routeburn track river hiking

The Grand Explorer - Fitness

How fit do you need to be for The Grand Explorer?

The Grand Explorer is an activity level 2-4* trip and is designed for you to have maximum flexibility. You can scale your activity level up to a 4, down to a 2, or anywhere in between every day so you can enjoy New Zealand at a pace that's right for you. Walk on well-formed tracks and enjoy a mixture of day walks and activities that showcase the best of New Zealand.

Activity Level 2*. These boots are made for walking...but not too far. You enjoy the outdoors and like to explore, but at a pace that's right for you. You like to take your time so you can enjoy your surroundings, learn from your guides and soak in the experience.

Activity Level 3*. You love staying active on your holiday and know that travel isn't a race, it's just as much about the journey as the destination! Fresh air, experiencing new activities with your guides and ending the day with a delicious meal and great conversation leave you feeling invigorated.

Activity Level 4*. You know sometimes the best views need to be earned and you love a wee bit of a challenge. You're comfortable spending a good portion of the day on your feet exploring on well-formed trails with your guides and moving towards your goal.

You can view a day-by-day breakdown of the activities and hikes below, and if you have any questions at all get in touch, we love to chat!

Day 1: Hike 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 for our 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.  

Kepler Track to Motarau Hut6

Day 2: Milford Sound short walks and cruise Milford Sound

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.

3.3 majestic waterfall milford sound

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! 

Day 3: Arrowtown, High Country Lakes, Aoraki/Mount Cook

Welcome to Arrowtown, our backyard! 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 hike along the Arrow River Trail, a favourite of us locals, 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. 

Arrow River Loop Walk

Day 4: Aoraki/Mt Cook Hiking, Hooker Valley

Today you'll have options to scale your activity level up or down to suit your preference so you can explore Aoraki/Mt Cook at a pace that's right for you. Whichever hikes you choose to tackle you'll be rewarded with incredible scenery in this UNESCO World Heritage area under the watchful gaze of Aoraki/Mt Cook – New Zealand's highest peak.

The Hooker Valley hike leads you on a well-marked trail up to the Hooker Glacier Lake complete with floating icebergs and incredible mountain views, including the imposing peak of Mount Cook. The trail is easy underfoot with three swing bridge crossings taking you over glacier-fed rivers and boulders. It's a good 3-4 hour walk with not too much of a climb, stopping for photos and snacks along the way. 

Hooker Valley3

For those seeking a little more activity, you'll also have the option of hiking the beautiful Red Tarns track. Offering phenomenal views of Aoraki/Mt Cook and the surrounding mountains the Red Tarns Track is one of Aoraki/Mt Cook's hidden gems. On a calm day, you'll enjoy incredible mirror-like reflections of Aoraki/Mt Cook that will leave a lasting memory of this magical spot.

Red tarns map

This afternoon we have a short walk (around 10-15 minutes) to the Tasman lake for a boat ride to the face of the Tasman Glacier.

Day 5: Hike Mount John, explore Mackenzie Country & Christchurch

This morning we’ll make the steady climb up Mount John though forest and tussock to the observatory at the top. As we walk, we’ll look out over 360-degree views across the impressive Mackenzie Basin flats and surrounding mountains and lakes. For those looking for a more relaxed option today, you can catch a ride with your guide to the top of Mt John and explore the Mt John Summit Loop. Either way, you'll be able to experience the dramatic views over glacially-fed Lake Tekapo. 

Lake Tekapo to Mt John Summit


Day 6: Whale Watching in Kaikoura

Today we head to Kaikoura for a boat trip out to the Kaikoura Peninsula where we'll be keeping watch for giant sperm whales breaching just off the coast. We may even spot playful Dusky dolphins and majestic Albatross birds!

Whale Watch Kaikoura

Day 7: Hike Kaikoura Peninsula and Wine Taste in Marlborough Sounds

This morning we'll hike the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. The trail hugs the coastline and gives you panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean underneath the backdrop of the Southern Alps. Keep an eye out for the New Zealand fur seals sunning themselves on the rocks and playing in the kelp, you may even catch up glimpse of their pups!

This afternoon 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 Sauvignon Blancs and a journey through the region isn't complete without a delicious lunch and a spot of wine tasting before we venture onward.

Kaikoura Peninsual Walkway

Lunch at Kinross Vineyard, Gibbston, Otago

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.

