Discover the beauty and dynamism of New Zealand’s North and South Islands
Nature enthusiasts will be awe-struck by the Franz Josef Glacier, photographers dazzled by the Bay of Islands, food lovers swooning over Kaikoura’s cuisine and thrillseekers will have their pulses racing in Queenstown – the diversity of landscapes and activities in NZ is boundless.
Day 1: Christchurch
Kia ora! Welcome to Christchurch, New Zealand. city, you could go exploring – Christchurch has so much to explore and today is a great chance to get your bearings around this city on the Avon River. Your evening is the free to do as you wish, and with a whole new range of cafes, restaurants and bars check out, why not get a group of your travel pals together and get to know each other over a meal.
Day 2: Punakaiki
You’ll depart Christchurch early this morning on your South Island adventure. Head through the Canterbury Plains, passing sweeping farmlands framed by snow-capped peaks before hitting the wild west coast. Stop by Punakaiki today with a variety of activities you might choose to opt in for – perhaps you’d like to explore the popular Pancake Rocks and the Blowholes at Dolomite Point on a 1-kilometre walking loop, take a hike along the Pororari River Track, passing limestone cliffs and through sub-tropical forest, or simply laze beachside at this sleepy town. Afterwards, hop back on the road and make your way to Greymouth for the night.
Day 3: Franz Josef
After breakfast you have the option of discovering Greymouth’s history of coal mining – an industry that has had an interesting past and is considered the birthplace of the modern kiwi lunch break. Continue south to Franz Josef Glacier in time for lunch. This afternoon, enjoy a special visit to the West Coast Wildlife Centre to view one of the most endangered animals on earth – the kiwi. Your group leader will organise a 24-hour pass for you to be admitted into the nocturnal viewing area. This wildlife centre is home to the rarest of the rare – the rowi and Haast tokoeka kiwis, with only around 500 of each bird remaining, because of introduced predators and habitat loss. Tonight is free for you to choose what to do. (B)
Day 4: Franz Josef
Today is free to do as much or as little as you please. Franz Josef Glacier is one of the steepest in New Zealand, descending from a height of 3000 to 240 metres over a distance of 11 kilometres, and into the native rainforest of Wetlands National Park at its base. There are a number of ways in which you can visit the glacier – there’s guided glacier hikes, kayaking opportunities, or if you want to splash out, why not book yourself in on an unforgettable scenic helicopter flight, enjoying unrivalled views over the region, and some with the option of landing on the glacier for a heli-hike experience. Speak to your group leader about all the options today; they’ll be able to help you organise a memorable day.
Day 5: Queenstown
Leave Franz Josef town in your dust, driving the remainder of the West Coast. From there, wind up through the Southern Alps before arriving at Lake Wanaka for a lunch stop. Head onwards towards Queenstown, en route stopping by Arrowtown, which is famous for its Autumn festival. Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world, with something for every type of activity seeker. It’s not all about the adrenaline junkie – sure, there is bungy jumping, jetboating, paragliding and white-water rafting, but there’s also some incredible hikes to embark on, and some fine food and wine around. With two full days to experience Queenstown at your own pace, you’ll be able to achieve the perfect balance.
Days 6-7: Queenstown
Queenstown and the surrounding region will spoil you for choice over the next two days. (Dx1)
Day 8: Milford Sound
Take a break from the activity of Queenstown on a drive towards Milford Sound, known locally as Piopiotahi. Here, board a nature cruise through the fjord to the Tasman Sea, feeling dwarfed by the imposing mountains like Mitre Peak, passing the stunning Stirling and Lady Bowen falls, soaking up the airbrushed nature surrounding you and breathing in the crisp mountain air. Be sure to keep an eye out for marine life like dolphins and fur seals passing you by on the boat! Lunch is included with your cruise today. After your on-water adventure, continue on to Te Anau – home of New Zealand’s second largest lake of the same name. (L)
Days 9-10: Mt Cook
Head on your way back north towards the spectacular Aoraki, Mt Cook. Standing at an impressive 3724 m (12,316 ft), this is the highest mountain in New Zealand. One you’re there, take some time to explore the nearby lakes, stream and glaciers in the surrounding national park. You’ll have today and tomorrow to embark on some nature hikes, check out the local museum, or go in search for the world’s only true alpine parrot, the Kea. If you’d like, you may like to book in to visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, where you’ll learn about the history of the Mt Cook region and pioneer explorer Sir Edmund Hillary. Here, there will also be the option to see a 360-degree multimedia experience focused on all things space. Your group leader will have some great itineraries planned, so ask them for more information about your time in Mt Cook. (Bx1, Dx1)
Day 11: Christchurch
Enjoy a day at leisure.
