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Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki, New Zealand

Ultimate New Zealand Self-Drive

  • TAILOR-MADE HOLIDAY IDEA

Duration

21 Days

Prices Start from

£4,900pp (ex. flights)

This 21-day self-drive itinerary offers a fantastic introduction to the great outdoors of New Zealand and covers highlights of both the North and the South Island. Wildlife tours, scenic flights, glacier adventures, overnight cruises and more.

Self-driving is a fantastic way to explore as it gives the freedom to stop en route and this trip includes some of the most beautiful scenic drives in New Zealand. Whether stopping to spot seal pups between Blenheim and Kaikoura or to photograph the beautiful turquoise water of Lake Tekapo on the drive to Mount Cook, always allow more time than you think. This diverse itinerary offers a wonderful overview of New Zealand’s highlights.

Key Highlights of this Itinerary

Tranzalpine rail journey 2 1

Tranz Alpine Train

Journey from Greymouth to Christchurch through spectacular scenery onboard the Tranz Alpine train.

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand 2

Glacier Heli Hike

Experience an exhilarating landing on the face of Franz Josef glacier by helicopter.

Humpback Whale, Kaikoura, New Zealand 3

Whale Watching

Encounter whales from the water or air off the coast of Kaikoura.

Doubtful Sound, New Zealand 4

Doubtful Sound Cruise

Overnight on Doubtful Sound waking to the sounds of silence surrounded by scenery untouched by time.

Explore our suggested itinerary

  • Day 1

    Auckland

    Arrive into Auckland

  • Day 2

    Auckland - Matamata - Rotorua

  • Day 3

    Rotorua

  • Day 4

    Rotorua - Napier

  • Day 5

    Napier - Wellington

    Drive south from Napier to Wellington

  • Day 6

    Wellington - Picton - Blenheim

  • Day 7

    Blenheim - Kaikoura

    Drive south along the coast to Kaikoura

  • Day 8

    Kaikoura

  • Day 9

    Kaikoura - Christchurch

    Drive south to Christchurch

  • Day 10

    Christchurch - Mount Cook Village

    A spectacular drive to Mount Cook Village

  • Day 11

    Mount Cook Village

  • Day 12

    Mount Cook Village - Dunedin

    Drive south to the city of Dunedin

  • Day 13

    Dunedin

  • Day 14

    Dunedin - Te Anau

    Another spectacular drive to Te Anau

  • Day 15

    Te Anau - Manapouri

  • Day 16

    Manapouri - Queenstown

    Drive to Queenstown

  • Day 17

    Queenstown

  • Day 18

    Queenstown - Franz Josef Glacier

    Drive up the west cost to Franz Josef

  • Day 19

    Franz Josef Glacier

  • Day 20

    Franz Josef Glacier - Greymouth - Christchurch

  • Day 21

    Christchurch

    Depart Christchurch

Day 1

Auckland

Day 2

Auckland - Matamata - Rotorua

Hobbiton, Matamata, New Zealand

Pick up your hire car and depart Auckland, heading south towards the geothermal town of Rotorua. En route stop to visit the now iconic scenery at Matamata, home of the shire from the epic Lord of the Rings films.

Day 3

Rotorua

Maori Carving, Rotorua, New Zealand

Spend today exploring the thermal landscapes and Maori culture of Rotorua. Peppered with natural hot springs, boiling mud pools and steaming geysers, Rotorua sits within one of the worlds most active volcanic regions.

Day 4

Rotorua - Napier

The Dome, Art Dec Architecture, Napier, New Zealand

Depart Rotorua and drive south to coastal city of Napier, known for its Art Deco architecture an wealth of vineyards.

Day 5

Napier - Wellington

Day 6

Wellington - Picton - Blenheim

The Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand

Travel from Wellington and Picton by ferry. This 92-kilometre journey between the North and South Island takes around three hours and has been described as ‘one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world’. Expect spectacular views of the Kaikoura Ranges on the South Island  as well as  sightings of dolphins and many sea birds. Journey through the Marlborough Sounds, a region of bush covered mountains, small islands, crystal clear waters and secluded bays. On arrival in Picton drive to Blenheim to sample some world class wines.

