This tour is the classic New Zealand self drive tour, designed for your needs. Enjoy an everlasting holiday you might remember and explore the diversity of this amazing country on a stunning route from South to North. Experience the incredible natural beauty and Maori cultural heritage that makes our country so unique. The perfect tour to explore this pristine country!
The details below are for each of the days where there is a major driving leg.
Times are based on a reasonable average of between 70 and 80 kph (45-55 mph approx).
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The following summary lists driving information for each major driving day of your itinerary. Times and distances are based on ideal conditions without stops. Plan to take longer than the times listed below to allow time to explore and enjoy some stops.
INCLUDED – Private transfer from Christchurch airport to your accommodation. On arrival you will be met by a private driver and delivered to your Christchurch accommodation
INCLUDED– Once you touch down in New Zealand your detailed tour pack will be hand delivered by one of our trusted representatives. The pack contains everything you need for the duration of your stay. It will include a comprehensive, printed and bound version of your itinerary as well as clear driving instructions and maps for each leg of your journey. It also contains all the reservation details for your accommodation and activities – along with relevant brochures and information.
Christchurch, New Zealand’s garden city is steadily being transformed into a vibrant urban destination. Encompassing a large green belt, it is known for its wide tree lined avenues and lush gardens. Take the double decker hop on/hop off bus for an easy way to see the sights – or ride a historic tram across town to the renowned botanic gardens and the unique cardboard Transitional Cathedral.
Accommodation – Orari Bed and Breakfast offers elegant and inviting accommodation in the heart of Christchurch city. This heritage building has all the charm of a grand Victorian home, but with modern comforts providing for an enjoyable stay.
On either collection or delivery of your rental car you will be required to sign a rental agreement with the car rental company. A credit card is also required at this time and an authorisation will be obtained by the rental car company to cover excess (deductible amount) as specified in the car rental insurance section at the end of your itinerary. Note that the excess or deductible is not ‚charged‘ to your card, just an authorisation is obtained at this stage. Each person who wishes to drive must present their driving licence at this point. There is no charge for additional drivers. Note drivers under 21 are not permitted.
Following the 2011 earthquake that razed its centre and much of the outlying suburbs, Christchurch is well into a billion-dollar makeover. In the middle of the Canterbury Plains bordering the edge of the pacific ocean, New Zealand’s newest city is an ideal gateway to exploring the middle of the South. For those keen to see everything this Garden City has to offer we recommend the Christchurch Pass – a one stop shop to three main attractions. Pay once and catch the Gondola to the ring of an extinct volcano Mt Cavendish, tour the Botanic Gardens and hop aboard a historic tramcar.
A visit to the world’s only Cardboard Cathedral is a must, as is a day’s outing to the French settlement of Akaroa. While you’re there jump aboard a harbour cruise for the chance to catch a glimpse of the rare hector’s dolphin. Play explorer and head to the International Antarctic Centre for an indoor blizzard like no other. Save on flights to Africa and head out on Safari at the Orana Wildlife Park. Be sure to book the ‘Lion Encounter’ for a thrilling experience inside a lion enclosure.
Go wine tasting in the Waipara Valley and end your visit with a stop at Quake City, an informative, multi-sensory attraction detailing the devastating Canterbury earthquakes.
Accommodation: Orari Bed and Breakfast
Today you’ll drive through the heart of the South Island, crossing the vast Canterbury Plains. Catch your breath in Geraldine before continuing into through Fairlie. Ascending Burkes pass you’ll come to the picturesque lakeside town of Tekapo. Follow the road and take in the view of Aoraki Mt Cook (New Zealand’s tallest mountain) from the shores of Lake Pukaki, known for its glacier fed turquoise blue colour. Continue along the lake to your final destination Mt Cook Village. Choose to view the Mt Cook National Park by a ski plane, or land on one of the glaciers in a helicopter. Find your sense of adventure and Kayak on a glacial lake or test your legs on one of the many walking tracks in and around the village. Before leaving, a visit to the Sir Edmund Hillary Centre is a must do.
