The South Island's spectacular and beautiful landscape includes vast mountain chains, rugged coastlines, deeply indented fiords and lush rainforest.
You will see the main highlights of the South Island and visit the best and most scenic locations. This action-packed trip combining hiking, cycling and kayaking, while viewing rare indigenous animals in spectacular surroundings. This journey will be an unforgettable adventure through the South Island.
Plan Your Tour
Private guided tour 9 nights
Location: South Island
Accommodation: 4* or 5* quality hotels, Boutique B&B’s, Serviced Luxury Apartments
Next Departure: Departs Daily
LOCATION AND HIGHLIGHTS:
Day 1: Christchurch arrival - Akaroa Peninsula
(City tour, Or: Swim with Hector Dolphins, Or: 4WD Safari and Kayak)
Day 2: Akaroa - Arthur's Pass – West Coast – Punakaiki
(Hike Castle Hill, Devils Punchbowl waterfall, Pancake Rocks)
Day 3: Punakaiki - Franz Josef Glacier
(Glowworm Hike, Hokitika Gorge, Or: Fox glacier valley hike)
Day 4: West Coast – Queenstown
(Helicopter Hike, Rainforest, waterfalls, "The Neck)
Day 5: Queenstown – Te Anau
(Winery biking trail, Kawarau Gorge, Arrowtown)
Day 6: Te Anau – Day trip to Milford Sound
(Kayaking Or: day hike Milford Sound Or: Routeburn Track Guided Walk)
Day 7: Te Anau – Dunedin – Otago Peninsula
(City tour, Peninsula encounter tour - Albatross, penguins, Seals)
Day 8: Dunedin - Mt Cook
(Moeraki Boulders, Clay-cliffs walk)
Day 9: Mt Cook National Park
Hooker valley hike, Or: Try Tasman Glacier Snow Shoeing, and Stargazing
Day 10: Mt Cook - Tekapo - Christchurch departure
Christchurch city promises an eclectic mix of historic elegance and contemporary culture. Described by Lonely Planet as a "vibrant city in transition, coping resiliently and creatively,” Christchurch's energy is evident wherever you go. Contemporary art galleries, boutique shops and open-air markets add to Christchurch’s creative vibe.
The most French town in New Zealand, Akaroa will have you entranced with its historic buildings, magnificent harbour and a passion for fine food. An easy drive south-east 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. Only a select few are able to realise their dream and take part in the most unique adventure of a lifetime. There is only one place on the planet where you can swim with the worlds smallest and rarest dolphin - the Hector or New Zealand Dolphin - and that is the beautiful sheltered setting of Akaroa Harbour in New Zealand's South Island.
Or: Take a scenic 4WD safari to Pohatu and then take a guided sea kayaking trip in the reserve. This trip can be mind-blowing in the right sea conditions. The outer coast of Pohatu Marine Reserve just outside Akaroa is spectacular with towering sea cliffs sculpted through the ages by the sea into rock stacks, reefs, and deep sea caves. Flea Bay Island and the impressive island arch make an added exciting attraction in settled sea conditions. Pohatu Marine Reserve also has diverse wildlife with many marine species such as Penguins, several seal colonies and is often visited by Hectors Dolphins and a great range of seabird species.
Accommodation: Akaroa Peninsula
You leave the city and head out into the countryside. Stop for a walk at Castle Hill Basin, characterised by its distinctive limestone rock formations. 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. Long 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. The eastern side of Arthur's Pass National Park is characterised by wide, 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 rainforest.
Stop for a short walk to view the Devils Punchbowl and feel the full force and sound of fresh mountain water falling 131 m down one of New Zealand’s most stunning waterfalls.
Pass by Lake Brunner with its rolling foothills overlooking the largest lake in the northwestern South Island. 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. This immense untamed natural environment is New Zealand’s most protected region.
Stop at nearby Punakaiki, the Jewel of the West Coast and 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.
Accommodation: West Coast
A passive eco-tour through the enormous Nile River Caves in the Paparoa National Park. Take the Nile River Rainforest Train for travel through the primaeval rain forest close to the enormous Nile River Caves. You will explore an ancient wonderland of stalactites, stalagmites in the large dry upper levels and become entranced while under the galaxies of glow-worms in the awe-inspiring Ananui entrance series.
You will visit the historical gold mining town of Hokitika, it is a place to appreciate the fascinating history of the West Coast. Hear about the shipwrecks gold miners and pounamu hunters.
Nearby take a walk over a swing bridge to the Hokitika Gorge, this is truly one of the beautiful places in New Zealand! The beautiful turquoise waters are quite breath-taking as is the gorge itself.
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. Franz Josef Glacier was first explored in 1865 by geologist Julius von Haast, who named it after the Austrian emperor.
Or: Tucked into the forested foothills of the Southern Alps, the cosy township of Fox Glacier is geared up for glacier walks, hikes and flights. Named after Sir William Fox, New Zealand’s Prime Minister from 1869 to 1872, Fox Glacier describes both the glacier and the nearby village. Like its twin, Franz Josef, the glacier descends from the Southern Alps down into temperate rainforest just 300 metres above sea level. To see the glacier, you can take a mostly flat walk to the terminal face.
