Classic South Island
Get ready to see the most spectacular scenery New Zealand has to offer, on this 12 day exploration of the South Island. Begin in Christchurch, a city reinventing itself after the earthquakes 10 years ago and travel from the coast to coast on one of the most scenic train rides in the world. The lush green rainforests of the West Coast are in complete contrast to the flat dry plains of Canterbury. Visit Franz Joseph glacier and take a heli-hike to enjoy they the beautiful view from above and immerse yourself in the landscape with a landing and hike on the ice. Spend time in the alpine towns of Wanaka and Queenstown and drive over the infamous Crown Range road, New Zealand’s highest road, to Lake Te Anau, your base to visit beautiful Milford Sound. As you make your way back up the South Island, stop at Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain at 3700 metres and enjoy a special Dark Sky stargazing experience, before driving back to Christchurch to end your journey.
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- Spend time at leisure in Christchurch exploring the new cafes and attractions in the central city
- Enjoy the spectacular views on the TranzAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth -rated as one of the most scenic train journeys ion the world
- Take a helicopter flight over Franz Joseph Glacier and land on the ice
- Enjoy 5 days exploring the southern lakes and alpine towns of Wanaka, Te Anau and Queenstown
- Relax as you cruise iconic Milford Sound on a full day guided adventure
- Spend a night in the Mt Cook National Park and enjoy a special stargazing experience in this International Dark Sky Reserve
- Day 1: Arrive to Christchurch
- Day 2: Christchurch to Franz Josef
- Day 3: Franz Josef Glacier
- Day 4: Franz Josef to Wanaka
- Day 5: Wanaka
- Day 6: Wanaka to Te Anau
- Day 7: Milford Sound
- Day 8: Te Anau to Queenstown
- Day 9: Queenstown
- Day 10: Queenstown to Mount Cook
- Day 11: Mount Cook to Christchurch
- Day 12: Depart Christchurch
Tailor made suggestions:
- Extend your stay in Christchurch for a few days and explore the twin harbours of Akaroa and Lyttelton on Banks Peninsula
- Stay a while on the West Coast – Hokitika is full of goldrush history and natural beauty, or head further north to Punakaiki to see the unusual rock formations known as ‘pancake rocks’
- Extend your stay in Franz Joseph, or stay in Fox to see the twin glacier with a scenic flight
- Stop overnight in Haast, - a UNESCO World Heritage area and explore waterfalls, rainforests and gorges and look out for fur seals, penguins and dolphins
- Extend your stay in Te Anau and visit the gloworm caves, try trout fishing or take a scenic flight or cruise to Doubtful or Dusky Sounds
- Stay an extra night or two in Queenstown and take a day trip to beautiful Arrowtown or Glenorchy, or taste the award-winning pinot noir at the Gibbston Valley wineries
- Take a guided hike or a scenic flight over Mt Cook
- Spend a night in Tekapo and enjoy hiking, hot pools and clear night vistas
Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch
On your arrival into Christchurch Airport, you will be met by our representative who will be holding a sign with your name detailed, and transfer you by private vehicle to your accommodation.
Often referred to as the Garden City, Christchurch features many majestic trees and extensive parks and gardens, the most notable of which is expansive Hagley Park in the heart of the city. Bordering the park you will find the botanical gardens and the Gothic revival building which houses the Canterbury Museum. The Avon River gently winds its way around these inner city landmarks and out through sprawling suburbs to the Pacific Ocean.
Visitors to Christchurch today will witness a virtual rebirth of the city rebuilding occurs following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. The urban city centre is full of new secrets to discover. Prepare for new architecture and immense street art, cocktail bars and bustling restaurants, laneways and green public spaces.