Lake Tekapo is New Zealand’s highest lake and it’s turquoise colour astounds visitors. The unusual colour of the water comes from fine rock particles suspended in the glacier fed waters reflecting the light. One of the most popular – and most photographed – landmarks in the region is the Church of the Good Shepherd. This iconic stone building was dedicated in 1935 and utilises part of the wood from the demolished Tekapo bridge. Nearby a statue of a Bronze Sheepdog pays tribute to the strong contribution these animals have made to the farming community. West of Lake Tekapo is Mt John, and it’s here you will find the Canterbury University Observatory. Driving to the summit of this mountain is well worth the soaring views you’ll get from the top. Drive a little further towards Lake Alexandrina, a wildlife reserve home to many birds. No motorised craft are allowed on the water, making for a very peaceful visit. For a different view of this stunning landscape, catch a scenic flight over Mt Cook National Park and the West Coast Glaciers – Fox and Franz Josef.
Just a 1-1.5 hour drive from Tekapo, Mt. Cook National Park is a rugged and beautiful environment encompassing 19 peaks, the tallest of them being Aoraki Mt Cook – New Zealand’s highest mountain. Standing 3754 metres tall the Mt Cook can be seen from the southern end of Lake Pukaki. For those wanting a unique experience, catch a ski plane over the park, and land on the 15 kilometre long Tasman glacier. Stretch your legs on one of the many short walks around the area, and relax over dinner in the Mt Cook Village. Be sure to stop in at the new Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, showcasing the region’s contribution to pioneering the sport of mountain climbing. Please note there are no food or shops at Mount Cook you will need to stock up prior to arriving in Mount Cook if you wish to self cater.
INCLUDED – Glacier Explorers Mt. Cook: Experience 500 year old icebergs up-close on the Mt Cook terminal lake. The Glacier Explorers tour is the only one of its kind in New Zealand – and one of only three in the world! Very few glaciers terminate into lakes and even fewer of them are accessible. See towering ice cliffs and floating icebergs from the safety of a specially designed boat. These boats provide a safe way to view unseen and inaccessible areas of New Zealand’s largest glacier – The Tasman.
Accommodation – Hermitage Hotel, Aoraki – The Hermitage Hotel ringed by magnificent snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, is a world-renowned destination and has been an icon of superior accommodation and dining since 1884
Mt. Cook National Park to Queenstown
Leaving the alpine region of Mount Cook, you’ll travel through the lakeside town of Twizel, then a little further to Omarama – the gliding capital of New Zealand. Continue on over the Lindis Pass, one of New Zealand’s highest roads with a summit of 971 metres. Arrive in the quaint village of Tarras, then continue on a short way to the historic Bendigo Reserve, one of Otago’s original gold mining settlements.
Follow the road to Cromwell, and keep going through the sheer cliffs of the Kawarau Gorge towards the Gibbston Valley, one of New Zealand’s premier wine growing regions. See the historic Kawarau Bridge where you can bungy jump or relax and watch others take the plunge. Approaching Queenstown, the Remarkables mountain range comes into view as you arrive into the adventure capital of New Zealand.
Explore Queenstown and surrounds
Although celebrated as New Zealand’s ‘adventure capital’ Queenstown offers far more than a fast paced action-packed holiday. Settled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu beneath a soaring panorama of the Remarkables Mountain Range, this alpine town is surrounded by a plethora of historic, gastronomic and scenic wonders.Follow a trail of vines through Gibbston Valley as you sample the region’s best wine. We recommend stopping at the Chard Farm cellar door, visiting the architecturally award winning Peregrine vineyard or taking a cellar cave tour at Gibbston Valley Winery. Cruise to Walter Peak station for dinner on board a 100 year old steamship – the TSS Earnslaw. While you’re there, a sheep farm tour is a must do for those not familiar with rural living.
Take some time to wander the waterfront, and grab lunch at one of the many amazing cafes and restaurants on offer. Try Vudu’s Pantry and larder or for a holiday treat go to Michelin star chef Josh Emett’s ‘Rata. Check out nearby historic Arrowtown and enhance your experience with a four wheel drive trip to Macetown – a disused gold mining settlement built in the 1800’s.Take a leisurely lakeside stroll or ride the gondola for breathtaking views. Venture further afield into the Fiordland National Park or head over the Crown Range to Wanaka.
Drive through Lord Of The Rings country or for the really fanatic, jump aboard one of many dedicated LOTR tours. After all of that – if you do really want the adrenaline rush Queenstown is known for, take your pick from the Shotover Jet, Nevis Bungy, Canyon Swing, Zipline, Luge or White Water Rafting.
From Queenstown you’ll cross the Crown Range – the highest sealed road in New Zealand – to arrive in the Alpine town of Wanaka, gateway to Mt Aspiring national park. Skirting the shores of both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, you will enter the small town of Makarora.
