We'll kick-start the tour with a welcome meeting in Christchurch – 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 45
Dinners x 30 (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 – We start off today with a very informal welcome meeting in Christchurch. A chance for everyone to say ‘Kia Ora’ (hello in Māori), for us to introduce ourselves, tell you a little bit more about the coming days, and answer any questions you may have. We’ll pack up our trailer, introduce you to the van and hit the road.
We begin our journey by crossing the mighty Waimakariri River and driving out of the South Island’s largest city. We drive north through the wineries and sheep farms of the northern Canterbury plains and on to the craggy Kaikōura coastline.
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.
We will stop at 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.
We will then head to our camp for the night, providing a tent demonstration and assisting you on your first night as a ‘Zigzagger’.
A group welcome dinner is provided tonight at a local restaurant.
*at your own cost
Included B,D (Breakfast, Dinner)
Day 2 – Free Day. 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.
Day 3 –Today we drive the beautiful inland route through to Hanmer Springs, via the historic settlements of Mt Lyford, Waiau and Rotherham.
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.
You have the rest of the afternoon to spend in Hanmer Springs.
Camping: Hanmer Springs
Day 4 – Free Day. In addition to the Thermal Pools, 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 5 – This morning we cross the Lewis Pass, the northernmost of New Zealand’s three passes across the Southern Alps, and drive to Reefton, the first town in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric streetlights back in 1888.
We then head southwest, passing through the coastal town of Greymouth, before heading down the coast, and then veering inland to Hokitika Gorge in the Hokitika Scenic Reserve.
Hokitika 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.
We spend tonight in Hokitika, a pleasant harbour town that sits on the mouth of the Hokitika River on the West Coast.
Day 6 – Today, we head south 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 Ōkārito, we drive south to Franz Josef where we enter ‘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 7 - 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 8 - 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 view New Zealand’s ancient tuatara and Kiwi birds.
*at your own cost
Camping: Franz Josef
Day 9 - We leave Franz Josef on this, one of the most spectacular driving days of the entire 90-day trip. For much of today, 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.
But first, we head south, through the village of Fox Glacier and past a number of desolate black sand beaches and alpine valleys before reaching the small town of Haast. We then continue our dramatic drive inland alongside the Haast River and through the aptly named Pleasant Valley before we start to make our way up and over the mighty Haast Pass, deep within Mount Aspiring National Park.
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 stunning drive amongst the Southern Alps to where we briefly join the upper section of Lake Wanaka, before scaling another short pass and being greeted by astonishing views of neighbouring Lake Hawea.
We continue along the shores of the lake until we reach the hamlet of Hawea itself, where we will spend two nights.
Day 10 – 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 in Wanaka, consider 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 11 – Upon leaving Hawea today, we make our first stop in 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 morning in this vibrant little town, before travelling around Lake Dunstan and through the Kawarau Gorge to 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.
From Arrowtown, we head to the exciting city of Queenstown where we stay for three nights.
Day 12 – 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 13 – Free Day. Another day to explore and enjoy 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 14 – Today we drive to Te Anau, the main base for Fiordland National Park and the closest town to Milford Sound.
The drive itself is incredibly scenic, as we travel out of the city and on through Frankton, a fast-growing outer suburb of Queenstown.
We then head south along the cliff edges that fringe Lake Wakatipu until we reach the Devil’s Staircase, a steep but particularly scenic section of the journey which zigzags up to a viewing platform overlooking the lake and surrounding mountains.
Leaving the Southern shores of the lake, we then pass large commercial deer stations and weave our way between high mountains before entering Fiordland and the town of Te Anau, our base for three nights.
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 – Today, we make our way down through the stunning rural scenery of Southland before passing through Invercargill and on to Bluff, the harbour town that most Kiwi’s erroneously believe is the most southerly point of mainland New Zealand.
It actually isn’t, but it is 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 at 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.
From here, we meander east through lush green farmland before stopping to visit the ‘real’ most southerly point on the island. Slope Point juts out on a small, windswept peninsula and is accessed via a short walk from the nearby 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.
We then continue on our journey, arriving a few minutes later in Curio Bay, one of the many jewels in The Catlins, a spectacularly scenic region of rugged, isolated coastline and forest in the south-eastern corner of the South Island.
