zealand, this unspoiled landscape has been shaped by successive glaciations to into fjords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, ancient forests and wild beaches of volcanic sand. Along with the kea
, the rare and endangered takahe, a large flightless bird, also resides here.
From our base at the lodge, we explore the natural environs on guided excursions. Located away from light pollution near the International Dark Sky Reserve, we take advantage of Lake Moeraki’s cover of darkness during a night walk that includes a guided star talk, plus the chance to see glowworms
as their bioluminescent pearl strands dangle from the trees. Our October and November departures enjoy a private outing to see rare Tawaki penguins, found only on the southwest coast of New Zealand. Also called Fiordland crested penguins, these are the only penguins that live in the depths of the lush rain forest. About 2,000 pairs remain, with 10 percent of the population residing along the shores of Lake Moeraki. At other times of the year, we'll take a rain forest hike to discover thousand-year-old trees, myriad ferns
and orchids, and to search for birdlife in the protected natural environs.
Day 9: Lake Moeraki / Westland Tai Poutini National Park / Arthur's Pass
More of New Zealand’s stunning scenery unfolds as we travel along the west coast early this morning. An optional scenic flight is available (additional expense), making the breathtaking Grand Traverse across two World Heritage Site national parks, Aoraki Mount Cook and Westland Tai Poutini, with their remote glacial valleys, braided rivers
and turquoise lakes. Soar over New Zealand’s highest mountains and massive glaciers, including the Tasman, Franz Josef
and Fox, as they spill into primeval
rain forest. If you choose not to make the optional flight, join our Expedition Leader for a guided walk to an overlook where the vast ice fields of the Southern Alps spawn glaciers that wind like frozen highways nearly to the ocean. In this unusual mix of habitats, we find the world’s only alpine parrot, the kea.
Lunch is served overlooking
Lake Matheson, famous for its reflection of the icy peaks of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. Our next stop is Hokitika, a historic river port born out of the 1860 gold rush. Today, the picturesque small town is the focus of an indigenous greenstone known as pounamu,
or New Zealand jade, prized by the Maori for its strength, durability
and beauty and used for weapons, tools and personal ornaments. We make a walk along the sandy beach where plentiful driftwood inspires imaginative sculptures before heading on to Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Heading inland toward the icy heights of the Southern Alps, continue west to the Craigieburn Range, where we find endemic scree
plants, giant weta insects and dramatic views of Castle Hill Basin. Our
destination this evening is Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge, a deluxe ecolodge on a
working sheep station set amid mountain beech forest and surrounding
Arthur’s Pass National Park.
Days 10 & 11: Arthur’s Pass / Christchurch
Surrounding our lodge, some 3,000 sheep are raised on this authentic farm that produces fine merino wool. During a full day of exploration, spend time surveying the sheep station life and enjoy a private paddling excursion on Lake Pearson, a placid high country lake tucked between steep mountainsides. There are several options to hike trails surrounding the lodge with a local naturalist as well. After our second night at the lodge, we'll have time for a leisurely morning walk before we head back to Christchurch. En route, we'll stop at Pegasus Bay for lunch at a local winery. On our final night together in Christchurch, we’ll share an intimate farewell dinner with our traveling companions.
Day 12: Christchurch / Depart
Our New Zealand adventure draw to a close as we transfer to the airport for flights home.
Physical Rating: Moderate