The Top Of The South

Golden bays, sparkling turquoise waters, dramatic coves, wild rugged coastlines and world-famous alpine crossings make up this amazing highlights package of the north and west of the South Island. The journey starts in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital at the bottom of the North Island and travels by ferry across the Cook Strait – an experience in itself – to the picturesque village of Picton before zigzagging through small coastal settlements, National Parks, long sandy beaches and across the Arthurs Pass to quaint Akaroa, a small French town bursting with character.

At a glance
Wellington to Akaroa (Christchurch) (1269km)
10 travellers
Nov 6th – Nov 22nd
17 days, 16 nights
The highlights
  • Wellington
  • The Cook Strait Ferry
  • Marlborough Sounds Mail Run Boat Cruise or similar
  • Nelson Lakes
  • French Pass Day Trip
  • Golden Bay
  • The Abel Tasman National Park
  • Collingwood
  • Cape Farewell & Farewell Spit
  • Wharariki Beach
  • West Coast North
  • Pancake Rocks – Punakaiki
  • Lake Brunner - Moana
  • Arthurs Pass
  • Akaroa

Abel Tasman National Park

what's included?

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

All Accommodation

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 15,  Dinners x 11 (incl. tea, coffee and hot chocolate)

All transport

In our customised ZigZag Mercedes Sprinter van (incl. your own seat with USB charger)


All road tolls and ferry crossings

Activities & Attractions included
  • Wellington
  • Cook Strait ferry
  • Group dinner in Picton
  • Queen Charlotte Drive Sound Drive
  • Marlborough Sounds Mail Run Boat Cruise or similar
  • French Pass Day Trip (weather dependent)
  • Nelson Lakes
  • Ngarua Caves
  • Pupu Springs
  • Golden Bay
  • Abel Tasman National Park
  • Takaka Hill
  • Buller Gorge
  • Oparara Arches
  • Cape Foulwind
  • Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
  • Arthurs Pass

Oparara Arches, West Coast

what's Not included?
Visas/Passport costs
Airport transfers
Additional Activities
Alternative Accommodation
Drinks not specified
Meals not specified
Phone & Internet
Basic Itinerary
  • Departing Wellington
  • 01Wellington
  • 02Picton
  • 03Picton
  • 04Picton
  • 05Nelson Lakes
  • 06Marahau
  • 07 Marahau
  • 08Marahau
  • 09Collingwood
  • 10Collingwood
  • 11Murchison
  • 12Mokihinui
  • 13Mokihinui
  • 14Punakaiki
  • 15Moana
  • 16Akaroa
  • End in Akaroa (optional
             drop off in Christchurch)
      Route Map:
      DETAILED Itinerary

      Click the + to expand

      Day 1That Capital Bit - Wellington

      Day 1 – Meet in Wellington and have the first night at the hostel included before our departure to the South Island tomorrow.

      Included No meals
      Hostel: Wellington

      Day 2 - 5That Boaty Bit - Wellington to Nelson Lakes

      Day 2 – Today’s the day we cross the Cook Strait, named after James Cook, the first European explorer to sail through it. 

      With the Tasman Sea to the west and the South Pacific Ocean to the east, Cook Strait divides the North and South Islands of New Zealand. It is 22 kilometres wide at its narrowest point and takes roughly 4 hours to cross. 

      There are two companies that operate commercial sailings across this body of water - The Interislander and the Blue Bridge ferry companies both offer comfortable sailing experiences with food and beverage outlets on board, entertainment rooms and seated indoor viewing areas. Considered one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world, the outdoor decks allow passengers to savour the magnificent views from Wellington Harbour into the Marlborough Sounds. The Queen Charlotte Sound is particularly scenic and sheltered, being surrounded by steep bush covered hills. 

      We finish up in Picton tonight for three nights.

      Included D
      Camping: Picton

      Day 3 & 4– 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.

      Day 3 B
      Day 4 B,D
      Camping: Picton

      Day 5 – This morning, we leave Picton and make our way along the world-famous Queen Charlotte Drive, a 35-kilometre journey that snakes its way westwards 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 then stop for a leisurely lunch in Havelock, a small coastal village and harbour at the head of Pelorus Sound that is renowned as the ‘Greenshell Mussel’ capital of the world.

      After lunch, we make our way south and then west along State Highway 63. This area is called the Wairau Valley and is home to some of New Zealand’s best-known white wines.

      We arrive mid-afternoon in 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 year round for boating, water skiing, swimming and kayaking, and kayaks and boat rides can be booked near the jetty, only a few minutes’ walk from our accommodation.

      We spend one night here.    

