Ideal for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, this two-week New Zealand trip embraces the wild beauty of the South Island. Start in the adventure capital of Christchurch and catch a ride on the TranzAlpine Train across the island. Then, it's time for a road trip, as you collect a rental car to reach Franz Josef Glacier, Queenstown, Te Anau, Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, and Aoraki / Mount Cook. Along the way, you'll kayak, jet boat, hike, cruise, and helicopter your way through ever-shifting landscapes.


  • Enjoy hiking in some of the South Island's most scenic destinations
  • Ride the scenic TranzAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth
  • Get your thrills in Queenstown with a jet boat ride and a bungee jump
  • Cruise across the glassy Milford Sound / Piopiotahi in Fiordland National Park
  • Go stargazing and hiking in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Christchurch, Punting on the Avon Christchurch
Day 2 Explore Christchurch, Visit the International Antarctic Centre Christchurch
Day 3 TranzAlpine Train to Greymouth, Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 4 Twin Glacier 30-Minute Helicopter Flight, Okarito Lagoon Kayak Trip Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 5 Drive to Queenstown, Skyline Queenstown Gondola & Luge Queenstown
Day 6 Shotover Jet Boat Ride, Kawarau Bungee Jump, Onsen Session Queenstown
Day 7 Appellation Food & Wine Tour, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown
Day 8 Drive to Te Anau, Cruise to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves Te Anau
Day 9 Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Cruise, Te Anau Wildlife Sanctuary Te Anau
Day 10 Hiking in Te Anau, Routeburn Track Guided Day Walk Te Anau
Day 11 Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook, Stargazing Experience Aoraki / Mount Cook 
Day 12 Tasman Lake Cruise, Cass Valley Backcountry 4WD Tour Aoraki / Mount Cook 
Day 13 Drive to Christchurch, Historic Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 14 Depart Christchurch  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch, Punting on the Avon

Punting Avon River
Enjoy a classic punt along the Avon River / Ōtākaro and by the Botanical Gardens

Kia ora! Welcome to New Zealand! Begin your adventure in Christchurch, where a driver will wait to transfer you to your accommodation. Here, you'll see the virtual rebirth of the city following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. The urban city center is full of new secrets, from modern architecture and immense street art to cocktail bars and bustling restaurants. New Zealand's second-largest metropolis is also known for its green spaces like Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens—it's nicknamed the Garden City, after all—so a stroll through one is always a good idea.

Better yet, this afternoon you'll enjoy an authentic boat ride along the Avon River / Ōtākaro, a favorite Christchurch attraction for several decades. A punter dressed in Edwardian garb will guide you quietly past trailing willows, woodlands, and the leafy banks of the Botanic Gardens or through the city center onboard a classic punt. 

Day 2: Explore Christchurch, Visit the International Antarctic Centre

A vintage tram turns into Cashel Street near the Bridge of Remembrance in the centre of Christchurch.
Ride a vintage tram past sights like the Bridge of Remembrance

This morning is yours to explore Christchurch at your pace. A fun idea is to ride one of the city's 19th-century trams, which loop the city center, passing by Cathedral Square and the Canterbury Museum. If you have time, you could venture out to the Heathcote Valley, 15 minutes from the heart of the city, to ride the Christchurch Gondola into the collapsed rim of an extinct volcano that exploded six million years ago. Soak up 360-degree views of the city, Lyttelton Harbour, Banks Peninsula, Canterbury Plains, and the distant peaks of the Southern Alps, then go for a scenic walk.

In the afternoon, you'll go behind the scenes at a penguin habitat and penguin welfare center, the International Antarctic Centre. Explore off-limits areas and find out what it takes to keep these little stars happy while learning about their daily routines, penguin feeding and husbandry, and the long-term goals of the program. Your pass includes general admission, so you can also visit "Antarctica" with the snow and ice experience and survive an Antarctic storm.