Day 12: Kaikoura
Rise and shine for an early 8 am departure from Christchurch. Drive the beautiful coastline to Kaikoura, known for its rich marine life. On arrival you’re free to explore this mountainous coastal town. Two of the most popular activities on offer here are sperm whale watching and swimming with wild dolphins. If you prefer to stay dry there are plenty of hikes in the area, either along the coast or into the bush. The Peninsula Walkway offers the best chance of spotting seals among the rocks.
Day 13: Nelson – Stoke
Head for Nelson, a picturesque destination in its own right as well as your entry point to the Abel Tasman National Park should you choose to explore. Spend the afternoon exploring the town, which is full of arty shops, galleries and historic buildings.
Day 14: Nelson – Stoke
Take a day to explore Nelson with a huge amount of optional activities to choose from. Take a kayak or sailing tour through the waters of Abel Tasman National Park, or maybe a tour of the coves and bush trails. (D)
Day 15: Wellington
Take the ferry across the majestic Marlborough Sounds, where rising sea levels filled valleys with water about 10,000 years ago, resulting in picturesque waterways and isolated islands. Cross into the North Island and arrive in Wellington in the afternoon. Enjoy free time to explore the capital, perhaps jumping on the historic cable car to get your bearings. Later, maybe hit the bars with your group and get to know this quirky city a little better.
Day 16: Mt Ruapehu
Enjoy a free morning in Wellington. Maybe spend a few hours at the Te Papa Tongarewa (Container of Treasures), the result of two national museums that merged in the late 1990s. If the weather is nice, maybe take a stroll around the colourful Botanic Gardens. After lunch depart Wellington for Tongariro National Park, travelling through the North Island plains. Arrive in the afternoon and settle into your lodge. You’ll have a full day tomorrow to explore on foot, so perhaps take a gentle walk around the area or relax at your accommodation. (B)
Day 17: Mt Ruapehu
Today you can choose whether to tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. For those who don’t want to take on this all-day trek, there are plenty of shorter walks and tracks that begin near the accommodation. It’s also possible to book an optional scenic flight to get a bird’s eye view of the area.
Day 18: Taupo – Rotorua
Hit the road for Taupo, the North Island’s home of extreme sports. Stop en route at the famous Huka Falls, where the Waikato River is forced to squeeze through a narrow volcanic channel that results in a powerful flow of water. Once in Taupo you’ll have enough time to squeeze in an optional bungy jump or a ride in a speedboat. If you’d prefer, maybe relax on the shores of New Zealand’s largest lake. Continue to Rotorua and the town of Whakarewarewa, where the local Maori population can trace their heritage all the way back to the Polynesians who settled the area in the 14th century. Visit the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and explore the incredible landscape where geysers burst forth and mud pools bubble. Tonight, you have the chance to partake in an optional Maori cultural evening, including a performance and traditional hangi dinner cooked in the geothermal waters.
Day 19: Rotorua
Another free day in gorgeous surrounds means you can be as active or restful as you’d like. (B)
Day 20: Rotorua – Bay of Islands
Leave Rotorua and drive north towards New Zealand’s ‘winterless north’, so called because the weather in this part of the country is comparatively mild. Today will involve lots of time on the road, so be sure to have a book or podcast ready in case you need it. (B, D)
Day 21: Bay of Islands
Enjoy a whole day to explore the unspoiled Bay of Islands. Some options are a boat trip to the Hole in the Rock, an aptly-named rock tunnel which offers a good chance at spotting dolphins, and a full-day sailing tour around the islands. If you’d prefer to stay on land, the town of Russell offers historic buildings leftover from the its past life as a busy maritime hub in the 1800s. Now a serene holiday destination, Russell was once known as the ‘hellhole of the pacific’ for its abundance of brothels, bars and sailors.
Day 22: Auckland
Begin the journey south to Auckland, passing beautiful beaches and lush forests. Cross into the city via the Auckland Harbour Bridge, getting spectacular views of the ‘City of Sails’ as you do. Your tour ends on arrival at a central hotel.
Images courtesy of IntrepidGroup