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 to Queenstown. Next, you'll explore 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, and mountain biking!


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

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Christchurch, Explore Christchurch
Day 2 Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook, Explore Aoraki / Mount Cook
Day 3 Drive to Queenstown via Twizel & Ōmarama Queenstown
Day 4 Explore Queenstown & Optional Activities Queenstown
Day 5 Drive to Franz Josef Glacier Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier
Day 6 Return to Christchurch via the TranzAlpine Scenic Train Christchurch
Day 7 Free Day in Christchurch, Dinner on Board the Christchurch Tram Christchurch
Day 8 Depart Christchurch  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch, Explore

Christchurch city center
Christchurch City Center

Welcome to Christchurch! Your driver will be waiting at the airport to transfer you to your hotel. New Zealand's second-largest metropolis is known for its green spaces like Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens. As it's nicknamed the Garden City, taking a stroll through is always a good idea. For history fans, take a 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.

Day 2: Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook, Explore

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 take a tour to see Aoraki / Mount Cook's 500-year-old icebergs up close. Continue along the lake to your final destination for the evening in Aoraki / Mount Cook, which sits at the base of its namesake mountain.

Day 3: Drive to Queenstown via Twizel & Ōmarama

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

Continue toward 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 the world.

Day 4: Explore Queenstown & Optional Activities

Explore Queenstown and surrounds
Nightfall over Queenstown
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

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 many historic, gastronomic, and scenic wonders.

Head down the Gibbston Valley Wine Trail to sample some of the region's best pinot, or ride 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 Wānaka. Drive through "The Lord of the Rings" (LOTR) country—or for the fanatic, jump aboard one of many dedicated LOTR tours. And after all of that—if you want to experience 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 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 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. 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 / Waiau Township.

Day 6: Return to Christchurch via the TranzAlpine Scenic 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 to return 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 your driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel.

Day 7: Free Day in Christchurch, Dinner on Board the Christchurch Tram

Cathedral Square in Christchurch
Cathedral Square in Christchurch

Following the 2011 earthquake that razed its center and many 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 / Ōtākaro, 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 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 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!

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