Tailor-Made Holiday

New Zealand - South Island Self-drive

From the Catlins in the south to Abel Tasman in the north

25 days

from $7,295pp (excluding flights)

The most dramatic of New Zealand’s two islands, this self-drive holiday explores the South Island in depth, taking in the best of the magnificent scenery on offer.

  • Search for fur seals and hooker sea lions against the rugged coastline of the Catlins
  • Explore the spectacular scenery of Milford Sound
  • Soar above Mount Cook and the west coast glaciers on a scenic flight
  • Kayak along the Abel Tasman coastline

East Coast - from Christchurch to the Catlins

Spend a night in Christchurch before beginning this self-drive holiday through New Zealand’s South Island. Head inland to the heart of the island and the mountains, lakes and glaciers of Mount Cook National Park to spend a day exploring on foot.

Journey south to Dunedin, passing through iconic Lord of the Rings scenery and the mysterious spherical Moeraki boulders. Take time to explore the rugged coastline around Dunedin and enjoy a trip on the Taieri Gorge Train, through spectacular landscapes, peppered with century-old tunnels and iron viaducts.

Next, the Catlins; a less visited area of craggy coastline with forested interiors dotted with waterfalls, plus some wonderful flora and fauna.  

Fiordlands and Lakes

Cross the island to the lakeside town of Te Anau, gateway to the Fiordland National Park. After a night overlooking the lake take the stunningly scenic journey to Milford Sound for a cruise on this iconic fiord before returning to Te Anau.

Journey north to another beautiful lakeside town, Wanaka, travelling via Queenstown and the Remarkable Mountain ranges. Spend two nights at the quirky Tin Tub Lodge exploring this charming alpine village. 

Lake Moeraki and Franz Josef Glaciers

Lake Moeraki is located on the west coast and is home to spectacular beaches, lowland rainforests, lakes and rivers. Relax and explore on foot or by canoe in search of fur seals and crested penguins. Further north are the glaciers of Franz Josef and a truly spectacular scenic flight over some of the country’s most incredible scenery.

Arthurs pass and Kaikoura

Travel inland spending a few days exploring the diverse terrain of Arthur’s Pass National Park before crossing back to the east coast and the coastal town of Kaikoura. Stay in a treehouse at Hapuku Lodge and spend your days in search of fur seals, dolphins and whales.

Blenheim and Abel Tasman

The northern part of the South Island is known for its world-class wine and glorious coastline. Drive to Blenheim and onwards via Queen Charlotte Drive, passing panoramic vistas to the beaches and turquoise waters of Abel Tasman National Park. Kayak along the coastline stopping for a picnic lunch at a sheltered cove.

Punakaiki and the Tranz Alpine Train

Leaving the coastal trails of Abel Tasman behind, drive southwards down the west coast to the limestone rock formations and blowholes of pancake rocks. Board the Tranz Alpine train in Greymouth for a 200-kilometre journey east on one of the world’s most scenic train journeys, ending in Christchurch.

For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

Price Excluding Flights $Flight cost from 
$ 9848.25 $ 1350
  Click here to see what is included/excluded

what is included

  • Accommodation as detailed
  • All excursions and sightseeing as detailed
  • Meals as detailed
  • Milford Sound cruise
  • Private transfers as detailed
  • Rental car as detailed
  • Tranz Alpine train tickets

what is excluded

  • Any visa requirements
  • Gratuities
  • International flights
  • Meals unless indicated


Itinerary at a glance

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Day 1

Day at leisure in Christchurch

You will be staying at The George Hotel, bed and breakfast

Day 2

Your hire car will be delivered to your hotel this morning.

Drive from Christchurch to Mount Cook Village

Drive through the heart of the South Island, crossing the vast Canterbury plains. Catch your breath in Geraldine before continuing through the charming market town of Fairlie. Ascending Burkes pass arrive at 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 of Mt Cook Village.

The driving distance is approximately 350 kilometres with a journey time of around four hours.

