Along with Switzerland, New Zealand is my favorite place to hike.
The “tracks,” as hiking trails are known there, lead along mountain ridges, lakes, and rivers and through valleys and rainforests. The scenery is, well, choose your cliche: spectacular, breathtaking, unforgettable.
Some of the tracks are relatively easy, while others can literally take your breath away.
A Kiwi-owned company, New Zealand Trails, makes it easy for baby boomers — about two-thirds of its customers are in the 49 to 67 boomer age range — to experience several of the tracks as well as other South Island highlights, such as a train journey across the Southern Alps, a glowworm cave, a kayak trip through a coastal lagoon, a scenic helicopter ride, a lake cruise, and a boat trip across Milford Sound.
Hiking trails include a half day on the Milford Track and full day hikes on the Hollyford Track and the Routeburn Track, some of the finest walking in all of New Zealand. There’s also hiking in gorgeous Mt. Cook National Park and along a glacier.
The key for many boomers is that while adventurous, the guiding philosophy here is “easy going” and “flexible.” Average hiking time is four or five hours per day, with seven hours the longest, but there are chances to take a rest day if you want, or challenge yourself more if you want as well.
The director and chief guide of New Zealand Trails, Andrew Wells, tells me that the U.S. is their single biggest market, followed by Britain and Australia, with a lesser number of guests coming from western Europe and some Asian countries.
Wells stresses that New Zealand Trails appeals to the baby boomer market because of its smallish group sizes (12 maximum), personalized guiding (by Kiwis), and comfortable accommodations (mostly four-star lodgings, with some three-stars in more remote locations), as well as its flexibility of hiking options.
Generally speaking, Wells says, anyone who is active in walking, playing golf, cycling or going to the gym should be able to meet the physical demands of his tours.
It’s always gratifying for me to find tour operators around the world who not only court baby boomers, but are hitting all the right buttons in doing so.
When it comes to taking tours, boomers are (rightfully) picky. They love small groups, individual attention, flexible options, knowledgeable guides, comfortable places to sleep, getting off the beaten paths a bit, and the chance to experience some of the world’s great hiking without necessarily setting new land speed records, which after all can be tough on the knees.
New Zealand Trails, which meets all the above criteria, is definitely on the right “track.”
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