This adventurous eight-day road trip across New Zealand's South Island combines a number of unforgettable nature experiences. Pick up a rental car in Christchurch, then venture south to the therapeutic hot pools at Lake Tekapo. Capture views over Aoraki / Mount Cook and Westland National Park with a scenic flight, then leap from a plane above beautiful Wanaka. Finally, discover enchanting glowworm caves in Te Anau, and embark on a mesmerizing fjord cruise across Milford Sound / Piopiotahi.


  • Glide along a river in Christchurch led by guides in Edwardian costume
  • Relax in hot pools at Lake Tekapo before joining a stargazing tour
  • Take a scenic flight over Aoraki / Mount Cook and Westland National Parks
  • Chase thrills with a memorable sky-diving experience in Wanaka
  • Finish the trip with a fjord cruise across Milford Sound / Piopiotahi

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Christchurch, Explore Christchurch
Day 2 Drive to Tekapo, Soak in Hot Pools, Dark Sky Experience Lake Tekapo
Day 3 Braemar Station Backcountry Tour, Scenic Flight Lake Tekapo
Day 4 Drive to Wānaka, 4WD Safari Wānaka
Day 5 Skydive Experience, Free Time Wānaka
Day 6 Explore the Te Anau Glowworm Caves, Free Time Te Anau
Day 7 Drive to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, Scenic Cruise Te Anau
Day 8 Drive to Queenstown & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch, Explore

Christchurch Botanical Gardens
Christchurch Botanical Gardens are a must-see while in the city

Kia ora! Welcome to New Zealand's South Island! Your adventure begins in Christchurch, the country's second-largest metropolis. Upon arrival, you'll pick up a rental car, drop your bags at the hotel, and then set out to explore.

A stroll through one of Christchurch's gardens is always a good start. The city is nicknamed Garden City and is known for its green spaces like Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens. For something more imbued with history, join a punting tour down the Avon River / Ōtākaro led by guides in Edwardian costume, or ride one of the city's 19th-century trams past Cathedral Square and the Canterbury Museum.

If you didn't have the chance to ride a historic tram past the top tourist sights today, then tonight you could join an elegant dinner aboard a tram. Dress up and take your seat on the colonial-style tram that makes the rounds of central Christchurch's top attractions. Enjoy the sights from your window-side table while enjoying a four-course meal.

Day 2: Drive to Tekapo, Soak in Hot Pools, Dark Sky Experience

Lake Tepako is a relaxing way to spend the afternoon
Lake Tepako is a relaxing way to spend the afternoon

Wave goodbye to Christchurch this morning as you cross the Canterbury Plains and wind your way toward Lake Tekapo, the first of the large Southern Lakes. Along the three-hour drive, you'll pass through Beautiful Valley and ascend Burkes Pass up to the high country plateau.

From here, grab lunch and head to Tekapo Springs for a relaxing afternoon. This is your chance to soak in thermal springs and sauna rooms, all while enjoying views of Mount John and Lake Tekapo. You can dip into various pools, ranging in temperature from 96°F (36°C) to 104°F (40°C). If you have kids on tour, they'll love the Aqua Play Area, with interactive water jets and fountains.

In the evening, travel to Mount John Observatory for the Dark Sky Project Summit Experience. Here you'll learn about the southern sky using telescopes and even your unhindered eyes. Your guide will point out the Milky Way, Southern Cross, Alpha-Centauri, and Sirius—one of the brightest visible stars. Learn about neighboring galaxies, such as the Magellanic Clouds, and constellations, like Orion and Scorpius. You'll also see star clusters like the Jewel Box, awe-inspiring planets, nebulae, clouds of gas and dust, and distant galaxies.

Day 3: Braemar Station Backcountry Tour, Scenic Flight

asman Glacier Terminal Lake with the Snowcapped Mountain Background in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, South Island, New Zealand
The brilliant blue color of Tasman Glacier Lake in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
This morning you'll explore New Zealand's remote high country with a scenic 4WD tour around Braemar Station. Get to know beautiful Mackenzie Country and a working sheep, cattle, and deer outpost as you explore off-road tracks while soaking in the rugged landscape with views of Aoraki / Mount Cook, Mount Tasman, Lake Pukaki, and the Ben Ohau mountain range. Traveling on remote 4WD trails, you'll cross the High Country and see Tekapo's backcountry landscapes, from tussock grasslands to lake vistas.

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Later, take the flight of a lifetime when you soar above two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park and Westland National Park, encompassing 125 miles (200 km) of New Zealand's most spectacular scenery. Witness a contrast of colors with turquoise glacial lakes against tussock-covered sheep stations. After seeing New Zealand's longest glacier, the Tasman, cross into the Westland National Park to see the Fox and Franz Josef / Waiau Glaciers, which spill down to the rainforests of the west coast.

