Christchurch Loop via Abel Tasman, West Coast, Milford Sound & Mt Cook

14 days

Indulgence Tours

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Itinerary

Christchurch

Christchurch was founded by English colonialists and still showing their influence today. Although Christchurch continues to recover from significant earthquake damage, there are still some great attractions to take in. Head into town and take a visit Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens. Take a stroll, or enjoy an even more leisurely experience, going Punting on the Avon River. Next to the airport is the International Antarctic Centre. You can also enjoy a wonderful drive into the Port Hills – crater of an huge extinct volcano right next to the city.

Christchurch to Kaikoura

181 km, 2h 30min

The route north from Christchurch heads first through the flat, agrarian landscape of the Canterbury Plains. As you approach Kaikoura, the route leads into winding hills, passing through small townships, before connecting with the stunning coastline. A seafood lunch from the roadside caravans in Kaikoura is a great option. Whale watching – either by sea or by air – is a fine option for the afternoon, if not tomorrow morning. Kaikoura is best known for its oceanic mammals, but is also an excellent place for viewing birdlife, particularly albatrosses.

Kaikoura to Nelson

246 km, 3h 5min

One special way to start your morning in Kaikoura is by going swimming with dolphins. Kaikoura is also a major whale watching destination, so consider doing so by scenic flight or ferry. Roadside seafood is an option in Kaikoura, or head north to the famed lobster shack, Nin’s Bin. Take a short walk to waterfall near the roadside, where in the cooler months you can see seal pups playing in a streambed while their mothers fish at sea. The coastal road here is wildly beautiful as it leads right through to the wine region of Blenheim, where you might stop by a winery for some afternoon tea. Continue to Nelson, a small, quiet city that is a major hub art and alternative culture in New Zealand.

Abel Tasman Daytrip

130 km, 2h 50min

Make the drive from Nelson to Marahau, access point to Abel Tasman National Park. This is a place of golden beaches, granite cliffs and deep blue ocean. It is synonymous with both kayaking and the Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand’s nine designated Great Walks, so the recommended plan is to combine the two in a day trip in conjunction with one of the local operators.

Nelson to Westport

222 km, 2h 50min

Make your way from Nelson to New Zealand’s wild West Coast. Drive spectacular scenic roads as they lead through the mountains, and watch as the rainforest thickens around you. Those up for some adventure will wish to take a rafting trip on the mighty Buller, where grade 3-4 rapids can be expected (true extremists may wish to hold out for heli-rafting from Hokitika). Arrive in the town of Westport, where a short drive out of town will bring you to the Cape Foulwind seal colony. Westport sits between the sea and a mountain wilderness. A stunning drive into the mountains above town will allow you to discover the region’s coal mining history at Denniston.

Westport to Hokitika

140 km, 1h 45min

From Westport, head south to the amazing pancake rocks of Punakaiki. You can take these in with a leisurely stroll on the well-made pathway from the roadside. Those wanting a little more can go horseriding on the beach and view them from another angle, as well as taking in much more of Punakaiki’s wonderful scenery. Nature enthusiasts can enjoy an expert guided tour taking in local flora and fauna. The route from Punakaiki south is simply spectacular, as the road winds carefully around a wild coastline. Pass through Greymouth and arrive at Hokitika, the west coast’s largest hub for arts and wares, from fine glass pieces to the famous pounamu, New Zealand’s local greenstone. (For language enthusiasts, the Maori name for the South Island is Te Waipounamu, translated as “the waters of greenstone”.) Adventurous travellers truly wanting to experience New Zealand’s best wilderness can take an amazing heli-rafting trip from Hokitika – highly recommended.

Hokitika to Franz Josef

134 km, 1h 40min

Continue south along a narrow strip of vibrant green farmland that sits wedged between the coast and the mountains. Short walks are available at Lake Mahinapua, worthy of a quick stop. The Southwest of New Zealand is one the great natural areas of the world, being internationally recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Arrive at Franz Josef Glacier, one of the two major glaciers on the West Coast. You can hike the glacier from the bottom, combine a glacier hike with a heli flight, or take a scenic flight above it all. Alternatively, consider a kayak trip on Lake Mapourika.

