South Island Wilderness Encounter
14 Day Self Drive Touring Itinerary Starting in Christchurch
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New Zealand tour itinerary name and information

South Island Wilderness Encounter

This 14 day tour explores the best of the South Island's walks and adventures. After crossing the Southern Alps on board the TranzAlpine Scenic Train you journey north to the remarkable Pancake Rocks. From there you head south for two of the most scenic road trips in the world, the West Coast Road and the Milford Road. You'll also walk sections of the Milford Track and Routeburn Track. Be sure to have your camera at the ready for the spectacular wilderness you'll encounter.

Tour summary and feature
Brief Overview & Inclusions

Self Drive Touring Itinerary

This suggested tour costs from NZD$6,405 per person (twin share, low season)

Starts in Christchurch, finishes in Queenstown

14 days/13 nights

Hotel 4 star

 Rental car included

 Viewed 26 times in the last 7 days

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Tour full itinerary
Day by Day Itinerary
South Island Wilderness Encounter - Day 1
Private transfer Christchurch International Airport to your accommodation

On arrival, you will be met by a private driver and transferred to your Christchurch accommodation.

Welcome to Christchurch City

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. A great way to explore the city or easy way to see the sights or ride the historic trams across town to the renowned botanic gardens and the unique cardboard Transitional Cathedral, that's right it is built of cardboard!

Your accommodation: The George Hotel

The George is the essence of supreme comfort. The award-winning 5 star hotel is opposite Hagley Park and just a few minutes stroll from the Botanic Gardens. It also has an award-winning restaurant, 50 Bistro onsite.
South Island Wilderness Encounter - Day 2
Private transfer accommodation to Christchurch Train Station with Christchurch Touring

A private driver will collect you from your accommodation and transfer you to the Christchurch train station in time for your train journey.

TranzAlpine Scenic Train Christchurch to Greymouth

Your early morning departure is rewarded with incredible scenery today onboard the TranzAlpine Scenic Train, considered one of the world's great train journeys. It travels between Christchurch and Greymouth, from one coast of New Zealand to the other. From your carriage you'll see the fields of the Canterbury Plains and farmland, followed by the spectacular gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri River. Your train then climbs into the Southern Alps before descending through the lush beech rain forest to the West Coast town of Greymouth, a great base for visits to Punakaiki and the West Coast glaciers.

Collect your rental car.

We have an extensive range of late model cars and 4WD vehicles from the top suppliers. See the range here or chat with your consultant about special requests such as vehicle type, size or features.

Greymouth to Punakaiki

The short drive north to Punakaiki takes you along the wonderful west coast with ample opportunity to view the surf and the steep bush clad mountains. Punakaiki is most famous for the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. Visitors are often less aware of the great many other experiences available. Located in the heart of the Paparoa National Park, the area offers guided beach, forest and mountain walks, canoeing, wildlife, horse trekking, surfing, gemstone hunting, caving and climbing, heritage sites. There are taverns, cafes and restaurants, and a great range of accommodation. The area also boasts a vibrant arts and crafts community and a cooperative gallery.

Your accommodation: Scenic Hotel Punakaiki

Scenic Hotel Punakaiki is a modern, award-winning hotel complex, architecturally designed to harmonious with the local environment. Nestled in the foothills of Papaproa National Park the resort has spectacular views of the Wild West Coast beaches while all rooms have rainforest and/or ocean views.
Meals included: Breakfast

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 41 kms / 26 miles : 0.5 hours

South Island Wilderness Encounter - Day 3
Pancake Rocks

The Pancake Rocks are a very popular tourist destination at Dolomite Point south of the main village. The Pancake Rocks are a heavily eroded limestone area where the sea bursts through several vertical blowholes during high tides. Together with the 'pancake'-layering of the limestone (created by immense pressure on alternating hard and soft layers of marine creatures and plant sediments), these form the main attraction of the area.
The Pancake Rocks are presently explorable by several walkways winding through the rock formations, some are pathways, and others are carved into stairways up and down the rock faces.  State Highway 6, the only through road on the West Coast, passes through the town.

