Soul of the South Island
Highlights: Christchurch | Kaikoura Swim with Dolphins or Whale Watching Cruise | Blenheim Wine Tasting | Malborough Sounds | Nelson - Abel Tasman | Punakaiki | Fox & Franz Josef Glaciers | Wanaka | Queenstown | Mount Cook | Big Sky Stargazing
Boasting more extreme scenery than the northern half of New Zealand, the South Island holds sights you’ll swear are straight out of a postcard.
From the bright blue waters of Kaikoura to the sky-scraping Southern Alps, your adventure here holds huge appeal, be it wine tasting in Blenheim, heli-hiking at Franz Josef Glacier or big sky stargazing at the base of Mount Cook.
Have a chance to swim with dolphins or watch whales in the wild, indulge in fine wines, soak up the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes of Punakaiki and dig into fresh seafood in Picton.
Looping through Lake Tekapo at the end, your journey ends back in Christchurch..
Itinerary at a Glance
The below itinerary is only a suggestion, we offer tailor-made personal service and solutions to help you plan your perfect vacation. This itinerary is also available in the reverse direction.
Day 1 Arrive Christchurch Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival in Christchurch, collect your rental vehicle and make your way to your central city hotel. Strategically designed around the willow-lined Avon River, you’ll find Christchurch is compact and easy to explore, with a refreshing amount of nature and a friendly, vibrant atmosphere.
Day 2 Christchurch to Kaikoura (181km / 112mi)
This morning head north to the beautiful coastal town of Kaikoura, where the mountains meet the sea. Either this afternoon or tomorrow morning you have the choice of one of two sightseeing options, both sure to leave you with lifelong memories:
Option 1: A chance to swim with adorable dusky dolphins! These playful dolphins reside in Kaikoura’s coastal waters year-round, and pods of 100 dolphins or more are common. Get into the water and watch with delight as the dolphins swim, leap and play around you.
Option 2: Embark on a whale watching cruise to see giant sperm whales in action. While these year-round residents are always the star of the show, a typical tour can also include New Zealand Fur Seals, pods of dusky dolphins and the endangered Wandering Albatross. Depending on the season, you may also see migrating humpback whales, pilot whales, blue whales and southern right whales.
Day 3 Kaikoura to Blenheim (128km / 80mi) Departing from the marine playground of Kaikoura, take a jaw-dropping coastal drive north to wine country. Grab lunch at one of the roadside stalls selling incredibly fresh and fantastic lobster, then continue on to Blenheim, the capital of New Zealand wine country.
Day 4 Full Day Marlborough Tour & Cruise Marlborough has become world famous for two iconic areas: the Marlborough wine region and the Marlborough Sounds. Enjoy them both on the Marlborough Icons Tour, which combines two fine wine experiences with lunch (own cost) on the waterfront of the Sounds. Come afternoon, board a unique Seafood Cruise to learn about seafood farming, take in some stunning scenery and enjoy fresh local seafood with a glass of award-winning wine.
Day 5 Blenheim to Nelson via Queen Charlotte Drive (135km / 83mi) Today we recommend taking the scenic route to Nelson along the Queen Charlotte Drive. Take a short drive to the small port of Picton (40km / 24mi) where a winding road fringed with native forest on one side and the Marlborough Sounds coastline on the other offers one of the most scenic stretches you're likely to encounter. Take your time and stop for a special memento along the way. There are plenty of arts & crafts communities, or if you like seafood, stop in Havelock for local green-lipped mussels.
Day 6 Nelson - Abel Tasman National Park Cruise Today you’ll cruise into the heart of Abel Tasman National Park, a wilderness reserve known for its walking tracks and wildlife. Disembark at idyllic Medlands Beach in Bark Bay and walk to the long golden-sand beach of Anchorage via Torrent Bay. The track will have you weaving through sunny groves of Manuka and fern between breathtaking views of the granite coast and lush gullies of mature forest. Today’s cruise is a must on any New Zealand itinerary.
Day 7 Nelson to Punakaiki (265km / 164mi) Head south down State Highway 6 through Murchison, making your way to the West Coast. The Murchison Skyline Walkway zigzags through mixed beech and podocarp forest, native ferns, and bracken and broom covered slopes – it’s worth breaking your journey here for the 90-minute walk before you navigate Buller Gorge.
