South Island Explorer
SELF DRIVE TOUR
CHRISTCHURCH | LAKE TEKAPO | DUNEDIN | INVERCARGILL | TE ANAU | DOUBTFUL SOUND | QUEENSTOWN | FRANZ JOSEF | NELSON | ABEL TASMAN | KAIKOURA
New Zealand’s South Island hosts the purest natural landscapes you’ll ever experience; from wildlife and wineries to glacial valleys and star-filled skies, natures best flourishes against a palette of dramatic scenes on this self-driving tour of the South Island.
- Witness the beauty of Lake Tekapo
- Explore Dunedin – know as the Edinburgh of New Zealand
- Visit the stunning resort of Queenstown
- Cruise Milford Sound, know as the eighth wonder of the world
South Island Explorer
Day 1 : Arrive Christchurch
Arrive in Christchurch and make your own way to your hotel. Relax and enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure in the Garden City. Christchurch cities main attractions are located within the beautiful Hagley Park. They include the large Botanical Gardens, the fascinating Canterbury Museum and the tranquil Avon River. The river gently winds its way around these inner city landmarks and out through sprawling suburbs to the Pacific Ocean. In contrast to this flat cityscape and the surrounding Canterbury Plains, the skyline to the south is dominated by the tussock and rocky outcrops of the Port Hills. Just a stroll away you will find stunning riverside restaurants, bars and a new city centre shopping precinct to entice anyone’s tastes.
Day 2 : Christchurch to Lake Tekapo (225 km)
This morning, pick up your rental car and drive to Lake Tekapo. Travel southwards across the Canterbury Plains and across the longest bridge in New Zealand; the Southern Alps which can be seen to the west, are a stunning back drop of your drive today. Arrive at Lake Tekapo, beautifully situated on the shores of turquoise blue Lake Tekapo, the remainder of your day is at leisure to explore.
Day 3 : Lake Tekapo to Dunedin (287km)
Leave Lake Tekapo today and drive to Dunedin. Nestled in the hills that lie at the end of Otago Harbour, this city has a rich and diverse history and also a gateway to Otago Peninsula, whose rugged rocks and sandy beaches are home to a wide range of rare wildlife.
Day 4 : Dunedin
This morning is at leisure. This afternoon relax onboard a cruise along the peninsula. Cruise past Careys Bay historic fishing village, the busy port at Port Chalmers, beautiful bays, farmlands and forest. Learn about the harbour’s volcanic, Maori and European history and enjoy a wildlife cruise around Taiaroa Head. You’ll hear tales of other creatures and early settlers as you bus along the scenic Otago Peninsula. Discover Yellow Eyed Penguins, the most endangered in the world and photograph them at close range from the award-winning Penguin Place private reserve.
Day 5 : Dunedin to Invercargill via Catlins (302km)
Enjoy a relaxed drive from Dunedin to Invercargill today, travelling via the scenic route of the Catlins at the base of the South Island, with many great photo stops. Drive through to Invercargill, ready to head to Stewart Island tomorrow morning.
Day 6 : Invercargill to Stewart Island (28km + 1 hour ferry)
Zip across Foveaux Strait between Bluff and Stewart Island on comfortable catamarans. Visit Stewart Island, just a one-hour ferry ride from Bluff and New Zealand’s ultimate eco-tourism destination. During the trip, keep an eye out for wildlife, particularly sea birds such as Mollymawk (Albatross) and Titi which often follow the vessel. This afternoon enjoy a real treat in this unique, remote part of the world with a leisurely cruise of beautiful Paterson Inlet. The cruise showcases some stunning scenery and includes a visit to the historic whaler’s base at Prices Inlet and the hidden coves and unspoilt beaches of Paterson Inlet. Local guides provide informative commentary during the scenic cruise.While onboard, keep a lookout for fur seals and penguins. At Ulva Island enjoy an easy guided walk with your guide. The island is a renowned wildlife sanctuary where many rare and endangered native species of birdlife and plants flourish in a predator free environment. Home to weka (native woodhen), bush robins, rare saddlebacks and yellowheads among other species. A true ‘untouched’ part of nature to experience. In the evening, relish in a cruise before undertaking a 45 minute guided bush walk. By torchlight gently walk with your specialist guide through spectacular coastal forest to a secluded sandy beach where Kiwi are often found searching for food after nightfall. Here, in the darkness, guests can witness the Southern Brown Kiwi in its unspoilt natural habitat.