Underworld Rafting and Glowworm Experience with Underworld Adventures

A superb four hour Black Water Rafting adventure in the Paparoa National Park. You meander through a paradise of stalactites and stalagmites in the upper dry levels of the cave. You then enter a slow moving underground river on which you float in your tube using only the natural light of an awe inspiring display of glow worms for navigation. Emerge from the cave into a remote and untouched world before leaving its tranquility for the rushing bubbling waters of the low grade Nile River Rapids.

Your accommodation: Scenic Hotel Punakaiki

Scenic Hotel Punakaiki is a modern, award-winning hotel complex, architecturally designed to harmonious with the local environment. Nestled in the foothills of Papaproa National Park the resort has spectacular views of the Wild West Coast beaches while all rooms have rainforest and/or ocean views.
Meals included: Breakfast
South Island Wilderness Encounter - Day 4
Punakaiki to Franz Josef Glacier

The drive South on State Highway 6 takes you through many West Coast towns. The first is Greymouth, the commercial centre for the West Coast. Just south of the town is Shantytown a replica gold rush town with lots of great displays from yesteryear.
The next town is Hokitika and this is a great place to explore the craft and gift stores. The Jade or Greenstone on offer in Hokitika is probably some of the best you will see in the country. The Hokitika Gorge, off the beaten track and inland a little is a spectacular detour. Turquoise waters flowing through a narrow gorge. A great short walk will deliver you to this piece of paradise.
Ross is the site of an old gold mining town and some of the old buildings and workings remain. In fact Ross is still home to one of the few working gold mines left in New Zealand and the local information centre offers you the chance to pan for gold.
Continuing south Hari Hari is the township that Guy Menzies decided to land in (or rather crash land) as he became the first person to fly solo across the Tasman.
Whataroa, a small township on the main road is where you would head off to see one of the worlds rarest birds. The entire population (somewhere between 150 and 200 birds) of the New Zealand white heron or kotuku nest at the Waitangi Roto Nature Reserve and guided tours from October to March will take you there.
Arriving in to the Glacier region you catch your first glimpse of Franz Josef Glacier from a few kilometres out as it flows from the Southern Alps. Franz Josef township is a lively place with a great atmosphere, plenty of choice to dine out and some wonderful activities to enjoy.

Okarito Lagoon Guided Kayak Trip

Kayaking is by far the best way to enjoy the flora, fauna and scenic grandeur of New Zealand's largest unmodified coastal wetland. Previous experience is not necessary. Okarito Lagoon covers more than 3240 hectares of shallow open water and is well known for its outstanding bird life, including white heron and royal spoonbill. Exploring the open water and river channels that lead you deep into the heart of the rainforest is like stepping back in time to pre-European conditions and on a clear day you enjoy fantastic views of Mt. Cook and the Southern Alps. Your guide will take you to their favourite spots where you'll discover the flora, fauna and history of the lagoon.

Your accommodation: Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier

Only a breath away from the Franz Josef Glacier, Scenic Hotel is located in the heart of Franz Josef Village. Here you will find all of the amenities you would expect, as well as being close to the shops, restaurants and activities on offer in the beautiful Westland region.
Meals included: Breakfast

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 212 kms / 131 miles : 2.6 hours

South Island Wilderness Encounter - Day 5
Explore Franz Josef

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 from a viewpoint you can walk along the valley floor to the viewpoint below the terminal face. However, to go on the glacier itself you must take a licensed helicopter tour.

Franz Josef Glacier Helihike with The Helicopter Line

Take a scenic flight over all three Franz Josef glacier icefalls. Landing high on the glacier take a two hour guided trip through some of the most beautiful terrain in the country. Your guide will choose the route as you go through a wonderland of blue ice and frozen pinnacles. You'll have endless views of the surrounding mountains and rainforest as well as plenty of opportunities to take photographs. Sure to be one of the most memorable experiences you have while you are in New Zealand. 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 operations in Queenstown or Mt Cook.