You will be staying at The Hermitage, bed and breakfast

Day 3

Hooker Valley Half Day Guided Walk
Take a guided tour of the Hooker Valley, providing breath-taking views of some of New Zealand's highest peaks. Walk with a knowledgeable guide who will talk about the unique flora and fauna of the region as well as the local history. From The Hermitage Hotel, head to the White Horse Hill camping ground. The journey takes in the poignant Alpine Memorial and passes over the turbulent Hooker River twice by swing bridge to unsurpassed vistas of Aoraki Mount Cook's south face and the surrounding glaciers and mountains.

The walk is four and a half kilometres along a well-maintained track.

You will be staying at The Hermitage, bed and breakfast

Day 4

Drive from Mount Cook Village to Dunedin

Depart Mount Cook National Park and travel past Twizel, one of the locations for the Lord of the Rings films. Drive through Omarama, gliding capital of New Zealand and maybe stop at The Wrinkly Ram, a great local cafe also offering sheep shearing demonstrations. Driving through the Waitaki Valley follow the hydro power 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 set off late this morning you may get the chance to see the blue penguins come ashore at dusk.

Continue south down the coast to Moeraki taking a detour towards the beach to see the spherical Moeraki Boulders, a unique geological feature. As you arrive in Dunedin, take in the city's Edwardian and Scottish heritage reflected in the buildings around the city centre.

The driving distance is approximately 320 kilometres with a journey time of around four hours.

You will be staying at Camp Estate at Larnach Castle, bed and breakfast

Day 5

Taieri Gorge Railway
Taieri Gorge Railway is one of the world's great train trips. Departing daily from downtown Dunedin this train travels through some of New Zealand's most beautiful scenery, inaccessible by road, and passes incredible engineering from a bygone era. The trip has a full commentary, the train has open air platforms, all carriages are heated and there is an on-board cafe. There are also options to link to and from Queenstown and a seasonal coastal trip.

You will be staying at Camp Estate at Larnach Castle, bed and breakfast

Day 6

Drive from Dunedin to The Catlins

The journey between Dunedin and The Catlin's is one that should not be rushed. Taking the eastern half of the Southern Scenic Route the road offers some great Southland and coastal scenery and some fantastic walking opportunities. The popular seaside village of Kaka Point is located on Molyneux Bay. Nugget Point, just a short drive along the coast road offers spectacular Southern Ocean views with fur seals and sea lions basking on rocks, while Cannibal Bay, just a few kilometres from the main road is a great place to walk the secluded beach and to look for hooker sea lions. There are countless opportunities for short walks to interesting places all of which are well signposted.

Approximate driving distance and time for this journey is 100 kilometres which should take around one hour.

You will be staying at Catlins Farm Stay, bed and breakfast

Day 7

Curio Bay Walk
Best known as the site of a petrified forest which is around 180 million years old, Curio Bay also hosts a yellow-eyed penguin colony. This breed is arguably the rarest of penguin species with approximately 1,600 breeding pairs in existence. The Bay, along with neighbouring Porpoise Bay, is home to the Hector's dolphin and southern right whales are also occasionally observed offshore.

You will be staying at Catlins Farm Stay, bed and breakfast

Day 8

Drive from the Catlins to Te Anau

The drive to Te Anau follows the beautiful Southern Scenic Route. The first stop along the way is the township of Owaka which hosts a museum telling the history of the region while just a short detour from the main road and an easy 20-minute walk will deliver you to the Purakaunui Falls, a popular photo stop. Curio Bay is home to one of the world's most extensive and best-preserved examples of a Jurassic fossilised forest, best viewed at low tide. There is also a small population of the endangered yellow eyed penguins here. Take your time to explore the many bays, beaches and wonderful scenery.

Continue to Invercargill, capital city of the Southland Region. The onward drive to Te Anau passes through some wonderful and often overlooked regions of Southland. Riverton is Southland's oldest community established by whalers in the 1830's and many of the original cottages have survived throughout the town. The Riverton Early Settlers Museum tells the story well. Also pass Orepuki, 'almost' a gold town, the early sawmilling settlement of Tautapere and the Clifden suspension bridge which dates back to 1899.

