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12-Day South Island Active Explorer Tour New Zealand

12-Day South Island Active Explorer Tour New Zealand

From encounters with wildlife to visits to world-class wineries, from exploring glacial valleys to stargazing under clear, star-filled skies, the South Island is a sight that will leave you breathless and inspired, a playground for adventure in all its forms, ensuring there's something for everyone. Each view is a painting that comes to life.

On this journey, you'll not only see the main highlights of the South Island and visit the best and most scenic locations but also engage in responsible nature exploration. This action-packed trip, designed with a strong focus on eco-tourism, combines hiking, cycling and kayaking while viewing rare indigenous animals in spectacular surroundings. This journey will be an unforgettable eco-adventure through the South Island, allowing you to explore nature responsibly and leave a positive impact on the environment.

Day 1: Christchurch arrival - Akaroa Peninsula
  • Christchurch promises an eclectic mix of historic elegance and contemporary culture. Lonely Planet describes it as a "vibrant city in transition, coping resiliently and creatively." Its energy is evident wherever you go. Contemporary art galleries, boutique shops, and open-air markets add to the city's creative vibe. 

  • The most French town in New Zealand, Akaroa will entice you with its historic buildings, magnificent harbour, and passion for fine food. An accessible drive southeast of Christchurch, Banks Peninsula is the South Island's most interesting volcanic feature. 

  • If you are like many people, you will have dreamt of swimming with wild dolphins in their natural habitat. There is only one place on the planet where you can swim with the world's smallest and rarest dolphin - the Hector or New Zealand Dolphin.
    Or: Take a scenic 4WD safari to Pohatu and then take a guided sea kayaking trip in reserve.
Day 2: Akaroa - Arthur's Pass – Punakaiki 
  • Stop for a walk at Castle Hill Basin, which is characterised by its distinctive limestone rock formations. These rock formations are the water-eroded remnants of limestone formed during the Oligocene, 30-40 million years ago, when much of present-day New Zealand was covered by the sea.  

  • Arthur's Pass is the highest pass over the Southern Alps. Before surveyor Arthur Dudley Dobson found his way over the pass in 1864, it was known to Maori hunting parties as a route between east and west. 

  • Stop for a short walk to view the Devil's Punchbowl and feel the full force and sound of fresh mountain water falling 131 m down one of New Zealand's most stunning waterfalls. 

  • Discover Punakaiki, the Jewel of the West Coast, which is world-renowned for its pancake rock formations and blowholes. Then, walk along some stunning remote beach treks through a dense rainforest with Nikau Palms and giant ferns. 
Day 3: Punakaiki - Hokitika - Franz Josef Glacier (2 Nights)
  • Experience one of New Zealand’s best GlowWorm displays deep in the Paparoa National Park. The beautiful Metro / Te Ananui Caves and one of the best GlowWorm displays you can experience anywhere in the world!

  • You will visit Hokitika's historic gold mining town, where you will walk over a swing bridge to the Hokitika Gorge. This is truly one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand! The stunning turquoise waters and gorge itself are breathtaking. 

  • Take the Kayak & Walk Wilderness Tour, which is your opportunity to explore some of Westland’s oldest untouched rainforests! Enjoy exclusive access to our custom-built rainforest trail within the Okarito Kiwi Conservation area.
Day 4: West Coast – Fox Glacier/Lake Matheson
  • The glacier of the same name serves the hospitable town of Franz Josef. Stay here while you explore this spectacular World Heritage Area.

  • If you want to make contact with the glacier, take a heli-hike or a guided ice walk to Fox Glacier. Aerial sightseeing is another option.

  • Take a short walk to Lake Matheson and capture the perfect photograph of snow-capped Mount Cook reflected in the dark waters.

Day 5: West Coast – Mt Aspiring National Park - Wanaka (2 nights)
  • Wander through beautiful native forests and over a swing bridge to experience the pristine waters of Makarora River's Blue Pools.

  • Siberia Experience—The Fly-Walk-Jetboat Adventure—is a unique four-hour wilderness adventure. It includes a 25-minute scenic flight, remote landing, a 3-hour bush walk, and a 25-minute jet boat ride, all within the Mt Aspiring World Heritage National Park. This is an unforgettable half-day of an actual NZ wilderness experience. It is remote and spectacular fun for the entire family.

  • Lake Hawea is an easy, scenic, short drive from Wanaka and on the road to Makarora and the West Coast. A place of vivid beauty, mountainous extremes

Day 6: Lake Wanaka
  • Wānaka has the buzz of a genuine alpine town and is the ultimate hub for outdoor adventures. Mount Aspiring National Park is located nearby and is the perfect destination for exploring the Southern Alps.