Day 7

Blenheim - Kaikoura

Day 8

Kaikoura

Humpback Whale, Kaikoura, New Zealand

Spend the day exploring Kaikoura and its fabulous coastline, renowned for its abundant marine life. Due to the teeming food supply in its icy waters, whales, seals and dolphins are frequently spotted year-round in the area. View some of the oceans giants by boat or by air before dining on fresh crayfish.

Day 9

Kaikoura - Christchurch

Day 10

Christchurch - Mount Cook Village

Day 11

Mount Cook Village

Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand

At 3,754 metres Aoraki-Mt. Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain, located deep in the heart of the Southern Alps. Spend the day enjoying a range of activities – take a scenic flight including a glacier landing, explore on foot and spend evenings stargazing at the Mt. John Observatory – this region is one of the few gold-rated dark sky reserves in the world.

Day 12

Mount Cook Village - Dunedin

Day 13

Dunedin

Little Blue Penguin, Dunedin, New Zealand

Spend today in search of albatross, penguin and Hooker sea lion on the rugged beaches around Dunedin.

Day 14

Dunedin - Te Anau

Day 15

Te Anau - Manapouri

Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

Join your small overnight cruise in Manapouri and spend the night surrounded by the epic scenery of Doubtful Sound. Take to the water by kayak to spot seals, penguin and dolphin, dine on delicious cuisine and wake to the sounds of silence.

Day 16

Manapouri - Queenstown

Day 17

Queenstown

Cityscape of queenstown with lake Wakatipu from top, new zealand, south island

Spend a day at leisure to relax and enjoy the views of Lake Wakatipu, head into Queenstown for some shopping or a bite to eat or get your adrenaline fix with some jet boating.

Day 18

Queenstown - Franz Josef Glacier

Day 19

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Today the chance to experience an exhilarating landing on the face of Franz Josef glacier by helicopter.

Day 20

Franz Josef Glacier - Greymouth - Christchurch

Tranzalpine rail journey 2

Drive north to the town of Greymouth where you will leave your hire car and board the Tranz Alpine train to Christchurch. Considered one of the world’s great train journeys, the route begins on the Tasman Sea, through Arthurs Pass National Park to the Pacific Ocean. From your carriage, view the lush rainforest of the west coast, the spectacular mountains of the Southern Alps, gorges and valleys of the Waimakariri River before descending onto the farmland of the Canterbury plains and the city of Christchurch.

Day 21

Christchurch

Our travel experts can tailor this itinerary to suit you.

More details

Seal, Doubtful Sound, New Zealand
Fur seal

Wake to the Sound of Silence

Smaller and less visited than Milford Sounds, Doubtful Sounds is just as spectacular. A wonderful way to explore the waters of this fiord is by overnight cruise, joining a small boat with a maximum of 12 passengers plus an attentive and knowledgeable crew. Wake up on the still, glass like surface of the fiord in utter silence. Listen to the sound of waterfalls cascading and watch the shifting mists around towering cliffs before kayaking in search of seal, penguin and dolphin.

As evening draws in, catch crayfish for your supper before watching the sunset from the deck. This experience is a highlight for many. Rain or shine, the wilderness scenery of the fiords is beautiful. However, do be prepared for rain as this part of the world typically experiences rain on 300 of our 365 days.

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View from the train windows of TranzAlpine railway over Waimakariri river gorge on journey to Arthurs Pass
View from the window of the Tranzalpine train

Cinematic Scenery by Train

This holiday includes a five hour journey across the South Island, from Greymouth to Christchurch on board the Tranz Alpine scenic train. Considered one of the world’s most scenic train journeys, this journey is spectacular whatever the season. Traversing epic scenery from the majestic Southern Alps to Arthurs Pass, the open vistas of the Canterbury Plains, miles of native beech forests and the waters of the Waimakariri River.

Seats are spacious and reclinable and all have windows framing the beautiful scenery. There is also an open carriage for those preferring to view the scenery from outside.

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Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand
Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Heli Hike

A heli hike is one of many iconic activities in New Zealand and a fabulous way to experience the ancient glaciers and mountain landscapes of the South Islands west coast. Before landing on the ice flow, take to the skies for a short scenic flight giving a perspective of how vast the glaciers are. Upon landing your guide will choose a route to follow depending on the movement of the ice that day.