      Included B,D
      Lodge: Nelson Lakes

      Day 6 - 11 That Golden Bit - Nelson Lakes to Murchison

      Day 6 – This morning, we breakfast in our lodge before driving north through the mountains, thickly forested hills, farms, vineyards and orchards of the Nelson region. Along the way, we’ll enjoy a long stop at Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve, home to golden sandy beaches and turquoise waters.

      We then have a very short drive to Marahau, where we will spend the next three nights. Marahau is the closest settlement to, and gateway for, the spectacular Abel Tasman National Park.

      Included B,D
      Camping: Marahau

      Day 7 – 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 past 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. 

      Included B
      Camping: Marahau

      Day 8 – 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.

      Included B,D
      Camping: Marahau

      Day 9 – Today, we say “haere ra” (goodbye in Māori) to the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park and 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. 

      Over the other side, we make a stop in the township of Takaka itself, a colourful, characterful wee place with interesting boutique shops and cafes. 

      Next stop is 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. 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.

      Included B,D
      Camping: Collingwood

      Day 10 – 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 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 relax at the museum, art gallery and cafes situated in the main street.

      Included B
      Camping: Collingwood

      Day 11 – We head back up and over ‘the hill’ toward Motueka this morning. Near the top, we stop and 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.

      After a short stop for lunch, we follow the quiet, pleasant back-country roads along the Motueka River and through the orchards of Tapawera down to the main road that heads west, before arriving in Murchison for the night. 

      Included B,D
      Camping: Murchison

      Day 12 - 15 That Really Wild Rocky Bit - Murchison to Moana

      Day 12 – Today we ‘tackle’ the Buller Gorge, an incredibly scenic drive that follows the Buller River as it meanders between Murchison and the Tasman Sea on the West Coast of the South Island. 

      In 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 goldmining and seismic history in the open-air museum on the other side (included). If you are brave enough, take the zipline back across the river afterwards (not included)! 

      We then drive on through the breath-taking ‘Lower’ section of the gorge before finally turning off at Westport and following the thin strip of bitumen that is Highway 67 north as it squeezes between the desolate black sand beaches of the West Coast on our left, and the rugged, forested mountains of Kahurangi National Park on our right.   

      We come to a rest and set up camp for two nights in the tiny coastal enclave of Mokihinui.

      Included B
      Camping: Mokihinui

      Day 13 – 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, past 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.    

      Included B,D
      Camping: Mokihinui

      Day 14 – We head back to Westport for a quick pit stop and time for you to visit the interesting Coaltown Mining Museum* before we move on to nearby Cape Foulwind, so named by Captain James Cook after his ship was blown out to sea here in 1770.  Should you choose to, hop out here and walk the spectacular 3.4km walkway with its panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, cliffs and seashore. We’ll pick you up at the other end.  

      Back in the van and we head south, hugging the craggy coastline as we wind our way down the West Coast. Along the way, we pass endless black sand beaches, headlands and bays on our right, and deep gorges, high cliffs and the dense rainforest of the Paparoa National Park on our left. 

      We end this afternoon in Punakaiki. Watch out for sunset here – it’s spellbinding!!
      *at your own cost

      Included B,D
      Camping: Punakaiki

      Day 15 – This morning we take you to see Pancake Rocks, a geological marvel. 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 south again past more beautiful coastal scenery, we then turn inland just before the town of Greymouth and drive toward the tiny village of Moana, situated on the shores of Lake Brunner. 

      Included B,D
      Camping: Moana

      Day 16 - 17The Alpine Crossing To That French Bit - Moana to Akaroa

      Day 16 – We leave pretty Moana this morning and head all the way across the country to the east coast, via the famous Arthurs Pass National Park. 

      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. 

      Upon leaving the mountains, the amazing scenery continues as we journey southeast through the fertile Canterbury Plains to the shores of Lake Ellesmere, before winding our way up and over the hilltop to Akaroa, a popular French heritage town nestled within the large Banks Peninsula. Enjoy your final night of your ZigZag adventure here in Akaroa’

      Included B,D
      Camping: Akaroa

      Day 17 – We say our farewells over breakfast, before you pack up, clean your tent and depart the tour. Free transfer back to Christchurch airport or city centre by ZigZag.

      Included B

      The top of the south

      17 days, 16 nights




      Wellington to
      Akaroa (Christchurch) (1269km)
      10 travellers
      Nov 6th – Nov 22nd
      17 days, 16 nights
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      *The price above is shown in New Zealand Dollar (NZD). The Tour will be charged as a flat rate + any credit card or bank transfer fees. To convert the above price to your local currency, click here!

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