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Hiking New Zealand: 11 day West Coast Wilderness (Custom Tour)

11 day Hiking trip on the West Coast

11 day West Coast Wilderness

11 days & 10 nights 

D: River crossings, some uneven terrain, you need to be reasonably fit and enthusiastic

Your New Zealand hiking vacation on the west coast is packed full of highlights including a hike through beech forest, past limestone sinkholes and across tussock-covered mountain slopes in Kahurangi NP. Watch the antics of New Zealand fur seal pups at a breeding colony. Hike through lush rainforest in a limestone canyon, wade across crystal clear rivers, and explore glowworm caves in Paparoa National Park. Take a guided walk on the spectacular Fox Glacier and marvel at its crevasses and ice caves. Kayak the tranquil Okarito lagoon and watch native birds feeding in the shallows. Hike through podocarp forest to natural hotpools surrounded by mountain peaks in Westland NP. Throughout your New Zealand hiking vacation, you should keep watch for dolphins as you stroll along isolated beaches.

What to Bring:
New Zealand’s weather is changeable and we can experience extremely cold weather at any time of year, especially in the mountains. Our huts/camps vary in altitude from sea level to over 1000 metres. It is necessary to have warm clothing. Jeans are not suitable for hiking.

Essential Items

  • Hiking boots (not shoes)
  • Backpack (at least 60 litres capacity)
  • Backpack liner (plastic bag)
  • 3-season sleeping bag
  • Waterproof raincoat (gore-tex or similar)
  • Warm fleece/wool jersey (not cotton)
  • Shorts for hiking
  • Polypro/thermals – top & long-johns
  • 3 pairs of socks (they get wet)
  • Warm hat or balaclava
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Drink bottle (1 litre)
  • Spare shoes or sandals
  • Flashlight/head lamp
  • Insect repellent (sandflies like foreign blood)
  • Spare set of clothes

Optional items: Gaiters, binoculars, gloves/mittens, earplugs, walking poles, camera.

We supply: Therm-a-rest sleeping mat, tents, cooking equipment, plates/cutlery, first aid kit, safety equipment and maps.

Luggage: We allow space for 120 litres per person (one large pack plus one day pack). You may be required to forward excess luggage if you exceed this. Any gear you do not need while hiking can be locked in the vehicle. Hiking New Zealand accepts no responsibility for security of your luggage. We highly recommend travel insurance.

This is a sample itinerary of what we can offer for custom groups.

Day 1.

Monday - Join tour in Nelson - 11km/4 hours hiking
Your tour begins in Nelson, in the north of the South Island. After collecting food supplies, we drive to Motueka and up to Flora Saddle (at 1000 metres). We have an early lunch and organise our packs for the first hike. Leaving our vehicle behind, we hike through beech forest, following a stream, in the tussock-covered tablelands of Kahurangi National Park. Gold was discovered here in the late 1850’s and tracks began to be laid, and in many areas gold finds weren’t as rich as expected. Scientists were attracted to the unique flora of the Heaphy area and conservationists managed to get this area made into a scenic reserve in 1915. Tonight we stay in an old goldminer’s rock shelter, a great place to get to know each other with introductions around a cosy campfire.

Day 2.

Tuesday - Buller Gorge - 15km/7 hours hiking
We have an early start this morning, and after a quick breakfast we continue across the Tablelands to explore a New Zealand karst landscape of sinkholes and caves. This whole area is of geological interest as it is in a range of marble and limestone hills, the interior being riddled with potholes. We climb up through mossy forest to the bushline and then onwards to Gordon’s Pyramid (1489 metres). We continue across a basin of crystalline marble karst to the shoulder of Mount Arthur and, if weather and time permit, fitter members can trek to the summit (1795 metres) for panoramic views of the Nelson region. We return to Flora Saddle and drive to a character cottage overlooking the Buller Gorge where we camp for the night.

Day 3.

Wednesday - Paparoa National Park - 8km/4 hours hiking
This morning we head out to Cape Foulwind and visit a breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals - once almost hunted to extinction. We then turn south to the old gold-rush town of Charleston for lunch at a beautiful cove. This pretty town used to boast over 80 hotels in the late 1860's! After relaxing here for a short while, we begin our hike up a spectacular limestone river canyon in Paparoa National Park. Established in 1987, it covers over 30,000 hectares. It has natural attractions including mountains, with limestone cliffs and caves, rivers and wilderness areas. During our hike we learn river-crossing techniques, so prepare to get your boots wet. We collect firewood along the way and set up camp under the massive Ballroom Overhang – a fluviatile cave, carved by river-scouring.

Day 4.

