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15 Day - Traditional Highlights Tour

15 Day - Traditional Highlights Tour

This tour explores the top locations and attractions on the North and South Islands and follows the more traditional route through New Zealand.

Relax in the Viaduct (Americas Cup Village) in the City of Sails, see the world-famous glowworms and get educated in our Māori history in the cultural and thermal wonderland of Rotorua. Cross the Southern Alps through the famous Arthur Pass before you walk through the pristine rainforest. Fly in a helicopter, land on the unique West Coast glaciers, and experience an exhilarating jet boat ride on the Shotover River. Finally, cruise through the most magnificent world of our Fiordland National Park. 

Day 1: Auckland arrival
  • A day at your leisure
  • Or: City tour
Day 2: Auckland – Waitomo Caves
  • Glow-worm caves,
  • Farm-stay
Day 3: Waitomo - Rotorua
  • Agrodome Sheep-show, Māori show and Hangi,
  • Or: Private Dinner Cruise
Day 4: Rotorua – Lake Taupo 
  • Geothermal areas,
  • dinner/cruise on the lake
Day 5: Taupo - Napier/Hawkes Bay
  • Huka Falls, art deco city and winery tour
Day 6: Hawkes Bay – Wairarapa - Wellington
  • The capital city, Te Papa museum
Day 7: Wellington - Marlborough Sounds - Kaikoura Or: Christchurch
  • Ferry through the Sounds, Whale-watch cruise
Day 8: Kaikoura – Arthur Pass National Park
  • Castle Rock, Wilderness Lodge/high country sheep station
  • Or: If staying in Christchurch, Tranz Alpine Train
Day 9: Arthur Pass - Punakaiki – Hokitika - Franz Josef Glacier
  • Pancake rocks, Treetops walk, Hokitika Gorge, glacier area
  • Or: Heli to Glacier
Day 10: Franz Josef Glacier - Mt Aspiring National Park - Queenstown
  • Rainforest walks, wetlands and remote waterfalls
Day 11: Queenstown - Lake Wakatipu
  •  A day for your leisure
Day 12: Queenstown - Te Anau/Fiordland National Park
  • Scenic drive/cruise in Milford Sound
  • Or: Doubtful Sounds
Day 13: Te Anau – Dunedin - Otago Peninsula 
  • Larnach Castle, Royal Albatross Colony, Penguin Colonies, Sea lions
Day 14: Dunedin - Mt Cook or Lake Tekapo
  • Moeraki Boulders, Mt Cook area and Glacier Lake Explorer cruise
Day 15: Tekapo - Christchurch afternoon departure 
Plan Your Tour


Private guided tour for 14 nights

Category: Culture
North & Island
Departing/Finishing: Auckland to Christchurch (Itinerary can be reversed)
Accommodation: 4* or 5* quality Hotels, boutique B&Bs, Luxury Serviced Apartments, Premium Lodges
Next Departure: Departs Daily


Day 1: Auckland arrival

Imagine an urban environment where everyone lives within half an hour of beautiful beaches, hiking trails and a dozen enchanting holiday islands. Add a sunny climate, a background rhythm of Polynesian culture, and a passion for outstanding food, wine and shopping, and you’re beginning to get the picture of Auckland, our largest and most diverse city. Discover the diverse range of cafes and restaurants offering cuisine from around the globe, and check out the buzzing nightlife of the central city. Favourite spots include Wynyard Quarter, the Viaduct Harbour, the Britomart precinct and City Works Depot. Soak up diverse shopping experiences and a delicious café culture on the ultimate day of shopping in the city Auckland style

Accommodation: Auckland City

Day 2: Auckland – Glow-worm Caves - Farmstay

Travel south through the lush green rural farmland of the Waikato region. The rich and fertile pastoral land of the Waikato is one of New Zealand’s major dairy-producing and horse-breeding areas and hosts incalculable stands of exotic timber. 

