Preparing For Your New Zealand Adventure

Time of year: October to April
Getting there: Fly into Queenstown (South Island) via Auckland (it makes leaving NZ from Auckland (North Island) directly super easy!)
Getting around: A vehicle (car or camper), Intercity Bus, Relocation Cars, or hitchhiking
Lodging: Campsites/Freedom Camping, Holiday Parks, BnB's, Hostels, AirBnB's, Hotels


Queenstown is an epic start to a New Zealand adventure. The lakefront mountain town is bustling and the surrounding scenery is stunning. Opt to get the blood flowing with one of the options listed and take a scenic drive to see some jaw-dropping spots. If you fall in love with Queenstown and need more days, peak ahead to Add-on 6.


Get a view from above with the following options.
Option 1: Hike the Ben Lomond Track (3-4 hours to the Saddle, 6-8 hours to the Summit) for the best view overlooking Queenstown. I was fortunate to do it just after a snow fall and it was spectacular, but it also prevented me from doing the full summit. The track begins either from the top of the Skyline Gondola or the Tiki Trail starting at the top of Brecon Street if you want to pass on the gondola ride.
Option 2: Hike Queenstown Hill (2-3 hours), a more moderate hike for your first day! 
Option 3: Take the Skyline Gondola to the observation deck. A fun activity at the top is luging!

Go for a scenic drive to see Shotover Canyon (and the Shotover Jet) from Arthurs Point, Remarkables Road (the 13km gravel road is the highest public-access road you can drive in New Zealand, providing jaw-dropping panoramic views over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu against a Southern Alps backdrop), and Coronet Peak (best at golden hour)! 

With any extra time or before you find your dinner spot, enjoy a walk along the waterfront and the Queenstown Gardens. They even have a frisbee golf course you can play for free if you have some time.

Rainy Weather Alternative

1. Onsen Hot Pools- a relaxing soak with a view. Make a reservation in advance for peak times! 
2. Canyoning- an adventurous way to avoid stormy weather is by climbing inside caves, sliding down waterfalls, and jumping into canyons. These trips are popular so book in advance. 
3. Wine tasting at Gibbston Valley Winery or Waitiri Creek Wines

Food and Lodging

Food: (all have vegan/vegetarian options)
1. Bespoke Kitchen- popular breakfast and lunch spot. 
2. Rehab- healthy spot for juices, smoothies, salads, and bowls. 
3. Yonder- excellent cafe by day and lounge/restaurant by night.
4. Halo- serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

1. (High-end): The Rees Hotel and Luxury Apartments
2. (Moderate): Novotel Queenstown Lakeside
3. (Moderate): Sherwood Queenstown
4. (Budget): Tahuna Pod Hostel
5. (Budget): Haka Lodge Backpackers
6. (Budget): YHA Queenstown Lakefront


A four hour drive from Queenstown (without stops) gets you to Milford Sound, New Zealand’s top sight. Milford Sound is incredible rain or shine and even better if you can get both! The steep mountains turn to waterfalls during a rainstorm and with a little sunshine it is much easier to get out of the car for all the stops and hiking options.

Book lodging in Milford Sound in advance. The Milford Sound Lodge is the only accommodation option.


Leave Queenstown early to maximize time spent in Fiordland. The drive begins along Lake Wakatipu with an excellent view seen from the Devil’s Staircase lookout point.

You will go through the town of Te Anau, a tiny lakeside town that is a great base for many backpacking trails in Fiordland National Park (including Kepler Track (Add-on 3) and the Milford Track (Add-on 2)). This is a great time to have lunch, buy some groceries, get gas (there isn’t a gas station until you are IN Milford Sound), and stretch your legs by the waterfront.

Once you are back on the road, there are a few key stops to make before arriving in Milford Sound, including Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes, Lake Gunn, Hollyford Valley Lookout (Pop’s View), the Lake Marian walking track (required if it is a nice day since it is #11 on my list of Best Hiking Trails in New Zealand).

After arriving in Milford Sound, take it all in on a couple walks that get you to see the sound from different angles including the Milford Lookout Track and the Milford Foreshore Walk (completing both will take you less than an hour including the time spent taking pictures). This is also a great opportunity to scope out some spots that you’d like to come back to for sunset or sunrise shots!

Optional (photography): 
Sunset at Milford Sound.

Rainy Weather Alternative

Driving into Milford Sound is amazing on a rainy day. However, I also think people should experience it on a nice day too. If you have the option to stay an extra day (Add-on 1) and the weather is expected to clear up, I’d recommend it. If not, still come on the rainy day and if you are back in Fiordland for any of the other add-ons (Add-on 2, 3 or 5), make a drive up to do some of the amazing stops and hikes!

Food and Lodging

Food (in Te Anau):
1. Habit Food Truck
2. Sandfly Cafe Te Anau
3. The Moose Bar & Restaurant

1. Milford Sound Lodge- chalets, backpacker rooms, and a campervan park.

If lodging is full in Milford Sound, you can drive two hours back to Te Anau for a very long day (lodging options for Te Anau are listed in Add-on 1). However, seeing sunset and/or sunrise at the sound is an amazing experience so I would only do this if there was no option to do the full experience another time.


The Details

The drive and area around Milford Sound is my favorite part of New Zealand, so I recommend staying an additional day. This may allow you to get on the water for a boat cruise or kayaking adventure (check the weather forecast), go on a nice hike (Gertrude Saddle is impressive), or possibly see Milford Sound in different weather conditions.

Staying an additional day doesn’t mean you have to stay IN Milford Sound again. If you hike up to Key Summit, spend the night in the hut up there (book it)! If you do hikes along the Milford Sound Road, you can stay at the Mackay Creek Campsite or continue back to Te Anau. If you want to take more sunset/sunrise photos at Milford Sound, then staying an additional night there makes sense.


