The Ultimate 21 Day South Island Self Drive Itinerary

 

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1

Welcome to Christchurch!

After welcoming you at the airport and transferring you to your hotel, we will leave you to unwind: we have taken care of everything.

After checking in, why not step back to Edwardian times with a relaxing Private Punting Trip down the Avon River? It's a wonderful introduction to the "Garden City". Gliding gently along the river in a flat-bottomed boat, you will take in Christchurch's 'must-see' historic buildings and Botanic Gardens away from the hustle and bustle of the city streets.

Some other Activities Options for Christchurch

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

Accommodation:
The Quest Christchurch is located just off Cathedral Square in the heart of the commercial, arts and tourist precinct. This purpose built property is on Christchurch's famous inner city Tram Loop and features a mix of new and heritage architecture. Incorporated in the complex are a variety of retail shops, cafes and restaurants. All the serviced Apartments have free Wi-Fi & Fully Equipped Kitchens.
Quest Christchurch

2

Mount Cook National Park

Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park is part of UNESCO's Te Wāhipounamu (The Place of Greenstone) World Heritage region. Here is Mackenzie Country, you'll find Australasia's highest mountain - Aoraki / Mount Cook (3,724m) - nestled in the splendid Southern Alps.

Known to Māori as Aoraki or Cloud Piercer, this magnificent mountain is surrounded by over 150 peaks along with countless glaciers, ice and snowfields, mountain lakes, and ranges.

Today we recommend a Mount Cook Helicopter Flight, affording you a spectacular bird's eye view of these natural wonders, with a landing on the Tasman Glacier to make you feel like you're on top of the world.

Approximate Distance: 311 km | 193 miles  Total Driving Time: 4 hours 

Accommodation: Mount Cook - 2 Nights

The Aoraki/Mount Cook Alpine Lodge is located in the heart of the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and offer a range of accommodation style to suits your requirements. All rooms have ensuite facilities and most have spectacular views of Mount Cook and the surrounding peaks and glaciers. The lodge is hugged by mountains and surrounded by native bush and bird life, this is the perfect place to relax.  
Mount Cook Alpine Lodge

3

Tasman Glacier Explorer Cruise

Experience the Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake and its icebergs, in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. A unique guided experience departing Aoraki/Mount Cook village by bus to the beautiful Tasman Valley followed by a 1/2hr gentle alpine walk. Board our MAC boat, and explore the Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake, where you will discover the ever-changing ice face of the Glacier and icebergs, making each trip different from the last due to changing winds and currents. 

Knowledgeable guides, enhance your experience with their expertise and passion for this amazing alpine environment.  Have you ever been alongside, discovered, or touched an iceberg?


4

Dunedin - Scottish City of Grace and Grandeur

En route to Dunedin today, be sure to stop at Koekohe Beach to view 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 weight of around 7 tonnes!

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.

A popular attraction here is Larnach Castle, built-in 1871. It took 200 workers three years to build, and twelve years to decorate! Housing a unique New Zealand antique collection and beautiful gardens, it's a relaxing place to meander.

Approximate Distance: 317 km | 226 miles  Total Driving Time: 3 hours 50 Min

Accommodation: Dunedin - 2 Nights

Accommodation:
858 George Street is an architecturally designed Award Winning motel complex capturing the essence of the George Street character. 13 luxury studio, family and executive units located on George Street, Dunedin. Just minutes walk to city shops, university, hospital,restaurants and the Forsyth Barr Stadium. All units serviced daily. In-room spa baths (2 rooms), Sky select 50+ channels, Continental breakfast available.
Dunedin

5

Otago Peninsula Wildlife Cruise

This morning you'll hop on board a fascinating Wildlife Cruise around Taiaroa Head and its dramatic cliffs. Later, you'll encounter another rare New Zealand native: the shy Hoiho (Yellow-Eyed Penguin)

Otago Peninsula Wildlife Cruise
The Otago Peninsula was described by the internationally-acclaimed environmentalist Dr. David Bellamy as “the finest example of eco-tourism in the world." As you cruise around Taiaroa Head, watch for New Zealand Fur Seals playing near their breeding colonies. Out at sea, you may also come across albatross and petrels as well as penguins, dolphins, and other marine mammals.

