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Travel from Christchurch to Queenstown on this small group trip to discover New Zealand’s South Island and its wild West Coast, rich with scenic charm and unique wildlife.

Starting in Christchurch this journey begins with a train ride on the iconic Tranz Alpine train to Arthur’s Pass National Park in the heart of the Southern Alps where you will have the opportunity to walk and search for native birds, including the cheeky alpine parrot, the kea.

Continuing over to the West Coast of the South Island, the journey south travels through different landscapes and habitats of this dramatic and rugged coastline. Unique rock formations have formed along this coast, sculpted by the wind and waves which can be witnessed at Punakaiki, more commonly known as the ‘pancake rocks’. Nearby Cape Foulwind provides an ideal location for New Zealand fur seals to breed and a walk can be taken here to view their breeding colony.

Entering Glacier Country, this is one of the few places on earth to see ice pushing into rainforest; you will have the opportunity to view both Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. Nearby Okarito Lagoon provides a feeding ground for many native and migratory birds including the kotuku (great white heron), and a nature cruise is included to view the birdlife found here.

One of your final stops is the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area (Te Wāhipounamu), one of the great natural areas of the world and as a result recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. From the Dune Lake Walk which overlooks the south-west coastline you may be lucky enough to spot the rare Hector’s dolphin before continuing inland to Queenstown through the pristine forests of Mount Aspiring National Park.

Typical Itinerary

  1. Day 1: Depart UK

  2. Day 3: Arrive Christchurch

    On arrival into Christchurch this morning you will be met and transferred to your hotel with the remainder of the day at your leisure to rest after the long journey.

    Accommodation: Hotel in Christchurch, 1-night 

  3. Day 4: Arthur’s Pass National Park & Lake Brunner

    Departing Christchurch on the iconic TranzAlpine train, today you travel across the flat Canterbury Plains and through the Waimakariri river gorge to the heart of the dramatic Southern Alps: Arthur’s Pass National Park. On arrival at Arthur’s Pass you will explore the national park and its diversity of flora, whilst watching out for native birdlife including the kea, a species of alpine parrot with a very cheeky behavioural streak!

    Travelling down the Otira Gorge to your overnight stay at Moana, a village on the edge of Lake Brunner, there will be a chance to walk across the Arnold River which outflows from the lake and explore the nearby rainforest.

    Accommodation: Hotel Lake Brunner, 1-night

  4. Day 5: Lake Brunner to the West Coast

    Today you will travel from Lake Brunner to the coastline of New Zealand’s wild west coast. A stop will be made at Nelson Creek, a site of the former gold rush the country experienced in the late 1800s, where a walk will be taken in the regenerating podocarp rainforest.

    Continuing your journey north-west along the Grey River valley, another walking stop will be made at Reefton to experience the flora and look out for native birds including kaka, tui and weka. Following the Buller River to reach the West Coast, your first experience of this dramatic coastline will be at a remote beach to appreciate the vistas and look for native waders such as the South Island pied oystercatcher.

    Accommodation: Omau Settlers Lodge, 2-nights

  5. Day 6: West Coast Region

    Your day exploring the West Coast region begins with a visit to Charleston for a glow worm cave tour. Following a short drive to the Nile River Canyon, you will board the Nile River rainforest train to journey into lush rainforest surrounded by naturally carved rock formations and limestone cliffs. Leaving the daylight behind you as you enter the Nile River cave system, you will not only be amazed by the array of calcite formations but also by the appearance of what looks like a night sky as the glow worms light up.

    Returning to above ground, the afternoon is spent exploring Constant Bay and Joyce Bay before visiting Cape Foulwind. The walkway at Cape Foulwind provides the ideal vantage point for spotting New Zealand fur seals and their breeding colony on this stretch on the coast.

  6. Day 7: New Zealand’s Great Ocean Road

    Travelling south along the ‘Great Ocean Road’ sees you learning more about the region's history of the gold rush era as well as exploring native rainforests and admiring the natural rock formations created by the wind and the waves of the Tasman Sea.

    A stop will be made at Punakaiki to view its impressive ‘pancake rocks’ - curious limestone formations that look like stacks of giant pancakes rising out of the sea. Continuing south there will be opportunities to take walks through regenerating rainforests to spot birdlife including the native weka, and explore old gold mining tunnels

    Accommodation: Thearte Royal Hotel, 1-night

  7. Day 8: Glacier Country

    Before reaching Glacier Country, there will be time this morning to travel around the pristine Lake Kaniere and walk to the scenic Hokitika Gorge. On your drive south to Glacier Country, a stop will be made at Lake Mahinapua.

    Your overnight stay tonight will be at Franz Josef, where there will be time this afternoon to enjoy a walk to view the Franz Josef Glacier - a unique chance to see ice pushing into rainforest.

