The Grand Explorer
The ultimate way to explore the South Island of New Zealand.
The Grand Explorer Route Map
The Grand Explorer Day-by-Day Itinerary
Day 1 – Welcome & day walk on the Kepler Track
After meeting your guides and fellow travellers in Queenstown, you’ll embark on your long-awaited New Zealand adventure. This morning we'll head to Fiordland National Park and your first Great Walk, The Kepler Track. The Kepler Track is renowned for its vivid green moss, native beech forest, and stunning mountain ranges. We’ll walk the section from Rainbow Reach up to Moturau Hut following the Waiau River through beech forest and wetlands until we emerge out onto the spectacular viewpoint at the lakeside Moturau Hut. Cast your eyes out over beautiful Lake Manapouri, framed against a backdrop of Fiordland peaks for a spectacular welcome, or welcome back, to New Zealand! Afterwards, we’ll head to our accommodation in Te Anau for a delicious meal and the chance to rest up before tomorrow’s adventures.
Tonight we stay at Distinction Te Anau*
Fiordland National Park
Day 2 – Cruise Milford Sound & explore Fiordland National Park
After waking up in Te Anau, it’s time for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, seeing Milford Sound! You’ll have time to appreciate Milford’s undeniable grandeur as we cruise to the mouth of the fiord leading out into the wild Tasman Sea. Whether the sun’s shining brightly or the sky’s clouded over, the beauty of Milford Sound never disappoints. In a perfect world, it would be raining heavily as that’s when the fiord’s hundreds of waterfalls are at their most powerful. Get close enough to feel the spray on your face as the thundering torrents cascade down the vertical rock faces – it’s an exhilarating experience.
This afternoon we’ll explore some of the shorter walks in Fiordland National Park including the Milford Sound Foreshore Walk, Mirror Lakes, and a stop at the Homer Tunnel to meet the cheeky Kea birds!
Tonight we stay at Distinction Te Anau again*
Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
Day 3 – Explore Arrowtown, High Country Lakes and Aoraki/Mount Cook
After a relaxed start this morning, we'll make our way to the gorgeous mountain setting of Arrowtown. Arrowtown is a quaint gold mining town bursting with history. We'll enjoy a walk along the Arrow River Trail and have the chance to explore the Chinese Goldmining Settlement. This afternoon we’ll journey to the heart of the Southern Alps, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, an area of vast snow-covered mountains and glacier-fed lakes. This National Park is truly a jewel in New Zealand’s crown. Named in honour of our highest peak, the majestic mountains tower above bright turquoise lakes surrounded by vast fields of golden tussock. With a settlement population of less than 100 people and building restrictions enforced, Aoraki/Mount Cook offers not only a feast for the eyes, but a rare tranquillity that soothes the soul.
Tonight we stay at The Hermitage Hotel*
Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
Glacier Boat Trip
Day 4 – Glacier Boat Tour and options in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
Today we have a full day to explore Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. Some of New Zealand’s best alpine hikes are found here. Surrounded by the peaks where Sir Edmund Hillary honed his mountaineering skills before successfully summiting Mount Everest with Tenzing Norgay in 1953, you’ll want to explore for yourself. Mount Cook, or Aoraki “the Cloud Piercer” as named by the Maori people, stands proudly at its heart rising up to the imposing height of 3724 metres (over 12,000 feet). You have a choice of activities this morning including hiking, exploring the village or a glacier heli-hike for truly mind-blowing views. Whichever option you choose you won’t be disappointed. This afternoon a scenic glacier boat cruise takes us across the terminal lake to the ancient ice face of the Tasman Glacier, affording us incredible up-close views – keep your camera at the ready!
