13 Day Mount Cook Lily (South Island)
- ARRIVE WELLINGTON
Haere mai – welcome! We greet your flight and take you to your hotel: situated very centrally and within walking distance to what makes Auckland so special – the sea. Meet your driver-guide for an early evening stroll and some tips on where you might eat this evening: the waterfront has something for everyone.
Hotel Grand Chancellor James Cook, Wellington
- WELLINGTON – NELSON (B)
We board the Interislander ferry to cross the Cook Strait on a journey of 3½ hours that’s often accompanied by dolphins riding the bow wave, before entering Queen Charlotte Sound and disembarking in Picton. This corner of South Island is blessed with a sunny microclimate which has long been a draw to artists and adventurers alike, many of them settling in the delightful town of Nelson, our base for two nights. We stretch our legs along the pleasant Matai River on a section of the Centre of New Zealand Walkway that leads into town. With a wide range of eateries, you are free to make your own choice for dinner, though we can recommend the bay scallops, not to mention the local Sauvignon Blanc!
Local B&B’s, Nelson – 2 nights
- ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK (B,L)
Paradise found! Abel Tasman National Park is a mosaic of golden coves and turquoise lagoons sheltered by forested ranges to the south. With few roads in this pristine wilderness, most journeys are made by boat, so today we put ourselves into the expert hands of the Knaap family. At Kaiteriteri, we board a small cruiser for a day of exploration, with opportunities for swimming and walking, dreaming and discovering. We suggest landing at Bark Bay for an easy 4-hour hike through the sub-tropical bush to Torrent Bay and its beautiful tidal lagoon where we rejoin our cruiser for the trip home.
- NELSON – PUNAKAIKI (B)
Turning inland we follow the Buller River Gorge: its Maori name of Kawitiri describes the power of ‘water flowing swiftly’. This is one of the world’s best but least-known scenic drives, carved out of the forest by 19th century prospectors, it follows the deep river gorge, often crossing it on single-track bridges. We emerge from the forest at Westport to stretch our legs on rocky Cape Foulwind, so named in 1770 by Capt Cook after the Endeavour was blown off-shore by the ‘foul winds’. The point is reached by an excellent track to viewing platforms where we may see fur seals, sooty shearwaters and blue penguins. Then to Charleston to catch the ‘Rainforest Train’ to discover the underground cave system of the Nile River: as well as superb stalactite and stalagmites, the highlight is seeing the magical glimmer of glowworms in their natural environment in the recently-discovered Metro cave. Back on the road, we follow the rugged coast to Punakaiki and its extraordinary rock formations at Dolomite Point. Layers of limestone formed over millennia from dead sea-creatures were first forced up to the surface, then weathered by wind and water into formations that look like thousands of stacked pancakes! The short trail also brings us to ‘blowholes’ that can put on a real show when the wind is whipping the Tasman Sea into these narrow fissures.
- PUNAKAIKI – GLACIER COUNTRY (B)
At the height of the gold rush, in the 1870s, over 10,000 miners sought their fortune in the hills above the West Coast, with coastal towns springing up to provide supplies – and alcohol – to thirsty prospectors. One such was Hokitika which still has the air of a frontier town, though with fewer bars today! Our stop allows time to visit the small mining-era museum and craft co-operatives offering genuine and well-priced mementos, including pounamu (local jade). This afternoon we reach Westland National Park, an amazing place where ice meets rainforest at the foot of the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. We base ourselves in laid-back Franz Josef township for ease of access to the slowly moving ‘river’ of ice. As we walk up for our first view of the glacier, keep an eye out for cheeky keas (alpine parrots) which love to nibble a rucksack!
Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier
- FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER – QUEENSTOWN (B)
Ensure you have your camera for our visit to nearby Lake Matheson which, when conditions are right, perfectly mirrors beautiful Mount Cook in its still waters. This land is the heart of Te Wahipounamu – the place of the greenstone – explored by generations of Maori but penetrated by Europeans only 150 years ago. We head up over the Haast Pass along the river road, which took more than 40 years to complete, travelling beside the icy river and deep into Mt Aspiring National Park. The atmosphere lightens as we reach lovely Lake Wanaka, reflecting the mountain peaks that in winter offer superb skiing. We stop for afternoon refreshments at the Cardrona Pub. Said to be the most photographed pub in New Zealand, this gold-rush era inn is on the spectacular Crown Range Road to Queenstown. We get our first glimpse of Lake Wakatipu as we come over the hill and down to Queenstown, and our central lakeside hotel.
Novotel Lakeside, Queenstown – 2 nights
- QUEENSTOWN (B)
Queenstown is New Zealand’s adventure capital, and is a bustling tourist centre in summer and winter alike. There is so much to do here and so little time! Queenstown offers a huge choice of activities, so today is free for you to do your own thing. Thrill-seekers may zip-line at Bob’s Peak, get drenched on a Shotover jet-boat ride or go white-water rafting. But there is much more to Queenstown than bungy jumping and other adventure sports: less hair-raising, but no less enjoyable is the gondola ride up to Bob’s Peak, or a 4x4 safari to Skippers Canyon and Arrowtown. Boutique wineries and local gardens welcome visitors and the classic steamship TSS Earnslaw is an elegant way to discover Lake Wakatipu during a cruise to Walter Peak High Country Farm. And when it comes to eating out, you are spoiled for choice, so you are free to make your own arrangements for dinner.