Torrent Bay Lodge

Day 9: Hike the Abel Tasman Track towards Awaroa

Your walk today follows the coastal track through cool native forest and reaches golden sand beaches, perfect for swimming. You can choose how much you'd like to walk today. 

Torrent Bay to Bark Bay - 2 hrs of walking (4.1km/2.5 miles)

The shortest walking option today is a 2 hr walk from Torrent Bay to Medlands Beach (4.1km/2.5 miles). You'll cross the photogenic swing bridge beside stunning Bark Bay Falls before taking some extra time to relax on the golden sands of Bark Bay. You'll then continue on to picturesque Medlands Beach where a water taxi will meet you to take you to Awaroa Homestead. You'll have plenty of time this afternoon to enjoy the beachfront lodge.

Torrent Bay to Bark Bay2

Torrent Bay to Tonga Quarry - 4 hrs of walking (11km/6.9mi)

If you're feeling up for a longer walk today, your hike also starts at Torrent Bay. You'll cross the photogenic swing bridge beside stunning Bark Bay Falls before stopping for lunch at the golden sand beach of Bark Bay. From Bark Bay you'll continue along the coastal track to Tonga Quarry where your water taxi will meet you to whisk you to Awaroa Homestead Lodge. You'll arrive at the lodge in the mid-afternoon with plenty of time to enjoy Awaroa beach. 

If you want more of a challenge then have a chat with your guides, we have options for up to 6 hours of walking today. 

Torrent Bay to Tonga Quarry

Day 10: Hike the Abel Tasman Track from Awaroa to Totaranui and water taxi to Kaiteriteri

This morning we'll walk from the Meadowbank Homestead on the Awaroa Inlet to Tōtaranui. You'll walk through mature native forests and along secluded beaches to the breathtaking white sand beach of Tōtaranui. You'll then board a comfortable cruise boat to travel the length of the golden Abel Tasman coast from Tōtaranui to Kaiteriteri, you can relax on the viewing decks and enjoy refreshments from the onboard cafe. If you'd prefer to spend your time relaxing at Kaiteriteri rather than walking we can arrange a water taxi to transport you from Awaroa to Kaiteriteri. 

Awaroa to Totaranui2

Day 11: Hike in Paparoa National Park and explore Pancake Rocks

Towering limestone cliffs, lush rainforest, the crashing ocean... you've entered what feels like Jurassic Park! We have a stunning hike today in the Paparoa National Park on the Paparoa Track, one of our Great Walks! We'll then make a stop for a walk at the iconic Pancake Rocks, a unique limestone rock formation on our rugged and beautiful West Coast.

Punakaiki Pororari river walk2

Day 12: Scenic helicopter into Mount Aspiring National Park, hike and wilderness jet boat

Today we are heading out on an adventure you will remember forever into a remote backcountry spot with out-of-this-world scenery. The day begins with a scenic helicopter ride into the Siberia Valley to a stunning lunch spot before we start our wild country hike. We'll be walking on a clearly marked trail through open tussock land and ancient rainforest over undulating terrain. The walk is around 7kms long (4.3 miles) and will take between 3-4 hours - we'll take our time to enjoy the scenery arriving at the rendezvous point in time to be picked up by our trusty jet boat driver for an exhilarating end to a wonderful day.

Siberia Valley elevation map

Day 13: Mou Waho Island

We'll take a boat ride across the picturesque Lake Wanaka to Mou Waho Island. The hike to the viewpoint on Mou Waho starts with a short climb (200m/650 feet). There’s a lot to see and learn so we'll take our time exploring with our local eco-guide. The return distance is around 5km (3 miles). We are on the island for around 2.5 hours in total.

Mou Waho Island2

Day 14: Routeburn Track Hiking

You can choose how far you want to walk today on this most famous of tracks. Most people take the hike to Routeburn Flats, a return walk of 13km (8 miles) over the day taking around 5-6 hours. The trail is easy underfoot the whole way, with a very gradual climb on the way in and downhill on the way back. We have all day to enjoy ourselves so there’s no hurry and you'll really enjoy the changing scenery as you make your way in. If you're feeling like taking today at a more relaxed pace, you can choose to explore the Routeburn Track to Forge Flat which is on the way to Flats Hut. 

Routeburn to flats hut2

Routeburn Track to Forge Flats