The Blackmount Road offers some great side trips if time allows including the 50-kilometre round trip to Lake Haruoko, New Zealand's deepest lake. The Blackmount Road continues to the small township Te Anau gateway to Fiordland National Park.

Approximate driving distance and time for this journey is 350 kilometres which should take around four hours.

You will be staying at Fiordland Lodge, half board

Day 9

Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound

The road to Milford Sound offers some of the most beautiful and iconic scenery in the country so allow time for plenty of photo stops. From crystal clear lakes and towering mountains to lush glacier formed meadows, this area is abundant with picture perfect scenes. Stretch your legs on the Chasm Walk, a short stroll through native beech forest to see several powerful waterfalls. Continue through the Homer Tunnel, an engineering marvel at 1,219 metres long. Most stops and points of interest are well sign posted on the 121 kilometre road.

Milford Sound Discover More Cruise
This three-hour Milford Sound cruise explores parts of the fiord inaccessible to other boats with the modern vessel limited to 95 passengers. Two on-board nature guides are experts on sights, sounds and wildlife and guests are invited to ask questions and delve deeper to learn and experience more. See Milford from a local's perspective, getting soaked under spectacular waterfalls and viewing marine life at the Milford Discovery Centre. The centre offers a rich, interactive experience with a journey through the natural history, geology and conservation efforts of this unique marine reserve. Descend 10 metres down 64 steps underwater into a spacious viewing chamber with uninterrupted 360-degree views of the undersea world. Includes complimentary tea and coffee and lunch.

Drive from Milford Sound to Te Anau

You will be staying at Fiordland Lodge, half board

Day 10

Drive from Te Anau to Wanaka

Crossing rolling tussock lands pass through Mossburn, the deer capital of New Zealand before continuing north through Southland countryside towards Lake Wakatipu. The road now hugs the lake edge and the Remarkable mountain range towers above on the approach to Queenstown. The old gold mining township of Arrowtown is worth a detour before heading over the Crown Range Road. At 1,076 metres the Crown Range Road it is the highest sealed road in the country and offers spectacular views over the Wakatipu basin. Approaching Wanaka, the wonderful alpine lake welcomes you to the town.

The driving distance is approximately 225 kilometres with a journey time of around three hours.

You will be staying at Tin Tub Luxury Lodge, bed and breakfast

Day 11

Explore Wanaka
The picturesque lakeside town of Wanaka offers a wide variety of activities. In winter it is without doubt New Zealand's premier ski destination with its proximity to Treble Cone and Cardrona. Mt Aspiring National Park sits to the western edge of the lake and offers some wonderful walking and cycling tracks for all abilities. Fishing, sailing and kitesurfing are also popular pastimes on the lake and the many beach access points provide great picnic and relaxing spots. When not exploring the natural wonders, the compact town centre offers a lovely choice of cafes and restaurants.

You will be staying at Tin Tub Luxury Lodge, bed and breakfast

Day 12

Drive from Wanaka to Lake Moeraki

Follow the shores of Lakes Wanaka and Hawea before entering the township of Makarora, the gateway to Mt. Aspiring National Park. The Blue Pools here are a lovely 30 minute walk through pristine native beech forest. Descending into Mt. Aspiring National Park and towards the Haast Pass, crashing rivers and waterfalls are around every corner. Crossing the Haast River you are now truly on the wild west coast, a 600 kilometre stretch of bush, rainforest and podocarp forest and home to the tranquil bush surroundings of Lake Moeraki.

You will be staying at Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki, half board

Day 13

A Day at Wilderness Lodge
Wilderness Lodge is a paradise for nature lovers and for a relaxing retreat away from the pressures of the modern world. On arrival you will be given maps and information on the walk network, forest and seacoast trails and canoeing.

