New Zealand's South Island Culture and Heritage Tour

New Zealand is a small island nation, with a fascinating history. This self drive itinerary embraces the heritage and culture of New Zealand's South Island. Historic accommodations have been selected to provide a sense of place, and the landmark locations that celebrate the architecture, art, history and culture of New Zealand are included in this itinerary.

Ancient Māori Rock Art, Victorian Oamaru, Larnach Castle Tour, TSS Earnslaw Cruise to Walter Peak Station, Gold Mining Arrowtown. Neo-Gothic Dunedin.

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Welcome to Queenstown

Queenstown sits on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, set against the dramatic Southern Alps. Early Maori explorers came to Queenstown in search of pounamu (greenstone), a nephrite jade used to make adzes, chisels and weaponry – they also came to hunt for the giant Moa. But in the 1800s things really kicked of when Europeans found gold and the rush began in 1862. Now the surrounding area is known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards. The natural landscape and wild rivers has made Queenstown the hub for all kinds of adventure sports. In winter, there is not only backcountry skiing with the country’s highest vertical drops, but also 4 decent commercial fields catering for a broad spectrum of skiers and boarders alike. Summer brings paragliding, mountain biking and bungee-jumping (Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge is among the sport's original sites).

TSS Earnslaw Cruise to Colonel’s Homestead at Walter Peak Station
Board the TSS Earnslaw, a vintage steamship that has been cruising up and down Lake Wakatipu for over 100 years. Your destination is to the Colonel’s Homestead at Walter Peak Station (Farm). Walter Peak Station was headquarters of what was once a 70,000ha (173000 acres) station with 40,000 merino sheep and 50 staff. The charming, lakefront location is a real draw card, as is the great dining experience on offer so sit back and enjoy some fine high country hospitality or take one of the tours offered around the workings of the station.

Accommodation Queenstown - 2 nights


Take a day to experience the beauty of Queenstown exactly as you want to. From relaxing vineyard tours or boat cruises to extreme adventure activities, Queenstown has it all. Queenstown’s stunning location means that however you choose to spend your day you’ll enjoy being surrounded by awe-inspiring scenery.

Recommended excursions in and around Queenstown:

Routeburn Track Guided Day Walk Explore Historic Arrowtown Highest Bungy Jump
Wine Tasting Tour Central Otago Biking Skippers Canyon Round at Millbrook Golf Resort
TSS Earnslaw Steamboat Cruise Dart River Jetboat Safari Gibbston Valley Wine Trail

Approximate Distance: 22 kms | 14 miles  Total Driving Time: 23 mins

Accommodation Queenstown - 1 night

Historic Arrowtown

Sitting alongside the gold-bearing Arrow River, Arrowtown established in 1862 is rich in heritage as a former gold mining town, and is considered one of the most picturesque settlements in New Zealand. Just 20 minutes drive from Queenstown this charming Arrowtown has maintained its rich heritage and historic buildings with more than 60 pioneer constructed cottages, shops, hotels and churches.
This vibrant town has world class food and beverage, shopping and attractions – why not have a go at panning for gold on the Arrow River. Continue over the historic Crown Range road through to the Cardrona Hotel, which was established in 1863, making it one of New Zealand's oldest hotels. Just 20 mins from Wanaka there is plenty here to see and do.

Approximate Distance: 43 kms | 28 miles  Total Driving Time: 50 mins

Accommodation Cardrona - 1 night

Dunedin & Larnach Castle

Dunedin - Scottish City of Grace and Grandeur
It is for good reason that New Zealand's oldest city is known as the Edenborough of the South - 'Dunedin' comes from Dun Eideann the Scots-Gaelic name for Edinburgh, founded largely by Scottish immigrants, who raised the impressive buildings which now add much to the city's charm. These buildings incorporate a diverse array of styles from Tudor, Jacobean, Georgian, Carpenter, Gothic and Arts and Crafts styles also feature - to some very fine examples of Neo-Gothic. Dunedin is regarded as one of the best preserved Victorian cities in the Commonwealth.

Larnach Castle Tour
Visit New Zealand’s only Castle, built in 1871 by a merchant baron, over 200 Workers spent more than three years building the Castle main shell, while master European craftsmen spent a further 12 years embellishing the interior - Larnach spared no expense and the castle is built from the finest materials from around the world. This superbly crafted building with magnificent architecture, showcases a unique collection of New Zealand antiques, see spectacular tower views and beautiful gardens.

