We'll kick-start the tour with a warm welcome– a chance for everyone to say ‘Kia Ora’ (hello in Māori) and introduce ourselves
Guides x 2
Maximum group size x 10
Equipment: Your own 3-man canvas tent.
Single stretcher bed x 1
(double for couples on request)
Camp chair x 1
Accommodation: Mostly camping, shared dorm
Breakfasts x 29, Dinners x 19 (incl. tea, coffee and hot chocolate)
In our customised ZigZag Mercedes Sprinter van (incl. your own seat with USB charger)
All road tolls
Click the + to expand
Day 1 – Join your ZigZag adventure with your first night in Akaroa. Free pick up to Akaroa from Christchurch airport or city centre by ZigZag.
Included No meals
Day 2– We wish a fond ‘adieu’ to Akaroa and depart via the breath-taking Summit Road, with its sweeping views of the magnificent harbour and surrounding hilltops. We then head back toward the centre of Canterbury where we join the ‘Inland Scenic Route’ and cross the Rakaia River at the Rakaia Gorge. The alpine-fed river water below is a bright milky-turquoise blue colour and looks astonishing on a sunny day. We then make our way south through rural pastureland before joining the Geraldine/Fairlie Highway and entering the mountains on our way to Lake Tekapo.
Tekapo, nestled on the shores of Lake Tekapo, is in the heart of the Mackenzie Country, and is famous for its glacial, turquoise-coloured lake and its Southern Alps backdrop. It is a popular base for both summer and winter sports, has a fantastic new outdoor hot pool complex that is located right next to our campground, and is also home to the largest internationally recognised ‘Dark Sky Reserve’ in the Southern Hemisphere - one of only eight such reserves in the world. The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve and associated Mount John Observatory offer many opportunities to learn about and enjoy the magnificent night skies above us.
Camping: Lake Tekapo
Day 3 – Spend time today on the picturesque shores of Lake Tekapo with its backdrop of alpine scenery. Relax in the hot springs or enjoy a coffee in the village. This afternoon, we will take the short drive around the bright blue waters of Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook. Be prepared for some stunning views and picture-perfect photo opportunities as we drive deeper and deeper into the Southern Alps.
Day 4 – Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is a rugged landscape of ice and rock. It is home to 19 peaks that tower over 3,000 metres high, including New Zealand's highest mountain Mount Cook, which stands at 3,724 metres. There are many beautiful walks and hikes throughout Mount Cook National Park, and those who choose to wander out on the well-maintained tracks are rewarded with many viewpoints of the stunning mountains, glaciers, rivers and lakes.
In addition to the walks and hikes, you can ‘flightsee’ this iconic landscape from the air, get up close and personal to a real-life iceberg on a lake cruise, learn about the life of one of our greatest explorers Sir Edmund Hilary in the museum, spend time in a Planetarium, or even catch a movie! You may just want to sit, enjoy a coffee, and marvel at the views - there are so many ways to while away the day at Mt Cook Village/The Hermitage.
Day 5 – This morning, we drive south to the geological wonder that is the Omarama Clay Cliffs. This natural rock formation was initially created by glacial run off and has then been further eroded by the weather over the millennia, leaving behind huge funnels and soaring turrets in deep gorges of red dirt that we are able to walk amongst. A cool photography opportunity. We then head toward the east coast again, stopping along the way to view some very rare, early examples of Māori Rock Art that date back hundreds of years. This historic area includes both pre- and post-European occupation sites and is one of only two such sites in the South Island that are open to the public.
We then drive on through the limestone strewn landscape to Oamaru, a harbour town renowned for its proud historic Victorian precinct, its penguins, and for being the ‘Steampunk’ capital of New Zealand. Here you will find all things ‘weird and wonderful’ along with traditional craft shops and galleries nestled amongst the 19th century Victorian buildings.
