On this journey, you will encounter the wonder of the South Island's wildlife amidst some stunning locations. You will see spectacular scenery, including mountains, glaciers, fjords, coastal rainforests and remote islands.
The rugged coastline of New Zealand embraces a land of topographic extremes, from coastal 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
Category: Culture, Active
Location: South Island
Departing/Finishing: Christchurch - Dunedin (Itinerary can be reversed)
Accommodation: 4* or 5* quality Hotels, boutique B&Bs, Luxury Serviced Apartments, Wilderness Lodges
Next Departure: Departs Daily
Christchurch city promises an eclectic mix of historic elegance and contemporary culture. 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.
Or: Akaroa is an accessible drive southeast of Christchurch; the Banks Peninsula is the South Island's most interesting volcanic feature. Initially, an island formed by two volcanic cones, the peninsula has two dominant craters, which form Lyttelton and Akaroa Harbours.
Or: It's the ultimate dolphin experience as you will swim with the endangered Hector's Dolphin, the world's rarest and smallest oceanic dolphin. Hector's dolphins are protected in Akaroa Harbour by a marine mammal sanctuary. Our dolphin cruise gives you a chance to see and swim with these beautiful marine mammals close up in the wild in their natural habitat.
Accommodation: Christchurch city or the Banks Peninsula
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.
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. Designed especially for whale watching, the modern catamarans are equipped with engines that minimise underwater noise and toilets that never pollute the sea.
Or: Snorkelling with wild New Zealand Fur Seals in the shallow waters of the beautiful Kaikoura Peninsula truly is a unique experience. It's one of those simple nature experiences that open your mind to the magnificence of our natural environment and its unique inhabitants. A breathtaking nature activity and was recently listed as one of the world's 'Top 10 Marine Encounters' by Lonely Planet.
Kaikoura is one of the world’s hotspots for pelagic birdlife, with up to twelve species of albatross found at various times of the year. The tour is a sea-based operation by boat, taking you off the spectacularly stunning Kaikoura Coast. Kaikoura’s vast offshore underwater canyon system, with its nutrient-rich waters, is responsible for the variety of sea life able to be viewed off Kaikoura. A travel time of only fifteen minutes (by boat) is required to commence viewing a large variety of aquatic birds, including albatross (up to twelve species), shearwaters, petrels, penguins, gannets, skuas, terns and more. The dedicated Albatross Encounter vessel has been adapted for maximum wildlife viewing opportunities and onboard identification guides.
Or: Take an exclusive flight that showcases natural forces and the geological and environmental changes to Kaikoura coastal areas, mountain ranges, rivers and infrastructure after a great earthquake.
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.
Accommodation: Arthur's Pass
A network of private walking trails extends through the forests, across the farm and into the mountains. Or you may want to visit the neighbouring National Park. Day walks in Arthur's Pass National Park offer moderate or demanding climbs to the bushline and beyond. Experience the best of Arthur's Pass's diverse alpine vegetation, waterfalls, wetlands, rich history and stunning mountain views on your walks.
Or: Hire a private guide for a day of exclusive wilderness discovery. This can be fully customised to your particular interests and fitness level. It is perfect for photographers, botanists and other unique interest travellers or those wanting to pack the most into their stay.
Accommodation: Arthur's Pass
The West Coast – New Zealand’s most extended 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. Punakaiki is world-renowned for its pancake rock formations and blowholes. Walk along some stunning and remote beach treks through a dense rainforest with Nikau Palms and giant ferns.
You will visit the historic 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.
White Heron Colony - The location of the nesting site deep within the Waitangiroto Nature Reserve is only accessible by boat. The Department of Conservation administers the Nature Reserve, and entry is by permit only. Royal Spoonbill (kotuku nutu-papa) and Little Shag (kawapaka) also nest in this reserve. The preserved rainforest and its surrounds are also home to an incredible array of other birdlife. Experience the untouched beauty of the prehistoric White Pine (Kahikatea) rainforest and absorb the natural Flora and Fauna as you visit one of the unique places in New Zealand.
Take a scenic drive to the famous glacier region. The rugged West Coast is hemmed between the Tasman Sea and the imposing Southern Alps, making for spectacular contrasts in the surrounding scenery. The two glaciers are located only 25 km from each other and are unique worldwide as they nearly reach the ocean.
Accommodation: Lake Moeraki
Tawaki, or Fiordland crested penguins and 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 unique 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 the 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 an excellent opportunity to sample Moeraki's delights.
Or: Moeraki Rainforest Walk, Kayak and Beach Discovery Hike majestic floodplain forests, then kayak a calm lagoon to the coast. See the world's most epiphyte (perching plant) laden tree (101 species!), and search for gemstones on a deserted West Coast beach.
Accommodation: Lake Moeraki
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. Finally, explore a part of New Zealand that's splendidly isolated - there are more resident seals and penguins than people.
Discover one of Kiwi's favourite tours on the West Coast, taking a jet boat up a remote backcountry river into UNESCO South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Walk through an ancient beech forest untouched by man for thousands of years. Then, travel to the top of the river and listen to us impart our intricate knowledge of the area. Learn about the introduced animals, visit the Kiwi sanctuary and learn about the Kiwi breeding program. Finally, pass through the Alpine Fault line and watch the theatrical scenery unfold.
