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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop 

10 days from Christchurch to Christchurch

Visit the less explored upper South Island, home to amazing wildlife, including whales in Kaikoura and the delightful seal colony in Abel Tasman National Park.  In Blenheim, you’ll sample the region’s best known export, the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc before heading south to the West Coast and Punakaiki Rocks.  You return to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass National Park, where you stay at the Wilderness Lodge an amazing place to discover natural New Zealand and experience life on a high country station.

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 This suggested tour costs from per person (twin share, low season) (get instant quote here)
 10 days/9 nights from Christchurch to Christchurch
 Accommodation suggested on this tour is: Boutique lodges & hotels (Can be customised? YES )
 Rental car insurance included: Fully inclusive with variable excess/deductible
 Rental car inclusions: GPS navigation, unlimited kms, airport/ferry terminal fees, additional drivers
 Tour pack: Includes detailed driving instructions, maps, guide books and much more
 This tour can be customised to suit you precisely - just request here

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Wine tasting at scenic Marlborough Vineyard
Drive Arthurs Pass
 

Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - at a glance (See detailed itinerary)

Day 1: Arrive into Christchurch today
Accommodation: The George Hotel, Christchurch

Day 2: Head north to Kaikoura where you'll get up close to the resident whale population on your whale watch cruise
Accommodation: Manakau Lodge
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 179 kms / 111 miles : 2.5 hours

Day 3: Leave the coast and head via the coastal road to the wine growing region of Marlborough
Accommodation: The Peppertree
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 116 kms / 72 miles : 1.4 hours

Day 4: You'll be taken on a tasting tour of some of the best wineries in Marlborough, famous for its sauvignon blanc
Accommodation: The Peppertree

Day 5: Take the beautiful Queen Charlotte Drive along the edge of the Sounds towards Mapua
Accommodation: Te Koi, the Lodge at Bronte
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 146 kms / 91 miles : 2.1 hours

Day 6: Explore Abel Tasman National Park home to aqua blue waters and playful seals
Accommodation: Te Koi, the Lodge at Bronte
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 35 kms / 22 miles : 0.6 hours

Day 7: Skirt the edge of two national parks as you drive towards the rugged West Coast
Accommodation: Punakaiki Resort
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 286 kms / 177 miles : 3.6 hours

Day 8: Explore the Pancake Rocks before heading inland towards the Southern Alps
Accommodation: Wilderness Lodge
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 138 kms / 86 miles : 1.8 hours

Day 9: Make the most of the daily eco activities and wild open spaces of the Wilderness Lodge
Accommodation: Wilderness Lodge

Day 10: Depart Christchurch today

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 128 kms / 80 miles : 1.6 hours

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 1

Day 1 - Arrive into Christchurch today

Private transfer Christchurch airport to your accommodation

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

Your tour documentation pack and support

Once you touch down in New Zealand your detailed tour pack will be hand delivered by one of our trusted representatives. The pack contains everything you need for the duration of your stay. It will include a comprehensive, printed and bound version of your itinerary as well as clear driving instructions and maps for each leg of your journey. It also contains all the reservation details for your accommodation and activities - along with relevant brochures and information. While in New Zealand we offer 24 hour support - details on how to contact us at any time will be well documented.

Welcome to Christchurch City

Known as New Zealand's garden city, Christchurch is a vibrant metro area. Encompassing a large green belt, it is known for its wide tree lined avenues and lush gardens. Take the double decker hop on/hop off bus for an easy way to see the sights, or ride a historic tram across town to the renowned botanic gardens and the cardboard Transitional Cathedral.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Christchurch Hop On Hop Off City Tour - 24 Hour Ticket

Discover the true magic of city sightseeing on-board this city tour bus. With a mix of open and closed top buses, you will ride in comfort and style, enjoying spectacular views. Join friendly local guides as they take you on a journey of discovery through Christchurch. Listen to "live" entertaining and informative commentary and learn about the fascinating history, from pioneering days to modern times.

Your accommodation: The George Hotel, Christchurch

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. 2 superb award winning on site restaurants also feature.
The George Hotel, Christchurch

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 2

Day 2 - Head north to Kaikoura where you'll get up close to the resident whale population on your whale watch cruise

Choose from our great range of late model rental cars for your driving holiday

Today you’ll take to the road for your New Zealand Self Drive holiday, so take a look through the great selection of late model vehicles available and take your pick.  To help you on your way GPS is included with all rentals.

