South Island Explorer

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new zealand lake wakatipu queenstown to glenorchy istk

South Island Explorer

from £1,974 excluding flights

  • 13 nights
  • Year round

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Highlights

In pictures
new zealand kaikoura diving sperm whale istk

Encounter whales and other marine wildlife in Kaikoura

Milford Sound

Enjoy a Milford Sound Cruise in Fiordland National Park

new zealand abel tasman gold sand beach istk

Explore stunning beaches and forested coves in Abel Tasman National Park

Franz Josef Glacier

View the breathtaking West Coast glaciers

Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

Experience Mount Cook with its breathtaking views

new zealand lake wanaka road southern lakes istk

Marvel at the great lakes of Wanaka and Wakatipu

Why this trip...

Aoraki Mt Cook National Park tailor made white

Tailor made

This itinerary can be tailor made to suit you and is intended to give you a guideline of what is possible in a given timeframe

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Explore at leisure

With the route, transport and accommodation sorted, each day offers the freedom to explore

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Activities included

This itinerary features a range of included activities

Overview

Explore the dramatic and stunning scenery of South Island on this well-paced self drive following a circular route from Christchurch. Drive scenic coastal routes, encounter wildlife and enjoy a cruise on Milford Sound. Return through the alpine scenery of the Southern Alps via Mt Cook, the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere.

Take in the sweeping West Coast glaciers and majestic lakes of Queenstown. Venture into Fiordland National Park and relax on the golden beaches and idyllic coves of Abel Tasman National Park. Encounter sperm whales, dolphins and fur seals in Kaikoura and explore charming Christchurch city as well as the market town of Nelson with its reputation for sunshine.

This 14-day itinerary focuses solely on South Island to allow more time exploring some of the most dramatically scenic areas in the country. Ideally suited to those short or time or as part of a tailor made itinerary combined with our 14-day North Island Classic.

Itinerary

The itinerary shown is an example of this self-drive holiday. We have a wide choice of hotels and a variety of route recommendations which can be tailored to your requirements. Please discuss with our Travel Specialists who can put together a bespoke itinerary for you.

Day 1 arrive in Christchurch

On arrival you'll be transferred to your hotel in Christchurch. This delightful city features two rivers, lovely parks and gardens and tree-lined avenues. The award-winning Botanic Gardens has one of the finest collections of exotic and native plants found in New Zealand. In February 2011, Christchurch was hit by a huge earthquake and much of its classic neo-gothic architecture was destroyed. Today it is a city in recovery mode but still has much to offer with a wonderful choice of outdoor activities including punting on the River Avon, exploring on foot or by open top bus or tram. A visit to the fascinating International Antarctic Centre is recommended. Overnight at The George Hotel.

On arrival you'll be transferred to your hotel in Christchurch. This delightful city features two rivers, lovely parks and gardens and tree-lined avenues. The award-winning Botanic Gardens has one of the finest collections of exotic and native plants found in New Zealand. In February 2011, Christchurch was hit by a huge earthquake and much of its classic neo-gothic architecture was destroyed. Today it is a city in recovery mode but still has much to offer with a wonderful choice of outdoor activities including punting on the River Avon, exploring on foot or by open top bus or tram. A visit to the fascinating International Antarctic Centre is recommended. Overnight at The George Hotel.

Day 2 Christchurch - Kaikoura (180 km)

Collect your rental car from the airport depot and make your way to the quaint coastal town of Kaikoura, renowned for its Maori cultural experiences and whale watching excursions. Overnight at Manakau Lodge with breakfast included.

Collect your rental car from the airport depot and make your way to the quaint coastal town of Kaikoura, renowned for its Maori cultural experiences and whale watching excursions. Overnight at Manakau Lodge with breakfast included.

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Day 3 Kaikoura - Kaiteriteri (305 km)

Enjoy an early morning whale watch excursion. Every tour is a unique experience and sightings vary. Giant sperm whales are the stars of the show and year-round residents. A typical whale watch tour may encounter New Zealand fur seals, pods of dusky dolphins and the endangered wandering albatross. Depending on the season you may also see migrating humpback whales, pilot whales, blue whales, and southern right whales. Orcas and Hector's dolphins are common sightings. In the afternoon continue onto Kaiteriteri, gateway to Abel Tasman National Park and spend two nights at Kaiteriteri Reserve Apartments.

