This 12-day tour features a perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. Explore New Zealand's cities, mountain landscapes, native bush, and beaches. Begin in Wellington working your way through parks and vineyards to Christchurch and to the mountains and fjords of Mount Cook and Milford Sound, ending your stay in Queenstown.

Highlights

  • Traipse through native kiwi bush in Abel Tasman National Park
  • Explore Lord of the Rings' filming location of Putangirua Pinnacles
  • Tramp around Mount Cook for stunning views of snow-capped peaks and glaciers
  • Go wine tasting in the world's southernmost wine-producing region in Wanaka

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Wellington Wellington
Day 2 Wine tasting in Martinborough, Cape Palliser and Putangirua Pinnacles Wellington
Days 3-4 Explore Abel Tasman National Park Abel Tasman 
Day 5 Blenheim to Christchurch Christchurch
Day 6 Punting in Christchurch and the TranzAlpine to Arthur's Pass Christchurch
Days 7-8 Hiking around Mount Cook Tongariro region
Days 9-11 Queenstown, Wanaka and Milford Sound Queenstown
Day 12 Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Wellington

Wellington, New Zealand
View from Mount Victoria of central Wellington

Welcome to Wellington! Set on the edge of a stunning harbor and surrounded by rolling hills, Wellington is home to a competitive food scene with more cafés, bars, and restaurants per capita than New York. Take a stroll to familiarize yourself with the capital, stopping to dine in one of the many stellar restaurants. If there's time, visit New Zealand's national museum, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa—a world leader in interactive and visitor-focused museum experiences. If you have one museum to visit in New Zealand, let it be this one.

Day 2: Wine tasting in Martinborough, Cape Palliser and Putangirua Pinnacles

New Zealand -Rock needles at Putangirua Pinnacles, Wairarapa, new zealand
Rock needles at Putangirua Pinnacles, Wairarapa

This morning you will drive inland to the friendly village of Martinborough for a taste of country life. Just over an hour from the capital, Martinborough is surrounded by 35 vineyards, among them are Palliser Estate, Tirohana, and Ata Rangi. Enjoy an early lunch with a glass of wine or join one of the many wine tours available. Next, drive an hour to Cape Palliser to see the southernmost lighthouse—as well as the very popular fur seals—on the North Island. Stretch your legs and climb up the 250 steps to the top of the lighthouse for a panoramic view of Palliser Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and the craggy rocks below.

On your way back to Wellington, Lord of the Rings fans may appreciate a visit to the Putangirua Pinnacles. A geological formation featured as a Middle Earth backdrop in The Return of the King, you can choose one of three walks to the site (2-3 hours).

Days 3-4: Explore Abel Tasman National Park

New Zealand - Abel Tasman National Park. White sand bay and turquoise sea
Golden Bay in Abel Tasman National Park

Enjoy two days in Abel Tasman Nation Park and take advantage of all that is has to offer. Hike the Abel Tasman Coast Track through native bush to discover the park's golden beaches and expansive estuaries, punctuated by rocky outcrops of granite, limestone, and marble. Spend an afternoon lounging on Kaiteriteri Beach before renting a sea kayak to explore the coastline, catching sight of seals, blue penguins, and dolphins that inhabit the area.

Regular and on-demand bus services provide access throughout the park and commercial boat operators offer day excursions as well as drop-off and pick-up points for visitors. 

Day 5: Blenheim to Christchurch 

Vineyards cover the area surrounding Blenheim
Vineyards cover the area surrounding Blenheim

Today you will drive east to Blenheim. A farming town, Blenheim is known for its surrounding vineyards and aviation museum. Stop for lunch and a wine tasting in Wither Hills and any other winery that strikes your interest. From there, spend some time touring the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre for a compelling collection and display of World War I artifacts and memorabilia, including personal items belonging to the famous Red Baron himself.

Continue your drive south along the coast to experience nearly five hours of striking South Island landscapes as you make your way to Christchurch.

Day 6: Punting in Christchurch and the TranzAlpine to Arthur's Pass

Punting along the Avon River
Punting along the Avon River

The world-famous "Garden City", Christchurch's well-established expansive parks and public gardens owe much to the planning and foresight of the city's founding fathers. The central city area and some eastern suburbs were heavily affected by the earthquake of February 2011 which led to the destruction of many of the original multi-storey buildings, especially historic ones.

Known for its English heritage, enjoy a morning punting along the Avon River, taking in the sights from this perspective. In the afternoon, visit the popular Botanic Gardens and the Cardboard Cathedral—a unique temporary replacement to the Christ Church Cathedral destroyed in the earthquake.

There's also the option to board the TranzAlpine passenger train for a return trip to Arthur's Pass National Park for a day of hiking or skiing (depending on the season).

Days 7-8: Hiking around Mount Cook

Mount Cook
Mount Cook

Head west to Mount Cook (Aoraki in Maori) to spend the next couple of days exploring the area. Choose from a number of hiking trails, ranging from 30 minutes to eight hours. The most popular trail, Hooker Valley, takes you to Terminal Lake at the bottom of the Hooker Glacier and can be completed in four hours. Another great walking option for views of the lower Tasman Glacier and mountains is to walk from the Blue Lakes Shelter past the lakes to a viewpoint on the moraine wall. The Blue Lakes offer good swimming in summer and can be reached by making a side trip off the main track (40 minutes).

More experienced trampers can choose the Red Tarns trail. Starting in Mount Cook Village, trek past the red tarns (small glacial-formed mountain lakes) to summit Sebastopol for a stunning view Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki. Those wanting a fuller day of hiking and don't mind a steep stair climb will enjoy the Sealy Tarns trail. Walk alongside the region's native alpine flowers (summer) for stunning views of the surrounding mountains until you reach Sealy Tarns (2-4 hours). From there, more experienced hikers can follow the alpine route to Mueller Hut (6–8 hours return).

If the weather isn't favorable or you'd like to break up your day of hiking, visit the museum in the Hermitage Hotel showcasing the history of the Mount Cook region.

Days 9-11: Queenstown, Wanaka and Milford Sound

Milford Sound New Zealand. - Mitre Peak is the iconic landmark of Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park South Island
Mitre Peak in Milford Sound

Originally born out of the Gold Rush during the 1860s, Queenstown is now the world capital for adrenaline and outdoor activities and is a great jumping off point for exploring the area and its vineyards. Take a day to relax and drive to Wanaka for lunch complemented by a local glass of wine. If there's time and interest, join a wine tour of the Rippon Valley and enjoy the views of Lake Wanaka and the Buchanan Mountains. On your return, stop for a relaxing soak at the Onsen Hot Pools and enjoy a few hours in your private cedar-lined hot tub overlooking the Shotover River Canyon.

On your second day in Queenstown, you will enjoy a scenic drive north along the iconic Milford Highway to Milford Sound, a fjord in New Zealand's southwest. Enjoy a boat tour of the fjord, passing by jagged peaks and cascading waterfalls, keeping an eye out for wildlife like dolphins, fur seals, and penguins.

Day 12: Depart

Sunset over Queenstown, New Zealand
Sunset over Queenstown

Depending on your departure details, take the morning to explore more of Queenstown, completing any last minute souvenir and gift shopping. Say farewell to the South Island and board your flight home, taking your kiwi memories with you.

Map

Map of New Zealand Cities, Parks & Mountains - 12 Days
Map of New Zealand Cities, Parks & Mountains - 12 Days