Essence of the South Island Tui

Essence of the South Island Tui

This is an action-packed adventure where you’ll explore some of New Zealand’s most iconic and remote wilderness. It works well if your vacation time is limited, since you can fly from North America on a Friday evening, sleep on the plane, and be back at work ten days later to share your photos and stories on Monday morning. For a great way to see the North Island too, combine this trip with our 11-day ‘Kauri’ (5-day ‘Kauri’ options available).

Trip Introduction

This is an action-packed adventure where you’ll explore some of New Zealand’s most iconic and remote wilderness. It works well if your vacation time is limited, since you can fly from North America on a Friday evening, sleep on the plane, and be back at work ten days later to share your photos and stories on Monday morning. For a great way to see the North Island too, combine this trip with our 11-day ‘Kauri’ (5-day ‘Kauri’ options available).

Activity level: The ‘Tui’ suits people of a wide range of fitness levels and outdoor experience, particularly if you enjoy a variety of activities. Typically hikes on the ‘Tui’ trip range between two and six hours to complete.


Routeburn Track
Mt Aspiring National Park
Franz Josef Glacier

Overnight cruise and sea kayak
Milford Sound

Te Araroa track to Wanaka

Scenic mountain flight to Siberia Hut
Jet boat in Mt Aspiring National Park
Explore Queenstown


Day 01

Arrive, hike in Arthur’s Pass

Most people leave the northern hemisphere on a Friday evening, arriving into Auckland early Sunday morning. You’ll lose a day crossing the dateline – but you get it back on the way home! It’s a short flight from Auckland to Christchurch in the South Island where we’ll meet you. We’ll then travel into the Southern Alps to hike Devils Punchbowl in Arthur’s Pass. The walk will take you through native beech forest to an awesome 131 metre (430 feet) waterfall so make sure you have your camera handy! From there, we’ll head down the coast to Franz Josef where we’ll stay the night. Nestled in the rainforest-clad foothills of the Southern Alps, Franz Josef is the heart of New Zealand glacier country.
Rainforest Retreat, Franz Josef (Lunch, Dinner)

Day 02

Hike near Franz Josef Glacier

With some 140 glaciers making their way down from the Southern Alps, this area is fittingly known as glacier country. Few sights equal the spectacle of two of these giant frozen rivers (Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers) imperceptibly grinding their way down through temperate rainforest to just 250 metres (820 feet) above sea level. We’ll spend most of the day near Franz Josef Glacier hiking up through the forest to either Alex Knob or Roberts Point, both of which give incredible views of the ice. These hikes can be inaccessible in wet weather, so we may opt to hike close to the terminal face of Fox Glacier, or around Lake Matheson.

Optional Heli-hike (add US$350 + tax)
A less strenuous, but outrageously scenic alternative to today’s hike is to heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier itself. After being fitted with crampons, ice axes and so on, you’ll board a turbine helicopter and fly towards the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, landing on the glacier at 1300 metres (4000 feet) above sea level. Led by specialist glacier guides, you’ll hike through the grand ice formations of the glacier, checking out its crevasses, seracs and tunnels – no previous experience is required! The constant movement of the glacier means every day is different, so your guides will cut steps in the ice to make the most of the conditions. At the end of your hike on the ice, you’ll take another helicopter ride out of the mountains and back to civilisation. The heli-hike is extremely popular, so we offer advance reservations with the helicopter operators and guiding company. At the time of booking, or up until one month before your trip, we can reserve a space for you, or you can leave your decision until the start of your trip and your guides will get you a spot if it’s available.

From Franz Josef, we’ll travel down the coast through lush forest to Haast, and over the divide to a small mountain village called Makarora, where we’ll enjoy some local fare.
Makarora Lodgings, Makarora (All meals)

Days 3 and 4

Mt Aspiring National Park options

This morning we’ll make our final preparations for our incredible flight into Mount Aspiring National Park, and true wilderness.