GPS navigation system

Use the latest GPS technology as you tour New Zealand. Your portable GPS features a simple touch screen interface with automatic route calculation and turn-by-turn voice-prompted directions including street name announcement. The automotive-grade GPS unit is easy to use and has multiple language options.

Christchurch to Kaikoura

The drive north from Christchurch to Kaikoura takes you through the rolling hills of North Canterbury's major wine region, the Waipara Valley. Allow time for a detour and visit Hanmer Springs for a dip in the mineral hot pools. Continue on and cross the Hawkswood Range before descending to the spectacular Kaikoura coastline - where the road hugs the ocean for the last leg of the drive.

Whale Watch Kaikoura

New Zealand's only marine based whale watching company, Whale Watch Kaikoura offer visitors a once-in-a-lifetime up close encounter with the giant sperm Whale. You are also likely to encounter New Zealand fur seals, dusky dolphins and albatross. Depending on the season you may also see pilot, blue and southern right whales as well as migrating humpbacks. Often orcas can be spotted here and the world's smallest dolphin, the Hectors, is sometimes seen.
You'll be taken out in modern catamarans specifically designed for whale watching - featuring large passenger cabins and outside viewing decks. Passenger numbers for each tour are kept below the vessel carrying capacity to ensure your tour experience remains a personal one.

Your accommodation: Manakau Lodge

This brand new purpose built lodge is located in the foothills of the Kaikoura ranges a few minutes drive from the township. All rooms have verandahs with either mountain or ocean views.

Meals included: Breakfast

Manakau Lodge

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 179 kms / 111 miles : 2.5 hours

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 3

Day 3 - Leave the coast and head via the coastal road to the wine growing region of Marlborough

Kaikoura to Blenheim

Heading north from Kaikoura, the road hugs the shore for approximately 50 kilometres and offers many opportunities to view the native wildlife such as seabirds and New Zealand fur seals. One of the best seal watching locations is Ohau Point (25km 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 (signposted). As you drive you will have turquoise waters of the South Pacific Ocean to your east and to the west the towering Kaikoura Ranges. Crossing the dry hills of the Marlborough ranges you 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. A great way to do this is to take a guided wine tour with Sounds Connection Wine Tours.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Half Day Guided Kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds

The half day guided sea kayak trip is an ideal opportunity to fit a little kayaking adventure into a busy holiday itinerary. After a short safety briefing you'll be in the water, allowing you maximum time to enjoy the tranquil waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound. Starting at Ngakuta Bay you then paddle out of the bay and into Grove Arm. The sound is surrounded by bush-clad shorelines and sandy beaches. There will be a short stop to enjoy a light refreshment break along the way before returning to Picton.

Your accommodation: The Peppertree

The Peppertree is situated in the midst of an extensive country garden a boutique vineyard and an olive grove. Choose from one of the five spacious suites, each of which reflects a different character. Days at The Peppertree begin with a delicious breakfast, served in the Dining Room or on the verandah.

Meals included: Breakfast

The Peppertree

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 116 kms / 72 miles : 1.4 hours

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 4

Day 4 - You'll be taken on a tasting tour of some of the best wineries in Marlborough, famous for its sauvignon blanc

Sounds Connection Half Day Wine Tour

An afternoon among the vines! Be immersed in the Marlborough wine country with the Sounds Connection half day wine tour. You'll be collected from your accommodation and taken through three or four hand-picked wineries to taste the award-winning produce this region is known for. You'll also hear about the history of winemaking in Marlborough as well as learning the unique processes each winery goes through. A lunch stop is not included in this tour so we do advise you have something to eat prior to this activity. 

Your accommodation: The Peppertree

The Peppertree is situated in the midst of an extensive country garden a boutique vineyard and an olive grove. Choose from one of the five spacious suites, each of which reflects a different character. Days at The Peppertree begin with a delicious breakfast, served in the Dining Room or on the verandah.

Meals included: Breakfast

The Peppertree

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 5

Day 5 - Take the beautiful Queen Charlotte Drive along the edge of the Sounds towards Mapua

Blenheim to Mapua via Queen Charlotte Drive

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, cafes - and is also the starting point for the famous Queen Charlotte Walk. You’ll travel along Queen Charlotte Drive, traversing the length of the Marlborough Sounds coastline. Magnificent views are abundant - so be sure to make time to stop and enjoy the scenery as you go.

