On this five-day adventure through the South Island, explore four regions of New Zealand. Begin in Christchurch and go punting on the Avon River, followed by a ziplining excursion at the Adventure Park. Then, embark on several scenic walking tracks through the incredible terrain of Mount Cook National Park. Next, visit the town of Clyde for some sightseeing and wine tasting, followed by Queenstown for excursions like bungee jumping, skydiving, whitewater rafting, and more.

Highlights

  • Go punting on the Avon River in Christchurch
  • Take in the stunning views along scenic walks in Mt. Cook
  • Enjoy wine tasting in the preserved town of Clyde
  • Visit Queenstown for bungee jumping and skydiving excursions

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Christchurch and Self-Guided Tour Christchurch
Day 2 Visit Mt. Cook National Park Mount Cook Village
Day 3 Travel to Clyde Clyde
Day 4 Travel to Queenstown Queenstown
Day 5 Depart From Queenstown  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Christchurch and self-guided tour

Go punting on the Avon River
Go punting on the Avon River

Welcome to New Zealand! On your first day in the South Island region of New Zealand, explore the world-famous Christchurch, also known as the “Garden City.” Expansive parks and public gardens are attributed to the founding fathers. However, in 2011, the central city and some of the neighboring eastern suburbs were devastated by the earthquake. Although many of the multi-story, historic buildings experienced destruction, rebuilding efforts are now fully underway. Despite reconstruction efforts, there is still plenty to explore in Christchurch. Consider the below when structuring your self-guided tour. 

Start off by strolling through Hagley Park. This park has been at the heart of Christchurch since the 1850s and is now the most significant central city park. It offers a diverse range of entertainment and recreational facilities close to the city’s center.

Next, visit the central and unifying public space of Cathedral Square, which has been a landmark and a cultural magnet for more than 150 years. The space provides the perfect backdrop for events, with open spaces, historic architecture, and heavy foot traffic, despite being under reconstruction.

For a fun activity, consider punting on the Avon River, where a guide will give you a tour via a flatbottom boat, which is similar to a gondola ride. 

In the afternoon, embark on a journey through Antarctica without leaving Christchurch at the Antarctic Centre. You'll experience snow and ice, a storm, learn about life in modern-day Antarctica and Scott Base, and hang out with penguins. For some added fun, take a trip on the Hagglund ride, as well as a fascinating simulated 4D cruise.

To continue the adventure, take the Zipline Tour at Christchurch Adventure Park. The zipline is dual-lined, which means you can race others through the park. With four stages ranging to up to a half-mile in length, this exciting way to experience Port Hills rivals no other. You can also take a tour that lasts about 2.5 hours and includes sites of geographical and historical significance, as well as some breathtaking heights.

In the early evening, visit Sumner Beach. This family-friendly destination is great for a walk on the beach or a refreshing dip in the water. The best local swimming spots here are Taylor’s Mistake and Corsair Bay.    

When night falls, take a trip on via the Tram Restaurant, the only restaurant tram in New Zealand. You can experience a unique way to view the inner city while enjoying a delicious dinner.

Day 2: Visit Mt. Cook National Park

Hooker Lake near Mt. Cook
Hooker Lake near Mt. Cook

Today, travel to Aoraki/Mount Cook—the highest peak of the country at 12,316 feet high—where Sir Edmund Hillary made many expeditions.

There are plenty of tracks to explore onsite. Consider the below Mt. Cook National Park walks when scheduling your day.

  • Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View: Take in the blue lakes and Tasman Glacier view. Take a stroll from the Blue Lakes Shelter, past the lakes to view beyond the Moraine Wall. You can also make a pitstop to swim in the summertime. Duration: 40 minutes
  • Tasman Glacier Lake: This walk branches off the Tasman Glacier View track, just past the Blue Lakes Shelter, and leads to a viewpoint of the glacier terminal lake and the source of the Tasman River. Icebergs can be seen floating in the lake in the summer, and in winter the lake freezes over. Duration: 1 hour
  • Hooker Valley: The most popular walk in the area is the Hooker Valley walk. Starting at The Hermitage, the walk takes in the camping ground, the site of the original Hermitage, an alpine memorial, and two swing bridges until the final destination of the Terminal Lake at the bottom of the Hooker Glacier is reached. The trip will vary in length, based on your starting point. Duration: 2.5-4 hours
  • Kea Point: The Kea Point track also begins at The Hermitage. The walk is relatively flat and provides great views of Aoraki/Mt. Cook, the Mueller Glacier, and the hanging glaciers and icefalls of Mount Sefton. There is seating at the Kea Point lookout at the end of the track, so you can take in the views. Duration: 1.5-2 hours
  • Governor's Bush: Named after the 1873 governor of New Zealand, Sir George Bowen, the Governors Bush track begins in the lower part of the Mount Cook Village. Walk through the only remaining native forest in the national park with beautiful silver beech and totara trees. This walk includes a light climb. Duration: 1 hour
  • Glencoe Stream: Starting from behind the Hermitage, the walk zigzags through totara trees and emerges at a lookout near the water tanks above The Hermitage. Walkers are rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of the village and beyond to the white ice of the Hooker Glacier and Aoraki/Mt. Cook. Sunrise and sunset are good times to catch the light on the mountains. Duration: 30 minutes
  • Red Tarns Track: This track begins in the lower part of the Mount Cook Village. Cross the bridge over Black Birch stream, which is a 5-minute walk from the DOC Visitors Centre and near the public shelter. Climb the steep steps to reach the red tarns (colored because of the red pondweed in the water). More experienced trampers can continue past the tarns to summit the lowest mountain in the national park, Sebastopol, for a stunning view of Aoraki/Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki. Duration: 1.5-2 hours
  • Sealy Tarns Track: For those who don’t mind a steep stair climb, take the Kea Point track and turn off at the signpost. The walk to the tarns (small glacial-formed mountain lakes) takes between 2-4 hours and provides beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. During the summer months, many of the region’s native alpine flowers can be seen alongside the track. From Sealy Tarns, more experienced trampers can follow the alpine route to Mueller Hut. Duration: 2-4 or 6-8 hours

Following the full day of exploration, enjoy the evening in Mt. Cook Village on your own.

Day 3: Travel to Clyde

Clyde tonwship
Clyde tonwship

Today, travel to Clyde, which remains one of the most intact towns from the early New Zealand Otago Gold Rush of the 1860s. There is much to explore here:

  • Two museums
  • Scenic gardens
  • Various cafés
  • Restaurants with local fare
  • Fishing opportunities
  • Shops for souvenirs

Central Otago has a long history (for New Zealand) as a producer of pinot noir. Among local winery favorites to visit are Bald Hills and Mt Difficulty—enjoy a good meal at the restaurant here following a visit. Next, visit Big Picture Wine on SH6, which will cover the gamut of regional vino, along with inviting you into the Aroma Room to discover the scents associated with each grape. Be sure to inquire about an organized, guided tour, so you are not driving while wine tasting.

Day 4: Travel to Queenstown

Lake Wakatipu
Lake Wakatipu

Next, head to Queenstown for two days. Originally born out of the Gold Rush during the 1860s, Queenstown is now the world capital for adrenaline and outdoor fun. When planning your schedule, consider the below activities.

  • Steamship Tss Earnslaw: Take a scenic cruise on Lake Wakatipu. There is plenty of time to explore the decks and bridge, view the engine room, join a sing-along with the onboard pianist, or sit back and relax.
  • Skyline Complex: One of the first sights to captivate visitors to Queenstown, gain access by scenic gondola. The best views in the region are found here, spread out in a spectacular, 220° panorama, with breathtaking views of Coronet Peak, The Remarkables mountain range, and across Lake Wakatipu to Cecil and Walter Peaks.
  • Onsen Hot Pools: These natural, hot-water pools are very intimate, and have great views of the valley and the Shotover River.
  • Central Otago Wines: From the world's southernmost wine-producing region, taste wine from the region—there are 177 vineyards here.

For thrill-seekers, go bungee jumping from Kawarau Bridge and skydiving over The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. You can also go jet boating or whitewater rafting through the Kawarau and Shotover gorges and rivers.

Day 5: Depart from Queenstown

Farewell, New Zealand!
Farewell, New Zealand!

Today, depending on your departure time, enjoy more of Queenstown. Then, drop off your rental car at the airport before boarding your flight back home.