Stop at Blue Pools for a ten minute walk through native beech forest to a glacier-fed swimming hole. Continue on through the remote seaside settlement of Haast before heading up the wild West Coast – a 600 km stretch of bush and native rainforest. Fox Glacier welcomes you first, then comes your destination for the night – Franz Josef township.
Accommodation: – The Westwood Lodge is a purpose built lodge, crafted entirely from wood and exquisitely decorated throughout. The lounge is the place to meet to watch the Southern Alps turn a soft pink in the setting sun.
Explore Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef is small but lively town in the heart of the West Coast, known for its 12 km long glacier. Surrounded by lush rainforest-clad mountains the township has a vibrant and bustling atmosphere. To see the ice up close ice walk along the valley floor to the terminal face without a guide.
However, to go on the glacier itself or get within 100m you must take a licensed tour. Strap on some crampons and give it a go with Franz Josef Glacier Guides or take the easier option and book in a helicopter landing instead. Whichever way you choose to ascend, once on top you’ll have the chance to explore the crevasses, caves and ice flows. Wind down by soaking in the Glacier Hot Pools, highly recommended after a cold day out!
Accommodation: Westwood Lodge
Today you’ll head north through the historic gold mining region of Hokitika. Known for its Jade/Greenstone (Pounamu) this seaside town has a rich history dating back to the 1860’s. Head to the coast and take in the endless sea-views or pick up a souvenir at one of the many craft shops. Continue on to Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast and the starting point for the next leg of your journey – the Tranz Alpine Scenic Train.
Drop your rental car at the Greymouth Train Station depot located inside the train station building before boarding your train to Christchurch.
Considered one of the world’s great train journeys, the TranzAlpine Scenic Train takes you from Greymouth to Christchurch. You’ll travel across the South Island from the west to the east coast through Arthur’s Pass National Park. From the comfort of your carriage see lush beech forest, deep river valleys and the spectacular peaks of the Southern Alps. Descend to the windswept Canterbury Plains before arriving in the city of Christchurch.
On arrival into the Christchurch train station you will be met by a private transfer driver and taken to your accommodation.
Collecting your rental car
The drive north from Christchurch to Kaikoura takes you through the rolling hills of North Canterbury’s major wine region, the Waipara Valley. Allow time for a detour and visit Hanmer Springs for a dip in the mineral hot pools. Continue on and cross the Hawkswood Range before descending to the spectacular Kaikoura coastline – where the road hugs the ocean for the last leg of the drive.
See fur seals on the rocks as you approach the township and if you’re lucky, spot whales and dolphins off shore.
Heading north from Kaikoura, the road hugs the shore for approximately 50 kilometres and offers many opportunities to view the native wildlife such as seabirds and New Zealand fur seals. One of the best seal watching locations is Ohau Point (25km north of Kaikoura), where you can observe the adults on the shoreline and the pups frolicking in the waterfall, just a short walk from the road (signposted). As you drive you will have turquoise waters of the South Pacific Ocean to your east and to the west the towering Kaikoura Ranges.
Crossing the dry hills of the Marlborough ranges you head towards Marlborough, New Zealand’s largest wine producing region. Blenheim sits right at the heart of Marlborough and is ideally located to enjoy an afternoon sampling the local produce. A great way to do this is to take a guided wine tour with Sounds Connection Wine Tours.
The short drive from Blenheim to Picton takes you through more wine growing regions and the valley to the west of the Robertson Range. Picton is a port town and its here that the Interislander ferries arrive and depart. The town centre is quite small with plenty of shops and cafes and the waterfront area is a very pleasant place to spend a few hours watching the activity of the ships. The Edwin Fox Maritime Centre on the wharf is worth a visit with the star attraction being the vessel the ‚Edwin Fox‘, reputably the 9th oldest ship in the world.
The hills to the west of Picton are the start of Queen Charlotte Drive, a very picturesque road to Havelock and Nelson that winds its way along the shores of the sounds. The 92 km journey between Picton and Wellington takes around 3 hours and has been described as ‚one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world‘. Around one hour of the cruise takes you through the Marlborough Sounds. This region of bush covered mountains, small islands, crystal clear waters and secluded bays offer remarkable photographic opportunities.
