Southern Alps & Southern Lakes Vacation
9 day South Island Self Drive, from Christchurch to Christchurch
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New Zealand tour itinerary name and information

Southern Alps & Southern Lakes Vacation

From Christchurch, you’ll journey south through the Mackenzie high country past Lake Tekapo before arriving at Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park. Then to Queenstown for two nights with time to relax around the lake or enjoy the countless activities here. Drive the Crown Range through Wanaka and onto the West Coast Glaciers for two nights, allowing time to enjoy one of the many guided walk options or scenic flights. Return to Christchurch aboard the world-famous Tranz Alpine Scenic Train.

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Itinerary details at a glance

South Island Self Drive

This suggested tour costs from NZD$3,065 per person (twin share, low season)

Starts in Christchurch, finishes in Christchurch

9 days/8 nights

Motels

 Rental car included

 Viewed 19 times in the last 7 days

This South Island Self Drive tour idea includes:

- Private transfer Christchurch International Airport to your accommodation
- Shared Transfer from the Railway Station to a City Hotel
- Private transfer accommodation to Christchurch Airport
Tour at a glance

Day 1: Arrive into the 'Garden City' of Christchurch
Accommodation: Quest on Cambridge

Day 2: Collect your rental vehicle and spend the day exploring the city and surrounds
Accommodation: Quest on Cambridge

Day 3: Today you'll enjoy a scenic drive through Canterbury and the MacKenzie Country
Accommodation: Mt Cook Motel
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 350 kms / 217 miles : 4.1 hours

Day 4: Drive the scenic Lindis Pass through to Queenstown
Accommodation: Scenic Suites Queenstown
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 257 kms / 159 miles : 3.0 hours

Day 5: Journey back in time with the Time Tripper and explore all the attractions that Queenstown has to offer
Accommodation: Scenic Suites Queenstown

Day 6: Take the Crown Range Road and dine at the famous Cardrona Hotel before arriving in Wanaka
Accommodation: Punga Grove Motel & Suites
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 350 kms / 217 miles : 4.6 hours

Day 7: Spend the day explore the glaciers and wild West Coast
Accommodation: Punga Grove Motel & Suites

Day 8: Drive north along the stunning West Coast Road and take the TranzAlpine train to Christchurch
Accommodation: Quest on Cambridge
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 170 kms / 106 miles : 2.1 hours

Day 9: Depart Christchurch today

Detailed itinerary - day by day
Tour full itinerary
Southern Alps & Southern Lakes Vacation - Day 1
Private transfer Christchurch International Airport to your accommodation

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

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.

Your accommodation: Quest on Cambridge

Quest on Cambridge serviced apartment-style hotel rooms offer guests a relaxed and comfortable Christchurch accommodation experience. Each room has an open-plan living area, a fully equipped kitchen, and natural light. Quest on Cambridge is a short walk from the south shopping center and only a short walk to the Botanic Gardens.

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Southern Alps & Southern Lakes Vacation - Day 2
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.

Explore Christchurch City

Following the 2011 earthquake that razed its centre and much of the outlying suburbs, Christchurch is well into a billion-dollar makeover. In the middle of the Canterbury Plains, bordering the pacific ocean, New Zealand’s newest city is an ideal gateway to exploring the middle of the South.
Go punting on the Avon River, take a historic tram ride, catch the gondola to the rim of an extinct volcano or do all three! See the world's only Cardboard Cathedral and for nature enthusiasts - wander the renowned Christchurch Botanic Gardens, or head to Oxford Terrace in the city to find a great spot to eat or drink.
Drive an hour in any direction to ski, mountain bike, wine taste, whale-watch, bungy jump or play golf. Take the winding Port Hills road to the French settlement of Akaroa and tour the vines in Waipara for an authentic New Zealand wine-tasting experience.  

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

Nowhere else in New Zealand will you find such a wide range of New Zealand wildlife so close to you. Willowbank provides you with a "Kiwi Guarantee" and is home to New Zealand's largest and most accessible kiwi viewing area. With this unique experience, you will see New Zealand's natural splendour first hand, and view Kiwis that are not hidden behind glass.  You will explore one of the most complete selections of New Zealand native and introduced wildlife in natural bush surroundings. Much of the Willowbank wildlife wander free and is able to be petted and fed.
Choose to explore the reserve yourself, or for an up-close Kiwi experience, you can take a guided tour.

