On this journey, you will encounter the wonder of the South Island's wildlife amidst some stunning locations. On your journey, you will see spectacular scenery including mountains, glaciers, fjords, coastal rainforest and remote islands.
The rugged coastline of New Zealand embraces a land of topographic extremes, from seaside rainforests and volcanic craters to active glaciers and icy fjords. On this comprehensive itinerary, you are immersed in nature at its best and most spectacular.Plan Your Tour
Private guided tour itinerary - 13 nights
Day 1: Christchurch arrival (Private airport transfer, day at your own leisure)
Day 2: Christchurch – Kaikoura (Whale-watch cruise)
Day 3: Kaikoura (Albatross encounter)
Day 4: Kaikoura - Arthur’s Pass (working sheep farm, wilderness lodge)
Day 5: Arthur's Pass (guided hiking tour through the centre of the Southern Alps)
Day 6: Westland National Park - Fox Glacier – Lake Moeraki (White Heron colony, glaciers into rainforest)
Day 7: Lake Moeraki (Tawaki penguins on rugged beaches)
Day 8: West Coast – Lake Wanaka (Rainforest and wetlands, waterfalls, "The Neck")
Day 9: Wanaka – Te Aanu (4WD high country tour near Mt Aspiring)
Day 10: Te Anau – Day trip to Fiordland National Park (Cruise at Milford Sound)
Day 11: Te Anau - Stewart Island (scenic flight to a remote island)
Day 12: Stewart Island (Ulva Island rare NZ birds, Kiwi spotting tour)
Day 13: Stewart Island - Catlins - Dunedin (Sea Lions at Otago peninsula)
Day 14: Dunedin departure (Private airport transfer)
Prices: We recommend the following guidelines for customized tour packages, excluding international flights:
4* (3* internationally) to 5*: From around NZ$ $400 - $1150+ per person per day. The customized package will include accommodation, airport transfers and other transportation within New Zealand, guided tours or activities, unique experiences, trip planning, and 24X7 support during your trip. Please enquire for a custom quote. The price is customized based on final accommodation choices, travel dates, and other custom preferences.
You will be met on arrival at Christchurch International Airport by your Aroha NZ Tours Representative, and transferred to your accommodation in our luxurious vehicle. Christchurch is New Zealand's second-largest city and the gateway to the South Island. Bordered by hills and the Pacific Ocean, it is situated on the edge of the Canterbury Plains that stretch to the Southern Alps. Described by the Lonely Planet as a "vibrant city in transition, coping resiliently and creatively,” Christchurch is showing off its vibrancy with new developments popping up all over the place. Whilst part of the central city of Christchurch is still cordoned off due to the impact of a series of earthquakes, there’s plenty to do in and around this rapidly changing city, like visiting the Re:Start shopping area and Pop Up City bars. For those who arrive early, you may wish to take a tour of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens and Canterbury Museum.
Accommodation: Christchurch city
Driving distance 2.5h
Start off your private guided tour. In the morning you leave Christchurch and head to the small seaside town of Kaikoura which is nestled on a rugged peninsula on the East Coast and backed by the breathtaking Seaward Kaikoura Ranges. A spectacular marine playground exists off the coast and living in this environment is the mighty Sperm Whale. Join a whale-watch tour and encounter the “Giant Sperm Whale” in their natural environment. Giant Sperm Whales are the biggest of the toothed whales and the world's largest predator. They are equivalent in size to four elephants. This deep-diving whale (up to 3 km) may stay submerged for over two hours while hunting prey such as the Giant Squid. Many of Kaikoura's Sperm Whales wear battle scars from close encounters with this monster of the deep. Sperm Whales have the largest head, proportionally, of any animal. This giant head contains a fibrous tank full of white waxy oil early whalers thought was sperm. It is believed the oil tank amplifies the whale's powerful acoustic clicks used for echolocation and hunting. Kaikoura is one of the few places in the world where Sperm Whales can be seen year-round and close to shore. They congregate here because the 3km deep Kaikoura Canyon runs right up against the coast creating a rare system of sea currents that sustain an incredibly rich marine food chain. Sperm Whales are at the top of this food chain and the abundance of fish ensures they make the waters of Kaikoura their home.