Your accommodation: Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier

Only a breath away from the Franz Josef Glacier, Scenic Hotel is located in the heart of Franz Josef Village. Here you will find all of the amenities you would expect, as well as being close to the shops, restaurants and activities on offer in the beautiful Westland region.
Meals included: Breakfast
South Island Wilderness Encounter - Day 6
Franz Josef to Wanaka

Heading south you will climb over the Fox hills before arriving at the small town of Fox Glacier. If it's a nice day enjoy spectacular reflections of snowcapped mountains in Lake Matheson, located just 5 minutes west of Fox. Heading south from fox enjoy the amazing scenery of the Southern Alps, and sneak peeks of the rugged beaches while winding through ancient temperate rainforests. Paringa Salmon Farm is worth a stop to stretch your legs, feed the fish, and stop for lunch and refreshments. At Knights Point Lookout, elephant seals can often be seen basking on the sandy beaches at the far end of the point. Crossing the Haast River you’ll turn inland and through the mountainous valley littered with waterfalls. A great suggested stop along this route is the Blue Pools. Continue on past lakes Hawea and Wanaka into the alpine township of Wanaka.

Your accommodation: Edgewater

Edgewater is Wanaka's leading hotel located right on the edge of Lake Wanaka. A short stroll to the town centres shops, cafes and restaurants and close to many walking trails the resort is ideal to explore this wonderful Alpine setting.
Meals included: Breakfast

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 283 kms / 176 miles : 3.3 hours

South Island Wilderness Encounter - Day 7
Wanaka

The alpine village of Wanaka sits on the shores of the third largest lake in the Queenstown Lakes District and is surrounded by the southern alps. Wanaka draws those seeking adventure, spectacular scenery and a relaxed atmosphere.
During winter the town's population more than triples as snow sports enthusiasts flock to the local ski fields of Treble Cone and Cardrona. Known as the gateway to the Mt Aspiring National Park, Wanaka is a walker's paradise of remote wilderness, high mountains and beautiful river valleys. For those seeking an adrenaline rush try skydiving, rock-climbing, jet boating or choose a scenic flight over Wanaka in a historic Tiger Moth airplane.

Lake Wanaka Cruise and Island Nature Walk

Lying close to the center of Lake Wanaka is Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve. A unique glacial remnant of the last ice age, the island is also the historic site of early shipbuilding and used to be a stopping place for the steamers and log rafts that once plied the lake. Accessible from Wanaka by a 35 minute boat cruise, the landing is on the eastern side of the island where the remnants of early settlement remain; a stone wharf and a hut.
A well-formed track leads from the landing and climbs steadily through native bush to near the top of Tyrwhitt Peak. Just before the top you'll see Arethusa Pool, a small lake on the island with small islands in it - very intriguing! From the top you have a sweeping 360-degree view of Lake Wanaka, its surrounding mountains and valleys, and below Arethusa Pool. The perfect spot to stop for a tea or coffee.
Going back down the track gives you more time to take in our surroundings, listening to and watching the lively bird-life, and just enjoying this unique wildlife reserve. You will feel well rewarded as you re-join the boat for the cruise back to Wanaka. Total cruise time is 1.5 hours. The trip runs subject to weather and lake conditions.

Wanaka to Queenstown

Leaving Wanaka, you head over New Zealand's highest sealed road, Crown Range Road, before dropping into Queenstown. This drive only takes about an hour, but you should allow more time to enjoy the magnificent scenery and explore the walks and many stops en route, including the Cardrona Distillery, wonderful views from Crown Range's highest point over Queenstown, the picturesque town of Arrowtown, and if time allows, even the wineries in Gibbston.

Your accommodation: Millennium Hotel Queenstown

Right in the heart of the action, the Millennium Hotel is just minutes from Queenstown's central shopping and entertainment district. Outdoor activities such as bungy jumping, white water rafting and jet boating are just some of the easily accessible activities nearby in New Zealand's adventure capital.
Meals included: Breakfast

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 60 kms / 38 miles : 0.9 hours

South Island Wilderness Encounter - Day 8
Full Day Routeburn Guided Walk with Nomad Safaris

The Routeburn track is rated one of the world's 'Top 10 Classic Hikes', combining the thrill of personal achievement with awe-inspiring natural landscapes and unique wildlife. Your day begins as you are picked up from your accommodation and set off on the picturesque Queenstown-Glenorchy road alongside Lake Wakatipu. Passing Glenorchy you will drive through the aptly named Paradise before entering the Mt Aspiring National Park, which hosts the beginning of the Routeburn track. The smooth, flat path will take you through spectacular beech forest where you may spot the Mohua (yellowhead) and Rifleman birds flitting through the trees. The track follows the Routeburn River to the west as it roars through a breathtaking gorge. You will climb a gradual ascent on your walk through the 130-million-year-old forest towards snow-capped peaks, as your guides share their knowledge of the historical significance of the track and its local flora and fauna.

