- Get up to $90 cash back per person when you book with us
- A 12-day premium tour of New Zealand, discovering the magical beauty of the South Island
- An itinerary designed for small groups of travellers in their mid-thirties & upwards
- 11 nights in twin-share 3–4 star accommodation, with a mix of hotels, motels, lodges, & rainforest retreats
- 6 continental breakfasts & 2 dinners
- Take the iconic & scenic Interislander ferry over the Cook Strait
- Taste some of the world’s best sauvignon blanc at a Marlborough wine tasting
- Cruise through Wanaka on a scenic e-bike (bicycle with electric motor) experience
- Carve your own pounamu (jade) pendant in Franz Josef
- Take in the stunning Southern Alps & the vast Canterbury Plains aboard the TranzAlpine inland rail journey
- Services of an expert tour manager
- Transport onboard a comfortable 22-seat Toyota Coaster
- Wellington to Christchurch tours depart from the meeting point at Mercure Wellington Abel Tasman, 169 Willis Street, Te Aro, Wellington (meeting location may change, please check your final documents for the confirmed location)
- Christchurch to Wellington tours depart from the meeting point at Bealey Suites, 263 Bealey Avenue, Christchurch (meeting location may change, please check your final documents for the confirmed location)
Southern Explorer TourThis 12-day premium tour of New Zealand's South Island takes you around some of the most magical scenery in the world.
- Optional activities & accommodation upgrades
What to Expect
You're never far from either the sea or the mountains on this New Zealand South Island 12 day itinerary as you cross the Cook Strait from Wellington, the nation's capital, to the quaint town of Picton in the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. From here, you venture into the heart of the majestic Southern Alps and on to the adventure playground of Queenstown.
Created for travellers in their mid-thirties and upwards, over the course of this week and a half tour, you'll travel through some of the most magical scenery you could hope to see. National Parks, rainforests, mountain ranges, UNESCO World Heritage Areas – everywhere you turn, there's something different to behold.
This South Island tour includes special activities such as one of the world's most scenic trains and one of the world's most scenic ferry journeys, a guided e-bike tour along Wanaka's lakeside, a night of glamping and the opportunity to carve your own greenstone pendant.
While this tour includes some high-end essentials, you can pre-book a range of optional add-on activities to suit your interests and tailor this adventure to you. You also choose to travel from Wellington to Christchurch or vice versa – all with the same great inclusion and experiences.
At the end of the day, you can relax in comfortable 3–4 star twin-share accommodation to ensure you have a great night's sleep ready for the following day's activities.
Day 1 – Wellington
Settle into your accommodation and be ready for the 6:00 pm pre-tour meeting. Here you will get to know your Tour Manager and be introduced to your new road trip friends.
Afterwards, the evening is yours to enjoy. A good night's sleep is recommended in order to be ready for tomorrow's early start, but you may want to experience Wellington’s vibrant nightlife, craft beer bars, and quality restaurants.
Day 2 – Wellington to Kaikoura
Rise and shine! It’s time to head straight for your main destination – the South Island. Take one of the world's most scenic ferry journeys across the Cook Strait. The South Island has a lovely welcome in store as the ship glides through the Marlborough Sounds, approaching PictonHarbour. You'll feel like you're in another world!
One of the best ways to explore Marlborough, the region at the top of the South Island, is with your tastebuds. That's why you'll jump straight on an included wine tasting to sample some of the best vineyards in the country and their famous sauvignon blanc.
After lunch, the next destination is Kaikoura which literally means "to eat crayfish" – and the area is teeming with them. The nutrient-rich waters of this area attract a wide variety of marine wildlife, including the stars of the show – the whales and dolphins.
Day 3 – Kaikoura to Christchurch
The optional chance to swim with dolphins in the wild is a massive New Zealand highlight for many travellers, and Kaikoura is one of the best places to find them, with pods of up to 300 of these playful creatures hanging out here at any one time.
Alternatively, if you want to get up close to the giants of the ocean, a whale watching tour here is the way to do it. Humpbacks, sperm whales and orca all stop by at various times of the year, so this is a great chance to meet some of them.
Finally, after visiting the local seals on the way out of town, the road trip continues to your home for the night – Christchurch, known as the "Garden City" for its peaceful parklands and lazy rivers.
Day 4 – Christchurch to Ohau (via Lake Tekapo)
This morning you'll explore iconic downtown Christchurch, and your guide will show you the cool and creative ways the city is being rebuilt after the life-changing 2011 earthquake here. Christchurch folk are an innovative and creative bunch – the Transitional Cathedral, created from cardboard, is totally inspirational.
