Southern Highlights Wellington to the Southern Alps
10 day South Island Self Drive, from Wellington to Christchurch
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New Zealand tour itinerary name and information

Southern Highlights Wellington to the Southern Alps

From the North Island you’ll cruise across the Cook Strait, passing through the picturesque Marlborough Sounds to Picton.  From here you’ll journey south for an exploration of mountains, glaciers and coastlines that are home to a range of marine wildlife.  Highlights of this tour include, Mt. Cook National Park, the spectacular West Coast and the grand finale which takes you across the Southern Alps on board the Tranz Alpine Scenic Train.

Tour summary and feature
Itinerary details at a glance

South Island Self Drive

This suggested tour costs from NZD$2,798 per person (twin share, low season)

Starts in Wellington, finishes in Christchurch

10 days/9 nights

Hotel 4 star

 Rental car insurance included: Fully inclusive with variable excess/deductible

 Rental car inclusions: GPS navigation, unlimited kms, airport/ferry terminal fees, additional drivers

 Viewed 10 times in the last 7 days

Tour feature
Also included with this tour

All breakfasts

Private train station transfers

Private airport transfers

Tour at a glance
Quick itinerary overview - Southern Highlights Wellington to the Southern Alps

Day 1: Welcome to Wellington
Accommodation: Bolton Hotel Wellington

Day 2: Today you'll cross the Cook Strait on the Interislander Ferry. Approaching Picton you'll cruise through the spectacular Marlborough Sounds
Accommodation: Picton Yacht Club Hotel

Day 3: Today you'll enjoy a drive on the beautiful coast highway to Christchurch today
Accommodation: Distinction Hotel Christchurch
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 326 kms / 202 miles : 4.0 hours

Day 4: Enjoy a scenic drive today to Mt Cook
Accommodation: Hermitage Hotel, Wakefield Wing Superior Room
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 350 kms / 217 miles : 4.1 hours

Day 5: Leaving the MacKenzie Country you'll follow the Waitaki River to the coast, where you'll turn south for Dunedin
Accommodation: Distinction Dunedin Hotel
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 318 kms / 197 miles : 3.7 hours

Day 6: Travel through the rich farmland of South Otago and Southland to reach Te Anau, gateway to Fiordland
Accommodation: Distinction Te Anau Hotel & Villas
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 396 kms / 246 miles : 5.0 hours

Day 7: Head north through rolling Southland countryside then follow Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown
Accommodation: Millennium Hotel Queenstown
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 164 kms / 102 miles : 1.9 hours

Day 8: Take the Crown Range Road to Wanaka before travelling the spectacular Haast Pass to the West Coast
Accommodation: Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 350 kms / 217 miles : 4.6 hours

Day 9: Drive north along the stunning West Coast Road and take the TranzAlpine train to Christchurch
Accommodation: Distinction Hotel Christchurch
Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 170 kms / 106 miles : 2.1 hours

Day 10: Depart Christchurch today

Detailed itinerary
See a day by day description including activities & accommodation suggestions for this itinerary example
Tour full itinerary
Day 1 - Welcome to Wellington
Private transfer Wellington airport to your accommodation

You will be met on arrival at Wellington airport and transferred to your accommodation.

Itinerary information by APP & in country support

Access to our exclusive New Zealand Touring APP. The APP includes your full itinerary and reservation details, all available online and offline as well as lots of other great information such as restaurant guides, weather forecasts and local activity suggestions. Instant itinerary updates and changes are available and it's easy to keep in touch with us. The App is free and easy to download on your mobile using Android or IOS.
You also have access to our free call number and after-hours service if you require support while on tour.

