Highlights of South Island
This 12-night self-drive holiday starts and ends in Christchurch.
Some of the highlights on this journey include Mount Cook, Dunedin, Te Anau, Queenstown, Franz Josef Glacier, Abel Tasman, and Blenheim.
Arrival in ChristchurchChristchurch
Upon arrival at Christchurch airport you will be transferred to your hotel. One of New Zealand’s historic cities, Christchurch has a very ‘English’ atmosphere. The city itself is being rebuilt after recent earthquakes.
The rest of your day is at leisure, but time and energy permitting we recommend a visit to the Transitional Cardboard Cathedral, a fascinating cardboard structure temporarily replacing the cathedral that was significantly damaged by the 2010/11 earthquakes.
Christchurch – Mount Cook Region (142 - 205 miles)Christchurch
This morning collect your rental car and head west across the fertile Canterbury Plains and the rural farming communities of Geraldine and Fairlie, before reaching Mackenzie Country in the Mount Cook region. Stop at the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo, famed as being one of New Zealand’s most picturesque picnic spots.
Mount Cook Region – Dunedin (196 miles)Dunedin
Drive inland via Omarama and Lake Pukaki, a spectacular turquoise glacial lake. Pass through Oamaru and Palmerston on your way to the city of Dunedin. Dunedin was founded by Scottish immigrants and has a distinctive university city feel as many of its citizens are students. Its location on the Otago Peninsula means Dunedin has some dramatic scenery with many bays providing picnic and swimming sites.
Drive out along the Otago Peninsula to discover the unique South Island wildlife found in abundance on this scenic peninsula. At the tip of the peninsula is Taiaroa Head, a special reserve that includes the only mainland nesting site of the impressive royal albatross. Rare yellow-eyed penguins can also be seen at the penguin reserve halfway along the peninsula.
Dunedin – Te Anau (183 miles)
Head further south today as your route takes you through the town of Gore, one of the world’s top brown trout fishing areas (this can be a fun excursion in New Zealand even if fishing is not your thing!). Continuing west via Lumsden, you will reach Te Anau at the entrance to Fjordland National Park.
Te Anau – Queenstown (106 miles)
Fjordland is the largest national park in New Zealand. Milford Sound is the best known, most easily accessible and one of the grandest of the fjords along this coastline. To really experience the area’s huge expanses, soaring cliffs and lush forest, take a boat ride or, even better, a kayaking excursion. In the afternoon continue north along the shores of Lake Wakatipu into Queensland.
Day at leisure to explore picturesque Queenstown. There is plenty to see and do here and in the surrounding areas. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a jet boat ride on the Shotover River, or try white-water rafting, bungee jumping or bush walking. For a more relaxed day, take a cruise on Lake Wakatipu, stroll around the lake and enjoy Queenstown’s laid-back ambience, or maybe just enjoy a leisurely meal at one of its many bars and restaurants.
Queenstown to Glacier Region (252 miles)
Your drive today takes you via the lakeside town of Wanaka and over the Haast Pass into the Westland National Park. This is where you will find the famous Franz Josef Glacier – one of the steepest and most accessible glaciers in the world. For a supplement we can arrange a heli-hike so you can explore the higher reaches of the glacier.
Glacier Region – Hokitika (87 miles)
Head north along West Coast Highway 6. Admire beautiful scenery on the way to Hokitika, which became an important river port after gold was discovered here in the 1860s. Visit the West Coast Historical Museum for an insight into the history of the area. Don’t miss seeing some charming old buildings on a walk around the town. There are also plenty of galleries specialising in pounamu (greenstone) jewellery and art works.
Hokitika – Nelson (206 miles)
Continuing northwards, you will enter the Abel Tasman National Park region and Nelson. Nelson is known as the sunniest region in New Zealand and has a wonderful combination of beautiful surroundings, sophisticated arts and crafts and a delicious culinary scene. There is plenty to enjoy here including walking, cycling, horse treks and sailing. You will also find a good selection of restaurants, wineries and craft beer breweries.
Nelson – Blenheim (72 miles)
Make your way to Blenheim today. Blenheim is in the heart of Marlborough’s wine region and is a must for culinary experiences, art, gardens and heritage. The region’s mountains help keep summer temperatures high (temperatures over 30°C are common in February and March). There are more than 30 wineries within driving distance of the town and most welcome visitors for sampling sessions and cellar door sales.
Blenheim – Christchurch (193 miles)
The beautiful Pacific coast frames your journey from Blenheim to Christchurch. Kaikoura can be found approximately half way between Blenheim and Christchurch and is the perfect place to see marine life, enjoy coastal walks and tuck into a plate of crayfish. We suggest experiencing a whale watching cruise, on which you may see minke, humpback and southern right whales swimming alongside dolphins and orcas. There are plenty of cafés, restaurants and shops to explore too.