The best high country farm 4WD tours

Half-day, full day and multi-day tours along outback roads and high country trails access some of the South Island's most beautiful and remote farms.

The South Island of New Zealand has some of the most remote and beautiful high country farms; large properties, often 20,000 acres or more, bordering rivers and lakes with an awe-inspiring collaboration between grand-scale farming and alpine wilderness. Jetboats, 4WD, ATV and helicopters are practical and essential vehicles for most high-country operators, the only means of transport into remote back country areas. Here are a small number of operators with permission to guide and explore these locations.

The Molesworth Tour Company will pick you up from Blenheim or Picton and take you into the enormous expanse of Molesworth Station for anything from a one day experience of high country farming life to a three or four day tour.

Wine, Art & Wilderness offer a trip into Rainbow Station near Nelson Lakes National Park.

Ridgeline Adventures based in Wanaka provide exclusive small group guided trips into the Matukituki Valley and high country around Lake Wanaka.

Nomad Safaris in Queenstown offer tours into Skippers Canyon, Macetown and Glenorchy as well as ATV rides on Queenstown Hill.

Both Aroha Tours and Canterbury Trails offer independent guided 4WD trips throughout the South Island.

Molesworth Station

Molesworth Station is New Zealand’s largest high country station, covering almost half a million acres (185,000 hectares). It is located inland of Blenheim, between the Kaikoura mountains to the east,  Mt Tapeanuku dominates at 2,885 metres, and the Southern Alps. The western boundary skirts the Wairau River, with Hanmer Hot Springs resort to the south. Molesworth was closed to the public for many years, recently the New Zealand Department of Conservation has taken ownership on behalf of the NZ government and now allows access for limited times to the public. Having a DOC concession our company has been able to develop a comprehensive range of tours to offer our guests, from October to May so we are delighted to bring you exclusive entry to parts of this unique and remote region where the topography varies from river valleys to towering mountains with shingle screes that seem to disappear to the sky, at 900 metres to over 1,554 metres, with frosts two days out of every three. The summer wild flowers are a special treat from December to March. From December on, there are new born calves with their mothers scattered along the side of road grazing the long grasses beside bubbling side creeks, rushing river systems that wind to the coast. Mountain Lakes or Tarns dot the landscape and are numerous historic buildings offering evidence of a rich history.

The Experience

Enjoy a full day tour into the beautiful Marlborough rural back country and hear about the rich farming history, and stories of another generation, visit the original Molesworth cob cottage where the first pioneer sheep farmers lived, visit a modern shearing shed for smoko, with home cooked treats. The tour includes a picnic lunch and award winning coffee. Departures on demand travel in comfortable air conditioned 4WD mini coaches, generally 8am-5pm Blenheim-Blenheim return departures. Lunch included. Two, three and four day tours also available. Enquire at Molesworth Tours.

Rainbow Station

Rainbow Station is a pastoral lease high-country grazing property and extends from the junction of the upper Wairau River and Rainbow River bounding Nelson Lakes National Park and Molesworth Station to the Wairau Valley in the North. The property consists of approximately 2,500ha of alluvial river flats or grazing hill country and the balance of the property is extensive run country grazed by a beef cow herd. Rainbow runs 6,000 Perendale ewes and 350 Hereford or Angus cross cows and finishes the majority of its lambs depending on the season.  Access to the Rainbow Road (historic stock droving route between Nelson and Canterbury) is available only by guided tour in a sturdy, high clearance, 4 wheel drive vehicle.  The Rainbow Road was built in the 1950s when electricity pylons were installed to supply power to the Nelson and Buller regions.  The road runs from St Arnaud (the main gateway to the Upper Wairau Valley) through to Hanmer Springs in North Canterbury (134km north of Christchurch).

The Experience

Collected from your accommodation travel in a luxury 4 wheel drive to the entrance of Rainbow Station (1hour 10 minutes from Nelson). Continue on private farm access road through highly productive paddocks grazed by large flocks of sheep to the central work base of the station.  Now there may be an opportunity to be involved with or just observe whatever farm activities are scheduled for that day whether it is shearing, draughting, mustering, feeding stock or lambing. The drive continues through beautiful tranquil beech forest interspersed with open grazing country offering spectacular high country scenes of craggy mountains. The bush line, where forest gives way to alpine plants is a remarkable feature of the region; the change is abrupt and uniform as if drawn with a ruler. In summer the alpine fell fields teem with flowers, though typically they tend to be pale colours, white, light blue and sometimes yellow. The forests are full of birds like tomtits, robins and the tiny rifleman, New Zealand's smallest bird. South Island kaka is also present.  Although the weather always dictates the activities in this remote area there will always be options of bush walking and swing bridges, really remote driving on historic droving tracks and stopping by at historic homesteads and huts or there could be pre-arranged fishing, mountain biking or hunting safaris. Enquire at Wine Art & Wilderness Tours