Day 6 – You have time this morning to enjoy more of Oamaru, before we depart for Dunedin after lunch. Shortly outside of Oamaru, we make a stop at the Moeraki Boulders. These large, unusual rocks are perfectly smooth and spherical, and lie scattered on a deserted stretch of the beautiful Koekohe Beach, providing yet another good photo opportunity.
We then take the scenic coastal road south, winding our way through small villages and settlements with splendid views before heading up over the hills and down into Port Chalmers, Otago’s main harbour town.
A short drive along the harbour takes us to the City of Dunedin, where we spend three nights.
Day 7 – Free Day. Dunedin, a city of contrasts and colours, is the second largest urban area in the South Island. Its rich cosmopolitan culture is enhanced by its strong Scottish heritage and a large tertiary student population that enlivens the city’s centre. The city boasts a popular food and brewery scene, which combines with excellent museums, galleries and botanic gardens to attract visitors all year round.
The University and iconic Railway Station are just some of the many beautiful buildings that have survived from Dunedin’s wealthy Edwardian and Victorian eras, when the proceeds from farming and the gold rush almost saw it become the country’s capital.
Other attractions include Larnach’s Castle (New Zealand’s only castle), the central Octagon and its statue paying homage to the Scottish poet Robbie Burns, and Baldwin Street (officially, the steepest street in the world).
The city is situated along the beautiful Otago Harbour, a large natural inlet that offers brilliant scenic drives, white sandy beaches, amazing hikes and breath-taking views only minutes from the city. Dunedin is also a wildlife haven and is the only place in the world where you can view Northern Royal Albatross on the mainland - their natural habitat at the Royal Albatross Centre on the south-eastern tip of the Otago Peninsula makes for a thrilling day out. Other wildlife tours offer the opportunity to see penguins, seals, sea lions, dolphins and possibly even whales.
Day 8 – Free Day. Enjoy another free day in Dunedin. Alternatively, join our optional scenic tour as we explore some of the lesser-known beauty spots and hidden gems in Dunedin and its surrounds.
Day 9 – Today we leave Dunedin and head into the remote Maniototo, an elevated inland region of Otago famous for its rivers, mountains, high country stations and wide-open spaces. Home to the Otago Central Rail Trail, a multi-day walking and cycling track that follows the old railway line into the heart of the region, the pace is slightly slower here, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
We drive on through rolling hills, granite strewn landscapes, tiny historic hamlets and the forgotten buildings of old gold mining settlements, before cresting a brow and peering down into the country’s largest gold producing mine at Macraes.
We continue on through rock scattered paddocks that look like they could be on the moon, and more abandoned stone remnants of Otago’s extensive gold mining history before coming to the 1930’s ‘art deco’ town of Ranfurly. Fifteen minutes further along the road, we reach Naseby where we spend two nights.
Naseby was originally an old gold mining settlement and has preserved some beautiful historic buildings in its village centre including two stone hotels and an Old Settlers Museum. It is also New Zealand’s ‘Curling’ capital, with a purpose-built stadium that enables visitors to try their hand all year round at this sport popularised by the Winter Olympics. There are also gorgeous forest walks, a public swimming dam, and excellent mountain biking trails.
Day 10 – We head off on a short, optional tour of the Maniototo today. Not far from Naseby lies the small, quaint ‘lost in time’ settlement of Saint Bathans, a once bustling gold mining town that was home to over 2000 residents – today, less than 1% of that number remain. The much-photographed Vulcan Hotel sits proudly on the main street, its interior unchanged from its heyday. Fascinating old photographs on the walls showcase the nearby mine workings, the houses, the sports teams and the colourful local inhabitants who lived here through the centuries, along with stories and tales about the ghost who is supposed to haunt the hotel.
Back outside, the picturesque Blue Lake now hides the remnants of the intensive mining that created it, the spectacular colour of its deep waters intensified by the bright white cliffs that surround it. A loop track along one side of the lake highlights many old mining relics along the way, and signs provide further information about the history of the area.
