Travel through New Zealand's beautiful South Island, getting to know its cultural hotspots, famous landscapes and public gardens, and sprawling vineyards along the way. Over 12 days, you'll enjoy the cafes and fine art of Nelson, spend two days sipping wine in Marlborough, hike near beautiful Lake Wakanda and the famous Milford Sound, and more.

Highlights

  • Enjoy coffee, culture, and fine art in New Zealand's second-oldest city
  • Spend two days sipping and swishing in the vineyards of Marlborough
  • Stroll the immaculate parks and public gardens of Christchurch
  • Hike in Mount Aspiring National Park and the famous Milford Sound

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Nelson Nelson
Days 2-3 Marlborough Sounds Blenheim
Day 4 Kaikoura Kaikoura
Day 5 Christchurch Christchurch
Day 6 Mount Cook Mt. Cook Village
Days 7-8 Wanaka Wanaka
Day 9 Te Anau Te Anau
Day 10 Te Anau - Milford Sound  Te Anau
Day 11 Queenstown Queenstown
Day 12 Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Nelson

Nelson

Start your trip in Nelson: an irresistible blend of lifestyle and landscape. This is New Zealand's sunniest city, as well as its second-oldest—don't miss South Street with its old 16 cottages dating back to 1841. Nelson is also a paradise for lovers of coffee and fine art with numerous galleries and sidewalk cafes.

In Nelson, you can start your trip any way you like, with fine local wines, abundant seafood, and a relaxed holiday atmosphere. Take a walk down a heritage trail, drive out to Richmond for a laidback shopping experience, or perhaps indulge in a glass or two of a local varietal.

Days 2-3: Marlborough Sounds

Marlborough Vineyard

Spend two days discovering this beautiful region of valleys drowned by the sea, famous for its world-class wines. Start with the vineyards of Renwick: for the best views, try Montana Brancott, while Wither Hills is great for garden lunches. And Balder Vineyard is a family-owned business where grapes are still hand-picked.

You'll also want to visit Queen Charlotte Sound, the scenic highlight of the inter-island ferry journey from Wellington to Picton. At the head of the Sound is Ship Cove where visitors can trace the steps of Captain Cook. Motuara Island, now a bird sanctuary, is where he claimed British sovereignty over the South Island. Queen Charlotte Sound is also home to the Queen Charlotte Track, over 40 miles of spectacular walking tralks that traverse historic sites, secluded bays, skyline ridges, and coastal bush.

A recommended activity here is the "Seafood Odyssea," a cruise and tasting tour of the Queen Charlotte Sound. Visit a New Zealand King Salmon Farm where you can hand-feed the salmon, and learn about traditional suspension culture, used to grow mussels and the prized Tio Point Oysters. After learning all about aquaculture, enjoy a seafood tasting paired with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Day 4: Kaikoura

Kaikoura coastal feast

Few places in the world boast as many natural wonders as Kaikoura. Today you can choose from a number of seasonal activities that show off the area's flora and fauna. Go for a dolphin and whale watching tour, or head to the Ohua Point waterfalls to observe the seal colony. You can also check out seals at the end of the peninsula—bring your binoculars, as this is also a good opportunity to spot an albatross. A fishing day trip is also an option.

If you like walking, the Kaikoura area offers trails for all tastes and levels of fitness, ranging from 30-minute strolls to half and full-day hikes and more energetic tramps and climbs. It's worth driving up to Mt. Fyffe for views of the peninsula as well. 

Day 5: Christchurch

Christchurch

On the way to Christchurch, stop at one of the boutique wineries the Waipara region has to offer. Try the Terrace Edge Vineyard & Olive Grove for a memorable tasting of local products.

Central Christchurch and some eastern suburbs were heavily affected by the earthquake of February 2011, which led to the destruction of many historic multi-story buildings—but there's still plenty to explore here. Known as the 'Garden City', Christchurch has a number of well-established expansive parks and public gardens, thanks in large part to the foresight of the city's founding fathers. Spend your day exploring at your leisure.

Day 6: Mount Cook

Tasman glacier in Mt Cook NP
Tasman glacier in Mt. Cook National Park

Drive to the McKenzie area on one of the most scenic routes in New Zealand, and discover majestic Mount Cook. Mt. Cook is the highest peak in the country, where Sir Edmund Hillary had many expeditions and where New Zealand’s longest glacier winds its way down the Southern Alps before culminating in its terminal lake—you'll want to stop here for a picture of the famous Church of the Good Shepherd.

In the afternoon, you'll enjoy a classic fly-in, fly-out heli-hike which combines the excitement of walking on the mighty Tasman Glacier and two helicopter flights. With a helicopter, you will be able to access and explore the white ice of the world famous Tasman Glacier where it runs beside the biggest mountains in New Zealand, including Aoraki Mount Cook, and where it often creates spectacular ice formations.

Days 7 & 8: Wanaka

Lake Wanaka

Wanaka is a beautiful place of lakes, mountains, rivers, diverse attractions, and endless activities. It is the world’s first protected lifestyle reserve, a lovely little town nestled within the breathtaking scenery of the southern shores of Lake Wanaka. If you like to hike, you will not want to miss Mount Aspiring National Park, and during winter the ski fields of Treble Cone and Cardrona are some of the best spots in the country. Unsurprisingly, Lake Wanaka is also famous for its vineyards, offering some of the best Pinot Noir in New Zealand—for a fun lunch and wine tasting, try the Rippon Valley Vineyard.

Day 9: Te Anau

Te Anau
Te Anau

In the heart of the Fiordland region which belongs to Te Wahipounamu World Heritage, Te Anau is the base camp for hikers and anyone keen on exploring the Milford Sound. Walk the Kepler Track, a trail that follows the lakeshore passing through stands of attractive native forest. Enjoy pleasant bay views across the lake to Te Anau, with swimming and picnic facilities available. Further on from Dock Bay, Brod Bay is another popular spot in summer for boating and walking, with a broad beach and picnic facilities.

Day 10: Milford Sound

Milford Sound
Milford Sound

Milford Road is the most iconic road in New Zealand, running along the beautiful Milford Sound. A 'sound' is a flooded river valley, but this is a flooded glacial valley, with sheer sided walls that plunge thousands of feet underwater—and one of the best ways to experience it is via a morning boat ride. Cruise past the countless waterfalls, views of mountains rising straight out of the sea, fur seals, and (usually) dolphins.

Day 11: Queenstown

Queenstown
Queenstown from above

Originally born out of the Gold Rush during the 1860s, Queenstown is now the world capital for adrenaline and outdoor activities. Try white water rafting, bungee jumping, skydiving, mountain biking, and more. For a more mellow (and just as memorable) experience, you take the Skyline gondola for a panorama of the lake and mountains. If you like hiking, climb the summit of Ben Lomond, overlooking the town and Lake Wakatipu.

From Queenstown, you will also find several options to visit Lord Of The Rings landscapes in the area of Glenorchy—try a guided 4x4 tour or horseback ride. And don't forget, this is one of the world's best wine-producing regions, and enjoying the views with a glass in hand is a wonderful way to end your trip.

Day 12: Depart from Queenstown

Departing from Queenstown

 

Say farewell to New Zealand, and head to the Queenstown airport for your departing flight. 

Map

Map of South Island Highlights & New Zealand Wines - 12 Days
Map of South Island Highlights & New Zealand Wines - 12 Days