Day 1: Arrive Auckland and overnight
A private transfer brings you from the airport to the centre of Auckland (20-30 mins), a city blessed with a wonderful location, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Tasman Sea to the east. It is regularly rated one of the world's top cities to live in and you will enjoy exploring it today.
Of course you will also be getting over your jetlag (depending on where you have flown in from) so if this is the case an early night may be a good idea so you can embark on your epic journey through New Zealand feeling nice and refreshed.
Day 2: Ferry to Rangitoto Island. Loop Walk to Summit
This morning, after a short walk to Queen’s Wharf in Auckland, take a ferry (25 mins) to Rangitoto, a volcanic island which arose from the sea in fiery explosions a mere 600 years ago.
Walk along the coastline through terrain that was formed from liquid lava, then make your way up to the summit, which is a great place to have a picnic lunch. There are 360 degree views over Waitemata Harbour and other islands and seeing Auckland from this alternate perspective is special.
Walk: 12 km
Day 3: Rental car pick up. Drive to Coromandel. Harray Track
This morning you will be transferred to the car rental office and here you can pick up your rental car. Drive south to the Coromandel Peninsula (2H30)which is well renowned for its natural beauty; green pastures, misty rainforests, pristine golden beaches and turquoise seas. Coromandel Town is a sleepy little community with a rich Maori heritage, great bars and restaurants.
Upon arrival walk the pretty Harray Track, which provides you with views over bush-clad hills and the blue waters of Coromandel Harbour and surrounds. You will have to cross a small stream, so be prepared for some wading!
Walk: 6 km
Overnight: Coromandel Town or Whitianga
Day 4: Drive to Hahei. Walk to Cathedral Cove, Drive to Mt Manganui. Walk to summit
Today offers a couple of different options for exploration. Or you can do both if you get an early start. We recommend leaving early morning to do the Cathedral Cove Walk as it will be quieter (journey of just over 1H) at this time. It is a special walk along the coast with great views of the sea and dramatic cliffs. Finish at the iconic rock archway of Cathedral Cove.
Once back in the village of Hahei, where your Cathedral Cove walk began, drive south to an area known as the Bay of Plenty (2H20). Here is the town of Tauranga and across the bay, Mount Maunganui. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean is Mauao the mountain revered by Maori and locals alike. Walk up to the summit (232m) or around the base, the choice is yours.
If you would prefer more time in Rotorua (driving time from Mt Maunganui is 1H) then you can drive straight there from Hahei.
Walks in Total: 3+4 = 7km
Day 5: Waimangu Volcanic Valley Walk. Orakei Korako Geyserland and Thermal Park. Drive to Taupo
This morning drive to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley (25 mins) where you can hike through the valley and past the hot craters, springs and lakes of this unique hydrothermal and volcanic environment. This scenic reserve has an unspoilt beauty and is not to be missed.
Next, make your way to Orakei Korako Geyserland and Thermal Park, (40 mins) also known as the Hidden Valley. There are up to 23 active natural geysers throughout the area and you can take bush walks through areas of native flora and fauna. Drive to Taupo (35 mins) and from your accommodation experience amazing views over the lake.
Walks: Around 6 km
Overnight: Lake Taupo
Day 6: Free day in Lake Taupo or Huka Falls and Aratiatia Rapids Walk
You will spend a full day in and around Lake Taupo, so this is an opportunity either to have some rest and relaxation or take a walk to Huka Falls and/or Aratiatia Rapids.
The Huka Falls are the largest falls on the Waikato river which is one of New Zealand's longest. The name Huka is the Maori word for 'foam'. If you wish you can extend your walk to Aratiatia Rapids on a scenic hiking trail.
Walk: 7 or 20km
Overnight: Lake Taupo
Day 7: Drive to Tongariro National Park. Taranaki Falls and Tama Lakes Walking Tracks
Today drive to Tongariro National Park (1H) and enjoy the stunning beauty of this geothermal and volcanic terrain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The track to Taranaki Falls has excellent mountain views and crosses a range of land forms. The upper and lower tracks form a loop with the 20m falls situated around the halfway point. If you wish to take a longer walk you can continue on to Tama Lakes, which is well worth it as you will be surrounded by volcanoes. Tonight stay in a lodge within the Tongariro National Park.
Walk: 7 or 20km
Overnight: Tongariro Village
Day 8: Drive to Martinborough. Free time to vineyard visit on arrival
It’s a long drive today to reach the south of the North Island. (4H45) However, the scenery is excellent as you drive through rolling green farmland and in the distance you can spot snow-capped mountain peaks.