One of the major attractions of the region is the famous Waitomo Caves. It is renowned for its underground adventure. Take a short walk through the breathtaking New Zealand native bush to the cave entrance. There, your guide lights the candles setting the scene for an intimate cave experience, where you will see glow worms and cave formations up close and appreciate the beauty of Footwhistle Cave. 

Your accommodation for the evening will be at a local farm stay. Waikato farm stays may farm cows, sheep, horses, pigs, goats, alpacas, chickens, ducks and other farm animals. The farm stays may include fun activities like feeding the animals, farm tours and even horse rides. So come and relax in your accommodation, enjoying the slow pace of the countryside while watching frolicking and playful lambs, singing birds and observing bellowing cattle as they contentedly graze the lush green pastures.

Accommodation: Waitomo 

Day 3: Waitomo - Rotorua - Indigenous culture

Rotorua is known for bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and natural hot springs, and showcasing our fascinating Māori culture. Sitting within the Pacific Rim of Fire, Rotorua is a geothermal wonderland.  

Agrodome, get ready for a fun-packed hour of entertainment and education. First, you’ll hear amazing facts and have a few laughs as you’re introduced to 19 breeds of sheep. Then, witness a live sheep shearing demonstration and a fun sheep auction with bidding from the floor and audience participation. Our remarkable farm dogs will amaze you as they demonstrate their ability to respond to commands and keep those sheep (and ducks!) in line! 

An evening at Mitai will give you an authentic introduction to Māori culture, leaving you amazed and in awe. Be enthralled by the natural bush setting, see warriors in traditional dress, paddle an ancient warrior canoe (waka) down the Wai-o-who stream, and don’t miss your only opportunity in the Rotorua area to see glow worms in their natural habitat. Marvel at the crystal-clear water full of eels and trout, flowing directly from the earth at the sacred Fairy Spring. See your traditionally cooked hangi meal being lifted from the ground.

Or - Private Dinner Cruise: Experience an off-the-beaten-track indulgence on stunning Lake Rotoiti under sail aboard the luxury sailing catamaran Tina. Discover beautiful sandy coves, lake edge thermal hot springs, glow worm caves and cultural sites rich in history and legend. Enjoy a delicious BBQ meal with a selection of fine New Zealand beverages. Truly a genuine, personal New Zealand experience.

Accommodation: Rotorua

Day 4: Rotorua – Huka Falls - Lake Taupo

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is a spectacular showcase of New Zealand’s most colourful and unique geothermal elements sculpted by thousands of years of volcanic activity.

At Huka Falls, you can witness the phenomenon of natural hydropower - more than 220 000 litres of water per second.

Lake Taupo, the largest Lake in this country and the world’s largest volcanic crater was created in one giant explosion nearly two thousand years ago. It darkened the sky in Europe and China. Taupo is famous for its fishing and its trophy-sized trout.  In the evening, you have the option of boarding a luxury yacht for a scenic sunset cruise and dinner.  You even have the option of doing a spot of fishing yourself! 

A scenic cruise is a perfect way to enjoy the water and Taupo’s stunning vistas. You’ll enjoy cruising in comfort and style aboard a launch that offers fabulous views, enjoy the beautiful Lake and has an awesome dinner. Relax with a drink while you enjoy the scenery, and if you’re here during the warmer months, be sure to take your togs for a dip over the side of the boat. Sunset cruises are a fantastic experience; kick back with a glass of wine, watch the sun sink over the horizon and listen to the water lap against the side of the boat. (Fishing option) Trout averages about 4 pounds, and a typical Taupo fishing excursion on Lake Taupo will see your crew prepare your catch for a delicious barbecue or sashimi-style snack.

Accommodation: Lake Taupo

Day 5: Taupo - Hawkes Bay - Art Deco Napier

You leave Lake Taupo through fantastic scenery before you reach the East Coast. There's a bit of everything—rugged hills, beautiful valleys, gentle plains and huge vistas. At Tarawera, you can walk to the hot springs above the Waipunga River. You might also want to stop at the Waialua Falls lookout to view the twin waterfalls. 

