New Zealand is one of those incredible places that almost always has a universally deep impact on those who visit her. In fact, New Zealand has a habit of getting under your skin and staying there, drawing you back in again and again. It's one of those rare countries that people visit on holiday and return to again and again. Or even just pick up and move here.
It calls to people. It can change you if you let it. New Zealand has a lot of lessons to teach us and can inspire in ways you might never have imagined.
A common story in Wanaka where I live, you frequently hear: “well, I came for a visit 10 years ago and just never left.” It's certainly the story here.
Relaxing at Lake Crucible after a big day hiking
Don't you want to spend the night on this boat like we did at Milford?
New Zealand has so much to offer, but by far, my favorite part of living here is the nature. Isn't that why we all journey here? For the crazy landscapes, the stunning views, the sparkling glaciers, cheeky birds, ancient forests and neon blue rivers? And the wine, did I mention the wine?
And while you can certainly see a lot on a road trip here, NZ's road infrastructure is a far cry from what you might be accustomed to in Europe or North America. There aren't cable cars or gondolas to incredible scenery, and there are very few roads that lead deep into the mountains. The whole “do it yourself” culture is very much alive and kicking here.
You want those great views? Unless you pay for a helicopter up to them, you better start walking.
No shortage of incredible valleys in New Zealand
Franz Josef Glacier, beautiful in all weather
If there is one place on earth that will inspire you to lace your boots on, strap on a pack and hit the trails, it's got to be New Zealand. With no dangerous animals to eat you, and an incredible system of backcountry huts and thousands and thousands of miles of beautiful trails and terrain that all promise a reward, what more could you ask for?
There are so many ways to visit this little island nation at the end of the world, it all depends on your budget, time, and travel style. It all depends on you! Unless you can move out here like me, which be warned – is a total possibility once you visit here! – I definitely recommend doing an adventure tour with Active Adventures.
Trying to organize the logistics behind a trip to New Zealand that involves a lot of hikes and adventure can be a total pain. Trust me, I live here. With the help of local experts who know the lay of the land like the back of their hand, you're guaranteed an amazing experience in New Zealand without the stress of planning.
Here are our top 10 inspirational moments from a Tui tour around New Zealand with Active Adventures this summer. Eight days around the best of the South Island – enjoy!
1. Walking among the Southern Alps for the first time
There is nothing quite so impressive as the Southern Alps, let alone walking around them for the first time.
As we began walking along the Siberia Valley, the delicate wildflowers swayed in the crisp summer breeze and the bluebird skies skimmed the snowy peaks in the distance that soon became closer and closer. We found ourselves bonding as we waded across waist deep rivers together, between these incredible sun-soaked giants.
It was just us and the mountains. What a moment to be alive!
As we slipped away from the chaos of the outside world we began to feel so many different emotions – happiness, fatigue, joy, hardship, and euphoria. When your mind is freed from distractions it wanders, and when you’re in nature, you wander to some pretty amazing places physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Everything felt so raw and real, so remote and isolated; I found myself being completely at peace and in touch with my surroundings. I knew I was exactly where I should be.
The more time we spent in nature the more drawn to it I became, by the end I was craving it!
2. Falling asleep in the middle of Milford Sound
Undoubtedly Milford Sound has earned its place as one of the great wonders of New Zealand.
Despite of being in such a remote place, most people just visit Milford Sound as a day trip from Queenstown. But the beating heart of Fiordland is worth more than a flash visit. The best way to experience it is to overnight on a boat there.
As the sun sets, the bus tourists head back home and you are left in peaceful solitude in this wild corner of Fiordland all alone on a boat. Does it get any better than that? Don't think so.
Oh wait, did I mention the dolphins?
Spending time with a pod of particularly playful dolphins, who were happy to escort us all the way back to the docks, was such an unforgettable highlight for any animal lover. Everyone went wild over this special experience and who can blame them?
From dolphins to seals, and penguins to dramatic soaring peaks and thundering waterfalls, Milford is one of those places that must be seen to be believed.
3. Disconnecting and getting back to nature
Surprisingly, one of my favorite things about the Tui tour New Zealand with Active Adventures was having the opportunity to disconnect and get back to nature.
Some of the towns, if you can even call them that, were just a blip on the map, tucked between the mountains and huge forests that made you feel so alive.
Once you are out in the wilderness here, especially in the national parks in New Zealand, you are usually out of range and reception. And there are definitely no cafes or free wifi out in the bush here. It's just you and the mountains, an opportunity we don't often have anymore these days, right?
This also means that you need to learn to be strong and capable out in nature, as you can't just ring for help or ask for a lift, another advantage to doing guided adventure trips is the added safety and experience elements.
Perhaps my favorite memory was waking up in the small wooden Siberia Hut in what felt like Middle Earth, or at least the middle of nowhere; a backcountry hut with no lights, no electricity, no internet or phone service.
It was everything I needed, the most important bit was, in fact, the realization that I needed nothing at all. Getting deep here, guys.
While drying socks and boots overnight in a hut by the fire might seem an insignificant task to some, for me it was truly a gift. I worked my butt off in those dirty boots and to settle down by your own fire with good company and no Facebook afterwards made it all the more rewarding.
4. Soaking up the history in quirky Hokitika
New Zealand is not just mountains, and while it's often touted as one of the last settled places on Earth, it has a rich blend of history and culture that makes it distinct from other places around the world.