Your accommodation: Millennium Hotel Queenstown

Right in the heart of the action, the Millennium Hotel is just minutes from Queenstown's central shopping and entertainment district. Outdoor activities such as bungy jumping, white water rafting and jet boating are just some of the easily accessible activities nearby in New Zealand's adventure capital.
Meals included: Breakfast, Speciality Dinner
South Island Wilderness Encounter - Day 9
Explore Queenstown

Well-known as New Zealand's ‘adventure capital’, Queenstown is home to a range of adventures, from the world's first and most famous bungy jumps to jet boat thrills, white-water rafting, and skydiving. However, Queenstown offers far more than a fast-paced, action-packed holiday. Settled on the shores of beautiful 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 stroll through the beautiful lakefront parks and gardens, browse through market stalls on weekends, dine in wonderful al-fresco restaurants, or ride on the 100-year-old historic Steamship - TSS Earnslaw to Walter Peak Station. Take the Queenstown Gondola up to Bob's Peak and soak up the panoramic views of the magnificent lake and mountain ranges. And after all of that, if you do want the adrenaline rush, Queenstown is known for taking your pick from the Shotover Jet, Canyon Swing, Zipline, Luge, or Heli-ski.

Gibbston

To the east of Queenstown, tucked inside the Kawarau Gorge is the Gibbston. Stretching to Lake Hayes in Arrowtown, Gibbston is known for its wineries.
Bordering the road on both sides the land is extensively planted with grapes, and there are many opportunities to taste the pinot noir, a variety the region is famous for. Some of its notable wineries include Peregrine, Chard Farm, Gibbston Valley and Two Paddocks.
An ideal spot for lunch is Amisfield Winery and Bistro (a must for any foodie) located at Lake Hayes, just a 10 minute drive from central Queenstown, or, for a more family-friendly option there is the Fume restaurant at Gibbston Valley Wines.
The Gibbston isn't just about wine, opposite Chard Farm is the Kawarau Suspension Bridge built in 1880 to provide access to the goldfields in the region. 108 years later it became the location of the world’s first commercial bungy jumping operation and you can still take the 43 metre leap today.

Glenorchy

Situated at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, around 45 kilometres from Queenstown is the sleepy town of Glenorchy. This picturesque township is a great place to relax in and the drive along the edge of Lake Wakatipu is stunning. Dart River Safaris operate Jet Boat wilderness tours from here and these 4 hour adventures are a must do. Just a little further along is tiny hamlet of Paradise situated on the edge of the lake just outside Mt. Aspiring National Park. There are many day and multi-day walks to explore in the Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks including some of New Zealand's iconic ‘Great Walks’ such as The Routeburn and Milford tracks.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Dart River Wilderness Jet

Journey deep into the heart of the world-renowned Mt Aspiring National Park, where myth, heritage and fantasy come to life. As one of Queenstown’s most exhilarating activities, the Wilderness Jet adventures on a spectacular journey deep into the heart of the world-renowned Mount Aspiring National Park.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Shotover Jet Canyon Jet Boat Ride

Shotover Jet is the only company permitted to operate in the Shotover River Canyons. It's a thrilling ride! Skim past rocky outcrops at close range in your Shotover Jet 'Big Red', as you twist and turn through the narrow canyons at breathtaking speeds. And a major highlight - hold tight for the world-famous Shotover Jet full 360-degree spins!

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Nomad Safaris Macetown 4WD Adventure Tour

A true four-wheel drive, off-road adventure exploring the abandoned gold mining settlement of Macetown. Follow the miners’ old wagon trail and explore the historic gold mining town. Long since abandoned after the gold rush, Macetown has now been transformed into a Department of Conservation reserve. Experience the narrow, rugged road and learn about the tumultuous history of the region as you take in the town remnants and spectacular scenery.

Your accommodation: Millennium Hotel Queenstown

Right in the heart of the action, the Millennium Hotel is just minutes from Queenstown's central shopping and entertainment district. Outdoor activities such as bungy jumping, white water rafting and jet boating are just some of the easily accessible activities nearby in New Zealand's adventure capital.
Meals included: Breakfast
South Island Wilderness Encounter - Day 10
Queenstown to Te Anau

Following the shores of Lake Wakatipu, The Remarkables mountain range towers over you as you approach the township of Kingston. You'll venture into Southland before crossing the rolling tussock lands of Mossburn (deer capital of New Zealand) and shortly arriving at Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park.