Your accommodation: Quest on Cambridge

Quest on Cambridge serviced apartment-style hotel rooms offer guests a relaxed and comfortable Christchurch accommodation experience. Each room has an open-plan living area, a fully equipped kitchen, and natural light. Quest on Cambridge is a short walk from the south shopping center and only a short walk to the Botanic Gardens.

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Southern Alps & Southern Lakes Vacation - Day 3
Christchurch to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

Today you'll drive through the heart of the South Island, crossing the vast Canterbury plains. Catch your breath in Geraldine before continuing through Fairlie. Ascending Burkes pass you'll come to 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 Mt Cook Village.
Please note: There are no food shops at Mt Cook, and dinner options are limited to one restaurant. If you wish to self-cater, you must stock up before arriving in Mt Cook, or make dinner reservations in advance.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Glacier Explorers Mt. Cook

Experience 500 year old icebergs up-close on the Mt Cook terminal lake. The Glacier Explorers tour is the only one of its kind in New Zealand and one of only three in the world! Very few glaciers terminate into lakes and even fewer of them are accessible. See towering ice cliffs and floating icebergs from the safety of a specially designed boat. These boats provide a safe way to view unseen and inaccessible areas of New Zealand's largest glacier The Tasman.

Your accommodation: Mt Cook Motel

Mt Cook Motel is located in the centre of Mt. Cook village. The self-contained units are spacious and all are surrounded by alpine mountain views.

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 350 kms / 217 miles : 4.1 hours

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Southern Alps & Southern Lakes Vacation - Day 4
Aoraki Mt Cook National Park to Queenstown

Today you'll leave Mt Cook National park and travel to Queenstown. Go through the lakeside town of Twizel and then pass through the gliding capital of New Zealand Omarama, before ascending the Lindis Pass. Follow the road to Cromwell, located at the at the head of the Kawarau Gorge. Continue on towards the Gibbston Valley, one of New Zealand's premier wine growing regions. See the historic Kawarau Bridge where you can bungy jump, or relax and watch others take the plunge. Approaching Queenstown, the Remarkables mountain range comes into view as you arrive into the adventure capital of New Zealand.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Segway tour of Queenstown

Explore Queenstown with the amazing Segway Personal Transporter (PT).  A quick training session gets you used to the unique motion of the Segway before you embark on an adventure around Queenstown’s best locations.  Your friendly guide will share some information along the way while you take in the scenic lakeside views riding on this fascinating transporter.  The tour takes you a little out of town and up a hill or two before taking a cruise through the beautiful Queenstown Gardens and enjoying what’s on offer there.  On the way back you have the option to experience a higher speed setting, leaving you in awe of the amazing technology that is the eco-friendly Segway PT. Riding an eco-friendly Segway Personal Transporter is quite a unique experience.  Segway Smart Motion technology keeps you balanced and in control. To propel the vehicle forwards, you simply lean forwards. To stop, just put your weight back. This sensation, while a little weird at first, is a thrill that everyone really enjoys. The duration of this tour is 2 hours.

Your accommodation: Scenic Suites Queenstown

Scenic Suites Queenstown offers guests exquisite style, comfort and spectacular views over Lake Wakatipu and the Southern Alps. The hotel prides itself on its four star hospitality that will make your stay in Queenstown even more memorable.