Option A, Siberia Valley Wilderness in Mt Aspiring National Park

Day 3 (afternoon) – Scenic flight, hike Lake Crucible

If you like the idea of staying in one of New Zealand’s most isolated mountain huts, then this option is for you (but let us know early as space is limited!) We’ll start with a stunning scenic flight alongside the snowy Southern Alps to the Siberia Valley airstrip, a short hike from our home for the night. After lightening your packs at the hut, you can hike up the trail to Lake Crucible, a cauldron-like glacial lake with fantastic views of the valley below. Tonight you’ll be served a candle-lit dinner in a picturesque National Park. This is the only night on the ‘Tui’ where your accommodation is basic, though it’s a true Kiwi experience and a lot of fun. Your load will be little more than a day pack – our guides will carry the lion’s share. You’ll be carrying a backpack with a sleeping bag, a few spare clothes and some food – no need for any more than that, although we have tents you can carry along if you’d prefer to camp out under the stars.
Siberia Hut, Mt Aspiring National Park (All meals)

Day 4 (morning) – Hike Siberia Valley, jet boat Wilkin River

After an early start, we spend the morning hiking to Kerin Forks, at the head of the Wilkin River, where we’ll be met by a jet boat for an exhilarating ride back to Makarora to meet up with the rest of the group for lunch.

Option B, Makarora Adventure in Mt Aspiring National Park

Day 3 (afternoon) – Scenic flight, hike Siberia Valley, jet boat Wilkin River

If you prefer accommodation with modern amenities instead of a mountain hut for the night, then this is the option for you. You’ll head out for a mind-blowing scenic flight into Mt Aspiring National Park, with a bird’s eye view of the lower Southern Alps, landing in the remote Siberia Valley. From here you’ll hike downstream along the Wilkin River, through beautiful silver beech (Nothofagus menziesii) forests to a jet boat rendezvous. Then it’s a thrilling ride back to Makarora for dinner and perhaps a well-earned drink at the Makarora pub.
Makarora Lodgings, Makarora (All meals)

Day 4 (morning) – Hike on Mt Shrimpton

This morning we’ll hike the Mt Shrimpton track. It’s a steep hike with a 750 metres (2500 feet) elevation gain, and wait until you see the views from above the tree-line! Alternatively, you can have a relaxing sleep in and spend your morning soaking up the mountain views.

Day 04

(afternoon) — Finish Mt Aspiring National Park options, cycle Hawea River Trail

After regrouping in Makarora, we’ll have a picnic lunch before taking a beautiful drive through spectacular glacier-carved valleys. The landscape changes rapidly from dense beech forests to semi-arid terrain. When we arrive at Lake Hawea, you’ll be fitted with a 21-speed front-suspension Avanti Black Thunder 7.1 mountain bike for a scenic ride along the Hawea River Trail. This gently undulating track follows the Hawea and Clutha Rivers through the rugged Central Otago landscape for 17 kilometres (10 miles) to the charming lakeside town of Wanaka. From Wanaka, it’s a short but dramatic journey over the Cardrona Saddle to Queenstown, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. You’ll sleep sweetly tonight at a lakefront hotel located in the heart of Queenstown.
Crowne Plaza Hotel, Queenstown (Breakfast, Lunch)

Day 05

Gondola ride, hike Ben Lomond or free day in Queenstown

Today you have two options – a full day hike or a free day to yourself. For those keen for an alpine hike, you’ll meet your guide at reception at 9am, ready to head up the Ben Lomond Track. To save our legs a little, we’ll take a short gondola ride up to Bob’s Peak, which is 450 metres (1476 feet) above Queenstown. From there we’ll head out along the trail through alpine tussock-land towards the summit of Ben Lomond. From this vantage point you’ll find yourself immersed in amazing views over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, which are themselves dwarfed by the surrounding mountains including Mt Aspiring. As an alternative, you can have a free day to explore on your own. Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand (if not the world!) and all the comforts of civilisation are packed into this tiny resort town: restaurants galore, sidewalk cafés, stylish lounge bars, day spas, and boutiques. You’ll also find incredible optional activities here including horse trekking, kayaking, fishing, winery tours, hang gliding, mountain biking, bungy jumping, jet boating and skydiving. Or you can just soak up the atmosphere or lounge about reading a book. Your guides will happily share their favourite haunts and point you in the right direction for your free day today.
Crowne Plaza Hotel, Queenstown (No meals incl.)

