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 quaint Akaroa, a small French town bursting with character. From here we cross the world famous Arthurs Pass to the West Coast, where we zigzag through small coastal settlements, National Parks and long sandy beaches to the picturesque village of Picton. We then catch the ferry and sail through the Marlborough Sounds and across the Cook Strait to New Zealand’s vibrant capital city, Wellington at the bottom of the North Island

At a glance
Akaroa (Christchurch) to Wellington (1269km)
10 travellers
Mar 23rd  – Apr 8th
17 days, 16 nights
The highlights
  • Akaroa
  • Arthurs Pass
  • Cable Bay
  • West Coast North
  • Pancake Rocks – Punakaiki
  • The Abel Tasman National Park
  • Golden Bay
  • Collingwood
  • Cape Farewell & Farewell Spit
  • Wharariki Beach
  • Nelson Lakes
  • French Pass
  • Queen Charlotte Drive
  • The Marlborough Sounds
  • The Cook Strait Ferry
  • Wellington

Wharariki Beach, Golden Bay

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 10 (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
  • Arthurs Pass
  • Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
  • Cape Foulwind
  • Oparara Arches
  • Buller Gorge
  • Takaka Hill
  • Abel Tasman National Park
  • Golden Bay
  • Pupu Springs
  • Ngarua Caves
  • French Pass Day Trip
  • Marlborough Sounds boat trip
  • Queen Charlotte Sound Drive
  • Group dinner in Picton
  • Cook Strait ferry

Punakaiki Rocks, 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 Akaroa (Christchurch)
  • 01Akaroa
  • 02 Punakaiki
  • 03Punakaiki
  • 04Mokihinui
  • 05Mokihinui
  • 06Murchison
  • 07Collingwood
  • 08Collingwood
  • 09Marahau
  • 10Marahau
  • 11 Marahau
  • 12 Cable Bay
  • 13Cable Bay
  • 14Picton
  • 15Picton
  • 16Wellington
  • End in Wellington
Route Map:
DETAILED Itinerary

Click the + to expand

Day 1 - 3 That French Bit & The Alpine Crossing Akaroa - Punakaiki

Day 1 - Join tour. Free pick up and transfer to Akaroa from airport or city centre by ZigZag.

Included No meals
Camping: Akaroa 

Day 2 –
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 coastal hamlet of Punakaiki.

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 passed Lake Brunner, and on to Punakaiki where we stay for two nights.

Included B,D
Camping: Punakaiki 

Day 3 –
Free Day. Your chance to explore the extraordinary Punakaiki Rocks (Pancake Rocks) and the beauty that surrounds them.  

The Pancake Rocks are a geological marvel not to be missed - 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.

Other Punakaiki must do's include walking, paddleboarding or kayaking the Pororari River Loop, located in the Paparoa National Park, exploring the Punakaiki Cavern, admiring the beautiful coastal headland at the end of the Truman Track or simply taking in the sunset on the beach right at camp.

Included B,D
Camping: Punakaiki 

Day 4 - 6That Really Wild Rocky Bit - Punakaiki to Murchison

Day 4 – 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 on our right. 

We make a stop at 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 near the lighthouse at the other end.  

We’ll also have a stop in Westport for you to visit the interesting Coaltown Mining Museum* before we move on to the tiny coastal enclave of Mokihinui.
*at your own cost

Included B
Camping: Mokihinui

Day 5 – 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.    

Included B,D
Camping: Mokihinui

Day 6 –  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.

Included B,D
Camping: Murchison

Day 7 - 11 That Golden Bit At The Top - Murchison to Marahau 

Day 7 – Upon leaving Murchison, we make our first stop at 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.

We then make our way northeast to the vibrant little town of Motueka passing through vineyards and orchards along the way.

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.

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 8 – 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.

Included B
Camping: Collingwood

Day 9 – 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.

Included B,D
Camping: Marahau

Day 10 – 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.

Included B,D
Camping: Marahau

Day 11 – 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
Camping: Marahau

Day 12 - 17 That Boaty Bit In The Middle - Marahau to Wellington

Day 12 - Today we drive around a headland to the beautiful Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve, home to yet more golden sandy beaches and turquoise waters. After a coffee/photo stop here, we say “haere ra” (‘goodbye’ in Māori) to the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park and head southeast through the provincial capital of Nelson to Cable Bay, hidden gem amongst the forest and farms of the eastern Tasman region.

Included B,D
Camping: Cable Bay

Day 13 -
Today, weather depending, we offer to those passengers who are interested, a free 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.

Included B,D
Camping: Cable Bay

Day 14 -
 Today we drive south through vast pine forests, valleys and over bubbling rivers, before turning east and zigzagging our way 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.

Once we reach Picton, a quaint seaside town and the port for the interisland ferries that cross the Cook Strait to the North Island, 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.

We stay in Picton for two nights.

Included B
Camping: Picton

Day 15 – Free Day 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.

A farewell dinner is provided on our last night in Picton.

Included B,D
Camping: Picton

Day 16 – 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 out through the Marlborough Sounds and into Wellington Harbour. The Queen Charlotte Sound is particularly scenic and sheltered, being surrounded by steep bush covered hills.  

We arrive in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital where we drop you off at the centrally located hostel for your final night of your ZigZag tour.

Included B
Hostel: Wellington

Day 17 – Check out of hostel at 10am. Depart tour.

Included No meals

Top of the south

17 days, 16 nights




Akaroa (Christchurch) to Wellington (1269km)
10 travellers
Mar 23rd  – Apr 8th
17 days, 16 nights
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