Take in the magic of the spectacular Franz Josef Glacier region 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 of the Tauranga Bay Colony.. 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.
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 14-day adventure. Take in highlights from Reefton to Franz Josef, Pancake Rocks to botanical gins, gold panning 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.
Breakfast Included: 9 Lunches Included: Dinner Included: 1
Greymouth to Reefton
Welcome to your Intrepid exploration of the South Island! Your local guide will be waiting at the Greymouth Train Station at 1.30pm – for anyone coming in from Christchurch, the TranzAlpine to Greymouth is considered one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys and is highly recommended. After meeting your leader and fellow travellers, it’s time to hit the road and head to Reefton, a tiny town that punches above its size. Dotted with historic buildings and nods to its gold-mining days, Reefton retains much of its old-school atmosphere. Swing by the Reefton Distillery Co. to learn the story behind their local botanical gins, fruit liqueurs, vodka and whisky, then try some of the locally crafted products yourself at their tasting bar. Round off the day with a group dinner at a local restaurant where your guide will brief you on what lies ahead on the rest of your adventure.
Start your day with breakfast at the local bakery – part of the town’s history since 1874 – then hear more of the area’s story from the locals that know it best. Head to a rebuilt miner’s hut and get the tale of how prospectors made their way here after the discovery of a rich vein of gold in the 1860s. Hear what life was like for the miners with these natural storytellers while a blacksmith works the forge in the background. Maybe try your hand at panning your own gold, then farewell Reefton and continue up the coast, with a stop at the wild Cape Foulwind. The headland is home to a fur seal breeding colony so keep your eyes peeled, they can easily blend in with the rocks! Continue on up the coast to Karamea, the largest northern settlement on this side of the island.
Get your boots on because today’s a walking day. Head down the coast and start with a walk to discover the mining relics along the Charming Creek Walkway. It’s a river walk along an old logging tramway from the 19th century through lower Ngakawau Gorge, taking in a suspension bridge and tumbling Mangatini Falls. Then take in views and history with a walk along the Denniston Plateau, where mining history and viewpoints scatter what was once one of the richest coal seams in Aotearoa. Continue on down to 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 a memorable sight.
Franz Josef Glacier
After breakfast this morning, head out to a place that helped shaped the West Coast – Brunner Mine. Explore the mining relics that tell the story of New Zealand’s most tragic workplace disaster. Then you’ll take a scenic drive down the coast into glacier territory, arriving in the charming Franz Josef township. Fringed by tranquil rainforest, the hot pools here offer an experience like no other, so take a dip this afternoon and let your worries wash away. Enjoy an evening at leisure in this beautiful little town.
Franz Josef Glacier
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! The afternoon is yours to make the most of what this amazing slice of the country has to offer. You may like to 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 lowkey afternoon – have a chat to your guide about your options for the day.
Travel north to the Okarito Lagoon, alive with the calls of over 70 unique species of birds. Enjoy a wonderful walk around the lagoon with your guide as the snow-capped alps look on, or you may prefer to take an optional guided kayak trip across its still waters. Then you’ll hit the road and carry on to Hokitika – this little town has big personality and is the pounamu (greenstone) centre of New Zealand. On arrival, take a walk through the town as your leader regales you with stories of Hokitika’s notorious goldrush past. This afternoon you’ll visit 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, which you’ll soak in during a looped walk of the area. Return to Hokitika town, then as darkness falls, set off for an out of this world experience. Take a short walk to the Hokitika Glow Worm Dell, where you can admire these ethereal creatures lighting up a canopy above you.
Leave Hokitika behind and begin the journey to Wanaka. This is a long driving day, but the views of the ever-changing South Island landscape should be more than enough to keep you occupied. Drive through the dramatic landscapes of Haast Pass, part of Mount Aspiring National Park, and marvel at the dense, moss-covered ancient forest. Stop and stretch your legs with a walk at either Ships Creek or Monroe Beach, then spend a night at leisure in Wanaka.
Enjoy a free day to discover all Wanaka has to offer. This scenic little town certainly has no shortage of amazing things to do. You may like to pay a visit to the lavender farm and sample some lavender ice cream, or perhaps check out the famous and highly photographed Wanaka Tree to snap a picture yourself. If you’re feeling active, head up the Roys Peak hiking trail to be rewarded with incredible views of Lake Wanaka, or if you just want to chill, the family-run Rippon Vineyard is the best place to sit back with a Pinot Noir in hand.
Queenstown - Te Anau
Rise early for another fantastic drive across the Crown Range, stopping in at historic Arrowtown before continuing on to Queenstown. A meeting will take place at 10am this morning to welcome any new travellers joining you for the next leg of your adventure. 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.
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.
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. Explore the Cathedral Caves, only accessible at low tide after a walk through forest down to the beach. The work of water over thousands of years, the impressive sea cave complex reaches up to 200 metres into the cliff and reach heights of over 30 metres inside. Test the aptness of the name by trying out the church-like acoustics. After lunch 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.
Head to the very bottom of the island and take a ferry across the Foveaux Strait to the country’s third largest landmass, 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, flightless Stewart Island kiwi and nearly extinct kakapo parrots. In the Maori language the island is known as Rakiura, which means ‘the land of glowing skies’. So tonight your leader will brief you to find the best nearby vantage point to explore the night sky.