Then it’s back to Naseby for a game of curling – a sport that has been played here competitively since 1878! We will organise a group session where you will be shown the ropes and you can try your hand at essentially ‘bowling on ice’. A fun, unique experience we think you’ll enjoy.
Day 11 – Today we head south and east, down to the beautiful South Otago coastline. Passing through the Ida Valley, we follow part of the Central Otago Rail Trail through to Ophir, another ancient stone village that is ‘frozen in time’. Frozen it was too in July 1995, when it recorded New Zealand’s coldest ever temperature of 21.6° Celsius.
From there, we pass through the pretty rural town of Alexandra before joining the mighty Clutha River as it makes its way through Central Otago and on to the sea. At Roxburgh, we cross the Clutha via the dam and continue through the Teviot Valley with its beautiful rolling farmland and superb orchards that produce export quality fruit.
Further on, we reach a tiny hamlet called Tuapeka Mouth, another old gold mining area that is now known for its excellent sheep, beef and dairy farming. Here, we again cross the Clutha River, this time via a 125-year-old current-driven punt (motorless ‘ferry’), the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
Passing through Balclutha, we then make our way into The Catlins, a spectacularly scenic region of rugged, isolated coastline and forest in the south-eastern corner of the South Island. We settle into our camp in Pounawea, a quiet seaside settlement which nestles between the estuaries of the Catlins and Owaka Rivers.
After dinner, and weather pending, we’ll drive you up to the ‘Nuggets’ at the Totāra Scenic Reserve for a nerve-tingling photo opportunity. This steep elevated headland with a pretty lighthouse at its tip juts out into the South Pacific Ocean and is surrounded by rocky islets (likened to ‘gold nuggets’, hence the name). The iconic Nugget Point Lighthouse (the oldest lighthouse in the country) has a viewing platform with sensational views over the spiky rocks and out to the ocean’s horizon and looks incredible at sunset.
Day 12 – Today at some point the tides will hopefully allow us to stop at the Cathedral Caves at Waipati Beach – a real Catlin’s highlight. For the rest of our day, we zigzag though the rolling hills, native forests, cascading waterfalls, desolate sandy beaches, high cliffs, rugged bays and inlets, and large ocean swells that dominate the Southern Scenic Route.
Another highlight is the 180-million-year-old petrified forest at Curio Bay, where we will stay for the next two nights.
Camping: Curio Bay
Day 13 – Free Day. Time to explore Curio Bay and its surroundings. The Curio Scape interactive centre located on site is excellent and provides an interesting overview of the area’s unique geology and diversity. Then take any of the numerous walks from the centre out to see the Jurassic fossil forest and the varying wildlife that inhabit the area. If the weather is good, enjoy a dip in stunning Porpoise Bay, or walk for kilometres along the empty white sand beach.
Camping: Curio Bay
Day 14 - Today we visit the southernmost point of New Zealand. Slope Point is a short, windswept peninsula just along the coast from Curio Bay, and is accessed by a short walk from a car park. The sign post erected on top of the rugged cliffs confirms its most southerly location, and the views along the coastline in both directions are superb.
From here, we meander through lush green farmland into Southland, with a quick detour down to Bluff, which most Kiwi’s erroneously believe is the southern-most point of the island.
Bluff is however New Zealand’s southernmost town and is where the country’s State Highway 1 starts/ends (depending on your journey – Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island is the other end). We take you high up above the historic port to the top of Bluff Hill, from where on a clear day you can see all the way across to Stewart Island.
We then continue up through Invercargill and head toward Te Anau, our base and the closest town to Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound.
Camping: Te Anau
Day 15 – Free Day. Fiordland is a scenic wonderland of steep mountains, deep sounds, tumbling waterfalls and dense rainforest. Fulfilling a once in a lifetime experience here is straightforward, with the glacier-carved fiords of Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound within easy reach.
