Lake MarianLast year Ahipara Luxury Travel asked me to take one of their clients hiking on the South Island for 10 days.  Daria, a solo traveler from Moscow, is an avid hiker and wanted a private guide to accompany her on some day hikes on the East coast of the South Island, around Queenstown and near Mt Cook. She enjoyed her trip so much she decided to come back for 5 weeks this January and February.

The brief was for as much hiking as possible again, but this time with even more of an emphasis on exploring the backcountry and visiting some new places. She spent the first couple of weeks on the North Island relaxing on Waiheke Island, trekking in Waikaremoana, hiking the Tongariro Crossing and whitewater rafting on the Rangitikei River. She also went to Marlborough Sounds, swam with dolphins in Kaikoura and explored Akaroa for a couple of days.

Here’s the itinerary I came up with for the rest of her trip around the South Island, featuring quite a few of my new ‘Original Adventures‘. She was keen to challenge herself, so I took her up on to the glacier to show her how to walk on ice with crampons. During an overnight trip to Lake Adelaide, I demonstrated how to bivouac and she said she had the best snooze of her life in a nest she built herself out of fern leaves!

Day 1: Walk to Blue Pools in Hokitika Gorge, arrive Fox Glacier

Hokitika Blue Pools

I arrive at Grasmere Lodge this morning for a 4-hour drive to Fox Glacier. On the way, walk into Hokitika’s Blue Gorge to enjoy stunning ‘Blue Pools’, mineral pools the glaciers carved centuries ago. Stay the night at Te Waonui Forest Retreat in Franz Josef.

Day 2: Private Fox Glacier Heli Hike

Fox Glacier heli hiking

Fly by helicopter up to Chancellor Shelf. We’ll get crampons, harnesses and ropes on to climb Chancellor Dome and then descend via the Fox Glacier back to historic Chancellor Hut.  The helicopter will pick us from here with and fly back to Fox Glacier township for another night at Te Waonui Forest Retreat, Franz Josef.

Day 3: Overnight Trek to Stafford Hut

Stafford Hut hike

Drive 1.5 hours to Jackson Bay, South Westland. Walk about 4-5 hours with packs on into Stafford Bay via the bush track to stay in Stafford Hut tonight.

Day 4: Hike to Jackson Bay, arrive Queenstown

Stafford Bay hike

Walking out from Stafford Hut at low tide.

Walk back to Jackson Bay along the coastline during low tide. Very few people know about this part of the South Island, so the native wildlife here is particularly abundant. Drive 2.5 hours to Queenstown. Stay at the Spire right in Queenstown’s town centre.

Day 5: Hike Ben Lomond and Paraglide

Climb Ben Lomond. This is a 6-8 hour return trip but to add some fun and adventure and reduce the downhill journey, on the descent we’ll meet up with G Force Paragliding and you can tandem paraglide to the bottom with one of their pilots while Mark follows solo. On a hot day, we sometimes stay up for an hour riding thermals. Stay at The Spire, Queenstown.

Ben Lomond hike

Day 6: Free day in Queenstown

Free day to relax and enjoy the comforts of a world-class resort town. Stay at The Spire, Queenstown.

Day 7: Hike Lake Marian and visit Milford Sound


Drive 3 hours towards Milford, hike into Lake Marian for a 3-4 hour walk, then over to Milford Sound to take in the views. Stay the night at Fiordland Lodge, Te Anau.

Day 8: Overnight trek to Lake Adelaide 

Bivouac near Lake Adelaide

“The best night sleep I’ve ever had!”

Drive about an hour into the Hollyford Valley to hike to Lake Adelaide. This is a 6-7 hour hike, most of which is off piste, and we will be carrying packs. The night will be spent camping out under a rock bivouac.

Day 9: Hike out and return to Queenstown

We’ll walk out from Lake Adelaide and drive 3 hours back to Queenstown and return to The Spire for another night.

Swing bridge Lake AdelaideDay 10: Fly to Martins Bay and hike to fur seal colony

Fly into Martins Bay for a relaxed 3-hour walk out to New Zealand fur seal and rare Fiordland crested penguin colonies. Return flight over Big Bay and Mt Aspiring and back to The Spire, Queenstown tonight.

Day 11: Queenstown free day

Free morning in Queenstown then private transfer to Blanket Bay Lodge near Glenorchy.

Day 12: Hike to Lake Unknown or Grand Traverse

Depending on your fitness and confidence, we’ll either hike to Lake Unknown, a stunning high-attitude lake in the Beans Burn valley via an off-piste track that has tested the patience of many a hiker, many of whom turned back, hence its name. Or we can hike the Grand Traverse of the Remarkables. This is a tough day out, but the rewards for completing this one go way beyond bumps, bruises and pain that come with this hike. Either are about an hour’s drive. Overnight Blanket Bay Lodge, Glenorchy.

Day 13: Depart from Queenstown

Mark’s Notes:

I designed this itinerary to fit in as many spectacular and relatively undiscovered tracks as possible, including a night in one of my favourite backcountry huts on the West Coast as well as a night camping out under the stars near Lake Adelaide. By using Queenstown as her main base, it allowed plenty of flexibility to work around the weather. As it turned out, we shuffled a few of the day hikes around to make the most of the sunny days and rested (free days) when the weather was less settled. This meant near perfect conditions for most of our hikes.

She’s already talking about coming back next year, which should give me just enough time to research some new tracks!