  • Take a boat cruise to the magical Mou Waho Island Reserve on Lake Wanaka and enjoy a unique nature walk exploring the island and its wildlife. Discover the island's secret— an island, on a lake, on an island, on a lake, on an island on the sea. 
Day 7: Lake Wanaka - Queenstown - Fiordland National Park (2 nights)
  • Lake Dunstan Trail ride. This lakeside day ride serves spectacular Central Otago scenery, rich heritage, delicious food and wine.

  • Lake Wakatipu is an inland lake near Queenstown. Cruising across Lake Wakatipu on a restored steamship is a blissful way to appreciate the magnificent alpine scenery.

  • The picturesque township of Te Anau is the main visitor base for Fiordland National Park, a glacier-carved wilderness

Day 8: Te Anau - Milford Sounds
  • Situated on the west coast of the South Island, Milford Sound is a fusion of natural features that are spectacular even in the rain. Find out how to cruise, kayak, dive or hike to Milford Sound.

  • See Fiordland on foot, join a guided walk to get real insight and safely learn more about the spectacular natural surroundings in this famous World Heritage Area. Experience the raw beauty first-hand; step out into the forest and mountains with a local.

  • Lake Marian is an extraordinary, little-known slice of paradise off Milford Road. Cradled by the Alisa Mountains, the lake sits Lake ‘Hanging’ Valley, once carved by glaciers and framed by snow-capped mountains. Lake Marian is the remote, untamed New Zealand you came to see and is reached by a moderate-grade track via a 4-5 hour return hike. Or: Track Routeburn Great Walk. Linking Mount Aspiring National Park with Fiordland National Park, the Routeburn—lesser-known than the Milford—features some grand scenery. Huge, glacier-carved valleys, snowy mountains, waterfalls, and jewel-like lakes dot the length of the Routeburn.  
Day 9: Te Anau – Dunedin – Otago Peninsula
  • Ōtepoti Dunedin is a region of unique and beautiful landscapes, wildlife and fascinating cultural history.

  • Explore Otago Peninsula, where eco-experiences range from penguin and fur seal colonies to the toe-tingling cliffs of The Chasm and Lovers Leap.

  • The Otago Peninsula is home to breeding areas for the Little Blue Penguin and the rare Yellow-eyed Penguin. Take a Tour to see the world's most endangered penguin, the Yellow-eyed Penguin. This late afternoon-only tour also offers beautiful views of the Otago Peninsula.
Day 10: Dunedin - Mt Cook National Park ( 2 nights)
  • Moeraki boulders are mysteriously spherical stones scattered across a beach. Each boulder weighs several tonnes and is up to two metres high.

  • Oamaru boasts the country’s oldest public gardens and renowned Victorian architecture. Explore this heritage in the Victorian Precinct, where you will find shops within some of the Southern Hemisphere's most complete Victorian streetscapes and 19th-century architecture.

  • The Clay Cliffs are a stark sight—tall pinnacles separated by narrow ravines. These otherworldly formations are made up of layers of gravel and silt, initially formed by the flow from ancient glaciers over a million years ago. Or: You can also explore the beautiful Mackenzie and Waitaki by bike.

  • Enjoy an exclusive stargazing tour of the night. Dark, clear skies, unique celestial features and otherworldly landscapes make stargazing in New Zealand a breathtakingly magical experience.
Day 11: Mt Cook National Park
  • Lake Pukaki, a shimmering blue jewel set against a backdrop of Aoraki/Mt Cook, gets its distinctive deep blue tones from finely ground minerals carried in the glacier-fed waters.

  • Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park has the highest mountains and the longest glaciers. It is alpine in the purest sense - with skyscraping peaks, glaciers and permanent snow fields, all set under a star-studded sky.

  • Glacier Kayaking is a great way to experience the magnificence of this world-famous national park. At over 750 metres above sea level, you can become part of the environment, paddle beneath towering glaciated mountains, and view the majestic glaciers and summit of the mighty Aoraki Mount Cook.

  • One of the most popular walks in Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park. Pass through Hooker Valley and walk beside the Hooker River.
Day 12: Mt Cook - Tekapo - Christchurch departure
  • Lake Tekapo / Takapō is about an hour's drive southwest of Christchurch in the Mackenzie Basin. The township faces north across the remarkable turquoise-coloured lake of the Southern Alps.
OUR Selection of Luxury Stays

Plan Your Tour


The itinerary will be 100% tailored to your interest and budget.
A personal and experienced driver-guide will make your trip seamless.
Take part in some of the best DAY Hikes The South Island offers.
Experience some of the best local activities in New Zealand.

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