Go for a morning boat cruise along Milford Sound. It is worth it even though it is a very touristy thing to do! Since you have some flexibility, you can wait till late morning/early afternoon to see if weather changes to your preference- sun or rain! You can head to the terminal to make a booking or check on BookMe, where you can find deals and promotions.

Get back on the road to start one of the following epic hikes:
1. Gertrude Saddle (7km, 4-6 hours)
2. Key Summit (3.4km one way, 3 hours). Option to stay at Lake Howden Hut at the top and catch sunset from the summit.
3. Lake Marian Track (2.4km, 3 hours) (If it wasn’t done on the drive into Milford Sound)
4. Lake Gunn Nature Walk (1.4km, 45 minutes)

Optional (photography): 
Sunrise and/or sunset Milford Sound.

Food (in Te Anau):
1. Habit Food Truck
2. Sandfly Cafe Te Anau
3. The Moose Bar & Restaurant

Lodging (along Milford Sound Road):
1. Mackay Creek Campsite
2. Lake Howden Hut (if completing the Key Summit hike).

(in Te Anau):
1. (High-end): Boutique Hotel Options
2. (Moderate): Fiordland Lakeview Motel & Apartments
3. (Moderate): Lakefront Lodge
4. (Moderate): Bella Vista Te Anau Motels
5. (Budget): YHA Te Anau Backpackers
6. (Budget): Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels


From Milford Sound or somewhere nearby if you did Add-on 1, you will have another big drive to get back to the Queenstown area. But this time, to quaint Arrowtown- an old mining town along the Arrow River with 60 original buildings making you feel like you went back in time. It is a popular place during the day with several tour buses making a stop here, but don’t let it stop you from enjoying the town’s charm after they pack up for the day.


If you are starting your day in Milford Sound, try to get on the water for a morning boat cruise along Milford Sound. It is worth it even though it is a very touristy thing to do!

It is also your last chance to enjoy Milford Sound Road, so take any stops or hikes that you didn’t do on your way in. Some additional options for hikes are:
1. Gertrude Saddle (7km, 4-6 hours)
2. Key Summit (6.8km, 6 hours).
3. Lake Marian Track (2.4km, 3 hours) (If it wasn’t done on drive into Milford Sound)
4. Lake Gunn Nature Walk (1.4km, 45 minutes)

The four hour drive will make it a pretty long day so if you are going for any hikes, you will need to start the day early.

After arriving in Arrowtown, take a stroll down Buckingham Street and Ramshaw Lane. Buckingham Street extends to the Historic Chinese Settlement, Dudley's Cottage, and some nice trails along the river.

With any extra time in Arrowtown, check out Lake Hayes. The picnic area and walks around the lake make for a nice activity at the end of your day.

Optional (photography): 
Sunrise at Milford Sound.

Rainy Weather Alternative

In the case of rain, the boat cruise and the Lake Gunn Nature Walk are still doable. Getting out of Fiordland back to Otago (Queenstown/Arrowtown area) might provide clearer skies.

Food and Lodging

Food (in Arrowtown):
1. Settlers Bar and Restaurant- my favorite restaurant in New Zealand! The Vegan Pulled Pork Sandwich is to die for!
2. Provisions of Arrowtown- great food and baked goods for breakfast and lunch.
3. Fan-Tan Kitchen & Bar- amazing asian fusion.
4. Dudley’s Cottage- cutest home turned cafe and gift shop!
5. Postmasters Residence Restaurant- great food for every diet!

1. (High-end): Millbrook Resort
2. (Moderate): Arrowtown House Boutique Hotel
3. (Moderate): Arrowtown Lodge Cottage Accommodation
4. (Budget): Shades of Arrowtown Motel
5. (Budget): Arrowtown Holiday Park- studios, self-contained units, powered sites and tent sites.


The Details

The 53.5km one-way track is the most popular trail in New Zealand showing off the best Fiordland has to offer- steep mountains surrounding an incredible valley, beautiful rainforests, and a scenic view at the top of Mackinnon Pass.

Note! Booking transport to the trailhead is required. Cruise Te Anau, Trips and Tramps, and Fiordland Adventures offer this service. I used Cruise Te Anau and it costed $190 NZD. The trip begins from the town of Te Anau so you can either spend the night before in Te Anau (lodging options are in Add-on 1) or drive in for the morning pick-up.

Hut reservations are full as soon as it is released at the beginning of the year and since camping is not permitted, the only option if you don’t book far in advance is to hike outside the Great Walk Season (before it starts in mid October or after it ends in early May). Then, you do not need to book the huts in advance and can simply use backcountry hut passes ($15 per night per person). Note that renting a locator beacon from any petrol station is required for trekking outside of Great Walk Season.


Day 1: 
Your pre-arranged transport will either pick you up from town in Te Anau or meet you at Te Anau Downs, where the 27km boat journey begins to the trailhead (at Glade Wharf).

From the Glade Wharf trailhead, walk to Minter Hut (the second hut on the track) (21km, 7-7.5 hours).

Day 2:
Walk from Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut (14km, 6-7 hours). 
Optional side trip to Sutherland Falls (1.5 hours return). 

Day 3: 
Walk from Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point (18km, 5.5-6 hours). Be mindful of time since a boat will be taking you from Sandfly Point to where bus transport will bring you back to Te Anau Downs and/or the town of Te Anau. 


The Details

A 60km loop track starting from the town of Te Anau with incredible ridge lines, panoramic views of Lake Te Anau, and great opportunities for Kea spotting (the only alpine parrot in the world).  

Note! This hike is extremely weather dependent. Check rain and wind forecasts since mountain conditions can make any weather much more extreme. 

