A Small-Group Nature Adventure Amid the Scenic Splendors of the South Island!
Aboard a private yacht, cruise the fjords of Milford Sound, where mists weave through glacial valleys and waterfalls pour from vertical peaks above.
From secluded wilderness ecolodges, search for wildlife on guided rain forest hikes, paddle a mountain lake, and stargaze under some of Earth's darkest skies.
Meet sheep farmers, learn about Maori culture, and find a bit of Scottish heritage in the South Pacific.
Day One. Christchurch. Meeting for a welcome dinner this evening. Those arriving early may wish to join our Expedition Leader for an optional outing to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.
Days Two&Three. Christchurch / Arthur’s Pass. We’re joined by a local guide this morning for a short walking tour of Christchurch. A stop at the Canterbury Museum includes the Quake City exhibit, an interactive, multi-sensory attraction designed to engage and educate guests about the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes. We depart mid-morning for Pegasus Bay where we’ll enjoy lunch at a local winery. Heading inland toward the icy heights of the Southern Alps, we continue 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 surrounding Arthur’s Pass National Park. Some 3,000 sheep are raised on this authentic farm, which produces fine merino wool. During our stay we’ll enjoy a private paddling excursion on Lake Pearson, as well as a chance to hike some of the nature trails around the lodge.
Day Four. Westland National Park / Lake Moeraki. More of New Zealand’s stunning scenery unfolds as we travel along the west coast this morning. We stop in Hokitika to experience the Treetop Walk through the temperate coastal rain forest, communing with the birds in the ancient rimu and kamahi tree canopy as we traverse an elevated steel walkway and ascend a 130-foot observation tower. In Westland National Park, the vast ice fields of the Southern Alps spawn glaciers that wind like frozen highways nearly to the ocean, their terminal moraines ending in primeval rain forest. In this unusual mix of habitats we find the world’s only alpine parrot, the kea. Later today, time and weather permitting, we may get a close-up look at the ice at Franz Josef Glacier, in the shadow of New Zealand’s tallest peak, Mount Cook.
This afternoon a visit to the West Coast Wildlife Center offers a behind-the-scenes tour of the rowi kiwi exhibit. Kiwis are flightless, nocturnal birds found only in New Zealand, and the critically endangered rowi is the rarest of the five subspecies, with fewer than 400 remaining in the wild. Continuing to Lake Moeraki, we check in to the Wilderness Lodge, a secluded outpost in this dramatically scenic region.
Day Five. Lake Moeraki. It 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 lodge base we'll explore the natural environs on guided excursions. Our November departure enjoys 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 1,000 year-old trees, myriad ferns, orchids and search for birdlife in the protected natural environs.
Day Six. Haast Pass / Lake Wanaka. Traversing moss-draped beech forest, we cross Haast Pass into the heart of the Southern Lakes high 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. Our destination this afternoon, the vast blue expanse of Lake Wanaka, is 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. The Wanaka region is one of the best places on the planet for stargazing, with some of the darkest night skies in the world.
Day Seven. Lake Wanaka / Te Anau. 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 birdsongs with the panorama of the Southern Alps displayed before us. This afternoon, along the spectacular Crown Range Road, vistas of Lake Wakatipu and the 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 rustic charm and stunning setting make for a memorable meal. Continuing to the Fiordland World Heritage Area, we overnight in the lakeside resort town of Te Anau.
Day Eight. Fiordland National Park / Milford Sound. 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. Late this morning we travel to Milford Sound, where we'll board a private chartered yacht for a scenic cruise, with lunch aboard. As we ply the steep-walled fjords we look for fur seals, crested penguins and bottlenose dolphins as our naturalist Expedition Leader, an expert on New Zealand wildlife, interprets all we see. Above us, iconic Mitre Peak rises two-thirds of a mile straight out of the sea. After an exhilarating afternoon cruising these waters amid some of the most dramatic scenery on the planet, we return to Te Anau for dinner at our hotel.
Days Nine&Ten. Stewart Island / Ulva Island. Drive this morning to Invercargill, at the bottom of the South Island, where we board our 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. We’ll also hope to spy the elusive brown kiwi on a guided night walk. 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. A private boat cruise off Stewart Island offers a chance to view the multitudes of pelagic seabirds that live and breed in these coastal waters. We’ll expect to see a great variety at close range—albatrosses, shearwaters, prions, and several penguin species including yellow-eyed, blue and Fiordland crested.
Day Elleven. Invercargill / Dunedin. After breakfast, we fly back to Invercargill. At the Southland Museum in town 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.” We stop for lunch at a farm where we’ll learn from our family hosts about local rural life and traditions before continuing to 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. Late this afternoon we take a guided walk through a nearby yellow-eyed penguin reserve. This penguin species, found only in New Zealand, is one of the rarest in the world, with just 4,000-5,000 remaining. Our visit to the colony is timed for dusk to watch the penguins return to land from the sea, before a festive farewell dinner at Larnach Castle, built in 1871.
Day Twelve. Dunedin / Depart. After breakfast, if time permits, you may tour the elegant gardens surrounding Larnach Castle before your transfer to the airport for flights home.