Franz Josef to Wanaka

285 km, 3h 20min

Today’s spectacular route leads from the dramatic green wilderness of the West Coast to the drier climate that pervades on the east side of the New Zealand Alps. Head south down the coast to the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre at Haast, then turn inland toward the mountains, following the winding Haast Pass Highway as it weaves up a narrow valley between towering mountains. Thundering roadside waterfalls line the route, and you’ll also find the striking and vivid Blue Pools a pleasant 30 minute walk from the roadside. Continue past Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, passing the charming lakeside town of Wanaka.

Wanaka to Queenstown

89 km, 1h 20min

From Wanaka, first stop is Cromwell. This is orchard country, with apples, peaches, pears, plums and cherries all grown in abundance. Take a few minutes at one of the local fruit stands for some of the local fruit ice cream. Continue from Cromwell along the scenic, desert route alongside the Kawarau River toward Queenstown, passing the wineries of the Gibbston Valley and Kawarau Bungy. A short detour leads to the historic village of Arrowtown, where gold was discovered in Arrowtown in 1861. The town is one of delightful old cottages and fine avenues of trees, making it an excellent place for a coffee. Stroll the historic streets before continuing to Queenstown – with possible diversions to Kawarau Bungy or a local winery en route.

Queenstown to Milford Sound to Te Anau

403 km, 4h 50min

Travel from Queenstown to Te Anau, starting out with the scenic drive down the edge Lake Wakatipu past Kingston. From Te Anau, continue on the stunning route through giant glacier carved valleys to the postcard perfect Milford Sound, a true highlight among New Zealand’s stunning natural attractions. Be awed and energised by the scenic perfection of the marvellous vistas here, particularly of Mitre Peak, which soars straight from the sea like a jagged tooth. You may wish to take a scenic cruise to get a more intimate perspective on this stunning fiord. In the afternoon, return to Te Anau.

Te Anau to Omarama

346 km, 4h

Depart the beautiful shores of Lake Te Anau and head north via the scenic shoreline of Lake Wakatipu. Passing Queenstown, make a stop at the wineries of the Gibbston Valley, before following the scenic, desert route alongside the Kawarau River to the town of Cromwell. Find yourself in orchard country, with apples, peaches, pears, plums and cherries all grown in abundance. Local fruit stands sell local produce, and fresh, fruit-based ice cream. The northward route then takes you over the stark tussock covered hills of the Lindis Pass, before eventually leading you to the small, homely crossroads of Omarama. Omarama is renowned as one of the best sites in the world for glider flights, and once hosted the world championships. Scenic flights of various duration are available at the local airfield.

Omarama to Lake Tekapo

199 km, 2h 5min

Heading north from Omarama through the desert-like country of southern Canterbury, its amazing to consider that only a narrow mountain range separates you from the dense rainforests of the West Coast. Visit the alpine Salmon farm near the town of Twizel (the highest-altitude salmon on Earth!), and continue up to the striking blue of Lake Pukaki. Make the detour up to Mt Cook township, and take a walk to soak up the best views of New Zealand’s highest peak (Aoraki/Mt Cook!). Back at the car, return to the main highway and continue to Lake Tekapo, the most stunning of New Zealand’s glacial lakes. Visit the famous Church of the Good Shepherd on the lake shore, and consider taking part in some of the great activities available in town.

Lake Tekapo to Christchurch

241 km, 3h 40min

From Tekapo, follow the road leading out of the mountains to the vast Canterbury Plains, and on to Christchurch. Christchurch continues to recover from significant earthquake damage and increasingly boasts new sights and attractions for visitors. At the edge of the city is the Canterbury Museum, the Botanic Gardens, and Hagley Park, where you can enjoy punting along the Avon river. The International Antarctic Centre, near the airport, is another major Christchurch attraction, interesting for adults and kids alike. The Port Hills – formed by the crater of an extinct volcano that exploded six million years ago – offer great views back over the city.