This itinerary showcases how diverse New Zealand’s landscape is. Travel across vast plains, through mountain passes, along golden beaches, amongst glaciers, beside winding rivers . . . With ample opportunity to taste some of New Zealand’s best Wine, seafood, and fresh fruit along the way. Each day is different, so have your camera at the ready with a full battery and empty memory card.
Known in New Zealand as the ‘Garden City’, Christchurch is our second-largest city in the heart of the Canterbury Region. Wander the tree-lined streets, exploring Culture, Art, and Innovation along the way. A thriving city with a unique energy that provides something for every visitor. Boasting an impressive list of outdoor activities right on its doorstep. Go hiking around the trails of Banks Peninsula for a breathtaking view west over the plains towards New Zealand’s South Alps. Get the blood pumping at Christchurch Adventure park with ziplining and mountain biking for all ages. Take an evening Gondola along the Avon river, then browse the local art galleries before sampling fine cuisine in the revitalized city centre. We recommend the world-famous Canterbury lamb. A great day trip or one-night getaway is a visit to nearby Akaroa, this cute seaside historical French Settlement provides natural wonders and wilderness.
Drive:Christchurch to Kaikoura Drive Time = 2hr 30min
Drive north out of the ‘Garden City’, crossing the braided Waimakariri river on your way towards the seaside town of Kaikoura. Stop for lunch in the Waipara Valley, home to New Zealand’s fastest-growing wine region. After a tour of the cellars, it’s only a short drive through rolling farmland before hitting the rugged coastline and its abundance of marine life.
Stay: Kaikoura 1 night
Kaikoura is a haven of wildlife and seaside adventures. This charming coastal town provides the opportunity to get up close and personal with the local whales, dolphins and seals. Take a scenic helicopter tour to see these magnificent animals from above, or jump in the water for an incredible encounter with Dusky Dolphins. Hike the shores to spot an abundance of birdlife, including albatross, molly-mawks and petrels.
Drive: Kaikoura to Blenheim Drive Time = 1 hr 45min
This coastal journey provides ample opportunity to spot the local sea life sunbathing on the rocks below the road. If you love food trucks, pull over and taste the freshness of the seafood at Nin’s Bin. A huge favourite with the locals and tourists alike. Soon the landscape changes again as you leave the coast behind, entering the World-Renowned wine region of Marlborough. If you’ve had New Zealand wine at home, there’s a high chance this is where it’s from. With an abundance of tours and tastings available, a unique way to explore the area is by cycling through the vineyards at your own pace.
Stay: Blenheim 1 night
For those who crave wine and food culture, this sunny town is the perfect spot to satisfy your hunger. Encompassed by vineyards that stretch towards the encircling hills, here is an excellent opportunity to sample the world-renowned Marlborough wines. There are plenty of Boutique Hotels and B&Bs amongst beautiful gardens that will provide an authentic feel to your stay here. Visit New Zealand's original farmers market to stock up on fresh produce from the local growers. Witness history brought to life at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, view a rare collection of aircraft and memorabilia.
Drive: Blenheim to Nelson Drive Time = 1 hr 50min
Climb through the hills, taking advantage of the viewpoints along the way. The small town of Havelock will give you your first taste of the Marlborough Sounds; take a small cruise around the Pelorus Sounds and be sure to taste the local Mussels when you return. Your destination is the creative town of Nelson, gateway to three national parks. Kahurangi, Nelson Lakes and Abel Tasman.
Stay: Nelson 3 nights
This vibrant beach town boasts an exceptional Art and Crafts scene, a small city where the ordinary is extraordinary. Surrounded by beaches, rivers and lakes, Nelson is a place that has it all. Visit artists studios and admire the creativeness of these friendly kiwis; find that perfect souvenir piece for your wall or mantelpiece. With three National Parks within your grasp, you can choose from the abundance of outdoor activities on offer. Popular activities include exploring the clear waters of Abel Tasman National Park via kayak or hiking through untouched forests leading to golden sandy beaches.
Drive: Nelson to Hokitika Drive Time = 4hr 30min
This inland drive weaves its way through incredibly picturesque terrain, gaze up steep ravines and through dense bush and rainforest that will compact further as you get closer to the wild West Coast. The highlight of this drive is the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks within the Paparoa National park. Take a walk around these unusual coastal rock formations, feeling the power of the ocean bursting through blowholes as you stroll.