At Hawks Crag the road has been hacked out of solid rock, so be ready for the dramatic overhang, shade and character of the route. The road to Punakaiki hugs the coast, providing spectacular views of wild beaches and the tempestuous Tasman Sea. Punakaiki is best known for its Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. The track has many lookouts and areas for fantastic photos to be taken of the Pancake Rocks, Blowholes and the beautiful mountain views. The best time to visit the blowholes is at high tide when they are at their most powerful.
Day 8 Punakaiki to Franz Josef Glacier (217km / 134mi) After a morning of sightseeing, head south today down the West Coast. Home to towering rainforests, mountains and glaciers, tranquil lakes and rushing rivers, this coastal paradise is steeped in history dating back to the gold rush era of the 1860’s. Tonight you stay at Franz Josef, a unique glacier descending from the Southern Alps to just 240 meters above sea level, amidst the greenery and lushness of a temperate rainforest.
Day 9 Glaciers There’s lots to explore in the Fox and Franz Josef area – take a guided walk up to the glacier, embark on your own adventure, or go for a heli-hike or flight to see both glaciers from above. You’ll have plenty of snap-happy opportunities and the chance to learn more about this magnificent area, then when your day of sightseeing is complete indulge in some well-deserved R&R. You may like to bathe under a rainforest canopy and climb into the Glacier hot pools.
Day 10 Franz Josef Glacier to Wanaka (286km / 177mi) Leaving the small village of Franz Josef today, journey through the remote and rugged landscape of the West Coast. This is New Zealand at its purest and most untamed, with moody mountain ranges, thick native rainforest and wild rocky shores making up the views. Cross over to the East Coast through Haast Pass, the southernmost pass in the Southern Alps. On the other side, enjoy postcard-perfect views of vibrant blue Lake Hawea & Lake Wanaka, arriving in Wanaka by late afternoon.
Day 11 Wanaka to Queenstown (67km / 41mi) Today you have plenty of time to wander the lakeside township of Wanaka before traveling over the spectacular Crown Range to Queenstown. With the majestic Remarkables Ranges and Lake Wakatipu at your doorstep, it’s no wonder Queenstown is known for its adventure activities. Of course, you don’t need to be an adrenaline junkie to appreciate the town’s appeal. There is plenty available to those wishing to relax and indulge, from the fine wines of the region to the many shops lining Queenstown’s streets. The best mountain views are to be had at the Skyline Gondola, which has a panoramic restaurant overlooking the town, and Lake Wakatipu, where travelers enjoy scenic cruises on a historic steamboat.
Day 12 Queenstown – Today you have the choice of one of five Excursions
Today you can personalize your Queenstown experience by choosing one of these five tours, all sure to leave you with lifelong memories:
1. Full Day Milford Sound Coach/Nature Cruise/Coach
Travel by coach from Queenstown to Milford Sound through sheer mountains, towering cliffs, rugged valleys and native rain forest. Once at Milford Sound board a catamaran for a leisurely cruise along the fiord, learning from the onboard Nature Guide, visiting the skipper in the wheelhouse or viewing wildlife like dolphins, seals and penguins. Lunch options are available for purchase (must be preordered) and complimentary tea and coffee is provided. After the cruise, return to Queenstown by coach.
Milford Sound Return Flight Upgrade (Approx $395 PP)
Upgrade your itinerary to include a return scenic flight to Queenstown. See magnificent views of the alps, glaciers, lakes and forests of Fiordland National Park from the air – it’s a quick and convenient way to return to Queenstown.
The flight shaves approximately 4 hours off a return by coach, however it is very weather dependent so it’s possible you will need to return by coach and have the upgraded price refunded to you. 2. Half Day Boutique Wine Tour Spend an afternoon among the boutique vineyards and spectacular scenery of Central Otago. Enjoy tastings at four wineries in the Gibbston Valley, Cromwell and Bannockburn regions plus a delightful platter-style lunch at Carrick Winery Restaurant. Visit historic Old Cromwell Town (time and weather permitting) and take a stunning drive through the Kawarau Gorge to learn about the early pioneering history of the region and see the historic Kawarau Bridge and the original AJ Hackett Bungy jump. 3. Sheep Station to Sheep Station Cycle Tour & Walter Peak BBQ Lunch Experience Queenstown’s surrounds with a cycle tour. Boarding a Spirit of Queenstown cruise to Mt Nicholas High Country Farm, disembark on the other side of Lake Wakatipu to begin your cycling journey. Ride at your own pace along a quiet country road, taking in views of the Southern Alps, Glenorchy and The Remarkables on the way. After cycling 14 kilometers (1.5 hours) to Walter Peak you’ll enjoy a barbecue lunch, then board the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw to return to Queenstown. 4. Walter Peak High Country Farm Excursion / Shotover Jetboat Ride Step aboard the TSS Earnslaw and enjoy a 40-minute cruise across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak Station. On arrival, wander through gardens or enjoy tea/coffee in the Colonel’s Homestead, then take a tour of the grounds to view sheep, red deer and Scottish Highland cattle. Highlights of the experience are watching the farm demonstrator shear a sheep, sheep dogs working stock and a wool spinning demonstration. Take the TSS Earnslaw back to Queenstown, then transfer by coach to the Shotover River for the jet boat ride of your life. 5. Half Day Wilderness Safari - Jetboat & Forest Walk Combine wilderness jet boating with a guided walk and back-country drive. Surrounded by breathtaking snow-covered peaks, hidden valleys, waterfalls and glacial valleys, you’ll take a thrilling jet boat through the ever-changing shallow channels of the Dart River’s braided system. Enjoy a guided walk through ancient native Beech forest where you’ll be fascinated by the unique flora and fauna, then journey by bus along a back-country route. Your driver will stop to view some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery and will share stories of the land on the way.
