Explore the beauty of New Zealand's South Island at your own pace with this self-drive tour. You'll start in Christchurch and drive through incredible villages on your way to Queenstown. Next, you'll explore breathtaking national parks before taking one of the world's greatest train journeys back to Christchurch. Get your adrenaline rush in along the way by bungee jumping, heli-skiing, mountain biking, and more!

Highlights

  • Bungee jump off the historic Kawarau Bridge in the Gibbston Valley
  • Explore the breathtaking sights from 'Lord of the Rings' surrounding Queenstown
  • Go skiing and whale watching on the same day near Christchurch
  • Experience a unique four-course meal on a colonial tram in Christchurch

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Christchurch City Christchurch
Day 2 Drive From Christchurch to Mount Cook Village Mount Cook Village
Day 3 Drive From Mount Cook Village to Queenstown Queenstown
Day 4 Explore Queenstown & Surrounds Queenstown
Day 5 Drive From Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier Franz Josef Glacier
Day 6 Cross the Southern Alps to Christchurch on the TranzAlpine Train Christchurch
Day 7 Christchurch Free Day with Dinner on Board the Christchurch Tram Christchurch
Day 8 Depart Christchurch  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch City

Christchurch city center
Christchurch City Center

Welcome to New Zealand! On arrival, you will be met by a private driver and transferred to your Christchurch accommodation. Known as New Zealand's garden city, Christchurch is a vibrant metro area. Encompassing a large green belt, it is known for its wide tree-lined avenues and lush gardens. Take the local double-decker hop-on/hop-off bus for an easy way to see the sights, or ride a historic tram across town to the renowned botanic gardens and the Cardboard Transitional Cathedral.

Day 2: Drive From Christchurch to Mount Cook Village

Mt Cook
Mount Cook National Park

Today you'll 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 you'll come to the picturesque lakeside town of Tekapo.

Follow the road and take in the view of Aoraki Mount Cook (New Zealand's tallest mountain) from the shores of Lake Pukaki, known for its glacier-fed turquoise blue color. You can also choose to do the Glacier Explorers tour, where you'll experience 500-year-old icebergs up close. Continue along the lake to your final destination for the evening in Mount Cook Village. Another optional activity here is a backroad 4WD tour that gives some great views of the glacier from a professional guide. 

Day 3: Drive From Mount Cook Village to Queenstown 

Lindis Pass
Bungee Jumping Off Kawarau Bridge

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—Omarama—before ascending the Lindis Pass. Follow the road to Cromwell, located at the head of the Kawarau Gorge.

Continue towards the Gibbston Valley, one of New Zealand's premier wine-growing regions. See the historic Kawarau Bridge where you can bungee jump, or relax and watch others take the plunge. Approaching Queenstown, the Remarkables mountain range comes into view as you arrive in the adventure capital of New Zealand.

Day 4: Explore Queenstown & Surrounds

Explore Queenstown and surrounds
Nightfall over 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.

Head down the Gibbston Valley Wine Trail to sample some of the region’s best Pinot, or catch a ride on a 100-year-old steamship to Walter Peak Station for dinner. Ride the Skyline Queenstown Gondola for breathtaking views, venture into Fiordland National Park, or head over the Crown Range to Wanaka. Drive through Lord Of the Rings country—or for the fanatic, jump aboard one of many dedicated LOTR tours. And after all of that—if you do really want the adrenaline rush Queenstown is known for, take your pick from the Shotover Jet River Canyons, Nevis Bungy, Canyon Swing, Zipline, Luge, or Heli-Ski.

Day 5: Drive From Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier

Blue Pools
Blue Pools in Makarora

From Queenstown you'll 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, you will enter the small town of Makarora. Here you can stop at the Blue Pools for a short walk through the native beech forest to a glacier-fed swimming hole.

Continue through the remote seaside settlement of Haast before heading up the Wild West Coast—a 373-mile (600 km) stretch of bush and native rainforest. If you're feeling adventurous, the Heli Line is an optional activity to see the glaciers from above in a helicopter. Fox Glacier welcomes you first, then comes your destination for the night—Franz Josef Township. Franz Josef is also home to the Glacier Hot Pools if you're looking to relax and rejuvenate in this unique forest paradise.

Day 6: Cross the Southern Alps to Christchurch on the TranzAlpine Train

TranzAlpine Scenic Train
TranzAlpine Scenic Train
This morning you'll drop your rental car off at the Greymouth Train Station depot, before boarding your train back to Christchurch. Considered one of the world's great train journeys, this route takes you across the South Island from the west to east coasts, crossing through Arthur's Pass National Park.
 
From the comfort of your carriage, you’ll see lush beech forests, deep river valleys, and the spectacular peaks of the Southern Alps. Descend to the windswept Canterbury Plains before arriving in Christchurch, where a driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel. For the beer lovers out there, today you can join Monteith's Brewery Personalised Bottle & Tour for a unique beer tasting where you can personalize your own bottle. 

Day 7: Christchurch Free Day with Dinner on Board the Christchurch Tram

Cathedral Square in Christchurch
Cathedral Square in 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 Island.
 
There are endless options of things to do in Christchurch. 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! For nature enthusiasts, wander the renowned Christchurch Botanic Gardens or head to Oxford Terrace in the city to find a great spot to eat or drink. You can drive an hour in any direction to ski, mountain bike, whale-watch, go on a safari, bungee jump, or play golf. Another great option is to take the winding Port Hills Road to Akaroa and tour the vines in Waipara for an authentic New Zealand wine-tasting experience.

For dinner, you'll board a unique historic colonial-style dining tram for an unforgettable moving four-course restaurant experience. Lasting two and a half hours, you'll take three laps of the tram line passing New Regent Street, the Avon River, High Street, and Victoria Square.

Day 8: Depart Christchurch

The "Garden City" of Christchurch
Today is your last day to take in the sights and grab some souvenirs for home. A private transfer will collect you from your accommodation and transfer you to Christchurch Airport in time for your departing flight. Safe travels home!

More Great 8-Day New Zealand Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other 8-day New Zealand itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights.

Map

Map of Self-Drive New Zealand: Lakes, Mountains & Glaciers - 8 Days
Map of Self-Drive New Zealand: Lakes, Mountains & Glaciers - 8 Days