Continue through the small port town of Havelock, home to a variety of cafes and restaurants. The highway between Nelson and Picton crosses the pelorus river, and at this junction you’ll find the famous pelorus bridge. From here there are a number of forest walks - the most popular - a 30 minute loop through beech, rimu, and totara forest. Traverse Tasman Bay passing through Richmond, a short drive from there you turn off to Mapua.

Your accommodation: Te Koi, the Lodge at Bronte

Luxury accommodation nestled in a tranquil, natural waterfront setting on Nelson’s historic Bronte Peninsula. Surrounded by extensive mature gardens, orchards and vineyard, the elegant spacious suites have their own private patio and spa bath for relaxing. In the main garden enjoy the heated pool, tennis and petanque or explore further afield by bike or canoe.

Meals included: Breakfast

Te Koi, the Lodge at Bronte

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 146 kms / 91 miles : 2.1 hours

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 6

Day 6 - Explore Abel Tasman National Park home to aqua blue waters and playful seals

Mapua to Abel Tasman National Park to Mapua

Depart Mapua continue toward Abel Tasman National park passing through the town of Motueka before arriving on the outskirts of Abel Tasman National Park.  Enjoy your day in the National Park before returning to Mapua at the end of the day.

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  - fur seals and dolphins.
 

Seals, Beach Cruise and Walk Including Picnic Lunch

Experience the best of Abel Tasman on this combined beach cruise and walk tour. You will first take a cruise into the Tonga Island Marine Reserve, where you will pause to watch the antics of the Resident Fur Seal Colony. After landing at the historic Tonga Quarry Beach, take a two hour, fifteen minute walk over forested land and around the spectacular Bark Bay Estuary - renowned for its cascading waterfalls. You will then region the cruise at the sheltered golden cove on Medlands Beach.

Your accommodation: Te Koi, the Lodge at Bronte

Luxury accommodation nestled in a tranquil, natural waterfront setting on Nelson’s historic Bronte Peninsula. Surrounded by extensive mature gardens, orchards and vineyard, the elegant spacious suites have their own private patio and spa bath for relaxing. In the main garden enjoy the heated pool, tennis and petanque or explore further afield by bike or canoe.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch

Te Koi, the Lodge at Bronte

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 35 kms / 22 miles : 0.6 hours

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 7

Day 7 - Skirt the edge of two national parks as you drive towards the rugged West Coast

Abel Tasman to Punakaiki

The drive today takes you along the Buller Gorge and offers some wonderful scenery as you follow this magnificent river. The town of Murchison is a quiet place and a great lunch stop. Underneath its sleepy farming facade is an adventurers paradise with white water rafting, kayaking, 4WD trips and some great trout fishing.
The first major town (by this regions 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 one of the must stop places is Whites Creek and New Zealand's longest swing bridge. Crossing the river you get 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 port town of Westport is the largest on the Northern West Coast. A history of gold mining, logging, fishing coal mining gives the town a hard working feeling. And to reward the hard workers the town has an extraordinary amount of pubs.
There are plenty of activities here such as caving, bush walks and surfing but one of the most popular is to take a trip to Tauranga bay and the seal colony. Just 15 kilometres south at Cape Foulwind (named by Captain Cook for the difficult sailing conditions and not the smell of the seals!), you will find a breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals. A well marked and easy 10 minute walking track takes you to colony where you can see the creatures lazing around or swimming in the ocean.
The spectacular West Coast coastline guides you to Paparoa National Park and to Punakaiki where a walk along the paths around the pancake rocks is a must. Please note there is no supermarket facilities in Punakaiki.

Your accommodation: Punakaiki Resort

The Punakaiki Resort is a modern, award-winning hotel complex, architecturally designed to harmonise 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

Punakaiki Resort

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 286 kms / 177 miles : 3.6 hours

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 8

Day 8 - Explore the Pancake Rocks before heading inland towards the Southern Alps

Punakaiki to Arthur's Pass National Park

Today you’ll head south towards Greymouth, before turning onto State Highway 73 as you make your way to Arthur's Pass. Winding your way up and over the Southern Alps, this route takes you through some of the most spectacular scenery in the country - even in the rain when hundreds of waterfalls cascade down the bush clad hillsides.

Originally the road was used as a pass by the Maori as they made their seasonal passage to collect Greenstone in the West Coast mountains. Following the 1800’s gold rush a road and railway was developed through the area. Today, the railway is used predominantly for the world renowned Tranz Alpine Scenic Train, transporting several hundred tourists per day from Christchurch to Greymouth - or the other way round. Continue on through the Otira Gorge, before arriving at your destination for the night, Arthur’s Pass.