Also, the ability to camp on this hike allows for more flexibility in reserving this Great Walk since campsites are usually available.


Note! IIf getting a few days of good weather in a row seems to be a challenge, try to arrange the best weather day for day 2: the hike between Luxmore Hut and Iris Burn Hut (the first and second huts).
Also, note! There are many variations to start the loop track, either the Kepler Track carpark, the Rainbow Reach carpark, or the town of Te Anau.

If camping:
Day 1: 
Either begin from town (10.6km, 2 hours), the Kepler carpark (5.6km, 1.5 hours), or the Rainbow Reach carpark (15.1km, 4-5 hours) and walk to the Brod Bay campsite.

Day 2: 
Walk from Brod Bay to Iris Burn Hut/campsite (22.8km, 8.5-10.5 hours). Make sure the weather is best for this day. 

After 3.5- 4.5 hours (8.2km), you will get to Luxmore Hut (a great place for a snack after the toughest part of the day). Lunch is best from the Luxmore Summit, which you will reach after passing Luxmore Hut and by taking a 30 minute (return) worthwhile side-trip. 

Day 3:
Walk from Iris Burn Hut/campsite to the Rainbow Reach carpark (22.2km, 6.5-8 hours). If you parked at Rainbow Reach on day 1, you have reached your car! If not, you either have another 9.5 km (2.5-3.5 hours) to the Kepler car park or can take a prearranged shuttle back to the Kepler carpark. I was able to hitchhike with some hikers I met to Te Anau and I'd highly recommend that as well!

If staying in huts:
Day 1:
Either begin from town (18.8km, 6 hours), the Kepler carpark (13.8km, 5.5 hours), or the Rainbow Reach carpark (23.3km, 8-9 hours) and walk to Luxmore Hut

Day 2:
Walk from Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut (14.6km, 5-6 hours). Make sure the weather is best for this day. Lunch is best from the Luxmore Summit, which you will reach by taking a 30 minute (return) worthwhile side-trip.

Day 3: 
Walk from Iris Burn Hut to the Rainbow Reach carpark (22.2km, 6.5-8 hours). If you parked at Rainbow Reach on day 1, you have reached your car! If not, you either have another 9.5km (2.5-3.5 hours) to the Kepler car park or can take a prearranged shuttle back to the Kepler carpark. I was able to hitchhike with some hikers I met to Te Anau and I'd highly recommend that as well!


The Details

One of the top Great Walks, the 32 km one-way track has spectacular vistas and stunning lakes.

Completing the track is challenging due to generally opening later in the season (mid November) due to snow/avalanche risk, the challenge of reserving the huts or campsites once it is finally open, and the track transport decisions! 


I completed the full Routeburn track, but it was not without complications. Although I got incredible weather, the snow fall in the middle of Spring closed the route down the day I was supposed to start (and that was just after it finally opened). They rescheduled me, but I had to pay for a helicopter over the pass ($95 NZD) and feel that I missed quite a bit of the track due to the helicopter ride. 

In order to avoid the expensive track transport back to your vehicle, I recommend spending all nights at the fantastic Lake Mackenzie campsite/hut and day hike the saddle as follows:

Day 1:
Begin at The Divide on the Milford Highway. Hike 12km (4-5.5 hours) to the Lake Mackenzie Hut/Campsite. 
Optional side trip to Key Summit (1-1.5 hours) or add another day to see sunset from this spot and stay at the Lake Howden Hut.

Day 2: 
Day hike up to the Harris Saddle, the highest point, and a little ways down for beautiful views before returning back to Lake Mackenzie for a second night or to pack up and exit the way you came. (This option makes it easier to book since you need just one night (but ideally two) at the Lake Mackenzie Campsite/Hut to complete it). 

If you wish to do the full track, begin from The Divide on the Milford Highway, stay at Lake Mackenzie Hut/Campsite the first night, and either Routeburn Falls Hut (11.3km, 4.5-6 hours) or the Routeburn Flats Hut/Campsite (2.3km, 1-1.5 hours further) the second night. You can then exit the trail and take a prearranged shuttle back to your car OR hike the Caples part of the Greenstone-Caples Track (Add-on 8) to get back to you car, adding an additional night. 


The Details

Explore more remote sounds and exciting water adventures by taking an overnight cruise, kayaking tour, or packrafting excursion.

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Possible excursions/tours are below. I recommend you check on BookMe, where you can find deals and promotions.
1. Doubtful Sound day or overnight cruise
2. Kayaking Doubtful Sound overnight
3. Packrafting day adventure or overnight expedition
4. Te Anau Glowworm Caves & Cruise (Note! You aren’t able to take photos of the glowworms usually unless it is a photo tour.)
5. Jetboat Tour Fiordland

Food (in Te Anau):
1. Habit Food Truck
2. Sandfly Cafe Te Anau
3. The Moose Bar & Restaurant

Lodging (in Te Anau):
1. (High-end): Boutique Hotel Options
2. (Moderate): Fiordland Lakeview Motel & Apartments
3. (Moderate): Lakefront Lodge
4. (Moderate): Bella Vista Te Anau Motels
5. (Budget): YHA Te Anau Backpackers
6. (Budget): Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels


The Details

If you felt like Queenstown was the place to be, enjoy another day here to take in this amazing New Zealand town!

Additional day activities and excursions are below. I recommend you check on BookMe, where you can find great deals and promotions.
1. Play a game or two of frisbee golf in the Queenstown Gardens (it’s free and most hostels will loan you a frisbee).
2. Rent a bike and bike the Queenstown Trail.
3. Bungee Jump off the AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungy, the original commercial bungee jump, or the Nevis Bungy, New Zealand’s highest bungy.
4. Jet Boat ride in Shotover Canyon. If you plan to do a jet boat ride, this is the place.
5. Queenstown Canyoning
6. Helicopter Flight

Food and lodging recommendations can be found on Day 1 of this itinerary.


