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8 Day Tour - The Explorer :South Island Active Experience

8 Day Tour - The Explorer :South Island Active Experience

Experience the top highlights of New Zealand's South Island, showcasing the purest natural landscapes. From rugged coastlines to lush plains. Hike, bike, and sea kayak in the most beautiful places in New Zealand.

Take a journey that leads you into one of the few cave systems you can see in its untamed wilderness state and get close to marvellous galaxies of glow worms. Experience jaw-dropping scenery at a helicopter landing on a glacier in the Southern Alps and kayak through the spectacular Milford Sound, one of nature's wonders.

Day 1: Christchurch arrival
  • Trip to Akaroa on a Nature cruise, and have the opportunity to swim with dolphins.
  • Short tour of Christchurch city, with the afternoon for your leisure.
  • Optional: evening Penguin Tour, for an extra charge.
Day 2: Christchurch – West Coast
  • Castle Hill Basin, Devil's Punchbowl walk, Arthur’s Pass, and Pancake Rocks exploration.
Day 3: West Coast – Franz Josef
  • Explore the underworld, and take a trip to see some Glowworm caves.
  • Explore the dense rainforest.
  • Journey by helicopter flight and land over breathtaking glaciers.
Day 4: Franz Josef – Wanaka
  • Wilderness Jetboat ride from sea to mountains.
  • Optional: Siberia Valley flight/hike/boat in Mt Aspiring National Park; extra charges may apply.
Day 5: Wanaka
  • Partake in a lake Cruise and remote Island Walk.
  • Optional: Rob Roy Glacier walk.
Day 6: Wanaka – Queenstown
  • Guided bike tour, Central Otago wineries.
Day 7: Queenstown
  • Milford Sound Fly/Cruise & Kayak/Fly.
  • Optional: Optional Routeburn trek.
Day 8: Queenstown departure

Click here for other short trips.


Plan Your Tour


Self-drive tour (or private guided tour for an extra charge) 7 nights

Category: Active, Nature
South Island
Departing/Finishing: Christchurch - Queenstown (Itinerary can be reversed)
Accommodation: 4* or 5* quality Hotels, boutique B&Bs, Luxury Serviced Apartments, Premium Lodges
Next Departure: Departs Daily


Day 1: Christchurch/Akaroa Arrival

Christchurch city promises an eclectic mix of historic elegance and contemporary culture. The most French town in New Zealand, Akaroa will have you entranced 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. The best way to explore Akaroa is on foot. Visit local restaurants focusing on French cuisine and head to Barrys Bay Cheese, where they've persevered with original methods for over a century. Then, take a self-guided walk to see historic cottages. 

Voted the number 1 wildlife activity in New Zealand, your award-winning cruise is packed with highlights, including the rare NZ native dolphin - the Hector's Dolphin, penguins, and other seabirds. And you'll see giant volcanic sea cliffs and hear about Akaroa's fascinating past. Also, on the trip, you will catch glimpses of the White Flippered Blue Penguin, the smallest penguin in the world. In addition, many bird species are in the harbour, including five other cormorants (shag) species and the endangered yellow-eyed penguin. You'll also see New Zealand Fur Seals sunning themselves on the rocks near Seal Bay.

Or: This is an attractive option for people who wish to view our penguins returning to the bay to see them in the wild, considering them naturally and undisturbed. Camouflage gear and binoculars are provided. Please participate in our monitoring program of nesting boxes during the tour as part of our conservation work. This gives you great insight into the life of a penguin and an opportunity to see the birds up close.

Accommodation: Christchurch or Akaroa

Day 2: Christchurch - Arthur's Pass - West Coast

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 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. 

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

Pass by Lake Brunner, with its rolling foothills overlooking the largest lake in the northwestern South Island. 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 and world-renowned for its pancake rock formations and blowholes. Then, walk along some of the stunning and remote beach treks through a dense rainforest with Nikau Palms and giant ferns.

Accommodation: West Coast

Day 3: West Coast - Glaciers

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 vast Nile River Caves. You will explore an ancient wonderland of stalactites and stalagmites in the significant dry upper levels and become entranced while under the galaxies of glowworms in the awe-inspiring Ananui entrance series. 

You will visit the historic 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 most beautiful places in New Zealand! The beautiful turquoise waters are pretty breathtaking, as is the gorge itself.  