Then, mid-morning, you'll head for Lake Tekapo. Keep your camera ready, as the lake's breathtaking turquoise colour and mountain backdrop are a photographer's dream come true. It's also home to the tiny Church of the Good Shepherd, which stands right at the water's edge, proving that small is bold and definitely beautiful.
Day 5 – Ohau to Queenstown
Today's journey is particularly scenic. From the golden tussock lands of Mackenzie country – where Peter Jackson filmed epic battles of Return of the King – to the dramatic peaks of the SouthernAlps, it's like you're driving into a postcard.
Your guide will pause for many photos stops en route to give your camera a workout, including a stop at the spectacular Kawarau Gorge. This also happens to be the world home of Bungy! Give it a go or enjoy watching the jumpers scream their way into the gorge.
The end destination for this afternoon is Queenstown. Whether you're an adrenaline junkie, an avid hiker, wine taster or scenery lover, this scenic town has something for absolutely everyone. With two nights and plenty of daylight hours here, get ready – this town certainly knows how to live life to the max.
Day 6 – Queenstown
With a full day in Queenstown, let's work on that bucket list! There are heaps of optional add-ons to choose from: extreme jet boat rides, river kayaking, horseback riding through Lord of the Rings scenery, and the Skyline Gondola are just a few favourites.
For scenery lovers, Milford Sound is a must-see. Whether you fly or drive, the scenery en route is as incredible as the destination. Once on the Sound, as you sail beneath thundering waterfalls and towering cliff faces, you'll understand why we call it the "8th Wonder of the World".
Day 7 – Queenstown to Wanaka
With another free morning in Queenstown, you have another chance to tick off your bucket list today. What will it be? A trip to the top of the Skyline Gondola, or perhaps an adrenaline-pumping jet boat ride through the Shotover Canyon? You decide!
This afternoon you'll jump back onto the road and head off to Wanaka, a quick one hour drive away. The drive is a scenic highlight in itself, and en route, you'll stop in charming Arrowtown, a historic gold rush village with heaps of old-world character.
This afternoon is your chance to relax in stunning Wanaka, known as Queenstown's slightly quieter little sister. Blessed with towering peaks and a glacial blue lake, you'll soon see why Wanaka's considered one of New Zealand's most beautiful mountain towns. There are breathtaking hikes and leisurelybike rides for a welcome chance to relax.
Day 8 – Wanaka
Today is your chance to explore one of the most beautiful towns in the southern lakes region with plenty of activities to tempt every lover of the outdoors. Start the day off with an included scenic e-bike experience. It's like a regular bike but has a small motor, so you don't need to pedal as hard.
Then, pick and choose from a range of optional activities. One option is a visit to Mou Waho Island. Accessible only by boat from Wanaka and famous for being home to an (unnamed) island, in a lake (Arethusa Pool), on an island (Mou Waho), in a lake (Lake Wanaka), on an island (the South Island) in the ocean (the Pacific!). Sounds complicated, but once you are there, it will all make sense!
In Wanaka, there are also many walks, hikes and biking trails to choose from – check out the famous "Wanaka Tree" while making your way around the lake! Or, if you feel like relaxing, ask your guide to recommend their favourite secret spots to enjoy the surrounding scenery.
Lastly, one of the best ways to admire Wanaka is from the air. Treat yourself to a skydive or a scenic flight in a vintage plane – you can even take a flying lesson!
You'll mix things up tonight by heading to the stunning Oasis Yurts Wanaka. A yurt provides all the luxury and comfort of traditional accommodation with the benefits of being at one with the natural environment.
Day 9 – Wanaka to Franz Josef
After a relaxing morning in Wanaka, the journey to Franz Josef is another stunner – many of the guides rate it as their favourite drive in New Zealand. Once you hit the road, you'll stop at one of the most popular lakeside lookout points at Lake Hawea or Lake Wanaka. Your guide will keep an eye on the weather and pick the best option.
From the cascading waterfalls of Haast Pass to classic Kiwi coastal views, you won't want to nap on the bus in case you miss anything. Your guide will have some epic surprise photo stops and short walks along the way.
You'll arrive in Franz Josef around late afternoon/early evening. This UNESCO World Heritage area is famous for its spectacular glacier, just 5km from town, begging to be explored tomorrow.
Day 10 – Franz Josef
Awake to a snowywonderland, with Aoraki/Mount Cook (New Zealand's highest mountain) twinkling behind the glaciers. Franz Josef is about as beautiful a setting as you can find in New Zealand.
Te Wahi Pounamu (which means 'the place of greenstone' in Maori) is the name given to this part of the West Coast because of the abundance of pounamu (greenstone/jade) to be found here. Included in your tour today is a special opportunity to carve your very own pounamu pendant at a local gallery.