Camping: Curio Bay
Day 18 – Free Day. Time to explore Curio Bay, it's 180-million-year-old petrified forest and the surrounding area.
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 19 – Today at some point, the tides will hopefully allow us to stop at the Cathedral Caves at Waipati Beach (tides permitting) – 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.
We settle into our camp this afternoon 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 20 – Leaving the beautiful South Otago coastline and passing through Balclutha on our way north, we reach a tiny hamlet called Tuapeka Mouth, an old gold mining area that is now known for its excellent sheep, beef and dairy farming. Here, we cross the mighty Clutha River via a 125-year-old current-driven punt (motorless ‘ferry’), the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
We then follow the river up through the Teviot Valley with its beautiful rolling farmland and superb orchards before reaching Roxburgh where we cross a large dam over the Clutha again.
We then pass through the pretty rural town of Alexandra and on to Ophir, an 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.
We drive on, up through the Ida Valley, where we follow part of the Central Otago Rail Trail, a multi-day walking and cycling track built on a disused railway line that runs right through the heart of the region, before reaching Naseby, our base for the next 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 21– 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 22– We depart Naseby for the 1930’s ‘art deco’ town of Ranfurly. After a short stop here, we travel into the remote Maniototo, an elevated inland region of Otago famous for its rivers, mountains, high country stations and wide-open spaces. 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 leaving the Maniototo and joining the Southern Motorway which leads us in to the city of Dunedin.
Day 23 – 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 24 – 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 25 – Today we take the scenic coastal road out of the Dunedin city centre and past Port Chalmers, Otago’s main harbour town, before heading up over the hills and winding our way north through small seaside villages and settlements.
Along the coast, 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 a great photo opportunity.
We then continue 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 26 – Leaving Oamaru, we drive inland through the limestone strewn landscape before 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 continue up the gorgeous Hakataramea Valley 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. Another good photography opportunity.
This afternoon, we take the beautiful drive up to the bright blue waters of Lake Pukaki and on 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 27 – 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 28 – We take the short drive back around Lake Pukaki to Tekapo. Spend the rest of the day on the picturesque shores of Lake Tekapo with its backdrop of alpine scenery. Relax in the hot springs or enjoy time in the village.
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 29 – Driving over high passes and between more tall mountains, we say goodbye to the Mackenzie Country and head toward the rural towns of Fairlie and Geraldine, before turning north on the ‘Inland Scenic Route’ and driving through the lush pastureland of the Canterbury Plains.
We cross the Rakaia River at the Rakaia Gorge, an alpine-fed river whose water far below is a bright milky-turquoise blue colour and looks astonishing on a sunny day.
We then head east to Banks Peninsula and the small coastal settlement of Akaroa with its proud French heritage, via the breath-taking Summit Road. Its sweeping views of the harbour and surrounding hilltops are magnificent.
Day 30 – Free Day. Your time to explore the most ‘French’ town in New Zealand, with its historic buildings, magnificent harbour, galleries, craft stores, ‘boulangeries’ and waterfront cafes. Relax or take part in the many activities that are on offer, whether it be out on the water, visiting the quirky art collections, or simply sitting by the shore enjoying a gelato.
Day 31 – We say ‘adieu’ to Akaroa this morning and head all the way back across country via the famous Arthurs Pass National Park to the little village of Moana, situated on the shores of beautiful Lake Brunner.
The amazing scenery starts as soon as we wind our way up out of Akaroa and over the hills of Bank Peninsula to the shores of Lake Ellesmere, and then on through the fertile Canterbury Plains to the start of Arthur’s Pass.
Arthurs Pass sits inside the National Park and is the highest of the three passes that traverse the South Island’s Southern Alps mountain range. Its huge peaks are home to vast scree slopes, steep gorges and wide shingle-bottomed rivers, which dwarf Highway 73 and create the most dramatic alpine scenery - a landscape photographer’s dream. Don’t worry - we’ll make plenty of stops along the way.
We leave the pass on the other side of the Alps, and veer north off Highway 73 to make our way to isolated Lake Brunner, deep in the heart of the West Coast.
Day 32 – Free Day. Your time to savour the beauty of this incredibly remote spot on the shores of the West Coast's largest lake. Epic fishing, photography, canoeing and bushwalking adventures await, while birdwatchers will delight at the abundance of wekas and other feathered New Zealand locals.
