Discover the varied wildlife, jagged mountains and laid-back towns of New Zealand’s spectacular South Island on this comprehensive self-drive Journey.
Watch for whales and swim with dolphins in Kaikoura and cruise the calm waters of Milford Sound before cranking it up a notch with an adrenaline-fuelled ride in the Shotover Jet.
Some of the highlights included are:
- Take to the waves and look out for sperm whales in Kaikoura
- Put on your wetsuit for a close encounter with wild dusky dolphins
- Watch the scenery change from the dramatic to the spectacular on the TranzAlpine train
- Hike up to the terminal face of the impressive Franz Josef Glacier
- Spot seals and penguins among the gorgeous scenery of Milford Sound
- Hold on tight for a rollercoaster ride on the Shotover Jet
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- International flights
- 14 nights 4–5* hotels
- 14 days car hire
- TranzAlpine Train from Christchurch to Greymouth
- Dolphin Encounter in Kaikoura
- Whale-watching tour in Kaikoura
- Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk
- Milford Sound Cruise
- Shotover Jet & Arrow River 4WD tour
Need to know+
- Arrives: Nelson Airport (NSN)
- Time difference: GMT+13
- Visa requirements: British passport holders do not require a visa
- Language: English and Maori
- Currency: New Zealand dollar (NZD)
- Flying time from UK: around 27 hours
- Plug type: 3-prong flat blade plug
- Voltage: 240 volts/50 cycles
Fly from UK to Nelson
Pick up your car and spend the day exploring the lush landscapes and plunging waterfalls around Nelson, on the shores of pretty Tasman Bay, keeping a look out for seals. Nelson is a kayaking, fishing and canyoning haven, with the beaches, bays and forest trails of Abel Tasman National Park just a short drive away. Lord of the Rings fans can take in a raft of local hobbit hot spots such as Dimrill Dale, Helms Deep and Pelennor Battle Fields.
Sip on a glass or two of New Zealand’s finest wine in Blenheim, part of the Marlborough wine region. The area produces 90 percent of the country’s famous sauvignon blanc, so get yourself down to a vineyard or two and start tasting. Explore the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail by foot, bike or car, and while you’re in town, be sure to indulge in Blenheim’s artisan foodie scene. Once you’ve had your fill of food and wine, there are a number of art galleries and museums worth exploring too.
Head out to sea from peaceful Kaikoura and look out for sperm whales splashing in the waves. Later, join a Dolphin Encounter tour, where you’ll search for the beautifully patterned dusky dolphin, before grabbing your snorkel and wetsuit and diving in with them. This is once-in-a-lifetime chance to get up close and personal to a majestic sea mammal, and should not be missed! Back on dry land you can try horse riding or hiking on the peninsula, or take a trip to Maori Leap Cave.
Drive on to Christchurch, one of New Zealand’s most picturesque cities. Frequently nicknamed the ‘Garden City’ due to its extensive parks and green open spaces, the landscape is best viewed on a relaxing punting trip down the Avon River. Drop off your car and perhaps hire a bike to explore the Botanic Gardens or cycle to the leafy suburb of Riccarton, where you can explore two historic houses and a grove of ancient kahikatea trees.
Board the scenic Tranzalpine train to Greymouth, passing through 19 tunnels, crossing four viaducts and taking in countless dramatic snow-capped mountain scenes. On arrival, pick up your car and head on to the Franz Josef Glacier, a 7.5-mile stretch of jagged ice surrounded by lush rainforest. Here you’ll set off on a walk along the Waiho River bed to the face of the glacier, and hear the age-old Maori legend that tells of its formation.
Set on the glacial waters of the lake that shares its name, Wanaka is a gateway to the magnificent mountain scenery of Mount Aspiring National Park. Hike the trails, climb the rocks and cycle the slopes, or perhaps take a boat out on the lakes and rivers. Quirkier attractions include the optical illusions and mind-bending maze at Puzzling World, and the fabulous Cinema Paradiso, where you can watch the latest blockbusters while sat on a sofa or even in a car.
Get your adrenaline fix in New Zealand’s adventure capital, Queenstown and scare yourself silly with bungee jumping, white water rafting, skydiving and zip-lining. The town has a stunning setting on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by the majestic Remarkables mountains which are best appreciated from the Skyline Gondola. Hit the road on a 4WD tour of the Arrow River before taking to the fast-flowing waters of the Shotover River in a jet boat, traveling at speeds of over 50mph, with a few 360° spins thrown in for fun.
Drive on to Te Anau, your base for discovering the towering cliffs and cascading waterfalls of Milford Sound. Travel through the Eglinton glacier valley, taking in the panoramic forest views, to the Mirror Lakes. On a calm day the mountains here reflect perfectly in the calm waters, making for a great photo opportunity. Arrive at Milford Sound and set sail on one of New Zealand’s quintessential experiences, a wildlife cruise on this beautiful fjord, the best way to admire the spectacular views and spot the seals, penguins and dolphins that call this area home.
Arrive in Dunedin, the ‘Edinburgh of the South’, where it’s not uncommon to find haggis on the menu or hear the sound of bagpipes on the breeze. Take a stroll among the churches, museums and bars of the city centre, perhaps calling in at Cadbury World or Speights Brewery. Out of town, be sure to explore the rugged coastline of the Otago Peninsula, home to penguins and albatrosses as well as the quaint Larnach Castle, the only castle on New Zealand.
Stop off at the unusual Moeraki Boulders on your way to picturesque Lake Tekapo, or perhaps visit the little penguin colony at Oamaru. Once at Lake Tekapo, start with a gentle walk along the lakeshore to the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd, where you’ll be rewarded with postcard-worthy views. If it’s further panoramas you’re after, hike to the top of nearby Mount John, a three-hour return walk from town.
Return to Christchurch for your final night. Learn about traditional Maori culture at the Canterbury Museum or perhaps take a walk to the Cardboard Cathedral, a temporary replacement of the original which sadly collapsed in the 2011 earthquake. Stock up on a few souvenirs at the Re:START Mall, a collection of shops and cafes housed in reclaimed shipping containers. Experience the chilly Antarctic conditions, meet the penguins and ride in an all-terrain amphibious Hagglund at the International Antarctic Centre.
Depart Christchurch and return to the UK
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