Encounter snowy peaks and lush rainforests in this nine-day road trip around New Zealand's South Island. Start by sampling a four-course meal on a colonial-style tram ride around Christchurch. Pick up your rental car, and get ready for breathtaking scenery over the next week as you drive through "The Lord of the Rings" country, with stop-offs that include glacial hot pools, boat rides, gourmet barbecues, and a scenic train ride.


  • Enjoy a memorable meal on a colonial-style tram ride around Christchurch
  • View the Milky Way during a stargazing workshop
  • Take a boat ride on a historic steamship across a scenic fjord
  • Marvel at glaciers, mountains, and rainforests during a two-hour helicopter tour
  • Take a dip in a glacial hot pool nestled in the rainforest

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Christchurch, Dinner on Board the Christchurch Tram Christchurch
Day 2 Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook & Stargazing Workshop Aoraki / Mount Cook
Day 3 Drive to Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Steamship Cruise & Barbecue Dinner  Queenstown
Day 4 Explore Queenstown at Leisure Queenstown 
Day 5 Wilderness Cruise at the Remote Doubtful Sound Queenstown 
Day 6 Drive to the West Coast, Glacier Hot Pools Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 7 Heli-Hike to the Franz Josef Glacier Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 8 Return to Christchurch via the TranzAlpine Scenic Train Christchurch
Day 9 Depart Christchurch  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch, Dinner on Board the Christchurch Tram

Christchurch City Center
Hop on a tram in Christchurch's City Center

Welcome to Christchurch! On arrival, your driver will be waiting at the airport to transfer you to your hotel. Known as New Zealand's garden city, Christchurch is a vibrant metropolitan center and the second-largest city in New Zealand. Surrounded by a large greenbelt, the city mixes cutting-edge architecture and English heritage with abundant green spaces, lush gardens, and wide, tree-lined avenues.

Kick back and relax at your lodging before getting ready for your first taste of New Zealand's renowned cuisine. You'll board a unique historic colonial-style dining tram for a memorable, moving four-course restaurant experience. Lasting 2.5 hours, you'll take three laps of the tram line passing New Regent Street, the Avon River / Ōtākaro, High Street, and Victoria Square.

Day 2: Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook & Stargazing Workshop

Mount Cook from the shores of Lake Pukaki
Mount Cook from the shores of Lake Pukaki

Pick up your rental car and begin your journey through the heart of the South Island. Cross the vast Canterbury Plains and ascend Burkes Pass, where you'll encounter the picturesque lakeside town of Tekapo. Continue along the road and skirt the shores of the glacier-fed, turquoise Lake Pukaki, from which you can marvel at the snowy peaks of Aoraki / Mount Cook—New Zealand's tallest mountain. Stock up on supplies before you reach your self-catering lodgings at the small, underpopulated haven of Aoraki / Mount Cook.

Take advantage of some of the clearest skies in New Zealand this evening by embarking on a stargazing workshop. Weather permitting, guides will show you the southern night sky with state-of-the-art astronomy telescopes and binoculars at an outdoor viewing platform. There will be an indoor alternative in New Zealand's first full dome digital planetarium with high-definition video images. Unleash your imagination as you discover the Southern Cross, planets, star clusters, moons, distant galaxies, and the Milky Way!

Day 3: Drive to Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Steamship Cruise & Barbecue Dinner

TSS Earnslaw Steamship
TSS Earnslaw Steamship cruise

Today, you'll leave Mount Cook National Park and travel to Queenstown. Go through the lakeside town of Twizel and then pass through the gliding capital of New Zealand—Ōmarama—before ascending the Lindis Pass. Continue toward the Gibbston Valley, one of New Zealand's principal wine-growing regions. You'll also pass the Kawarau Bridge, from where you can bungee jump—or just relax while watching others take the plunge. Approaching Queenstown, The Remarkables mountain range comes into view as you arrive in the adventure capital of New Zealand.

After a day soaking up the South Island's awe-inspiring views, relax on a cruise to Walter Peak High Country Farm aboard the historic "TSS Earnslaw" steamship. Once on land, your guide will lead you through beautiful lakeside gardens to the charming homestead. Here, you'll enjoy a gourmet barbecue dinner made with local ingredients that your chef will prepare. On your cruise home, enjoy the camaraderie of a singalong with the ship's pianist, or breathe in the fresh night air as you watch the lights of Queenstown draw nearer.

Day 4: Explore Queenstown at Leisure

Views down the Arrow River near Queenstown

It may be known as New Zealand's "adventure capital," but Queenstown has plenty to offer that isn't heart-stopping entertainment. Settled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu beneath a soaring panorama of The Remarkables mountain range, this alpine town is surrounded by many historic, gastronomic, and scenic wonders. You could begin your free day by heading down the Gibbston Valley wine trail to sample some of the region's best pinot noirs or browse the waterfront cafés.