The Details

The drive to Glenorchy is one of the most scenic drives in the country, which says a lot since New Zealand as a whole is SCENIC. I only have it down as an add-on because if the weather is anything but perfect, it doesn’t do the place justice (speaking from experience). So, if you have a beautiful day, make this trip happen!


My tip is to stop as much as possible. There are a million pullouts for a reason and there is no shame in checking out ALL the viewpoints

After just 10 minutes of driving, you have the option to detour to Moke Lake (turn off on Moke Lake Road, drive up a steep, windy road until you reach a gravel road, then drive on the gravel road for an additional 8km). The views driving in are beautiful and it is very remote, yet accessible place! Since there is an option to camp here this night, if you plan to do so, pass this detour till you are ready to camp for the night so you only need to drive in and out one time.

Once in Glenorchy, check out the dock, the highly photographed Glenorchy Wharf, the trees growing in the water, and walk the Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway (1 hour). Additionally, 30 minutes from Glenorchy is the Lake Sylvan Track, which is highly recommended if you are unable to complete the Routeburn Great Walk (Add-on 4).

Many Lord of the Rings scenes were filmed near Glenorchy (in Paradise) so If you are interested in seeing them, the tourism desk in Glenorchy can provide you with a map.

Other excursions in the area are renting electric bikes or kayaking.

Optional (photography): 
Whether you are staying in Glenorchy or at Moke Lake, both are worthwhile for taking excellent night shots (of the dock in Glenorchy or of the night sky at Moke Lake).

1. (High-end): Blanket Bay
2. (High-end/Moderate) Precipice Creek Bed & Breakfast
2. (Moderate/Budget) Camp Glenorchy- cabins, bunk rooms, campervan and tent sites.
2. (Budget): Moke Lake Campsite


The Details

The 61km off-the-beaten-track walk through two stunning valleys, the wide Greenstone and narrow Caples, is a great option due to being a loop and not requiring any tricky transportation arrangements.

Getting to the trailhead essentially includes Add-on 7’s drive to Glenorchy so take advantage by completing the stops on the first day of the hike.


The Caples and Greenstone Tracks start from the car park at the end of the Greenstone Road, 86 kilometres from Queenstown. From Glenorchy to the Greenstone takes an hour on a gravel road.

Day 1:
Greenstone Road end to Mid Caples Hut (9km, 2-3 hours)

Day 2:
Mid Caples Hut to McKellar Hut (22km, 6-7 hours)

Day 3:
McKellar Hut to Greenstone Hut (18km, 4.5-6.5 hours)

Day 4:
Greenstone Hut to Greenstone Road end (12km, 3-5 hours)


The Details

The southernmost part of the South Island feels quiet compared to the busy Great Walks and bustling towns of Queenstown and Wanaka, mainly because tourist busses don't service this area! This area will have you waterfall chasing by day and lighthouse hopping by night (and up early for sunrise shots)!


Day 1:
Drive to Nugget Point in the Catlins (3 hours from Queenstown) and take the short walk to the lighthouse. Try to time is to enjoy sunset here. (Take the pathway up marked with a 'cautious' sign for an iconic view). 

Day 2:
Get up early to enjoy sunrise from Nugget Point. (Both sunset and sunrise offer a different experience).

See all the waterfalls: McLean Falls, Purakaunui Falls, and Matai Falls. 
Stop at The Lost Gypsea to grab a coffee or bite to eat (check in advance that they are open) and to explore their quirky converted bus turned into an awesome shop!

Continue to Curio Bay, a beautiful seaside spot where you can swim with dolphins in the wild! The bay is home to Hector’s Dophins that enjoy surfing the waves and will come up close to check you out (only requiring you to go in as far as your waist). Some tips from other travellers is to go in groups, tap the rocks together underwater (they will be curious), and go in on a paddle board or kayak that you can rent off the beach. 

Before you call it a night here, head to Waipapa Point to see another lighthouse (if you haven't had enough lighthouses) for sunset or to catch the aurora (check the chances of it ahead of time). 

Day 3: 
Drive 3 hours back to Queenstown or your next destination. 

Lodging (at Kaka Point near Nugget Point for the first night):
1. (Moderate): Cardno's Accommodation 
2. (Budget): The Split Level Backpacker Accommodation (BBH)
3. (Budget): Kaka Point Camping Ground

(at Curio Bay for the second night):
1. (Moderate): Curio Bay Salthouse
2. (Budget): Lazy Dolphin Lodge
3. (Budget): Curio Bay Camping Ground- amazing location that is as close to the beach as you could get!

Day 4-5 WANAKA

Wanaka is my favorite New Zealand town (and where I lived for 3 months)! Wanaka can get as busy as Queenstown, but it maintains a relaxing, local vibe. 


Walk along the lake to 'That Wanaka Tree', a fence post that grew into a beautiful tree over 75+ years! You can continue along the path to Glendhu Bay or as far as you want until you find a place to take a dip (or opt to kayak to Glendhu Bay or to some beautiful islands that dot the lake instead)!

IDEALLY, you would start the hike up to the famous Roy's Peak once the afternoon heat has died down and after the crowds have disappeared, camping at the top to get both sunset and sunrise. If camping isn't your thing, seeing sunrise and beating the crowds and heat makes the hike up Roy's Peak for sunrise (meaning a 3am start at least) worth it (I promise)! If you opt for the latter, seeing sunset for your first day at the Wanaka Tree will make for some great shots (I can guarantee you won't be the only one)!

Whether you camped or not, your second day in Wanaka will be spent either hiking down Roy's Peak or doing the whole hike. The local way to spend the remaining part of the day is at the lake swimming, kayaking, or boating; while the tourist option is to go canyoning, wine tasting (Rippon is a favorite), or to the lavender farm! 

