This 10-day road trip through New Zealand takes you through fjords, glaciers, and mountains abound. Begin in Christchurch on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour, then take the beautiful drive to Mt Cook National Park to embark on two excursions to discover Tasman Glacier and the surrounding peaks. Next is another eventful drive—with stops along the way—to Te Anau, including a visit to a glowworm cave and a day cruise through stunning Milford Sound. Explore Queenstown and board a dinner cruise, visit Wanaka and Franz Joseph Glacier, and drop off your car before riding the exhilarating TranzAlpine Scenic Train back to Christchurch.

Highlights

  • Tour Christchurch on a hop-on, hop-off bus adventure
  • Explore the famous Mount Cook National Park and Tasman Glacier
  • Cruise through the waterfalls, rainforest, and peaks of Milford Sound
  • Take a stunning helicopter ride over Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Christchurch & Hop On Hop Off City Tour Christchurch
Day 2 Christchurch - Self-Guided Tour Christchurch
Day 3 Mt Cook National Park Glacier & Valley Tours Mount Cook Village
Day 4 Scenic Drive to Te Anau & Visit Glowworm Caves Te Anau
Day 5 Milford Sound Nature Cruise Day Trip Te Anau
Day 6 Drive to Queenstown & Walter Peak Dinner Cruise Queenstown
Day 7 Queenstown Exploration Queenstown
Day 8 Visit Wanaka & Tour Franz Joseph Glacier Franz Josef Glacier
Day 9 Trains to Greymouth & Christchurch Christchurch
Day 10 Departure From Christchurch  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Christchurch and Hop On Hop Off City Tour

Welcome to Christchurch!
Welcome to Christchurch!

Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will take you to your accommodation in Christchurch. A travel representative will meet with you to deliver your travel pack, which contains everything you need for your trip, including your itinerary, driving instructions, and plenty of brochures. 

Christchurch is known as New Zealand's Garden City and is steadily transforming into a vibrant urban destination. Encompassing a large green belt, it is known for its wide, tree-lined avenues and lush gardens.

It's time to explore the town via the Hop On Hop Off City Tour excursion. With a mix of open- and closed-top buses, ride in comfort and style, accompanied by spectacular views. Friendly local guides will take you on a journey of discovery through Christchurch. Listen to the entertaining and informative live commentary and learn about the fascinating history, from pioneering days to modern times.

Next, if you'd like, ride a historic tram across town to the renowned Christchurch Botanic Gardens and the unique, cardboard Transitional Cathedral.

Following the touring, the evening is at your leisure.

Day 2: Christchurch - Self-guided tour

Punting on the Avon River
Punting on the Avon River

Collect your rental car today, and do some more exploration of Christchurch. 

Following the 2011 earthquake that razed its center and much of the outlying suburbs, Christchurch is well into a billion-dollar makeover. In the middle of the Canterbury Plains, bordering the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand’s newest city is an ideal gateway to exploring the middle of the South.

Go punting on the Avon River, take a historic tram ride, catch the gondola to the rim of an extinct volcano, or do all three. Drive an hour in any direction to ski, mountain bike, wine taste, whale-watch, bungee jump, or play golf. Take a day to go on safari at Orana Wildlife Park. Drive the winding Port Hills road to the French settlement of Akaroa and tour the vines in Waipara for an authentic New Zealand wine-tasting experience.

If you choose to stay near town, head to the Heathcote Valley, just 15 minutes from the heart of Christchurch, and ride the Christchurch Gondola for more than 0.5 miles to the collapsed rim of an extinct volcano, which exploded 6 million years ago. Take in the panoramic views of the central city, Lyttelton Harbour, Banks Peninsula, Canterbury Plains, and the distant peaks of the Southern Alps.  Wander the summit complex and choose one of many nature walks, or visit the Time Tunnel, a dramatic reconstruction of the history of the Port Hills and Christchurch.

If you're interested in a wildlife tour, the International Antarctic Centre aims to recreate the atmosphere and environment of Antarctica, providing visitors with an interactive, fun, and educational experience. Feel the full four seasons of Antarctica, and experience a custom-built snow-and-ice experience, then warm up in the Scott Base interior exhibit, a replica Antarctic field camp, or other informative displays in the gallery. Learn about life in modern-day Antarctica, view real little blue penguins, and experience a thrilling ride in a Hagglund all-terrain vehicle.