Widely regarded as the ‘8th wonder of the world’, Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular natural attractions. Its waterfall-covered, mile-high mountain peaks rise almost vertically out of the dark waters of the fiord, with the imposing Mitre Peak at its centre one of the most photographed landmarks in the country.
Doubtful Sound, situated further south, and accessed via a boat ride across majestic Lake Manapouri, is considerably bigger than Milford Sound, and just as beautiful. We believe it is best seen as part of an overnight trip, which includes meals, your own cabin on board a cruise boat, and the opportunity to wake up and watch the sunrise over this silent, untouched paradise.
Te Anau is the main base for exploring the region and offers a variety of sightseeing options. These include cruises, helicopter rides, flightseeing, 4x4 journeys, guided hikes, kayaking, and sea plane experiences. Packages also exist that combine tours to both Milford and Doubtful Sounds too. Whichever you choose, this will quickly become one of your Kiwi highlights.
Camping: Te Anau
Day 16 – Free Day. Another day to experience Fiordland. Locally, Te Anau offers its own glow-worm cave experience, pleasant walks around the lakefront, and a busy town centre filled with shops, cafes and restaurants.
Camping: Te Anau
Day 17 – We spend the morning in Te Anau before driving to Queenstown after lunch. The drive is again incredibly scenic, as we pass through large commercial deer stations and high mountains before emerging onto the Southern shores of Lake Wakatipu. The highway then rises up the Devil’s Staircase, a steep but particularly scenic section of the journey which zig-zags to a viewing platform overlooking the lake and surrounding mountains.
Continuing along the cliff edges that fringe the lake, we eventually enter Frankton, a fast-growing outer suburb of Queenstown, before arriving in to the centre of the city itself, where we will spend the next three nights.
Day 18 – Free Day. Queenstown sits on the shores of beautiful Lake Wakatipu and is surrounded by a number of large alpine peaks, and the spectacular Remarkables mountain range. Often referred to as ‘the adventure capital’ of New Zealand, Queenstown has an abundance of things to see and do.
For those of you with a quest for thrill-seeking, why not try the first and most famous bungy jump in the world, or one of the many exhilarating jet boat rides in the area, white water rafting or bodyboarding, a 4WD adventure, skydiving, ziplining, or even the bone-shaking ‘semi-submersible shark ride’! The list is exhaustive.
If you prefer things a little slower paced, then check out the gondola and the astonishing views from the top of Bob’s Peak, a paraglide over the town, a lake cruise on the famous TSS Earnslaw (an iconic century-old coal-fired steamship), a stroll through the botanical gardens, or just time on the lakeshore and a wander through the shops in the pleasant town centre.
If you are a Lord Of The Rings fan, you might want to hire a car or join a tour to nearby Glenorchy. A number of the incredible locations surrounding this tiny township were prominent backdrops for the movie series.
Day 19 – Free Day. Another day to explore and enjoy the beautiful Queenstown. Options for today might include hiring a bike, a spot of fishing, or hiring a car and driving to the top of Walter Peak farm for the best views in town.
Day 20 – Upon leaving Queenstown today, we make our first stop in Arrowtown, a historic gold mining settlement. Nestled by the Arrow River, this picturesque and character-filled village has retained much of its original ‘gold rush’ architecture, and the pretty colonnade of old shops and buildings in its centre resemble those from an old ‘wild west’ film.
Just off the main street are a series of quaint old miners' cottages that lead to the ‘Chinese village’ – a separate area that was allocated to the Chinese gold miners who came to Arrowtown to seek their fortunes. Steeped in history, this open-air museum provides a glimpse into the tough and often unrewarded lives that these courageous early miners led.