Food and Lodging

1. Big Fig- fill a plate with delicious pre-cooked food of your choosing!
2. Kai Bar and Cafe- their patio is the place to be and they are great for grabbing a coffee or vegan pizza!
3. Francesca’s Italian Kitchen- great atmosphere and great vegan options!
3. Soul Food- a health store with healthy eats and smoothies for breakfast and lunch.
4. Amigos Mexican Grill- $5 tacos during happy hour!
5. Jack Rabbit Restaurant and Bar- a fancier place to grab a bite with several vegan options!
6. Food trucks on Brownston Street- something for everyone!

1. (High-end): Lakeside Apartments
2. (High-end/Moderate): Edgewater Hotel
3. (Moderate) Manuka Crescent Motel
3. (Budget): YHA Wanaka
4. (Budget): Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park

Rainy Weather Alternatives

1. Cinema Paradiso- a memorable movie experience in an untraditional movie theatre with comfy couches, fresh baked cookies at intermission (vegan options!), a full restaurant and bar, and homemade ice cream. This is my first choice when it comes to a rainy day!
2. Wine tasting at Rippon Winery
3. Canyoning
4. Lavender Farm (seasonal from late October-February)- enjoy the animals (alpacas!), gift shop, honey shop, tearoom, 10 acre gardens, and games.
5. Puzzling World
6. Tasting at a local Brewery


The Details

This is a beautiful track with so much to see, including valleys, ridge lines, and glaciers! The only challenge is to get enough days of good weather! With one to two days, you can hike to the Aspiring Hut and day hike the Cascade Saddle (what many people say is the highlight of the Rees-Dart) or go further on the Matukituki Track (skipping the Saddle, which is the safer option when the weather isn’t great). With three or more days, you can complete the full Rees-Dart Track.


For the Cascade Saddle:
Drive from Wanaka to Raspberry Car Park (about 1 hour). Note that this drive shouldn't be done after heavy rain since the water levels of the stream crossings will be too risky for some cars.

Walk 2 hours to Aspiring Hut/Campground (an Alpine Club of New Zealand Hut- reserve ahead of time or pay credit/cash at the hut). Hike up to the Cascade Saddle and back to the Aspiring Hut as a day hike on whichever day has the clearest weather. Any rain will make the hike back down to the hut dangerous so do not risk it. Walk back to Raspberry Car park.


Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park will blow you away with the incredible views heading in along Lake Pukaki, the easiest walk with the grandest views (Hooker Valley), and some incredible longer and overnight tracks.

Hopefully you get a couple days of good weather (although it is rare) and get to complete a hike to Mueller Hut (staying the night is optional, but recommended!).


On your way in, make sure to stop in Twizel to grab a bite to eat and any groceries since food in Mount Cook is scarce other than a couple pub type restaurants.

Make sure to take the pullout for Peter’s Lookout.

In Mount Cook, drive to the White Horse Hill Campground, which is also the trailhead for the Hooker Valley Track.

Hike Hooker Valley at it's best light, which is late afternoon and if you can, stay for sunset. 

Start your second day in Mount Cook with a sunrise or morning hike to Tasman Lake (follow signs for Tasman River). 
If you miss signs for the Tasman River, you will get to the Tasman Glacier viewpoint which is also worthwhile.

Hike up to Sealy Tarns for a mild day hike, or further to Mueller Hut for a more intense hike. I highly recommend making it an overnight trip by staying at Mueller Hut (book a bed in advance for $40 NZD) or camp (no booking, payment, or reservation required, although it is weather dependent since it is an exposed site!).

Once at Mueller Hut, walk 1 hour roundtrip to Mt Ollivier. Is well worth the effort, especially for sunset.

Food and Lodging

Food is scarce in Mount Cook with a couple restaurants and a cafeteria (and no grocery store). I recommend grabbing a bite to eat and any necessary groceries in Twizel on your way in since it had good options.

Food (in Twizel):
1. Hydro Cafe- cafe style with menu options for everyone!
2. Poppies Cafe- highest rated restaurant with options for everyone.

(in Mount Cook):
1. The Alpine Restaurant- cafeteria style open for breakfast and lunch (limited vegetarian options).
2. Chamois Bar & Grill- a few vegetarian/vegan options.
3. Old Mountaineers' Cafe, Bar and Restaurant- good menu, but didn’t accommodate vegan.

1. (High-end): Hermitage Aoraki Mount Cook
2. (Moderate): Mt Cook Lodge & Motels
3. (Budget): YHA Aoraki Mt Cook
4. (Budget): White Horse Hill Campground

Rainy Weather Alternatives

For views of Mount Cook, I’d postpone this add-on for when there is better weather. Either spend an additional day in Wanaka (Day 4-5 of this Itinerary) doing one of the Rainy Weather Alternatives or make your way to Lake Tekapo (Add-on 12). It is also possible that Wanaka and Tekapo will have nice weather since Mount Cook usually gets the worst of it.

However, if you are already there and the weather shows signs of improvement in the next days, head to the Sir Edmond Hilary Alpine Centre to watch the film Mount Cook Magic in 3D. They play films on constant rotation and a $20 NZD entry fee gets you unlimited entry for 48 hours so you’ll get to see Big Sky Stargazing Products and all documentaries in 2D.


The Details

Visit the oldest hut in Mount Cook National Park, the Sefton Bivouac, via an unmarked route up steep terrain. The conditions need to be perfect for this one so stop in or call the Aoraki/Mount Cook Visitor Centre for advice on conditions. Another unmarked, advanced route is the Ball Pass Crossing that can range from 2-4 days.

