South Island Culture and Heritage Tour Itinerary

Maori art as seen in South Canterbury.


‘Haere Mai’ … Welcome to New Zealand!

Welcome to Queenstown, New Zealand's adventure capital! Following a scenic landing over the snowy mountain peaks, you'll pick up your rental car and head into town to settle in.

Queenstown sits on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, set against the dramatic Southern Alps. Early Maori explorers journeyed here in search of pounamu (greenstone) — a nephrite jade used to make chisels and weaponry — and also to hunt for the giant Moa bird. But the town really kicked off in the 1800s when Europeans found gold and the rush began in 1862.

The dramatic natural landscape has made Queenstown the hub for adventure sports in New Zealand. But the jewel in the crown is Lake Wakatipu - and what better way to explore it than a vintage steamship cruise?

TSS Earnslaw Cruise to Walter Peak Station
The vintage TSS Earnslaw is the oldest passenger steamship still in operation in the Southern Hemisphere. It's a charming way to view the lake and its grand surroundings. Your destination is the Colonel’s Homestead at Walter Peak Station (Farm). The beautiful lakefront location is a real drawcard, 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

TSS Earnslaw Steamship

Trip Advisor has voted this New Zealands best hotel 3 yrs running, and it is easy to see why. Just 20 minutes away from Queenstown, Millbrook Resort offers you luxury 5 star accommodation in a beautiful and tranquil setting, with the outstanding 27 hole golf course, spa and restaurants available at your leisure.

Millbrook Resort


A Day of Leisure in Queenstown

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 Day WalkHighest Bungey JumpExplore Arrowtown

Wine Tasting Central Otago      

Biking Skippers Canyon      Round at Millbrook Golf Resort
Earnslaw Steamboat Cruise  Dart River Jetboat Safari      

Gibbston Valley Wine Trail

Dart River Jet


Queenstown to Historic Arrowtown

Sitting alongside the gold-bearing Arrow River, you'll find one of the most picturesque settlements in New Zealand. Welcome to historic Arrowtown.

This lovely township was established in 1862 after a local sheep shearer struck gold. Within a year, over 1500 miners flooded here to try their luck, constructing wooden cottages, shops, and churches, many of which remain today. The result is a town overflowing with character, surrounded by shadowy forested mountains.

Come in autumn and you'll see the hillsides ablaze with a covering of crimson and golden leaves. It's a photographer's delight! Try panning for gold yourself on the Arrow River's shores. Who knows, you might strike it rich! Either way, you can reward your efforts tonight with world-class dining: Arrowtown is a much-loved foodie haven with a wealth of exciting eateries to choose from.

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

Accommodation: Cardrona - 1 night

Charming streets of old Arrowown.
Established 1863 and offering accommodation and high country hospitality. The Cardrona Hotel is one of New Zealand’s oldest and most iconic hotels. Its rustic charm, stunning mountain setting and rich history make it a must stay while in Central Otago. Situated on the spectacular Crown Range Road between Queenstown and Wanaka, the Cardrona Hotel is one of New Zealand’s oldest and most iconic hotels. Its rustic charm, stunning mountain setting and rich history make it a must see while in Central Otago. Said to be the most photographed pub in New Zealand.
Historic Cardrona Hotel


Dunedin: Visit New Zealand’s Only Castle

Journey onwards to the coastal city of Dunedin, home of New Zealand's one and only castle.

Dunedin: City of Grace and Grandeur
The name "Dunedin" comes from the Scots-Gaelic name for Edinburgh: "Dun Eideann" and you won't have to look hard to see the Scottish influence in this lovely old university town. One of the best-preserved Victorian cities in the Commonwealth, Dunedin also incorporates a diverse array of architectural styles from Tudor to Neo-Gothic.

Larnach Castle Tour
Built-in 1871 by the merchant baron William Larnach, over 200 workers spent more than three years constructing the main shell of Larnach Castle. Master European craftsmen spent a further 12 years embellishing the interior, using the finest materials from around the world.
The magnificent architecture of this superbly crafted building showcases a unique collection of New Zealand antiques, spectacular tower views, and beautiful gardens.