The Otago Peninsula was described by the internationally-acclaimed environmentalist Dr.David Bellamy as “the finest example of eco-tourism in the world."


6

Te Anau - Gateway to Fiordland - Glowworm Caves

Te Anau is another area of breathtaking natural beauty, and several key Lord of The Rings movie scenes were filmed amid the unspoiled forests and lakes of this region. Immerse yourselves in the gorgeous surroundings: flight-seeing, fly fishing, kayaking, sailing and horse riding are all on offer and are great ways to get up close to nature. 

Glowworm Caves

The excursion begins with a cruise across spectacular Lake Te Anau to a remote section of the lake with the entrance to the caves hidden by a large and beautiful native forest. By geological standards, the caves are young (12,000 years) and are still being carved by the river that flows through them. The system is a twisting network of limestone passages filled with beautifully sculpted rock, underground waterfalls complete with whirlpools.

The quite top section of the system houses a series of small lakes, here you will be taken by small boat pulled along by rope into a silent hidden grotto’s inhabited by thousands of small glow-worms. In the subterranean darkness, they produce a magical display almost like you are staring up at the Milky Way that is nothing short of extraordinary.

Approximate Distance: 290 km | 207 miles  Total Driving Time: 3 hours 29 minutes

Accommodation: Te Anau - 2 Nights

Accommodation:

Te Anau’s modern, up-market motel offers superior accommodation and a genuine welcoming service. Lakefront Lodge is a great base to discover Fiordland National Park and the various walking tracks such as Kepler, Routeburn, Hollyford or Milford. 


7

Spectacular Doubtful Sound Cruise

Transfer to Manapouri this morning for a very special cruise in one of New Zealand's most remote and beautiful wilderness areas: Doubtful Sound.

Larger and deeper than better-known Milford Sound, Doubtful is by far the quieter of the two. A visit to its isolated splendor is a peaceful, almost religious experience. Being so remote, getting here is half of the fun!

A short 20 minute drive to Manapouri is followed by a leisurely cruise across picturesque Lake Manapouri. Next you'll travel by road over the Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove, passing through virgin rainforest where you will board your trusty cruise vessel, The Patea Explorer. You'll find spacious deck areas perfect for viewing the cascading waterfalls, abundant wildlife, rainforest, and mountains of Doubtful Sound.

An onboard nature guide will answer questions, point out landmarks, and provide you with information about the varied wildlife you may encounter. Dolphins, fur seals, and the rare Fiordland crested penguin are among the many non-human visitors to this impossibly vast, secluded wilderness paradise.

Let the majesty of Doubtful Sound unfold before you and take your breath away.


8

Queenstown & Steamer to High Country Farm

Take your time heading to Queenstown today: you won't want to miss the spectacular scenery as it transforms from rugged ranges and mirror lakes to the winding Kawarau River Gorge. You will finally emerge into the lush green farmland surrounding Queenstown, your destination.

This Evening: Cruise across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak Station aboard the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw. Sit back, relax and enjoy a gourmet barbecue dinner prepared in front of you at the Colonel’s Homestead. After dinner enjoy a short farm tour before reboarding the Earnslaw for a sing-along by the piano as you sail back to Queenstown.

Approximate Distance: 173 km | 107 miles  Total Driving Time: 2 hours 8 minutes

Accommodation: Queenstown - 2 Nights

Just 8 minutes walk into the heart of Queenstown you will find the Alexis Motel and Apartments, surrounded by majestic alpine scenery and spectacular views across Lake Wakatipu. Choose from a variety of self contained accommodation which include One Bedroom Apartment, Two Bedroom Apartment and Studio Suites

Alexis Motel and Apartments

9

Jetboat into Mount Aspiring National Park

Journey deep into the heart of the world-renowned Mt Aspiring National Park, where myth, heritage, and fantasy come to life. As one of Queenstown’s most exhilarating activities, our Wilderness Jet, half-day adventure takes you on a spectacular journey deep into the heart of the world-renowned Mount Aspiring National Park.

