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South Island NZ 13-day Self-Drive Tour
The South Island of New Zealand is renowned for its mountains, lakes and glaciers. The Southern Alps, home to 3,724m-high Aoraki Mt. Cook, run along the entire length of the island. In the southwest is Fiordland National Park, with steep-sided Milford Sound. In the north is Abel Tasman National Park, known for its trails and ocean kayaking. Queenstown is famed for adventure sports like bungee jumping and skiing.
Enjoy this 13-day self-drive tour, where you have support of a local Kiwi team, your accommodation is pre-booked for you, your car is also waiting for you to pick it up, and all the hard yards are done even before you get there! A comprehensive well-planned itinerary and booking details are yours in a ring-bind folder, aong with emergency numbers and other helpful details to make sure your trip is one of a lifetime.
Slow Tours offers a number of other Tours in the Australia Pacific Region
Welcome to Christchurch city
Personal airport meet and greet, and private transfer to your accommodation
On arrival, you will be met and driven to your Christchurch accommodation. You will be provided with maps and detailed information to help you with your Self DriveTour.
Christchurch, New Zealand's garden city is steadily being transformed into a vibrant urban destination. Encompassing a large green belt, it is known for its wide tree-lined avenues and lush gardens. Take the 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 unique cardboard Transitional Cathedral.
Today you have time to explore Christchurch or maybe take a day trip to Akaroa. Following the 2011 earthquake that razed its centre 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.
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! See the world's only Cardboard Cathedral and for nature enthusiasts - wander the renowned Christchurch Botanic Gardens.
Drive an hour in any direction to ski, mountain bike, wine taste, whale-watch, bungy jump or play golf. Visit the International Antarctic Centre or take a day to go on safari at Orana Wildlife Park. Take the winding Port Hills road to the French settlement of Akaroa and tour the vines in Waipara for an authentic New Zealand wine-tasting experience.
INCLUDED - Christchurch Gondola: In the Heathcote Valley, just fifteen minutes from the heart of Christchurch city, ride the Christchurch Gondola for nearly a kilometre to the collapsed rim of an extinct volcano - which exploded six million years ago. Take in the panoramic 360-degree views of the central city, Lyttelton Harbour, Banks Peninsula, Canterbury Plains and the distant peaks of the Southern Alps. Wander the summit complex and choose one of many nature walks or visit the Time Tunnel - a dramatic reconstruction of the history of the Port Hills and Christchurch.
Today you can enjoy a scenic drive through Canterbury and the MacKenzie Country
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this driving leg is: 350 km / 217 miles: 4.1 hours. Today you will 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 Mt Cook (New Zealand's tallest mountain) from the shores of Lake Pukaki, known for its glacier-fed turquoise blue colour. Continue along the lake to your final destination Mt Cook Village.
INCLUDED - Glacier Explorers Mt. Cook: Experience 500-year-old icebergs up-close on the Mt Cook terminal lake. The Glacier Explorers tour is the only one of its kind in New Zealand - and one of only three in the world! Very few glaciers terminate into lakes and even fewer of them are accessible. See towering ice cliffs and floating icebergs from the safety of a specially designed boat. These boats provide a safe way to view unseen and inaccessible areas of New Zealand's largest glacier - The Tasma
MacKenzie Country, Waitaki River to the coast to Dunedin
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this driving leg is: 318 km / 197 miles: 3.7 hours. Today you'll leave Mt Cook National Park and travel past Twizel, one of the locations for the Lord of the Rings films. Go through Omarama - gliding capital of New Zealand - but be sure to stop at The Wrinkly Ram, a great local cafe also offering sheep shearing demonstrations. Driving through the Waitaki Valley follow the hydropower generating system towards the east coast.
Stretch your legs in Oamaru, known for its white stone buildings constructed with the local Oamaru Stone. If you were a little late off the mark this morning you may get the chance to see the blue penguins come ashore at dusk.
Continue south down the coast to Moeraki, and take a detour towards the beach to see the Moeraki Boulders, a unique geological feature well worth a look. As you arrive in Dunedin, take in the city’s Edwardian and Scottish heritage reflected in the buildings around the city centre - The Octagon.