Tonight we stay at The Hermitage Hotel again*
Day 4 Optional Add-ons
Below are some of the optional add-ons you can also enjoy:
Tasman Glacier Heli-Hike
Climb aboard a chopper and land high up on the Tasman Glacier, where you’ll don crampons and explore the dramatic ice caves and clear blue glacial shards with a specialist guide.NZD$795
Day 5 - Explore Tekapo & Christchurch
Today’s journey takes us from mountain to ocean as we head through the fertile plains of Canterbury towards the East Coast. This morning we'll explore the lakeside town of Tekapo. The unreal colour of Lake Tekapo contrasts brilliantly against our highest peaks in the distance, creating the perfect backdrop for photos you’ll treasure in years to come. We'll take a walk along the lakefront before heading through to Christchurch in the afternoon. The city of Christchurch is a lovely spot with a mix of green parks and state-of-the-art architecture. The Avon River weaves its way through a city in the process of regeneration, with plenty to see including the colourful Spanish Mission architecture of New Regent Street, curious cardboard cathedral and lush botanical gardens.
Tonight we stay at Quest Cathedral Junction*
Day 6 - Whale watching in Kaikoura
Just north of Christchurch lies the small coastal town of Kaikoura. The Kaikoura Peninsula is a striking area set on the edge of a deep continental shelf where towering cliffs meet an ocean floor that plunges even further in the other direction. The nutrient-rich water and startling topography has created a unique mecca for an abundance of marine life. Whales, dolphins, fur seals and more are thriving in ideal conditions and are a regular sight in the waters off the mainland. This afternoon we'll board a purpose-built catamaran and head out on the water to search for whales. Using special hydrophones (underwater microphones) our captain will listen out for the whale clicks and songs that will lead us to where the whales are breaching.
Tonight we stay at Sudima Kaikoura*
Day 7 - Marlborough Sounds wine tasting and Nelson
Today we'll follow the coastline northwest through the Marlborough Sounds to the golden beaches of Nelson, the gateway to the hikers’ paradise of Abel Tasman National Park. Marlborough is world-famous for its zesty Savignon Blancs and a journey through the region isn't complete without a delicious lunch and a spot of wine tasting before we venture onward. Once we arrive in Nelson you’ll have an afternoon to explore this coastal town which is known as one of the sunniest places in New Zealand!
Tonight we stay in Nelson*
Abel Tasman National Park
Day 8 - Explore Nelson and water taxi to Torrent Bay
Today is yours to enjoy as you wish. Nelson, “the sunniest place in NZ”, is famous for its arts scene, award-winning wines, craft beers and fruit orchards, with plenty to keep you entertained within walking distance. Most of our guests are happy to spend a relaxed day exploring Nelson, browsing the shops and galleries, strolling along the beach or reading a book – it’s a lovely place to re-energise yourself for the rest of your adventure. There are over 350 local craftspeople and artists creating Maori, traditional and contemporary art in the area, so it’s also a chance to discover what inspires New Zealanders creatively.
Later in the day, you’ll head to Abel Tasman National Park where you'll board a water taxi from Kaiteriteri to the exclusive Torrent Bay Lodge, which is only accessible by boat or foot. Here you can relax on the beachfront sundeck, enjoy a lovely meal and stargaze before bed!
Tonight we stay at Torrent Bay Lodge*
Day 9 - Walk on the Abel Tasman Track between Torrent Bay and Awaroa
Today you will embark on a truly stunning walk from Torrent Bay to Awaroa, where you’ll spend the night. You’ll follow the coastal track through lush native forest, before reaching more of the regions much-loved golden sand beaches. Today we have a relaxed and an active option so you can choose to walk as much or as little as you want to.
This evening you'll stay beachfront again at Awaroa Meadowbank Homestead. This lodge is deep in the heart of Abel Tasman National Park and is only accessible by foot or boat. The original homestead dates from 1884 and the recently built lodge is set amongst the historic camelia and rhododendron gardens.
Tonight we stay at Awaroa Meadowbank Homestead*
Abel Tasman National Park
Day 10 - Walk Awaroa to Totaranui and water taxi to Kaiteriteri
Leaving Awaroa by foot, you’ll spend the morning passing through secluded beaches and native forest on your way to the clear waters of Totaranui. From here, a water taxi will transport you back to Kaiteriteri where you’ll swap sea legs for wheels and begin your journey southwest to the seaside village of Punakaiki in the heart of Paparoa National Park.