Day 33 – Heading to the coast and venturing north today, we take you to see Pancake Rocks, a geological marvel located at Punakaiki.
Thirty million years of erosion has created varying layers of hard and soft limestone, all of which look like gigantic ‘stacks of pancakes’, hence the name. The same erosion has also created a series of caves and channels. On a rough day, the sea thunders into the caves and forces its way up through the vertical shafts, bursting out the top through a number of blowholes. This impressive natural wonder can be accessed via a series of well-maintained boardwalks and pathways.
Heading further north we hug the craggy coastline as we wind our way up the West Coast. Along the way, we pass endless black sand beaches, headlands and bays on our left, and deep gorges, high cliffs and the dense rainforest of the Paparoa National Park.
We will stop in Westport where you may want to visit the interesting Coaltown Mining Museum*, before we move on to the tiny coastal enclave of Mokihinui.
*at your own cost
Day 34 – Today, we’re going on an optional, but totally unmissable, day trip north to the Oparara Basin and its intriguing complex of limestone caves, arches, outcrops and channels, deep in the Kahurangi National Park. Scientists believe it has taken over a million years for the somewhat placid Oparara River to carve out these stunning formations – so impressive that they featured in the Lord Of The Rings movies too.
After a quick pit stop in Karamea, we head up to the turn off, and drive in towards the car park. From there, visitors walk through an ‘enchanted’ rainforest comprising of ancient beech and podocarp trees that are thickly carpeted in mosses and ferns. The feeling of being in a fairy-tale increases once you enter the arches themselves.
The huge Oparara arch is the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere, soaring 43m high, 79m wide and 219m long. It is very impressive, artfully lit from both directions, and creates stunning reflections in the dark, whiskey-coloured waters of the river below.
The Moria Gate Arch is smaller at 19 metres high but is arguably more photogenic and can be accessed through a small hole in the forest floor, from which you can walk the riverbank from one end of the arch to the other.
A well-maintained track from the second arch then circles around through the forest, passed a Mirror Lake tarn amongst the trees, and back to the car park and its cheeky Weka birds.
Once everyone is back, we’ll head back down south to our camp for the night.
Day 35 – Today we ‘tackle’ the Buller Gorge, an incredibly scenic drive that follows the Buller River as it meanders down through the Southern Alps to the Tasman Sea.
Following the thin strip of bitumen that is Highway 67 south as it squeezes between the desolate black sand beaches of the West Coast on our right and the rugged, forested mountains of Kahurangi National Park on our left, we reach Westport again before turning inland and driving through the breath-taking ‘Lower’ section of the gorge.
Halfway through the ‘Upper’ section of the gorge, we stop at New Zealand’s longest swing bridge (110m in length). Marvel at the colour of the water below as you cross the bridge, and then read about and witness the area’s dramatic gold mining and seismic history in the open-air museum on the other side (included). If you are brave enough, take the zip line back across the river afterwards (not included)!
We then make our way to Murchison where we stay for the night.
Day 36 – Today, we make our way northeast along scenic Highway 6, before turning off and driving through the quiet, pleasant back-country roads and orchards along the Motueka River to the vibrant little town of Motueka.
After a short stop here, we zig zag our way up over the mighty Takaka Hill to Golden Bay. At an elevation of 791m above sea level, this sheer mountain pass boasts phenomenal views over Takaka Valley and Golden Bay below, and the Tasman Mountain Range and Kahurangi National Park in the distance.
On the other side, we make a stop in the township of Takaka itself, a colourful, characterful wee place with interesting boutique shops and cafes.
From there, it is on to Collingwood, our final destination for the day and our camp for two nights. Collingwood is a beautiful, quiet little settlement and a great base from which to explore the top of the South Island, Farewell Spit, Cape Farewell and Wharariki Beach.
Day 37 – Free Day. Collingwood started life as a bustling gold rush town back in the 1800’s, but today it is better known as a tranquil ecotourism destination due to its proximity to Kahurangi National Park and the Farewell Spit Nature Reserve.
