New Zealand: South Island Adventure19 Days & 18 Nights
- A drive & hike exploring the majestic landscapes of New Zealand’s South Island
- Tramp on the Abel Tasman, Routeburn & Rakiura Great Walk Tracks
- Behold the beauty of Stewart Island, Franz Josef Glacier & Nelson Lakes
- Local gastronomy & wines, such as Central Otago’s Pinot Noir
- Milford Sound & wildlife galore, including dolphins, sea lions & penguins
Walk and explore the length and breadth of New Zealand’s South Island on this drive and hike adventure.
Discover world-famous landscapes of lush peninsulas, snow-capped peaks, sparkling glaciers, and turquoise lakes. Enjoy coastal, mountain, forest and lakeside walks and spot a plethora of wildlife such as Hector dolphins, sea lions, Kea parrots and penguin colonies.
This 19-day odyssey offers awe and adventure in equal measure; hiking in Fiordland National Park, 2 nights on Stewart Island, where you can even spot the elusive kiwi, a smorgasbord of seasonal produce, local award-winning cool-climate wines such as Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc and the matchless beauty of the Southern Alps, which run along the entire length of this majestic and unforgettable island.
What To Expect
Self Guided | Go at your own pace on an independent active trip.
Drive & Hike | Enjoy the best of a large region by car and on foot. Day hikes in the best places. Itinerary usually inn to inn, with mapping provided. No bag transfer. Car hire offered as an option or included.
This trip is suitable for:
Families, Multi-Generational, Mixed Abilities
Ideal if you have an interest in:
- Coastal & Island
- National Parks & Trails
- Alpine & Mountains
Activity Level & Terrain
There are many varying types of walks on this itinerary, from easy, flat and short walks, to longer more challenging hilly walks on rough terrain. However they are all optional and therefore you can choose which walks you would like to do. All the walks are available in the Macs Smartphone App, so you can easily find your way using this GPS technology.
In the majority of routes are on trails and dirt tracks, which are mostly Department of Conservation walks all very well-maintained. New Zealand is a walkers paradise and well-renowned for its walking tracks, therefore it is all very well organised and sign-posted.
There are walking tracks that are seasonal, but you should be able to do them all as this tour is available in the spring, autumn/fall and summer. However, some walks are weather-dependent and since the weather can change rapidly in New Zealand is it always best to check the forecast, especially walking in high elevations. Also, if there is a Department of Conservation or tourist office nearby, we recommend checking the weather and the condition of the trail before embarking on a walk, particularly the longer walks in high terrain.
Some walks are also in avalanche territory, so again, its best to check at a DOC office or on the DOC website for any warnings (see information pack for more details).
The tracks in New Zealand are generally very well-marked and signposted so you should not have a problem finding your way. We have also provided GPX tracks for all the walks, which are accessible on the Macs Smartphone App, so you can simply follow the route on your phone. It will be essential to use the smartphone app for this particular trip as we will not have detailed route notes for all the walks.
On this tour you will stay in very comfortable, hotels, motels, lodges, B&B’s and guesthouses. Some are quite simple, for example the Beach House on the Kaikoura Coast Path and the accommodation on Stewart, Island, but these are the best these areas have to offer and they are very authentic experiences. In contrast some of the accommodation is extremely nice, so to fully enjoy this tour you need to be flexible with the varying accommodations.
Here are some examples of the accommodation that we use on this tour. However, if these are not available, we will use others which will be the same standard.
Single Rooms & Solo Walkers
We will be happy to accommodate your party with single rooms if requested, and a single supplement applies. This trip is also available to solo walkers, and a supplement is again payable (as some costs are not shared). Please note that singles may not be of the same standard as twins/doubles.
Breakfast will be provided by your accommodation in most locations. This will either be a continental or cooked breakfast, depending on what that particular accommodation provides. There are a couple of places where breakfast cannot be included, but you can buy it locally in cafés or restaurants.
Lunches and dinners are not provided but you can easily shop for both or eat in local cafes and restaurants. On the walking days you can buy a packed lunch in a local shop/café.
