Fall in love with the highlights of this 10 day South Island itinerary that takes you on a circuit of spectacular mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciers, waterfalls and rainforests and gives you the opportunity to enjoy all the bucket list adventures you could wish for.
Created for travellers in their mid-thirties and upwards, on this New Zealand South Island itinerary you’ll visit Christchurch, Queenstown, Lake Wanaka, Lake Tekapo (and Lake Wakatipu, Lake Mapourika, Lake Hawea, plus more lakes!), the Mackenzie Country, and Franz Josef, plus you’ll get to take one of the world’s greatest train rides! Your comfortable 3–4 star accommodation on tour includes a boutique hotels and a rainforest retreat.
We’ll travel from the wide plains of Canterbury, through the mountains and lakes of Central Otago, to the glaciers and pristine rainforest of the West Coast via the spectacular Haast Pass. By the end of this New Zealand South Island itinerary, you will have lost count of the number of times you’ve uttered the words: “Wow!”, “So beautiful!” and “It’s breathtaking!”. Prepare your camera and get ready to make some magical memories!
You’ll have the opportunity to swim, kayak, jet boat, skydive, hike, bike, see kiwis, relax in hot pools, eat and drink like a local, and more. But only if you want to; this is your trip, and it’s designed to be flexible. Across this 10 day South Island itinerary we include some of the things that we reckon are absolute essentials, but rather than force you into activities you’re not so sure of, we leave the choice up to you. You can pre-book activities that you definitely want to do before the trip starts, and then add more while you’re on tour.
Welcome to Christchurch!
Settle into your accommodation and be ready for the 6pm pre-tour meeting. Here you will get to know your Tour Manager and be introduced to your new roadtrip friends.
Afterwards, the evening is yours to enjoy. We recommend checking out the Christchurch Art Gallery, located in the heart of the city in a landmark building featuring flowing glass. Or how about heading to New Regent’s Street for an ice cream where you will find vintage buildings painted in pastel colours.
This morning we’ll explore iconic downtown Christchurch and your guide will show you the cool and creative ways the city is being rebuilt after the life-changing 2011 earthquake here. Christchurch folk are an innovative and creative bunch – the Transitional Cathedral, created from cardboard, is totally inspirational.
Mid-morning we head for Lake Tekapo. Ready your camera – the lake’s breathtaking turquoise colour and mountain backdrop is a photographer’s dream come true.
The tiny Church of the Good Shepherd stands right at the water’s edge, proving that small is bold and definitely beautiful. Grab some confetti and congratulate any passing brides – couples travel from all over the world for wedding shots in front of the chapel!
From the golden tussocklands of Mackenzie country – where epic battles of Return of the King were filmed – to the dramatic peaks of the Southern Alps, it’s like you’re driving into a postcard.
We’ll pause for lots of photo stops en route to give your camera a workout, including a stop at the spectacular Kawarau Gorge. This also happens to be the world home of bungy! Give it a go or enjoy watching the jumpers scream their way into the gorge.
Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, an avid hiker, wine taster or scenery lover, Queenstown has something for absolutely everyone. With 2 nights and plenty of daylight hours here, get ready – this town certainly knows how to live life to the max.
With a full day in Queenstown, let’s work on that bucket list!
There are heaps of options to choose from: extreme jet boat rides, river kayaking, 4-wheel driving through Lord of the Rings scenery, and the skyline gondola are just a few of our favourites.
For scenery lovers, Milford Sound is a must-see. Whether you fly or drive, the scenery en route is as awesome as the destination. Once on the Sound, as you sail beneath thundering waterfalls and towering cliff faces, you’ll understand why we call it the “8th Wonder of the World”.
With the morning in Queenstown, you have another chance to tick off your bucket list today. What will it be? A trip to the top of the Skyline Gondola, or perhaps an adrenaline-pumping jet boat ride through the Shotover Canyon? You decide!
This afternoon we jump back onto the road and head off to Wanaka, a quick one hour drive away The drive is a scenic highlight in itself, so make sure your camera is fully charged and ready to go. En route we’ll stop in charming Arrowtown, a historic gold rush village with heaps of old-world character.