Limestone and eons of time are responsible for most of Paparoa National Park’s impressive landscape. For thousands of years, water ran over the relatively soft rock forming a topography known as karst. Characterized by deep river canyons, sculpted mountain ridges and an extensive network of caves and sinkholes, Paparoa’s landscape is covered in a lush layer of thick green rainforest.
Tonight we stay at Punakaiki Beachside Resort*
Paparoa National Park
Day 11 - Hike Paparoa National Park and explore Pancake Rocks
With its towering limestone cliffs and lush vegetation, this area feels like something straight out of Jurassic Park. We’ll hike the Porarari Loop Track this morning through Paparoa National Park, a visually rich area made up of dense sub-tropical forest and limestone cliff gorges. You’ll also have the chance to check out an interesting geographical phenomenon in the town of Punakaiki – the curious-looking but aptly named Pancake Rocks. The surge of the incoming sea is forced into chambers creating a geyser-like explosion through rock blowholes. The unusual limestone formations, overlaid with soft mud and clay, have been forged over millions of years by the immense pressure of the sea, wind and rain, creating the pancake effect we see today. After our hike, we’ll visit the quirky town of Hokitika, famous for its greenstone carvings and jewellery before continuing our journey along the coast to Franz Josef.
Tonight we stay at Scenic Hotel Franz Josef*
Mt Aspiring National Park
Day 12 - Scenic helicopter, hike and jetboat in Mount Aspiring National Park
Get ready for a real Kiwi backcountry experience - this is the stuff legendary holiday tales are made of! We’ll begin the day with a scenic helicopter ride deep into the heart of Mt Aspiring National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. After a tasty picnic lunch, we'll begin our walk along a well-marked track through the thick forest linking the Siberia Valley to the Wilkin Valley wilderness below. Be on the lookout for native birds along the way and the many photo opportunities as you immerse yourself in nature. On reaching the Wilkin River at Kerin Forks, jet boats will be waiting to take us for a thrilling 30-minute ride down the Wilkin and Makarora Rivers back to the Makarora Village. Get a whole different perspective on this dramatic valley as you watch the landscape rush by and feel the wind in your hair.
Tonight we stay at Edgewater Wanaka*
Mou Waho Island
Day 13 – Lake Wanaka boat cruise and hike in Mou Waho Island wildlife reserve
This morning you'll have free time to explore the peaceful lakeside town of Wanaka before we take an afternoon cruise across picturesque Lake Wanaka to the tiny island wildlife sanctuary of Mou Waho. Guided by an experienced ecologist, we’ll explore one of the most magical spots on the South Island. Close to the centre of Lake Wanaka is Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve, accessible by a 35-minute boat ride. Accompanied by our favourite eco warrior and long-time local guide, we’ll walk a well-formed track that gently climbs through native bush to the top of Tyrwhitt Peak. Just before the top we come to Arethusa Pool, a small lake on the island, with yet more islands in it – very intriguing. From our vantage point there’s a sweeping 360-degree view of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Tonight we stay at Edgewater Wanaka*
Day 14 - Day walk on the Routeburn Track
This morning we'll head over the Crown Range and towards Glenorchy at the head of Lake Wakatipu. This is one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand and you’ll be greeted by mountain peaks and endless impressive vistas before we reach another of our fine Great Walks, the Routeburn Track. Your guide will fill you in on the local history and special flora and fauna of the area as you walk through beautiful native beech forest alongside a crystal clear glacial river. Our destination today is the expansive open meadow at Routeburn Flats, where you’ll enjoy a picnic lunch alongside the Routeburn River.
This afternoon we'll finish our adventure in Queenstown, and it’s time to say goodbye to your guides, travel companions and new-found friends as we drop you at the airport or your accommodation. If you’re joining us to explore the North Island on our Sweet North trip, we’ll ensure a smooth transition for you. If not, we hope to see you again soon in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Photos of the The Grand Explorer
Lake Matheson, West Coast
5. Heli in Siberia Valley
Abel Tasman National Park
Jetboating, Mt Aspiring National Park
Paparoa National Park
Hooker Valley, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
West Coast Sunsets
Wine Tasting, Marlborough Sounds
The Grand Explorer Accommodation
Punakaiki Beachfront Resort
Edgewater Resort wanaka
Torrent Bay Lodge
Frequently asked questions
It's very important to us that you have all your questions answered about The Grand Explorer trip. We’ve collected some of the questions we get asked most often and answered them below. Or visit our general FAQ page here for more answers!
