Experience the finest food and nature New Zealand has to offer on this 13-day South Island tour. Drive a loop of the island, stopping to cruise glacier lakes and paper-flat sounds, stay in a wilderness lodge, and spot seals on the Otago Peninsula. You'll even soar over Queenstown at sunrise in a hot air balloon. Along the way, dine on a historic tram in Christchurch, taste famous ales at Speights Brewery, and indulge in a traditional Kiwi feast at High Country Farm.


  • Sail Tasman Glacier Lake for views of New Zealand's largest glacier
  • Immerse yourself in nature at Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge
  • Tour Speights Brewery and enjoy a Kiwi feast at High Country Farm
  • Take an overnight cruise of Doubtful Sound
  • Soar above Queenstown on a sunrise hot air balloon safari 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Christchurch, Historic Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 2 Drive to Mount Cook Village, Glacier Explorers Boat Trip Mount Cook Village
Day 3 Drive to Dunedin, Speights Brewery Tour & Dinner Dunedin
Day 4 Explore Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula Dunedin
Day 5 Drive to Te Anau & Visit Te Anau Glowworm Caves Te Anau
Day 6 Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise Doubtful Sound
Day 7 Drive to Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown 
Day 8 Sunrise Balloon Adventure, Jet Boat Tour & Onsen Evening Session  Queenstown
Day 9 Milford Sound Flight & Nature Cruise, Transfer to Lake Moeraki Lake Moeraki
Day 10 Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki Guided Nature Activities Lake Moeraki
Day 11 Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier, Trekking & Heli-Hike Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier
Day 12 Drive to Christchurch  Christchurch
Day 13 Depart New Zealand  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch, Historic Tram Dinner

Dine onboard a historic Christchurch tram

Welcome to New Zealand! Your driver will be waiting at the airport to take you to your Christchurch hotel. Take some time to settle in before heading out to explore the country's second-largest metropolis, which is known as the "Garden City" for its green spaces. Christchurch's English heritage is evident along the Avon River / Ōtākaro, where guides dressed in Edwardian costume will take you on punting trips past landmarks like Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens.

This evening, dine in one of Christchurch's heritage-era trams, which date back to 1882. You'll feast on a multicourse dinner while driving a loop around the city, passing famous sights like Cathedral Square and New Regent Street in your historic tram car. 

Day 2: Drive to Mount Cook Village, Glacier Explorers Boat Trip

Sail the Tasman Glacier Lake

This morning a driver will deliver your rental car so you can begin your New Zealand self-drive adventure. Drive four hours west to Mount Cook Village, which sits at the base of its namesake mountain. New Zealand's highest peak measures 12,315 feet (3,754 m) and is known by the Māori title Aoraki, which means "Cloud Piercer." The mountain is one of over 20 peaks in the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The drive winds through the heart of the South Island, over the pastoral Canterbury Plains. Stop off in the quaint towns of Geraldine and Fairlie as you make your way to scenic Burkes Pass and the lakeside hub Tekapo. Finally, you'll arrive in Mount Cook Village, which will act as your base for exploring the glacial wonders of the park through trekking, lake trips, and heli-hiking.

To see Aoraki / Mount Cook's 500-year-old icebergs up close, take a cruise around Tasman Glacier Lake. You'll see the country's largest glacier, The Tasman, as you weave around floating icebergs in a specially-designed boat. A guide will point out key landmarks as you glide across the water, surrounded by towering ice cliffs.

Day 3: Drive to Dunedin, Speights Brewery Tour & Dinner

Take a tour of the historic Speights Brewery

This morning you'll leave Aoraki / Mount Cook, heading to Dunedin, the "Edinburgh of the South." On the way, you'll pass Twizel, a "The Lord of the Rings" filming location, and Ōmarama, the gliding capital of the country. Stop for a break at the Wrinkly Ram Cafe, which offers sheep-shearing demonstrations, before continuing through the Waitaki Valley

The last section of the drive takes you down the coast to Moeraki, where you can take a slight detour to see the Moeraki Boulders, a collection of huge spherical boulders scattered across the beach. Arrive in Dunedin and settle into your hotel before heading out to absorb the city's Edwardian and Scottish heritage buildings in the city center, named The Octagon.

Take a tour of historic Speights Brewery, which was founded in 1876 and still occupies its original Dunedin site. Learn about Speights' rich history as one of the world's last remaining gravity breweries on a guided interactive tour. You'll enjoy a tasting session of six Speights beers, including their flagship Gold Medal Ale. Afterward, sit down to a two-course dinner at the Alehouse and enjoy the hearty fare of the south.