Beautifully preserved 1930s architecture is Napier's unique point of difference. A national disaster resulted in Napier becoming one of the purest Art Deco cities in the world. As a result, Napier's city centre feels like a time capsule - the seamless line of 1930s architecture is quite extraordinary.  

Hawke's Bay is one of New Zealand's warmest, driest regions, making it one of the country's leading producers of wine, notably red wines – cabernet sauvignon, merlot and Syrah – but also with some quite stunning whites. Alluvial soils and a distinctly Mediterranean climate produce sophisticated, concentrated reds and weighty, finely-structured chardonnays. Take a tour of the area and visit a selection of vineyards.

Getting to the Gannet Colonie at  Cape Kidnappers is half the fun. There are several ways to get to the gannet colony - on foot, on a tractor-trailer, in a 4WD vehicle or by kayak. 

Accommodation: Hawkes Bay

Day 6: Hawkes Bay – Wairarapa - Capital Wellington

Wairarapa is a region of big skies, broad valleys and small towns full of character. It is also a bonafide food and wine lover's paradise. Its vineyards are at the heart of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail and produce some of the world's best pinot noir.  

New Zealand's capital city is nestled between rolling hills and a stunning harbour and has a vibrant and compact downtown area that's best explored on foot. Get your city bearings and some of Wellington's best views at the Mount Victoria Lookout, with panoramic sights of the city; watch the Cook Strait ferries sail into the harbour and the planes go in and out of the airport. One of Wellington's most popular tourist attractions, the cable car runs from Lambton Quay, tunnels under the corporate towers of The Terrace and emerges in Kelburn.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa) is New Zealand's innovative and interactive national museum. Explore this country's great treasures and stories – its unique natural environment, Māori culture, art heritage, and fascinating history. Te Papa is the most visited museum in Oceania, attracting nearly twelve million visitors since opening in 1998. Located right on Wellington's beautiful waterfront, you will need to allow yourself a good couple of hours to make your way around all the exhibitions showcasing New Zealand's diverse art and visual culture.

Accommodation: Wellington City

Day 7: Wellington - Ferry Marlborough Sounds - Kaikoura (Or: Christchurch)

Board a ferry to cross the Cook Strait and encounter a glorious world as the ferry enters the Marlborough Sounds from the Tory Channel into the Queen Charlotte Sound. You will discover a region with myriad inlets and bays with dramatic hills that plunge steeply into the sea. 

You disembark the ferry from Picton and enter the sun-drenched wine region, New Zealand's pre-eminent grape-growing area. Leaving the wine area, you travel along the East Coast of New Zealand. We pass over the arid rolling foothills of South Marlborough; we drop down to the dramatic Pacific coastline. 

Kaikoura's environment is spectacular – the village is caught between the rugged Seaward Kaikoura Range and the Pacific Ocean. In winter, the mountains are covered with snow, adding to the drama of the landscape. Kaikoura's unique talent is marine mammal encounters – whales, fur seals, and dolphins live permanently in the coastal waters. Whale-watching trips leave the town several times a day, and the local seal colony is always entertaining. There are plenty of cafés, restaurants and shops to explore.

Few places on Earth possess the magic of Kaikōura. Many who visit leave transformed. It is a particular part of New Zealand, imbued with powerful natural energy. A place where tectonic plates collide, towering peaks fall to the sea, and ocean currents converge. Such rare combinations lure an abundance of marine wildlife, the most famous being the Giant Sperm Whale. Kaikōura is one of the few places where Sperm Whales can be seen year-round and close to shore. They congregate here because the 3km deep Kaikōura Canyon runs right up against the coast, creating a rare system of sea currents that sustain a vibrant marine food chain. 