Day 06

Hike Fiordland National Park

This morning, we set off for our largest and perhaps most spectacular national park, Fiordland. Once within the park we’ll stop to stretch our legs at regular intervals, to explore some of the highlights of this World Heritage Area, including the Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes, Marian Gantry and The Chasm. The waterfalls viewed from the gantry will take your breath away! Once through the Homer Tunnel we’ll emerge at the top of a spectacular glacier-carved valley for a memorable descent to the shore of Milford Sound. Rudyard Kipling rated this fiord as the eighth natural wonder of the world and it is truly breathtaking, with steep granite walls plunging over a thousand metres to the Tasman Sea and waterfalls cascading into deep inky water. Tonight you’re in for an extra-special experience, as we’ll board the Milford Wanderer for an overnight cruise in the sheltered fiord. For those who’re keen, there’s time to explore a short section of the Milford Track – you’ll transfer on a smaller vessel to Sandfly Point and join a naturalist guide for approximately 1.5 hours, before rejoining the Wanderer in time for a sumptuous dinner!
Milford Wanderer Overnight Cruise, Milford Sound (All meals)

Day 07

Sea kayak Milford Sound, hike Routeburn Track

Having seen Milford Sound from the deck of a ship there’s one more unique activity we’ve got lined up for you, to experience the eighth natural wonder ‘Active Style’, gliding along in sea kayaks. You’ll cause very little disturbance to the water, being in kayaks, providing an excellent chance of meeting friendly fur seals and dolphins that are sometimes in the area. This trip is run by specialist kayak guides, and the paddling here is equally suitable for beginners and experts. After lunch, we’ll explore the Fiordland wilderness on foot again, with a hike to Key Summit on the famous Routeburn Track. The panoramic views are incredible from this vantage point and you’ll probably get to meet New Zealand’s notoriously cheeky and intelligent alpine parrot, the kea (Nestor notabilis). Tonight we’ll enjoy a celebratory dinner for the last night of the ‘Tui’.
Lake Manapouri Inn, Manapouri (All meals)

Day 08

Depart for home
After breakfast, we’ll return to Queenstown. This is the end of your ‘Tui’ trip and you’ll have had an exhilarating week. We’ll leave you buzzing with excitement, but feeling relaxed and refreshed as well! For a great way to see the North Island too, where you’ll experience Maori culture, pristine beaches and geothermal areas, combine this trip with our 11-day ‘Kauri’ (5-day ‘Kauri’ options available).

Useful Info

No Forced Single Supplement:

Most other travel companies charge all solo travellers a single supplement fee. We don’t! When it comes to accommodation, our trip fares are based on a twin-share rate, which means we’ll match you up with another person of the same gender to share a room with. If there’s no one suitable to share with, there’s no forced single supplement! Having said that, if you specifically request your own room, you can opt to pay the additional single supplement fee.

Trip Start:

On the first day of the trip we can either pick you up from the Heartland Hotel Cotswold in Christchurch at 9.30am, or at Christchurch airport in front of the Travel and Information desk at 10am

Trip End:

On the last day of the trip we can drop you off at Queenstown airport (ZQN) in time for the recommended flights below, or anywhere in Queenstown around lunch time.

Recommended flights:

Arrival: If you’re flying in on the first day of the trip, we recommend arriving in Christchurch before 9am on Sunday.
Departure: Flying out on the last day of the trip, we recommend departing from Queenstown any time after 12 noon. If you are considering alternative flight times, or an international departure from Queenstown, please check with us. International flights from Auckland airport (AKL) usually leave early evening, so if you’re heading back to North America, you’ll get home some time on Sunday, even though you left on Sunday evening! Flights back to Europe, of course, take a little longer.


The ‘Tui’ suits people of a wide range of fitness levels and outdoor experience, particularly if you enjoy a variety of activities. If you keep reasonably active and like to give things a go, you’re likely to enjoy the activities much more. Typically, hikes on the ‘Tui’ trip range between two and six hours to complete, and there are shorter alternatives to the longer hikes. If you’re used to pushing yourself further, we’ll keep you challenged as well. Please get in touch with us if you’d like to chat about the trip or activities.