We then travel through the Kawarau Gorge, around Lake Dunstan, and on to the resort town of Wanaka. Wanaka is the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park and sits on the shores of beautiful Lake Wanaka. Full of beauty spots and photo opportunities, one of its most famous is the Instagram-friendly “#that Wanaka tree”, an iconic (but rather small in stature) willow tree that wallows in the lake’s shallows and has become a social media photographed phenomenon.
We stop and spend a relaxed afternoon in this vibrant little town, before driving on to nearby Lake Hawea where we will spend the next two nights.
Day 21 – Free Day. Lake Hawea, only a 15-minute drive from Wanaka, is an outdoor paradise and a real beauty spot. Hawea offers a quiet and peaceful alternative to the hustle and bustle of the larger resort towns in the region, and is a hub for mountains trails, lakeside walks, swimming, and bike riding.
If you would prefer to spend your time back in Wanaka, try climbing either Mount Iron or the incredibly popular, much higher, and physically exhausting Roy’s Peak for incredible 360-degree views of Lake Wanaka. If hiking isn’t your cup of tea, then there are numerous water-based activities to try out on the lake, bike hire options, a fabulous boutique movie cinema in the city centre, and a delightful little international food truck ‘square’ nestled above a babbling brook and an old waterwheel.
Day 22 – Upon leaving the town of Hawea, we follow the lake from its tip to a section called ‘The Neck’ on this, one of the most spectacular driving days of the entire 90-day trip. We soon leave Lake Hawea for good, but within minutes, join the upper section of Lake Wanaka, where we continue on our stunning drive through Mount Aspiring National Park and the Southern Alps.
For much of the morning, we are surrounded by high mountains and glaciers, waterfalls and river valleys, alpine lakes and lush Beech forest, all of which is pristine, remote and untouched.
Nestled amongst the forest within the National Park are the Blue Pools, a series of deep, crystal-clear cascades that flow into the Makarora River. These natural pools are an almost luminous turquoise in colour, and are accessed by a short, pleasant walk through the forest and over swing bridges. Large trout can be seen swimming in the pools, and many visitors cannot resist taking a swim in this alpine paradise.
We continue our dramatic drive over the Haast Pass and alongside the Haast River as it weaves its way down to the West Coast and out to sea. More incredible beauty spots come and go, until we eventually emerge out of the mountains and into the thick forest of Westland.
Heading north, we drive past a number of desolate black sand beaches and alpine valleys before finally entering ‘Glacier Country’ – one of New Zealand’s most diverse landscapes and home to the highest mountains, longest glaciers, tallest forests, wildest rivers, and most rugged of its coastlines.
There are around 3,100 glaciers scattered throughout the Southern Alps, but most are inaccessible due to the high altitude and harsh geography. So how lucky are we that the stunning Fox and Franz Josef glaciers happen to be the most accessible in the world.Fed by four alpine glaciers, Fox Glacier is 13km long and descends 2600m from the Southern Alps towards the coast. Franz Josef Glacier is 12km long and descends 3000m. Both are surrounded by truly spectacular scenery. We spend three nights in the town of Franz Josef.
Camping: Franz Josef
Day 23 – Free Day. Whether you want to ice-climb up them, take a thrilling helicopter ride over the top and land on the ice sheet above them, or just marvel at them from the various hiking trails that weave their way through the valleys below, there are a multitude of ways to see and experience these amazing glaciers.
We have chosen the little town of Franz Josef as our base for all the activities that can be done here and hope you enjoy its mountain alpine/ski resort vibe.
Camping: Franz Josef
Day 24 – Free Day. A second day to explore this incredible area. In addition to the more adventurous activities on offer, there are a range of short walks and full day hikes in and around this region.
You might also want to experience the West Coast Wildlife Centre*, an indoor wildlife centre where you can see New Zealand’s ancient tuatara and Kiwi birds.
*at your own cost
Camping: Franz Josef
Day 25 – Today, we head just north of Franz Josef to the small seaside settlement of Ōkārito. Surrounded by ocean, estuary, lagoons and the mountains, this beautiful coastal area offers short walks with unsurpassed views of the Southern Alps and the wetlands. There are also award-winning bird-watching tours and kayaks for hire on the lagoon.