Your accommodation: Bolton Hotel Wellington

The Bolton Hotel offers contemporary apartment-style accommodation in the heart of Wellington. Just steps from the Parliament buildings and central business district, Bolton Hotel is conveniently close to the best of the city's shops, cafes and restaurants and is within walking distance of Wellington's vibrant waterfront.
Day 2 - Today you'll cross the Cook Strait on the Interislander Ferry. Approaching Picton you'll cruise through the spectacular Marlborough Sounds
Southern Highlights Wellington to the Southern Alps - Day 2
Private transfer to Interislander ferry terminal

You will be collected from your hotel and transferred to the Interislander ferry terminal in time for your ferry check in.

Interislander Ferry Wellington to Picton

The 92 km journey between Wellington and Picton takes around 3 hours and has been described as 'one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world'. Leaving Wellington Harbour you pass many interesting points such as Pencarrow Head on top of which is New Zealand's oldest lighthouse (1859). Red Rocks is home to a seal colony and Oterangi Bay is the site which recorded the country's highest ever wind speed of 268 kph (167 mph).
From the Cook Strait spectacular views of the Kaikoura Ranges on the South Island can be enjoyed and dolphins and many sea birds are often seen. Around one hour of the cruise takes you through the Marlborough Sounds and this region of bush covered mountains, small islands, crystal clear waters and secluded bays offer remarkable photographic opportunities. The final leg of your cruise travels through Queen Charlotte Sound before coming to an end in the picturesque town of Picton.

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.

Your accommodation: Picton Yacht Club Hotel

Located in the heart of Picton, only a short walk to the marina, shopping & dining precinct and the ferry terminal. Being in the Marlborough region, it is the gateway to the top of the picturesque South Island and Queen Charlotte Sound.

Meals included: Breakfast

Day 3 - Today you'll enjoy a drive on the beautiful coast highway to Christchurch today
Southern Highlights Wellington to the Southern Alps - Day 3
SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Ko Tāne Māori Experience and Guided Kiwi Tour

Get a unique glimpse into the indigenous Māori culture when you visit the Ko Tāne Living Māori Village and Willowbank Wildlife reserve. This activity begins with a guided kiwi tour of the reserve with one of Willowbank's experienced guides. Following this enjoy the Māori cultural performance, you will be entertained with a kapa haka performance which includes action songs, poi dances, haka, stick games and weapons displays. The performance also gives you, an opportunity to learn the poi and the haka, then enjoy a four-course hāngī dinner.

Picton to Christchurch

Cross the ‘dry hills’ of the Marlborough ranges as you leave Picton and head towards one of the most spectacular coastlines of the South Island, the Kaikoura Coast. Follow the coastline for around 50 kilometres and be sure too keep an eye out for seabirds and New Zealand fur seals. Arriving into the Kaikoura Township, enjoy its bustling atmosphere. With many cafes, restaurants and shops theres plenty to do - but the main reason for visiting is the wildlife. Whale Watch Kaikoura is New Zealand's only marine-based whale watching company offering visitors an exciting up-close encounter with the Giant Sperm Whale at all times of the year.  Depending on the season you may also see migrating Humpback Whales, Pilot Whales, Blue Whales and Southern Right Whales.

The drive from Kaikoura to Christchurch continues to follow the spectacular coastline before heading inland and through North Canterbury’s major wine region, the Waipara Valley to arrive into Christchurch City.

Your accommodation: Distinction Hotel Christchurch

This luxury hotel is centrally located in the revitalised Cathedral Square in the heart of the city, a short stroll from the Avon River, Botanical Gardens, Christchurch Casino, Cashel Mall and new Christchurch Convention Centre.

Meals included: Breakfast

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 326 kms / 202 miles : 4.0 hours

Day 4 - Enjoy a scenic drive today to Mt Cook
Southern Highlights Wellington to the Southern Alps - Day 4
Christchurch to 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 color. Continue along the lake to your final destination Mt Cook Village. Please note there are no food or shops at Mount Cook you will need to stock up prior to arriving in Mount Cook if you wish to self cater.

