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Discover a hiker's paradise on New Zealand's South Island

Travels with Deb

Spectacular Mt. Cook Photo by Debbie Stone

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Photo by Debbie Stone

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!

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Photo by Debbie Stone

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.

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Photo by Debbie Stone

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.

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Photo by Debbie Stone

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.