Discover the history of Dunedin or the wildlife on Otago Peninsula. Known as the Edinburgh of the South, Dunedin City has a heavy Scottish influence. Surrounded by rugged coastal plains and windswept beaches it’s home to an eclectic mix of historical and modern architecture as well as industrial technology. Renowned for its Flemish Baroque-inspired ‘gingerbread house’ Railway Station, this university town is bustling with life. Head to the Saturday farmers market held in the aforementioned railway grounds for a taste of organic produce, handmade crepes and local honey.
Explore the many cafes and wine bars in The Octagon, then continue on a self-guided walking tour of the internationally acclaimed Street Art dotted around the city. Drive to the coast and watch the freighters passing in the distance while you sunbathe, or hire a mountain bike and test your legs on one of the many trails available in the area. For a more immersive historical experience, follow the coast to New Zealand's only castle, Larnach Castle. On your way back be sure to head to the Otago Peninsula to see the largest mainland Albatross colony in the world.
INCLUDED - Otago Peninsula Wildlife Premier Tour Including Larnach Castle : This premier package gets you closer to our unique southern ocean wildlife. See the worlds only mainland nesting place for the Northern Royal Albatross. NZ fur seals also breed here and the impressive NZ Sealions may be seen on sandy beaches. Often seen are other albatross species, petrels, penguins, dolphins and more. You will also take a tour of Larnach Castle, one of Dunedin's great landmarks where the expert guides take you on a journey back in time - into the rich, turbulent and scandalous lives of the Larnach family. Enjoy the history and superb craftsmanship of New Zealand's only castle. Climb to the parapets for 360-degree views of the Otago Peninsula and explore the stunning gardens of international significance.
Travel through the rich farmland of South Otago and Southland to reach Te Anau, gateway to Fiordland
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this driving leg is: 387 km / 240 miles: 4.7 hours. The drive to Te-Anau takes you through classic Southland farming scenery. Head off-the-beaten-track today and follow the coastline instead of the inland route. Go through The Catlins area and be sure to take a detour to Kaka Point to view its majestic cliffs and pounding surf. Continue through Invercargill to Riverton and Colac Bay, and then head north to Manapouri. From here you can embark on a day or overnight cruise to the remote Doubtful Sound - renowned for its natural beauty. Just a short way further will bring you to your lakeside destination of Te Anau, gateway to Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound.
INCLUDED - Te Anau Glowworm Caves: Begin your Te Anau Glowworm experience with a scenic cruise across Lake Te Anau on board the luxury catamaran, Luminosa, to the western side of the lake. On arrival, you'll enter the caves through Cavern House, where informative displays detail the history of this 12,000-year-old underground network. You'll then explore by limestone pathway while your guide points out hidden whirlpools, sculpted rock formations and a rushing underground waterfall. See a magical display of thousands of glowworms as you glide through the darkness in a small boat.
Today you'll journey along the Milford Road to Milford Sound. Allow plenty of time for this stunning road trip.
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this driving leg is: 233 km / 145 miles: 3.6 hours. The road to Milford Sound offers some of the most beautiful and iconic scenery in the country. From crystal clear lakes and towering mountains to lush glacier formed meadows, this area is dramatic and unyielding. Stretch your legs on the Chasm Walk, a short stroll through native beech forest to see several powerful waterfalls. Continue on through the Homer Tunnel, an engineering marvel at 1219 metres long. Arriving into the village of Milford, you will be greeted with an amazing view of Mitre Peak. A day cruise into the heart of the sound with Real Journeys is not to be missed. You’ll learn about how this magnificent area was formed and experience the wonder of the falls that line the Fiord before back-tracking the way you came.
INCLUDED - Milford Sound Nature Cruise: A two and a half hour nature cruise of spectacular Milford Sound. On board one of three purpose-built vessels, you'll experience tumbling waterfalls, towering peaks, lush rainforest and native wildlife. Learn about the region, its history and natural surroundings while enjoying a delicious picnic lunch. As you cruise, keep an eye out for dolphins, seals and penguins - frequent visitors to the fiord. Includes picnic boxed lunch.
Te Anau to Queenstown
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this driving leg is: 164 km / 102 miles: 1.9 hours. Today you’ll cross vast tussock lands on your way to Queenstown. Pass through Mossburn, the deer capital of the nation. Continue on through the Southland countryside where the road begins to hug the lake edge and the Remarkables mountain range towers over your approach into the adventure capital of New Zealand.
