South Island Discovery

16 DAYS

2463 km

Highlights

  • Majestic Milford Sound
  • West Coast glaciers
  • Whale watching

Proximity

CAR-FREE TRAVEL OPTIONS

Includes a return ferry crossing to Stewart Island

Circle the South Island with this 16-day loop journey, starting in Christchurch.

From Christchurch follow the coast south through the heritage towns of Oamaru and Dunedin to the remote regions of Southland. In Fiordland discover spectacular Milford Sound before travelling to Queenstown and Wanaka for fun and adventure. Explore soulful West Coast and the sunny cities of Nelson and Blenheim, meet whales up close in Kaikoura and then return to Christchurch to complete the circuit.

Day 1: Spend the day in Christchurch

Christchurch - Canterbury
Wildlife encounters, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Miles Holden

Christchurch - Canterbury

CANTERBURY

Stretching from the ocean to the Southern Alps.

Highlights

  • Friendly wildlife in Banks Peninsula
  • World-famous Botanic Gardens
  • Punting on the Avon River

TOP EXPERIENCES IN CHRISTCHURCH

Enjoy stunning scenery, unique wildlife and great food and wine in Christchurch.

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As the South Island’s largest centre, Christchurch has a fascinating mixture of heritage and nature. Stunning gardens, parks and the tranquil Avon River all combine to give Christchurch the title of New Zealand's 'garden city'.

Meander down the Avon aboard an old-fashioned punt, wander through the botanical gardens in Hagley Park then spend the afternoon relaxing on Sumner Beach. Further afield, Banks Peninsula is a great spot to meet friendly wildlife. Take a dolphin cruise in Akaroa or visit New Zealand's largest mainland blue penguin colony.

Day 2: Christchurch to Dunedin

Waitaki
Moeraki Boulders, Waitaki

By Miles Holden

Dunedin

DUNEDIN

Fascinating geology and eco-adventures await.

Highlights

  • Moeraki boulders in Waitaki
  • Penguin colony in Oamaru
  • Steampunk museum

Proximity

The Southern Alps provide an outstanding backdrop for your journey south today. Your first stop is the large town of Ashburton. Situated between two large rivers, this is a perfect fly-fishing spot. Non-fishers will enjoy the town's many museums and craft galleries.

In Timaru, stretch your legs with a walk along Caroline Bay beach or a wander through the lovely botanic gardens. Further south, the heritage town of Oamaru is known for beautiful white stone buildings and a steampunk museum. It is also home a colony of little blue penguins.

As you head towards Dunedin, be sure to leave time to visit the famous Moeraki Boulders. These fascinating phenomena are a must-see for geology lovers.

Day 3: Spend the day in Dunedin

Dunedin
Peninsula Bike Trails, Dunedin

By Enterprise Dunedin

Highlights

  • Cycle the Otago Peninsula trails
  • Penguin, seal and albatross colonies
  • New Zealand's only castle

Proximity

  • By bus: Visit the local iSITE for activities & tours.

TOP EXPERIENCES IN DUNEDIN

Spectacular landscapes, wildlife and local history.

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Dunedin is a haven for history lovers, with heritage buildings of every type scattered throughout the city. Visit majestic Olveston Historic House or Larnach Castle, the only one in New Zealand.

Along with its ostentatious Victorian architecture, Dunedin is also a spectacular region for wildlife encounters. Spend some time exploring nearby Otago Peninsula where you will find penguins, sea lions and the only mainland-breeding colony of Royal Albatross in the world.

In the afternoon, take a stroll to Tunnel Beach where over time wind and water have worked together to erode the sandstone cliffs into a dramatic landscape.

Day 4: Dunedin to Stewart Island

Stewart Island - Rakiura
Ulva Island, Stewart Island - Rakiura

By Miles Holden

Stewart Island - Rakiura

RAKIURA - STEWART ISLAND

New Zealand's third largest Island

Highlights

  • 280km of hiking trails
  • Predator free wildlife sanctuary
  • See kiwi in the wild

Proximity

90 minutes south of Dunedin are The Catlins. Multitudes of marine animals make their home here, from seals and sea lions to Hector’s dolphins and several species of penguin. In nearby Curio Bay, you can see a petrified forest dating to the Jurassic period.

Further south, you'll come to Invercargill, the country's southernmost city. From here, it's a quick journey to Bluff where you'll catch your Stewart Island (Rakiura) bound ferry. 

Much of Stewart Island is national park and visitors come to the island to enjoy nature at its wildest. Highlights include kiwi spotting on Ocean Beach, meeting native birds on Ulva Island and hiking the Rakiura Track

Day 5: Stewart Island to Te Anau

Fiordland
Te Anau Glowworm Caves, Fiordland

By twointowdotcom

Fiordland

FIORDLAND

One of New Zealand's most breathtaking regions.

Highlights

  • Explore the Te Anau glow-worm caves
  • Walking and hiking trails
  • Fiordland National Park

Proximity

  • By car: 2 h | 159 km via SH99
  • By bus: 3 h 5 min | via Gore by Intercity

Today's journey takes you from Stewart Island back to the mainland, and on to Te Anau.

