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New Zealand South Island Adventure

From an ancient world of forests and glaciers to a culture of hospitality that has long defined New Zealand’s people, discover the best of the South Island on a 12-day adventure. Take in highlights from Reefton to Fox Glacier, Pancake Rocks to botanical gins, kayaking to spa soaking. Make your way to the shores of the South Island’s biggest lake and sail the silent waters of glacier-carved Fiordland National Park on an unforgettable cruise on Milford Sound. Cross to the cliffs of the Catlins and hike to coastal caves, then span the gap to untouched Stewart Island to explore the wilderness, listening out for the call of the kiwi. When it comes to natural wonders, it doesn’t get better than this.

12 days, from


per person


12 people max


Trip code: PHSQC
Style: Original
Theme: Explorer


Countries Visited:  New Zealand
Accommodation: Hotel (7 nights), Motel (1 night), Hostel (twin share with shared facilities) (2 nights), Cabin (with shared facilities) (1 night)
Transportation: Private vehicle , Ferry
Included Meals:

  • 11 breakfasts

Group size: Minimum 1, Max 12

  • Take in the magic of the spectacular Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier regions during dips in hot pools weaving through rainforests and a walk around the shimmering Lake Matheson.

  • Witness the stunning, millions of years old scenery at the dramatic Pancake Rocks and the Hokitika Gorge, and spot fur seals at Cape Foulwind.

  • Soak up the silence of Milford Sound on a cruise across its waters – you’ll be left speechless by the hundreds of tumbling cascades and deeply forested mountains.

  • Explore the Cathedral Caves of the Catlins, an untamed coastal wilderness home to rugged cliffs, dense forest, and spectacular hidden waterfalls.

  • Cross the Foveaux Strait to unspoilt Stewart Island and spend two days cruising the bays and inlets to spot penguins and seabirds and walking along its forested coastal tracks in search of kiwis.


Show Full Itinerary

Day 1: Christchurch / Reefton / Westport

Welcome to your Intrepid exploration of the South Island! Your adventure begins in Christchurch, where a welcome meeting will take place at 8am for you to meet up with your local leader and fellow travellers. After your meeting, it’s time to hit the road, first heading to Maruia Springs in the Lewis Pass national reserve. Check out the natural hot pools surrounded by greenery as the snow dusted peaks of the Southern Alps look on. You can even opt to take a dip. Next up, travel to Reefton, a tiny town that punches above its size. Take a town walking tour with a local story-teller, learning about it's gold mining past. Step back in time as tea is prepared for you on the forge. Manuka leaf is introduced into the billy to produce a rich and sweet black tea which will be served with scones with manuka honey. Finally, drive on to the town of Westport and perhaps round off the day with group dinner.

Day 2: Denniston / Westport

Start your day with a stop at the wild Cape Foulwind and admire incredible views of the mountains and rugged coastline. The headland is home to a fur seal breeding colony so keep your eyes peeled, they can easily blend in with the rocks! Then it’s time to stretch your legs with a walk through the historic mining settlement of Denniston – your leader will be able to give you an idea of what life once looked like for the miners and their families. Return to Westport for an evening at leisure.

Day 3: Punakaiki / Kumara

Travel to Charleston this morning to join a train ride in open carriages through primeval rain forest. ‘The Nile River Rainforest Train’ recreates a bygone era where bush trams once prevailed. Experience the spectacular wilderness of the Nile River Canyon in Paparoa National Park. Next up is Punakaiki, a town with less than 100 residents, but famed for its so-called Pancake Rocks. These layers of fossilised animals and plants, formed over 30 million years ago, were thrust above the surface by the moving earth and sculpted by wind and water. At high tide the sea is forced through blowholes in the limestone to burst metres into the air – it’s an entertaining sight! Continue to Kumara, a former goldrush town with an intriguing history (this little place was the home of New Zealand’s longest serving Prime Minister!). On arrival, settle into your hotel, then head out to meet the town’s brightest residents. Just behind your hotel, you’ll find dazzling glow worms lighting up old mineshafts. Once the sun has gone down, be sure to look up. With very little light pollution, the stargazing in Kumara is absolutely out of this world (literally!).

Day 4: Hokitika / Fox Glacier

Today begins with a visit to the Hokitika Gorge, one of the West Coast’s most stunning spots. Shimmering turquoise waters wreathed with lush native bush make a sight to remember. Then it’s on to the Okarito Lagoon, alive with the calls of over 70 unique species of birds. Head out on a nature walk culminating in a lookout point from which, on a clear day, you can enjoy an unbeatable view over Westland (Tai Poutini) National Park from the snow-capped Southern Alps (Kā Tiritiri o te Moana) across extensive native forest to the lagoons and beaches of the coast. Continue your journey south towards Franz Josef and pay a visit to the glacier hot pools, where you’ll enjoy some time to relax and unwind while tucked away among gorgeous rainforest. Later in the day, travel to the Fox Glacier township, your gateway to the dramatic and enormous Fox Glacier and your base for the evening.