Approximate Distance: 317 km | 198 miles  Total Driving Time: 3 hours 45 mins

Accommodation Dunedin - 1 night

A statue in a beautiful Dunedin city.
The former Dunedin Chief Post Office (1937), transformed the 1937 former Chief Post Office in Dunedin into an elegant 4 1/2 star luxury hotel. It occupies an entire city block in The Exchange, the historic business centre of Dunedin. The impressive building was considered a monument to the importance of the role of the state and also to Dunedin's preeminent position as the country's most prosperous city. The Distinction Dunedin Hotel offers a variety of brand new accommodation to suit everyone from the businesses traveller requiring spacious and modern facilities to those wanting a relaxing weekend away.
The Distinction Dunedin Hotel


Oamaru: Coastal Wonders & Victorian Beauty

Be sure to stop en route at Koekohe Beach to admire the Moeraki Boulders. There are over 50 of these 65-million-year-old natural wonders strewn along the sands. They are up to 2 metres wide and the largest weigh around 7 tonnes!


The North Otago town of Oamaru greatly prospered from gold mining in the 1800s and boasts some of the finest heritage buildings in New Zealand. The splendid nineteenth-century whitestone buildings — formerly prestigious banks and hotels — are now home to galleries and specialty stores.

Oamaru is considered the Steampunk capital of the world, and the Steampunk Museum in town is well worth a look.

Head to the Oamaru Harbour at sunset for a special treat. As darkness falls, a local colony of Little Blue Penguins waddles up the steep bank, before heading towards their comfy nests. Locals and visitors alike gather to watch the penguin parade, it's a sight not to be missed.

Blog Article: The Art of Victorian Futurism in Oamaru

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

Accommodation Oamaru - 1 night

Aistorical Oamaru.

Historic Pen-y-bryn Lodge is a stunning Victorian mansion in the charming coastal town of Oamaru, New Zealand's best-preserved historic town. Situated on a hill overlooking the sea to the east and mountains to the west. This five star luxury lodge with five en-suite guest rooms in the largest single storey wooden dwelling in Australasia - and it comes complete with some of the best hosts in Australisia!

Pen-y-bryn Lodge - Oamaru


Little Blue Penguins: Māori Rock Art to ‘Little France”

Leaving Oamaru behind, your journey continues along the coast to Akaroa, pausing in South Canterbury to admire New Zealand's only known Maori cave paintings.

The Moa Hunters and their early Māori Rock Art
The area you will be travelling through contains New Zealand's oldest art galleries: our ancient limestone caves. The Maori rock paintings within these caves are of enormous cultural significance.

Join local Māori guides on a rock art site tour. Following in the footsteps of the ancestors, you will learn how they lived and why they left their cave drawings. These are believed to be the only example of Māori cave paintings in New Zealand.

A scenic drive over the Banks Peninsula transports you to Akaroa: a harbour-side village which counts the world's rarest dolphin among its neighbours.

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

Accommodation: Akaroa - 1 night

Early Maori Rock Art.
Oinako Bed and Breakfast has been a prominent landmark since 1896, Oinako holds a cherished place in the heart of Akaroa’s French heritage. Now yours to enjoy, our gorgeous historic home, elegant rooms, harbour views and peaceful surroundings await. Perfectly located to discover the charms of Akaroa, the main pier, restaurants, shops and excursions are a two-minute stroll away. Escape the demands of everyday life, embrace simple pleasures and truly relax.
Oinako Bed and Breakfast Akaroa


Akaroa, Return to Christchurch Then Homeward Bound

Morning in Akaroa
You'll love pottering around French-settled Akaroa, with its quaint 19th-century cottages housing an array of artisan galleries & boutiques. Most streets have French names, and many descendants of the original French families continue to live here. It's a charming setting, right by the shimmering waters of the Akaroa Harbour.

Akaroa's most famous resident is the tiny Hector's Dolphin, which you won't find anywhere else in the world. If you take a scenic harbour cruise they are a joy to watch, darting and diving around your boat, as playful as puppies!
Driving onwards to Christchurch, there may be time for some last minute sightseeing or shopping before making your way for your outbound flight.

Bordered by the Pacific Ocean, Christchurch is our "Garden City", blessed with beautiful parks and gardens right in the heart of town. English heritage buildings sit side by side with innovative post-earthquake regeneration in this vibrant place.

"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 km | 60 miles  Total Driving Time: 1 hour 20 mins

Punting on the River Thames

Profile picture for user Steve
What Steve says about this tour: It’s surprising the depth of cultural diversity in such a relatively young country. Ancient Māori Rock Art, Victorian Oamaru, Larnach Castle, TSS Earnslaw Steamer to Walter Peak Station, Gold Mining Arrowtown. Neo-Gothic Dunedin and French Akaroa - throw in some breathtaking scenery, while staying in some equally interesting accommodation and you have a really great tour.
Enquire Now

Want Your Very Own Custom Itinerary?

We can customise any of our online itineraries or create your own from start to finish

Pricing terms

The price is based on current exchange rates but is only an approximation. Please contact us for a final price