From the Cook Strait, spectacular views of the Kaikoura Ranges on the South Island can be enjoyed and often dolphins and sea birds are seen. After crossing the strait you approach Wellington Harbour and pass many interesting points such as Pencarrow Head on top of which is New Zealand’s oldest lighthouse (1859). Red Rocks is home to a seal colony and Oterangi Bay is the site which recorded the country’s highest ever wind speed of 268 kph (167 mph)
The drive from Wellington to Taupo takes you via the Kapiti Coast and the seaside towns of Paekakariki and Paraparaumu are worth a short detour. Heading north you pass through the rural towns of Taihape, Mangaweka and Bulls before arriving onto the central plateau. A little further the military town of Waiouru is home to the National Army Museum, an incredible collection of New Zealand’s military history and a memorial to its servicemen.
Skirting Tongariro National Park, one of New Zealand’s three world heritage sites, you can see the 2,500 metre peak of the volcanically active Mt. Ruapehu. You might also recognise the symmetrical shape of Mt. Ngauruhoe as this was used as the scenery of Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
The township of Taupo sits on the shores of New Zealand’s largest lake, Lake Taupo – a gigantic volcanic caldera formed during one of the world’s largest ever eruptions. Just north of the town are the Huka Falls and a short detour to view is advised. Nearby Craters of the Moon is a geothermal reserve with great walking tracks around its many boiling pools and steaming vents.
Continuing on to Rotorua you pass the volcanic valley, visit either Wai O Tapu or the Waimangu Valley for a closer look. Arriving into Rotorua the city’s geothermal activity is evident with steam rising from the roadside and hills. Rotorua is considered the heart of New Zealand’s Maori cultural and it’s here you can learn of their history and traditions. The Rotorua Museum is outstanding and one of its main displays is about the devastating eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886. Nearby Ohinemutu Village is located on the site of the first Maori settlement in the area. Here you can gain an insight into the traditional Maori way of life through song, dance and entertainment. A dinner prepared in the traditional manner is served to finish the evening off.
Peppered with natural hot springs, boiling mud pools and steaming geysers, Rotorua sits within one of the worlds most active volcanic regions. But geothermal landmarks aside, this city of sulphur has a rich indigenous history. Home to several prominent Maori tribes, Rotorua is the perfect place to immerse yourself in our local culture. Spend an evening at Rotorua Maori Culture New Zealand Mitai Maori Village for a hangi dinner and Maori performance. Book in for some relaxation at the Polynesian Spa and choose between a mud wrap, coconut oil massage or private mineral pool soak – or perhaps just get them all!
Land in a helicopter on White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano and traverse the crater for a once-in-a-lifetime hike. Those in need of an adrenaline rush, should spend time at Agroventures Adventure Park static skydiving, bungy jumping, and ‘swooping’ on the giant swing. For a calmer day out, head up the Skyline Gondola for awe-inspiring views of the lake. While you’re there, grab a night luge pass for an extra thrill.
Round off your Rotorua stay at the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and see the multicolored hot springs, geysers and boiling, mud pools.
The drive from Rotorua to Auckland takes you through the heart of the Waikato and its rich agricultural land. New Zealand’s longest river – the Waikato – guides you through the art and craft stores of Tirau and the township of Cambridge.
Continue on a little further to arrive into Auckland City – New Zealand’s largest, with a population of around 1.5 million people (about one third of the national population) spread over approximately 60 square kilometres. From the vibrant and trendy fashion and cuisine found in Ponsonby and Parnell to the breathtaking native bush and beaches of the West Coast, Auckland is full of life and the opportunities to explore are endless.
Perched on the edge of a large natural harbour, New Zealand’s ‘City of Sails’ offers the best of both worlds. Sandy beaches, native bush and lush rainforests give way to a vibrant urban culture, humming with life. Spend time in the Viaduct Harbour – try your hand at sailing an America’s Cup yacht – or take the ferry to nearby Waiheke Island for a gourmet food and wine experience.
Walk (if you’re that way inclined) to the top of Auckland’s highest volcano, Mt Eden, and take in soaring views of the gulf. Pack a picnic lunch and lose yourself in one of the 800 regional national parks on offer or grab a book and relax on a deserted beach.
Head up the Sky Tower, standing at just over 300m tall (about 1,000 feet) and have a meal in the 360 degree revolving restaurant. Scale the outermost perimeter of the Harbour Bridge – or test your stomach and bungy off both. To end your day, visit Ponsonby Road and sample some upmarket culinary delights.
Explore more of vibrant Auckland city before dropping your rental car at the airport depot and continuing your onward journey. Please remember: Fill up your car with fuel before returning it to the rental car depot at the airport.
Farewell from New Zealand. Thank you for joining our tour and visiting New Zealand!