Day 3: Mt Cook National Park Glacier and valley tours

Tasman Glacier
Tasman Glacier

Today, drive through the heart of the South Island, crossing the vast Canterbury Plains. Catch your breath in Geraldine before continuing through Fairlie. Ascending Burkes Pass, come to the picturesque lakeside town of Tekapo. Follow the road and take in the view of Aoraki/Mt Cook (New Zealand's tallest mountain) from the shores of Lake Pukaki, known for its glacier-fed, turquoise-blue color. Continue along the lake to your final destination, Mt Cook Village

Experience 500-year-old icebergs up-close on the Mt Cook terminal lake. The Glacier Explorers tour is the only one of its kind in New Zealand—and one of only three in the world. Very few glaciers terminate into lakes, and even fewer are accessible. See towering ice cliffs and floating icebergs from the safety of a specially designed boat. These boats provide a safe way to view unseen and inaccessible areas of New Zealand's largest, the Tasman Glacier.

Next, take a rugged, backroad 4-wheel-drive adventure accessing awe-inspiring views over the Tasman Glacier and its gigantic moraine wall. Stop at several vantage points, and walk up to the top of the wall to view some of the most spectacular photographic opportunities within the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. Your professional guide has a wealth of knowledge of the area. Learn about its unique geology, local flora and fauna, and gain entertaining insight into the rich pioneering history and stories of the past 150 years.

Note: There is no food (or any shops) at Mount Cook. You will need to stock up prior to arrival if you wish to self-cater.

Day 4: Scenic drive to Te Anau and visit glowworm caves

Lake Te Anau
Lake Te Anau

Today, continue the drive to Te Anau. Twizel, just south of Mt Cook, was the location of many Lord of the Rings movie scenes and a little further on is Omarama, the gliding capital of New Zealand. Make a stop at Wrinkly Rams, a local café, which also offers an informative sheep-shearing demonstration.

The Lindis Pass is one of New Zealand’s highest roads with the summit reaching 3,186 feet. The tussock-covered hills offer an unusual contrast as you pass from the Mackenzie Basin and into Central Otago. The first Central Otago settlement you reach is the quaint village of Tarras, which has a number of boutique stores and a lovely café.  A short drive, further along is the historic and scenic Bendigo Reserve, which was one of Otago’s original gold mining settlements. Well-marked paths will guide you to the remains of stone cottages and other buildings from this bygone era.

Cromwell sits at the head of the Kawarau Gorge, and the historic old town is well worth the visit; the buildings are now home to quaint shops and cafés. The old-town buildings were relocated from the valley that now sits deep under Lake Dunstan. Continue on through the sheer cliffs of the Kawarau Gorge as they guide you toward the Gibbston Valley, one of New Zealand's premier wine-growing regions. At the famous, historic Kawarau Bridge, you can take a bungee jump, or sit back and enjoy the action as visitors hoist themselves off the bridge.

Approaching Queenstown, the impressive Remarkables Mountain Range comes into view, and then beautiful Lake Wakatipu as you head south. The lake guides you into Southland, through its rich farming pastures and into Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park.

Once in Te Anau, begin your glowworm cave experience with a scenic cruise across Lake Te Anau, onboard the luxury catamaran, Luminosa, to the western side of the lake. On arrival, enter the caves through Cavern House, where informative displays detail the history of this 12,000-year-old underground network. Next, explore by limestone pathway while your guide points out hidden whirlpools, sculpted rock formations, and a rushing underground waterfall. See a magical display of thousands of glowworms as you glide through the darkness in a small boat.

Day 5: Milford Sound nature cruise day trip

Milford Sound
Milford Sound

The road to Milford Sound offers some of the most beautiful and iconic scenery in the country. From crystal-clear lakes and towering mountains to lush, glacier-formed meadows, this area is dramatic and unyielding. Stretch your legs on the Chasm Walk, a short stroll through native beech forest, to see several powerful waterfalls. Continue on through the Homer Tunnel, an engineering marvel at 4,000 feet long. Arriving at the village of Milford, enjoy an amazing greeting by Mitre Peak

Take a 2-hour nature cruise tour of spectacular Milford Sound. Onboard one of three purpose-built vessels, experience tumbling waterfalls, towering peaks, lush rainforest, and native wildlife. Learn about the region, its history, and natural surroundings, while enjoying a delicious picnic lunch. As you cruise, keep an eye out for dolphins, seals, and penguins, which are frequent visitors to the fiord. 

Following your exploration of Milford Sound, return to Te Anau for the evening.

Day 6: Drive to Queenstown and Walter Peak dinner cruise

The scenic drive to Queenstown
The scenic drive to Queenstown

Today, cross vast tussock lands on your way to Queenstown. Pass through Mossburn, the deer capital of the nation. Continue on through the Southland countryside, where the road begins to hug the lake edge and the Remarkables tower over your approach into the adventure capital of New Zealand.