Farewell Spit Nature Reserve is a bird sanctuary and wetland of ‘International Importance’. The Reserve is approximately 35km long, but public access is restricted to only the first 4kms. Only the government-registered guided tour company based in Collingwood is permitted to carry visitors further onto the Spit, and they provide a fascinating and very scenic day trip that also visits Cape Farewell (the South Island’s most northerly point), Fossil Point and the historic lighthouse.
Whether you choose to visit the Spit with the third-party tour or not, we ensure we work around the tide-based tour timetable so you can all accompany us on a visit to the beautiful Wharariki Beach. It’s high dunes, secluded bays, caves, rockpools, lonely beaches and rugged offshore islands and archways are a favourite for photographers. It is however so isolated that very few people visit, making it one of our truly hidden gems!!
Collingwood’s small-town charm is enhanced by its reputation for fresh tasty seafood, so why not try the fish & chips or scallops when you get your own dinner tonight.
Other things to do whilst you are here include renting a bike to explore the nearby Aorere Valley, hiring a kayak to paddle around the beautiful Ruataniwha Inlet, or just browsing through the museum, art gallery and cafes situated in the main street.
Day 38 – Today, as we make our way back down Golden Bay, we make a stop at Te Waikoropupu Springs. Referred to locally/helpfully as ‘Pupu Springs’, these large natural pools contain eight main vents that discharge over 14,000 litres of water per second – enough to supply a city the size of Boston, Massachusetts. Until recently, the water at Pupu Springs was also the second clearest ever measured anywhere in the world (only water contained under the glaciers in Antarctica is clearer). It has now been pipped to third in the world by the spring under Blue Lake, which is also in the Tasman Region in New Zealand. Pupu Springs remain however the largest natural springs in New Zealand and the largest cold-water springs in the Southern Hemisphere. Short boardwalks and bridges guide visitors to a number of viewing platforms overlooking the large pools.
On with our journey and after travelling back over Takaka Hill, we make another stop where we disembark for a short magical adventure underground. The Ngarua Cave experience (included) provides a guided tour down into a sequence of ancient limestone caves located deep inside Takaka Hill (aka ‘Marble Mountain’ due to the large seams of limestone and karst ‘marble’ from which it is formed). The caves, which were used in scenes for The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, house a variety of unusual rock formations, including breath-taking stalactites and stalagmites that are hundreds of thousands of years old. Remains of a number of New Zealand's now extinct birds have also been found in the caves, including complete skeletons of the large, flightless Moa – one of which remains on display today. Marble quarried from near Ngarua Caves was used to construct several prominent buildings in New Zealand including the Parliament Buildings and ‘Beehive’ in Wellington, and the Nelson Cathedral.
We move on, before reaching our destination of Marahau, the closest settlement and gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, where spend the next three nights.
Day 39 – Free Day. Abel Tasman National Park is a wilderness reserve at the top of the South Island that is renowned for its ‘tropical island’ beaches and its world-famous coastal track.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track is a well-maintained walking trail within the park that winds its way passed secluded inlets and bays, through native forest and across elevated ridges for sixty kilometres. Visitors access and explore the park via the walkway, or by catching the numerous water taxis that weave in and out of the many bays along the length of the park, or by air (book your flightseeing/skydiving trips in advance!).
Day walkers typically book one of the water taxis that regularly run from the village beach at Marahau up to a bay inside the park, walk one or two of the sections along the spectacular Coastal Track, and then catch a water taxi back home to Marahau at the end of the day.
If walking isn’t your thing, you can take a scenic cruise along the beautiful coastline or have a go at kayaking. There are also plenty of safe beaches to enjoy.
Day 40 – Free Day. We have two full days here, so immerse yourself in this stunning region – we are sure it will become one of your New Zealand highlights.
Day 41 - Today we drive around a headland to the beautiful Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve,
home to yet more golden sandy beaches and turquoise waters. After an extended coffee/photo stop here, we say “haere ra” (‘goodbye’ in Māori) to the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park and travel further south through orchards, vineyards, thickly forested hills and mountains to the pretty little hamlet of St Arnaud.
St Arnaud sits on the edge of Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes National Park. Lake Rotoiti (and its neighbour, Lake Rotoroa) are renowned for their phenomenal scenery, their dramatic hiking tracks, the fine brown trout and native eels swimming in the crystal-clear alpine waters, and the black swans who have made the lakes their home.