Day 2: Christchurch to Franz Josef
This morning you will be collected from your accommodation and transferred to Christchurch Railway Station. Travel from one coast of New Zealand to the other on the Tranz Alpine today, one of the world's great scenic railway journeys. From your carriage you’ll see the fields of the Canterbury Plains and farmland, followed by the spectacular gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri River. Your train then climbs into the Southern Alps before descending through lush beech rain forest to the West Coast town of Greymouth. This rail trip is 223.8 kilometres long and takes just four and a half hours. There are 19 tunnels and 4 viaducts, the highest being the Staircase standing at 73 metres.
All train carriages include both one way seating and tabled seating allowing you to experience the amazing views while enjoying the company of other passengers on-board.
On arrival to Greymouth Station you will collect your rental vehicle. Depart Greymouth and head south on State Highway 6 to arrive in Hokitika. From here, the road dips in and out of dense bush for many miles, crossing beautiful stretches of countryside scattered with farming settlements to Franz Josef, the first of the West Coast’s two well-known Glacier settlements.
Day 3: Franz Josef Glacier
Today you will join an exciting Heli Hike Trip to Franz Josef Glacier.
Franz Josef Glacier is 12 kilometres long and fed by a massive 20 square kilometre snowfield at the top of the Southern Alps. It features ice pinnacles as high as multi-story buildings, deep crevasses and stunning, pristine blue ice. It’s all on show and the most dynamic glacier in New Zealand is accessible to you via one of the most exhilarating experiences in the world. Witness the majesty of the beautiful ice formation from the air as your helicopter takes to the skies above the glacier. Then descend onto the glacier itself and set foot on the ice. Your heli hike guide will lead you through some of the most stunning ice formations, immersing you in the world of the Franz Josef Glacier. To touch the ice and breathe in the fresh alpine air is a unique experience and one you will never forget.
Day 4: Franz Josef to Wanaka
Depart Franz Josef heading through a mountainous section of road before entering Fox Glacier. Cross the Cook River Bridge and travel through forests of red and white pine to Bruce Bay, an old gold mining settlement. Continue through attractive bush scenery until you pass tranquil Lakes Paringa and Moeraki, the haunt of the fabulous White Heron, to the township of Haast. From here, drive through the Haast Pass Highway, viewing en route Mount Brewster, towering 2423 metres and the Brewster Glacier. Descend 82 kilometres, past the Lake Hawea Dam, water storage for the Roxburgh Hydro Electric Station, to Wanaka.
Wanaka is a popular tourist resort on the southern shores of Lake Wanaka. The Cardrona Valley near Wanaka was the scene of a small goldrush in 1862. Prior to 1940 the settlement of Wanaka, the town was known as Pembroke and it has retained the flavour of a typical New Zealand holiday town, in comparison to Queenstown which has become an international resort. Wanaka is now mainly a tourist resort surrounded by mountain scenery and a ski resort in winter.
Day 5: Wanaka
Today is at your leisure to explore Wanaka and its surrounds. Due to its location at the southern tip of Lake Wanaka with the Southern Alps as a backdrop, Wanaka is a fantastic outdoor playground.
One of the best ways to discover Wanaka and its surrounds is on the water. Explore the lake by kayak or stand-up paddle board. Or, if you want to take it a little further, choose between a guided kayak trip up the Clutha River, an entertaining eco tour to Mou Waho Island in Lake Wanaka, or a spectacular jetboat ride to Mount Aspiring National Park on the braided Matukituki River.
If you prefer to spend the day ashore, walking tracks and bike trails are plentiful with short, easy options as well as half day and full day hikes and rides easily accessible. Another, less physical way to see the region is by off-road excursion to one of the region’s iconic high country stations.
For a great indoors activity and unusual experience, visit of Puzzling World on the outskirts of town. The Illusion Rooms, Puzzle Centre and Maze will leave you baffled. This makes for a fun family experience. Warbirds & Wheels, another indoor exhibition, houses a large collection of luxury American Classic cars, vintage vehicles and fighter aircrafts.
In winter, Wanaka becomes a ski resort with two main world-class ski fields, Treble Cone and Cardrona, in easy reach. Single and multi-day passes are available and gear and clothing can be hired if you decide to take to the slopes and give skiing or snowboarding a go.