Then, there are heaps of ways to enjoy Franz Josef Glacier; weather permitting, to get up onto the bluest ice, you can take a scenic helicopter flight and hike onto the glaciers. Maybe you'd prefer to kayak on a glacial lake or just relax in the steamy hot springs down below.
As well as the awesome glacier activities, you could also try out quad biking, horsebackriding and even a bit of group karaoke tonight in Franz Josef!
Day 11 – Franz Josef to Christchurch
After breakfast, you'll head further along the beautiful west coast on another of the most spectacular drives in the country (and, some would say, the world). It boasts a rugged, ancient landscape of luxuriant rainforest juxtaposed against breathtaking beaches and ocean waves.
Stop at Hokitika and visit a greenstone factory, a great place to stock up on souvenirs for your friends and family back home. Time permitting, you may also visit the National Kiwi Centre, where there is guaranteed viewing of rare kiwi birds in their nocturnal house.
On the way back to Christchurch, you'll traverse the South Island on the stunning TranzAlpine train crossing. Travelling across the Southern Alps through Arthur's Pass, this is considered one of the world's most scenic train journeys. Along the way, you'll see epic vistas, travel the edges of the ice-fed Waimakariri River and see miles of native beech forest.
You'll arrive in Christchurch around 6.30 pm before transferring to your accommodation.
Day 12 – Christchurch (Post Tour Debrief)
Today is the final day of the tour, where you'll exchange photos and stories over breakfast before saying your goodbyes and parting ways.
Where we Visit:
- Cook Strait
- Lake Tekapo
- Kawarau Gorge
- Oasis Yurts Wanaka
- Franz Josef
- Southern Explorer Tour – Christchurch to Wellington
FromNZD $4799Check AvailabilityNext available 16 Dec 2022
- Southern Explorer Tour – Wellington to Christchurch
FromNZD $4799Check AvailabilityNext available 23 Nov 2022
Frequently Asked Questions
Everyone has their own favourites, but in general, these are the most popular:
- Milford Sound Day Trip – departs Queenstown
- Heli Hike – Franz Josef
- Mou Waho Sustainable Boat Trip
Yes! The wonderful thing about a small group tour is that even if you join the tour as a solo traveller, by the end of the tour, you will have met new friends from around the world!
Accommodation is a twin-share room, and if you are travelling alone, the crew will arrange for you to share a room with a fellow guest (of the same gender), or you have the choice to upgrade to a private room.
Please also note that there are no single person supplements unless you want to have your own private room - in this case, upgrades are available.
Included in this tour are 6 continental breakfasts and 2 dinners.
The guides know the best places in each town and city for different budgets and tastes, and they will point these out on the way to each location.
The tour group, along with your guide, will often head out to a local pub for a beer and a meal. Evening meals can range from NZ$25 upwards.
Yes – they often have vegetarian/vegan guests and all cafes and restaurants in New Zealand will offer meat-free options. If you can’t see anything on the menu, just ask, as most places will happily prepare something for you.
This tour was designed for travellers in their mid-thirties and upwards; however, anyone over the age of 18 is welcome to join. More important than age is an attitude – the guides have found over the years that if you have a thirst for adventure, then age is no barrier. Please do keep in mind, though, that a reasonable level of fitness is required for any optional activities.
- The minimum age is 18 years
- The Operator requires a minimum number of bookings in order for a tour to be financially viable & to have a pleasant group atmosphere
- Itineraries are subject to alteration without notice & are intended as a guide only. The Operator reserves the right to change the itinerary without any notice
- Some activities are strenuous in nature. Passengers should be of reasonable health and fitness and carry all required medication and accept that degrees of risk are involved. The Operator must be advised of any prior medical conditions at the time of booking
- If for any reason you do need to cancel your tour there are a few things to be aware of. Your $99 is a non-refundable deposit, however, in the event that you need to cancel outside of the cancellation period The Operator will hold your deposit on file for life & this can be used towards a future departure
- Upon cancellation, you will be liable to pay a fee to cover the cost of expenses incurred by The Operator at the time of booking in the below schedule. Tour Cost is inclusive of any additional activities and pre/post accommodation
- Outside 60 days – Loss of 99NZD
- 30–59 days – 50% of tour cost
- 15–29 days – 75% of tour cost
- Within 14 days – 100% of tour cost
- Changes to activities & additional accommodation are not permitted within 45 days of departure to tour
- If you need to change to an alternative departure date you may do so in accordance with the below fees:
- Outside 45 days Notice – No fee
- 8–44 days Notice – $500 Admin Fee
- Within 7 Days Notice – 100% of tour cost
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