From Invercargill, there are several routes to Te Anau. For a slightly longer, wilder journey travel via Riverton, and Tuatapere, a base for many outdoor activities. Take time to visit spectacular Lake Manapouri before arriving in Te Anau. Alternatively, take the shorter route along SH6 via Lumsden, home to the stunning Around the Mountains Cycle Trail.

From Te Anau, the delights of Fiordland National Park are all within easy reach, including the start of Milford Track. Popular activities include lake cruises, hiking, kayaking and exploring the Te Anau Glowworm Caves.

Day 6: Te Anau to Milford Sound

Fiordland
Estrecho Milford, Fiordland

By Alistair Guthrie

Highlights

  • Kayaking and diving
  • Boat cruises day and night
  • Seals, penguins and cheeky kea

Proximity

  • By car: 1 h 40 min | 287 km (one way) via SH6 & SH94
  • By : CAUTION: Drive times vary greatly in winter.
  • By bus: Visit the local iSITE for activities & tours

DISCOVER MILFORD SOUND

Described by Rudyard Kipling as the 'eighth wonder of the world'.

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The road to Milford Sound is almost as majestic as the Sounds itself. Look out for the Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain, the Mirror Lakes and the roughhewn Homer Tunnel 

Get out on the water for the best view of Milford Sound's dramatic waterfalls and friendly wildlife. Hire a kayak and paddle your own way or join a boat cruise with an underwater observatory to see the life beneath the tranquil water. To soak up the beauty of the Sounds, an overnight cruise is a great option. Spend the night on the water and wake up surrounded by nature.

If you prefer, head back to Te Anau for a good range of dining and accommodation options.

Day 7 - 8: Queenstown

Queenstown
Ben Lomond Track, Queenstown

By Destination Queenstown

Queenstown

QUEENSTOWN

Outdoor adventure set against stunning scenery.

Highlights

  • Walking and hiking trails
  • Horse treks, 4WD adventures, kayaking
  • Visit nearby Arrowtown & Glenorchy

Proximity

  • By car: 3 h 45 min | 287 km via SH94 & SH6
  • By bus: 2 h 50 min | from Te Anau by Intercity

Today you'll make your way from Milford Sound or Te Anau to the exciting, sophisticated and fantastically scenic alpine resort of Queenstown.

Spend the next two days soaking up all this beautiful place has to offer. Explore the stunning mountain scenery by bike, kayak, horse, 4WD Safari, or foot along one of the regions many hiking trails.

Choose from a huge choice of adrenaline activities from jet boating and bungy jumping to white-water rafting and skydiving. Or spend your time relaxing with gourmet food and wine tours, spa treatments and world-class golf courses.

Day 9: Queenstown to Wanaka

Wanaka
Wild Wire, Wanaka

By Tourism New Zealand

Wanaka

WANAKA

The most tranquil of the South Island lakes.

Proximity

  • By car: 1 h 30 min | 112 km via SH6
  • By bus: 1 h 30 min | by Intercity or Nakedbus

TOP EXPERIENCES IN WANAKA

The perfect place to enjoy water activities, cycling, hiking, and food & wine.

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Nestled below towering mountains, Wanaka is the most tranquilly set of the South Island lakes. Spend the day exploring Mt Aspiring National Park, or take a boat cruise through the clear waters of Lake Wanaka to Mou Waho Island Reserve, where you might see the rare Bluff weka.

For a combination of adventure and spectacular scenery, try climbing Twin Falls via ferrata - a steel cable leading up the side of the waterfall's sheer rock face. In the afternoon, relax at one of the restaurants, browse the boutique shops or discover Wanaka's unique Puzzling World.

Day 10: Wanaka to West Coast Glaciers

West Coast
Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast

By Fraser Clements

West Coast

WEST COAST

Rainforests, glaciers and geological treasures.

Highlights

  • Ancient West Coast glaciers
  • Gold mining history
  • Wild West Coast beaches

Proximity

  • By car: 3 h 40 min | 286 km via SH6
  • By bus: 6 h 40 min | by Intercity or Nakedbus

Today's journey takes you through magnificent Haast Pass as you travel from picturesque alpine scenery to the lush rainforest of the West Coast. This region is home to two of New Zealand's most dramatic glaciers. Flowing almost to the sea, Fox and Franz Josef are among the most accessible glaciers in the world, accessible by short walking tracks through ancient moraines.

Take a guided ice hike or sightseeing flight to explore these ancient wonders up close and see the scars of previous glacial advances and retreats. Spend the night in friendly Franz Josef village and warm up with a soak in the local hot pools.

Day 11: Franz Josef to Greymouth

West Coast
Greymouth Beach, West Coast

By Camilla Rutherford

Highlights

  • West Coast Wilderness cycle trail
  • Lake Brunner
  • Pancake Rocks

Proximity

  • By car: 2 h 15 min | 173 km via SH6
  • By bus: 3 h 55 min | by Intercity or NakedBus

TOP EXPERIENCES ON THE WEST COAST

Rugged natural beauty, unique experiences and gold mining history.