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: Hermitage Hotel, Wakefield Wing Superior Room

The Hermitage Hotel ringed by magnificent snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, is a world-renowned tourist destination and has been an icon of superior accommodation and dining since 1884. Room type - Wakefield Wing Superior room facing Aoraki/Mt. Cook.

Meals included: Breakfast

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

Day 5 - Leaving the MacKenzie Country you'll follow the Waitaki River to the coast, where you'll turn south for Dunedin
Southern Highlights Wellington to the Southern Alps - Day 5
Mt. Cook National Park to Dunedin

Today you'll leave Mt Cook National Park and travel past Twizel, one of the locations for the Lord of the Rings films. Go through Omarama - gliding capital of New Zealand - but be sure to 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 were a little late off the mark this morning you may get the chance to see the blue penguins come ashore at dusk.
Continue south down the coast to Moeraki, and take a detour towards the beach to see the Moeraki Boulders, a unique geological feature well worth a look. As you arrive in Dunedin, take in the city’s Edwardian and Scottish heritage reflected in the buildings around the city centre - The Octagon.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Speights Brewery Tour

Founded in 1876, the Speights Brewery still occupies its original Dunedin site - with several of its buildings dating back to the late 1800's. One of the only remaining 'gravity breweries' in the world, your 60-minute tour will take you through its inner workings. You'll also have a chance to taste six different beers as well as bottle, cap and brew your own personal Speights Gold Medal Ale - the brewery's flagship beer.

Your accommodation: Distinction Dunedin Hotel

Distinction Dunedin Hotel occupies the grand Chief Post Office built in the 1930’s. This art deco inspired building has recently been transformed into a 4 star hotel with elegant décor, set in the heart of the city.

Meals included: Breakfast

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 318 kms / 197 miles : 3.7 hours

Day 6 - Travel through the rich farmland of South Otago and Southland to reach Te Anau, gateway to Fiordland
Southern Highlights Wellington to the Southern Alps - Day 6
Dunedin to Te Anau

The drive to Te-Anau takes you through classic Southland farming scenery. Head off-the-beaten-track today and follow the coastline instead of the inland route. Go through The Catlins area and be sure to take a detour to Kaka Point to view its majestic cliffs and pounding surf. Continue through Invercargill to Riverton and Colac Bay, and then head north to Manapouri. From here you can embark on a day or overnight cruise to the remote Doubtful Sound - renowned for its natural beauty. Just a short way further will bring you to your lakeside destination of Te Anau, gateway to Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Te Anau Glowworm Caves

Begin your Te Anau Glowworm experience with a scenic cruise across Lake Te Anau on board the luxury catamaran, Luminosa, to the western side of the lake. On arrival, you'll enter the caves through Cavern House, where informative displays detail the history of this 12,000 year old underground network.
You'll then explore by limestone pathway while your guide points out hidden whirlpools, sculpted rock formations and a rushing underground waterfall. See a magical display of thousands of glowworms as you glide through the darkness in a small boat.

Your accommodation: Distinction Te Anau Hotel & Villas

The Te Anau Hotel and Villas offers a range of accommodation from hotel rooms and suites to villas. Ideally located on the lake front this hotel is just a few minutes stroll from the shops, cafes and many activities Te Anau has to offer.

Meals included: Breakfast

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 396 kms / 246 miles : 5.0 hours

Day 7 - Head north through rolling Southland countryside then follow Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown
Southern Highlights Wellington to the Southern Alps - Day 7
Te Anau to Queenstown

Today make your way to Queenstown across vast tussocklands. Head through Mossburn, the deer capital of the nation then continue on through rolling southland countryside. Soon the road skirts the lake edge and the Remarkables mountain range makes for an impressive welcome to Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Jet Boat the Shotover River

Take a ride on ‘Big Red’ through the spectacular canyon walls of the upper Shotover River.  Shotover Jet Boat is the only company allowed to operate in this remarkable location and their skilled drivers will take you on a wet and wild ride you’ll never forget.

