Queenstown to Auckland via Stewart Island, Dunedin, Mt Cook & Tongariro

20 days

Indulgence Tours

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Itinerary

Queenstown to Te Anau

171 km, 2h 10min

Start out with the scenic drive along Lake Wakatipu to Frankton, crossing the Kawarau River. After passing the skifields of The Remarkables you will again find yourself on the very scenic winding road adjacent to the lake. The small town of Kingston at the foot of the lake is a worthwhile short detour and the home of the historic Kingston Flyer. Continue through hilly farm country, finally arriving at the pretty lakeside town of Te Anau. Consider making a visit to Manapouri Power Station, or taking a tour of the wonderful local Glow Worm Caves. You can also experience a taste of incredible Fiordland rainforest by taking a day walk on the renowned Kepler Track.

Queenstown to Te Anau

171 km, 2h 10min

Start out with the scenic drive along Lake Wakatipu to Frankton, crossing the Kawarau River. After passing the skifields of The Remarkables you will again find yourself on the very scenic winding road adjacent to the lake. The small town of Kingston at the foot of the lake is a worthwhile short detour and the home of the historic Kingston Flyer. Continue through hilly farm country, finally arriving at the pretty lakeside town of Te Anau. Consider making a visit to Manapouri Power Station, or taking a tour of the wonderful local Glow Worm Caves. You can also experience a taste of incredible Fiordland rainforest by taking a day walk on the renowned Kepler Track.

Milford Sound Return, ex Te Anau

235 km, 2h 50min

Take the stunning drive through giant glacier carved valleys to visit one of the most scenic spots in New Zealand, Milford Sound. Be awed and energised by the scenic beauty of the marvellous vistas here, particularly of Mitre Peak, which soars straight from the sea like a jagged tooth. Consider a scenic cruise to explore this wonderful place. In the afternoon, make your way back to Te Anau.

Te Anau to Stewart Island

214 km, 2h 50min

Head from Te Anau to stunning Lake Manapouri, continuing further along the Southern Scenic Route through stunning farmland on the eastern edges of the Fiordland wilderness. Pass through Tuatapere and join the wild southern coastline, stopping by attractive Riverton for lunch or coffee, before heading through to Bluff and taking the passenger ferry to Stewart Island (leave your vehicle securely parked in Bluff).

Stewart Island

Across the Foveaux Strait from the South Island, Stewart Island (Rakiura) is one of New Zealand’s great wilderness areas. More substantial than most people realise, the island is thickly carpeted in native forest, and is one of the few true remaining homes of the Kiwi. Soak in the island’s remoteness, or go exploring on some of the many walks through forest and beaches. Consider a boat tour to Paterson Inlet and the bird sanctuary of Ulva Island.

Stewart Island to Invercargill

28 km, 25min

Spend the morning enjoying the solitude and beauty of Stewart Island, before returning to the mainland with an afternoon ferry to Bluff or flight to Invercargill.

Invercargill to Dunedin

244 km, 3h 30min

Depart Southland’s agricultural heartland and head for the forested wilderness of the Catlins. Here, native forest meets golden beaches and you’ll find numerous walks to explore its highlights. The coastline, both before reaching the Catlins and beyond, is striking for green pastured hills dropping precipitously to a foaming sea, with opportunities to stop and walk along stretches of rocky shoreline beside tall cliffs as well as beaches. Continue through small townships interspersed with rolling green hilly farmland to the City of Dunedin.

Dunedin and Otago Peninsula

65 km, 2h

Explore the abundant wildlife on the Otago Peninsula. At the farthest point on the peninsula is the renowned Albatross Colony. Fur seals, sea lions and penguins can also be found on the peninsula (tour suggested). Historic Larnach Castle & Gardens is another exceptional stop on the route. Dunedin is now best known as a university town, but historically was the most prosperous city in New Zealand. The city is one of definite Scottish influence – view the Robert Burns statue at the Octagon. Also check out the historic railway station, said to be the most photographed building in the country. The Registry Building on the University of Otago campus is another frequently photographed attraction.

Dunedin to Lake Tekapo

285 km, 3h 30min

Make your way up the scenic Otago Coast, stopping by the Moeraki Boulders, then continuing to the surprise gem of Oamaru, with its attractive historic buildings. In Oamaru, a tour to view the Blue Pengins comes highly recommended between September and Febrary. Continue up through coastal farmland before turning inland to the dry alpine terrain of McKenzie Country. Finally, continue through to the stunning azure shores of Lake Tekapo. Visit the famous Church of the Good Shepherd on the lake shore, and consider stargazing in the evening at Mt John observatory.