Day 6: Wanaka to Te Anau
From Wanaka follow Cardrona Valley Road and later Crown Range Road, New Zealand's highest road. A stop at Cardrona Hotel, one of New Zealand's oldest taverns, is highly recommended. At Arrow Junction, turn right onto State Highway 6 towards Queenstown. Unless you wish to stopover in Queenstown for a visit, turn right at the Frankton roundabout and continue on State Highway 6 towards Mossburn/Te Anau. Skirt Lake Wakatipu in the shadow of the rugged Remarkable Ranges until you arrive at the township of Five Rivers. Turn off the main highway towards Mossburn, and into the tussock covered hills. Once the highest point is reached, there are magnificent views of the mountains of Fiordland to the north, south and west. After a few miles, the wide panorama of Lake Te Anau comes into view.
Day 7: Milford Sound
Today you will enjoy an excursion to Milford Sound. Sit back and enjoy the views as your experienced driver provides a lively and informative commentary with stops for photos and short walks. On arrival in Milford Sound, board a vessel and explore the beauty of the fiord while your specialist nature guide shares their local knowledge. Following the cruise and your picnic lunch visit the Milford Discovery Centre & Underwater Observatory which offers a journey through the natural history, geology and conservation efforts of this unique marine reserve. Then descend 10 metres down 64 steps beneath the water into a spacious viewing chamber with uninterrupted 360 degree views of the undersea world to see rare black coral and colourful sea creatures. Board a vessel for the return cruise to Milford wharf and onto the coach for the return transfer to Te Anau.
Day 8: Te Anau to Queenstown
Depart beautiful Lake Te Anau, and take the scenic drive to Queenstown. Trout fishing rivers and high country scenery are features of this drive, and there are plenty of places to stop to soak it all in. The small towns of Mossburn and Lumsden can be explored for unique shopping opportunities—a farm tour is another possibility. Leave time to take a break in Kingston, the home of a remarkable vintage steam train. The route then skirts the shore between the lake and the sheer faces of the Remarkable Range with snow-capped alpine peaks ahead, to the resort town of Queenstown.
Located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is a year-round alpine resort nestled in a magnificent setting amid steep mountain ranges and pockets of native bush with the jagged peaks of the Remarkables Range rising from the lake. The town is compact enough to travel around on foot and features a great range of restaurants, bars and boutique stores. The lake was created by glacial action thousands of years ago and a mysterious phenomenon causes the lake to vary several inches in depth every few minutes, giving credence to a Maori legend of an ancient Taniwha (demon) still breathing beneath the surface.
Day 9: Queenstown
Today is free to explore Queenstown at your leisure. Queenstown and its surrounds are a true outdoor playground with much to offer for adrenaline-seekers, the active, wine lovers, and families alike.
Known as the adventure capital of the world, thrill-seekers have an abundance of options to choose from. Queenstown is ground zero for commercial bungy jumping anywhere in the world. Choose between Kawarau Bridge, where it all started, or head to the Nevis Bungy site for the most daring and highest bungy jump in the world (134m high!) – or go for a combination of the two and supplement it with a canyon swing or catapult experience. Experience the excitement of a high speed jet boat ride: skim across the water, whizz round corners and shoot through narrow rocky gorges!
A busy soft-adventure playground is located on top of Bob’s Peak, high above town. It can be reached by the iconic Skyline Gondola and offers activities like lugeing (part go-kart, part toboggan), zip lining (flying fox), dining with a view and stargazing.
There is no better way to appreciate Queenstown's location amid the Southern Alps than from a bird's eye perspective. Take a scenic helicopter flight, para-glide flight or take to the skies with a tandem skydive.
If you feel more comfortable on the ground, activities are plentiful, too. Cycling tours and mountain biking trails in Queenstown are a great way to explore and discover remote parts of this beautiful region! Or take to one of the many walking and hiking trails along the lakeshore or up the many hills and mountains.
