Welcome to Christchurch, a cosmopolitan city of churches set against an ancient volcanic peninsula and Canterbury’s lush vines. Rebuilt following the earthquakes that shook the city in 2010 and 2011, Christchurch today is an urban centre of graffiti-covered laneways with aromatic coffee and architectural flair — best discovered aboard a beautifully restored tram on a 17-stop loop.
On arrival at Christchurch International Airport (CHC), you will be met by our local representative and transferred by private vehicle to your boutique hotel in the heart of the city. En route, discover why Christchurch is hailed as the ‘Garden City', with a two-hour tour of the award-winning gardens and historic buildings.
This evening, enjoy an included three-course dinner at your luxury hotel.
This morning, get your first dose of the South Island's unparalleled scenery on one of the world’s greatest scenic railway journeys — the TranzAlpine Railway. You will be collected from your accommodation and transferred to Christchurch Railway Station. As you set off, travel past the breathtaking Canterbury Plains and over the spectacular gorges and river valleys of Waimakariri River to Greymouth. En route, ascend into the perennially snowcapped Southern Alps, before descending through lush alpine beech forest to the West Coast. With all carriages including one-way and tabled seating options, you'll be all set to soak up the magnificent views.
On arrival into Greymouth, collect your intermediate SUV rental vehicle and continue through glacier country to the charming town of Franz Josef.
Drive Greymouth — Franz Josef (171 kilometres/106 miles – 2.20 hours non-stop drive time)
From the lookout point at the end of the Franz Josef Road, the views over the mountains, glaciers and Westland Tai Poutini National Park are truly magical.
This evening, settle in at the boutique Westwood Lodge, a charming bed and breakfast in the majestic Southern Alps with a cosy fireplace at its heart.
There is simply no describing the pristine beauty of Franz Josef Glacier, which you will witness firsthand today with a helicopter ride over the Twin Glaciers. Soar over the charming township and follow the ice flow into the upper reaches of Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glaciers. Set down on the blanket of pure white snow and behold the grandeur up close, surveying the path the glacier has forged over thousands of years.
Drive Franz Josef — Wanaka (287 kilometres/178 miles — 4 hours non-stop drive time)
After your helicopter tour, it's time to depart Franz Josef in the direction of Wanaka. Cross the Cook River Bridge and travel through forests of red and white pine to Bruce Bay, an old gold-mining settlement.
Continue through bush landscapes until you pass tranquil Lakes Paringa and Moeraki, the haunt of the elegant kōtuku (white heron), to the township of Haast. From here, drive through the Haast Pass Highway, where you will view Mount Brewster and Lake Hawea Dam.
Your home for the next two nights is the perfectly positioned Edgewater Resort, set directly on the shores of the luminous Lake Wanaka, with lawns that stretch right to the water’s edge against a backdrop of dramatic Southern Alps.
This morning, you will be collected from your hotel for a guided four-hour 4WD safari adventure. On the edge of a crystal-clear lake, surrounded by the unspoilt scenery of Mount Aspiring National Park, home to red deer, sheep and cattle grazing on rolling green pastures, Wanaka is a photographer's dream. Visit historic sites with your local guide, learning the area's secrets, and enjoy leisurely walks through forests and meadows, and past alpine lakes.
With the whole afternoon before you, why not discover the region’s apres-ski lifestyle? In addition to its sweeping alpine views and incredible skiing, Wanaka is a winter wonderland humming with lakeside bars and cafes. You could swirl a glass of pinot noir at Mt Difficulty Wines or sip a whisky on the rocks at Cardrona Distillery, home to New Zealand’s only single-malt whisky produced with pure alpine water.
Make your way to the marina for a cruise to the hidden paradise of Mou Waho Island Nature Reserve today. Sit back and let the tranquillity of Lake Wanaka wash over you as you glide to this island of forested tracks and secluded lakes.
From there, enjoy a one-hour guided bush walk to the island’s secret lake hidden at the summit. It’s here that you can soak up Southern Alps panoramas, savour an included morning tea overlooking the lake, and keep an eye out for the rare flightless buff weka bird (extinct on the mainland since 1920). Plant a native tree to cap off your eco-experience.
Drive Wanaka — Queenstown (117 kilometres/72 miles — 1.5 hours non-stop drive time)
Back on the mainland, bid farewell to Wanaka as you travel to Queenstown via Cromwell and the spectacular Kawarau Gorge. A year-round alpine resort nestled amid steep mountain ranges, backed by the jagged peaks of The Remarkables rising from Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is the South Island's adrenaline-fuelled heart.
On arrival, check into your five-star accommodation, Hotel St Moritz Queenstown by MGallery. Overlooking the liquid-silver lake and framed by The Remarkables, with a soul-warming fireplace, warm decor and signature elegance, this is the ideal ‘alpine residence’ from which to discover the South Island’s beauty.
Prepare to be left spellbound today by the magnificence of the iconic Milford Sound. You will be transferred from your hotel to the Queenstown airstrip for your one-hour scenic flight. Following a pre-flight briefing, you're off. Experience the glorious display of nature on show from above as you sweep over Shotover Canyon and Lake Lochnagar to Mount Aspiring. Fiordland’s spectacular mountains and waterfalls are even more magical from the air, as you spy the ‘Big 5’ glaciers, fly through ‘glacier valley’ and over Mount Tutoko and the Donne and Age glaciers.
The remainder of the day is yours to explore as you please, though a gondola ride to the summit of Bob’s Peak is highly recommended. If you'd prefer to keep your feet on the ground, enjoy a lakeside stroll to Queenstown Gardens or perhaps a walk through native Beech Forest.
After one final delicious breakfast, your journey comes to an end. Return your rental car to Queenstown Airport (ZQN) before your onward travel.