For either route, you need to register your intent to hike at the Aoraki/Mount Cook Visitor Centre. They take it very seriously and will radio in to each hut to make sure all parties have arrived safely. You will also be able to find out detailed weather predictions and how many other people have registered (so there are enough bunks since it is first come first served).


The Details

If the Lupins are in bloom (end of November till beginning of January), Tekapo is not optional since this region has incredibly dense pockets of these "weeds". At other times of the year, Tekapo can still entice you with a drive or loop hike to the Observatory and cafe with a view, a bike ride to explore the area, or to capture the milky way above the Church of the Good Shepard (a photographer favorite). 


Tekapo is busy in the Summer and since it is small place, I’d recommend doing one or both of the outdoor activities listed below during the day in order to not feel like another tourist taking photos of the famous church- save that for later.
Option 1: Hike Mount John Summit Circuit Track (1.5 hours)
Option 2: Bike the Cowans Hill Walkway (grade 2 trail). Rent from Tekapo Bike Hire.

If the lupin fields are in bloom, head to the Tekapo shed for some awesome shots of the lupin fields. My recommendation is 100% to be here for sunset when the light is best.

Optional (photography):
Astrophotography (the best time of year for this is up to November and anytime from February on to capture the Milky Way at it's brightest) and sunrise/early morning shots from the Church of the Good Shepard.
Sunset at one of the lupin fields. 

1. Reflections Cafe & Restaurant- great views and excellent food!

1. (High-end): Peppers Bluewater Resort
2. (Moderate): Lakeview Tekapo Studios
3. (Budget): Tailor Made Tekapo Backpackers
4. (Budget): YHA Lake Tekapo
5. (Budget): Lake Tekapo Holiday Park & Motels


The Details

I rated this my 5th favorite hike during my time in New Zealand due to the spectacular views from Gillespie Pass, the stunning blue color of Crucible Lake, and the beautiful variety of trail through rain forests and valleys. The 58km loop track requires a few days of good weather due to the danger of the pass in poor conditions.

DOC rates this as an advanced trail due to the start and end having a river crossing. However, they can both be avoided by taking a jet boat ($125 NZD) for the Wilkin/Makarora River confluence and taking the Blue-Young Link Track to avoid the Young/Makarora confluence. Note! Siberia Hut needs to be reserved ahead of time or camping by the hut is an option.

Note! This trail is along the West Coast, which is Day 8 of this Itinerary so check to make sure that when getting here you take any of the recommended stops from Day 8’s itinerary that you will pass on the way to the trailhead.


You are able to start from either confluences: the Wilkin/Makarora River or Young/Makarora (so you start and end with a river crossing of your choosing). However, since the Wilkin/Makarora has no good way to cross if the river is high or rapid, I’d recommend the taking the commercial jet boat to Kerin Forks Hut or plane to Siberia Valley. This can also cut down your 4-day trip to a 3-day trip without missing much (if anything)! At the end, adding on the Blue-Young Link Track (7 km, 1.5-2 hr) offers a swing-bridge crossing over the Makarora River.

Day 1:
Hike from Makarora town (or from Kerin Forks Hut if taking the commercial jet boat) to Siberia Hut (7km-22km depending on starting point, 2-8 hours).

Day 2:
Day hike from Siberia Hut to Lake Crucible, spending a second night at Siberia Hut. However, note that if you take the commercial jet boat to Kerin Forks and have just a 2 hour walk to Siberia Hut, you are able to fit in the day hike to Lake Crucible, given you get an early start and have enough daylight.

Day 3:
Hike from Siberia Hut over Gillespie Pass to Young Hut (12km, 6-8 hours). You want the best weather day to be for this pass!

Day 4:
Young Hut to Makarora via the Blue-Young Link Track (20km, 6-7 hours).


The Details

This is a great hike to start your west coast journey of South Island, spending the first night at the awesome Brewster hut! Make reservations to get a spot!

Note! This trail is along the West Coast Trail, which is Day 8 of this Itinerary so check to make sure that getting here you take any of the recommended stops that you will pass from Day 8’s itinerary on the way to the trailhead.


The track starts by crossing the Haast River (hazardous in heavy rain or snowmelt so make sure it hasn’t rained hard the days before or the day you are coming down).

Hike 5km steadily uphill to the hut. Plan to catch the sunset from a short hike up to get the bright red hut in frame.

Before heading down the next day, there is an option to hike to Brewster Glacier or climb to the summit of nearby Mt Armstrong (the trail will become more faint, but the general direction is up!)

Optional (photography):
Hike up a short distance to get a great view for sunset.


The Details

I include the Copland Track (18km one way, 7 hours) even though I didn’t do it myself because there is a natural hot spring at the end of the trail that everyone I talked to recommended for the west coast journey. I’ve also heard the best mountain views are if you walk up past the hot spring and hut.

Note! This trail is along the West Coast Trail, which is Day 8 of this Itinerary so check to make sure that getting here you take any of the recommended stops that you will pass from Day 8’s itinerary on the way to the trailhead.


Depending on your starting point, making your way up the west coast could be a moderate to long day of driving. Add-on 13, 14 and 15 are along this drive so make sure to not skip any of the points listed here when getting to those trails. If leaving from Mount Cook (Day 6-7 of this Itinerary) or after Add-ons 11 or 12, the drive time would be approximately 5 hours (which is long on New Zealand roads). Either way, this is an amazing day of great scenery so start early if you need to!


The first viewpoint is Lake Hawea; there is a gravel road you can take down to the lake and/or several pullouts with an elevated view!

Next, stop at a secret spot near 25 mile creek. There won’t be any indication, so be ready to just pull over at the GPS coordinate on the google map provided. Wear water shoes in order to walk up the creek until you see a magnificent hidden gorge!