- 18 Nights in B&B’s, guest houses, lodges, hotels and motels
- Private transfer from Christchurch Airport to Christchurch Hotel
- Car Rental with GPS Unit
- 13 Breakfasts
- Domestic return flight to Stewart Island from Invercargill
- Water taxi from Picton to Torea Bay and Punga Cove to Picton
- Water taxi from Marahau to Anchorage Bay
- Milford Sound Cruise
- Water taxi Oban to Port William
- New Zealand Sim Card
- Information pack and Travel document
- Access to the Macs Smartphone App with GPS Tracks
- 24/7 Emergency telephone support
- Travel insurance (required)
- Travel to and from Christchurch
- Lunches and Dinners
- 6 Breakfasts
- Fuel for car
- Queen Charlotte Track private land walking fee ($12)
- Drinks and snacks
- Personal necessities
- ETA & IVL requests (mandatory as per 1 Oct 2019)
- Additional nights
When To Go
This drive and hike New Zealand: South Island Adventure trip is bookable between September 15th and May 15th. This is within the spring, autumn/fall and summer months when the weather will be more favourable, although it is subject to change quickly at any time of year!
The busiest months are January, February, March and over the Christmas/New Year season. If you wish to go during these times you will need to book far advance in order to get availability at the accommodations. The best time of year is from September to May which is when this tour operates. In the spring there will be flowers in abundance, it should be warm to hot in the summer (never hot in the mountains though) and in the Autumn/Fall it will be a bit quieter with nice foliage colours.
Please note normally it will take about 3-5 business days to confirm a booking, due to the length of this itinerary. During busy times and if you do not book 6 months in advance it could take longer.
Getting to the Start
You can fly into and out of Christchurch Airport, which is served by many airlines, both international and domestic, including Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Virgin Australia and Emirates.
Upon arrival at Christchurch Airport an Opal Charter driver will be waiting for you just outside customs. Your driver will have a board with your your name(s) on it and will transfer you to your accommodation in Christchurch.
On the final day when catching your flight from Christchurch you will drop the vehicle off at the car rental office and then a complimentary shuttle transfer to the airport is included.
Please be aware that when booking flights from the UK to New Zealand you will arrive 2 days after you set off and on return you will arrive 1 day after you set off. So, for example, if you leave on a Tuesday you will arrive on a Thursday and on return if you leave on a Saturday you will arrive home on the Sunday. This is obviously because of the time it takes to get there but also because you are travelling back and forth across the International Date Line. Similar principles apply when travelling from other places in Europe and from the USA and Canada.
The distances and ascent/descents are approximations of the recommended routes. Please be prepared by packing all necessary items, for example, proper rain gear (jacket and pants), sun hat, sunscreen. Your information pack has a detailed equipment list which includes standard walking gear such as good walking boots or shoes, warm and waterproof clothes for the cooler months and lightweight clothing for summer, and a day pack.
Car rental is included in the cost of this tour, as it is a drive and hike itinerary. When you arrive in Christchurch, a private transfer is included to take you to your accommodation. Car pick up will occur on the morning of Day 2. You will then use the car for the remainder of your trip and drop it off at Christchurch Airport on your final day.
You will be able to park your car at all of the accommodations and the walks will mostly have car parks at the start where you can safely leave it. At times you will have to leave your car in a car park with luggage inside, however New Zealand has a very low crime rate and you should feel comfortable doing so. The car will be a Toyota Corolla or equivalent (a bigger vehicle for more people)
The car rental includes tax (GST), unlimited kilometres and insurance, but excludes the first NZ$2500.00 (deductible) of any accident damage to the vehicle.
As part of your car rental a GPS unit will be provided and is included in the cost of the tour. We will provide addresses for all accommodations, sites and walks so that you can easily find your way. In case of any issues we also provide an included New Zealand SIM card so that you can make contact with any accommodation and service providers.
It is a requirement of booking this tour with Macs Adventure that you have suitable travel insurance which covers you for the activity and emergency evacuation and hospital care.
ItineraryDay 1 Arrive Christchurch and overnight
A private transfer brings you from the airport to Christchurch, where you will spend your first night. This world-famous 'Garden City' has well-established expansive parks and public gardens. The central city area and some eastern suburbs were heavily affected by the earthquake of February 2011 but the rebuild is now in full swing.
Of course you will also be getting over your jetlag (depending on where you have flown in from) so if this is the case an early night may be a good idea, so you can embark on your epic journey through New Zealand’s South Island feeling nice and refreshed.
Today drive north to the Kaikoura region (2H) via the Waipara Valley, one of New Zealand’s premier wine growing regions, producing wines that have won international awards. It is worth stopping for a vineyard visit en route. This area is also home to a range of authentic food producers and farmers, offering everything from lamb and truffles to olives.
Few places in the world can boast of such natural wonders as those offered by land and sea in Kaikoura. The mountains are very close to the sea and covered by snow 10 months per year.