Day 13 Queenstown to Mount Cook (240km / 149mi) Collecting your rental vehicle today, enjoy a gorgeous drive through alpine scenery to Mt Cook, a comfortable haven in one of the most unforgiving parts of New Zealand. On every side the Southern Alps scrape the sky, and despite the unpredictable weather, Aoraki/Mt Cook is an exceptionally beautiful place to visit and explore.
This evening, you’ll have the chance to see one of New Zealand’s most magnificent attractions: a night sky that’s un-spoilt by light pollution and covered in a breathtaking blanket of stars.
Day 14 Lake Tekapo to Christchurch (309km / 192mi) Today’s journey takes you north through the MacKenzie country, passing the tiny Church of the Good Shepherd on the way. Built of local stone and oak in 1935 on the shores of Lake Tekapo, it’s a gorgeous little building that’s perfect for a photo op. Then, follow the foothills of the Southern Alps into Canterbury Plains to Christchurch to return your vehicle at the airport and say good bye to the South Island.
- 1 night of accommodation at Distinction Christchurch Hotel – Classic Room
- 1 night of accommodation at The White Morph Motor Inn, Kaikoura – Deluxe Studio
- 2 nights of accommodation at the Chateau Marlborough Hotel, Blenheim – Chateau Studio
- 2 nights of accommodation at The Waters, Nelson – Double Room
(Includes: Continental breakfast provisions & bottle of wine)
- 1 night of accommodation at Punakaiki Resort, Punakaiki – Eco Suite
- 2 nights accommodation at Te Waonui Forest Retreat, Franz Josef – Deluxe Room
(Includes: Dinner the first night and full breakfast daily)
- 1 night of accommodation at Edgewater Hotel, Wanaka – Hotel Room
- 2 nights of accommodation at Scenic Suites Queenstown – Superior Room with View
- 1 night of accommodation at The Hermitage Hotel, Mount Cook – Standard View Mt Cook Room
- 14 Day rental vehicle (full size) including insurance & GPS
- In Kaikoura, a choice of either swimming with dolphins or a whale watching cruise
- Full Day Marlborough Tour & Seafood Cruise
- Abel Tasman National Park Swing Bridge, Bush & Beach Cruise
In Queenstown, the freedom to choose 1 of 5 Excursions
- Full Day Milford Sound Coach/Nature Cruise/Coach
(Includes: Hotel pick-up/drop-off, Milford Sound Nature Cruise)
- Half Day Boutique Wine Tour
(Includes: Hotel pick-up/drop-off, wine tasting at 4 wineries and platter style lunch)
- Sheep Station to Sheep Station Cycle Tour & Walter Peak BBQ Lunch (Includes: One-way Spirit of Queenstown cruise and one-way TSS Earnslaw cruise, Walter Peak BBQ lunch, bicycle and bicycle helmet and cycle map)
- Shotover Jetboat Ride & Walter Peak High Country Farm Excursion
(Includes: Coach transfer to shotover Jet, Earnslaw cruise, high country life farm tour & tea/coffee and home baking)
- Half Day Wilderness Safari - Jetboat & Forest Walk
(Includes: Hotel pick-up/drop-off)
- Full Day Milford Sound Coach/Nature Cruise/Coach
- Evening Big Sky Stargazing
- National Park fees
- International or domestic airfares (unless specified above)
- Meals other than specified above
- Travel insurance