Stay: Hokitika 1 night
Sitting on the wild shores of the Tasman Sea is Hokitika, a cool little seaside town in the heart of the West Coast. Something genuinely novel about Hokitika is being able to walk around and observe Artists at work. Gaze in awe as woodturners, potters, jewelers create their unique products. Call into the Hokitika Glass Blowing studio to view sculptors form colorful bowls, birds, fruit and anything else imaginable out of molten glass. A short drive out of town is the Hokitika Gorge with its bright blue glacial water. Be sure to call into the Tree Tops Walk to give you a birds view of the rainforest as you stroll in and above the forest canopy. Evening activities often include a bonfire on the beach or a visit to the Glow Worm caves.
Drive: Hokitika to Franz Josef Drive Time = 1hr 45min
Rated to be one of the top Coastal Drives in the World, the Great Coast road winds its way through untouched rainforest and into the heart of South Westland. Take advantage of the opportunity whenever the forest opens itself, presenting deep valleys leading up to the snow-capped peaks. One such place is after crossing the turquoise waters of the glacial-fed Whataroa River, check out the remnants of the old bridge and chat with the locals about what’s happening in the area. This is the start of Glacier Country, a highlight on many travelers New Zealand Bucket list. On arrival at Franz Josef, you can take your pick of any adventure activity on offer. Sit back and relax with a drink in hand at the Landing Restaurant to take in the buzz of this small but vibrant tourist town.
Stay: Franz Josef 2 nights
Welcome to Glacier Country. Franz Josef is a small town with a huge amount on offer. Perched amongst a temperate rainforest, this is the perfect base to explore Westland Tai Poutini National Park and the Glaciers within it. Take a scenic helicopter flight around the peaks and land in the snowfields, or hike around the crevasses and caves on the lower glacier. Paddle a kayak on Lake Mapourika and take in the views of the snow-capped mountains that rise above. For the truly adventurous, take a leap on New Zealand’s Highest Skydive, jumping out at a ridiculous 20,000ft. There is plenty of hiking trails leading out of town; our favorites include the Tartare Tunnels, Roberts Point and Alex Knob tracks.
Drive: Franz Josef to Wanaka Drive Time = 3hr 50min
Continuing south down the remainder of the Great Coast road, there are plenty of remarkable places to stop along the way. First is Lake Matheson, a 5 min drive from Fox Glacier township. Noted as one of the most photographed lakes in the World, you have more than likely seen it on any New Zealand brochure. This lake will provide a mirrorlike effect of Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak on a calm day. Not long before you get to Knights Point lookout, stop for morning tea at the South Westland Salmon Farm for an authentic taste of the West coast. Your halfway point is Haast, the last township you will pass as you turn inland. Follow the river to leave the West Coast by crossing back over the Southern Alps towards Wanaka. Must-do walks (or swim if you’re game enough) on this section are the Blue Pools and Fantail Falls short hikes. The head of Lake Wanaka will be a stunning sight as you wind your way around its edge, then jump over the saddle to take in the view of Lake Hawea.
Stay: Wanaka 2 nights
Situated on the shores of a pristine alpine lake, the setting surrounding this place is nothing short of spectacular. There is always a buzz about Wanaka, with sports, art, and music events all year round. If you're an outdoor enthusiast, then you are in good company. You will find easy access to the great outdoors, with everything from climbing, skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, canyoning, the list goes on. Stretch your brain at Puzzling World, take on the Maze and check out the mind-bending exhibits. Moviegoers can watch the latest flicks from the backseat of a Morris minor and enjoy tasty homemade ice cream, pizza and cookies during the intermission.
Drive: Wanaka to Queenstown Drive Time = 1hr 20min
This doesn’t often happen in New Zealand, but here you are faced with two route options. The first being a drive up the Cadrona Valley - Passing Ski fields and a Whiskey Distillery. This will take you to the viewpoint on the Crown Range, gazing down into Queenstown and its surroundings for a magnificent view.
The second is to take the slightly longer way around the mountains, passing the world-class vineyards and tasty orchards of Central Otago. Because both options are extraordinary, we can’t make this decision for you. Weigh up between Pinot Noir, fresh apples, apricots, and cherries with Whisky and elevated vistas.