This afternoon is your chance to relax in stunning Wanaka, known as Queenstown’s slightly quieter little sister. Blessed with towering peaks and a glacial blue lake, you’ll soon see why Wanaka’s considered to be one of New Zealand’s most beautiful mountain towns. There are breathtaking hikes and easy bike rides for a welcome chance to relax.
Today is your chance to explore one of the most beautiful towns in the southern lakes region with plenty of activities to tempt every lover of the outdoors. Included today – a visit to Mou Waho Island. Accessible only by boat from Wanaka and famous for being home to an (unnamed) island, in a lake (Arethusa Pool), on an island (Mou Waho), in a lake (Lake Wanaka), on an island (the South Island) in the ocean (the Pacific). Sounds complicated, but once you are there it will all make sense! Mou Waho Island is also a predator-free reserve with a natural glacial-formed lake at its summit. On Mou Waho you can see the rare flightless Buff Weka (extinct on New Zealand’s mainland since 1920) and the Mountain Stone Weta.
In Wanaka there are many walks, hikes and biking trails to choose from – check out the famous “Wanaka Tree” while making your way around the lake! Or, if you feel like relaxing, ask your guide to recommend their favourite secret spots to enjoy the surrounding scenery. After a busy day checking out Wanaka, head back to the hotel and rest up for another day of exploring the sites en route to Franz Josef.
After a relaxing morning in Wanaka, the journey to Franz is another stunner – many of our Haka Guides rate it as their most favourite drive in New Zealand. As we hit the road, we’ll stop at one of our most popular lakeside lookout points at Lake Hawea or Lake Wanaka. Your guide will keep an eye on the weather and pick the best option.
From the cascading waterfalls of Haast Pass to classic Kiwi coastal views, you won’t want to nap on the bus in case you miss anything. Your guide will have some epic surprise photo stops and short walks along the way. Between September and December it’s whitebait season (a small fish that’s a delicacy in New Zealand). Fried up with eggs and served on toast, it’s a local treat and shouldn’t be missed. We’ll stop at one of the local spots for a taste during the season.
We roll into Franz Josef around late afternoon/early evening. This UNESCO World Heritage area is famous for its spectacular glacier, just 5km from town, which is begging to be explored tomorrow.
With Aoraki/Mount Cook (New Zealand’s highest mountain) twinkling behind the glaciers, Franz Josef is about as beautiful a setting as you can find in New Zealand.
Te Wāhi Pounamu (which means ‘the place of greenstone’ in Māori) is the name given to this part of the West Coast because of the abundance of pounamu (greenstone/jade) to be found here. Included in your tour today is a special opportunity to carve your very own pounamu pendant at a local gallery.
There are heaps of ways to enjoy Franz Josef Glacier; weather permitting, to get up onto the bluest ice you can take a scenic helicopter flight and hike onto the glaciers. Or maybe you’d prefer to kayak on a glacial lake. As well as the awesome glacier activities, you could also get your adrenaline pumping and try out skydiving or even a bit of group karaoke tonight in Franz Josef!
Before you know it, it’s your last full day!
After breakfast we head further along the beautiful west coast on another of the most spectacular drives in the country (and, some would say, the world): a rugged, primaeval landscape of luxuriant rainforest juxtaposed against breathtaking beach and ocean waves. We stop at Hokitika and visit a greenstone factory, a great place to stock up on souvenirs for your friends and family back home. Time permitting, we may also visit the National Kiwi Centre, where there is guaranteed viewing of rare kiwi birds in their nocturnal house.
On the way back to Christchurch, you’ll traverse the South Island on the stunning TranzAlpine train crossing. Travelling across the Southern Alps through Arthur’s Pass, this is considered as one of the world’s most scenic train journeys. Along the way you’ll see epic vistas, travel the edges of the ice-fed Waimakariri River and see miles of native beech forest.
You’ll arrive in Christchurch around 6.30pm before transferring to your accommodation.
Today is the final day of tour – so prepare to bid farewell to all your new friends before you head in your own directions. We exchange photos and stories over breakfast before saying our goodbyes and parting ways. You’ll all have some incredible shared memories to take with you on your next adventure!
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