Alternative: Stay in Christchurch

Accommodation: Kaikoura 

Day 8: Kaikoura – Arthur's Pass Wilderness Lodge

The Canterbury region has everything from sweeping plains to soaring mountains and coastlines to glacial lakes. Stop at Castle Hill Basin in the high country at an altitude of 700m approximately 90km northwest of Christchurch. These limestone rock formations are the water eroded remnants of limestone formed during the Oligocene age 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. The eastern side of Arthur's Pass National Park is characterised by broad, shingle-filled riverbeds and vast beech forests. The western side of the park, where wet weather is more common than dry, has deeply gorged rivers flowing through dense rainforests. Down the middle of 'the great divide' is an alpine dreamland of snow-covered peaks, glaciers and scree slopes. 

Wilderness Lodge Arthur's Pass sits on a spectacular 4000-acre farm & nature reserve. Visit and experience the rich cultural traditions of life on a real working sheep farm. A highlight of a Wilderness Lodge Arthur's Pass stay is the opportunity to explore & learn about farming life. Guests can explore the farm with a guide, watch sheep-dogs in action, hand-feed lambs, see sheep shearing and learn how the world's finest merino wool is grown.

Alternative: If staying in Christchurch, take the Tranz Alpine train in the morning!

Accommodation: Arthur's Pass, Wilderness Lodge

Day 9: Arthur's Pass - Punakaiki – Hokitika - Franz Josef or Fox Glacier

The West Coast, or 'the Coast' as locals call it, is an untamed natural wilderness of rivers and rainforests, glaciers and geological treasures. Never more than 50 kilometres wide, the whole stretch down the West Coast is 600km long and there’s a lot to see. In fact, the Great Coast Road stretching from Westport to Greymouth was recently voted one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world by Lonely Planet.  

Stop at nearby Punakaiki, the Jewel of the West Coast. Punakaiki is world renowned for its pancake rock formations and blowholes. Walk along some of the stunning and remote beach treks, through a dense rainforest with Nikau Palms and large ferns. 

An exhilarating treetop adventure among temperate rainforest giants. Experience life with the birds, high in the ancient Rimu and Kamahi tree canopy. Easy access for all to enjoy along with a steel platform 20 metres high and over 450 metres long. Come and enjoy a leisurely 45 minute to one-hour stroll through the beautiful West Coast rainforest treetops. 

You will visit the historical gold mining town of Hokitika. Historic Hokitika is a place to appreciate the fascinating history of the West Coast. Hear about the shipwrecks, gold miners and pounamu hunters. Hokitika was first settled in 1860, after the discovery of gold on the west coast. There are some lovely old buildings on the town’s historic walk. You’ll also notice galleries specialising in pounamu (Greenstone) jewellery and artworks. The Arahura River, which enters the sea just north of Hokitika, is a traditional source of pounamu (greenstone). Gold jewellers, wood turners and potters provide other souvenir opportunities.  

Take a leisurely and scenic drive to the famous glacier region and your day’s itinerary will end in the tiny settlement of Franz Josef. The rugged West Coast is hemmed between the Tasman Sea and the imposing Southern Alps, making for spectacular contrasts in the surrounding scenery. Two glaciers are located only 25 km from each other and are unique in the world as they seem to nearly reach the ocean. Stay here while you explore this spectacular World Heritage Area. 

Or: Take a helicopter flight and landing on ice.

Accommodation: Franz Josef or Fox Glacier

Day 10: Franz Josef - Mt Aspiring National Park - Queenstown

Go as far South as the township of Haast. Nearby take a gentle walk following the slow-flowing Ship Creek Tauparikaka. A creek-side viewpoint allows easy observation of the forest plants and wildlife. Deep in the swamp forest are views of New Zealand's tallest tree, the Kahikatea. Explore a part of New Zealand that's splendidly isolated - there are more resident seals and penguins than people. 