Next on the agenda is Blue Pools. This is the opposite of the hidden gorge and is sure to be packed with people. It’s unavoidable so take a short walk to where many people enjoy jumping into the icy water. (There will be a better opportunity for cliff jumping the next day so go for this as a warmup or wait for a spot with fewer people).

The last major stop is Thunder Falls with another short walk to a viewing platform.

Finally, you will reach Fox Glacier, your final destination. The reason for spending the night here is the magnificent Lake Matheson. It was so good that when I spent two nights here, I visited four times. I believe it is absolutely mandatory to watch the sunset from the Lake Matheson jetty dock so just make sure you time your day to get there before sunset since it is a 20 minute walk to the specific point.

I also recommend the same spot for sunrise. It is an amazing sight when the grey fog over the lake gets lit up by the sunshine!

Optional (photography):
Sunrise and sunset from the jetty dock at Lake Matheson.

1. The Last Kitchen- was able to adjust to vegan!

1. (High-end): Distinction Hotel Fox Glacier
2. (High-end/moderate): Sunset Motel- studios and apartments.
3. (Moderate): Bella Vista Motel Fox Glacier
4. (Budget): Fox Glacier Inn & Pod Hostel
5. (Budget): Fox Glacier Top 10 Holiday Park & Motels


Many people I’ve talked about the west coast with passed by the Hokitika Gorge without realizing since it is a slight detour. Don’t be one of those people! This spot is as unbelievable as it looks and is 100x better than the popular Blue Pools. This day will be spent adventuring and cliff jumping!


The first part of this trip is in Fox Glacier- go to Lake Matheson for sunrise if you can and then take a walk up to Fox Glacier (1 hour). Although the glacier has shrunk significantly, it is still impressive due to how unusual it is to find a glacier so close to the ocean.

Many people want to know which glacier to visit- Franz Joseph or Fox. My pick is Fox due to them extending the pathway to get closer to the receding glacier. If you do opt for Franz Joseph, take the Robert Point Track (11-12.3km, 5-5.5 hours). The only problem with this option on this day is that it doesn’t leave as much time for enjoying the gorge! Note! A popular activity in New Zealand is to do a helicopter tour/glacier walk so consider that if it is on your bucket list!

Now, you have about a 2 hour drive ahead of you to Hokitika, an artsy west coast town.

Hokitika is a great place to grab a bite to eat and run around on the beach before you head to Hokitika Gorge for cliff jumping.

Finally, enjoy a spectacular vantage point from Sunset Point for sunset.

1. Ramble and Ritual- good vegetarian options, limited vegan if any.

1. (High-end/moderate): Rimu Lodge
2. (Moderate): Bella Vista Motel Hokitika
3. (Budget): Mountain Jade Backpackers
4. (Budget): Shining Star
5. (Budget): Hokitika Holiday Park


The Details

Arthur’s pass is home to a mix of well-marked day hikes and serious backcountry terrain. I’ve listed several options depending on your skill level and interests. Just be sure to check in with the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre to register your intentions for any of the overnight options; they also have a wealth of knowledge on current trail and weather conditions.


A nice viewpoint heading in from the west coast is the Otira Viaduct Lookout.

Options (in order of easiest/shortest to most challenging/long) include:
1. Short stroll to Devils Punchbowl Falls (1 hour return)
2. Bike the Poulter Valley Track to Poulter Hut (12km one way, 3.5 hours, grade 2 and 3)
3. Hike Bealey Spur (10km, 4-6 hours) with option to camp at Bealey Spur Hut
4. Hike Avalanche Peak (6-8 hours)- a well-signed and the most popular day hike.
Note! Options 5 and 6 require river crossing and navigation skills.
5. Backpack to Carrington Hut and Barker Hut- several variations can make this hike up to 5 days.
6. Backpack the Mingha-Deception Route including Lake Mavis- 2 to 3 days.

1. (High-end): Wilderness Lodge Arthur's Pass
2. (Moderate): Arthur’s Pass Village B&B
3. (Moderate/Budget): Arthur’s Pass Alpine Motel
4. (Budget): The Mountain House YHA
5. (Budget): Avalanche Creek Shelter Campsite


Nelson Lakes is very much under the radar and incredibly stunning.

Note! Angelus Hut and campsite needs to be reserved ahead of time since this hut is becoming popular with some guiding companies that will book out the entire hut!


The place to be during early morning light (doesn’t need to be sunrise) is the Lake Rotoiti dock (near the Kerr Bay campground). The eels enjoy hanging out around the dock, but don’t let it stop you from taking a dip!

Then, it is time to pack up and get ready to spend the night at Angelus Hut (I rated this #6 in my list of best hikes in New Zealand). It is a 12.2km hike up (6 hours). If this seems to be too much (or you weren’t able to get reservations for the hut or campsite), an alternate loop in the area is the Mount Robert Circuit (5 hours).

1. The Clinker Cafe
2. Alpine Lodge Restaurant

1. (Moderate): Alpine Lodge
2. (Budget): Travers Sabine Lodge
3. (Budget): Kerr Bay Campground


The Details

The Travers-Sabine Circuit continues from Angelus Hut for an additional 5 days (can be made shorter by doing an out-and-back trip) where you get to see the ‘clearest lake in the world’.


Itinerary Day 10:
Hike to Angelus Hut (12.2km, 6 hours)

Day 1:
Angelus Hut to Upper Travers Hut (7.5 hours)

Day 2:
Upper Travers Hut to West Sabine Hut (6–9 hours depending on conditions)

Day 3:
West Sabine Hut to Blue Lake Hut (a worthwhile overnight side trip from the main circuit- 3.5 hours one way). Blue Lake is thought to be the clearest natural freshwater lake in the world. Respect this pristine water by refraining from washing or swimming in the lake.

