The Upper Souths: Lake District, Wild Rivers & Coastal Treats

This tour will delight the traveller who is interested in New Zealand's varied alpine and marine environments. The tour begins on the East Coast of the South Island heading north from Christchurch via Kaikoura  and on to the Marlborough Sounds, before traveling to the interior alpine starting point of the Southern Alps in the Nelson Lakes Region. Finally crossing to the wild beauty of the West Coast to Christchurch.

Queen Charlotte Sound, Pelorus River , Nelson Lakes, Marine Mammals Kaikoura, Wild West Coast

To get your personalised itinerary within 24 hours.

Why we do it better...

Find out now ›




Welcome to Christchurch

Today is a day to relax and orientate yourselves in New Zealand’s ‘Garden City’ Christchurch. Expansive parks, public gardens and local green fingers make it a relaxing, tranquil city to enjoy on foot. New Zealand’s second-largest city and the gateway to the South Island, Christchurch sits on the very edge of the Canterbury Plains and is bordered by the Pacific Ocean. The city itself 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.

Some Suggested Activities to Help you to get to Know the Region

Easygoing Cycling Tour Punting the Avon River Lyttelton Harbour Wildlife Cruise
Māori Cultural Evening French Akaroa Tour Southern Alps Ballooning
Christchurch Gondola Clearwater Golf Arthur's Pass TranzAlpine Hike

Accommodation Christchurch - 1 night

Collect rental car and travel to Kaikoura

Nestled between soaring mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Kaikoura is known as New Zealand’s ‘Serengeti of the Sea’. The natural wonders here are breath taking. Fur seals lounge on the rugged coastline and, just offshore, whales and dolphins thrive in an ocean that teems with life. Kaikoura’s unique submarine environment of deep underwater canyons and warm and cool currents pushes the ocean’s nutrients to the surface, supporting a phenomenal array of marine life. And it’s not just marine mammals that can be experienced up-close here – Kaikoura is one of the world’s most exciting arenas from which to view ocean birds (pelagic). This is also a great place to enjoy crayfish, the seafood that the town was named after. In Maori, ‘kai’ means food and ‘koura’ means crayfish; and you’ll find the local delicacy to be fresh and delicious.  

Suggested Wildlife Encounters in Kaikoura

Whale Watching Cruise Swim with the Seals in Kaikoura
Whale Watching Flight Kaikoura Dusky Dolphin Viewing or Swimming
Kayaking with Fur Seals Albatross & Pelagic Bird Watching Kaikoura

 Approximate Travel Time 2 hrs 30 mins Distance 181km | 112mi

Accommodation Kaikoura - 1 night

Continue to Havelock - gateway to Beautiful Pelorus Sound

Continue up the East Coast of the South Island towards the wine mecca of Marlborough - home to world class wines - in particular Sauvignon Blanc. Spend the night in the beautiful seaside town of Havelock - which is the gateway to the beautiful Pelorus Sound in the Marlborough Sounds.

Approximate Travel Time 2 hrs Distance 156km | 96mi

​Accommodation Havelock - 1 night

Kayaking New Zealands Most Beautiful River

Just past where the historic Pelorus bridge crosses the river, there is an enchanting reserve that is the starting point for a truly awesome Kayaking Adventure. This Guided Kayak Tour includes stops at many waterfalls and streams and has you crossing many deep slow moving pools, home to many native trout species that can be clearly seen as far as 20 meters (65 feet) above – just goes to show how clear the water is.
Along the way you see several species of native bird including the large native pigeon (kereru), bellbirds, tui and fantails. The area is also rich in lush native forest where your guide will take you on a nature walk and introduce you to the many species of native trees
You'll also find a little bit of middle earth in this area because Peter Jackson chose the Pelorus Bridge and river as the filming location for scenes from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Here, the dwarves were filmed floating in barrels down this beautiful river.