Accommodation: Franz Josef or Fox Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier is 12km long and fed by a massive 20 square km 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 the show and the most dynamic glacier in New Zealand is accessible to you via one of the most exhilarating experiences in the world. First, 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 then 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 which you will never forget.
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. 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. 45 kilometres long and covering 193 square kilometres, the crystal-clear waters of Lake Wanaka are perfect for jetboaters, sailors and kayakers to explore.
Or: Queenstown is one of New Zealand's top visitor destinations and 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: Wanaka or Queenstown
Central Otago is New Zealand’s fastest growing wine region and also it's most scenic. Take the time to explore these incredible vineyards set in small micro-climates in a landscape dominated by high snow-capped mountains, and tussock clad slopes.
The Gibbston River Trail – an easy-going and picturesque bicycle track which forms part of Nga Haerenga (the NZ bicycle trail network). Visit three of the area’s eclectic wineries where we have an opportunity to learn about the history and “personality” of each brand and sample some of the unique wines produced in the region. Along the way, we explore the stunning valley landscape, learn more about the area thanks to our knowledgeable guides, and stop for a picnic lunch in a picture-postcard spot amongst the vines.
One of the most picturesque settlements in New Zealand, Arrowtown sits alongside the gold-bearing Arrow River. The town was established in 1862, during the height of the Otago gold rush. The settlement grew quickly as pioneers constructed cottages, shops, hotels and churches, more than 60 of which can still be seen today. A special highlight is the Chinese settlement at the edge of the river. Built by Chinese miners from 1868, this area of restored shelters and buildings paints a picture of earlier times.
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.
Accommodation: Te Anau
Nestled on the edge of a lake, Te Anau is the perfect town to base yourself from 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 amazing 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. 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.
Want to REALLY get amongst it?! We’re sure you’ll agree with us and the Lonely Planet that sea kayaking is by far the best way to truly discover Milford Sound. Get set to feel the spray kiss your face as waterfalls tumble from hundreds of metres above you; marvel at the ancient rainforest clinging to the steep cliffs of the fiord alongside you; and look out for the New Zealand Fur Seals, Fiordland Crested Penguins, famous Blue Penguins and even Bottlenose Dolphins.
Or: See Fiordland by foot, join a guided walk to get real insight and safely learn more about the spectacular natural surrounds in this famous World Heritage Area. Experience the raw beauty first hand; step out into the forest and mountains with a local, knowledgeable guide to share in this awe-inspiring world. Our Milford Track guided day hike options begin the trail from the Milford Sound end, at a place called Sandfly Point. Easygoing and enjoyable, it’s a fantastic way to get a feel for the beauty of the track.
Or: The Routeburn – while lesser-known than the Milford – features some of the grandest scenery. Huge, glacier-carved valleys, snowy mountains, waterfalls and jewel-like lakes dot the length of the Routeburn.
Accommodation: Te Anau
From the Fiordland National Park, the journey will take you back to the East Coast of the South Island.
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.
Take a wildlife tour which caters for small groups providing a glimpse into the world of tourism and conservation working in a symbiotic relationship for the benefit of the wildlife providing absolutely unrivalled viewing of estuarine and marine wildlife. Our private conservation area ensures exclusivity with brilliant opportunities to photograph Hooker's Sea lions, Yellow-eyed Penguins, Blue Penguins, a breeding colony of New Zealand Fur Seals and other seabird colonies. At Taiaroa Head from a cliff face, we watch and observe Royal Albatross flying about the headland and to and fro from the ocean. A further 25-30 other estuarine and marine bird species are seen during the experience around the bays and lagoons.
You simply 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 particularly special and after exploring the Victorian precinct, swing by the steampunk playground and museum.
These natural rock formations are just 10 km west of Omarama. 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, originally formed by the flow from ancient glaciers over a million years ago.
Travel inland set eyes on Mt Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand. Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is home of the highest mountains and the longest glaciers. It is alpine in the purest sense - with skyscraping peaks, glaciers and permanent snowfields, all set under a star-studded sky. Stop at the edge of the spectacular blue waters of Lake Pukaki.
Accommodation: Mt Cook or Tekapo
One of the most popular walks in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. Pass through Hooker Valley and walk beside the Hooker River. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is a rugged land of ice and rock. Walking one of the tracks is the best way to experience the untouched land. Picturesque icebergs, glaciers and majestic mountains will have you reaching for your camera at every turn. The full Hooker Valley walk takes 4 hours return. The track leads up the Hooker Valley, along the Hooker River and ends at the glacier lake, where there are amazing views of Aoraki/Mount Cook on a clear day.
Or: Try Tasman Glacier Snow Shoeing: Your adventure starts with a scenic flight into the Tasman Glacier, with views of Aoraki Mount Cook, Mount Tasman and the surrounding snow-capped mountains that form the Southern Alps. Years of experience and exploration of the glacier by your guide has resulted in extensive local knowledge allowing you to explore the hidden gems of the Tasman Glacier.
Join us on our famous observatory tour. Spend the evening discovering what the southern sky has to offer, and experience the thrill of looking deep into the cosmos with our powerful telescopes.
Accommodation: Mt Cook
Lake Tekapo is in the Mackenzie Basin. The township faces north across the remarkable 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) which is 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 Botanic 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.