After spending some time in Okarito, we drive north to Hokitika, a pleasant harbour town located on the mouth of the Hokitika River.
Day 26 – This morning we visit the Hokitika Gorge in the Hokitika Scenic Reserve. The gorge is spectacular - the water is an incredible blue-green colour, and the gorge walls are dramatic. A short walk along a track leads to a series of curved boardwalks and swing bridges which wind through the Beech and Rimu forest above the gorge. Throughout the walk there are a number of viewing platforms where you can admire the colourful waters. Near the end of the track, the 90m suspension bridge that crosses the main channel of the gorge provides more astonishing river views with a backdrop of the Southern Alps in the background.Leaving the gorge, we head back to the coast and drive north to Greymouth, before turning inland and heading towards Reefton, the first town in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric streetlights in 1888.
We continue our journey across the Lewis Pass, the northernmost of New Zealand’s three passes across the Southern Alps. We then follow the Waiau River through to Hanmer Springs where we will spend two nights.
Camping: Hanmer Springs
Day 27 – Free Day. Hanmer Springs is a small alpine resort located in the Northern Canterbury region of the South Island. It is best known for its Thermal Pools and Spa complex, which can be found right in the middle of the village. Offering a range of natural sulphur and mineral pool experiences, some with bubbles and water jets too, this open-air park is a very relaxing place to while away a few hours.
There are also a range of walking and cycling tracks to explore around Hanmer, and the village itself is home to many restaurants, cafes and boutique shops.
Those adventurers amongst you might choose to take a day trip into the neighbouring Molesworth Station, New Zealand’s largest farm at almost half a million acres. It is renowned for its stunning tundra-like scenery, scree-scarred mountains, lakes, tarns, wide valleys and braided alpine rivers. There are also a number of old, historical buildings scattered across the farm’s landscape.
Camping: Hanmer Springs
Day 28 – You have the morning to spend in Hanmer Springs. We then travel the beautiful inland route through to Kaikōura, via the historic settlements of Rotherham, Waiau, and Mt Lyford.
Day 29 – Free Day. Kaikōura is a picturesque fishing village situated between the rugged Seaward Kaikōura mountain range and the Pacific Ocean. It is world famous as a hub for whale watching and wild dolphin swimming, both of which operate all year round.
The fascinating Kaikōura Museum provides a superb introduction to the region’s natural, Māori and whaling histories, and its more recent surf culture. It also showcases the tremendously powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit the area in 2016 and created huge rifts in the land – the Kaikōura Peninsula itself moved north-east by almost one metre and rose 70 centimetres at the same time.
The town has an array of waterfront cafes and restaurants to enjoy and there are many beautiful walks around the peninsula.
Along the peninsula, you will find Fyffe House, Kaikōura’s oldest surviving building and the last remnant of a pioneering whaling station from the 1840’s. The old whaler’s cottage contains bones, relics and artifacts and makes for an interesting visit.
A group farewell dinner is provided tonight at a local restaurant.
Day 30 – We begin this final day with a leisurely morning in Kaikōura. We then drive to the very end of the peninsula where the Point Kean viewpoint offers superb views of the Kaikōura coastline and mountains.
A short walk away is the famous Kaikōura Seafood BBQ* kiosk, which serves a variety of locally harvested ‘seafood goodness’ including crayfish, scallops, paua and whitebait fritters, mussels, grilled fish, prawns and their specialty seafood chowder.
After lunch, we drive south along the craggy Kaikōura coastline before heading inland toward the wineries and sheep farms of the northern Canterbury plains.
We eventually cross the mighty Waimakariri River, and enter the South Island’s largest city, Christchurch where we will drop you off at one of two locations – either in the central city or out at the airport.
*at your own cost