    Accommodation: Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier, 1-night

  8. Day 9: Glacier Country, Okarito Lagoon & Te Wāhipounamu

    This morning you will enjoy a two hour nature cruise on Okarito Lagoon, a feeding ground for many native and migratory species of birds including the kotuku (great white heron), royal spoonbill, pied stilt and bar-tailed godwit. Not only does the cruise provide the chance to view the rich birdlife found here, but on clear mornings you can be rewarded with views and reflections of the Southern Alps. Leaving Franz Josef you will visit nearby Fox Glacier before driving to remote Gillespies Beach.

    Later in the afternoon you cross into the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area (Maori name 'Te Wāhipounamu'), a UNESCO World Heritage site. You will be based in Haast for two nights to explore this pristine wilderness.

    Accommodation: Heartland World Heritage Hotel, 2-nights

  9. Day 10: Te Wāhipounamu: South West New Zealand World Heritage Area

    Today is spent exploring various areas in this part of the unique heritage area. Walks will be taken at Ship Creek along the Swamp Forest walk, the Dune Lake walk (which provides a chance to spot for the rare Hector’s dolphin, the smallest species of dolphin in the world), along an old gold miners' trail to the remote Munro Beach and also Hapuka Estuary, where the wetland area leads to rainforest.

  10. Day 11: Mount Aspiring National Park to Queenstown

    Departing Haast this morning you will follow the Haast Highway which borders the beautiful national park of Mount Aspiring. As the road climbs over Haast Pass, you will notice how the landscape changes from the rainforests of the west coast to the drier tussock land of the Otago province. En route stops will be made to enjoy some of the short walks that can be taken to view waterfalls.

    Following the shoreline of Lake Hawea a visit will be made to the alpine village of Wanaka before driving over the Crown Range which offers spectacular views of the Queenstown district. Before reaching Queenstown, a stop will be made in the historic gold mining village of Arrowtown.

    Accommodation: Hotel in Queenstown, 1-night

  11. Day 12: Depart Queenstown

    This morning you will be transferred to Queenstown airport for your return overnight flight connections to the UK.

  12. Day 13: Arrive UK

Key info

  • Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 13 days from £6,245 pp
  • Duration and price excluding international flights: 10 days from £4,945 pp
  • Single supplement: From £1,135
  • Group size: 10
  • Departures:
  • Included in the price/package:
    • 9 nights hotel accommodation
    • Most meals
    • Transfers
    • Guided activities
  • Activities available:
    • Birdwatching
    • Nature drive
    • Walking
Featured locations:

Arthur’s Pass National Park

Arthur’s Pass National Park lies in the heart of the Southern Alps. Divided by the high mountain range that forms the backbone of South Island, the park is split into the drier eastern side and the wetter western side, providing diverse habitat for a wealth of native birds, including the comical kea.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: kea, rock wren, great spotted kiwi, New Zealand falcon, New Zealand pigeon

Lake Brunner

Nestled between Arthur’s Pass National Park and the West Coast, Lake Brunner’s Maori name ‘Kotuku Whakaoho’ means ‘sea of herons’, and the white heron is a regular sighting here. A glacial feed rainforest lake, Brunner has several walking trails to admire the surrounding flora and fauna.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: white heron, purple swamphen, New Zealand fantail, kea, paradise shelduck

West Coast

Situated between the turbulent Tasman Sea and the dramatic peaks of the Southern Alps, the West Coast region of the South Island has a remote and rugged charm. The coastline is punctuated with unique rock formations and also provides ideal breeding grounds for New Zealand fur seals.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: New Zealand fur seal, Hector’s dolphin, white heron, royal spoonbill, glow worm

Glacier Country

Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are both unique in the fact you have the opportunity to see ice pushing into rainforests, and nowhere else at this latitude can glaciers be found so close to the ocean. As well as this unique backdrop, the area is a haven for some of New Zealand's native birds.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: Okarito brown kiwi, New Zealand kaka, New Zealand fur seal, tūī, kākāriki

South West New Zealand World Heritage Area

Internationally recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, this area of South West New Zealand comprises four national parks and covers ten percent of the country’s total land area. Also known by its Maori name of Te Wāhipounamu, the area is a pristine wilderness and a stronghold for rare plants and wildlife.

  • Where: South Island
  • Ideal for viewing: Okarito brown kiwi, little blue penguin, takahe, bottlenose dolphin, long-tailed wattled bat

Christchurch

Known as the Garden City of New Zealand, Christchurch is one of the main gateways to the scenic South Island. Activities include walks around Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens, or a visit to the city’s coastal suburbs.

  • Where: South Island
  • Excellent for: Activity & adventure, City stopover, History & culture

Queenstown

With four distinctive seasons, dramatic mountains, a crystal-clear lake and a host of activities on offer, from the adventurous to the more leisurely, Queenstown is a popular year-round destination.

  • Where: South Island
  • Excellent for: Activity & adventure, City stopover, Hiking