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

Go back in time on this return trip to Walter Peak High Country Farm aboard the historic TSS Earnslaw Steamship. You'll be greeted off the boat and guided through beautiful lakeside gardens to the charming homestead.
Here you'll enjoy a Gourmet BBQ dinner which your chef will prepare in front of you. The seasonal menu includes an expansive array of local produce, including succulent meats cooked on the outdoor rotisserie and a selection of delicious vegetables and salads. Finish your meal with an irresistible dessert, New Zealand cheeses and freshly brewed tea and coffee. After dinner, an entertaining and informative demonstration gives you a glimpse of life in the high country.
On your cruise home, enjoy the camaraderie of a singalong with the ship's pianist or breathe in the fresh night air as you watch the lights of Queenstown draw nearer.

Your accommodation: Millennium Hotel Queenstown

Right in the heart of the action, the Millennium Hotel is just minutes from Queenstown's central shopping and entertainment district. Outdoor activities such as bungy jumping, white water rafting and jet boating are just some of the easily accessible activities nearby in New Zealand's adventure capital.

Meals included: Breakfast

Driving distance and time (approximate) for this leg: 164 kms / 102 miles : 1.9 hours

Day 8 - Take the Crown Range Road to Wanaka before travelling the spectacular Haast Pass to the West Coast
Southern Highlights Wellington to the Southern Alps - Day 8
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 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 - a 600 km stretch of bush and native rainforest. Fox Glacier welcomes you first, then comes your destination for the night - Franz Josef township.

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.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Glacier Hot Pools

Nestled within the lush rainforest surrounds, the Glacier Hot Pools is a haven of tranquility. Unwind in one of the three main pools. Temperatures range from 36 to 40 degrees and the water comes directly from a glacial stream. Wash off the day and rejuvenate in this unique forest paradise.

Your accommodation: Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier

Only a breath away from the Franz Josef Glacier, Scenic Hotel is located in the heart of Franz Josef Village. Here you will find all of the amenities you would expect, as well as being close to the shops, restaurants and activities on offer in the beautiful Westland region.

Meals included: Breakfast

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

Day 9 - Drive north along the stunning West Coast Road and take the TranzAlpine train to Christchurch
Southern Highlights Wellington to the Southern Alps - Day 9
Franz Josef to Greymouth Train Station

Today you’ll head north through the historic gold mining region of Hokitika. Known for its Greenstone (Pounamu) this seaside town has a rich history dating back to the 1860’s. Head to the coast and take in the endless sea-views or pick up a souvenir at one of the many craft shops. 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 inside the train station building before boarding your train to Christchurch.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY - Monteiths Brewery Personalised Bottle & Tour

From humble origins in 1868, the Monteith's family-owned Phoenix Brewery became the West Coast's most popular brewery for its strong tasting, full-bodied ale. The Phoenix Brewery later merged with a group of small breweries to form Westland Brewing Company, predecessor to today's Monteith's Brewing Company. In this informative brewery experience, you will learn about the heritage and traditions of the brewing business. Witness the making of a fine beer in open fermenters by coal-fired boilers, using only the finest ingredients. Watch the brewers carefully hand craft the beer in small batches to develop the full natural flavours. When each batch is ready, the brewers employ a brilliant time honoured tradition for quality control - they taste it.

On completion, you will receive a tasting a 3 beers of your choice from the tap at the Brewery bar, plus your very own personalised Monteith's 500ml bottle with your name on it - a personalised endorsement from the head brewer himself.

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.

Private Transfer Christchurch Train Station to your accommodation

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

Your accommodation: Distinction Hotel Christchurch

This luxury hotel is centrally located in the revitalised Cathedral Square in the heart of the city, a short stroll from the Avon River, Botanical Gardens, Christchurch Casino, Cashel Mall and new Christchurch Convention Centre.

Meals included: Breakfast

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

Day 10 - Depart Christchurch today
Southern Highlights Wellington to the Southern Alps - Day 10
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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