- 11 Days -
We're just assembling some amazing activities to choose from - wont be long!
South Island Rainforests ◦ Albatross and Yellow Eyed Penguin colonies ◦ Queenstown ◦ Cruise the Fiords of Milford Sound ◦ White Heron Bird Colony ◦ Franz Josef Glacier ◦ Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki ◦ Christchurch.
This price is based on two persons sharing a room and includes accommodation and the use of a rental car. Prices will vary according to your actual travel dates and accommodation choices.
After your morning arrival in Auckland, take the connecting non-stop flight to the city of the south, Dunedin
Dunedin is the student city of the south. The coldest of winters and the warmest of people all year round. Also the launching point for experiencing the amazing wildlife of the Otago Peninsula. On June 18, 2018 CNN published an article titled Dunedin: New Zealand's Most Underrated City? that is well worth reading.
A highlight of today's drive through this important fruit and wine producing region will be the wonderful scenery as you head west, following New Zealand's second biggest river, the mighty Clutha.
Queenstown lies at the heart of one of the world's most diverse and beautiful places, a gateway to the world famous rainforests and fiords of the south-west. This is a place of world class resorts, adrenalin pumping adventures and excellent restaurants and cafes. Some will prefer to base themselves at Wanaka over these days, which we offer as an alternative in the option below.
As Queenstown has grown in popularity and size over recent decades, Wanaka, an hours drive away, has become a favorite choice for those who prefer a quieter and more peaceful place to stay. It's location, on Lake Wanaka and close to some of the best hiking trails in the region, makes Wanaka an attractive option to the more frenetic pace of Queenstown.
Today you will cross the forest clad Haast Pass, southern gateway to the rain forested beauty of New Zealand's wild West Coast.
A long days driving from Queenstown will see you arriving at Franz Josef in the late afternoon. Early this evening will be your opportunity to experience something very special, an excursion to see one of the world's rarest birds in the wild, the native Kiwi.
Today's drive was described by Lonely Planet Travel Magazine as "one of the Top 10 coastal drives in the world" - and you're about to discover why.
An idyllic and peacful place with many optional activities, including hiking and spectacular beach walks. This is where you'll enjoy a visit to the famous Pancake Rocks. We'll arrange accommodation for you at one of our favorite New Zealand lodges, set in forest surroundings with spectacular sea views.
We have three equally attractive options for your travel today. Nominate the one that interests you most and add it to your Wish List. We'll discuss these options in more detail with you when we talk so you can be confident that you've made the right choice.
Without doubt the most fascinating and inspirational city in New Zealand, achieving second place in The New York Times '52 Places to Go in 2014' - a city in the process of rebuilding as it recovers from the devastating earthquake of February 2011. A wander around the downtown area to admire some of the innovative buildings that have been completed or to see the progress of new ones taking shape will particularly appeal to those with an interest in architecture. Read our informative Christchurch Blogs here and here for a story about nearby Akaroa.
Today you take an afternoon flight back to Auckland in time to connect with your homeward flight to the USA. Kia Ora New Zealand and please return one day soon.
This half-day wildlife tour on the rugged and beautiful Otago Peninsula includes the afternoon arrival from the sea of the endangered Yellow Eyed Penguins. To watch these delightful little animals returning to their beach and then slowly making their way to their overnight nests is an incredibly moving experience. You will hear about the impact of penguin conservation and know that your visit contributes to the ongoing conservation effort. Other marine wildlife encountered on this tour include Hooker's Sea lions, Blue Penguins and a breeding colony of New Zealand Fur Seals.
This is your opportunity to visit the only mainland based albatross breeding colony in the world. The first locally reared albatross chick flew in 1938 and this nature reserve has now grown into a colony of around 150 birds. With their slim wings measuring up to 11 feet across and capable of swooping like a jet fighter at speeds of more than 70 mph, watching these magnificent birds something never to be forgotten. Update July 03, 2018. The New Zealand Herald reports on a recent new arrival at the colony that's been named after American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart.
This is New Zealand's only castle, fully furnished and lovingly restored, with beautiful gardens and offering wonderful panoramic views of the peninsula. In 2007, the Barker family celebrated 40 years of living at the Castle, longer than the original Larnach family and they will continue to lavish the care and attention that this wonderful complex deserves. As Margaret Barker says 'The Castle has a fate of its own and we are mere caretakers in the meantime'
Just 5 miles from the city center, at Tunnel Beach you can explore sea-carved sandstone cliffs, rock arches and caves; look for fossils as you descend through the pioneers' hand-carved tunnel to the beautiful and secluded beach below. The endless cliff top views are breathtaking. It's an easy one hour walk with a bit of a climb on the return track and the walk is best enjoyed at low tide.