The Lodge walk's network covers 10 kilometres around the Lower Moeraki Valley and seacoast, with scenery ranging from ancient rainforests to coastal tracks and the chance to see penguin, a wealth of birdlife and native fauna. Fish for brown trout or take a gentle canoe on the lake. Alternatively take a guided walk to learn more about the local wildlife and fauna or by night under spectacular night skies when glow-worms light up the landscape and freshwater crayfish can be seen.

You will be staying at Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki, half board

Day 14

Drive from Lake Moeraki to Franz Josef Glacier

Continuing along the wild west coast pass through ancient podocarp forests. At Knights Point Lookout an interesting display tells of shipwrecks in the region and at the right time of year it is possible to see elephant seals basking on the far beaches.

Fox Glacier welcomes you to the glacier region and Lake Matheson, the famous reflection lake, is a five-minute drive west of Fox Township. Historic Gillespie's Beach, a wilderness of crashing surf and distant snow-capped mountains, known for its seal colony and colourful gold mining history, is 25 minutes west by car. Access to Fox Glacier is well signposted from the highway and a short walk will reward you with some great views of the largest of the West Coast glaciers.

Franz Josef township is a further 45 minutes away.

You will be staying at Te Waonui Forest Retreat, half board

Day 15

The Grand Traverse Scenic Flight by Aeroplane
The flight of a lifetime, the "Grand Traverse" is a spectacular scenic flight over Mount Cook and Westland National Parks. This magnificent flight encompasses two World Heritage National Parks and 200 kilometres of New Zealand's most spectacular scenery. The contrast of colours is beautiful with the turquoise glacial lake against the tussock covered sheep stations. Journey over Aoraki Mt Cook National park to view New Zealand's longest glacier, The Tasman. From there cross the main divide into the Westland National Park, encompassing the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers which spill down to the rainforests of the west coast.

Every passenger has a window seat and all aircraft have wings-above to ensure optimum viewing below. The pilot provides a full and informative commentary during the 50 minute flight.

You will be staying at Te Waonui Forest Retreat, half board

Day 16

Drive from Franz Josef to Arthur's Pass

A journey time of approximately three hours.

You will be staying at Wilderness Lodge, half board

Day 17

Explore Arthurs Pass National Park and some of the walking trails.

You will be staying at Wilderness Lodge, half board

Day 18

Drive from Arthur's Pass to Kaikoura

Travelling from the Southern Alps to the coast, this drive offers spectacular views of braided river valleys. Pass through Castle Hill Scenic Reserve, dotted with remarkable rocky outcrops, an area popular for hiking.

Descend on to the Canterbury Plains and journey through the rich farmland surrounding Christchurch before heading north through the small towns of Rangiora and Oxford. Continue on State Highway 1 through the Waipara Valley and if time allows maybe stop at Hanmer Springs for a soak in the hot mineral pools.

The road hugs the coast for the final stretch of this drive, before arriving at Kaikoura. Keep a lookout for dolphins which are often seen swimming just off shore as well as New Zealand fur seals basking by the roadside.

Driving distance and time for this journey is approximately 290 kilometres which should take around three and a half hours.

You will be staying at Hapuku Lodge, half board

Day 19

Day at leisure to explore.

You will be staying at Hapuku Lodge, half board

Day 20

Drive from Kaikoura to Blenheim

Heading north from Kaikoura, the road hugs the shore for approximately 50 kilometres with the South Pacific Ocean to your east and to the west the towering Kaikoura Ranges. There are many opportunities to view native wildlife such as seabirds and New Zealand fur seals; one of the best seal watching locations is Ohau Point, approximately 25 kilometres north of Kaikoura where you can observe the adults on the shoreline and the pups frolicking in the waterfall, just a short walk from the road.

Crossing the dry hills of the Marlborough ranges head towards Marlborough, New Zealand's largest wine producing region. Blenheim sits right at the heart of Marlborough and is ideally located to enjoy an afternoon sampling the local produce.

The driving distance is approximately 116 kilometres with a journey time of around one and a half hours.