And if you still can’t find the answers you need, give us a call or send us an email and we’ll help you out!
What is the accommodation like on The Grand Explorer trip?
The Grand Explorer trip takes advantage of our best accommodation, staying in hotel accommodation throughout. You will have a spacious room with an ensuite every night on this trip. Some of these places are so special we stay more than one night! Each night is a treat in itself. Click here for a detailed look at the accommodation on this trip.
How fit do I need to be for The Grand Explorer trip?
On The Grand Explorer, there is never any time pressure. This is New Zealand in comfort and style so you can explore at a pace that's right for you. If you are generally active and enjoy physical hobbies like walking, cycling, golf, tennis or dancing then you will enjoy the walks and activities on this trip. On The Grand Explorer trip, you will walk between 1 to 4 hours each day on well-formed tracks. The average distance walked each day is 7km/4.3mi and with your two New Zealand guides you'll always have options to scale your activity level up or down to suit your preference. You can find details of each activity and elevation maps for each hike on The Grand Explorer Activity Levels Page.
What time does The Grand Explorer trip start and finish?
Pick up information
We can pick you up on the first day of your trip in Queenstown at:
9.00am from the lobby of our joining hotel – Ramada Queenstown Central
9.30am from the Queenstown International Airport
Drop off information
We can drop you off on the last day of your trip in Queenstown at:
5.30pm at your hotel in the city
6.00pm at Queenstown Airport
When booking your flights, please make sure you:
Arrive on day one to Queenstown no later than 8:30am International 9:00am Domestic
Depart on the final day from Queenstown no earlier than 8.00pm International 7.00pm Domestic
**If your travel plans fall outside of these times please check with us before you book.
What's included in The Grand Explorer trip?
Local naturalist guides on the Abel Tasman Track Track, Mou Waho island, Kaikoura Whale Watching and the Glacier Explorers tour in Mt Cook.
Two experienced New Zealand Trails guides.
All meals except dinner the night you arrive in Kaiteriteri and lunch and dinner on your free day in Kaiteriteri when guests like to explore the local restaurants and cafés.
Activities, hikes and guides as shown in the itinerary.
Helicopter and jetboat transfers.
Accommodation as indicated in your final itinerary.
All local taxes and gratuities.
New Zealand is not a tipping culture. If you'd like to show your appreciation to your guides with a tip it is very much appreciated but not an expectation on our trips.
What's not included on The Grand Explorer trip?
Airfares to and from New Zealand. Airfares between the North and South Island of New Zealand if you are joining our Sweet North trip.
Non-alcoholic or alcoholic beverages.
Will I have WiFi or internet access throughout the trip?
Yes – we are well connected in New Zealand! You will have access to the internet, at your accommodation whether free or for a small fee, during your trip. While New Zealand is quite tech-savvy the wifi at some accommodation may not be of the speed you are used to back home.
What are the bathroom facilities like on The Grand Explorer trip?
You will have a spacious room with an ensuite every night on your trip. On travel days our guides will regularly stop at bathroom facilities in between destinations and on the walking trails there are basic toilets available at regular intervals
Tell me about your safety standards.
Safety is always our top priority. We take great pride in our impeccable safety record and our safety management plans. Your Guide is a highly experienced outdoors professional who is first aid qualified and fully equipped with a satellite phone, personal locator beacon and first aid kit. Our trips have direct access to our highly experienced operations team and other outside services 24 hours a day.
What National Parks and Great Walks does The Grand Explorer trip visit?
The Grand Explorer trip visits 6 of New Zealand’s National Parks - Paparoa, Mt Aspiring, Fiordland, Aoraki/Mt Cook, Westland Tai Poutini and Abel Tasman. You will have the opportunity to hike on four Great Walks, the Paparoa Track, Routeburn Track, Abel Tasman and Kepler Track, as well as experiencing the Franz Josef Glacier walk, Hooker Valley, Milford Sound and the eco sanctuary of Mou Waho island.