There's an ongoing debate about the Dunedin Railway Station, based on the question "Is it really beautiful?" Opened in 1906, the overall effect is undeniably grandiose and the station is New Zealand’s most photographed building. The interior has been beautifully restored and you can join the debate by making a visit to see for yourself. A farmers market runs in Anzac Square just outside the station every Saturday morning.
The Taieri Gorge train is Dunedin's historic tourist train beginning at the magnificently restored 1906 Central Railway Station. It takes you on a journey through the rugged and spectacular Taieri River Gorge, across wrought iron viaducts and through tunnels carved by hand more than 100 years ago. Enjoy full commentary and photographic stops for the stunning views.
Stop Press: Sadly, Chocolate World closed in March 2018. You can read the story behind its demise in local newspaper Stuff.
Discover the magic behind a New Zealand iconic chocolate brand - Cadbury Chocolate! Learn about the history of Cadbury and chocolate as you journey through time in the Visitor Centre. At the Cadbury World Sensory Lab discover and sample the different elements of the chocolate making process, from cocoa bean all the way through to the famous Cadbury Chocolate. You even get to make a little chocolate creation of your own!
The Dunedin Botanic Garden is the oldest and one of the finest in the country. It has both a formal garden display on flat land and a more naturalistic plant display on a sun facing slope. Native birds can be seen in the aviary and the New Zealand Native Plant Collection shows what makes New Zealand native fauna so unique. There is a cafe and a winter garden glasshouse provides a tropical retreat.
When the 93 mile Otago rail line was closed in 1990 and the steel tracks removed, it was decided to convert it into a path for walkers and cyclists. The resulting Rail Trail has proven to be hugely popular, especially with overseas visitors. There are no steep hills to conquer, and for the complete experience we can pre-book everything and arrange for you to to complete the whole trail in 3-5 days depending on the pace you feel comfortable with. You'll pass through small country towns where you can make an overnight stop to enjoy good food, local wines and accommodation of every standard. But the real treat is the joy of cycling through gentle valleys and tussock grasslands with a backdrop of wild gorges and stunning mountain scenery. For a hands-on report of this experience, be sure to read this article on the US website 'Washington Bikes'
A short distance from the Kawerau Gorge is Mt Difficulty Vineyards, one of the oldest vineyards in this Central Otago wine growing region. This area is internationally recognised as one of the few places in the world outside Burgundy where the pernickety Pinot Noir variety has found a home. Their restaurant has great views over the surrounding countryside.
The last part of today's journey, before reaching Queenstown, takes you through the Kawerau Gorge and the Roaring Meg Recreation Reserve where lookout locations allow you to view and sense the power of the spectacular Kawarau River. Did someone mention Bungee Jumping? Yes this is the place where Bungee was born and still operates - strictly optional!
Arrowtown is a former gold mining town with a rich historical heritage. The spectacular scenery and tranquil atmosphere make Arrowtown a popular attraction for visitors from all over the world. The town has maintained its historic buildings and is now a great place to relax, eat and enjoy views of the surrounding forest covered hills. Arrowtown also provided some famous locations in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The Ford of Bruinen was located just upstream of the town and it was here that Arwen Evenstar, daughter of Elrond, carried the injured and dying Frodo across the river on horseback with the Black Riders close behind.
With its ancient rainforests and abundant wildlife the overnight cruise in the fiords of the utterly remote Doubtful Sound is quite simply breathtaking and a highlight of any New Zealand vacation. Practically untouched by humans the physical grandeur of towering peaks and waterfalls like The Browne Falls that cascades 2,000 feet into this inland sea, create a powerful atmosphere of solitude and serenity. Crested penguins, bottlenose dolphins and New Zealand fur seals are among the wildlife that make their homes here. You can also read our blog about the adjacent Dusky Sound tour, an extremely rare opportunity to visit one of the most remote fiords on the planet.
Dusk is an amazing time to view the spectacular cliffs surrounding the fiord.
Keep an eye out for crested penguins, one of the native animals that live in the fiord.
Take a kayak to get up close to one of the many magical waterfalls to be seen during the cruise.
Since 1970 over 2 million adrenaline-rushed passengers have enjoyed the thrills of the world's most exciting jetboat ride, The Shotover Jet. It's unique jet propulsion that requires no propeller, allows the jetboat to skim past rocky outcrops at close range. Your 'Big Red' jetboat can twist and turn through the narrow canyons at breathtaking speeds and then hold tight for the world famous Shotover Jet full 360 degree spin!
