New Zealand Nature Explorer
12 days with Natural Habitat Adventures Rating:
Day 1: Dunedin, New Zealand
Our New Zealand adventure tour begins in Dunedin. Guests who begin their journey with our Akaroa and Oamaru Extension will travel by road from Christchurch to Dunedin to meet the group. Historic Dunedin 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 visit a local farm to learn from our family hosts about the area’s rural life and traditions, before continuing to Invercargill at the bottom of the South Island. At the Southland Museum, view the tuatara on an exclusive tour with a local expert. Tuatara are ancient reptiles endemic to New Zealand, which 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, where we spend two nights. 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 works closely with Stewart Island native and birder extraordinaire Ulva Goodwillie, namesake of the Ulva Island sanctuary. On Ulva, just a short boat ride away from neighboring Stewart Island, 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, 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 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, continue to Te Anau, the lakeside village that is the gateway to Fiordland National Park. The next day, we board a boat for a scenic cruise around the glacier-carved wonderland of Milford Sound, with 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, pyramid-shaped Mitre Peak rises two-thirds of a mile straight out of the sea. Fiordland National Park is a mythical-looking land of pointed peaks and sheer rock walls, long 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: Crown Range Road / Lake Wanaka
This morning we leave Te Anau, skirting Lake Wakatipu and climbing the spectacular Crown Range Road, where vistas of the aptly named Remarkables Range unfold. 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 stunning setting and rustic charm make for a memorable meal. Spend the afternoon admiring the vast blue expanse of Lake Wanaka, 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 beautiful morning is in store with a 3-hour boat cruise on Lake Wanaka. Step 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 photogenic spot where we’ll have high tea serenaded by birdsong with the panorama of the Southern Alps on display. Traversing moss-draped beech forest this afternoon, cross Haast Pass into the heart of glacier country. 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 along turquoise streams into the rain forest to dramatic waterfalls. Continue to Lake Moeraki to check in for a two-night stay at 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 dramatic landscape has been shaped by successive glaciations to into fjords, rocky coastlines, sheer cliffs, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, ancient forests and wild beaches of volcanic sand. Along with the kea, the world's only alpine parrot, look for the rare and endangered takahe, a large flightless bird that's also found here.
From our lodge base, explore the natural environs on locally 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 as well as a chance to look for glowworms, whose bioluminescent pearl strands dangle from the trees. Our October and November departures include 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 lush rain forest. About 2,000 pairs remain, with 10 percent of the population found along the shores of Lake Moeraki. At other times of the year, we 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 magnificent scenery unfolds as we travel along the west coast early this morning into glacier country. Two World Heritage Site national parks, Aoraki Mount Cook and Westland Tai Poutini, encompass much of the landscape, containing New Zealand's highest mountains, turquoise lakes, braided rivers and massive glaciers including the Tasman, Franz Josef and Fox, which spill down from alpine heights into primeval rain forest. Our Expedition Leader leads a 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, keep an eye out for kea, the alpine parrot endemic to this region of New Zealand.
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 known for an indigenous greenstone called pounamu, or New Zealand jade, prized by the Maori for its strength, durability and beauty, and used for weapons, tools and personal ornaments. We walk along the sandy beach where plentiful driftwood forms imaginative sculptures before heading on to Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Heading inland toward the icebound heights of the Southern Alps, our route continues west to the Craigieburn Range, where we find endemic scree plants, giant weta insects and dramatic views of Castle Hill Basin. Our destination is Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge, a deluxe ecolodge on a working sheep station set amid mountain beech forest and the surrounding Arthur’s Pass National Park.
Days 10 & 11: Arthur’s Pass / Christchurch
Our lodge sits on a working sheep station, where some 3,000 sheep are raised to produce fine merino wool. During a full day of exploration, learn about sheep farming and enjoy a private paddling excursion on Lake Pearson, a placid high-country lake tucked between steep mountainsides. There are also several options to hike trails around the lodge with a local naturalist. On our final morning, take a last leisurely nature walk before departing for Christchurch. En route, we stop at Pegasus Bay for lunch at a local winery. We reach the Christchurch this afternoon, New Zealand's oldest city, which is noted for its British character and Victorian architecture. This evening, enjoy a farewell dinner with our traveling companions.
Day 12: Christchurch / Depart
Our New Zealand adventure draws to a close as we transfer to the airport for flights home.
All This Included
Among travelers who covet spectacular natural scenery, New Zealand is legendary. We focus on the South Island, whose rugged coastline encompasses a land of topographic extremes, from seaside rain forests and volcano craters to jagged peaks, active glaciers and icy fjords. On this dramatic itinerary that winds from Pacific shores to alpine heights, we are immersed in nature at its showiest. Within the diverse landscapes we explore, we find intriguing and rare creatures such as Fiordland crested penguins and brown kiwis. We also experience the hospitable human side of New Zealand, equally renowned. We'll meet sheep farmers, learn about Maori culture, and find a bit of Scottish heritage in the South Pacific.
Christchurch: Hotel Montreal or The George Hotel
Arthur's Pass: Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge
Lake Moeraki: Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge
Lake Wanaka: Edgewater Resort
Stewart Island: Kaka Retreat or Bay Motel
Te Anau: Cosy Kiwi B&B or Distinction Te Anau Hotel
Dunedin: Southern Cross or Lanarch Castle
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* The prices shown are U.S. dollars per person, based on double occupancy, and subject to availability. Prices quoted for land/cruise arrangements are subject to increase without notice. Once we have received your deposit, land/cruise prices are guaranteed. Air prices quoted via phone or email are subject to increase and are guaranteed only from the time that full payment is received. Also, air prices or air promotions mentioned on this site or on the phone do not include baggage fees imposed by airlines.