Spend 9 days on a self-drive adventure round South Island, New Zealand on this independent trip designed to showcase the highlights of this spectacular region. Explore these stunning landscapes, from snow-capped peaks to glacial valleys to the fantastic fjords! Thrill seek in Queenstown and whale watch in Kaikoura, staying in some of our favourite locally run B&Bs along the way!
Start your journey in the action packed ski spot of Queenstown, one of the most beautiful cities in New Zealand overlooked by snow-capped mountains and located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. From here it’s on to Franz Josef and the glacier, you can take a helicopter to the top of the glacier and hike or a more relaxed walk along the glacial valley if you wish, before relaxing in the hot pools, a perfect end to the day! You will also visit the Nelson region and Kaikoura to go whale or dolphin watching before finishing in Christchurch, this self-drive trip gives you the flexibility of the open road with beautiful boutique accommodation along the way!
Buzzing all year round, Queenstown is the perfect place to start your South Island self-drive. Known as the adventure capital of the world, you can skydive, bungee, luge, swing and raft your way around! If the adrenalin is too much there are plenty of other ways to spend your time – the town is sat on the edge of Lake Wakatipu so why not take a boat cruise, hike a nearby trail or even explore some of the art galleries and cafes that line the streets.
You have 2 nights here to enjoy the city & surrounds, if you would like to add on a trip to the sounds check out our Milford Sounds Extension
After breakfast collect your rental car and begin the drive out to Franz Josef. The drive takes you up via the spectacular Crown Range Road to Wanaka, Queenstown’s sleepy little sister. Away from the hustle and bustle you can stop here for a few hours or even a night or two and enjoy the views (they have the best cinema too – comfy old sofas and freshly baked cookies for the interval!)
Further along the Haast Pass and up the West Coast you will come to Franz Josef, part of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Here you will stop for 2 nights.
Today you will join a small group hike on an Ice Explorer Tour! Start with a short heli transfer to the Pinnacles area on the Glacier, followed by a 3-hour hike offering spectacular views. Watch out for the Kea, the cheeky local mountain parrots known for their inquisitive personalities!
This afternoon it’s time to head further up the West coast – the wild coastline offers plenty of reasons to stop and enjoy the raw beauty of the area.
Hokitika in Maori means ‘place of return’ and once you’ve visited this small town you’ll see why! It’s considered to be the heritage and cultural centre of the west and has many restored buildings and walkways to explore.
You will drive around 4 hours today to Mapua, conveniently located between Nelson & the Abel Tasman National Park - an area known for its abundant trekking, great lodges, plentiful outdoor activities and laid back lifestyle!
Today we recommend an optional ‘Seals & Beach’ excursion, this trip showcases the highlights of Abel Tasman’s wildlife and history. Cruise into Tonga Island Marine Reserve stopping to watch the antics of its resident seal colony along the way and enjoy a scenic coastal walk before cruising back to the mainland. Alternatively, enjoy a day at leisure!
After breakfast, it’s back on the road for your 5½ hour drive to Kaikoura. Due to the earthquake in Kaikoura, the drive down now takes you through Murchison and Springs Junction, before heading inland from Waiau to Kaikoura.
The seaside town of Kaikoura is located on a rocky peninsula and has its own fascinating history, archaeological remains indicate that Mao hunters occupied the area over 900 years ago attracted by the abundance of crayfish in the area.
We have included a whale-watching cruise today, these cruises operate year-round although what you see will change depending on the season, the best time to visit the migratory humpback whales are between June & July, so be sure to plan in advance if your goal is to spot one of these majestic creatures!
Once your cruise concludes you will be returned to the ‘Whaleway Station’ to commence your journey up to Christchurch, around 2½ hours away.
Head back to the airport and return your rental car before departing from Christchurch Airport.
New Zealand is a year-round destination and there is always something to see and enjoy whatever time you decide to travel. High season runs from December to February (summer), prices will be at a premium at these times and availability limited so it is advisable to book in advance. March to April and September to November can be a great time to travel as the weather is fine and the crowds fewer. Low season is May to August (winter) for most of New Zealand, this is however the best time for skiing and so ski towns such as Queenstown will be at their busiest.
Our itineraries are tailor-made to give you an idea of some of the possibilities. For you this means there are no date or time restraints as you are travelling independently. We have the flexibility to tailor your trip around exactly what you enjoy so let us know your dates, what you like doing and where you like staying, and we will do the rest!