Drive even further north to a farming community on the Kaikoura coast and the small settlement of Ngaroma. This track was developed by three farming families who owned the land and wanted to share a piece of heaven with the rest of the world. Tonight stay in a homely cottage with your convivial and gracious local hosts and really get to know the kiwi farming way of life in this immersive experience.
A van transfer to Buntings Gully (20 minutes) brings you to the beginning of today's walk. Enjoy the ancient remnants of the beech forest and view the Inland Kaikoura Ranges, usually covered in snow at the beginning and end of the walking season.
Upon reaching Skull Peak Shelter you can have a hot drink, fill up your water bottle and rest before the last trek up to the top of Skull Peak, where you have 360 degree panoramic views of the Kaikoura coastline. Now walk down to the coast and back to the farm.
Drive north to Picton (2H30) and view it’s very attractive seafront in a sheltered harbour. There are a multitude of shops, cafes and restaurants.
Today embark on a full day’s walk on the Queen Charlotte Track, located in Marlborough Sounds. Take an early morning Beachcomber Cruise Boat to Torea Bay and begin walking amongst the stunning scenery of the area with panoramic views of the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds. Around 4pm catch the Tiri Cat vessel at Punga Cove back to Picton. If you have time, enjoy a drink or a meal at Punga Cove's Boatshed Bar.
Make sure you take the Queen Charlotte Drive (2H45), a beautiful and winding road which offers stunning views over the sound. You’ll find that the most spectacular views are behind you so don’t hesitate to stop at the lookouts so that you can fully take them in.
Take the afternoon boat to Anchorage Bay and then walk back to Marahau along the Abel Tasman Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Named after the Dutch explorer who actually never set foot on these shores due to an altercation with the local Maori, absorb these scenic surroundings of lush beech forest and stunning sea views.
Drive to the city of Nelson (1H), which is a great place to stay over, as there is lots to explore, including some great restaurants with excellent local produce.
Today leave Nelson city after breakfast and drive into Nelson Lakes National Park (1H15) which was established in 1956. This park protects 102,000 hectares of the northern-most Southern Alps and offers tranquil beech forest, craggy mountains, clear streams and lakes both big and small.
There are 2 walks on offer today. You can either take the Black Valley walk, (5km) which starts in Kerr Bay and follows the Black Valley Stream through majestic beech forest, or take the longer, more challenging option, the St Arnaud Range Track (11km) which climbs up to just over a 1000m for spectacular views. In late spring and early summer, colourful alpine flowers will be on display.
Drive over to Arthur's Pass this morning (3H20), the highest and most spectacular pass across the Southern Alps of the South Island. On the way we recommend that you to stop at Castle Hill, a beautiful rock formation that provides an incredible view over the valley.
Upon arrival drive slightly further north of Arthur's Pass Village to the beginning of the Bealey Valley Track, a short walk that will take you through mountain beech forest and to the base of Mount Rolleston.
Take the Avalanche Peak Track today which is the only peak in Arthur’s Pass that is marked by a poled route to the summit. The climb is 1100m from the village and, on a fine day, you will be rewarded with fine views of the surrounding peaks, particularly of Mt Rolleston and the Crow Glacier on its southern face. Walk down on Scott’s Track and be sure to take the map and Arthur's Pass: Avalanche Peak route guide, available from the Arthur’s Pass Visitor Centre.
As noted the Avalanche Peak is a climb of about 1,100m, so in order to enjoy this walk you will need to be fit. If you wish to take an easier walk or if the weather is inclement, you can find plenty of other choices in the Arthur’s Pass brochure.
Drive to the spectacular glaciers region of the South Island (3H). The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers cut through dramatic glacial valleys to flow into temperate rainforest. We recommend taking a day trip with a guide on the Franz Josef as you are not allowed to go onto the glacier by yourself. Booking in advance essential.
Alex Knob Track is only for experienced walkers. You will zig-zag your way up to Rata Lookout for your first views over the Franz Josef Glacier through lowland forest, sub-alpine scrub, alpine meadows and herb fields and to the Alex Knob summit. Forest birds, such as tui, bellbird, kereru (New Zealand wood pigeon), are heard regularly along the track.
An easier walking choice today (but good fitness is still required) is the Roberts Point Track (9km), which again has great views over the surrounding landscapes.