Thursday - Punakaiki - 12km/6 hours hiking
Today we have a chance to explore the nearby limestone canyon and caves (some people may want to swim) with stalactites and stalagmites, cave wetas (large wingless insects), glowworms and the tallest moss in the world (Dawsonia superba). We then hike along the historic Inland Pack Track to Bullock Creek, and arrive back in Punakaiki by mid-afternoon. Visit the Pancake Rocks. These 30 million-year-old limestone rocks have formed into what look like immense layers of pancakes. When the tide is high, or the weather rough, the water surges into caverns below the rocks and squirts through mighty blowholes, bearing a great resemblance to natural geysers.Return to camp/cabin accommodation.

Day 5.

Friday - Okarito - 5km/2 hours hiking
Take an optional stroll along the coast to check out sea caves that were once used as shelter by early Maori. Tides permitting, you can climb on to a headland. Driving south, we follow the coast to Greymouth, arriving late morning. Here we stock up on food and drop off/meet fellow hikers before continuing on down the coast to the peaceful coastal village of Okarito, where the rainforest meets the sea. For dinner tonight we enjoy a hangi feast (the traditional Maori way of cooking food in an underground earth oven) and everyone can be involved in the preparation. A relaxing evening spent sitting around the beach bonfire listening to the pounding surf. Camp by the beach.

Day 6.

Saturday - Okarito - 10km/4 hours kayaking
This morning there is the option of taking a guided kayaking trip (from $55) to catch the in-going tide into the Okarito Lagoon (the largest unmodified wetland in New Zealand) to see birdlife - including white herons, black swans and tui. We explore a river delta and channels into Kahikatea (white pine) forest, our tallest forest type - it can grow up to 60 metres high. For people not kayaking there is an excellent four-hour coastal hike (unguided), with dramatic views of the Southern Alps. Free time in the afternoon to wander the remote beach or hike to a viewpoint of this World Heritage Park, with snow-capped mountains, rainforest and coastal wetlands. Spend a second night camping in this special location.

Day 7.

Sunday - Fox Glacier - 12km/5 hours hiking
It's just a short drive this morning through to Fox Glacier, one of the few places in the world where glaciers extend down into the rainforest. You have the option of taking a guided hike (from $123* - optional) on this dynamic glacier where you will explore seracs, ice caves and crevasses. Stunning views of New Zealand's highest peaks dominate the vista at the head of the glacier. Free time in the afternoon to relax in one of the local cafés in this charming village. There is also the option to join the guide for a two hour hike around Lake Matheson or taking a stunning helicopter flight (additional cost) over the glacier and surrounding mountains and out to the coast. Stay in local cabin accommodation.

Day 8.

Monday - Welcome Flat - 18km/7 hours hiking
Your three day hike begins today up the Copland Valley, through podocarp forest (relatively unchanged in 70 million years). The hike will take us across swing-bridges and mountain streams, and we often see the endangered and very primitive blue duck. The pleasant hike through the forest and alongside the river finally ends at Welcome Flat, where we stay in a mountain hut. We have the opportunity of relaxing our weary muscles with a soak in natural hot pools with views of 3000 metre peaks - the best in New Zealand!

Day 9.

Tuesday - Welcome Flat - 8km/4 hours hiking
Today you can either rest or explore this alpine valley. A short off-track hike, with some boulder-hopping, takes us up to beautiful waterfalls high in the alps for a refreshing shower. On our walk, you may be lucky enough to see amazing views of Aoraki/Mount Cook (3754 metres), New Zealand’s highest mountain. We return to the hut via Welcome Flat’s alpine grasslands. Tonight we prepare dinner and afterwards spend another evening immersed in the incredible hot pools - one is too hot, one just right, the other just warm!

Day 10.

Wednesday - Moeraki - 18km/6 hours hiking
This morning we hike down the Copland Valley and drive south through the remote West Coast region to Moeraki. We stop at Ship Creek to look for Hector's dolphins and take the opportunity to walk through coastal ecosystems of dunes, swamp and podocarp forest. Our last night of the tour is spent in cabins or tents at Haast. For dinner we enjoy a feast of local salmon and visit the pub for a celebratory drink.

Day 11.

Thursday - Tour ends in Queenstown - 3-8km/2-5 hours hiking
Today marks the end of the journey. Turning inland, we drive over the Haast Pass, snaking along beside the wide Haast River. The pass was only opened in 1965. There are some great hikes we can choose from, a climb to an alpine hut high on the slopes of Mount Brewster (if the legs are not too weary). We stop at Lake Wanaka for lunch, a swim and a clean-up of our vehicle. This lake is so deep that, though its surface is at an altitude of 345 metres, its bottom lies 65 metres below sea level. After this enjoyable break we head over the Crown Range to Queenstown, arriving early evening where the tour ends.

Departs: 8am, Nelson i-SITE Visitor Centre, Cnr Halifax and Trafalfar Sts, Mondays

Returns: approx 7pm, Queenstown

Departure dates on group request (minimum four required).

Extra costs for optional activities:
Sea kayaking: NZ$60

Fox Glacier Heli-hike: NZ$399