Skimming over the shallow water near the stony shore.
The narrow canyons make for a thrilling ride.
For the less adventurous, you can enjoy the scenery while waiting for the others to finish their ride.
The Milford Sound cruise is the most well known icon of New Zealand tourism. You can either drive yourself to the fjord before joining the cruise from Te Anau or Queenstown, or for a more relaxing experience take a coach tour from either Te Anau or Queenstown. The road through the Fiordland National Park to reach the fiord is one of the world's great drives, so allow plenty of time to stop and soak up the amazing vistas. For a special treat fly to Milford Sound and return to Queenstown by coach. For more about Milford Sound read our Milford Sound blog here.
The world famous scenery of Milford Sounds is simply breathtaking.
Capture the magnificent scale of the mountains and waterfalls by cruising the fiords.
Milford's awe-inspiring scenery has made it a must see when visiting the South Island.
The day begins with an unforgettable coach trip into your setting off point at Skippers Canyon. This is where you'll meet your expert guides for some basic training and safety instructions before setting out on your journey through the spectacular Shotover Canyon. At first the river is calm and peaceful allowing you lots of time to enjoy the passing scenery as you drift downstream. But as the song suggests "all good things need to come to an end" and when you reach the exhilarating rapids of the lower canyon the adrenalin starts to flow. Shooting the Cascade Rapids completes your unforgettable white-knuckle adventure. Before returning to Queenstown, enjoy a relaxing sauna and hot shower at Cavell's Rafting Lodge.
Water resistant jackets are provided and are most definitely needed for this adrenaline rush of a ride.
An experienced guide will help thrill seekers navigate the raft through the wild river.
This is an ideal way for visitors to enjoy one of New Zealand's famous walking trails, the Routeburn, in just one day.
You'll be driven around the shores of Lake Wakatipu to the start of the trail in the Mount Aspiring National Park. As you make your way along the trail your guide will point out native plants and birdlife while providing a real insight into the history and geology of this fascinating region. After a picnic lunch you are returned to Queenstown.
Alternatively, you can drive your car from Queenstown, around the shores of Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy and from there, find the start of the track and walk in. It's an in-and-out walk, so when you've seen enough, make your way back to the carpark. This is not such an in-depth look at the track, but if you just want to enjoy the stunning scenery, this option would be the right choice.
Or you can take the 3-day guided Routeburn hike and see scenery like this!
The Kea parrot. Inquisitive, cheeky and skilled thieves. Heavy fines apply if caught feeding them.
This small group guided tour is a great way to enjoy the best scenery in the wider Queenstown region combined with a wine tour that is tailored to suit the tastes of everyone on board. There will be many scenic stops to capture the exceptional scenery and 3 wineries will be visited with a platter lunch of local and seasonal delights included. A highlight will be a stunning drive over the Crown Range Alpine Pass, New Zealand's highest road.
The beautiful Autumn hues of the grapevines at Mt Rosa vineyard, Gibbston Valley.
Views of some Gibbston Valley vineyards taken on the weekend of a local music festival.
Grapevines at Gibbston Valley, a popular destination for cycling tours.
The Ribbon Vineyards situated by the majestic Lake Wanaka.
If you would like to enjoy a fun quiz, take a look at our blog about a well known local vineyard owner.
Arrowtown is a historic former gold mining town and one of New Zealand’s iconic visitor destinations. The spectacular setting, the distinct four seasons and tranquil atmosphere, make Arrowtown a must do for visitors. The town has maintained its historic buildings and is now a vibrant meeting place with world class food and beverage, shopping and attractions.
Attach your rental mountain bike to your Gondola and enjoy the leisurely uphill Gondola ride. At the summit (1500 ft) detach your bike and take on the challenges of the Queenstown Bike Park. We like the idea that most of your ride will be downhill, just choose from more than 27 world class mountain biking trails of varying terrain suitable for all abilities and don't forget to enjoy the spectacular views.
This is one of the most spectacular hiking trails in New Zealand and includes the alpine scenery, snowfields, glaciers, sheer rock cliffs, forests, wildflowers and waterfalls of the Mt Aspiring National Park. It starts in the Matukituki Valley, about an hour’s drive from Wanaka. The trail is well formed and requires a moderate level of fitness but the glorious views of the Rob Roy Glacier from the viewing platform at the turnaround point makes the effort of getting there totally worthwhile.
Just one step in front of the other is all it takes.