Day 3: TranzAlpine Train to Greymouth, Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau

Christchurch to Franz Josef via TranzAlpine Train
Cross New Zealand's South Island from east to west on the TranzAlpine train

Board the TranzAlpine Scenic Train this morning for what's considered one of the world's greatest train journeys. Destined for the opposite coast of New Zealand, you'll see the fields of the Canterbury Plains and farmland, followed by the spectacular gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri River. Your train then climbs into the Southern Alps before descending through the beech rainforest to the West Coast town of Greymouth.

Collect a rental car and make the two-hour drive south to Franz Josef / Waiau. Stop in Hokitika, a great place to buy jade or greenstone, to visit the spectacular Hokitika Gorge, where turquoise waters flow through a narrow gorge. You could pan for gold in Ross, an old gold mining town, or keep going to the glacier region. Finally, you'll catch your first glimpse of the Franz Josef Glacier on your way into town.

Day 4: Twin Glacier 30-Minute Helicopter Flight, Okarito Lagoon Kayak Trip

Franz Josef  scenic flight
You'll view the Franz Josef Glacier from a helicopter before you land at the top

Today, you'll take a spectacular scenic flight over two of New Zealand's most famous glaciers, including the famous Franz Josef Glacier, a majestic 7.5-mile-long (12 km) glacier in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. This steep glacier is known for its sparkling ice and picturesque views, and the glacier's end is just 3 miles (5 km) from town. Land at the head of either Fox or Franz Josef Glacier and see the incredible sight of this frozen river of ice as it winds its way through ancient valleys carved from the mountainside.

After your flight, consider a trek around the national park. Popular trails include the Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk and Sentinel Rock Walk, which provide views of the glacier. Then, there's the Lake Wombat Track and Terrace Walk, which takes you through the forest and past former gold mining operations. Later, grab a paddle for a guided kayak trip on Okarito Lagoon. New Zealand's largest unmodified coastal wetland covers 8,000 acres (3,240 ha) of open water and is known for its rare New Zealand birds, such as the white heron and royal spoonbill.

Day 5: Drive to Queenstown, Skyline Queenstown Gondola & Luge

Spend a day exploring the adventure capital of the world
Spend a day exploring the adventure capital of the world

From Frans Josef / Waiau, it's a 5.5-hour drive to Queenstown, New Zealand's adventure capital. Travel through a former sawmilling area to Fox Glacier, then skirt forests of red and white pine to Bruce Bay. See tranquil lakes Paringa and Moeraki, then pass Wānaka, Lake Hawea Dam, and Lake Hayes on the descent to Queenstown. Set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu in the Southern Alps, this ruggedly beautiful region offers hair-raising thrills, vineyards, and historic gold-mining towns.

Once in Queenstown, ride the scenic Skyline Gondola, one of the steepest cable cars in the Southern Hemisphere. You'll climb over 1,400 feet (450 m) to Bob's Peak for top views of The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and sparkling Lake Wakatipu. After, ride the two hilltop luge tracks. Back in town, enjoy dinner at Rātā, an award-winning restaurant by Michelin-starred chef Josh Emett. This relaxed eatery combines slow-cooked food with wines from New Zealand's local Otago region.

Day 6: Shotover Jet Boat Ride, Kawarau Bungee Jump, Onsen Session

Shotover Jet
Ride "Big Red" along the Shotover River for some high-adrenaline thrills

You're in New Zealand's adventure capital, so get ready for a day of adrenaline-pumping fun! Start with an exhilarating ride through the Shotover River Canyon in a high-speed jet boat that seems to defy gravity. Take a ride on "Big Red" through the dramatic canyon walls of the upper Shotover River. You'll gasp in amazement as your jet navigates 46 miles (75 km) of rapids and narrow twists and turns.

After, get your heart racing when you leap from Kawarau Bridge. This destination is the home of the first commercial bungee jump, so if you're ready to take the jump yourself, this is the place. Finally, relax in a hot pool under the stars. Based on the Japanese bathing tradition, Onsen offers cedar-lined steaming pools on a cliffside overlooking the Shotover River. Enjoy an hourlong soak accompanied by a drink and snack as you take in the alpine scenery. The water temperature averages 101.3°F (38.5°C), but one pool is kept cold for those who love an icy plunge!

Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 7: Appellation Food & Wine Tour, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner

Central Otago
Visit in autumn to see the vines of Central Otago turn golden

Enjoy an indulgent day tasting wine in the Central Otago region with the help of a local wine expert. Discover the scenic and diverse wine subregions of Gibbston, Bannockburn, and Cromwell with tastings at four boutique vineyards. You'll sample the region's renowned cool-climate wines and retrace early pioneering history at the historic settlements of Old Cromwell and beautiful Arrowtown. You'll take a guided tour through New Zealand's largest underground wine cave and savor a memorable lunch of five dishes cooked in retired oak barrels, perfectly matched with five local wines.

This evening, you'll take a leisurely cruise across the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Wakatipu. The historic TSS Earnslaw Steamship will take you to the lakeside gardens of Walter Peak High Country Farm for a gourmet dinner by the water. Soak up the alpine scenery at the homestead and watch as chefs prepare a seasonal bounty of succulent meats cooked on the outdoor rotisserie and a selection of delicious vegetables and salads. Enjoy desserts and New Zealand cheese before the return trip, complete with a singalong from the ship's pianist.

Day 8: Drive to Te Anau, Cruise to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves

A road South of Te Anau
Enjoy the drive to scenic Te Anau, famous for its glowworm caves and nearby Fiordland National Park

After breakfast, commence your 2.5-hour drive to Te Anau, the gateway to the Fiordland National Park. Te Anau sits on the shores of Lake Te Anau, which reaches depths of 1,368 feet (417 m), and the town is the starting point for many walking tracks, including the Milford Track and the Kepler Track, and is home to a limestone grotto of glowworms. 

This afternoon, you'll cruise across the lake aboard a luxury catamaran, disembarking on the western side to enter the caves through Cavern House. Read displays sharing the story of this 12,000-year-old underground cave network. Then, follow your guide along a limestone path as they point out whirlpools, intricate rock formations, and a staggering underground waterfall. Board a small boat to glide through darkness, surrounded by the blue-white pinpricks of thousands of glowworms on the cave walls. 

Day 9: Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Cruise, Te Anau Wildlife Sanctuary

Milford Sound Discover More Nature Cruise
Discover the beauty of Milford Sound / Piopiotahi on a nature cruise

Today, you'll experience the awe-inspiring Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, with its towering granite peaks, cascading waterfalls, and pristine blue waters. The two-hour road trip from Te Anau offers plenty of natural beauty to get you in the mood. Along the way, stop to take pictures of lush glacier-formed meadows, clear lakes, and mountains. Stretch your legs on the Chasm Walk, a short stroll through native beech forest to see several powerful waterfalls, then continue through the Homer Tunnel.

When you reach Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, the most popular fjord in Fiordland National Park, you'll board a boat and set off on a nature cruise. Take in amazing views of Mitre Peak as you cruise by thundering waterfalls, sky-high mountains, and lush rainforests. Milford Sound / Piopiotahi is home to remarkable wildlife, so keep your eyes open for seals, dolphins, penguins, and more. Enjoy a picnic lunch onboard, then visit the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory to discover the natural history, geology, and conservation efforts here.

Back on dry land, if there's still daylight, set off on one of many hikes throughout this area, or make the return drive to Te Anau and visit the local Wildlife Sanctuary. Here, you can see a variety of native birds whose habitat ranges from the rugged mountain and forest environments to the wild West Coast seashore. See the rare flightless takahē, native waterfowl, weka, parakeets, tui, kea, kākā, and pigeons.

Day 10: Hiking in Te Anau, Routeburn Track Guided Day Walk

Hiking the Routeburn Track
Today, you could opt for a guided hike along the Routeburn Track

As the gateway to Fiordland National Park, Te Anau is the starting point for many hiking trails. The most noteworthy are designated Great Walks: the Milford Track and the Kepler Track. Today, you're invited to set off on one of many trails in the area. You could wander part of the Kepler Track or join a full-day guided Routeburn Track hike. 