Note: If you're feeling like a more leisurely drive, there is the option to take a more scenic route around Lake Brunner. Well signposted, this road begins just before the town of Kumara.

Your accommodation: Wilderness Lodge

Wilderness Lodge Arthur's Pass is on its own 3,000 hectare nature reserve/merino sheep farm and surrounded by the mountains of Arthur's Pass National Park. Join nature guides to walk, canoe and discover kea parrots, giant buttercups, pygmy forests, alpine flower gardens and waterfalls.

Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner

Wilderness Lodge

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 138 kms / 86 miles : 1.8 hours

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 9

Day 9 - Make the most of the daily eco activities and wild open spaces of the Wilderness Lodge

Wilderness Lodge, Arthur's Pass

Nestled in mountain beech forest, midway between Christchurch and the West Coast, Wilderness Lodge Arthur's Pass offers stylish accommodation, great food and warm hospitality in a spectacular mountain setting.

Set on a 4000 acre working sheep farm and nature reserve in the heart of the Southern Alps, a daily programme of guided activities will be the highlight of your visit. Join naturalist and farmer guides to hike alpine trails, kayak wildlife refuge lakes and experience life on a working farm.

Complimentary Guided Activities

Twice daily complimentary guided trips provide a wonderful introduction to the wildlife, landscapes and history of the Southern Alps. Some of the trips include:

  • Sheep Farm Discovery: Join a guide to watch sheep dogs in action, handfeed lambs, see traditional blade shearing and learn about growing merino wool for the fashion industry. This trip happens every second afternoon and is a highlight for many guests
  • Birds and Special Plants of the Mountain Beech Forest: Explore with a naturalist guide and learn the secrets of these remarkable moss forests surrounding the lodge
  • McKay Moa Forest Hike: Visit a special nature reserve on the Wilderness Lodge farm. Take in spectacular mountain scenery, see bizarre ‘moa plants’ and learn their fascinating history.
  • Stars of the Southern Night Sky: A gentle stroll after dinner to see the starry night sky. Identify planets, satellites and constellations including the Southern Cross.

Longer Charged Guided Activities

  • Upper Otira Glacier Adventure: A superb challenging summer hike. Climb high into a glacial basin and enjoy mountain panoramas, alpine flowers, cascades culminating in a mountain picnic below Mt Rolleston.
  • Limestone Castles & Easy Kayaking:  A relaxed guided tour/walk to a landscape made famous by the Narnia film 'The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe'. Paddle a gentle mountain lake and enjoy lunch amongst natural limestone castles.
  • Southern Alps Mountain Hike: Traverse beech forest to open mountain tops high above the Waimakariri River. Learn about alpine plants and enjoy lunch at a historic hut which once sheltered shepherds when this area was part of the Wilderness Lodge farm, now Arthur's Pass National Park.
  • Wonderful Waterfalls of Arthur's Pass: A special trip for waterfall and photography enthusiasts. Visit waterfalls and cascades throughout Arthur's Pass National Park and explore 'bonsai' mountain beech forests. Picnic beside a mountain stream.

Self-Guided Activity Options

  • Explore a 30km network of forest, farm and mountain walking trails. You hosts can provide maps and suggestions and you may like to order a picnic lunch
  • Explore neighbouring Arthur’s Pass National Park on your own.
  • Relax in peace and tranquillity and take in the spectacular mountain scenery

Your accommodation: Wilderness Lodge

Wilderness Lodge Arthur's Pass is on its own 3,000 hectare nature reserve/merino sheep farm and surrounded by the mountains of Arthur's Pass National Park. Join nature guides to walk, canoe and discover kea parrots, giant buttercups, pygmy forests, alpine flower gardens and waterfalls.

Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner

Wilderness Lodge

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Top of the South Island Self Drive Loop - Day 10

Day 10 - Depart Christchurch today

Arthur's Pass to Christchurch

Descending into the valleys of the Waimakariri this drive offers some spectacular views of the braided river valleys. Castle Hill Scenic Reserve sits in limestone country and the area is dotted with remarkable rock outcrops. A popular place with climbers it was also an important place for Maori in past years as they provided shelter on their seasonal journeys between the coasts. There is a network of walking paths allowing you to explore.
Descending onto the Canterbury Plains the rich farmland that attracted and helped settlers prosper becomes apparent as you head into the city of Christchurch.

Depart Christchurch today

Explore more of Christchurch before dropping your rental car at the airport depot and continuing your onward journey.

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg is: 128 kms / 80 miles : 1.6 hours

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