In the morning we take a boat ride in search of five different species of albatross. Albatross Encounter brings you up close to a diverse array of seabirds including albatross, petrels, shearwaters, shags, terns and gulls. These species all occur naturally within a close proximity of the Kaikoura Peninsula. Kaikoura's marine environment is home to more seabird species in a small area than anywhere else in New Zealand. This boat-based tour can take you just 15 minutes from the coast before you start to encounter a diverse range of seabirds. The experienced guides on board are able to assist with identification of the birds and provide an educational and memorable commentary. In the afternoon take a walk along this magnificent seafront or wander around the town and indulge in some retail therapy or partake in some of the local seafood at one of the many local cafes and restaurants.
Driving distance 4h
Travelling inland to the Craigieburn Range, we find endemic scree plants, giant weta insects and dramatic views of Castle Hill Basin. We stop for a walk at Castle Hill Basin, characterised by its distinctive limestone rock formations. These 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. Your journey then continues passed Lake Pearson and onto Arthur's Pass village, the South Islands highest settlement. You can relax in your accommodation surrounded by mountain peaks rising more than 2,000 meters. Wilderness Lodge is a deluxe eco-lodge on a working sheep farm set amid mountain beech forest. Today you will discover wild nature in a spectacular mountain setting and experience life on a 2,400-hectare nature reserve and high country merino sheep station. Walk from your room into a natural paradise of beech forest, tussock clearings, moss-lined streams and lakes. A naturalist guide will help you learn about high country life and explore nature in this special place the first Maori visitors called "Te Ko Awa a Aniwaniwa - Valley of the Mother of the Rainbows.” We’ll enjoy short hikes and activities around the lodge, including forest walks and a visit to a braided glacial river.
Accommodation: Arthur's Pass
Your program will cater to your special interests and fitness levels with breaks for lunch, refreshments and relaxation during the day. Whether you are a bird or plant enthusiast or just want to enjoy a day of huge variety we can organise a special day just for you. A day of exclusive guiding particularly suits those who want to pack every experience into their Wilderness Lodge visit, who are older and who may want a more gentle program. Conversely having your own guide will appeal to those who are younger/honeymooners and who want a very active and exciting program. The mountains, lakes, forests and valleys around Wilderness Lodge Arthur's Pass boast stunning scenery, fantastic hiking, rare wildlife and fascinating ecology. Your guide will bring the stories of the area to life, help you to get the most from your stay and ensure your comfort through the day. Try the Southern Alps Alpine Tarn Historic Walk -Traverses moss forest, giant red tussocks, alpine wetlands and lakes to a historic high musterer's (shepherd's) hut dating back to our farm's early days.
Accommodation: Arthur's Pass
Driving distance 4h
Your day has an interesting flavour of mountains, and native flora and fauna, as you travel through the rugged terrain that divides the east from the west. Pass by Lake Brunner with its rolling foothills overlooking the largest lake in the northwestern South Island. On arriving in Greymouth, your driver/guide will take you to the upper West Coast. The West Coast – New Zealand’s longest region – is a narrow 600km stretch of wild coastline, mountain peaks, glaciers, clear lakes and sparsely populated towns. Before midday, we take a jet boat ride to a rare white heron sanctuary. The Waitangi Roto Nature Reserve is a sanctuary to most of the bird life that you will see in the South West Heritage Area. The pristine rainforest, predominantly Kahikatea, stands tall and shows off its untouched beauty. In Westland National Park, vast icefields of the Southern Alps spawn glaciers that wind like frozen highways nearly to the ocean, their terminal moraines ending in primaeval rainforest. In this unusual mix of habitats, we find the world’s only alpine parrot, the kea. We visit Fox Glacier, in the shadow of New Zealand’s tallest peak, Mount Cook. At Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki, rainforest walks and paddling excursions invite relaxation.