Arrive in Martinborough this afternoon, a little village surrounded by 35 vineyards. It is a very friendly community with nice shops and restaurants.
Day 9: Putangirua Pinnacles Walk, 4km. Drive to Wellington
Make your way to the Putangirua Pinnacles (45 mins), a spectacular geological formation that featured as a Middle Earth backdrop, part of the ‘Paths of the Dead’ sequence in the ‘Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’. Take a walk through the pinnacles which begins at the Department of Conservation campsite car park.
Drive to Wellington (1h55) and begin your exploration of New Zealand’s capital city.
Walk: 5 km
Day 10: Free morning in Wellington. Afternoon ferry to Picton
This morning is free to explore this capital city. Even though, as cities go, it is rather small, its compact nature gives it a bigger-city vibe. Being the capital, it has plenty of museums (we recommend the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa), theatres and galleries. Nicknamed "Windy Wellington" due to its location in the Roaring 40's, explore on foot and leave your car at your hotel as parking is included.
This afternoon take the Interislander ferry (3H30)to Picton in the South Island. With a very attractive seafront in a sheltered harbour, there are a plethora of shops, cafes and restaurants.
Day 11: Queen Charlotte Track, Torea Bay to Punga Cove
Today embark on a full day’s walk on the stunning Queen Charlotte Track, located in Marlborough Sounds. Take an 8.00am Beachcomber Cruise Boat to Torea Bay and begin walking amongst the stunning scenery of the area with panoramic views of the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds. Around 4pm catch the Tiri Cat vessel at Punga Cove back to Picton. If you have time, enjoy a drink or a meal at Punga Cove's Boatshed Bar.
Walk: 23 km
Day 12: Drive to Marahau. Abel Tasman Track. Boat to Anchorage Bay, walk to Marahau
Make sure you take the Queen Charlotte Drive (2H45), a beautiful and winding road which offers stunning views over the sound. You’ll find that the most spectacular views are behind you so don’t hesitate to stop at the lookouts so that you can fully take them in.
Take the afternoon boat to Anchorage Bay and then walk back to Marahau along the Abel Tasman Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Named after the Dutch explorer who actually never set foot on these shores due to an altercation with the local Maori, absorb these scenic surroundings of lush beech forest and stunning sea views.
Drive to the city of Nelson (1H), which is a great place to stay over, as there is lots to explore, including some great restaurants with excellent local produce.
Day 13: Drive to Kaikoura, free time
Today drive over to the east coast of the South Island and to Kaikoura (3H25), a region which boasts natural wonders on both land and sea. A complex marine system provides an abundantly rich habitat for marine mammals and seabirds and with its black sand beaches, native bush, green farmland that rolls down to the sea and views of distant snow-capped mountains this is an ideal place for getting ‘close to nature’. If you wish you can take a whale watching tour from the little port in Kaikoura town this afternoon. Giant Sperm whales maybe seen all year round. Booking in advance is essential.
Day 14: Walk the Kaikoura Coast Track, Buntings Gulley to Ngaroma, 13km. Afternoon tea on the farm. Drive to Hamner Springs
Drive south to a farming community on the Kaikoura coast and the small settlement of Ngaroma (1H). This track was developed by three farming families who owned the land and wanted to share a piece of heaven with the rest of the world. A van transfer to Buntings Gully (20 minutes) brings you to the beginning of today's walk. Enjoy the ancient remnants of the beech forest and view the Inland Kaikoura Ranges, usually covered in snow at the beginning and end of the walking season.
Upon reaching Skull Peak Shelter you can have a hot drink, fill up your water bottle and rest before the last trek up to the top of Skull Peak, where you have 360 degree panoramic views of the Kaikoura coastline. Now walk down to the coast and back to the farm, where a delightful afternoon tea is provided. Drive to Hanmer Springs. (1H30)
Walk: 12 km
Overnight: Hanmer Springs
Day 15: Free day in Hanmer Springs for spa treatments, etc. Or Conical Hill Walk.
Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa offers visitors a wide range of experiences. There are a range of pools - nine open-air thermal pools, three sulphur pools and four private thermal pools, as well as a sauna/steam room and a freshwater heated pool.
There will also be a short walk up Conical Hill available for fantastic views over the surrounding area should you choose a walk today.
Overnight: Hanmer Springs
Day 16: Drive to Arthur’s Pass. Bealey Valley Track
Drive over to Arthur's Pass this morning (3H20), the highest and most spectacular pass across the Southern Alps of the South Island. On the way we recommend that you to stop at Castle Hill, a beautiful rock formation that provides an incredible view over the valley.