After breakfast, make your way south to Wanaka (3H30), which is in the heart of the Otago region. Central Otago is an area of matchless beauty with cold, glacier-carved lakes, barren hills and clear skies. The hub is Queenstown, with a legendary setting looking across Lake Wakatipu to the craggy heights of the Remarkables range. Near neighbour Wanaka is Queenstown’s more restrained cousin, draped around the placid waters of its eponymous lake. The scenery here is particularly wonderful, as acknowledged by film-makers who have flocked here over the years to shoot major feature films: several scenes from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the highest concentration of locations from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and, more recently, large sections of The Hobbit.
Spend a couple of nights in Wanaka where you can appreciate this areas beauty and great walking.
On the Roy’s Peak Track you can take in breath-taking views over Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring/Tititea and surrounding peaks after a steep climb through alpine meadows and tussock grasslands to the summit. This is a popular track and one of the best day hikes. Closed between October 1st and approximately November 10th due to lambing, other options are Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain Walk, which is shorter with an option to do a low level walk. Wanaka is a walker's paradise and there are plenty of hikes here to choose from.
Today will be an amazing drive through the central Otago region and through Fiordland to Te Anau (3H), gateway to some marvellous Great Walks. It is worth visiting Arrowtown en route which is located just north of Queenstown. There is something to delay most folk here amidst quaint streets, intimate restaurants, cool bars, and historic Chinese gold settlements.
Ringed by snow-capped peaks, Te Anau stretches along New Zealand’s deepest and grandest lake of the same name.
Drive up to Milford Sound from Te Anau (1H45), then sit back and relax as your cruise departs from Milford Sound Wharf, and makes its way out past the iconic Mitre Peak. Be sure to keep an eye out for seals basking in the sun, pods of dolphins or rare Fiordland Crested Penguins that can be found seasonally within the region.
On your way back down the Milford Highway you will pass the car park for the Divide, the beginning of the Routeburn Track. Park here and walk up to Key Summit. Immediately panoramic views of snow-capped peaks begin to unfold. Take the turn off to Key Summit and see the unforgettable panorama from the top.
Today drive even further south to the town of Invercargill, (1H55) from where you will catch a domestic flight to Oban (20 mins), located on Stewart Island, New Zealand’s third biggest and one that gives you a glimpse into a simpler, slower lifestyle, in rhythm with the sea and the tides, and attuned to the natural world of bush and beach.
Nature lovers are in for a treat. In the evenings spot the famous yellow-eyed-penguin in search of a place to hide! However the icing on the cake comes in the form of the Kiwi which can be spotted here even during the day!
The Port William coastal track, part of the Rakiura Great Walk, is one of the island’s most popular half day walks. Take a water taxi to Port William so that you can enjoy the track in one direction. Cruise along the stunning coastline (20 mins) and enjoy the historical commentary, before being dropped off at the Port William wharf. Discover the former Maori Beach saw mill settlement on the 3 hour hike through the varied Rakiura National Park forest to Lee Bay.
Walk the rest of the way back to Halfmoon Bay/Oban along the small local roads.
Once you have taken the short flight back to Invercargill you can retrieve your car and then drive to the Catlins coast en route to Dunedin. This is a place where time has stood still and visitors can enjoy the forests and wildlife as well as the life-style of a bygone era. As it is close to the rich Sub-Antarctic feeding grounds, some of the world's rarest marine animals are found here - the three penguin species (including Hoiho and the Yellow-Eyed Penguin), Hooker's Sea Lions, Hector's Dolphins, Elephant Seals, and New Zealand Fur Seals. Notable also are the seabirds, Mollymawks, Shags, Gannets and millions of Titi (Sooty Shearwaters).
If you wish to stretch your legs you can take a short walk to the Cathedral Caves, which are on the Catlins Coast. The track passes through the podocarp and kamahi forest of the Waipati Beach Scenic Reserve. On reaching the beach, it’s 10 minutes to the impressive Cathedral Caves. After your exploration of this amazing coastline head north to Dunedin, the capital of the Otago region.
We recommend spending the morning in harbourside Dunedin. Nicknamed the “Edinburgh of the South”, it is incredibly proud of its Scottish heritage and given the chance locals will bring our their bagpipes and eat haggis at the drop of a hat! And the city even has it’s own tartan!
There is lots to explore and this could be the chance for you to buy some souvenirs before heading home. It has New Zealand’s oldest university, bluestone Victorian buildings and there is also a strong arts scene.
Drive north to Christchurch for your final overnight in New Zealand’s incredible South Island.
Drop your car off at Christchurch Airport (free shuttle from rental car office to the airport) before flying home or onto your next destination.
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