Go back in time on a return trip to Walter Peak High Country Farm aboard the historic TSS Earnslaw Steamship. A host will greet you and guide you through beautiful lakeside gardens toward the charming homestead. Here, enjoy a gourmet barbecue dinner, which your chef will prepare in front of you. The seasonal menu includes an expansive array of local produce, including succulent meats cooked on the outdoor rotisserie and a selection of delicious vegetables and salads. Finish your meal with dessert, New Zealand cheeses, and freshly brewed tea and coffee. After dinner, an entertaining and informative demonstration gives you a glimpse of life in the high country. On your cruise home, enjoy the camaraderie of a singalong with the ship's pianist, or simply breathe in the fresh night air as you watch the lights of Queenstown draw near.

Day 7: Queenstown exploration

Shotover River, Queenstown
Shotover River, Queenstown

Although celebrated as New Zealand's "adventure capital," Queenstown offers far more than a fast-paced, action-packed holiday. Settled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, beneath a soaring panorama of the Remarkables, this alpine town is surrounded by a plethora of historic, gastronomic, and scenic wonders.

Browse the waterfront cafés, and have lunch at Rata, from Michelin Star Chef Josh Emett. Check out nearby, historic Arrowtown and enhance your experience with a 4-wheel-drive trip to Macetown.

Take a leisurely lakeside stroll or ride the gondola for breathtaking views. Venture further afield into the Fiordland National Park, or head over the Crown Range to Wanaka. Drive through Lord of the Rings (LOTR) country, or for the really fanatic, jump aboard one of many dedicated LOTR tours. 

Riding the iconic Big Red Jet Boat through the narrow Shotover Canyon is an exhilarating experience not to be missed. Your skilled jet boat driver pushes the boat to 52 mph, skimming across shallow water and past towering canyon walls. This 25-minute whitewater ride includes 360° spins and maximum thrills.

If you're a wine enthusiast, head down the Gibbston Valley Wine Trail to sample some of the region’s best grapes. Or, join a small group tour for an afternoon amongst the boutique vineyards and splendid alpine scenery of Central Otago. Enjoy visits to four, premium wineries over two contrasting wine sub-regions, learn about the wine and pioneering history of the area, and visit the historic precinct of Old Cromwell (time and weather permitting). This tour includes a shared lunch platter and a premium glass of wine to pair.

Day 8: Visit Wanaka and tour Franz Joseph Glacier

Franz Joseph Glacier at sunset
Franz Joseph Glacier at sunset

From Queenstown, cross the Crown Range, the highest sealed road in New Zealand, to arrive in the alpine town of Wanaka, the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park. Skirting the shores of both Lake Wanaka and Hawea, enter the small town of Makarora. Stop at Blue Pools for a 1-hour return walk through native beech forest to a glacier-fed swimming hole. Continue on through the remote seaside settlement of Haast, before heading up the wild West Coast, a 372-mile stretch of bush and native rainforest. Fox Glacier welcomes you first, then comes your destination for the night, Franz Josef township.

Embark on a Twin Glacier Scenic Helicopter Flight excursion with The Helicopter Line. Fly over two of New Zealand's most famous glaciers. Land at the head of one, and view the incredible sight of this frozen river as it winds its way through ancient carved valleys. Should weather not be suitable to take this flight, you are able to transfer your booking onto a similar tour on any of the Helicopter Line's operations in Queenstown or Mt Cook.

Day 9: Trains to Greymouth and Christchurch

Take in views of Arthur's Pass National Park on a scenic train ride
Take in views of Arthur's Pass National Park on a scenic train ride

Today, head north through the historic gold mining region of Hokitika. Known for its Greenstone (Pounamu) this seaside town has a rich history dating back to the 1860s. Head to the coast and take in the endless sea views, or pick up a souvenir at one of the many craft shops. Continue on to Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast, and the starting point for the next leg of your journey—the TranzAlpine Scenic Train. Drop your rental car at the Greymouth Train Station depot, before boarding your train back to Christchurch.  

Considered one of the world's great train journeys, travel across the South Island from the west to the east coast through Arthur's Pass National Park. From the comfort of your carriage, see lush beech forest, deep river valleys, and the spectacular peaks of the Southern Alps. Descend to the windswept Canterbury Plains before arriving in the city of Christchurch.

A driver will be waiting for you at the train station to transport you to your accommodation. Enjoy your final evening in New Zealand with a nice dinner and a night on the town.

Day 10: Departure from Christchurch

Farwell, Christchurch!
Farwell, Christchurch!

Depending on your flight time, a private driver will collect you from your accommodation and transport you to the airport to catch your departure flight home. Until next time!

Map

Map of New Zealand: Fjords, Glaciers, & Mountains Self-Drive Tour - 10 Days
Map of New Zealand: Fjords, Glaciers, & Mountains Self-Drive Tour - 10 Days