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There are many attractions on the way to Greymouth today. The West Coast Treetop Walk, near Lake Mahinapua, takes you high into the forest canopy via a series of purpose-built boardwalks. Nearby, the gold rush settlement of Hokitika still has the feel of a ‘frontier town’, although these days it's known for pounamu (NZ jade), with specialist carving workshops and galleries scattered throughout the town.

Shantytown is a reconstructed 1880s gold rush town rich with West Coast pioneering history. In Greymouth, you'll find a town known for its awesome seascapes and dramatic river mouth. Spend the afternoon exploring by bike, kayak or foot.

Day 12: Greymouth to Marahau

West Coast
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes, West Coast

By Miles Holden

Highlights

  • Punakaiki pancake rocks & blow hole
  • Walk to a seal colony
  • Abel Tasman National Park

Proximity

ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK

New Zealand's smallest national park perfectly formed.

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Today's journey takes you to along the coast to Westport, before turning inland and travelling on to Marahau, gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. Along the way, take the time to visit Punakaiki's 30 million-year-old Pancake Rocks, a layered rocky outcrop resembling huge stacked pancakes. Just outside Westport, Cape Foulwind Walkway offers spectacular views of the rugged coastline including a New Zealand fur seal colony.

In Marahau, you will find a region alive with the scenic beauty of New Zealand's smallest national park, hire kayaks, swim with seals or catch a water taxi to one of the park’s amazing beaches.

Day 13: Marahau to Nelson

Nelson
Te Waikoropupu Springs, Golden Bay, Nelson

By Craig Parry / Nelson NZ

Nelson

NELSON

Long golden beaches and untouched native forests.

Proximity

TOP EXPERIENCES IN NELSON TASMAN

Explore national parks, meet local artists and savour the local wines.

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It's a short trip from Abel Tasman to the arty city of Nelson, where you will find a fascinating mix of art and culture. This seaside city is home to an artistic community of over 300 working artists and a plethora of galleries as well as delicious restaurants, wineries and enticing golden-sand beaches.

Due to its sunny climate, Nelson has also become the home of New Zealand hops, making it a hub for boutique craft breweries. A great way to explore the surrounding countryside is by bike. Try cycling the Great Taste Trail, a network of trails that connect Nelson with nearby towns. 

Day 14: Nelson to Blenheim

Marlborough
Winery, Marlborough

By Mike Heydon

Marlborough

MARLBOROUGH

From valleys of vines to sheltered waterways.

Proximity

TOP EXPERIENCES IN MARLBOROUGH

Scenic Sounds, native wildlife and brilliant cycling & walking tracks.

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Blenheim is the heart of the Marlborough region, home of Sauvignon Blanc and beautiful Marlborough Sounds. Explore the Marlborough Sounds with a walk or bike ride through native forest. Meet the local wildlife on a boat cruise through the Sound's picturesque waterways. In the afternoon, a wide selection of eateries, pubs, and wineries offer plenty of options for lunch. Fresh seafood is a particular speciality here.

Character accommodation is another Blenheim delight, with everything from homestays to boutique hotels.

Day 15: Blenheim to Kaikoura

Christchurch - Canterbury
Kaikoura, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Sara Orme

Highlights

  • Whales, dolphins, seals and marine birds
  • Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
  • Delicious local seafood

Proximity

  • By car: 1 h 50 min | 128 km via SH1
  • By bus: 2 h 15 min | by Intercity or NakedBus

DISCOVER KAIKOURA

A picturesque coastal town perfect for encounters with marine life.

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Few places can boast such natural wonders as those offered in Kaikoura. As a base for wildlife experiences of all kinds, Kaikoura is the place to see Minke, Humpback and Southern Right whales, alongside pods of friendly dolphins. Along the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, you'll encounter colonies of sunbathing fur seals and spy on large seabirds such as mollymawks, albatross and petrels.

While you're here, don't forget to taste the local crayfish from which Kaikoura takes its name - 'kai' meaning food and 'koura' meaning crayfish.

Day 16: Kaikoura to Christchurch

Christchurch - Canterbury
Antarctic Centre in Christchurch, Christchurch - Canterbury

By ChristchurchNZ

Highlights

  • International Antarctic Centre
  • Mountain biking in the Port Hills
  • Heritage tram rides

Proximity

  • By car: 3 h | 202 km - SH7
    2 h 45 min | 181 km - SH1
  • By bus: 3 h 40 min | by Intercity or NakedBus

INTERNATIONAL ANTARCTIC CENTRE

Experience amazing Antarctica without leaving Christchurch.

Learn more

The last leg of your journey takes you through the North Canterbury towns of Amberley, Waipara and Cheviot and back to Christchurch. If you have time, stop for lunch in Waipara, a charming valley known for its vineyards and olive groves.

In Christchurch, spend the afternoon visiting the city's museums, galleries and International Antarctic Centre. End your New Zealand journey with a delicious meal at one of the many eateries in High Street, Victoria Street, or Stranges Lane.

Driving in New Zealand

Important things you need to know about driving in New Zealand.

View the route below

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