Accommodation: Lake Moeraki
Tawaki, or Fiordland crested penguins, eudyptes pachyrhynchus, are the second rarest penguin species on the planet (behind the Galapagos penguin). Only in the southwest corner of New Zealand's South Island, particularly along the Moeraki coastline, can you see these special birds. Their total population is estimated at 2,000 pairs with about 10% of these found around Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki. While they spend much of their lives navigating the oceans, far from land, they return each year to breed in dense coastal rainforest between July and December. The rainforests, lakes and rivers surrounding the Lodge provide a glimpse of what New Zealand would have looked like when the first Polynesians stepped ashore 800 years ago. The short twice-daily nature activities are led by ecologist guides and offer a wonderful opportunity to sample the delights Moeraki has to offer.
Accommodation: Lake Moeraki
Driving distance 3.5h
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. South of Haast, the coastline turns westward along a 24 kilometre, gently curving bay to Jackson Head. This headland provides shelter from the prevailing wind direction, and here a fishing harbour has survived since the early pioneer days of seal hunting. Jackson Head also marks the southern end of the west coast's narrow river plains. Beyond this point, the steep mountain ranges plunge directly into the sea - the first of the deep glacial fiords is just 60 kilometres away. 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 across tumbling rivers. Just 20 min from Haast you can take a 20 min walk to the Roaring Billy Waterfall. An easy fern lined walk will take you to the shores of the Haast River. Later you make a short stop at the 28m drop Thunder Creek falls. Further down the road, you can take a 30 min return walk to the Blue Pools. It features a carefully maintained gravel path and boardwalks that wind through a native silver beech forest and lead to a swing bridge strung high above the Makarora River. The views back to the mountains of the Main Divide are absolutely breath-taking. 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. Wanaka is a new and modern Alpine resort and mostly visited by us New Zealanders. A year-round destination set against the pristine alpine backdrop of Mount Aspiring National Park, you can still discover that totally relaxed Kiwi way of life at Lake Wanaka.
Driving distance 3h
Today you can experience the rugged beauty and solitude of the spectacular high country, with an exclusive 4WD journey exploring a historic New Zealand sheep, cattle and deer farm, Maori and European historic sites, pure mountain air and breath-taking scenery. As braided river valleys, native beech forests and lush alpine meadows give way to the dramatic glaciated Southern Alps, the pure beauty of the scenery pushes daily pressures a million miles away. Part of Te Wahipounamu - Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area, Mt Aspiring National Park is an area of unrivalled natural beauty and host to hundreds of hiking tracks, rock climbing routes and trout fishing rivers, all within easy reach of Lake Wanaka. At its heart is Mt Aspiring, the park’s highest mountain at 3,027m and known to early Maori as ‘Tititea’ or ‘glistening peak’. This journey offers a unique insight into Wanaka’s rich history, heritage and modern-day farming life. After your 4WD adventure you journey continues and you leave Wanaka and head towards historic Cardrona famous for skiing and home to one of New Zealand's oldest hotels. Along the Crown Range Road, vistas of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables Range unfold. Continuing to the Fiordland World Heritage Area, we overnight in the lakeside resort town of Te Anau.
Accommodation: Te Anau
Driving distance 4h return
Fiordland National Park is a mythical-looking land of pyramid peaks and sheer rock walls, waterfalls and drifting mists, beneath a perpetual cap of snow and ice. We are heading for the spectacular Milford Sound, described by Rudyard Kipling as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” which was carved out during successive ice ages and, at its deepest point off Mitre Peak, plunges to a depth of 265 meters. The awesome splendour of this region is unsurpassed anywhere else in the world, a daring claim in a country which offers extraordinary beauty around every corner. Getting there is half of the experience; we take you through the Fiordland National Park, past staggeringly beautiful valleys, lakes and creeks. If the time allows we will stop at the “Mirror Lakes”, before entering the narrow and dark 1km long Homer Tunnel. You may encounter Kea’s, New Zealand’s cheeky alpine parrots. At Milford, we board a vessel and cruise on the Fiord through sheer cliffs covered with vegetation that plunges into the sea. View the Bowen Falls, hurtling 165 meters into the sea, and the Stirling Falls further down the sound, set amidst the towering cliffs and dwarfed by Mitre Peak. After you cruise on the drive back we take a boardwalk into the “Chasm” to see surreal, water-hewn rock sculptures.