Mt Cook daytrip from Lake Tekapo

210 km, 2h 30min

Take a daytrip to Mt Cook and the stunning Tasman Glacier. From the vivid blue of Lake Tekapo, make your way to the nearby glacial lake of Lake Pukaki, following it though to Mt Cook Village. Soak up the best views of Mt Cook itself – New Zealand’s highest peak, exploring the area on foot on one of the fastastic trails the explores the valley. An optional boat tour can bring you up-close to the impressive Tasman Glacier. Fixed-wing scenic flights are another great way to explore the grandeur of this area.

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.

Akaroa Daytrip

168 km, 3h

From the English-influenced city of Christchruch, head for the Banks Peninsula, where you’ll find the charming, French-flavoured township of Akaroa. To make the most of the area, take a tour of one of the nearby penguin or seal colonies. Many Hector’s dolphins can be found in Akaroa harbour, so from September through until May, swimming with dolphins is another wonderful option. The Banks Peninsula is of volcanic origin, so offers wonderful hilly scenery and a very extensive, meandering coastline or charming bays and inlets.

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 Wellington

157 km, 2h

Early risers can enjoy one of the most special experiences in New Zealand, swimming with dolphins. Drive north, stopping at Nin’s Bin, for a sampling of some of New Zealand’s most famous fresh lobster. Continue along the superb coastal route toward the Marlborough region, making your way to the sunny city of Blenheim, located in one of New Zealand’s best known wine-growing regions. Consider visiting a winery or two, before heading north to Picton, located on the calm waters of the Marlborough Sounds. Drop off the rental vehicle and board the ferry for Wellington. The ferry ride from Picton to Wellington takes about 3.5 hours, and after meandering past the scenic coves and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds, crosses the Cook Strait before heading into Wellington harbour.

Wellington to Tongariro

294 km, 3h 50min

From Wellington, travel north along the stunning Kapiti coast. Pass through the pastured farmlands of the Manawatu, before coming to the historic riverside town of Wanganui. Ascend the winding, scenic route that leads from the lowlands of Wanganui to the alpine heights of Tongariro. Overnight at the edge of Tongariro National Park, within short reach of the Ruapehu volcano.

Tongariro Crossing

The Tongariro Crossing is one of the best one-day walks in the world. The walk leads one-way from Ketetahi Car Park to Mangatepopo Car Park, and is 19.4km in length. The walk takes 6-9 hours. There are very few facilities on the walk, so be fully prepared with suitable equipment, clothing, food and drinks.

Tongariro to Taupo

130 km, 1h 40min

A leisurely drive journeys around the scenic Tongariro National Park, where impressive views of this volcanic region can be enjoyed, including of the classically conical Mt Ngaruhoe, used as “Mt Doom” in the filming of Lord of the Rings. The famous Tongariro Crossing daywalk could be attempted on this day – or alternatively shorter walks from Whakapapa or Mangatepopo. There are hot pools and white water rafting opportunities mid-route at Turangi, after which you’ll make your way alongside the calm shores of Lake Taupo.

Taupo to Rotorua

82 km, 1h

Just beyond Taupo, experience the sight of 200,000 litres of water squeezing its way through a narrow passage every second at the booming Huka Falls. Continue toward Rotorua through a region of intense, subterrainean pressure, where the Earth’s thermal activity inches close to the surface. Consider visiting the fascinating thermal areas of Waimangu and Wai-o-Tapu, perhaps enjoying a swim in the naturally warmed waters. In Rotorua, a diverse variety of attractions awaits, from thermal areas and mud spas to a Redwood Forest with world-class mountain biking. In the evening, consider connecting with New Zealand’s indigenous culture by attending a Maori performance accompanied by a traditional Hangi dinner.

Rotorua to Auckland via Waitomo Caves

339 km, 4h 10min

From Rotorua, make your way to an ancient limestone region best known for its vast cave systems displaying stunning arrays of stalactites and stalagmites, and occasionally illuminated by glow worms. Experience this for yourself at Waitomo Caves, where numerous tours allow you to explore this underground wonderland. If you have some time, make the visit to the beautiful Marokopa Falls. Heading north to Auckland, consider stopping by Hamilton Gardens – one of New Zealand’s finest!