The rugged West Coast is hemmed between the Tasman Sea and the imposing Southern Alps, making for spectacular contrasts in the surrounding scenery. The Fox Glacier is the largest and longest of the stunning West Coast glaciers. It is remarkable in that it ends in a temperate rainforest, 250 metres above sea level and a mere twelve kilometres from the sea. The trail leads you over moraine debris to a viewpoint within 450m of the glacier. From here, you get a stunning view of the Terminal Face. And the snout of the glacier with the Fox River surging from beneath the ice wall.

Enjoy a scenic helicopter flight as you fly over two of New Zealand's most famous glaciers and land at the head of either the Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier. View the incredible natural phenomenon of the glacier as it winds slowly down the carved valleys from its origin in the mountains high above you. Finally, enjoy the experience of landing on snow. 

Or: if you would prefer a scenic flight, then the 'Grand Traverse' explores the Mt Cook and Westland National Parks and shows you the region like no other with the most memorable and breath-taking scenery.

Accommodation: Glacier area 

Day 4: Glaciers - Haast - Wanaka

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. Jackson Head 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. 

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. Learn about the pioneering spirit of days gone by, the early Maori history, and, later, the harshness of wilderness faced by the European settlers. Then, walk through an ancient beech forest untouched by man for thousands of years. 

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. Please take a short walk to the glacier-fed waters of the Blue Pools, 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. 

Accommodation: Lake Wanaka or Lake Hawea

Day 5: Wanaka - Mt Aspiring National Park

Nestled below towering mountains, Wanaka is the most tranquilly set of the South Island lakes. However, it is much more than a winter destination. Take a 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). A one-hour return guided bush walk is included, which takes you up to reveal the island’s secret – a lake right on top of the island! Unique and very photogenic.  

Or: There are several scenic walks to do in Wanaka.  

Rob Roy Glacier Walk: This track offers an easy route (achievable by older children) into a dramatic alpine landscape that includes snowfields, glaciers, sheer rock cliffs and waterfalls. From the Raspberry Flat car park, cross a swing bridge across the West Matukituki River. The track climbs through a small gorge into a beech forest, then into alpine vegetation at the head of the valley, with good views of the Rob Roy Glacier. With its harsh ‘kee-a’ call, the playful and inquisitive kea is often seen and heard in the valley. 

Mount Iron is one of Wanaka’s most famous short walks, which is an impressive, glacier-carved, 240-metre rocky knoll. From its summit, a fantastic panorama unfolds Lakes Wanaka and Hawea, the Cardrona and Upper Clutha Valleys and all the surrounding peaks, many of them in Mount Aspiring National Park in the west.

The Outlet Track: Spectacular scenery makes this popular for both walkers and bikers. The track follows the Clutha River/Mata-Au; start or finish at the Lake Wanaka outlet or Hikuwai Conservation Area in Albert Town.

Accommodation: Lake Wanaka or Lake Hawea

Day 6: Wanaka - Guided Bike tour wineries - Queenstown

After bike fitting, helpful winery and trail information from your knowledgeable driver, you're free to set off riding the Gibbston River Trail at your leisure using our informative trail map with exclusive offers to visit as many of the fantastic wineries, a cheesery, and brewery linked throughout this section of easy riding trail.

Central Otago is New Zealand's fastest-growing wine region, and 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. 

Queenstown has transformed into a sophisticated cosmopolitan town, tucked into a picturesque bay on the shores of Lake Wakatipu beneath majestic mountains. There's a permanent buzz in downtown Queenstown, where you'll find fantastic restaurants, a lively bar scene, and excellent shopping. 

Accommodation: Queenstown 

Day 7: Queenstown - Flight/Kayak/Flight Milfrd Sounds

Milford Sound is an area of extraordinary beauty. A fly/cruise/fly is the ultimate Milford Sound experience, taking in magnificent views of mountains, lakes, waterfalls, glaciers and forest, plus add 1 hour of relaxing kayaking in Harrison's Cove. It offers a majestic fiord, dramatic and awe-inspiring scenery, prolific flora, and fauna. 

Queenstown has transformed into a sophisticated cosmopolitan town, tucked into a picturesque bay on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, beneath majestic mountains. There’s a permanent buzz in downtown Queenstown, where you’ll find fantastic restaurants, a lively bar scene and excellent shopping.  

For one of the best views of Queenstown and an iconic experience in the alpine resort, there’s the Tiki Trail. Starting at the bottom of the Gondola, the Tiki Trail winds its way towards the lookout at the top, where you have the option of making your way back down after a few photos and a drink or if the climb has got the better of you relax in the Gondola for the journey back down.


Accommodation: Queenstown

Day 8: Queenstown departure

Your private chauffeur will take you to your departing flight at Queenstown airport.