If you're a fan of "The Hobbit" and the "The Lord of The Rings," you can join in a safari-equipped 4WD tour for a true off-road adventure through diverse scenery around the Wakatipu Basin, where they filmed many of the scenes. See historic Arrowtown and cross the Arrow River, as well as experience the truly remarkable lake and mountain views from the Skippers Canyon Saddle. Although none of the LOTR sets remain intact, the landscapes are instantly recognizable, such as the Misty Mountains, Pillars of Kings, and the Ford of Bruinen.

Or, for the adrenaline junkies out there, take a ride on a jet boat through the spectacular canyon walls of the upper Shotover River. Shotover Jet Boat is the only company allowed to operate in this remarkable location, and their skilled drivers will take you on a wet and wild ride you'll never forget.

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Day 5: Wilderness Cruise at the Remote Doubtful Sound

Experience true silence at Doubtful Sound

Take a break from driving today and jump on board a luxury glass-roofed bus for a relaxing trip along the shores of Lake Wakatipu and through the rolling countryside to Pearl Harbour at Manapouri. From there, you'll cruise across picturesque Lake Manapouri to West Arm and travel by coach through the dense rainforest, where you can examine plant life along the way.

Once you have arrived at Doubtful Sound, you'll board a catamaran for a three-hour cruise of the beautiful fjord to the Tasman Sea. Marvel at the passing waterfalls, rainforests, and mountains, and if you're lucky, catch a glimpse of fur seals basking on the rocks, a resident pod of bottlenose dolphins, or the rare Fiordland crested penguins. On the return journey, the vessel's engines are turned off, and visitors are treated to the "sound of silence." Spend your last evening in your Queenstown lodgings before returning to the driver's seat tomorrow.

Day 6: Drive to the West Coast, Glacier Hot Pools

Be mesmerized by the crystal-clear Blue Pools

Hit the road again today as you cross the Crown Range—the highest (and arguably the most scenic) road in New Zealand—to arrive in the alpine town of Wānaka, the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. Skirting the shores of both Lake Wānaka and Hawea, you'll enter the small town of Makarora. Stop at Blue Pools for a one-hour circular walk through a native beech forest to a glacier-fed swimming hole. Then it's time to head up the wild West Coast—a 370-mile (600 km) stretch of bush and native rainforest. Fox Glacier welcomes you first, then comes your destination for the night—Franz Josef / Waiau.

Get ready for bed with a bath—in glacier-fed pools. Nestled within the surroundings of lush rainforest, the Glacier Hot Pools are a haven of tranquillity. Unwind in one of the three main pools, where temperatures range from 96°F to 104°F (36°C to 40°C), and the water comes directly from a glacial stream. Wash off the day and revive in this forest paradise.

Day 7: Heli-Hike to the Franz Josef Glacier

Take a helicopter ride to the Franz Josef glacier

Franz Josef / Waiau is a small but lively town in the heart of New Zealand's West Coast region, known for its 7-mile-long (12 km) glacier. Surrounded by rainforest-clad mountains, the township has a vibrant and bustling atmosphere. To see the ice from a viewpoint, you can walk along the valley floor below the terminal face of the glacier. To go on the glacier itself, however, you must take a licensed helicopter tour.

Take a scenic flight over all three Franz Josef glacier icefalls today. Landing high on the glacier takes a two-hour guided trip into some of the most beautiful terrains in the country. Follow your guide through a wonderland of blue ice and frozen pinnacles, and you'll have endless views of the surrounding mountains and rainforest, as well as plenty of opportunities to take photographs.

Day 8: Return to Christchurch via the TranzAlpine Scenic Train

Witness spectacular scenery from your seat on the TranzAlpine Train

Today, you'll head north through Hokitika, a historic gold mining region known for its green stone (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 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 to Christchurch.

Crossing the south from east to west, the TranzAlpine is considered one of the world's most incredible train journeys traveling through Arthur's Pass National Park. From the comfort of your carriage, see lush beech forests, deep river valleys, and the spectacular peaks of the Southern Alps. Descend into the windswept Canterbury Plains before reaching Christchurch. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at the train station and take you to your hotel.

Day 9: Depart Christchurch

Cathedral Square in Christchurch
Cathedral Square in Christchurch

It's time to say goodbye to New Zealand! A driver will transfer you to the airport for your flight home at the appointed time.

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Map of New Zealand South Island Adventure: Christchurch, Mount Cook, Queenstown & Franz Josef - 9 Days
Map of New Zealand South Island Adventure: Christchurch, Mount Cook, Queenstown & Franz Josef - 9 Days