Accommodation Picton - 2 nights

Wonderful Day Walk in the Marlborough Sounds

Today take a boat cruise to Ships Cove in the Queen Charlotte Sound - an area of significant historical importance - as a place of safe anchor used by Captain James Cook 5 times on his various visits to New Zealand. Enroute to Ships Cove visit the wildlife sanctuary at Moutara Island and hear the fascinating history of Maori and the early colonists. Once landed at Ships Cove - it is a stunning walk through to Endeavour Inlet where you will be collected for your cruise back to Picton. 4 hrs walking.

Travel to Nelson Lakes

Today leave the manicured vineyards of Marlborough and head over the Tophouse Road to St Arnauds Alpine Village in the Nelson Lakes District. Nelson Lakes National Park is located amidst mountains and glaciated valleys and is home to beech forests and beautiful jewel-coloured lakes. You have two nights here to explore this beautiful area which is crisscrossed with amazing hikes through beech forest and if you climb higher you can reach beyond the treeline into true alpine country.

Approximate Travel Time 1hrs 30 mins Distance 130km | 80mi

Accommodation St Arnaud - 2 nights

Walking The Nelson Lakes National Park

Promising everything from easygoing lakeside walking tracks to challenging alpine hikes, there is something on offer for everyone. The alpine lakes are fringed to the shore by native honeydew beech forests, which feed a variety of tuneful nectar-eating native birds that enhance the walking experience. Mountain ranges segregated by forested valleys, the Nelson Lakes National Park heralds the beginning of the Southern Alps and spectacular alpine lakes alpine lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa, sculpted by glaciers during the last ice age, are two of the most obvious examples of the many glacial landforms in the region.

New Zealands Wild West Coast

Heading West you will join State Highway 6 and go through the stunning Buller Gorge - the road hand carved with overhanging rocks is a marvel in itself. Before heading south to Punakaiki make sure to visit the seal colony at Cape Foulwind. The heaving, rugged swells of the Tasman Sea have carved the coastline of the South Island’s West Coast over millions of years, creating unique, otherworldly geological formations. Nowhere is this effect on the landscape more profound than on the Punakaiki coastline. Here, sandstone cliffs and ravines tower high above the ocean, complete with hundreds of horizontal slices along their vertical faces, closely resembling Stacks of Pancakes. Deep inside these formations lie narrow, vertical air shafts that are met with horizontal tunnels. Around high tide or during stormy weather, ocean swells rush through these blowholes, throwing up columns of dazzling ocean spray high into the air. When the sun is peeking through spectacular cloud formations at the same time, reaching its rays through the columns of water, the effect is dazzling. 

Approximate Travel Time 2hrs 20 mins Distance 200km | 125mi

Accommodation Punakaiki - 2 nights

Galaxies of Glowworms - Easy Caving in the Paparoa Forest

Today take part in a superb eco-cave tour where you travel by the rainforest train through primeval rain forest and explore the enormous Nile River Caves.  Explore an ancient wonderland of stalactites, stalagmites in the large dry upper levels and become entranced while under the galaxies of glowworms in the awe-inspiring Ananui entrance series. Discovered only recently, the Metro cave is one of the few caves in the world you can walk through and see in its natural, un-spoilt state, the way it was discovered.

TranzAlpine Rail Journey - Homeward Bound

These special tracks wind a ribbon-like path through paradise, offering more than just a glimpse of the breath taking landscapes between Christchurch and Greymouth in New Zealand's South Island. The remarkable TranzAlpine experience ranks among the most spectacular rail journeys in the world. Endless vistas unfold around every bend as you traverse some of the country's most scenic terrain from the colourful patchwork of pastures that carpet the Canterbury Plains to the sky scraping peaks of the mighty Southern Alps.

"Haere rā" Goodbye! and Bon Voyage!

Our promise 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. 

Ready to find out more? Talk to us here in New Zealand about 'The Upper Souths: Lake District, Wild Rivers & Coastal Treats'  - We Guarantee it will be the Holiday of a Lifetime!