Discover a Hiker’s Paradise on New Zealand’s South Island - Part 1


by Debbie Stone


BIG BLEND RADIO: Debbie Stone discusses her adventures exploring New Zealand’s South Island. Listen / download the podcast on,,   Soundcloud or

Travel has always been an active pursuit for me. I typically shy away from coach tours, as I feel they relegate me to being an armchair traveler, who mostly watches the scenery go by outside a window. They restrict me to primarily being a passive observer, having little interaction with the exciting world beyond the narrow viewpoint provided.

When I travel, I want to fully explore a place and engage with the landscape and its people, using all of my senses. The stimulation I crave from traveling needs to satisfy me, not only mentally and emotionally, but also physically. Thus, I seek opportunities that promote discovery via such means as walking, hiking, cycling, paddling, and more. And if I’m active, there’s a bonus. I can eat whatever I want sans the guilt!

Over the years, I’ve traveled solo, as well as with my husband, other family members, and friends. And on occasion, I’ve joined a small group tour of complete strangers. These types of tours can often prove very rewarding, provided you get to share the journey with kindred souls. They’re also easy from a planning aspect, as typically the tour company tends to most if not all of the details.

New Zealand, the country that people often describe as being “down under and off to the right,” is by reputation, a destination that exudes outdoor adventure. I planned to explore the North Island on my own, but chose to join an all-inclusive, two-week hiking trip of the South Island with Active Adventures New Zealand.

Active Adventures has an excellent reputation in the industry for crafting unique itineraries that encourage clients to get out and hike amid all the splendor the country has to offer. And there’s a trip for everyone, from uber hikers to those interested in moving at a more moderate pace. The company also takes pride in its highly-qualified guides, good food, top-of-the-line equipment, attention to detail, commitment to sustainability, and emphasis on safety first, not to mention its consistently stellar client reviews.

The Active Adventures’ “Kiwi” trip I took balanced daily hikes with other pursuits like kayaking, wine tasting, wildlife cruises, and visits to art galleries and craft workshops. And there were also opportunities for beach time, star-gazing, and soaking in the hot tub. It was the perfect mix of activity and relaxation.

The pace was constant, due to the amount of ground we covered, but not frenetic, so I never felt overly exhausted and unable to appreciate all the incredible sights. And the hikes weren’t insane. Typically, distances ranged from a very manageable three to six-plus miles a day, though elevation and type of hiking surface could up the ante in regards to the level of challenge. Some days we did two hikes. There were also options to accommodate those who wished to do less mileage. And in some cases, you could go further or do an additional walk if you felt extra energetic.

The goal was not to regard the hikes, or “tramps,” as the Kiwis call them, as missions that had to be completed in record time. Rather, we were encouraged to view them as opportunities to take in the spectacular views, learn about the fauna, geology, and history of a place, observe wildlife and revel in the good fortune of being in this wondrous destination.

Our group of thirteen hailed from the U.S. and Canada, and for the majority, this was our first foray to New Zealand. Though we all had different backgrounds, our commonality was a love and respect for nature and the environment, along with a passion for travel and a keen interest in other cultures. I felt fortunate to be with people who were cooperative, flexible, and open-minded. There were no prima donnas in the bunch, no complainers nor high-needs individuals. Everyone went with the flow, even when the itinerary had to be slightly altered at one point due to extreme weather conditions. The group understood that there are some things that can’t be controlled, especially when it comes to Mother Nature.

Our group was also lots of fun. We each had a good sense of humor, and at the get-go, we showed signs of melding together well. This doesn’t always happen with groups. It can take time and even then, bonds don’t necessarily form. Our group had its class clowns, bookish sorts, artistes, amateur naturalists, storytellers, historians, singers, and yes, even dancers! We were all eager to contribute our thoughts and views, life stories, and past adventures, whether we were in the vehicle, hiking on the trails, eating meals together, or imbibing at happy hour. And we were a very curious bunch, who felt comfortable asking questions of each other and our guides.

It’s not only the composition of the group, however, that’s important, but also the guides that helm the trip. In this case, we scored big with Pim and Astrid. We were in more than capable hands with this pair, and they made juggling multiple roles look easy. They were knowledgeable and always willing to share information, as well as personable and upbeat. Pim and Astrid took great pleasure in showing off the beauty of their country and even more joy in watching us experience it. Additionally, they listened and solicited feedback from the group at each juncture. And wow, did they shine in the kitchen!

There were so many highlights on this trip, it’s hard to note them all. But, that’s a good problem to have. The South Island is majestic, with a diversity of scenery that leaves visitors in a state of jaw-dropping awe.


Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries and to all seven continents.

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