The cultural experiences in the small beachside town of Hokitika offered a beautiful insight into the history of both the Māori people in New Zealand and, later on, the influx of settlers looking for gold.
While many people know its history for the massive gold-mining boom in the 19th century, around Hokitika, the West Coast, was well-known to the Māori for its beautiful jade, or pounamu, where gatherers would go in search of the elusive greenstone, used for tools, weapons and decorations. Hokitika these days does a roaring trade in pounamu, and it's almost hard to imagine that this sleepy little town once was home to over 100 pubs.
5. Bonding with new friends out in nature
Nothing brings people together like shared adventures, right guys?
When you spend a week hiking and having adventures that are sometimes challenging with new people, you get to know each other pretty fast! As a solo traveler, I am not sure I would attempt some of these walks or adventures alone in a place I hadn't been before but with the comfort of guides who know the ins and outs of the mountains and new friends to inspire and encourage you, it's easier to give it a go!
I love jumping in on tours like this knowing that everyone is equally as excited as you for the scenery and adventure, and its easy to feed off each other's energy.
6. Getting my butt kicked hiking up to Lake Crucible
New Zealand's mountains have the knack of putting life into perspective.
The long day's hike up to Lake Crucible, an iconic blue lake in the heart of Mt. Aspiring National Park near Wanaka, is a killer. But trust me, it's worth every panic and sore muscle, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Not easily accessible, it's an optional activity on tour, and to do on your own requires skill, planning, a lot of time and backcountry experience.
Instead of a long day's hike through the bush, we knocked it out by flying into the Siberia Valley to overnight at the Siberia hut. From there it's an intense tramp up to Lake Crucible that tested me in ways I hadn't felt in years.
From multiple river crossings to boulder scrambles, steep climbs and endless trails looking for markers, by the time you pop out at the top of the alpine lake, you will likely have experienced every human emotion possible! But you did it, how good does that feel?
The reward of arriving at a spectacularly serene place after truly earning it is just incredible. Suddenly all the struggles of the rugged terrain were worth it. This was definitely more than a physical challenge for me, and afterwards I felt completely connected to nature in the purest way. A wholeness that was my greatest reward.
7. Become nature obsessed kayaking under waterfalls in Fiordland
Milford Sound is one of those places that is both equally beautiful in sunshine and rain. When the rain comes, and oh boy it does (Fiordland receives the most rainfall in New Zealand), hundreds of temporary waterfalls spring down the vertical cliffs of the mountains, the peaks often shrouded in mists.
It definitely feels like you've stepped into another world here, rain or shine.
Lucky for us, we had sunshine for our kayaking excursion.
A few hours of kayaking the deep, dark and mysterious waters of Milford Sound, all the way out to the edge of waterfall, was more peaceful and serene than I could have ever imagined. Experiencing Milford from sea-level gave a whole new perspective of the delights this magical place has to offer.
Nothing made me happier than tickling the icy waters with my fingertips off the edge of my kayak, to put a huge big cheesy smile on my face and to feel completely content and grounded, really reminding myself where I was. Pinch me!
8. Falling in love with Wanaka and Hawea
Yes, there is a reason that the Queenstown Lakes area including Wanaka and Queenstown are so popular. It's stunning there.
We made our grand entrance not by car but rather by bike!
Hot and dry with a strong beating sun on our backs and mountains in the distance, we felt utterly free as we rode our bikes across diverse and ever-changing landscapes. One moment meant riding alongside crystal clear blue rivers, while the next found us pedaling through lush forests, where it felt like we were flying across the softest of grassy grounds, only then to pop out into open Wanaka fields engulfed by the biggest of skies.
What a place!
9. Experiencing real kiwi adventure on a jet boat on the Wilkin River
Only in New Zealand would they strap a jet engine on the back of a metal boat in order to get up the very shallow braided rivers. Kiwi ingenuity at its finest!
Ducking, weaving and holding on for dear life, we raced along the bright turquoise Wilkin River after our Siberia Valley adventure. It was the most exhilarating ride of them all! And what is a trip to the land of adventure without having a bit of adrenaline-fueled fun?
The spectacular scenery, as exquisite as it was, could not compare to the thrill of the ride, made me squeal with joy!
10. Making every moment count on the Routeburn
While the route to Key Summit on the Routeburn Track is steep and unrelenting, the resilience and endurance required to make it to the top, only made the spectacular views at the end that much more worthwhile.
Nothing beats earning your views! Unless there are bubbles at the end!
The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand's Great Walks, a multi-day hike through the mountains of Fiordland and Mt. Aspiring National Parks, though you can also walk up parts of the track if you know where to go.
As we reached the main point of Key Summit we were pleasantly surprised with a summit picnic, set amidst some of the most exquisite scenery I had ever laid eyes on. We were surrounded by beautiful peaks, glistening in the sun as far as you could see, with the sound of the kea, New Zealand's mountain parrot in the distance.
Explore the world on your own adventure with Active Adventures!
We celebrated all afternoon and I couldn’t have thought of a more perfect way to end the most incredible eight days on an adventure in New Zealand.
Do you want to come to New Zealand for adventure? Do you enjoy hiking and getting back to nature when you travel? Spill!
Many thanks to Mads for taking such incredible photos and also to Active Adventures for hosting us on their South Island Tui tour – like always, we're keeping it real. All opinions are our own, like you could expect less!
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