New Zealand on Foot

new zealand

Maureen Jones, president of All Horizons Travel, Inc., a division of Frosch Travel Group, is a Kiwi (New Zealand) Specialist, a Premier Aussie Specialist and a Luxury Travel Expo Top Educator of the Year. Here she provides tips on selling walking tours of New Zealand based on her extensive firsthand knowledge.

I have given many lectures over the years to my Destination Specialists class on how to sell guided walking holidays, and New Zealand is the best country in the world to explore on foot. Travel consultants may tend not to offer this experience because they don’t have any knowledge of what to recommend and how the many tracks differ.

There are more than 200 different options, and certainly something to meet everyone’s needs. If you demonstrate to the clients that you have a good knowledge of the walking product in New Zealand, you should find making a sale easier and potentially more profitable. I usually include a hike of three, five or seven days (depending upon the participant’s level of fitness) as part of an FIT if the clients want to experience some outdoor activity.

New Zealand has a stunning array of well-kept walkways and tracks. They provide access to unique wilderness areas and virgin rain forests. The energetic walker can discover glacier-carved valleys and traverse mountain passes, while the more sedate day walker can explore golden beaches, bush walks and other sites of scenic interest.

About one third of New Zealand’s sparsely populated land has been set aside as conservation areas for the benefit and enjoyment of the public and increasing numbers of ecotourists. There is a diversity of landscapes not found anywhere else, as well as unique flora and fauna. There are too many walks for me to contain in this article so I am going to outline the most popular ones that I sell regularly. Most of the extended programs require up to five hours of walking per day to reach a hut or a campsite.

In a country with 3.5 million people and 65 million sheep, the scenery is like Scotland, Norway, Switzerland and Austria all rolled into one magnificent landscape.

Your clients definitely need to go with a trained guide who has intimate knowledge of the walking track, region, history and wildlife. The only “special” equipment visitors need to pack is a sturdy pair of walking boots (which will regularly get wet and muddy); the guided walk operators supply the rest.

Walkers can set their own pace. One guide goes out with the first walker, and another brings up the rear with the slowest of the group. (I am always in the rear because I stop for every alpine flower and bird that I see.) There are many guided walk operators, some of which are: New Zealand Guided Walks, Ultimate Hikes and Kirra Tours.

Independent walks are not recommended. It can be dangerous when the visitor doesn’t know the area. However, if you have a client who insists (an experienced hiker, perhaps), then the website to review is the Department of Conservation, which does an excellent job of listing the recommended walks. Many of the walks only allow a certain number of visitors each day so you must be sure to pre-book.

The ones I sell are the Great Walks, such as the Milford Track, Routeburn Track, Kepler Track, Rakiura Track, Heaphy Track, Abel Tasman Coast Track, Tongariro Northern Circuit and Waikaremoana Great Walk. Queen Charlotte Track and Hollyford Track are also good. Accommodations for most of the tracks are very basic, with showers and great meals. They are well-organized and provide a packing list. Tip: Advise clients not to wear denim pants, as they are too hard to dry.

Best time to do the hikes in the Southern Alps of New Zealand is from November 1 to April 1. Participants must go into training months before they take one of the tracks. It rains daily in the Alps, which means fording streams and even trekking through snow.

My favorites are all in the South Island: 

Abel Tasman Coast Track, northwestern corner of South Island. Great place to do sea kayaking; 34 miles, three to five days, easy grade. Start in Marahau and finish in Totaranui. Can do all year.

Milford Track, Fiordland National Park, is often described as “The Finest Walk in the World.” It is 34 miles long, five days, medium/difficult grade. Start at Lake Te Anau, finish in Milford Sound. Clients must be fit enough to carry a rucksack on their back (with personal belongings, clothing and a sleeping sheet) over high altitudes for six to eight hours each day. Day 2 is the killer, with more than 10 miles uphill and steep grades.

Routeburn Track, two to three days, 19.8 miles, medium grade. Start in Te Anau, finish at Mount Aspiring National Park near the town of Glenorchy.

Queen Charlotte Track, three to five days, 44 miles, moderate grade. Start at Ship Cove (by water taxi) and finish in Anakiwa, near Picton. Only a day pack is needed; your luggage is delivered to a lodge each night.

Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park, is the low-altitude track. Four to five days, medium grade, 29 miles. Start near Milford Sound, finish in Martins Bay. Part of the journey is by boat and walkers can fly out.

The Southern Alps have 40 peaks over 10,000 feet high and all feature fantastic scenery (think Lord of the Rings). Climbing is difficult in many places and the weather changeable, but this once-in-a-lifetime experience is worth the effort.

If your clients only want to do a one-day hike, recommend the Hooker Valley in Mount Cook National Park. It’s a four-hour return and an easy walk around the lake. There’s also a lovely two-hour hike around Lake Matheson, five miles south of the Fox Glacier on the West Coast, and out of Queenstown, there’s a one-day hike at the start of the Milford Track.

There are many lodges to stay at in New Zealand. I use Grasmere and Blanket Bay on a regular basis, and my two favorites are Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge and Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge (Arthur’s Pass is a working high-country sheep station). They take guided day walks out of the property, and when you make the reservation you should state that the client wants a guided walk.

I always book through the Signature Travel Network’s preferred supplier, Travel 2. However, some guided walks no longer pay commission, so feel free to mark up the FIT quote for an appropriate amount.

The perfect itinerary will cover the George Hotel, Christchurch; a hangi (Maori dinner and show at Tamaki Heritage Village); a TranzAlpine train to Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge, train to Greymouth and pick up a car. Then Franz Josef Glacier Lodge, glacier heli-hike, Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge, Blanket Bay or Eichardt’s Private Hotel in Queenstown, turn in car, a guided hike, one night back in Queenstown, pick up a car. On to The Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook, stop at scenic Lake Tekapo and see the Church of the Good Shepherd, and one night back at the George in Christchurch. Suggest two days or longer in each of the properties.