You’ll experience a unique combination of breath-taking scenery and an exhilarating ride as we follow the braided, glacier-fed rivers by jet boat with exciting 360 degree spins along the way. Your guides give you their authentic touch, talking about the area’s rich history, the Greenstone trail and countless Maori legends. We’ll also take the chance to tie up the boat and let you walk amongst the ancient beech tree forests – an atmosphere you may recognize from The Lord of the Rings films. It’s a complete Queenstown to Glenorchy experience in an untouched natural wonderland.


10

Lake Wanaka Cruise & Island Wildlife Walk

The picture-postcard scenery of Lake Wanaka is our stage today, this afternoon you're heading out onto the lake with a short cruise to one of five small islands on the lake and a very special place indeed - Mou Waho Island. 

With a history of boat building, Mou Waho is now a predator-free bird sanctuary, home to endangered native species including the comically curious Weka.  Your guide today is a local conservation stalwart and he will enlighten us all on the efforts going in to protect our native species on a hiking/nature walk.  Aside from the insights into conservation and ecology, the views from the top of the island will make your photo highlights reel for sure - from the high point of the island looking north, there is no evidence of human habitation as far as the eye can see.

Approximate Distance: 70 km | 44 miles  Total Driving Time: 1 hour 10 mins

Accommodation: Wanaka - 1 night

Accommodation:
Bella Vista Motel Lake Wanaka is located in a quiet street in the heart of Wanaka. The motel is only 150 m away from the lake and within easy walking distance there are many restaurants, cafes and wine bars. Guests enjoy free WiFi. The rooms at the Bella Vista are fully-serviced, with heating and electric blankets. Free off-street parking is available as well as a lock-up garage for motorbikes. Guests have access to laundry facilities. Continental breakfast is available on request.
Bella Vista Wanaka

11

Franz Josef Glacier

The drive from Wanaka to Franz Josef is one of the most scenic in New Zealand. Mountain passes give way to the ancient rainforest and the windswept West Coast. There's beauty around every bend, with woodland walks and dramatic waterfalls along the way - perfect for picnic stops. Nestled in a rainforest clearing, Franz Josef Glacier Village lies at the heart of the Westland National Park. Welcome to one of the most diverse and beautiful areas of New Zealand.

In the evening, you can simply relax in a private Glacier Hot Pool and enjoy a rejuvenating soak under the stars.

Excursions available in and around the Franz Josef area:

Kayak Okarito Lagoon 

   Glacier Hot Pools       Glacier Scenic Flight

Horseback Riding  

   Walk to Glacier Face

   Glacier Heli-hike

 

Approximate Distance: 285 km | 177 miles  Total Driving Time: 3 hours 36 mins

Accommodation: Franz Josef - 2 Nights

At Punga Grove, all of our stylish accommodation is set amidst the native Franz Josef rainforest. Our mountainside motel has been designed to maximise the beauty of the greenery with decks, outdoor areas and conservatory windows virtually putting you deep in the rainforest. All apartments include a fully equipped kitchen.
Punga Grove

12

Twin Glacier Scenic Helicopter Flight – Fox & Franz

Fly over Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier on a spectacular helicopter tour that includes a landing right on the snow. Seeing both glaciers on a single helicopter flight offers an incredible perspective and understanding of New Zealand’s massive ice sheets, and you touch down on one of the glaciers to snap up-close photographs of the frozen terrain.

Highlights

  • Spectacular aerial views of Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier
  • Live pilot commentary points out landmarks and unique features below
  • Walkout onto the snow after an exciting glacier landing
  • Bring home photographs of the glaciers and the stunning Southern Alps

14

Hokitika & Gorge Walk

Hokitika is a west coast super stop on New Zealand's South Island that will capture your imagination. Driftwood-covered beaches, greenstone, wild foods, and the azure Hokitika Gorge are just the beginning. An artist community and beach town, Hokitika is famous for pounamu (NZ jade) and Maori carvings. 