Enjoy an early morning whale watch excursion. Every tour is a unique experience and sightings vary. Giant sperm whales are the stars of the show and year-round residents. A typical whale watch tour may encounter New Zealand fur seals, pods of dusky dolphins and the endangered wandering albatross. Depending on the season you may also see migrating humpback whales, pilot whales, blue whales, and southern right whales. Orcas and Hector's dolphins are common sightings. In the afternoon continue onto Kaiteriteri, gateway to Abel Tasman National Park and spend two nights at Kaiteriteri Reserve Apartments.

Day 4 exploring Abel Tasman National Park

Spend the day exploring the national park with an Abel Tasman Cruise & Walk Open Day Pass giving you complete flexibility to explore the coves, beaches and forest trails at your leisure.

Spend the day exploring the national park with an Abel Tasman Cruise & Walk Open Day Pass giving you complete flexibility to explore the coves, beaches and forest trails at your leisure.

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Abel Tasman swing bridge
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Day 5 Kaiteriteri - Punakaiki (278 km)

From the tranquil golden beaches of the Abel Tasman head out west to the wild and rugged west coast, and its astonishing variety of landscapes, rich history and abundant wildlife. Stop at Punakaiki to view the fantastic blow holes and rock formations. Stay overnight at Punakaiki Resort.

From the tranquil golden beaches of the Abel Tasman head out west to the wild and rugged west coast, and its astonishing variety of landscapes, rich history and abundant wildlife. Stop at Punakaiki to view the fantastic blow holes and rock formations. Stay overnight at Punakaiki Resort.

Day 6 Punakaiki - Franz Josef Glacier (217 km)

Make your way to glacier country and to the world's most accessible temperate-zone glaciers, nestled in valleys lined with rainforest. On arrival you may like to take a heli-hiking trip or guided walk on the glacier (additional cost applies). Overnight at 58 on Cron.

Make your way to glacier country and to the world's most accessible temperate-zone glaciers, nestled in valleys lined with rainforest. On arrival you may like to take a heli-hiking trip or guided walk on the glacier (additional cost applies). Overnight at 58 on Cron.

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Lake Matheson

Day 7 Franz Josef Glacier - Queenstown (350 km)

Enjoy a magnificent drive through World Heritage rainforests and cross the Haast Pass to reach the stunning alpine resort town of Queenstown, which lies at the heart of the spectacular Southern Lakes region. Overnight at Hotel St Moritz.

Enjoy a magnificent drive through World Heritage rainforests and cross the Haast Pass to reach the stunning alpine resort town of Queenstown, which lies at the heart of the spectacular Southern Lakes region. Overnight at Hotel St Moritz.

Day 8 Queenstown - Te Anau (171 km)

Enjoy mountain views and farm country on the drive to Te Anau. Situated beside a stunning lake, this small township is the gateway to Fiordland National Park, part of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Spend two nights at Distinction Hotel Te Anau & Villas.

Enjoy mountain views and farm country on the drive to Te Anau. Situated beside a stunning lake, this small township is the gateway to Fiordland National Park, part of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Spend two nights at Distinction Hotel Te Anau & Villas.

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Shotover Canyon

Day 9 Te Anau - Milford Sound - Te Anau (118 km)

Travel by coach from Te Anau to Milford Sound along the spectacular Milford Road. Photo stops will be made along the way into Milford. On arrival join a nature cruise for a leisurely journey the full length of Milford Sound to the Tasman Sea. The cruise provides excellent viewing opportunities and plenty of time is available to enjoy spectacular waterfalls, lush rainforest, majestic mountains and rare wildlife. A nature guide will also provide you with fascinating interpretation throughout the cruise. Lunch options and complimentary tea and coffee are available on board the vessel. Following the cruise, re-board your coach and return to Te Anau.