Day 7 : Stewart Island to Te Anau (1 hour ferry + 188km)
After your return ferry from Stewart Island to Bluff, drive north on to Lake Te Anau. The remainder of the day is yours at leisure to explore this region.
Day 8 : Milford Sound
Today your journey is experienced in comfort on a glass roofed coach, with glass above every seat for breathtaking viewing. Leave Te Anau and travel along the spectacular alpine route of the Milford Road, including through the Hommer Tunnel, considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Upon arrival in Milford Sound, board an extended and leisurely cruise. Onboard you will cruise the full length of Milford to the Tasman Sea whilst a nature guide provides a detailed commentary. There is plenty of time available to explore points of interest and view the stunning scenery, including waterfalls, rainforest, the towering peaks and wildlife. Following the cruise, return to Te Anau by coach.
Day 9 : Te Anau to Queenstown (174km)
Depart Te Anau and drive through farmland and tussock country before skirting around the shores of Lake Wakaitipu and the sheer faces of the Remarkable Range with snow-capped alpine peaks ahead, to the resort town of Queenstown. The rest of the day is free to explore.
Day 10 : Queenstown
Enjoy a day at leisure in the adventure capital of New Zealand. We have included a ride on the Skyline Gondola. Sit back and relax as you are whisked up smoothly 450 metres up Bob’s peak by gondola to enjoy spectacular views across Lake Wakatipu to the Remarkables Range in the distance.
Day 11 : Queenstown to Franz Josef (404km)
Leaving Queenstown follow the Kawarau Gorge through to Cromwell. Cross the divide at the Haast Pass and see the powerful water form a series of rapids at the Gates of Haast Bridge. From here you drive north along the west coast passing through Fox Glacier and Lake Matheson which is well worth a walk around before arriving into Franz Josef. The best observed and recorded of all the country’s many glaciers, Franz Josef lies 25 kilometres to the north of Fox. View the glacier from the lookout point at the end of the Franz Josef Road.
Day 12 : Franz Josef to Punakaiki (217km)
Depart Franz Josef and travel through dense bush with scattered milling and farming settlements. Pass through Hokitika and Greymouth to your destination, Punakaiki; famous for its Pancake Rocks. The 30 million old limestone formations with their impressive blowholes are best visited at high tide and a visit is not to be missed.
Day 13 : Punakaiki to Nelson (265km)
From Punakaiki travel north to Nelson. The Nelson region combines the finest elements of the New Zealand experience and delivers them across stunning geography, beaches and lakes, spectacular national parks, vineyards, cafes, artists, and galleries that offer a uniquely Nelson way of life.
Day 14 : Abel Tasman National Park (55km)
Drive to Kaiteriteri Beach this morning. Choose from a full day cruise or take the shorter cruise with time for a leisurely walk along part of the walking track from Torrent Bay to Bark Bay. Board your vessel and cruise into the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park where you will see spectacular stretches of coastline which are not always visible from the walking track.
Day 15 : Nelson to Kaikoura (251km)
Depart Nelson for the seaside town of Kaikoura today – which boasts a diverse and abundant population of marine life. The remainder of the day is yours at leisure to explore the small craft and boutique retail stores on offer or walk along the moody shoreline.
Day 16 : Kaikoura to Christchurch (183km)
Enjoy a Whale Watch tour this morning. Every Whale Watch tour is a unique experience and the 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. Depart Kaikoura after your tour and make your way to Christchurch.
Day 17 : Depart Christchurch
Your tour ends today with the check out of your hotel and the return of your rental vehicle.