The Hokitika Gorge Walk

If you think you have time for only one activity in Hokitika, then our advice would be to include a visit to the cerulean blue waters of the Hokitika Gorge. From the initial view of the swing bridge you will be entranced. The suspension bridge offers a gentle bounce that kids seem to enjoy more than adults. It's a short walk from the car park to the first surreal view, but you will want to go farther, cross the bridge, and enter the forest. 

Approximate Distance: 135 km | 84 miles  Total Driving Time: 1 hour 40 mins

Accommodation: Hokitika - 1 night

Accommodation:
The Bella Vista is centrally located in the heart of Hokitika and is a 5 minute walk to local restaurants, shopping and art and craft studios. The hotel is a short distance from the beach, where guests can enjoy spectacular sunsets. Each of the non-smoking rooms offers free WiFi and more than 50 satellite TV channels. The hotel offers guests use of the laundry facilities.
Bella Vista Hokitika

14

Arthur's Pass Village

Arthur's Pass is a township in the Southern Alps of the South Island of New Zealand. It is a popular base for exploring Arthur's Pass National Park. 

Strapping up the boots and hitting the Arthur’s Pass walking track is one of the most popular things to do for those arriving in the village. What’s great about this walk is that you can do the whole thing or just complete sections of it.

Many people choose to walk from the village to the Dobson Memorial at Arthur’s Pass summit. The hike has a gradual incline and is relatively easy, yet rewarding.

Approximate Distance: 99 km | 61 miles  Total Driving Time: 1 hour 15 mins

Accommodation: Arthurs Pass - 1 night

Arthur's Pass Alpine Motel is located high in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, within Arthur’s Pass Village. Just 300 m from Arthur’s Pass train Station, it offers free on-site parking and free Wi-Fi access. All rooms include kitchen facilities, electric blankets, linen and TV with DVD player. The en suite bathroom comes with free toiletries, towels and facecloths.
Arthur's Pass Alpine Motel

15

Kaikoura: A Marine Wonderland

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.

Approximate Distance: 303 km | 189 miles  Total Driving Time: 4 hours 

Accommodation: Kaikoura - 1 Night

The White Morph Motor Inn is situated on the waterfront with an easy stroll into the township for convenient dining, shops and bars (there is also a restaurant on site). Choose between the deluxe spa rooms with ocean view balcony, or the 4 star studio rooms & family apartments with garden views. 

White Morph Motor Inn - Kaikoura

16

Kaikoura Whale Watching Tour 

Kaikoura Whale Watching Tour 

This afternoon brings you closer to these magnificent creatures on a whale-watching cruise. Enjoy spotting them as they breach the surface, spouting seawater from their blowholes before diving in search of tasty squid. End your unforgettable day with freshly caught crayfish at one of Kaikoura's cozy eateries, enjoying one of the glorious sunsets this region is famous for.

After your Whale watching tour head into Marlborough - Wine Country!

Approximate Distance:  128 km | 79 miles  Total Driving Time: 1 hour 34 mins

Accommodation: Blenheim - 1 Night

Offering accommodation with a kitchenette and flat-screen TV with 50+ satellite channels, Bella Vista Motel is 10 minutes’ walk from Blenheim Railway. Guests enjoy free unlimited WiFi. Bella Vista Motel Blenheim is 5 minutes' drive from Opawa River, and 10 minutes’ drive from Woodbourne Airport and the popular Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. Picton Ferry Terminal is a 25-minute drive away.
Bella Vista

17

Drive to Abel Tasman National Park - A National Treasure

Small in size but big on beauty! Abel Tasman has golden beaches that border the translucent turquoise sea, and sandy estuaries fringed by natural forests. The walking tracks here, both inland and coastal, are world-famous for their outstanding beauty.

You can walk the coastal track from top to bottom in 3 - 5 days, or enjoy one of the many shorter day walk options using a cruise boat, sailing catamaran, water taxi, or sea kayak to enter into the Abel Tasman. If that all sounds just a little too energetic, then just kick back on one of the many unspoiled beaches you will discover along the way.

Approximate Distance: 310 km | 192 miles  Total Driving Time: 4hours 36 mins

Accommodation: Marahau  - 2 Nights

Located at the Southern entrance to Abel Tasman National Park are the Ocean View Chalets in Marahau. The blue-green sea and golden beaches are easily accessible with nearby walking tracks. Relax in tranquility amongst the native bush and peaceful surroundings. Each chalet is self contained and private with wonderful ocean views, all are free standing, comfortable and bright. 