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.
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.
Accommodation: Lake Wanaka or Lake Hawea
Experience New Zealand's most authentic 4WD adventure. The perfect mix of incredible scenery, history, heritage and farming life. Explore remote and seldom travelled back roads of an original New Zealand High Country farm overlooking sparkling Lake Wanaka. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, glaciers and wild river valleys, you'll see farm animals, including Red Deer, cattle and sheep, up close and in their natural environment. Visit historical sites and experience what life was like for Wanaka's first farmers. This journey offers a unique insight into Wanaka's rich history, heritage, modern-day farming life and breathtaking scenery.
Or: Boat cruise to the remote and magical Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve, which is predator-free and home to the rare flightless Buff Weka (extinct on the mainland since 1920). Hike to the top or sit back, relax and enjoy the birdlife at the beach and shelter at the island base with your morning or afternoon tea. Plant a native tree as part of your eco-experience—this unique opportunity to give back to this particular island and New Zealand's environment.
Central Otago is New Zealand's fastest-growing wine region and is the 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 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.
Accommodation: Te Anau
Situated on the west coast of the South Island, Milford Sound is a fusion of spectacular natural features with impressive 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.
Get up close and personal with this pristine environment on our small boat, Encounter Nature Cruise. Reach out and touch sheer rock cliffs and drink pure glacial water straight from the waterfalls, see seals sunning themselves on the rocks, dolphins riding the bow wave or, if you're lucky, spot rare Fiordland crested penguins.
Or: Travel with us to this new world deep in the heart of Fiordland National Park. The beauty and vastness of Doubtful Sound will take your breath away as you experience its deep wilderness. When you discover Doubtful Sound, you will be struck by its silence – broken only by birdsong or the rushing of a distant waterfall. Its beauty and vastness will take your breath away. Your day begins in Manapouri with a cruise across the picturesque Lake Manapouri, followed by a trip across New Zealand's most expensive road over Wilmot Pass, pausing to experience the dense Fiordland rainforest and view Doubtful Sound glistening far below.
Or: 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, knowledgeable guide to share in this awe-inspiring world. The Great Walks Kepler, Milford and Routeburn Tracks are part of New Zealand's premier track network and, with such diverse scenery, offer a great introduction to hiking in the wilderness for all ages.
Accommodation: Te Anau
Travel 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, 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.
From here, you take a scenic flight to Stewart Island. This Island offers a unique experience - a glimpse into a more straightforward, 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 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.
Learn about Stewart Island's rich history and disembark for a guided walk across the peninsula. As dusk sets in, with your guide, venture by torchlight through the native forest until the track emerges onto Ocean Beach. This wide sandy beach is where the Southern brown kiwi (Rakiura Tokoeka) are found - often searching for food.
Accommodation: Stewart Island
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, a fantastic insight into the natural history and stunning bird and plant life in the southernmost 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 an array of seabirds! A purpose-built pelagic charter vessel takes you around the scenic Stewart Island shores discovering our magnificent seabirds, penguins and other wildlife on our coastlines. In addition, you will thoroughly enjoy wildlife encounters and proximity to albatross, shearwaters, petrels, terns and many more.
The most recent addition to New Zealand's national park portfolio, Rakiura is an enchanted world of whole ecosystems and habitats. From dense coastal rainforests and freshwater wetlands to vast dunes and granite mountain ranges, the park provides an exceptional opportunity to see native wildlife and primaeval landscapes. Rakiura translates to 'the Land of Glowing Skies', a name that refers to the beautiful night-sky phenomenon called the Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights) and the breathtaking sunsets that burn on the western horizon.
Accommodation: Stewart Island
Your tour takes you to the most Southern Part of the South Island, to the Catlin's. The Catlin's is an area of untamed beauty, forests, farmland, remote beaches and splendid isolation. Only recently has it been discovered by national and international tourists.
The Catlin's is blessed with some spectacular waterfalls. The most famous of these is Pūrākaunui Falls - a magnificent waterfall surrounded by a bush that cascades 20 metres over three distinct tiers. The "Southern Scenic Route" winds through the Catlin's from Nugget Point to Curio Bay.
Another spectacular sight in this area is Jack's Blowhole, located in Tunnel Rocks Scenic Reserve. A large cavity that's 55 metres deep and 200 metres from the sea, the blowhole was formed after a large underground cavern caved in. At high tide during a swell, waves are compressed through the underground tunnel and explode out of the blowhole.
Nugget Point is one of the most distinctive landforms along the Otago Coast. It's a steep headland with a lighthouse and a scattering of rocky islets (The Nuggets). A five-minute walk takes you to the lighthouse, where you'll enjoy incredible views along the coastline in both directions.
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. As a scenic drive, Otago Peninsula is spectacular. Beginning at Vauxhall, you can follow the coastal road past small settlements and beaches to Taiaroa Head, where there's an albatross colony. Other attractions near Taiaroa Head include the fur seals at Pilots Beach and the sea lions on Te Rauone Beach.
Accommodation: Dunedin or Otago Peninsula
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.
You will be transferred from your accommodation to Dunedin airport.