Day 4: Drive to Wānaka, 4WD Safari

Visit top natural attractions near Wānaka
Wānaka is famous for its beautiful lake, a favorite location for photographers

Today's two-hour drive from Lake Tekapo to Wānaka takes in more awe-inspiring scenery. You'll first pass Lake Pukaki, where you can often see New Zealand's highest mountain, the Aoraki / Mount Cook, at 12,300 feet (3,754 m). Pause to explore hiking trails on foot or keep driving toward Twizel, the location of many film scenes from "The Lord of the Rings." Wind through beautiful Lindis Pass, one of New Zealand's highest roads with a summit of 3,185 feet (971 m), before reaching Wānaka, New Zealand's premier ski destination. This scenic resort town sits on the shores of beautiful Lake Wānaka.

Use the rest of your afternoon to explore Wānaka. If it's not ski season, you could explore trails around Mount Aspiring National Park or go fishing, sailing, or kitesurfing on the lake. Later you'll join a 4WD safari, taking in the rugged beauty and solitude of this dramatic high country. With your guide leading the way, explore private farm tracks via a historic sheep station. From the site of an ancient Māori settlement abandoned in the 1830s to the ruins of one of Wānaka's first European farmhouses (1880s), this journey offers a unique insight into the area's rich history, heritage, and modern-day farming life.

Day 5: Skydive Experience, Free Time

Skydive Wanaka
Skydive over Wānaka and take in the scenery with maximum thrills

Experience the ultimate adrenaline rush this morning in Wānaka when you leap from a plane. Add "New Zealand skydive" to your extreme activity resume and join the ranks of thrill-seekers when you fly through the air. No prior skydiving experience? No problem! Feel the exhilaration of freefalling through Wānaka skies with a tandem jump and discover why this destination tops the list of skydiving worldwide.

The rest of the day is yours to enjoy at leisure. You could drive to Arrowtown, a historic gold-rush town with a historic town center to explore. Join a tasting tour and experience the Central Otago region's award-winning wines with an expert. Continue the adrenaline rush with a canyoning experience following the Niger Stream. Relax at a lavender and honey farm with friendly barnyard animals and tea. Visit Puzzling World with its multilevel outdoor maze and optical illusion rooms, perfect for kids and kids at heart. Or spend the afternoon walking the Wānaka Trails

Day 6: Explore the Te Anau Glowworm Caves, Free Time

Glowworm Caves
Experience the magic of glowworms in Te Anau

This morning you'll hit the road for Te Anau, about three hours southwest. Keep your camera close as the scenic drive throws up stunning landscapes with towering mountains, lush green valleys, and crystal-clear lakes, including the famous Lake Wakatipu, Fiordland National Park, and the majestic Southern Alps. On arrival, join a magical Te Anau Glowworm Caves tour. You'll cruise across the lake aboard a luxury catamaran, disembarking on the western side to enter the caves through Cavern House.

Take your time to 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 the darkness, surrounded by the blue-white pinpricks of thousands of glowworms on the cave walls and ceiling. 

From here, you can use the rest of your day to enjoy Lake Te Anau and Fiordland National Park at your own pace. That might include hiking, boating, fishing, kayaking, mountain biking, swimming, and/or water skiing. 

Day 7: Drive to Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, Scenic Cruise

The world-famous Milford Sound
Cruise through Milford Sound / Piopiotahi for a once-in-a-lifetime experience

Your final destination today is the awe-inspiring Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, with its towering granite peaks, cascading waterfalls, and pristine blue waters. The dramatic fjord landscapes create a sense of grandeur and tranquility, and the road trip from Te Anau offers plenty of natural beauty to get you in the mood.

Don't rush the two-hour drive—stop to take pictures of the lush glacier-formed meadows, clear lakes, and mountains en route. 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, an engineering marvel.

Finally, you'll reach Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, the most popular fjord in Fiordland National Park and the only one accessible by road. You'll be greeted with an amazing view of Mitre Peak, with sheer cliffs rising from deep below the water's surface. Park your car and join a leisurely cruise, passing thundering waterfalls, sky-high mountains, and lush rainforests. Milford Sound / Piopiotahi's ethereal charm is completed with brilliant wildlife, so keep your eyes open for seals, dolphins, penguins, and more. At the end of the day, return to Te Anau for the evening.

Day 8: Drive to Queenstown & Depart

Lake Wanaka
Squeeze an extra thrilling adventure in Queenstown before your flight
Sadly, the day has come to say goodbye to New Zealand's South Island! This morning, you'll make the two-hour drive from Te Anau to Queenstown for your flight. If possible, enjoy some free time in the adventure capital of the world before departure. Safe travels!

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Map of New Zealand South Island Nature Tour - 8 Days
Map of New Zealand South Island Nature Tour - 8 Days