Day 7 (continued) — Overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound
Variety is the spice of life and that’s exactly what this option is all about - hike three of New Zealand’s Great Walks and take an overnight cruise, all in five days - it’s unheard of! We kick things off with a relaxed breakfast, and a drive to the lakeside town of Manapouri, where our journey into Doubtful Sound begins. We’ll board a boat for the cruise across Lake Manapouri, before a drive over Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove where we’ll board the Fiordland Navigator for our overnight cruise. Doubtful Sound is a large and remote wilderness area, where you’ll have the opportunity to take a kayak out on the water or hop aboard the tender craft for a guided exploration of the fiord, and in the right season you may catch a glimpse of the rare Fiordland crested penguin. Tonight, you’ll sleep in a quad share room aboard the Fiordland Navigator, though there is the option to upgrade to a private ensuite room, if you prefer.
Fiordland Navigator, Doubtful Sound (All meals)
Day 8 - Cruise in Doubtful Sound, hike Routeburn Track
After our cruise ends we’ll hike part of the Routeburn Track, the first of the Great Walks you’ll experience. We hike through beech forest, sub-alpine shrub land and picturesque alpine tarns, before reaching Key Summit. Here you’ll be standing at the head of three different valleys (the Hollyford, Eglinton and Greenstone), with stunning views over the Great Divide, which separates west and east flowing rivers. We’ll take a short drive through the Homer Tunnel and emerge at the top of a spectacular glacier-carved valley for a memorable descent to the shore of Milford Sound (actually it’s a fiord!) Rudyard Kipling rated Milford the eighth natural wonder of the world and it’s truly breath-taking, with steep granite walls plunging over a thousand metres to the Tasman Sea and waterfalls cascading into deep inky water.
Milford Lodge Chalets, Milford Sound (All meals)
Hiking Distance: 3.4 kilometres (2 miles), 3-4 hours
Elevation Gain: 380 metres (1,246 feet)
Elevation Loss: 380 metres (1,246 feet)
Day 9 - Hike Milford Track, cruise Milford Sound
It’s worth getting up early to take a photo of Mitre Peak, quite possibly the most photographed mountain in New Zealand, but your challenge is to find a unique angle! After breakfast, we’ll take a short boat ride across Milford Sound to hike from Sandfly Point to the Giant Gates waterfall, a spectacular section of the famed Milford Track. The forest here is lush and rich with mosses and ferns as we follow the Arthur River past Lake Ada. By hiking from the Milford Sound trailhead, we’ll enjoy the track to ourselves, which is a luxury others seldom get. Once we return to the Milford wharf, we’ll board a boat for a two hour nature cruise to the head of this spectacular fiord. We’ll then leave Milford Sound behind to hike some lesser-known tracks in eastern Fiordland before returning to Te Anau.
Te Anau Lodgings, Te Anau (All meals)
Hiking Distance: 10 kilometres (6 miles), 3-4 hours
Elevation Gain: 300 metres (985 feet)
Elevation Loss: 300 metres (985 feet)
Day 10 - Takahe Bird Park, hike Kepler Track
This morning we’re heading for a Department of Conservation birdlife park in Te Anau. The centre takes care of injured or ageing birds which would struggle to survive in the wild - it’s a great opportunity to see some of our rarest birds up close, so don’t forget your camera! Afterwards we’ll tick off our third Great Walk in three days - the Kepler Track. Interestingly, the Kepler Track differs from the Routeburn and Milford Tracks in that it didn’t actually evolve from a necessary Maori greenstone trail, but was custom-built for hiking. The section we’ll hike today passes over the control gates at the outlet of Lake Te Anau and meanders through ancient beech and podocarp forest.
Matai Lodge, Te Anau (All meals)
Hiking Distance: 9.5 kilometres (6 miles), 2-3 hours
Elevation Gain: 50 metres (165 feet)
Elevation Loss: 50 metres (165 feet)
Day 11 - Gondola ride, hike Ben Lomond
Today we’ll drive back along the shores of Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown, and take a ride on the gondola to the top of a tree-covered rocky crag, known as Bob’s Peak, to start our alpine hike. We pass through open alpine tussock-land to the Ben Lomond saddle and will be rewarded with panoramic views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by the often snow-covered Southern Alps. For those keen to press on to the top, Ben Lomond’s summit reveals views of Mt Earnslaw and Mt Aspiring, two of New Zealand’s highest peaks, and even a glimpse of Aoraki/Mt Cook on a clear day. Tonight we’ll dine out in Queenstown at one of the many excellent restaurants.
Crowne Plaza Hotel, Queenstown (All meals)
Ben Lomond Hiking Distance (From the gondola): 8 kilometres (5 miles), 4-5 hours
Elevation Gain: 978 metres (3,208 feet)
Elevation Loss: 978 metres (3,208 feet)
Note: That option is also a trip by itself, the Great Walks Discovery 'Takahe'.