Upon arrival drive slightly further north of Arthur's Pass Village to the beginning of the Bealey Valley Track, a short walk that will take you through mountain beech forest and to the base of Mount Rolleston.
Walk: 2.4 km
Overnight: Arthur’s Pass Village
Day 17: Walk the Avalanche Peak and Scott Tracks
Take the Avalanche Peak Track today which is the only peak in Arthur’s Pass that is marked by a poled route to the summit. The climb is 1100m from the village and, on a fine day, you will be rewarded with fine views of the surrounding peaks, particularly of Mt Rolleston and the Crow Glacier on its southern face. Walk down on Scott’s Track and be sure to take the map and Arthur's Pass: Avalanche Peak route guide, available from the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre.
As noted the Avalanche Peak is a climb of about 1,100m, so in order to enjoy this walk you will need to be fit. If you wish to take an easier walk or if the weather is inclement, you can find plenty of other choices in the Arthur’s Pass brochure.
Walk: 8 km
Overnight: Arthur’s Pass Village
Day 18: Drive to Glaciers region and Franz Josef. Free time
Drive to the spectacular glaciers region of the South Island (3H). The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers cut through dramatic glacial valleys to flow into temperate rainforest. We recommend taking a day trip with a guide on the Franz Josef as you are not allowed to go onto the glacier by yourself. Booking in advance essential.
Overnight: Franz Josef
Day 19: Choice of Walks, Alex Knob Track, or Robert’s Point Track
Alex Knob Track is only for experienced walkers. You will zig-zag your way up to Rata Lookout for your first views over the Franz Josef Glacier through lowland forest, sub-alpine scrub, alpine meadows and herb fields and to the Alex Knob summit. Forest birds, such as tui, bellbird, kereru (New Zealand wood pigeon), are heard regularly along the track.
An easier walking choice today (but good fitness is still required) is the Roberts Point Track, which again has great views over the surrounding landscapes.
Walks: 17 or 12 km
Overnight: Franz Josef
Day 20: Drive to Wanaka (Otago Region). Free time.
After breakfast, make your way south to Wanaka (3H30), which is in the heart of the Otago region. Central Otago is an area of matchless beauty with cold, glacier-carved lakes, barren hills and clear skies. The hub is Queenstown, with a legendary setting looking across Lake Wakatipu to the craggy heights of the Remarkables range. Near neighbour Wanaka is Queenstown’s more restrained cousin, draped around the placid waters of its eponymous lake. The scenery here is particularly wonderful, as acknowledged by film-makers who have flocked here over the years to shoot major feature films: several scenes from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the highest concentration of locations from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and, more recently, large sections of The Hobbit.
Spend a couple of nights in Wanaka where you can appreciate this areas beauty and great walking.
Day 21: Roy’s Peak Track
On the Roy’s Peak Track you can take in breath-taking views over Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring/Tititea and surrounding peaks after a steep climb through alpine meadows and tussock grasslands to the summit. This is a popular track and one of the best day hikes. Closed between October 1st and approximately November 10th due to lambing, other options are Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain Walk, which is shorter with an option to do a low level walk. Wanaka is a walker's paradise and there are plenty of hikes here to choose from.
Day 22: Drive to Te Anau via Arrowtown/Queenstown.
Today will be an amazing drive through the central Otago region and through Fiordland to Te Anau (3H), gateway to some marvellous Great Walks. It is worth visiting Arrowtown en route which is located just north of Queenstown. There is something to delay most folk here amidst quaint streets, intimate restaurants, cool bars, and historic Chinese gold settlements.
Ringed by snow-capped peaks, Te Anau stretches along New Zealand’s deepest and grandest lake of the same name.
Overnight: Te Anau
Day 23: Milford Sound Cruise. Routeburn Track, Key Summit
Drive up to Milford Sound from Te Anau (1H45), then sit back and relax as your cruise departs from Milford Sound Wharf, and makes its way out past the iconic Mitre Peak. Be sure to keep an eye out for seals basking in the sun, pods of dolphins or rare Fiordland Crested Penguins that can be found seasonally within the region.
On your way back down the Milford Highway you will pass the car park for the Divide, the beginning of the Routeburn Track. Park here and walk up to Key Summit. Immediately panoramic views of snow-capped peaks begin to unfold. Take the turn off to Key Summit and see views from the top which are unforgettable.