- QUEENSTOWN – MILFORD MARINER OVERNIGHT CRUISE (B, D)
For many, the journey deep into Fiordland National Park is the highlight of their time in South Island. There is only one road into Milford Sound and it winds through deep valleys past the aptly-named Mirror Lakes, through the Homer Tunnel and the ‘Chasm’ in the Cleddau Valley to reach the fiord, where we take ship to explore. But not just any ship: we board the Milford Mariner to cruise the full length of the Sound, learning about its geology, flora and fauna from the on-board expert, before anchoring in a sheltered cove. Absorb the beauty from a seat on deck, or go exploring in the ship’s tender or even a kayak to get closer to Milford’s mystery. Dinner, an en-suite cabin and breakfast are all included in this overnight trip. We continue to debate which is the most memorable experience: the quality of the silence at night, or seeing the sun rise over the Sound.
Milford Mariner Overnight, Milford Sound
- FIORDLAND NATIONAL PARK – DUNEDIN (B)
Retracing the road out of Fiordland we travel along the shore of Lake Te Anau whose calm waters reflect the Franklin Mountain peaks. We roll through sheep country, musing on the fact that Southland’s sparse population is into trout fishing and country & western music, while the museum in Gore celebrates moonshine whisky! In Balclutha, on the banks of the mighty river Clutha, we stretch our legs on the Blair Atholl Walkway, before entering the city of Dunedin. The city’s Scottish founding fathers built ‘gothic-gingerbread’ landmarks including a Railway Station where thousands of Minton and Royal Doulton tiles adorn the booking hall. This afternoon, we head out to the Otago peninsula which protects the city from southern storms and gives shelter to penguins, seals and – uniquely – the Royal Albatross. Taiaroa Head is this majestic bird’s only mainland nesting site: about 30 pairs nest every year, and as the cycle from egg-laying to fledging takes almost 12 months, there is usually interesting behaviour to observe. Then on to the beach, following a walkway through the Yellow Eyed Penguin colony where these charming birds – the rarest penguins in the world – nest in sandy burrows and run the gauntlet of fur seals before they reach the open sea. As you would expect, some walking is required to make the most of today’s eco-visits.
Scenic Hotel Dunedin City
- DUNEDIN – AORAKI/ MT COOK NATIONAL PARK – TWIZEL (B)
We head north along the coast, pausing to see the extraordinary Moeraki Boulders. Scientists explain these spheres on the beach as calcite formations 65 million years old. We prefer the Maori legend, which says the boulders are gourds washed ashore from the voyaging canoe Araiteuru. Either way, this is a great photo-opportunity. Just as you think we have said farewell to New Zealand’s mountains we turn towards the Southern Alps again, entering Mount Cook National Park via Omarama. Our drive along the western shore of Lake Pukaki allows plenty of time to marvel at the astonishing blue of its glacier-fed waters. At the top of the lake we go on foot along the Hooker Valley trail for a close-up view of the country’s highest peak, Mount Cook if it lives up to its Maori name of Aoraki ‘the cloud piercer’. After our time at Mt Cook Village, we return to the small rural town of Twizel for our overnight.
Mackenzie Country Inn, Twizel
- TWIZEL – ASHBURTON (B,D)
The Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo is one of New Zealand’s most-photographed spots: a tiny church set against a majestic backdrop. Inside, the window behind the altar spurns stained glass to simply frame the astonishing view. Outside, a bronze statue of a collie dog reminds us that this is ‘Mackenzie Country’ settled by Scottish sheep farmers. We may also climb Mount John to the University of Canterbury’s Observatory, whose high-tech telescopes search the clear night skies. Then it is time to roll across the high country’s tussock plains, through Fairlie and Timaru, before a worthwhile diversion to Te Ana Maori Rock Art Centre to learn about the most significant collection of Ngai Tahu tribal rock drawings before dropping you off, in smaller groups at three or four farms around Ashburton where your welcoming hosts are proud of their farming heritage. A tour of the farm is included before your home-cooked dinner, typically including home-reared meat and kumara.
Farmstay, Ashburton area
- ASHBURTON – CHRISTCHURCH (B,D)
After a hearty farmhouse breakfast we re-assemble to head across the fertile Canterbury Plains and towards Christchurch. This ‘garden city’ was famously the most English-influenced community in New Zealand, but it was shaken to its core by a succession of earthquakes at the turn of 2010/11. Many historic buildings were damaged and restoration will undoubtedly change Christchurch, but the River Avon and its punts, Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens are all as beautiful as ever, and during our visit we will embrace the city’s past, present and future. The Kiwi ‘can do’ attitude is manifest in exciting new developments such as the inspiring ‘Cardboard Cathedral’, the Re:START shipping-container shopping centre and pop-up bars. This is the final part of our journey together so tonight we relax together over a farewell dinner that showcases the best of New Zealand food and wine.
Chateau on the Park, Christchurch
- DEPART CHRISTCHURCH (B)
If you are leaving New Zealand today, we transfer you to Christchurch Airport for your flight home. Alternatively we can extend your stay in Christchurch for a few days or arrange your onward independent touring by car, Tranz Alpine train, Coastal Pacific train or other coaching services. Which-ever way you leave us, sadly we must say farewell. We hope that you go home with amazing memories of your time in New Zealand.