Day 4: Explore Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula

Larnach Castle
Visit Larnach Castle

Today, explore Dunedin and the stunning Otago Peninsula, which lies right on its doorstep. Founded by Scottish settlers in the 1840s, the city is full of grand, Gothic Revival architecture and is home to the country's oldest university. Wander the farmers' market in Dunedin's Flemish-Baroque railway station and experience The Octagon's street art and booming restaurant scene. 

Make some time to visit some of Dunedin's stellar museums. These include the Otago Museum, which delves into the region's unique culture and heritage and has a fascinating butterfly rainforest experience. Soak up some history at the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, where themed galleries and interactive displays tell the story of the people who first made Dunedin their home.

If you'd prefer a dose of nature, head out of the city to discover the surrounding Otago Peninsula, which is lined with rugged beaches home to penguins, fur seals, and sea lions. An optional half-day tour of the region includes an Otago Harbour Cruise to Penguin Place, home to yellow-eyed penguins, and a scenic bus tour of the peninsula's High Road. Other top highlights include the Royal Albatross Centre and New Zealand's only castle, Larnach

Day 5: Drive to Te Anau & Visit Te Anau Glowworm Caves

Lake Te Anau
Take in views of Lake Te Anau

Leave Dunedin this morning and drive to Te Anau, the entrance to UNESCO-listed Fiordland National Park. Take a brief detour on the way to Kaka Point for heart-stopping views of torrid waves crashing against the cliffs. Finally, arrive in the lakeside town of Te Anau, which is surrounded by white-topped mountain peaks. This is the starting point of three famous New Zealand hiking trails: Milford, Routeburn, and Kepler.

There's time to settle in at the hotel before your magical tour of the Te Anau Glowworm Caves, which starts with a cruise across Lake Te Anau onboard the luxury catamaran: Luminosa. You'll disembark at the western side of the lake and enter the caves through Cavern House, taking time to peruse displays that tell the story of this 12,000-year-old underground cave network. 

Next, your guide will lead you along a limestone pathway, pointing 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 clinging to the cave walls and ceiling. 

Day 6: Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise

Take an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound 

This morning starts with a short drive alongside Lake Te Anau to Manapouri, the gateway to Doubtful Sound. Here you'll begin your overnight cruise of New Zealand's deepest fiord, at 1,381 feet (421 m), and the second longest at 25 miles (40 km). You'll take a short boat ride across the lake, followed by a coach over the Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove to board the Fiordland Navigator. Settle into your private en-suite cabin or quad-share bunk room, and then soak up the scenery from the viewing deck.

As you sail across the teal fiord, your captain will provide commentary on the area and its history, pointing out landmarks like Browne Falls, which crashes 2,030 feet (619 m) into the sound. Look out for bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, and Fiordland penguins along the way. Eventually, you'll anchor in a sheltered cove to explore the shoreline by kayak or Stabicraft. The day ends with a three-course buffet dinner and stargazing on the upper deck.

Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 7: Drive to Queenstown, TSS Earnslaw Farm Tour & Dinner

Discover New Zealand's adventure capital, Queenstown

Spend a final morning on Doubtful Sound before you return to Manapouri and drive to Queenstown, New Zealand's adventure capital. The town is the birthplace of AJ Hackett Bungy, the world's first commercial bungy-jumping company. Set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and backed by the majestic Remarkables Range, Queenstown offers plenty more adrenaline-pumping activities, including sky diving and white-water rafting, but if you prefer something tamer, there are dozens of hiking and cycling paths to explore. 

Spend the rest of the day as you please. Take a cruise on Lake Wakatipu or venture farther afield to the 19th-century gold rush hub of Arrowtown. If you love wine, take a tasting tour of the region's best boutique vineyards. Nearby Gibbston, Bannockburn, and Cromwell are all known for their cool-climate wines, which are generally more acidic and lighter than other varieties. Take a tour and tasting session surrounded by never-ending vineyards.

Return to Queenstown this evening for a boat trip on the TSS Earnslaw across Lake Wakatipu to the Walter Peak High Country Farm, where you'll have a barbecue dinner of New Zealand's signature dishes featuring rotisserie-cooked meats, seasonal vegetables, and salads. Finish with dessert, New Zealand cheeses, and demonstrations about high country life on the farm. After the meal, join a sing-along with the ship's pianist and watch the lights of Queenstown come into focus.

Day 8: Sunrise Balloon Adventure, Jet Boat Tour & Onsen Evening Session

Soar over Queenstown on a hot air balloon safari

Rise early for a hot air balloon safari over Queenstown today. Float upward as the sun rises over the surrounding lakes and mountains, providing stunning aerial views. You'll be able to spot landmarks like Mount Aspiring, Coronet Peak, and glittering Lake Wakatipu. The flight lasts an hour and is followed by a champagne breakfast when you land. 