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 257 kms / 159 miles : 3.0 hours

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Southern Alps & Southern Lakes Vacation - Day 5
Explore Queenstown

Although celebrated as New Zealand's ‘adventure capital’ Queenstown offers far more than a fast-paced action-packed holiday. Settled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu beneath a soaring panorama of the Remarkables Mountain Range, this alpine town is surrounded by a plethora of historic, gastronomic and scenic wonders.
Head down the Gibbston Valley wine trail to sample some of the region’s best Pinot or catch a ride on the 100 year old Steamship the TSS Earnslaw, to Walter Peak Station for dinner and a farm tour. Browse the waterfront cafes and have lunch at Michelin star chef Josh Emett's ‘Rata.’ Check out nearby historic Arrowtown and enhance your experience with a four wheel drive trip to Macetown.
Take a leisurely lakeside stroll or ride the gondola for breathtaking views. Drive through Lord Of The Rings country or for the really fanatic, jump aboard one of many dedicated LOTR tours. If you do really want the adrenaline rush Queenstown is known for, take your pick from the Shotover Jet, Bungy, Canyon Swing, Zipline, Luge or Heli-ski.
Finally, if you're lucky enough to visit in winter (July-September) there are four ski resorts close by. You can head up to Coronet Peak and the Remarkables close to Queenstown, or head to Wanaka for Cardrona and Treble Cone.

Time Tripper Cinematic Experience

Queenstown’s only underwater experience takes you on a journey through time and legend beginning many millions of years ago. Your time travel pilot will guide you back 90 million years, through the time of the dinosaurs, take you to when New Zealand was formed, fly you deep into the earth when the Southern Alps were created and through the glacier that carved out Lake Wakatipu. Ending in present-day Queenstown, you then experience adventure activities you can do – all from the comfort of your rumbling seat!
You then experience 10 – 15 minutes of underwater viewing where you can feed the famous diving ducks, slinky eels and rainbow & brown trout that lie beneath.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Skyline Gondola Queenstown and 3 Luge Rides

In the heart of Queenstown, located 450 metres above town in the Ben Lomond Scenic Reserve is the Skyline Complex. A gondola ride to the summit makes for awe-inspiring views of the city surround. Arrive at the complex and wander the outside viewing decks for a picture perfect outlook. Then onto the Luge! The 800 metre luge track offers an exhilarating journey through banked corners, tunnels and dippers.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - TSS Earnslaw cruise to Walter Peak including gourmet BBQ dinner and a farm tour

Enjoy a quintessential Kiwi experience, a delicious gourmet BBQ buffet meal and a farm demonstration in a stunning lakeside setting. Take in the stunning views of Lake Wakatipu and its surroundings as you cruise across the lake to the historic Walter Peak high country farm aboard the TSS Earnslaw Steamship.
Enjoy the ambience of the heart of the stately homestead while your Colonel’s Homestead Restaurant chef prepares a gourmet BBQ dinner. Your seasonal menu includes an extensive selection of local New Zealand produce, including succulent meats and a selection of delicious vegetables and salads. Complete your meal with your choice of delicious desserts, New Zealand cheeses, tea and coffee.
After dinner, watch the farm dogs in action with a sheep-herding demonstration and say hello to the other farm animals. Finally, cruise home under the southern stars and enjoy the fresh night air as the lights of Queenstown draw ever closer.

Your accommodation: Scenic Suites Queenstown

Scenic Suites Queenstown offers guests exquisite style, comfort and spectacular views over Lake Wakatipu and the Southern Alps. The hotel prides itself on its four star hospitality that will make your stay in Queenstown even more memorable.

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Southern Alps & Southern Lakes Vacation - Day 6
Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier via Wanaka

From Queenstown you'll cross the Crown Range, the highest sealed road in New Zealand to arrive in the Alpine town of Wanaka, gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park. Skirting the shores of both Lake Wanaka and Hawea, you will enter the small town of Makarora. Stop at Blue Pools for a 1-hour return walk through the native beech forest to a glacier-fed swimming hole. Continue on through the remote seaside settlement of Haast before heading up the wild West Coast highway you pass through ancient temperate rainforests while getting sneak peeks of the wild coast beaches occasionally. Paringa Salmon Farm is worth a stop to stretch your legs, feed the fish, and stop for lunch and refreshments. Keep heading North and be sure to enjoy the view of the ever-changing towering snowcapped Southern Alps Mountain Range. Fox Glacier welcomes you first, then comes your destination for the night Franz Josef township.