Day 4:
Blue Lake Hut to Sabine Hut via West Sabine Hut (8.5 hours)

Day 5:
Completing the circuit, hike from Sabine Hut to St Arnaud via Speargrass Hut (8 hours)


The Details

The Farewell Spit is New Zealand’s longest sandspit which stretches about 35km out to sea! The rock formations, dunes, caves, and farmland make neighboring Wharariki Beach the most spectacular coastline in the region.


Make sure to explore Wharariki Beach during low tide and have the awareness to head out when high tide comes in. Also, you are able to wander around the end of the spit that is closest to land, but the only way to explore further is with Farewell Spit Eco Tours.

After checking the tides, take the track to Wharariki Beach that goes over farm paddocks and through a section of coastal forest, before arriving a the beautiful windswept coast. Walk the length of the coastline to explore the sea caves and get the perfect framing of the rock formations!

Additional trail options include the Puponga Hill Top Track and Puponga Farm Park Track/Green Hills Route.

1. Wharariki Beach Holiday Park- cabins, backpacker accommodation, powered sites, and tent sites. This is the only accommodation so book in advance! If you aren’t able to book here, stay in Takaka, which is 20 minutes away (food and lodging in Takaka is listed in Add-on 19).


The Details

The 60km coastal track takes 3 to 5 days to complete. However, I recommend section hiking over 2 days and taking a sea taxi back which will allow you to cover a lot of ground and experience amazing bays, exciting tide changes, and excellent coastal views!


It is best to spend the night before and after the Abel Tasman Coastal Track in Takaka. Additionally, the Golden Bay DOC Visitor Centre can book the appropriate water taxis since they usually don’t advertise the route you need.

Drive to Wainui parking lot at Takapou Bay.

Day 1:
Takapou Bay to Awaroa Hut (22.6km, 7.5-8 hours)

Day 2:
Awaroa Hut to Bark Bay (13.5km, 4.5 hours). Be ready for your scheduled departure to sea taxi from Bark Bay to the stop nearest to where you parked. Expect to walk part of the way back the way you came (taking Gibbs Hill Track is an alternate way to get back to where you started).

Food (in Takaka):
1. Dangerous Kitchen- the only place you need to know here!

1. (High-end/moderate): Ratanui Lodge
2. (High-end/moderate): The Rocks Chalets
3. (Moderate): Mohua Motels
4. (Budget): Annies Nirvana Lodge YHA


The Details

An additional 4 to 5 days (Add-ons 20 and 21) will allow exploration of two North Island National parks. Add-on 20 involves a days drive to Picton (northern part of South Island) and a ferry to Wellington on day 1, and to spend a night in Egmont National Park on day 2.


Sailing on the Marlborough Sounds is stunning. Get your tickets online (book earlier than you’d expect if taking a car over) from Bluebridge Ferries or Interislander (choose based on sailing times and availability).

Day 1:
Drive from Nelson Lakes National Park to Picton (1.5 hours). If you have been using a rental car, they will arrange for the car to be left at the South Island ferry terminal and will have a car waiting for you at the North Island ferry terminal in Wellington. (If you plan to head back to South Island for any reason, they won’t do this type of arrangement so you would pay for the car to cross over on the ferry with you both times).

The ferry crossing is 3.5 hours ($50-75 NZD for passenger only).

Depending on the time you arrive in Wellington, you will either spend the night in the city or head straight to Egmont National Park (4 to 5 hour drive).

Day 2:
The best place to stay in Egmont National Park is at a hut of course! Depending on when you arrived, you can either take the direct hike up to the hut (1 to 3 hours) or complete the full Pouakai Circuit (13km, 5 to 6 hours to the Pouakai Hut) starting from the North Egmont Visitor Centre. Either way, you will end up at the Pouakai Hut; the difference is how much of the surrounding area you will see.

Go for a short walk to photograph reflections of Mt Taranaki in the Pouakai tarns when you arrive and also at sunset (especially if the wind is calm).

Day 3:
Depending on which way you got up, either hike down 1 to 3 hours back to your car or complete the circuit from Pouakai Hut to the North Egmont Visitor Centre via the Holly Hut (12km, 5 to 7 hours).

Optional (Photography):
Sunset and sunrise at the Pouakai tarns.

Lodging (in Egmont National Park):
1. (Moderate): Dawson Falls Mountain Lodge
2. (Budget): Egmont Visitor Centre recommended campground near Dawson Falls


The Details

Complete the famous Tongariro Crossing day hike with 2 days- one to drive from Egmont National Park (if you completed Add-on 20) to Tongariro National Park and hiking the second day.

Book a shuttle to the start of the one-way trail so that you will have your car waiting for you when you finish.


This day can start on Day 3 of Add-on 20 if you wanted to complete both North Island add-ons in 4 days rather than 5. This would mean that you drive 3.5 hours to Tongariro immediately after hiking down. Otherwise, take your time in the morning and take a day to drive across North Island to the next national park.

Day 1:
Drive from Egmont National Park to Tongariro National Park (3.5 hours). If you have some daylight when you arrive and are interested in tackling some mountain biking, rent a bike and try the Fishers Track, the 42 Traverse, Old Coach Road or Bridge to Nowhere trails.

With your shuttle to the trailhead for the morning arranged ($40 NZD), catch some sleep before a long day hike on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Day 2:
Drive to the end point of the trail and take the shuttle to the start.

Enjoy a full day on the trail with lots of other people and phenomenal views.

1. (High-end): Parkview Apartments
2. (Moderate): Tongariro Springs Boutique Suites
3. (Budget): YHA National Park


Whether you took Add-ons 20 or 21 to North Island or spent the remainder of time in the South Island, make your way to your departure city airport (Christchurch, Auckland, or Queenstown) in order to fly out the following day.