A spectacular and scenic road links Haast and Wanaka. It reaches beyond wind-whipped Lakes Wanaka and Hawea, through golden tussock-covered hills, to wind among steep mountains cloaked in lush rainforest and crosses tumbling rivers. Just 20 minutes from Haast, take a short walk to the Roaring Billy Waterfall; an easy fern line walk will take you to the shores of the Haast River. Stop at the 28m drop Thunder Creek falls or take a 30-minute return walk to the Blue Pools. The glacier-fed water in these deep pools is the colour of deep azure blue and so clear that you can see right to the bottom, making the resident brown trout look like they are suspended in the air. 

As you exit Mt Aspiring National Park, you will travel through what is known as "The Neck", a formation of land that separates two of our great South Island lakes, Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. Nestled below towering mountains, Wanaka is the most tranquilly set of the South Island lakes. Forty-five kilometres long and covering 193 square kilometres, the crystal-clear waters of Lake Wanaka are perfect for jet boaters, sailors and kayakers to explore.  

Queenstown is one of New Zealand's top visitor destinations; if you come to the region, you'll understand why. Queenstown sits on the shore of crystal clear Lake Wakatipu amidst dramatic mountain ranges; this stunning location will blow you away.

Accommodation: Queenstown

Day 11: Queenstown - Lake Wakatipu - Jet Boat Shotover River

Queenstown is suited to all kinds of adventures – especially throughout summer. Activities like paragliding, Zip lining, 4WD Driving, and kayaking are the perfect way to enjoy the beautiful outdoors. However, if adventure isn’t your thing and you need time to kick back and relax, plenty of rejuvenating experiences are available. Treat yourself to some boutique shopping and be sure to experience the excellent local food and wine.

Or: Can you handle the canyons with award-winning Shotover Jet? ‘The World’s Most Exciting Jet Boat Ride’ and the only company permitted to operate in the spectacular Shotover River Canyons.

Or: Skippers Canyon Jet provide spectacular guided tours of Skippers Canyon via the infamous Skippers Road, followed by a thrilling jet boat ride through the narrowest canyons on the Shotover River.

Situated an easy five-minute walk from central Queenstown, the Gondola carries visitors high above Queenstown to the Skyline complex on Bob’s Peak. The best views in the region are found here, spread out in a spectacular 220º panorama. Numerous observation decks offer breathtaking views of Coronet Peak, The Remarkables mountain range and across Lake Wakatipu to Cecil and Walter Peaks. Truly magnificent and awe-inspiring!

Accommodation: Queenstown

Day 12: Queenstown - Milford Sounds/Fiordland National Park

The journey takes you past the Eastern shores of Lake Wakatipu to Fiordland National Park. The extraordinary scenic beauty has earned this region a reputation as a significant sightseeing and walking destination and a 'must-see' for anyone travelling to New Zealand. 

Nestled on the edge of a lake, Te Anau is the perfect town to base yourself on to visit Milford Sound. The picturesque township is the main visitor base for the glacier-carved wilderness that is Fiordland National Park. 

Situated on the west coast of the South Island, Milford Sound is a fusion of spectacular natural features with excellent visual cues around every corner. Described by Rudyard Kipling as the 'eighth wonder of the world, Milford Sound was carved by glaciers during the ice ages. As a result, Milford Sound is breathtaking in any weather. The fiord's cliffs rise vertically from the dark waters; mountain peaks scrape the sky, and waterfalls cascade downwards, some as high as 1000 metres. When it rains in Milford Sound, and it often does, those waterfalls multiply with magnificent effect. To learn more about the local marine life, visit the underwater observatory at Harrison Cove and marvel at the black coral, 11-legged sea stars and delicate anemones.

Take a scenic cruise and get up close and personal with this pristine environment on our small boat, Encounter Nature Cruise. Reach out, touch sheer rock cliffs, and drink pure glacial water straight from the waterfalls.

Or: Overnight Cruise Doubtful Sound:
Escape to the peace and tranquillity of Doubtful Sound on a magical overnight cruise. Your getaway starts in Manapouri with a short cruise across Lake Manapouri. 