The Matukituki Valley

West Wanaka Station now has 6450ha of freehold land, though, as a pastoral lease it was much larger. In 1966 over 11,000 ha of mostly high altitude country was surrendered under a Soil and Water Conservation Plan. It is now the Mount Alta Conservation Area, lying within the Te Wāhipounamu - South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. In 2005 West Wanaka Station completed the pastoral lease tenure review process. This brought a further 1000ha of conservation areas and reserves, allowing public access to areas of significant conservation and recreational value. Experience the real Wanaka getting well off the beaten track and to places inaccessible to the public. View Wanaka’s spectacular rugged high country, snow capped mountains and lake vistas,  all whilst experiencing sheer solitude.  Visit a private New Zealand sheep, cattle and deer farm, steeped in local history, breathe in pure mountain air and breathtaking scenery.  Enjoy a stroll through alpine meadows and ancient matagouri forests.  Look out for bright red rata flowers along the lakeshore over summer months, and between Rumbling and Minaret Burns, the forested slopes have a grove of mature kahikatea in a damp gully. This is one of only two records of this species in the lakes ecological region. Other trees and shrubs in these substantial forest remnants include matai, Halls totara, olearia or tree daisy, mountain akeake, broadleaf/papauma, koromiko, kowhai, rata, kamahi, lancewood/horoeka, fuchsia and mountain ribbonwood. At higher altitudes regeneration is well under way with mountain and silver beech, kanuka, manuka and inaka (Dracophyllum). Invertebrate life abounds, so too bird life. The New Zealand falcon/karearea can be seen at higher levels. Lower down, among the regenerating bush, the forest species include fantail/piwakawaka, bellbird/korimko, parakeet/kakariki and wood pigeon/kereru.

The Experience

From the site of Nehenehe, an ancient Maori settlement abandoned in the 1830s, high into the valleys and mountains overlooking Lake Wanaka then down to a remotely beautiful beach and the ruins of one of Wanaka’s first European settler’s farmhouses, the Wild Hills journey offers an unique insight into Wanaka’s rich history, heritage and modern-day farming life. Experience the rugged beauty and solitude of the spectacular high country, bordering a World Heritage area. Landrover vehicles take a small number of clients at a time on this exclusive 4WD exploration of private farm tracks through an historic Wanaka sheep, cattle and deer station.  Half-day trip, 4 hours, departing morning and afternoon. Specialist photographic tours also available. Enquire at Ridgeline Tours.

For those with a full day to explore the region there is the Wanaka Combo, a day of breath-taking, once-in-a-lifetime adventure in the magnificent Matukituki Valley at the entrance to Mt Aspiring National Park. Jet boating, helicopters and four wheel driving are synonymous with the adventurous spirit of New Zealanders. Join this truly unique, full-day adventure set in one of the most spectacular glacier formed landscapes in the Queenstown/Wanaka region. Your trip includes a high country farm safari high in the mountains overlooking the valley and Lake Wanaka, a jet boat journey up the Matukituki River and a helicopter flight and landing high in the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps. Stunning scenery, photography, a short nature walk, history, wilderness and scenery. Lunch included in this full day trip. Enquire at Ridgeline 4WD Nature Tours.


Skippers Canyon

Skippers Canyon is an historic and scenic gorge, some 22 kilometres in length, just outside Queenstown. Skippers Canyon encloses the Shotover River, one of New Zealand's richest gold bearing rivers and the scene of intensive goldmining over a hundred years ago. The Nomad Safaris Skippers Canyon adventure is a half-day heritage tour that follows the rugged and once treacherous Skippers Road. Travel the road that was hacked by hand into the sheer cliff sides of the Shotover River Valley. As your experienced guide navigates this awe-inspiring canyon, you can relax and enjoy panoramic views and numerous historic sites along the journey, including a century old suspension bridge and the township of Skippers. Long since abandoned, many original buildings remain waiting to be explored. After a pause for refreshments at the Skippers Schoolhouse, immerse yourself in the history of this place as the restored schoolhouse divulges a wealth of information through photos and artefacts from the early days of this settlement. The cemetery depicts a more gloomy and dangerous life for these gold prospectors. Visit the restored Schoolhouse where you will gain a real insight into the local heritage through photos and relics of life in this tough environment. On the return journey we stop at Deep Creek where you can test your luck panning for gold in one of the richest gold bearing rivers in the world. Some may also recognise spots along the Skippers Road as being featured in The Lord of The Rings. This is a perfect family adventure. Departures at 8:30am and 1:30pm, duration 4 hours.. Enquire at Nomad Safaris.

Queenstown Hill

Quad-bike heaven. Queenstown Hill is a high country working sheep station of more than 3500 acres with more than 25kms of varied trails to play on. Go off-road and explore the terrain with your expert guide. At the summit stop to enjoy a hot drink as you take in the awe-inspiring 360° panoramic views over the surrounding lakes and mountains. Our fully automatic quad bikes (ATVs) are fun and easy to ride! Whether you are a complete beginner or an experienced rider, we will kit you out in protective clothing before giving you full training on the bikes and tailoring the trip to suit your ability. This is New Zealand’s most spectacular quad bike ride, where the adventure is in your hands!

Nomad Safaris collect you from downtown Queenstown, kit you out in the protective clothing and instruct how to ride your bike. We provide full training to ensure you are comfortable with operating a Quad. Enquire at Nomad Safaris.


Useful links for planning your taste of the high country trip:

Aroha Tours - personal itinerary design and guide

Green Journeys - collection of guided activities and accommodations throughout New Zealand

Country Calendar - get into the mood with New Zealand's favourite tv farming series.

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