Your accommodation: Distinction Luxmore Hotel

The perfect base for all your Fiordland travel, Distinction Luxmore Hotel provides comfortable accommodation right in the heart of Te Anau.
Meals included: Breakfast

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 164 kms / 102 miles : 1.9 hours

South Island Wilderness Encounter - Day 11
Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise from Te Anau

A coach transfer from Te Anau to Pearl Harbour, Manapouri from where you cruise across picturesque Lake Manapouri to West Arm and then travel by coach over Wilmot Pass through dense rainforest. There are opportunities along the way to examine the plant life and view the spectacular scenery. Once at Doubtful Sound you board the catamaran, Commander Peak, for a 3 hour cruise of beautiful Doubtful Sound to the Tasman Sea. On board there is excellent viewing of waterfalls, rainforest and mountains. Of particular interest, if sighted, are fur seals basking on the rocks, or a resident pod of bottlenose dolphins. Rare Fiordland crested penguins are sometimes encountered in the right season. An interesting on board commentary keeps you informed and on the return journey, the vessel's engines are turned off and visitors are treated to the 'Sound of Silence'.

Your accommodation: Distinction Luxmore Hotel

The perfect base for all your Fiordland travel, Distinction Luxmore Hotel provides comfortable accommodation right in the heart of Te Anau.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch
South Island Wilderness Encounter - Day 12
Te Anau to Milford Sound

The road to Milford Sound has countless photo opportunities and short walks. The Mirror Lakes create perfectly clear reflections of the surrounding mountains and glacier formed meadows. Further along the road The Chasm Walk includes two walking bridges over the dramatic Cleddau River, while the surrounding ancient native beech forest creates a fascinating landscape. You'll pass through the Homer Tunnel, an incredible feat of engineering at 1219 metres long. Milford Sound is the only sound accessible by road, making it very popular to visit. Coming into the village you'll be greeted with an amazing view of Mitre Peak which rises spectacularly from the waters up to the sky. Real Journey cruises can take you out into the sound where you'll receive a wealth of information on how this magnificent area has been formed and experience first-hand the multitude of waterfalls that line the fiord.
Note: Please make sure to allow 2.5hrs to Milford Sound, this takes into account the current road works on the Milford Road."

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Milford Sound Cruise with RealNZ

Get up close and personal with Milford Sound on a leisurely cruise of this spectacular fiord. From thundering waterfalls to sky-high mountains to lush rainforests, Milford has it all. Experience the spray of a waterfall as you cruise close to sheer rock faces. Informative, participative and relaxed, this is the perfect way to experience Milford Sound to the fullest.

Your accommodation: Milford Sound Lodge

Experience the tranquility of Milford once the day visitors have left. Breakfast on the deck while keas look on. The Mountain View and River Chalets offer a spectacular views from the sumptuous comfort of your self contained chalet.
Meals included: Breakfast

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 117 kms / 73 miles : 1.8 hours

South Island Wilderness Encounter - Day 13
Milford Sound to Queenstown

Enjoy the wonderful drive along the Milford Road as you head back towards Te Anau. Crossing the rolling tussock lands you pass through Mossburn, the deer capital of New Zealand. Following the lake north the Remarkable mountain range towers over you as you approach the adventure capital of Queenstown.
Note: Please make sure to allow 5.5hrs to Queenstown, this takes into account the current road works on the Milford Road.

Your accommodation: Millennium Hotel Queenstown

Right in the heart of the action, the Millennium Hotel is just minutes from Queenstown's central shopping and entertainment district. Outdoor activities such as bungy jumping, white water rafting and jet boating are just some of the easily accessible activities nearby in New Zealand's adventure capital.
Meals included: Breakfast

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 277 kms / 172 miles : 3.6 hours

South Island Wilderness Encounter - Day 14
Enjoy your final morning in Queenstown before driving to the airport for your onward flight

Take in the sights of Queenstown one more time before returning your car to the airport and catching your onward flight.

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 8 kms / 5 miles : 0.2 hours

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