This tailor-made holiday has been designed to showcase New Zealand's South Island finest highlights in a compact, self-drive tour. Beginning in Christchurch, you'll cross the country on one of the world's most scenic rail journeys before collecting your hire car in Greymouth to explore the caves and crevasses of Fox Glacier and the peaks of Queenstown's Remarkables to the tangled rainforest around Doubtful Sound and the electric blue of luminous Lake Tekapo. Along the way you'll enjoy everything from whale-watching tours in Kaikoura to a heli-hikes on Fox or Franz Josef Glacier and an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound. If you've got more time, why not combine this itinerary with our Highlights of the North Island fly-drive?
Days 1-2: UK/Christchurch
Begin your holiday in style with included airport lounge access, leaving you relaxed for your flight to Christchurch, which arrives on day three.
Day 3: Christchurch
Arrive into charming Christchurch and transfer to your hotel. It's long been regarded as New Zealand’s most ’English’ city, with its botanical gardens, weeping willows and summertime punting on the Avon River. For further respite, perhaps make a jaunt to next-door Arrowtown, a historic town that's still living off its mining town riches.
Stay: Classic Villa (Superior) or The George (Deluxe)
Day 4: Kaikoura Whale Watch
Take a day trip to the whale-watching capital of New Zealand, Kaikoura, for our highly recommended tour. Every trip is a unique experience, and, as you head out on a purpose-built catamaran, complete with outside viewing deck and plasma screen displays, you'll look out for giant sperm whales, migratory humpbacks (Jun to Jul), orcas (Dec to Mar), fur seals, and both hector and dusky dolphins. That's not to mention mainland New Zealand’s largest variety of sea birds, including albatross, petrels and shearwaters. What's more, passenger numbers are kept to a minimum to ensure the best possible experience. Return to Christchurch after the tour.
Stay: Classic Villa (Superior) or The George (Deluxe)
Days 5-6: Franz Josef or Fox Glacier
Transfer to Christchurch railway station to begin one of the world’s great scenic rail journeys. The TranzAlpine Train crosses the country from east to west, heading first through the patchwork farmland of the Canterbury Plains before crossing a series of spectacular viaducts and climbing into the snow-dusted landscapes of the Southern Alps. After stopping at Arthur’s Pass, you’ll emerge from the Otira Tunnel and descend through subtropical rainforest past beautiful Lake Brunner, finally reaching Greymouth. Then, having collected your hire car, you'll drive down the coast to Fox Glacier (Superior) or Franz Josef (Deluxe) for an exhilarating heli-hike. These thrilling excursions combine a short scenic flight with a guided walk among the glaciers' caves, crevasses and blue-tinted pinnacles.
Days 7-8: Queenstown
Your destination today is Queenstown, set against a backdrop of the Remarkables mountain range and the deep blue of Lake Wakatipu. This is New Zealand at its adventurous and beautiful best, where everything from skydiving to winery visits make the most of the town's uniquely beautiful setting. It's also the gateway to one of the region's most spectacular walks, the Hollyford Track, which we can include on a guided three-day extension.
Stay: Browns Boutique Hotel (Superior) or Hotel St Moritz (Deluxe)
Day 9: Doubtful Sound
Following a short cruise across Lake Manapouri, two hours' drive from Queenstown, and a coach trip on the remote sub-alpine route over Wilmot Pass, you'll board the Fjordland Navigator for an overnight wilderness cruise amid the unspoilt beauty of Doubtful Sound. Your ship is purpose built for sailing New Zealand's fjords and offers spacious viewing decks, a comfortable dining room, a licensed bar and an observation lounge. As you travel, knowledgeable nature guides will point out the pod of resident dolphins, fur seals and rare penguins before you drop anchor in a sheltered cove. Here, you'll explore the dramatic coastline by kayak, tender boat or – for the brave – an icy swim. Warm back up with an indulgent three-course buffet dinner. Please note: the cruise does not operate during winter.
Stay: Fjordland Navigator (Superior)
Day 10: Wanaka
After a night spent marvelling at the twinkling night sky and a morning spent further exploring the fjord, disembark and make your way to Wanaka, a small town on the edge of a stunning lake surrounded by the towering peaks of the Southern Alps. Spend the day exploring this gateway to the spectacular glaciers of the Mount Aspiring National Park. It's a more relaxed side to Queenstown, with equal opportunities for skiing and walking.
Stay: Wanaka Springs Lodge (Superior) or Tin Tub Luxury Lodge (Deluxe)
Day 11: Tekapo
Travel north towards Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest elevation. The peak’s permanent cover of snow and ice contrast vividly with the turquoise, glacier-fed lakes Tekapo and Pukaki, which stretch beneath its eastern flanks. Though surrounded by breathtaking scenery, Tekapo is little more than a roadside ribbon of buildings; its true draw is its setting. That said, you should certainly make the trip to the Church of the Good Shepherd. Overlooking the lake from a small raised platform, the tiny stone building was built as a memorial to the pioneers who opened up the region. Behind the rough-hewn Oamaru stone altar a square window perfectly frames the lake and surrounding hills and mountains.
Stay: Peppers Bluewater Resort (Superior) or Lake Tekapo Lodge (Deluxe)
Days 12-13: Christchurch/UK
Return your hire car at Christchurch airport in time to catch your flight home, arriving the following day. Alternatively, extend your stay in New Zealand with a tour of the country's beauti...
This trip has no fixed departures but restrictions may apply - check operator website
Sign up to our weekly Trip Finder email and get a selection of the best trips to feed your Wanderlust