Approximate Distance: 317 kms | 198 miles  Total Driving Time: 3 hours 45 mins
Accommodation Dunedin - 1 night

Moeraki Boulders | Oamaru - A Victorian Beauty

Moeraki Boulders
The famous Moeraki Boulders 40 km (24 Miles) south of Oamaru. These other worldly boulders are steeped in Maori Legend. Scientists explain the boulders as septarian concretions formed about 65 million years ago. Crystallization of calcium and carbonates around charged particles in muddy undersea sediments gradually formed the boulders in a process taking as long as four million years. The soft mud-stone containing the boulders was raised from the seabed around 15 million years ago and sea erosion is exposing the erosion-resistant boulders.

Out There - Oamaru
While its façade is strictly of the Victorian era with ornately decorated grand white stone buildings that once housed upstanding banks, hotels and restaurants, the residents ‘the Oamaruivans’ are certainly not. In fact quite the contrary, unlike the Victorians they (the locals) are bohemians artisans, creative’s and antiquarians who run ‘out-there’ galleries, museums, shops and venues – it has to be seen to be believed and you'll love it.

One of these strange manifestations is the Steampunk Museum and workshop, housed in beautiful but imposing free-standing Oamaru stone building. Outside the infamous Steampunk Engine SP001 greets visitors, belching flames, smoke and odd sounds, inside the museum presents a theme of a dark post-apocalyptic vision of a future "as it might have been". 

Blog Article: The Art of Victorian Futurism in Oamaru

Approximate Distance: 113 kms | 70 miles  Total Driving Time: 1 hour 30 mins

Accommodation Oamaru - 1 night

Ancient Māori Rock Art | French Akaroa

The Moa Hunters, Early Māori Rock Art | Franch Akaroa
Long known for it’s rolling hills, stunning mountain views and relaxed pace of life, within the South Canterbury region there is a lesser known location of enormous cultural significance. Ancient limestone caves and overhanging rock shelves have formed hundreds of natural art galleries. Join our local Māori guides on a rock art site tour; guides will share the stories of our ancestors on the same trails that they once traveled.  Follow in the footsteps of Māori ancestors; learn how they lived and why they left their cave drawings - these are brlieved to be the only example of Māori cave paintings in New Zealand.

Blog Article: South Canterbury Prehistoric Maori Rock Art

Akaroa - Little France
Don't be fooled as you may think you have arrived another country - France!  In 1840, French settlers arrived at Akaroa, and to this day Akaroa remains uniquely French as the site is the only attempted settlement by the French in New Zealand. Most streets have French names and the architecture has a distinct French flavour. There are still many descendants of the original French families still living in Akaroa today. Take a scenic cruise exploring the beautiful, sheltered harbours.

Approximate Distance: 301 kms | 187 miles  Total Driving Time: 4 hours 

Accommodation Akaroa - 1 night

Christchurch & Homeward Bound

Morning in Akaroa
Spend the morning exploring the beautiful seaside village of Akaroa, lined with many galleries, gift shops and cafes or perhaps take a kayaking adventure to see the Pohatu Penguins or cruise the harbor and swim with the hector dolphins - there plenty to see and do.

There may be time for some last minute sightseeing or shopping before making your way for your outbound flight. New Zealand’s second-largest city 'Christchurch' has bounced back after a series of major earthquakes, and has shown its resiliency with a number of new and exciting developments popping up everywhere. Don’t miss the Re Start shopping area, made out of shipping containers, as well as the many funky Pop Up bars dotted throughout the city. All public services and spaces are running as normal, and Christchurch continues to be a vibrant city to live, work and play. 

"Haere rā" Goodbye! and Bon Voyage!
We know you will enjoy the New Zealand's South Island Culture and Heritage Tour and our promise to you is to make your travels through New Zealand as hassle-free and hospitable as possible - ensuring that today you leave with a memory card full of photos, and huge smiles on your faces when recalling your time in New Zealand! Have a great homeward journey, farewell and hope to see you again soon in Aotearoa, New Zealand. 

Approximate Distance: 82 kms | 60 miles  Total Driving Time: 1 hour 20 mins

Ready to find out more? Talk to us here in New Zealand about the 'New Zealand's South Island Culture and Heritage Tour'  - We Guarantee it will be the Holiday of a Lifetime!