Travel by coach from Te Anau to Milford Sound along the spectacular Milford Road. Photo stops will be made along the way into Milford. On arrival join a nature cruise for a leisurely journey the full length of Milford Sound to the Tasman Sea. The cruise provides excellent viewing opportunities and plenty of time is available to enjoy spectacular waterfalls, lush rainforest, majestic mountains and rare wildlife. A nature guide will also provide you with fascinating interpretation throughout the cruise. Lunch options and complimentary tea and coffee are available on board the vessel. Following the cruise, re-board your coach and return to Te Anau.

Day 10 Te Anau - Lake Wanaka (227 km)

Drive to the beautiful lakeside town of Wanaka, which has an abundance of outdoor activities in a stunning natural setting. It is a slightly quieter alternative to Queenstown and is in close proximity to Mt Aspiring National Park. Spend two nights at Wanaka Springs Lodge with breakfast included.

Drive to the beautiful lakeside town of Wanaka, which has an abundance of outdoor activities in a stunning natural setting. It is a slightly quieter alternative to Queenstown and is in close proximity to Mt Aspiring National Park. Spend two nights at Wanaka Springs Lodge with breakfast included.

Lake Wanaka
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Day 11 exploring Lake Wanaka

Enjoy a day at leisure in the heart of the Southern Lakes region. Wanaka is an ideal location for keen hikers and those wanting to explore pristine picture-perfect landscapes.

Enjoy a day at leisure in the heart of the Southern Lakes region. Wanaka is an ideal location for keen hikers and those wanting to explore pristine picture-perfect landscapes.

Day 12 Lake Wanaka - Mount Cook (206 km)

Head north through magnificent rural landscapes en route to Mount Cook National Park which lies at the heart of the Southern Alps. The scenery here is breathtaking as you take in mesmerising blue glacial lakes and tussock-clad hills as well as clear skies, perfect for stargazing, before arriving at Aoraki/Mount Cook. Overnight at Mt Cook Lodge & Motel.

Head north through magnificent rural landscapes en route to Mount Cook National Park which lies at the heart of the Southern Alps. The scenery here is breathtaking as you take in mesmerising blue glacial lakes and tussock-clad hills as well as clear skies, perfect for stargazing, before arriving at Aoraki/Mount Cook. Overnight at Mt Cook Lodge & Motel.

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Day 13 Mount Cook - Christchurch (330 km)

Drive to the city of Christchurch today via scenic Lake Tekapo and the charming town of Geraldine where you may like to stop en route. Overnight at Chateau on the Park.

Drive to the city of Christchurch today via scenic Lake Tekapo and the charming town of Geraldine where you may like to stop en route. Overnight at Chateau on the Park.

Day 14 depart Christchurch

Drop off your rental car at the airport today as you bid farewell to South Island.

Drop off your rental car at the airport today as you bid farewell to South Island.

Accommodation Options

We have selected properties for this holiday referenced in the itinerary in a mix of hotels, motels and lodges. However, with a wide choice of accommodation in New Zealand, we can change to suit your personal preference mixing different grades and styles.

Discuss your options with our Travel Specialists.

Excursions

Prices and Departures

Price from £1,974 excluding flights

Airfares start from around £825 per person and are quoted separately to the holiday price. When enquiring, our Travel Specialists will provide the best fare possible from your preferred airline / airport.

What's Included

  • Accommodation rooms with private bathroom
  • 3 breakfasts
  • Car rental throughout including GPS
  • Private transfer on arrival
  • Whale watch excursion in Kaikoura
  • Abel Tasman Cruise & Walk Open Day Pass
  • Milford Sound Nature Cruise (with return coach transfers)
  • 24 hour emergency assistance from our team during your holiday
  • No surcharge guarantee
  • Full financial protection

This itinerary starts from £1,974 per person, based on 2 sharing a room in standard accommodation, and vehicle rental with GPS.

  • Prices may vary depending on departure date, or should you prefer alternative categories of accommodation or vehicle size.
  • Contact us for a detailed quote based on your preferred travel dates, vehicle category and style of accommodation, or to tailor this itinerary.

Meet our expert

nordic team doug kington bw
One of our specialists
Meet Doug

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Tailor made trips

As independent destination specialists, we are able to tailor make holidays to suit you, be that customising the itineraries shown on this website or creating something bespoke.

Travelling sustainably

We believe travel is about finding the right balance between minimising our impact on the environment and broadening minds through new experiences and cultural interaction.

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