This is a fantastic introduction to kayaking, with an easy guided paddle that explores the beautiful Lake Wanaka shoreline. The scenery you'll encounter as you paddle is outstanding. Light snacks and refreshments provided and no prior experience of kayaking is required.
The Cardrona Distillery is a family-owned artisan single malt distillery nestled high in the Cardrona Valley between Wanaka and Queenstown. It uses time-honoured traditional methods, hand-crafting spirits from scratch, starting with just malted barley, water, and yeast. Luxuriously rich vodka, hand crafted New Zealand rose hip gin, and delectably zesty New Zealand orange liqueur are all on offer. All from the world’s most southerly distillery.
The tracks around Lake Wanaka and in the surrounding hills are some of the most enjoyable and scenic in New Zealand. There are tracks suitable for every age group and level of fitness, ranging from high-speed mountain bike trails to the more gentle paced for those who prefer to travel at a more leisurely speed. You can venture out alone or we can organize a group excursion with fellow travelers. If you are going to cycle when in New Zealand, Wanaka is the place to do it!
The best mountain biking in New Zealand
Speed and control.
Time to pause and admire the view.
An hour into today's drive you will reach the Blue Pools Walk, world-renowned as a must-see highlight in this wilderness region. A carefully maintained trail winds through native silver beech forest to a swing bridge strung high above the Makarora River from where the views back to the mountains of the Main Divide are absolutely breath-taking. Next are a series of deep crystal clear glacier-fed pools the color of deep azure blue, so clear that you can see right to the bottom. In summer take a swim!
After leaving The Haast and making your way north, take a short break to enjoy a 30 minute walk into the wild and stunningly beautiful Ship Creek. The water color, the driftwood littered beach, the wild ocean and the unique tree cover create a wonderful experience for any visitor.
Jackson Bay is one of the most isolated and picturesque places on the planet. In places the approach road has fern grottos growing right down to the edges of the road with trees almost forming tunnels across the roadway. This is a one hour side trip so an especially early start will be needed if you want to include this wonderful experience in your day. Keep an eye out for the local pod of dolphins that make the bay their home.
At Lake Matheson, near Fox Glacier, nature has combined exactly the right ingredients to create truly stunning reflections of New Zealand's highest peaks - Aoraki (Mount Cook) and Mount Tasman. One of the most photographed spots in New Zealand.
The opportunity to see the notoriously shy nocturnal Kiwi in its own natural habitat is something extremely rare. Tonight you join a small group who under the care of an expert and experienced local guide will set off to tray and do just that!
This is an organized boat trip from Franz Josef into the remote bird life sanctuary of the Waitangi Roto Nature Reserve. From mid-September to March, the majestic migratory Kotuku (White Heron) can be seen in all it's pluming glory nesting in the trees on the banks of the river. There's a huge range of other birds to be seen, or heard, and along the way you will also enjoy beautiful New Zealand scenery.
Franz Josef Glacier provides some of the most stunning ‘ice architecture’ of any Glacier in the world, making it one of the must-do's for visitors to New Zealand. The Glacier was in a state of advance until 2008 when it started retreating and following a spectacular collapse of the terminal face in 2012, it is now only accessible by helicopter. Flights operate daily from 8am, depending on weather and seasonal conditions.
Located just south of the town of Hokitika, this is an exhilarating treetop adventure among temperate rainforest giants. Experience life with the birds high in the ancient Rimu and Kamahi tree canopy. Easy access for all to enjoy along a steel platform 65 feet high and nearly 1500 feet long.
The Hokitika Pools
We should state from the outset that the access road to the gorge, 20 miles in each direction is quite winding. But those who make the effort will be well rewarded. A viewing platform overlooks a magnificent granite gorge with milky blue-green pools, backed by cliffs and fine rimu forests. This is a hidden gem, off the beaten path that most visitors to New Zealand never get to see. Take your camera!
This really is something quite different. You might meet Pete Pete – aka The Mayor, law enforcement officer, cook and cleaner, gardener and rubbish man! He's the owner of the Puke Pub and the bizarre Bushman Centre at Pukekura (population 2) A visitor in 2011 wrote "Possibly the worst cafe in New Zealand" So bring your sense of humor, watch out for the giant sandfly at the entrance, take a look at the "museum" and do not ask about the possum pie!
Situated close to Greymouth this is a 30 building recreation of a 19th-century gold-mining town, celebrating a time of gold rush in New Zealand history. There's a Steam Train line through the rainforest, the sights and sounds of a working sawmill, a ChinaTown and a sluice gun blasting gold bearing rock. Pan for your own gold - you might have a strike!