Stay: Queenstown 3 nights
Often considered the number one destination for adventure seekers worldwide, Queenstown is the Bucket List destination of many. This exciting lakeside town offers any activity you could imagine, and some you couldn't. But it's not all bungee jumping and jet boat rides; it also presents an array of more comfortable and luxurious options for those who enjoy the finer points of life. Framed by the dramatic peaks of the aptly named Remarkable Mountains, hiking, skiing, and biking are all right out your front door. There are plenty of fine dining options to savour after a day of shopping; sit back and watch the bustle of the promenade as busker tunes fill the fresh alpine air. Queenstown is the ideal base to explore the surrounding areas; take a scenic plane or helicopter through the mountains over to Milford Sound. Witness this natural wonder from above before hopping on a guided cruise or kayak.
Drive: Queenstown to Te Anua Drive Time = 2hr 15min
The alternative of taking a local helicopter flight into Milford Sound is to take the scenic road, a 4-hr drive into the depths of Southland. Travel through the soul of New Zealand agriculture, passing by rolling green pastures, leading you to the town and lake of Te Anau. This is the gateway to Fiordland National Park, with an abundance of activities on offer. Further up the lake and into the rugged mountains, you will cross through the Homer Tunnel and pop out the other side, switching back and forth down to Milford Sound. Rain or shine, you have reached the end of the road to arrive at a true world wonder. Take a cruise or kayak, get up close and personal with the cascading waterfalls dropping down from the heavens above. There is an abundance of Hiking tracks in the area to explore before leaving the isolation for your accommodation in Te Anau.
Stay: Te Anua 2 nights
Parked on the shores of a pristine lake, Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland National Park. Surrounded by World-Heritage-status mountains, here is the perfect opportunity to escape to isolation. The starting point of several multi-day hikes, Fiordland is a dream destination for relaxing in nature. After an extensive day of hiking and exploring, enjoy the freshly caught New Zealand Crayfish or local Venison at the many charming restaurants. The obvious option from here is to explore Milford Sound, but another option is to check out nearby and often overlooked Doubtful Sound.
Drive: Te Anua to Dunedin Drive Time = 3hr 30min
Take a journey through New Zealand’s most southern province, aptly named “Southland”. Lush green pastures spread as far as you can see; this is the heart of New Zealand Agriculture. For a breath of fresh air, take a walk or cycle along on the ‘Around the Mountains’ trail.
Stay: Dunedin 1 night
New Zealand’s most ‘Scottish City’ city, Dunedin (Gaelic word for Edinburgh), is packed with amazing sights and wonders. Witness the Royal Albatross soar around New Zealand’s only mainland breeding grounds or have high tea at Larnach Castle. It’s an easy walk around the city center, and as you explore the city, you will notice stunning street art painted by talented local and international artists. For a not so easy walk, get the blood flowing by walking up the Worlds Steepest street, “Baldwin Street”. Being in the ‘Edinburgh’ of the south, it’s an ideal time to sample the local whisky’s, renowned for being some of the best in the world. Or just smell the roses at Dunedin’s stunning Botanical gardens.
Drive: Dunedin to Lake Tekapo Drive Time = 3hr 40min
Make your way through rolling green hills towards your first stop at Moeraki Boulders, stroll amongst these strange spherical boulders that rest on Koekohe beach. Above the beach is Fleurs Place, a superb world-renowned restaurant serving fresh fish and local organic vegetables. Oamaru is a great place to walk off your meal through the limestone buildings of its Victorian precinct, be sure to keep an eye out for the local Blue penguins. From here, you will turn towards the Alps, passing multiple lakes before stumbling across the expansive Mackenzie Basin.
Stay: Lake Tekapo 2 nights
At the southern edge of a bright blue glacial-fed lake is the picturesque town of Lake Tekapo. Sitting in the vast Mackenzie basin, explore the surrounding lakes and canals, feed the salmon at the Aoraki Salmon farm, hike/bike the many trails or just take in the immense landscape. Tekapo also prides itself on its big sky and bright stars. This small town is a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, so be sure to take a stargazing tour and learn all about our southern stars. The local Hot Pools and Spa with lake and mountain views is a great way to unwind at the end of the day.
Drive: Lake Tekapo to Christchurch Drive Time = 3hrs
Today you will journey north to Christchurch, stopping at several country towns along the way. By now, you would have seen and heard about New Zealand pies, so if you haven’t yet tried one, then the Fairlie Bakehouse offers the perfect opportunity to try this kiwi favourite. If delicious jams and chutneys are more your thing, then Barkers of Geraldine will provide plenty of samples before choosing a gift pack to take home. At this point, it is recommended to ignore Google maps and take the inland scenic route, tracing the foothills to the resort town of Methven. From here, it’s a straight drive to the Garden City, officially known as Christchurch.
Stay: Christchurch 1 night