Prepare for a southern journey packed with mountain scenery and unique eco experiences.
Walk among Moeraki’s weird spherical boulders and Dunedin's historic architecture before discovering rare native animals in Southland and Stewart Island. Cruise Milford Sound and kick up your heels in Queenstown then round out your 9-day deep south journey in Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo before returning to Christchurch.
The route from Christchurch is straight and flat, with the Southern Alps providing an outstanding backdrop. Diverse towns dotted along the way offer plenty of distraction. Try salmon fishing in Rakaia, visit one of Ashburton's six museums or browse high-quality pottery in Temuka – look for the factory shop if you’d like a useful souvenir.
In Oamaru, you'll find a town of elegant sandstone buildings that make up Harbour-Tyne Street's fascinating Victorian precinct. Explore the Victorian-themed shops and swing by the Steampunk Museum. The harbour is also home to a colony of little blue penguins. In the evening, you can watch them as they waddle ashore for the night.
Today's journey is full of history and fascinating geology. First up is Totara Estate Centennial Park, where you can see restored 1860s farm buildings. Nearby Clark’s Mill is a limestone flour mill built in 1866.
Be sure to stop in Moeraki to view the mysterious spherical boulders scattered on the shore. Each boulder is a calcite concretion formed about 65 million years ago.
Dunedin has an impressive amount of ostentatious Victorian architecture from the 19th century. Today you can enjoy the historic public buildings, imposing churches, palatial homes and ornate hotels. There’s even a castle. Alternatively, head out to the Otago Peninsula where you can meet penguins, albatross and seals.
The area known as the Catlins begins just south of Balclutha. The winding road will take you to see seals and sea lions, Hector’s dolphins, several species of penguin and a petrified forest in Curio Bay. Wild beaches, waterfalls, walkways, lakes and rivers provide non-stop scenery along the way.
Invercargill is Southland's principal centre and the country's southernmost city with elegant old department stores and wide, easy-to-navigate streets. Local food specialities here include Bluff oysters and blue cod. Enjoy the tuatara house and an excellent exhibition about the Subantarctic Islands at the local museum or take a stroll around the gardens, aviary and duck ponds of Queens Park.
Over 85% of Stewart Island (in Maori, Rakiura) is a National Park of lush native forest. Visitors come to the island to enjoy nature at its wildest. Highlights include spotting kiwis on Ocean Beach, walking amidst the birds on Ulva Island and the 280 km of hiking tracks across the main island.
Oban, the only major town, offers a variety of accommodation from hotel rooms to lodge retreats. For a potted history of Stewart Island, visit the local museum.
Choose between two routes to reach Te Anau. The longer, wilder route takes you past Riverton (one of the oldest settlements in New Zealand) and then on to Tuatapere and Clifden, where you can investigate caves and discover the historic suspension bridge. The quicker route takes you north to Lumsden and then west through the township of Mossburn to Te Anau. At the Hokonui Moonshine Museum, you can learn about the region’s illicit whisky-making past.
Te Anau township sits on the shores of Lake Te Anau. From here, the delights of Fiordland National Park are within easy reach. Cruise on the lake, walk the tracks and explore the Te Anau Glowworm Caves.
Rudyard Kipling once called this fiord the 'eighth wonder of the world'.Read more
The road to Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most scenic drives, travelling from gentle farmland into beech forest and Fiordland National Park. Look for the Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain and the Mirror Lakes. The rough-hewn Homer Tunnel brings you into the Sound, an amazing 22km-long fiord dominated by Mitre Peak.
A cruise on Milford Sound is a must do in Fiordland, or discover the waterfalls, vertical rock faces and seals for yourself in a sea kayak. A visit to the underwater observatory is an option with most cruises.
Caution: If you choose to self-drive, be sure to give yourself plenty of time as conditions can vary greatly on this route, particularly in winter.
With mountains as far as the eye can see, shimmering lakes and crisp alpine air, Queenstown is breathtaking. Whether you have an appetite for adventure or prefer sampling fine wine and cuisine, the region provides the perfect mix of action and relaxation. There are multitudes of ways to explore this area from bike, kayak, horse, 4WD Safari, or by foot along one of the region's many hiking trails. Those looking for some adventure may want to try jet boating, bungy jumping or rafting.
In the evening, discover Queenstown's vibrant nightlife with its varied range of bars, clubs and restaurants all offering delicious gourmet food and fine wine.
Today you'll travel to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, home of New Zealand's highest mountain.
Along the way, you'll past some spectacular sights. The Northwest Arch, in Omarama is a popular gliding thermal that can take glider pilots to 10,000 metres. Stunning Lake Pukaki accompanies you from Twizel. The exquisite opaque turquoise colour of this lake and others in the area is due to the fine, glacier-ground rock particles held in suspension within their waters.
Aoraki Mount Cook attracts mountain climbers, hikers and scenery fanatics. Heli-skiing, heli-hiking and aerial sightseeing are popular here or discover the area by foot along one of the many hiking trails.
On your way back to Christchurch today, be sure to stop at the lakeside settlement of Tekapo, where you can enjoy of a whole raft of activities. Fishing, kayaking, bike riding and horse trekking are some of the things to do here. Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd and the sheepdog statue for great photo opportunities.
Your final stop, Christchurch, is an entertaining mixture of refined lifestyle and cultural excitement. The tranquil Avon River meanders through the city and adjacent Hagley Park, historic buildings house a lively arts community and restored trams make it easy for visitors to get around. Visit heritage sites, museums, galleries, and enjoy the vibrant restaurant scene.