Cardrona Hotel Dinner

If you feel like spoiling yourself and learning about the area's history we recommend taking yourself out for lunch or dinner at The Cardrona Hotel, one of New Zealand's oldest and most iconic hotels which sits between Queenstown and Wanaka on the stunning Crown Range Road. Nestled in a beautiful mountain valley, the town of Cardrona boasts a rich and vibrant history: settled in the 1860s as hundreds of hopeful prospectors flooded into the valley chasing gold, the Cardrona Hotel was one of four hotels quickly established to offer accommodation, food, livery services and a coaching-stop for miners and travellers. With the short-lived gold mining boom beginning to wind down in the late 1800s, the area quietened down, with the Cardrona Hotel eventually becoming the sole remaining hotel in the valley. In more recent times the township of Cardrona has seen a resurgence in visitors, people clamouring to get a taste of old the old town feel, stopping in for a pint or delicious meal and a few fantastic photo opportunities in the quaint village that harkens back to a time of hope, gold and good fortune.

Cardrona Distillery

Family-owned and managed, the Cardrona Distillery is nestled amongst the mountains of the stunning Southern Alps between Queenstown and Wanaka. Run by Desiree and Ash Whitaker along with Desiree's parents, Alvin and Judy Reid, the beautifully designed buildings house the very best in copper stills. A must-visit destination for the discerning spirits aficionado, join the team on a tour of the distillery and barrelhouse, and take the opportunity to sample some of the hand-crafted spirits.

Your accommodation: Punga Grove Motel & Suites

Punga Grove is right in the heart of Franz Josef Glacier village and offers affordable and stylish accommodation in a beautiful rainforest setting.

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 350 kms / 217 miles : 4.6 hours

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Southern Alps & Southern Lakes Vacation - Day 7
Explore Franz Josef

Franz Josef is a small but lively town in the heart of the West Coast, known for its 12 km long glacier. Surrounded by lush rainforest-clad mountains the township has a vibrant and bustling atmosphere. To see the ice from a viewpoint you can walk along the valley floor to the viewpoint below the terminal face. However, to go on the glacier itself you must take a licensed helicopter tour.

Walking tracks in and around Franz Josef

There are many walks and hikes in and around Franz Josef. The information below is provided by the Department of Conservation. Located in Franz Josef village is a Department of Conservation information centre and you can get updates on track conditions and suitability plus you can learn about the area, its natural history and its people. Listed below are a selection of short walks but check with the Department of Conservation information centre for weather conditions, track suitability and conditions  first.

Douglas Walk
The Douglas Walk is an easy one-hour forest walk that passes by the Peters Pool viewpoint and crosses several moraines before descending to the bridge across Dolly Creek on the way back to the road.
Category:  Walking track. Completion Time:  1 hr return

Franz Josef Glacier/Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk
The 40-minute walk to the terminal face of the Franz Josef Glacier follows a rocky path over riverbed. Only experienced and prepared visitors should attempt climbing on the glacier.
Category:  Walking track. Completion Time:  1 hr 30 min return

Lake Wombat Track
The Lake Wombat Track leads you through a lush rimu forest to the idyllic Lake Wombat.
Category:  Walking track. Completion Time:  1 hr 30 min

Okarito walking tracks
North of the Franz Josef Township sits the coastal settlement of Okarito and the Okarito Lagoon. The lagoon is home to more than 76 species of native birds including the kōtuku/white heron and royal spoonbills.
Category:  Walking track.

Peters Pool Walk
The spectacular view at Peters Pool includes Franz Josef Glacier/Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere, and the Fritz Range, including Mt Moltke and Mt Roon.
Category:  Easy access walk. Completion Time:  25 min

Sentinel Rock Walk
Just a short distance south of the Franz Josef Township you will come to the Glacier and Sentinel Rock walks. The Sentinel Rock Lookout offers impressive views of the glacier, the valley and Waiho River.
Category:  Short walk. Completion Time:  20 min

Tatare Tunnels Walk
The 80-minute return Tatare Tunnels Walk follows an old 4WD road to a junction with the Callery/Waiho Walk. From there follow the track to the old water tunnels.
Category:  Walking track. Completion Time:  1 hr 20 min return

Terrace Walk
Follow the Terrace Walk as it winds through forest and goes by remnants of past gold mining operations.
Category:  Short walk. Completion Time:  30 min

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Twin Glacier Scenic Helicopter Flight with The Helicopter Line

Take a spectacular scenic flight over two of New Zealand's most famous glaciers. Land at the head of one and view the incredible sight of this frozen river as it winds its way through ancient carved valleys. Should weather not be suitable to take this flight you are able to transfer your booking onto a similar tour on any of the Helicopter Line's operations in Queenstown or Mt Cook.