Day 5: Fox Glacier

Today is yours to make the most of what this amazing slice of the country has to offer. Take a shuttle back to Franz Joseph Glacier or you may want to visit a pounamu (greenstone) workshop and learn how to carve your own original piece. Alternatively you can book a helicopter ride up to the glaciers, with the potential to add on a hike through the spectacular landscape. There’s also no shortage of interesting walks and cosy pubs if you fancy a more low-key afternoon – have a chat to your leader about your options for the day.

Day 6: Wanaka

Kick off the day with a gentle walk around the glittering Lake Matheson, dubbed the ‘mirror lake’ for its dark waters which perfectly reflect the towering Southern Alps – if you take one picture of your West Coast adventure, this should be it! Then make tracks for Wanaka, making plenty of interesting stops along the way. First up is Ship Creek, where you’ll take a walk through quintessentially rugged West Coast scenery. You can either walk through shady swamp forest, or explore windswept sand dunes and coastal forest. Then it’s on to Mt Aspiring National Park. Make the short walk to the incredible Thunder Creek Falls, featuring an impressive 96-metre-tall cascade. Your last stop is for a 1-hour walk along the wonderful Blue Pools Track, passing through forests of beech and podocarp which surround sapphire-blue pools of glacial water. Arrive in Wanaka and enjoy an evening at leisure.

Day 7: Queenstown / Te Anau

Depart Wanaka this morning and drive through the magnificent scenery of the Crown Range. Arrive in Queenstown in the late morning, then a meeting will take place to welcome any new travellers joining you for the next leg of your journey. After the meeting, head to the lovely lakeside town of Te Anau – gateway to Fiordland National Park. Watch the stunning landscapes pass by as you round the bottom of Lake Wakatipu with the aptly named The Remarkables mountains in the background. The five-hour drive will take you to the shores of the South Island’s biggest lake, which extends into the fiords and deeply forested mountains. Tonight you there's an optional chance to head underground by boat and see thousands of glow worms illuminate subterranean caves, to spectacular effect.

Day 8: Milford Sound / Te Anau

The stunning, unforgettable sights of the fiords are best experienced by boat, so today you’ll set off for a memorable cruise on Milford Sound, known locally as Piopiotahi. Sail along the waters that pour out into the Tasman Sea, and look out for bottlenose dolphins and fur seals at play. Nature feels close here in the silence of the sound as you make your way past countless tumbling, misting cascades, soaring icy peaks, lush rainforest and twisting inlets. Soak up the surrounds so stunning that they feel almost fake, and breathe in the crisp mountain air. Afterwards get a different perspective of the sound, surrounded by native bush, as you take on the lookout track with your leader. There’s a bit of a climb, but the views are more than worth it to look down on the water and up at the peaks. The spectacular views keep on coming with a Mirror Lakes walk, where the peaks and greenery reflect in the clear lake waters. Return to Te Anau in time for dinner this evening – maybe seek out some local fare like venison or even lobster for dinner.

Day 9: The Catlins

This morning it’s time to swap one side of the island for the other as you make your way to what feels like a forgotten corner of Otago – the Catlins. This untamed coastal wilderness is home to rugged cliffs, dense forest, and some spectacular hidden waterfalls. Visit Nugget Point and its lighthouse, situated on a rocky outcrop jutting out into the South Pacific Ocean, and hike through dense forest to pretty McLean Falls. In the afternoon take the time to soak up the sights of pounding surf, windswept beaches and sunbathing sea lions as you stroll the sands with your leader.

Day 10: Stewart Island

Head to the very bottom of the island and take a ferry across the Foveaux Strait to the country’s third largest landmass, remote and rugged Stewart Island. It takes about one hour to travel the 30-kilometre strait. The island is almost entirely national park, which makes its unspoiled forests, beaches and bays a haven for hikers of all abilities as well as birdwatchers – it’s home to endangered brown kiwi and the flightless Stewart Island kiwi. In the Maori language the island is known as Rakiura, which means ‘the land of glowing skies’. So tonight your leader will brief you and point you towards the best nearby vantage point to explore the night sky.

Day 11: Stewart Island

Enjoy a full free day to explore the island as you discover the coast and Rakiura National Park. Optional activities include cruises on the bays and inlets spotting penguins and seabirds and walks along forested coastal tracks past early Maori settlements. Learn about the local flora and fauna, and relax on the beach for a picnic lunch. Take in the views over glistening William Bay and see if you can spot the mountains of the South Island in the distance. Return to your accommodation and enjoy the rest of the evening to relax after your full day of island exploration. Perhaps join the group for dinner at a local restaurant tonight.

Day 12: Stewart Island / Queenstown

Head back over to the mainland, then continue back to Queenstown. Your trip comes to an end today when you arrive back in Queenstown at approximately 2pm. If you have extra time to spend in Queenstown, make sure to get out and take advantage of the numerous adventure activities on offer. The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu not only serve as spectacular props to get your adrenaline fix, they’re also beautiful to look at. The town is also a great base for exploring Central Otago’s excellent vineyards and historic mining towns.