Lake Rotoiti is a popular destination all year round for boating, water skiing, swimming and kayaking, and kayaks and boat rides can be booked near the jetty, which is only a few minutes’ walk from our accommodation.
We spend one night here.
Lodge: Nelson Lakes
Day 42 – This morning, we make our way northeast along State Highway 63 and through the beautiful Wairau Valley, home to some of New Zealand’s best-known white wines, before veering north for a leisurely lunch stop in Havelock. Also known as the ‘Greenshell Mussel’ capital of the world, Havelock is a small coastal village and harbour at the head of Pelorus Sound, one of an extensive network of sea-drowned valleys at the northern end of the South Island that make up the beautiful Marlborough Sounds.
With lunch done, we head off along the world-famous Queen Charlotte Drive, a 35- kilometre journey that snakes its way eastwards along the breathtakingly beautiful stretch of water that gives it its name. With native forest on one side and the sparkling turquoise waters of Queen Charlotte Sound on the other, the elevated views we encounter along the Marlborough Sounds today are some of the most beautiful of our entire trip.
We finish today’s journey in Picton at the eastern end of the Queen Charlotte Drive, a quaint seaside town and the port for the interisland ferries that cross the Cook Strait to the North Island.
Day 43 & 44 – Free Days to explore this picturesque town with its pretty seaside waterfront, cafes, galleries and specialty shops. Picton is home to The Edwin Fox Maritime Museum, a popular aquarium, a number of scenic boat rides that explore the many islands and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds, and is the base for the Queen Charlotte Track, one of New Zealand’s premier hiking experiences. Only a short drive away is Blenheim, which sits in the heart of NZ’s largest wine region. Book one of the many wine tours that offer pick-ups from Picton and transport their visitors through to the stunning Wairau Valley where you will discover why people the world over love Marlborough wine.
During our stay in Picton, ZigZag passengers have the opportunity to experience the marvellous ‘Mail Boat Cruise’ (included activity). This popular sightseeing ferry tour incorporates a mail, grocery and freight service that delivers to residential property owners (and their excitable pets) in some of the most spectacular and remote corners of the sprawling Queen Charlotte Sound.
On the alternate free day in Picton (weather permitting), we offer to those passengers who are interested, a day trip up to French Pass at the very top of the Marlborough Sounds. Revered as one of the most spectacular drives in New Zealand, this remote gravel road experience is not for the faint hearted, but travellers are rewarded with extraordinary hill-top views across the Marlborough Sounds and beyond. At French Pass, a narrow stretch of sea water that separates the mainland from D’Urville Island contains currents that are so strong, they form whirlpools on the surface of the ocean, which often resemble a horizontal waterfall at peak tide. The tiny township of French Pass nearby boasts a long jetty that extends out into the sea, from which it is possible to see eagle rays skim across the sandy bottom of the bay.
A farewell dinner is provided on our last night in Picton.
Day 43 B
Day 44 B,D
Day 45 – This morning, we embark on an epic journey south to Christchurch.
We make our way out of the Marlborough Sounds and across the wide Wairau Plain with it’s myriad of wineries and orchards before joining Highway 1, where we head south over the Weld Pass and through the settlements of Seddon and Ward.
Shortly after passing through Ward, we leave the Marlborough district and enter the northernmost region of Canterbury. Here, the road sweeps dramatically down to the Pacific Ocean where it winds its way south, hugging the spectacular Kaikoura coastline for almost 100kms. Evidence of the massive 2016 earthquake can be seen around almost every corner, but the phenomenal rebuild of this stretch of the highway and the associated stabilisation work required in the wake of the powerful 7.8 magnitude quake has resulted in a world-class scenic drive that is truly breath-taking.
We leave the Kaikoura coastline at Oaro and enter a landscape of low foothills and braided river systems dotted with sheep, deer and cattle. Further south, livestock is replaced with grapes, and as we enter the large Waipara Valley, we pass through some of the 80 pinot noir, riesling and chardonnay vineyards that the region is famous for.
Before us, the Canterbury Plains stretch all the way south to Christchurch. Soon after, we cross the mighty Waimakiriri River and enter the greater Christchurch area, our tour’s final destination. Here, we will drop you off at one of two locations – either in the central city, or out at the airport.