Accommodation: Te Anau

Day 13: Te Anau – Dunedin - Otago Pensinsula

The splendour of many of its public buildings reflects Dunedin's economic and cultural pre-eminence in Victorian New Zealand. Today, Dunedin has a rightly deserved reputation as one of the best-preserved Victorian and Edwardian cities in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Flanking the southern edge of Dunedin's extensive harbour, Otago Peninsula is high and rugged on the ocean side, warm and sheltered on the harbourside. Volcanic in origin, the peninsula is part of the crater wall of a large, long-extinct volcano. As a scenic drive, Otago Peninsula is spectacular.  

Nestled on the spectacular Otago Peninsula, Larnach Castle is Dunedin's must-see visitor attraction and New Zealand's only castle. You can visit the court and discover its rich history that dates back to 1871 and explore the exquisite gardens, which have attained a Garden of International Significance award from the New Zealand Gardens Trust.  

Penguin Place is a private conservation reserve dedicated to helping the endangered Yellow-Eyed Penguin survive. Wild Yellow Eyed Penguins, or Hoiho, are often seen in our account. Your guide will also point out other native wildlife and interesting flora. Highlights include sizeable native bird species, New Zealand fur seals, nesting or moulting blue penguins, beautiful native forest, regenerating wetlands and a visit to our penguin rehabilitation facility. 

Accommodation: Dunedin or Otago Peninsula

Day 14: Dunedin - Moeraki Boulders - Stargazing Mt Cook or Lake Tekapo

You can't drive along the North Otago coast without stopping to stare at the Moeraki Boulders. Moeraki is now most famous for its boulders, mysteriously spherical stones scattered across a beach. Each boulder weighs several tonnes and is up to two metres high. 

The whitestone townscape of Oamaru contains some of the best-preserved heritage buildings in New Zealand. In the late 19th century, the town prospered through gold mining, quarrying and timber milling. The Harbour-Tyne Street area is exceptional and after exploring the Victorian precinct, swing by the steampunk playground and museum. 

Travel inland set eyes on Mt Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand. Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is home to the highest mountains and the longest glaciers. It is alpine in the purest sense - with sky-scraping peaks, glaciers and permanent snowfields, all set under a star-studded sky. Stop at the edge of the spectacular blue waters of Lake Pukaki.  

Visit New Zealand's Tasman Glacier terminal lake for a fascinating glacial encounter. Cruise the rapidly growing terminal lake taking in spectacular mountain views and scenery. Icebergs of every shape and size periodically tear away from the glacier, allowing you to touch and taste the 300-500-year-old glacial crystals.

Dark, clear skies, unique celestial features and otherworldly landscapes make stargazing in New Zealand a breathtakingly magical experience. Here, the heavens appear closer to earth. See constellations and shooting stars in glittering dark skies; much of the country has no light pollution and is home to some of the most accessible observatories in the world.

Accommodation: Mt Cook or Lake Tekapo

Day 15: Tekapo - Christchurch afternoon departure

Lake Tekapo is in the Mackenzie Basin. The township faces north across the vast turquoise-coloured lake to the mountainous drama of the Southern Alps. Lake Tekapo gets its intense milky-turquoise colour from the fine rock flour (ground by glaciers) suspended in the water. On the shores, on the lake, you'll see the beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd, where the altar window frames a perfect view of the Southern Alps beyond the lake.

Traditionally known as the Garden City, Christchurch's award-winning Botanical Gardens are over 150 years old and boast an enviable collection of exotic and native plants. The Avon River flows gently through the city centre, making Edwardian punt rides an iconic way to sightsee. Alternatively, catch a ride aboard the Historic Tram or take a bicycle tour to learn about Christchurch's history.

Or: An iconic Christchurch activity not to be missed. Admire the beautiful Christchurch Botanic Gardens or the changing face of the city centre as you are expertly guided gently along the Avon River on our authentic Edwardian punting tours.

Late afternoon departure 

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