You will be staying at The Peppertree, bed and breakfast

Day 21

Drive from Blenheim to Abel Tasman

Take a short drive to the small port of Picton where the interislander ferry connects with Wellington. A bustling seaside destination, Picton is well equipped with shops and cafes and is also the starting point for the famous Queen Charlotte Walk. Travel along Queen Charlotte Drive, traversing the length of the Marlborough Sounds coastline with magnificent views throughout.

Continue through the small port town of Havelock, before the highway between Nelson and Picton crosses the pelorus river and the famous pelorus bridge. From here there are several forest walks should you wish to stop and stretch your legs. Traverse Tasman Bay passing through Motueka to arrive on the outskirts of Abel Tasman National Park.

Driving distance and time for this journey approximately 185 kilometres which should take around three hours.

You will be staying at The Waters, bed and breakfast

Day 22

Explore Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park, known for its coastal hiking track has an abundance of golden beaches, inlets and private lagoons. The park has a mild climate and is a special place to visit at any time of the year. Enjoy a scenic cruise through the sounds or take a kayaking tour around it's many sheltered bays. Enjoy the melodious birdsong and get up close to some of the park's many animal residents, including native bats, geckos, birds and marine mammals such as fur seals and dolphins.

You will be staying at The Waters, bed and breakfast

Day 23

Drive from Abel Tasman to Punakaiki

The drive today follows the Buller Gorge and offers some wonderful river scenery. The town of Murchison is a quiet place and a great lunch stop.

The first major town (by this region's standard) is Inangahua and a small museum tells of the earthquake that hit the region in 1968 leaving 70% of the buildings damaged or inhabitable. Further along the river is Whites Creek and New Zealand's longest swing bridge. Cross the river for magnificent views of the gorge and once on the other side there are short bush walks, jet boat rides and some of the historic gold mining remnants.

The spectacular western coastline guides you to Paparoa National Park and to Punakaiki where it is possible to take a walk along the paths around the pancake rocks.

The driving distance is approximately 330 kilometres with a journey time of around four hours.

You will be staying at Punakaiki Resort, bed and breakfast

Day 24

Drive from Punakaiki to Greymouth

Enjoy the scenic drive back along the coast to Greymouth. Just south of the town of Greymouth is Shantytown a replica gold rush town with lots of displays from yesteryear and a great place to spend a few hours.

Approximate driving distance and time for this journey is 40 kilometres which should take around one hour.

Tranz Alpine Scenic train Greymouth to Christchurch
Considered one of the world's great train journeys, the Tranz Alpine scenic train journeys between Greymouth and Christchurch. Travel from the Tasman Sea through Arthurs Pass National Park to the Pacific Ocean.

From your carriage, rise from the lush rainforest of the west coast to the spectacular mountains of the Southern Alps. Traveling through gorges and the valley of the Waimakariri River descend onto the farmland of the Canterbury plains before arriving in the city of Christchurch.

You will be staying at The George Hotel, bed and breakfast

Day 25

Day at leisure in Christchurch


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

The George Hotel

The George Hotel

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....

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Te Waonui Forest Retreat

Te Waonui Forest Retreat

Te Waonui Forest Retreat is nestled amid native bush on the West Coast of New Zealand....

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Hapuku Lodge

Hapuku Lodge

In one of the South Island's most spectacular settings, sandwiched between the ocean and snow-capped peaks, Hapuku Lodge offers the chance to stay in a tree house suspended 10 metres up in native Manuka trees....

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The Hermitage

The Hermitage

Ringed by the magnificent snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, the Hermitage has been welcoming visitors to Mount Cook National Park since 1884....

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Fiordland Lodge

Fiordland Lodge

Set on the edge of the Fiordland National Park, a three-million-acre wilderness area of mountains, lakes and rainforest, Fiordland Lodge sits above Lake Te Anau....

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For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

Destination Experts

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Amy Waters, Travel Expert

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Deborah Brock-Doyle, Travel Expert

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For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

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