How fit do you need to be for the Masterpiece trip?
Below you'll find a summary of the hikes and activities included on the Masterpiece trip. Most of the people that join our small group guided tours have questions about how fit they need to be and the answer is that as long as you like to get outside and stretch your legs once in a while, you'll enjoy every bit of this trip. There's certainly nothing here that requires you to be an expert in the outdoors, but if you are you won't be bored either.
We rate this trip as 'moderately active' and the graphs and descriptions below give you an overall picture of the distances with elevation gains. With our small groups of no more than 14 people and 2 guides, we offer you plenty of options and flexibility. To make sure everybody gets what they want, we always have easier or more challenging options available so that you can choose how much or little activity you enjoy each day.
Day 1: Bike Queenstown cycle trail
After meeting your guide and group in Queenstown, we'll pick up our bikes in the quaint gold mining town of Arrowtown and ride along a purpose-built cycle trail next to the Kawarau River towards the world’s first commercial bungy bridge, which is still in operation today, so you can watch a few people jump! We'll continue our ride past homesteads, meadows, mountains and vineyards, and it’s important to stress that the cycling is suitable for all levels of biking experience. Experts can go hard, others can meander, and if cycling is not for you, we have plenty of other options available too.
Day 2: Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park hiking options
There are easy, harder and extreme options on offer for you today! It's up to you but whichever hike 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 least physically challenging option is the 8km (5 miles) Hooker Valley Trail, which is one of the South Island's most popular trails in glacier country. When you look down from the impressive swing bridges to the rushing river below that leads you all the way to an alpine lake complete with icebergs, you'll understand why. For flower lovers, the Hooker Valley is one of the best places to see Mount Cook lilies in season. It's still a 3-4 hour return journey in an alpine region so something you'll feel proud of achieving at the end of the day.
The most physically challenging options are either a steep but spectacular hike up to Sealy Tarns or for a real challenge push those legs on up further to Mueller Hut via the Mueller Ridge for absolutely spectacular alpine views. The Sealy Tarns are reached via a steady and steep climb on a well-built track (think: Stairmaster) but the views are worth every drop of sweat, even by South Island standards.
If you continue on further to the Mueller Hut you'll be well into alpine elevations and you'll be rewarded with jaw-dropping views normally reserved for technical mountaineers. Serious bragging rights if you go for this one! And probably burning thighs the next day.
Day 3: 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.
Day 4: Explore Christchurch & Kaikoura Peninsula
After a relaxed breakfast, the morning is yours to explore the city of Christchurch and its many delights. Christchurch is undergoing an urban regeneration project but still retains a garden-like quality with much to see and do. This afternoon we’ll travel north a short distance to the seaside settlement of Kaikoura on the East Coast, where we’ll stay the night.
Exploration is a little more urban today - gardens, coffee and more.
Day 5: Kayaking Queen Charlotte Sound
After arriving in Picton we will gear up, get a full briefing and take the calm waters for a paddle across Queen Charlotte Sound to our accommodation for the night at the remote and beautiful Lochmara Lodge, situated right on the beach in a peaceful cove. What a way to arrive! It's a gentle paddle in double kayaks with all the appropriate safety gear and you'll be accompanied by professional local kayaking guides. We frequently encounter the local dolphins as we make our way across the sound. Once you are at the lodge there are plenty of walking opportunities if you still have the energy to burn.
Day 6: Kayak Queen Charlotte Sound and Marlborough Vineyard
The paddle is the reverse of yesterday, so of course, we see things differently in the morning light and it's another opportunity to say "Kia Ora" to the wildlife!
Day 7 – Explore Nelson
Today is yours to enjoy as you wish. Nelson, “the sunniest place in NZ”, 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. Or if you’d prefer something a little more active, we can help you book a tour to explore Abel Tasman National Park on foot or by kayak.
For today, this beautiful seaside town is your playground.
Day 8: Lake Rotoiti Hike and Tauranga Bay Seal Colony
We’ll start the day with a hike alongside the beautiful Lake Rotoiti in the shade of native beech forest. You can choose between 1 and 3-hour options depending on your energy levels.
Day 9: Hike Paparoa National Park
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 - an easy underfoot loop track that takes around 2 hours and then a short hike to see the famous Pancake Rocks.
Day 10: Kayak Okarito Lagoon and Hike to Fox Glacier lookout
We'll be up first thing this morning for a paddle out onto the calm waters of Okarito lagoon to spot some of the birdlife attracted to New Zealand's largest unmodified coastal wetland. The paddling is flat. The incredible alpine scenery though is anything but! You will have a full briefing on what to expect and a suitable route to take before embarking on your adventure and there is a motorised safety boat on hand at all times.
Later on, we'll hike at the Fox Glacier for a view of this river of ice pushing through the rainforest. Fox Glacier tumbles 13km from the Southern Alps ending in lush rainforest at just 300m above sea level on the West Coast. This is one of the most accessible glaciers there is so we’ll easily be able to get close enough for a great view of the terminal face and learn about the geology and surrounding area along the way. It's a short walk (1-1.5 hours) on a well-maintained trail.
Day 11: Wanaka Hiking options
You can choose from a selection of hikes today or you can opt to stay back and explore the alpine village of Wanaka. If you're looking to fill those lungs with fresh mountain air again, we have some rewarding short hikes lined up for you. There's a short circular walk to visit the pretty Diamond Lake, which will have you out for around 45 minutes, or you can take on a 3-hour return hike like a pro for a fantastic viewpoint offering incredible views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains.
Day 12: Mt Nicholas farm, Mavora Lakes & Milford Sound overnight boat
Today we’ll catch a boat across Lake Wakatipu to Mt Nicholas Station to learn about the region’s farming history. From there we head into Fiordland National Park where we’ll spend a comfortable night aboard a boat on world-famous Milford Sound.
This is an exceptional way to get 'up close and personal' with this natural wonder.
Day 13: Hike the Routeburn Track (Key Summit)
After disembarking our overnight boat on Milford Sound, we’ll head off to discover a gem on one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Climbing steadily up through the dense beech forest, this walk on the world-famous Routeburn Track is well worth the effort. The view from the top is one of Fiordland’s most iconic scenes - across the snow-capped Mount Christina, Mount Tutoko and the rest of the Darran Mountains – tranquil mountain tarns, jagged peaks, vertical granite cliffs and glacial blue rivers rushing to the Tasman Sea, which is clearly visible down the Hollyford Valley. The total walk time today is around half a day (3 hours) with a lunch stop to remember en route.
Day 14 – Explore Te Anau & Finish in Queenstown
On the last morning of the trip, you’ll have a chance to explore the lakeside town of Te Anau or head out for one last stunning hike in the area on another of our Great Walks, the Kepler Track. After lunch we’ll make our way back to Queenstown, marvelling at the incredible views en route, before saying our fond farewells at the airport or your accommodation.
A perfect candidate for our last big walk in the South Island, the marvellous Kepler Track!
For the full itinerary including all the other things involved on this trip, please read the full day by day itinerary. At the end of your trip, you'll leave for home refreshed, relaxed and rejuvenated.