Accommodation: Te Anau
Driving distance 3h
Before midday, we take you to the very south of the South Island and visit Southland’s largest centre Invercargill. If you’re a garden lover you must see Queens Park and its 80 hectares of tree-lined walkways and diverse gardens. Ten kilometres west of Invercargill is Oreti Beach which was a key location for the film 'The World's Fastest Indian', which tells the story of Southland's motorcycling hero Burt Munro. At around 26 kilometres in length, the beach provided Munro with a testing and racing site for his modified Indian motorcycle. In February 1957 Munro set a New Zealand Open Beach record of 131.38 mph at Oreti Beach; in 1975 he raised this to 136 mph. Nearby Bluff – Pearl of the South – Home of the world famous Bluff Oyster, and the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in New Zealand! Bluff is the ‘Gateway to Stewart Island’, from here you take a ferry or a scenic flight to Stewart Island. This Island offers a special experience - a glimpse into a simpler, slower lifestyle, in rhythm with the sea and the tides, attuned to the natural world of bush and beach. Many people think of New Zealand as two islands, when it is actually three. Sub-antarctic Stewart Island, which lies 30 kilometres south of the South Island, has a land area of nearly 2000 square kilometres, and 85% of it is included within the boundaries of Rakiura National Park.
Accommodation: Stewart Island
Its lush forests shelter many native plants, which we discover on short hikes through the unique habitat. We’ll also hope to spy the elusive brown kiwi on a guided night walk. On neighbouring Ulva Island, a short 10-minute boat ride away, we explore pristine trails and beaches, observing rare bird species that no longer exist on the main islands. The morning is spent on Ulva Island; an amazing insight into the natural history, stunning bird and plant life in the southern-most bird sanctuary in the world. Birds to watch out for are the Stewart Island Weka, South Island Saddleback, Tomtit, Rifleman, Stewart Island Robin, Brown Creeper, Tui, Kaka, Fantail, NZ Pigeon, Parakeet (yellow and red-crowned), Bellbird and Yellowhead. Your afternoon is a smorgasbord of seabirds! Aurora Charter’s purpose-built pelagic charter vessel takes you around the scenic Stewart Island shores discovering our magnificent seabirds, penguins and other wildlife on our coastlines. New Zealand is the birding capital of the world; you will thoroughly enjoy wildlife encounters as well as close proximity to albatross, shearwaters, petrels, terns and many more. To complete your full day birding bonanza, an evening twilight cruise to see the Stewart Island Brown Kiwi – the largest of the kiwi species in New Zealand.
Accommodation: Stewart Island
Driving distance 4h
Natural curiosities and beauty combine to make this corner of the South Island a scenic treasure. Fossilized trees, beautiful waterfalls, golden beaches, high cliffs and secret caves are all part of a unique mix of attractions in this area (McLean Falls and Cathedral Caves). A varied coastline provides a home to a wide range of wildlife and you may see sea lions at Waipapa Point Lighthouse. Visit the unique fossil forest at Curio Bay. Take a short walk to the Purakaunui Falls through beech and podocarp forest to a viewing platform overlooking these attractive waterfalls. By late afternoon we reach Dunedin, it is the smallest of the 4 major New Zealand cities and displays a wealth of pioneering history within the city. For more than one hundred years Dunedin has been aware of its special relationship with the Southern Ocean. From its inception, its university has had a deep commitment to the natural sciences. About the same time, the city's port became the final provisioning point for Antarctic exploration. The last coastline they saw before plotting their course to the unknown was, in itself, a link with the fauna of the White Continent. Seals and sea lions come ashore to lie on the rocks of the Otago Peninsula. Last day with your private guide!
Today, our New Zealand adventure tour comes to an end. 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. If time permits, explore this delightful Victorian city on your own before transferring to the airport for your flights home.