What kind of people will be on The Grand Explorer trip?
Our guests are like-minded people from Australia, the UK, Canada and America, and come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. On average, we have a 50/50 split between men and women, with several single travellers on each trip as well as couples and friends travelling together. The Grand Explorer is also popular with guests that have travelled with us before.
Do I have to pay extra if I'm travelling by myself?
There is no additional charge for solo travellers on our trips. If you are a solo traveller, as many of our guests are, we will team you up with another solo traveller of the same sex to share with for the duration of your trip. If you would like to guarantee your own room as a solo traveller, then there is the option to pay a solo supplement.
Do you need any outdoors experience for The Grand Explorer trip?
You certainly don’t need any technical outdoors experience to enjoy your New Zealand Trails trip. If you enjoy being out and about in the outdoors and are a generally active person who enjoys hobbies like walking, cycling, golf, tennis or dancing then you will have no problems at all with the walks and activities on your trip.
How many people will be on my trip?
We run small-group tours, so along with your guides, there are typically 14 guests in your group. We have found keeping our group sizes small is the perfect way to make sure everyone has the best time.
What does going on a guided trip entail?
Coming on a guided trip with us means we take care of everything! Our small group tours have a maximum of 14 guests per trip along with your local, New Zealand guide and are designed to make it easy, fun and safe for you to explore on your New Zealand trip of a lifetime.
Before your trip:
You’ll have a dedicated guest service team member to assist you every step of the way. From advising what you should pack to choosing the best flights to arrive for your trip on time and helping organize pre and post-trip accommodation. No matter when you book or how far in advance you plan your travel, our team is here to help.
During your trip:
On your trip, you’ll have two dedicated local New Zealand guides who will take care of everything. They provide food, snacks and safety information, as well as arrange all of your activities and make sure you get where you need to be safely and on time. They’ll also share their extensive knowledge of our country and culture and provide flexibility so you can enjoy New Zealand at the pace that’s right for you.
After your trip:
Your dedicated guest service team member will be there to support you. From helping book accommodation and advising on the best flights to sharing local knowledge on other activities you might enjoy or the best places to eat. You’ll also receive all the photos from your trip that your guides have collected along the way so you can cherish the memories of your adventure.
Can you help with pre/post-trip accommodation and flights?
Yes, we can! Our dedicated Guest Services team member Becky will be here to help every step of the way. She can advise you on which flights you should book to ensure you arrive for your trip on time, the best accommodation for you pre and post-trip and everything in between. She’s here to make sure your travel experience is seamless and stress-free.
Redefine adventure as you explore the very best of the South Island in comfort and style on the Grand Explorer trip. Set foot on New Zealand’s Great Walks, explore six National Parks and delight in the tranquillity of remote wilderness locations. Throughout, you’ll enjoy true Kiwi hospitality, fine cuisine, local wine and all the comforts of home in beautifully appointed accommodations.
Combine this trip with our Sweet North for the best of both the North and South islands over 19 days.
With limited departures, places in our Grand Explorer trip fill up quickly. You can check trip dates and availability below using the handy date picker.
Thinking of visiting New Zealand in the next year or so?
We only run a limited number of departures each year and as you can see below, they fill up months in advance! Most of our guests lock in their trips at least a year out from travelling so they don't miss out on their preferred dates. If you have specific dates in mind, let’s chat!
The Grand Explorer – ready to book?
Ready to start your New Zealand adventure?
Your New Zealand 'Trip of a Lifetime' - with New Zealand's best walks, very comfortable accommodation, great food, iconic New Zealand activities in a friendly, small group setting led by your New Zealand guide.
✓ Local New Zealand guide, small group
✓ All inclusive
✓ All food (except where noted on itinerary), transportation and activities
✓ Private ensuite accommodation
✓ Local guides
✓ Helicopter and jetboat transfers
Want more information?
Get a free New Zealand Trails brochure!
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If you’re still not sure, or just want to hear a friendly voice, contact Jodi!Email: email@example.com