For heritage-lovers, a cruise on Lake Wakatipu on board the iconic vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw is a must as is a visit of the historic town of Arrowtown, a gold-rush village.
A little further afield lies scenic Glenorchy that can be reached by a 45-minute drive along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. The views are spectacular and Glenorchy itself offers a range of activities, including walks, scenic jetboating, horse-riding and film locations from Lord of the Rings and Narnia. These are best be visited by 4x4 tour.
Wine devotees should not miss a trip out to nearby Gibbston Valley, home to some of the world’s best Pinot Noir, to explore cellar doors and restaurants to find your favourite vintage. This can be done independently by car or bicycle or as part of a guided tour.
In winter, Queenstown transforms itself into a ski resort. Ski fields like The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Cardrona offer options for experienced skiers and snowboarders and novices alike. Or, if you would like to try something new, why not head out for a snow shoeing experience?
Day 10: Queenstown to Mount Cook
Depart the picturesque resort town of Queenstown today and follow the Kawarau River through the rugged Kawarau Gorge with relics of the gold rush era still clinging to the steep cliffs. The town of Cromwell sits at the junction of two mighty rivers the Kawarau and the Clutha.
From Cromwell follow the shores of the newly created Lake Dunstan through the stunning Lindis Pass to the town of Omarama. You know you are in Omarama when you see the giant merino sheep statue! From here, take in the incredible views of the rugged Southern Alps and the surrounding, glacial formed terrain. Carry on through Twizel, centre of a large hydro-electric scheme, to finally reach the beautiful turquoise Lake Pukaki. Follow the shores of the lake into the heartland of the Mt Cook National Park, which encompasses 15 peaks, all towering over 3,000m. The settlement of Mount Cook is nestled at the head of the Tasman River, providing visitors with access to the spectacular mountains or the native bush covering the lower slopes.
Once you reach Mount Cook, check in to your hotel and have some rest, as this evening you will join a Stargazing tour.
Mount Cook is far from the city lights and therefore has some of the darkest skies in New Zealand - perfect for viewing the night sky. In June 2012 the Aoraki Mackenzie region, encompassing Mount Cook Village, was approved as one of only a few International Dark Sky Reserves (IDSR) worldwide, meaning the darkness of the night skies here is almost unbeatable! Begin with an introduction and orientation in the Digital Dome Planetarium highlighting the unique features of the southern night sky. An informative astronomy guide will then take you on a short drive (transport provided) to the outdoor stargazing site. Use telescopes, astronomy binoculars and the naked eye to put your newly acquired knowledge into practise, identifying and exploring different elements of the spectacular southern sky.
Day 11: Mount Cook to Christchurch
Travelling from Mount Cook, follow the Tasman River to the shores of Lake Pukaki before turning eastward to Lake Tekapo. Beyond the plains of the Mackenzie Country the road rises over Burke's Pass before descending to the sheep country around Fairlie and Geraldine. The main road from the south is met at the Orari River and continues north, gradually drawing away from the distant Southern Alps. Cross the fertile Canterbury Plains, noted for cereal crops, to the city of Christchurch.
Day 12: Depart Christchurch
This morning, drive to Christchurch airport, drop off your rental car and check in for your departure flight.
|Christchurch||Heartland Hotel Cotswold|
|Franz Josef||Punga Grove|
|Lake Wanaka||Bella Vista Motel Wanaka|
|Te Anau||Distinction Luxmore Hotel|
|Queenstown||Blue Peaks Lodge & Apartments|
|Mount Cook||The Hermitage Hotel|
- Accommodation with private facilities
- Transfers as specified
- 10 day car rental - all inclusive with GPS
- TranzAlpine train journey
- Heli Hike Trip in Franz Josef (shared)
- Milford Sound excursion (shared) with lunch
- Star Gazing experience (shared)
What’s not included?
- Travel Insurance
- Lunches and dinners
- Any items of personal nature