Don crampons and walk on the glacier past towering walls of ice, sculpted over years, entering ice blue tunnels and learning about the history and future of the glacier from your knowledgeable guide. The views are breathtaking.

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Kaikoura, New Zealand
Kaikoura

Giants of the Ocean

The east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, and in particular the coast of Kaikoura is home to a wealth of marine life. A three kilometre deep canyon, just off the coast creates an ideal environment for whales, dolphin, orca and seals as well as albatross. Sperm whales, dolphin and orca can be seen in Kaikoura year-round while migrating humpback, pilot, blue and southern right whales can normally be seen between June and August. Stay on dry land and spot them from the shore, head out by boat or take to the skies for an aerial search.

Beautiful New Zealand vineyard

Vineyards Explorations

The southern end of the North Island is home to the Art Deco city of Napier and some world-class vineyards. For a vineyard tour with a difference we recommend taking to the open road by bike, stopping to sample Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah wines alongside gourmet cuisine. Alternatively explore the architecture of Napier and surrounding vineyards by 1930’s vintage vehicle.

Accommodation

Below you can see some of the wonderful places we recommend you stay on your journey.

The Hermitage £££££

  • New Zealand

Ringed by the magnificent snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, the Hermitage has been welcoming visitors to Mount Cook National Park since 1884. Interiors are comfortable and modern, and the 164 rooms range from suites to more motel style accommodation. Most rooms, as well as the restaurant, make the most of the fabulous mountain views.

View Property

The George Hotel £££££

  • New Zealand
  • City

Overlooking Hagley Park and the River Avon in central Christchurch, The George Hotel has 53 elegant rooms, most of which make the most of the verdant views from either a balcony or floor to ceiling picture windows. The two restaurants serve award-winning innovative cuisine and the service levels are extremely high.

View Property

Breckenridge Lodge £££££

  • New Zealand
  • Vineyard

Breckenridge Lodge is nestled in the picturesque valley of Omarunui, a short drive from the Art Deco city of Napier. Two acres of beautiful gardens surround the property, lined with pathways leading to hidden corners, herb gardens, orchards and areas planted with native trees. A Mediterranean feeling flows through the property and the five suites have private patios overlooking the vineyards below. Chef and owner Malcolm is extremely passionate about food and wine and as such a stay here ensures a gourmet experience.

View Property

Let’s chat


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Excellent organisation and itinerary, very professionally put together in an attractive package. Plus a great travel app. Amy was efficient, helpful and clearly knowledgeable.

New Zealand

A note on price

Prices will vary depending on the time of year you are travelling and accommodation choices. In this itinerary we suggest a mixture of charming bed and breakfasts and boutique hotels.

Prices do not include international flights. Please ask one of our Travel Experts for an accurate quote. Flights purchased through Steppes Travel departing from the UK are ATOL protected.

This Itinerary
Low Season
From £4,900 Per person
High Season
From £5,495 Per person

When to travel

New Zealand in January

The long warm sunny days make this a wonderful time to visit, but accommodation fills up quickly. Locals have their summer holidays so add to visitor numbers.

New Zealand in February

The warmest month for much of the country. Locals return to work, easing some pressure on accommodation. A great time to enjoy South Island summer.

New Zealand in March

The best month to visit, as summer crowds disperse but beautiful warm weather generally prevails. An ideal time for a more spontaneous trip.

New Zealand in April

Temperatures fall, especially in the South Island. The autumn colours can be spectacular, and you may still get away with shorts in Auckland.

New Zealand in May

Autumn sweeps through the North Island, reinvigorating the green rolling hills. A quiet time of year to travel, after summer and before ski season.

New Zealand in June

The start of the ski season in the North Island, with the first snow showers beginning to fall. Crisp clear sunny days can still be found on the South Island.

New Zealand in July

The snow begins to settle and international snow sports teams can be spotted doing their off-season training.

New Zealand in August

The coldest month, but still plenty to see and do. Ski season is in full swing, and humpback whales can be spotted near Kaikoura on their way north.

New Zealand in September

Spring is in sight, but there is still plenty of snow on the mountains. Newborn lambs can be spotted in the vibrant green fields.

New Zealand in October

The snow melts and the rivers are at their peak, making for an exciting time to do white water sports. Longer days allow for more time to enjoy the outdoors.