Walk: 6 km
Overnight: Te Anau
Day 24: Free day
Today is free to discover more of the area. Suggestions are to visit the Wildlife Centre, which is the ideal setting to learn about some of Fiordland’s wildlife. It offers the opportunity to view the rare flightless Takahē, now restricted to the tussock grasslands of the Murchison Mountains of Fiordland as well as native waterfowl, Weka, Parakeets, Tui, Kea, Kākā and wood pigeons. We also recommend Fiordland on Film, “Ata Whenua – Shadowland” a stunning documentary showing the wonders of the Fiordland region. It is shown all day long and is the pride of the locals.
Overnight: Te Anau
Day 25: Onward Travel
Drop your car off at Queenstown Airport before flying home or onto your next destination.
This drive and hike Best of New Zealand trip is bookable between September 15th and May 15th. This is within the spring, autumn/fall and summer months when the weather will be more favourable, although it is subject to change quickly at any time of year!
The busiest months are January and February and over the Christmas/New Year season. If you wish to go during these times you will need to book far advance in order to get availability at the accommodations.
Time of Year
The best time of year is from September to May which is when this tour operates. In the spring there will be flowers in abundance, it should be warm to hot in the summer (never hot in the mountains though) and in the Autumn/Fall it will be a bit quieter with nice colours.
Breakfast will be provided by your accommodation in most locations. This will either be a continental or cooked breakfast, depending on what that particular accommodation provides. There are a couple of places where breakfast cannot be included, but you can buy it locally in cafés or restaurants.
Lunches and dinners are not provided but you can easily shop for both or eat in local cafes and restaurants. On the walking days you can buy a packed lunch in a local shop/café.
Grade & Terrain
There are many varying types of walks on this itinerary, from easy, flat and short walks, to longer more challenging hilly walks on rough terrain. However they are all optional and therefore you can choose which walks you would like to do. All the walks are available in the Macs Smartphone App, so you can easily find your way using this GPS technology.
There are walks on tarmac (e.g. Cathedral Cove) and walks on dirt tracks, which are mostly Department of Conservation walks all very well-maintained. New Zealand is a walkers paradise and well-renowned for its walking tracks, therefore it is all very well organised and sign—posted.
There are walking tracks that are seasonal, but you should be able to do them all as this tour is available in the spring, autumn/fall and summer. However, some walks are weather-dependent and since the weather can change rapidly in New Zealand is it always best to check the forecast, especially walking in high elevations. Also, if there is a Department of Conservation or tourist office nearby, we recommend checking the weather and the condition of the trail before embarking on a walk, particularly the longer walks in high terrain. Some walks are also in avalanche territory, so again, its best to check at a DOC office or on the DOC website for any warnings (see information pack for more details).
The tracks in New Zealand are generally very well-marked and signposted so you should not have a problem finding your way. We have also provided GPX tracks for all the walks, which are accessible on the Macs Smartphone App, so you can simply follow the route on your phone. It will be essential to use the smartphone app for this particular trip as we will not have detailed route notes for all the walks.
Car rental is included in the cost of this tour, as it is a drive and hike itinerary. When you arrive in Auckland, a private transfer is included to take you to your hotel. Car pick up will occur on the morning of Day 3. You will take the car with you on the Interislander ferry from the North to the South Island. You will then use the car for the remainder of your trip and drop it off at Queenstown Airport on your final day. You will be able to park your car at all of the accommodations and the walks will mostly have car parks at the start where you can safely leave it. At times you will have to leave your car in a car park with luggage inside, however New Zealand has a very low crime rate and you should feel comfortable doing so. The car will be a Toyota Corolla or equivalent.
The car rental includes tax (GST), unlimited kilometres and insurance, but excludes the first NZ$2500.00 (deductible) of any accident damage to the vehicle.
As part of your car rental a GPS unit will be provided and is included in the cost of the tour. We will provide addresses for all accommodations, sites and walks so that you can easily find your way. In case of any issues we also provide an included New Zealand SIM card so that you can make contact with any accommodation and service providers.
It is a requirement of booking this tour with Macs Adventure that you have suitable travel insurance which covers you for the activity and emergency evacuation and hospital care.
The distances and ascent/descents are approximations of the recommended routes. Please be prepared by packing all necessary items, for example, proper rain gear (jacket and pants), sun hat, sunscreen. Your information pack has a detailed equipment list which includes standard walking gear such as good walking boots or shoes, warm and waterproof clothes for the cooler months and lightweight clothing for summer, and a day pack.