INCLUDED - TSS Earnslaw cruise to Walter Peak including gourmet BBQ dinner and a farm tour Go back in time on this return trip to Walter Peak High Country Farm aboard the historic TSS Earnslaw Steamship. You'll be greeted off the boat and guided through beautiful lakeside gardens to the charming homestead.
Here you'll enjoy a Gourmet BBQ dinner which your chef will prepare in front of you. The seasonal menu includes an expansive array of local produce, including succulent meats cooked on the outdoor rotisserie and a selection of delicious vegetables and salads. Finish your meal with an irresistible dessert, New Zealand cheeses and freshly brewed tea and coffee. After dinner, an entertaining and informative demonstration gives you a glimpse of life in the high country. On your cruise home, enjoy the camaraderie of a singalong with the ship's pianist or breathe in the fresh night air as you watch the lights of Queenstown draw nearer.
Explore Queenstown and surrounds
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 Mountain Range, this alpine town is surrounded by a plethora of historic, gastronomic and scenic wonders.
Take a leisurely lakeside stroll or ride the gondola for breathtaking views. Venture further afield into the Fiordland National Park or head over the Crown Range to Wanaka. Drive through Lord Of The Rings country - or for the really 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, Nevis Bungy, Canyon Swing, Zipline, Luge or Heli-ski.
Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier (via Wanaka)
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this driving leg is: 350 km / 217 miles: 4.6 hours. From Queenstown you'll cross the Crown Range - the highest sealed road in New Zealand - to arrive in the Alpine town of Wanaka, gateway to Mt Aspiring national park. Skirting the shores of both Lake Wanaka and Hawea, you will enter the small town of Makarora. Stop at Blue Pools for a ten-minute walk through native beech forest to a glacier-fed swimming hole. Continue on through the remote seaside settlement of Haast before heading up the wild West Coast - a 600 km stretch of bush and native rainforest. Fox Glacier welcomes you first, then comes your destination for the night - Franz Josef township.
Today is free to explore the glacier region, why not take a scenic flight for breath-taking views
Franz Josef is a small but lively town in the heart of the West Coast, known for its 12 km long glacier. Surrounded by lush rainforest-clad mountains the township has a vibrant and bustling atmosphere. To see the ice up close walk along the valley floor to the terminal face without a guide. However, to go on the glacier itself or get within 100m you must take a licensed tour. Strap on some crampons and give it a go with Franz Josef Glacier Guides or take the easier option and book in a helicopter landing instead. Whichever way you choose to ascend, once on top you’ll have the chance to explore the crevasses, caves and ice flows.
INCLUDED - Twin Glacier Scenic Helicopter Flight with The Helicopter Line: Take a spectacular scenic flight over two of New Zealand's most famous glaciers. Land at the head of one and view the incredible sight of this frozen river as it winds its way through anciently carved valleys. Should weather not be suitable to take this flight you are able to transfer your booking onto a similar tour on any of the Helicopter Line's operations in Queenstown or Mt Cook
Franz Josef to Christchurch Tranz Alpine Train Greymouth to Christchurch
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this driving leg is: 170 km / 106 miles: 2.1 hours. Today you’ll head north through the historic gold mining region of Hokitika. Known for its Greenstone (Pounamu) this seaside town has a rich history dating back to the 1860s. Head to the coast and take in the endless sea-views or pick up a souvenir at one of the many craft shops. Continue on to Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast and the starting point for the next leg of your journey - the Tranz Alpine Scenic Train. Drop your rental car at the Greymouth Train Station depot located inside the train station building before boarding your train to Christchurch.
INCLUDED - TranzAlpine Scenic Train: Greymouth to Christchurch: Considered one of the world's great train journeys, the TranzAlpine Scenic Train takes you from Greymouth to Christchurch. You'll travel across the South Island from the west to the east coast through Arthur's Pass National Park. From the comfort of your carriage see lush beech forest, deep river valleys and the spectacular peaks of the Southern Alps. Descend to the windswept Canterbury Plains before arriving in the city of Christchurch.
Private transfer Christchurch train station to your accommodation. On arrival into the Christchurch train station, you will be met by a private transfer driver and taken to your accommodation.
Depart Christchurch today.
You will be collected from your accommodation and a private transfer will deliver you to Christchurch airport in time for your departing flight.
Depending on when your flight departs you might have time for one last Christchurch adventure before dropping your car off at the airport and catching your flight.
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