Your accommodation: Punga Grove Motel & Suites

Punga Grove is right in the heart of Franz Josef Glacier village and offers affordable and stylish accommodation in a beautiful rainforest setting.

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Southern Alps & Southern Lakes Vacation - Day 8
Franz Josef to Greymouth Train Station

Today head north along the mighty West Coast highway you pass through ancient temperate rainforests while getting sneak peeks of the wild coast beach occasionally. Whataroa is the next town where you can see one of the world's rarest birds, the New Zealand white heron or Kotuku nest at the Waitangi Roto Nature Reserve, and guided tours from October to March will take you there. 
Ross is the site of an old gold mining town and some of the old buildings and workings remain. In fact, Ross is still home to one of the few working gold mines left in New Zealand and the local information center offers you the chance to pan for gold.
Hokitika is a great place to explore craft and gift stores and head to the coast and take in the endless sea views. The Jade or Greenstone on offer in Hokitika is probably some of the best you will see in the country. The Hokitika Gorge is located 45 minutes inland and offers turquoise waters flowing through a narrow gorge. A great short walk will deliver you to this piece of paradise.
Continue on to Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast and the starting point for the next leg of your journey the TranzAlpine Scenic Train. Drop your rental car at the Greymouth Train Station depot located at the train station building before boarding your train to Christchurch.

Return your rental car

Return your rental vehicle to your designated depot before your next adventure.

TranzAlpine Scenic Train: Greymouth to Christchurch

Crossing the south from Greymouth to Christchurch, the Tranz Alpine is considered one of the worlds greatest train journeys. You'll travel from east to the west of the south island through Arthur's Pass National Park.
From the comfort of your carriage see lush beech forest, deep river valleys and the spectacular peaks of the Southern Alps. Descend to the windswept Canterbury Plains before arriving in the city of Christchurch.

Shared Transfer from the Railway Station to a City Hotel with Christchurch Touring

On arrival at the Christchurch railway station, you will be met by a driver and transferred to your Christchurch accommodation.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Māwhera Pā with Pounamu Pathway

Māwhera Pā in Greymouth is the first location along the Pounamu Pathway touring route to open. This self-guided experience is a historical and creative exploration of the Poutini Ngāi Tahu and the Māwhera Pā settlement people, retold by their ancestors. The exhibition will lead you through six different narratives, each tale including a large-scale masterpiece, artistically crafted by Weta Workshop to cultivate an immersive journey of visuals and sound. 

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - TranzAlpine Scenic Plus Addon - KiwiRail

Feel like luxurious service, exclusive meals, inclusive drinks and priority check in and boarding? The Scenic Plus add-on option is for you. Enjoy personal service with panoramic windows, spacious carriages and comfortable seating. The exclusive open-air viewing carriage is available if you feel like capturing the ultimate photo or simply wish to experience the great outdoors whilst travelling through the Southern Alps. Your food is prepared exclusively in a kitchen carriage, with paired drinks and a paddock to plate regionally inspired food menu all your senses will be fully engaged on this journey.

Your accommodation: Quest on Cambridge

Quest on Cambridge serviced apartment-style hotel rooms offer guests a relaxed and comfortable Christchurch accommodation experience. Each room has an open-plan living area, a fully equipped kitchen, and natural light. Quest on Cambridge is a short walk from the south shopping center and only a short walk to the Botanic Gardens.

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 170 kms / 106 miles : 2.1 hours

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Southern Alps & Southern Lakes Vacation - Day 9
Private transfer accommodation to Christchurch Airport

A private transfer will collect you from your accommodation and transfer you to Christchurch Airport in time for your departing flight.

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