Abel Tasman Ocean View Chalets

18

Abel Tasman - Split Apple Rock Kayak

Paddle a safe, sheltered section of the Abel Tasman Bay coastline. See lots of good stuff in a small area including islands, caves, beaches and of course, Split Apple Rock. Loved by families and the cruiser in all of us for the last 18 years. Two hours on the water of guided kayaking.

This trip has a strong emphasis on fun and enjoyment. We don’t just show you the best spots to travel to, you will have a great time with a group of people in a beautiful area. Like all of our short trips we paddle at a relaxed pace and pause often to enjoy views, stories and conversation.

  • No experience is necessary.
  • Enjoy the most sheltered part of the Kaiteriteri coastline.
  • A great option for family fun.

For families with younger children, we would recommend the morning tour. The afternoon tour can quite often be breezy due to the sea breeze which picks up around midday.


19

Punakaiki - Remote Wild West Coast

Journey to Punakaiki on the South Island's rugged and remote West Coast, one of New Zealand's most unspoiled and ancient destinations.

The route takes you inland through diverse landscapes, with farmland giving way to dramatic mountain passes and rushing rivers. Emerging at the coast for the final stretch, you're rewarded with magnificent windswept ocean views on your left and steep, rainforested mountains on your right.

Arriving in Punakaiki, you'll marvel at the Pancake Rocks. The bizarre, flattened rock stacks were sculpted over 30 million years, beaten into shape by the relentless ocean waves. You're in the heart of Paparoa National Park, mystical land of limestone canyons, underground caves, and coastal rainforests bursting with wildlife.

Approximate Distance: 283 km | 175 miles  Total Driving Time: 4 hours

Accommodation: Punakaiki  - 1 night

Accommodation:
Nestled in native forest on the edge of Paparoa National Park and just 1.2 kilometers south of the Pancake Rocks, we find Paparoa Park Motel. If you are looking for a self-contained motel accommodation on the West Coast, this Punakaiki motel is perfect with some with spectacular views looking across the bay to the Pancake Rocks/Blowholes others with wonderful New Zealand native bush views. They have a spectacular view of the Pancake Rocks/Blowholes and the wonderful native bush.
Paparoa Park Motel

20

Tranz Alpine Train Journey

Begin your morning with a breathtaking coastal drive to Greymouth. You might like to pause in Hokitika for a spot of shopping - this town is home to many artisan carvers of the local pounamu (greenstone), which is sacred to Maori. A unique, locally carved greenstone pendant would be a special way to remember your trip.

Arriving in the town of Greymouth it's time to drop off your car and head to the station to begin the TranzAlpine Scenic Rail Journey.

Renowned as one of the great train journeys of the world, you will descend through spectacular gorges, river valleys and over massive viaducts before completing your journey at Christchurch.

Approximate Distance: 173 km | 107 miles  Total Driving Time: 2 hours 18 mins

Accommodation: Christchurch - 1 Night

Featuring an on-site restaurant and free high-speed WiFi, Sudima Christchurch City is situated in Christchurch, just 500 m from Hagley Park and less than 1 km from Victoria Street. At the hotel, every room is equipped with a fridge, wardrobe and a flat-screen TV. Complete with a private bathroom, all units at Sudima Christchurch City are fitted with air conditioning, and selected rooms will provide you with a seating area. You can also enjoy streaming movies.
Sudima Christchurch City

21

Bon Voyage!

"Haere rā" Goodbye! and Bon Voyage! Today we say farewell. We take care of your transfer to Christchurch Airport where you will board your onward flight, taking with you the magical memories of a truly exceptional New Zealand holiday.


Profile picture for user Daniel
What Daniel says about this tour: Travelling from South to North - you have a relaxed pace of travel allowing you to have so many experiences with expert guides without sacrificing on comfort and feeling rushed. Take the time to experience the wondrous coastal and alpine environments, the culture and the people.
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