Your last thrill of today will be your visit to the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki. They were formed 30 million years ago from minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants about a mile below the surface. Immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify in hard and soft layers and then gradual seismic action lifted the limestone above the seabed.
Within walking distance of the Punakaiki Visitor Centre, this loop trail follows a spectacular limestone gorge with dense native forest and a variety of native birds and wildlife; suitable for all ages and rated as one of the best trails in New Zealand. It starts with a crossing of the Punakaiki River via a footbridge, and then follows an easily graded climb to the ridge dividing the Punakaiki and Pororari rivers. When the Pororari River Track junction is reached, it's worth carrying on along the Inland Pack Track for a short distance to the Pororari River, a perfect place for a rest and something to eat. Return to the junction and then follow the Pororari River Track down river to the car park. From there it's less than a mile back to the Visitor Centre.
An exciting option for travelling between Greymouth on the west coast of the South Island and Christchurch on the east coast is the scenic TranzAlpine Train. Departure time is 1:45 pm and the hours will go quickly by as you experience one of the world's great train journeys. Highlights will include thrilling views of deep gorges and the forest covered mountains of the Southern Alps. Eventually your train follows the spectacular ice-fed Waimakariri River as you cross the Canterbury Plains for a late afternoon arrival in Christchurch.
Another option for today is to drive to Christchurch, following a similar route to the TranzAlpine Express via Arthurs Pass but with opportunities to make stops en-route at places that interest you. The road through the Otira Pass gets a little challenging at times, winding and steep, but for a confident driver, this is an experience that will live long in the memory.
A great stop-off point on the Arthurs Pass drive is the small alpine village of Arthurs Pass, located high in the Southern Alps. From here you can access some of the best mountain walking trails, ranging from 30 minutes to 6 hours in duration. Between Arthurs Pass and Christchurch, alongside the main road, is Castle Hill. Take a break and walk up the track to see the interesting rock formations - yet another area that was used during the filming of the Lord of the Rings, and more recently the Chronicles of Narnia. Also a favorite hang-out place for rock climbers.
One of the most impressive waterfalls in New Zealand, Devils Punchbowl Falls is located in the heart of Arthur's Pass National Park. Although the waterfall can be seen from the highway, it's still better to walk up to the waterfall's base by way of a forest covered walkway. Moderate fitness level is required.
This is a longer, gentler and less demanding drive than the Arthurs Pass option. It has as special beauty of its own, providing spectacular views of densely forested mountain slopes and following stunning winding rivers. This also option offers the opportunity to make a stop at the spa pools at Hanmer Springs.
If you choose the Lewis Pass option, the small town of Reefton is an ideal place to take a break and stretch your legs. Starting from the Reefton Visitor Centre, this walk passes twenty four historic buildings, many dating from the 19th century. These include shops, churches, lodges, the courthouse and the Reefton School of Mines. There is a helpful brochure for this walk available at the Visitor Centre. Afterwards indulge in some cookies at the local bakery - legendary!
If you choose the Lewis Pass option between the West Coast and Christchurch, you can visit the Maruia Falls. This wide river waterfall is nestled amongst brilliant scenic landscapes and are easily accessible, just 5 minutes walk from the main roadway.
For those who choose the Lewis Pass option, there's the opportunity to enjoy the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa. This is an extensive thermal complex in an alpine environment surrounded by beautiful native gardens. The complex offers thermal mineral, sulphur and freshwater pools, with private thermal pools, sauna and steam rooms available.
Christchurch Airport is the base for Operation Deep Freeze with the US Military responsible for re-supplying those working on the frozen Antarctic bases at the bottom of the world. At the Airport is also the International Antarctic Centre bringing to life the story of Antarctic discovery and science. Visit the snow and ice experience, survive an Antarctic Storm, learn about life in modern day Antarctica and Scott Base, and hang out with Little Blue Penguins!
An iconic Christchurch activity not to be missed. Admire the beautiful Christchurch Botanic Gardens or the changing face of the city centre as you are expertly guided gently along the Avon River on an authentic Edwardian designed punt.
Enjoy a journey through the changing face of Christchurch’s city centre on board a beautifully restored heritage tram. Friendly and knowledgeable drivers will inform you about the city, its landmarks and local sights. Your day-long ticket allows you to get on and off the Tram as often as you please! A great introduction to Christchurch.
The Christchurch Art Gallery, with the formal name of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, is the public art gallery of the city of Christchurch and houses one of the largest art collections in New Zealand. The magnificent new glass encased museum houses a regularly-changing program of national and international touring exhibitions.