The adventure continues afterward with a journey into Mount Aspiring National Park, where you'll take an adrenaline-pumping jet boat ride. Whiz along glacier-fed rivers while your guide shares Māori legends and historical information about the area. The tour includes a chance to stop and walk in beech tree forests used as filming locations in "The Lord of the Rings" films.

Relax this evening in a hot pool under the stars. Based on the Japanese bathing tradition, Onsen offers cedar-lined steaming pools on a cliffside overlooking the Shotover River. Enjoy an hour-long soak accompanied by a drink and snack as you take in the alpine scenery. The water temperature averages 101°F (38.5°C), but one of the summer pools is kept cold for those who relish the thought of an icy plunge!

Day 9: Milford Sound Flight & Nature Cruise, Transfer to Lake Moeraki

Stirling Falls, Milford Sound
Cruise the famous Milford Sound

Today you'll visit the famous Milford Sound, dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World" by Rudyard Kipling. Take a 40-minute scenic flight from Queenstown to the fiord, enjoying aerial views of the Southern Alps, and then board a catamaran to cruise the 10-mile-long (16 km) sound. You'll pass crashing waterfalls and spot seals, Fiordland crested penguins, and dolphins along the way.

After the cruise, fly back to Queenstown and make the spectacular drive north to Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge. The journey takes you across the highest sealed road in the country, the Crown Range, to the lakeside town of Wānaka. Follow the shoreline toward Makarora, the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. Here, you can take a half-hour walk through the native beech forest and visit the Blue Pools.

Continue driving through the national park toward Haast Pass, enjoying views of crashing rivers and waterfalls as you go. Once you cross the Haast River, you'll arrive on the Wild West Coast, a 373-mile (600 km) stretch of bush, rainforest, and podocarp forest. The tranquil surroundings of Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki are just a few extra miles away. Arrive and settle into the lodge for a relaxing evening.

Day 10: Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki Guided Nature Activities

Stay at Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki 

Today you'll take two of the lodge's complimentary guided activities, each led by expert naturalists who know the area and its history well. Choose from lake kayaking, ancient rainforest walks, giant eel feeding in the Moeraki River, and an evening walk to see glowworms light up the forest, followed by a stargazing session.  

You can also explore the dense forests and kayak or fish independently. If you want to explore further, book one of the more extensive lodge activities that last up to four hours. Highlights include wildlife voyages to see Tawaki penguins and New Zealand fur seals, beach fossicking adventures, rainforest hikes, and kayaking safaris on Lake Moeraki.

Day 11: Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier, Trekking & Heli-Hike

Explore Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier

Drive north this morning to Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier. On the way, pass through ancient podocarp forests and visit Knights Point Lookout, which has a display detailing the area's many shipwrecks. Next, you'll enter the country's glacier region, passing Lake Matheson and Fox Glacier; stop at a well-signposted viewpoint to catch a glimpse of the largest west coast glacier. 

When you arrive in Franz Josef town, visit the Department of Conservation Information Center to plan one of the area's many hikes. Some of the most popular trails include the Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk and Sentinel Rock Walk, which both offer staggering views of Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier. Then there's the Terrace Walk, which takes you through the forest and past historic gold mining operations.

To experience Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier first-hand, take a heli-hike. You'll fly over all three of the glacier's icefalls, landing for a two-hour guided trek through this otherworldly landscape. A guide will take you through ice caves and spot frozen pinnacles, explaining the geology and history of the glacier. You'll be provided with a waterproof jacket, over trousers, glacier boots, ice crampons, and woolen socks for the trip.

Day 12: Drive to Christchurch 

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

Start heading back to Christchurch today via Arthur's Pass. The journey will take around five hours, snaking up the west coast to begin with. You'll traverse Harihari, where Guy Menzies landed after his pioneering solo flight across the Tasman Sea and the gold mining town of Ross before arriving in the heart of Hokitika. Take some time to visit its famed gorge before continuing on scenic State Highway 73.

Crossing Arthur's Point is a highlight of the drive. At 2,952 feet (900 m), this is the highest point in the Southern Alps and boasts fantastic views. Pause in Arthur's Pass town for a walk to photograph the scenery and then drive into the river valleys of Waimakariri. Finally, you'll cross the vast Canterbury Plains to arrive in Christchurch.

Day 13: Depart New Zealand

Lake Wanaka
Say goodbye to New Zealand 

This morning your New Zealand South Island adventure ends. Drop your rental car at the airport in time for your flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of Self-Drive New Zealand: South Island Food & Nature Adventure - 13 Days
Map of Self-Drive New Zealand: South Island Food & Nature Adventure - 13 Days