If you choose to join the guided day hike from Te Anau to Key Summit on the renowned Routeburn Track, you'll follow one of New Zealand's most renowned and picturesque hiking trails. Tackling this 20-mile (32 km) track takes two or three days, so today, you'll experience just part of it with a full-day hike that takes you deep into the countryside, where you'll enjoy the landscapes of Fiordland National Park and Mount Aspiring National Park. Enjoy the sound of rivers, waterfalls, and native birds as you hike with awe-inspiring vistas of snowcapped mountains and ancient beech forests.

Day 11: Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook, Stargazing Experience

Mount Cook
The drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook might be the most beautiful in the world

Your epic road trip across New Zealand continues today with a five-hour drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook. New Zealand's highest peak, Mount Cook, measures 12,315 feet (3,754 m) and is also known by its Māori name, Aoraki, which means "Cloud Piercer." It's one of 20 peaks in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Journey back past Queenstown, turning east over the historic Kawarau Bridge. Travel through Lindis Pass, one of New Zealand's highest roads, with the summit reaching 3,185 feet (971 m), into the Mackenzie Basin.

The towns of Ōmarama and Twizel are the last stops before you arrive at Lake Pukaki and take the Mount Cook Highway along the shores to the village. When darkness falls, make the most of the nearby International Dark Sky Reserve. Renowned for their clear, star-studded skies, Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park and nearby Mackenzie Basin offer an astronomical night to remember. Join a tour to use state-of-the-art telescopes and have your guide explain the constellations, planets, the Milky Way, and faraway galaxies.

Day 12: Tasman Lake Cruise, Cass Valley Backcountry 4WD Tour

Glacier Explorers - Tasman Lake
Today, you'll zip around the glaciers of Tasman Lake in a special boat

Rise early to see Aoraki / Mount Cook's 500-year-old icebergs up close on a Tasman Lake cruise. As you weave around floating icebergs in a specially designed boat, you'll see the country's largest glacier, the Haupapa / Tasman. A guide will point out key landmarks as you glide across the water, surrounded by towering ice cliffs.

After, journey through the wilderness of Mackenzie Country with a scenic 4WD tour. This backcountry tour rolls across sweeping landscapes and cuts through Glenmore Station, one of New Zealand's finest Merino wool producers. With private access to the remote Cass Valley, you'll discover rugged mountains, vast glaciers, and rushing rivers while learning about the natural and human history that formed this part of the South Island.

Use the rest of your afternoon to explore short, scenic walks. Start at the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre to gain updates on track conditions and choose your hike, which ranges from just 10 minutes to four hours. The quickest option is the Bowen Bush Walk, an easy forest hike that will take you through tōtara and celery pine forests toward Glencoe Lodge. This evening, drop into the Alpine Restaurant at The Hermitage Hotel for a delicious buffet dinner with spectacular views of Aoraki / Mount Cook.

Day 13: Drive to Christchurch, Historic Tram Dinner

Church of the Good Shepherd
The Church of the Good Shepherd in Lake Tekapo is a worthy stop 

If you wake up early, squeeze in another short and scenic hike before you hit the road for Christchurch. Along the four-hour drive, make time to stop in Lake Tekapo—the first of the large Southern Lakes. Pause at the small town of Tekapo to photograph the famous Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo, and the Collie Dog statue. If you have time, join a guided horse trek or boat tour. Continue through Burkes Pass and the rich farmlands of Geraldine, then cross the vast Canterbury Plains to arrive in Christchurch.

Tonight, you'll board a historic colonial-style dining tram for a four-course dinner with a view. Journey along the inner city tram loop, taking in the regenerating central business district and the city's top landmarks, all while enjoying a moving feast. Sit back and relax as you take in the views of the Botanic Gardens, the Canterbury Museum, and the Avon River / Ōtākaro from your window-side table.

Day 14: Depart Christchurch

Cut a lap of downtown Christchurch, then head to the airport

It's your final morning in New Zealand! If you have time before departure, go for a final wander around Christchurch and reflect on a brilliant two weeks exploring the South Island. When the time is right, drive to Christchurch airport with enough time to return the rental car before your flight home or onward. Safe travels!

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Map of Active Highlights of New Zealand's South Island - 14 Days
Map of Active Highlights of New Zealand's South Island - 14 Days