Mountains & Fiords of the South Island

  • World-class mountain landscapes of Wanaka
  • Overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound
  • Abundant wildlife of the Otago Peninsula
New Zealand
Trip Type: Sample Itinerary
Trip Length: 11 Days
Activity type(s): Cultural Tour, Day Hiking, River Cruising
Trip Extensions: Natural North New Zealand

New Zealand is a gem of a country, and it shines brightly and beguilingly on this elegantly paced Custom Trip to its South Island. (And while you’re at the computer, take a look at Natural North New Zealand, just a smidgen of cyberspace away; we suspect you’ll be tempted to combine these trips into a gorgeous and rollickingly fun, just-over-three-week, North and South Island look at this wonderful country.)

In Mountains and Fiords (they’re generally fiords in New Zealand, not the more familiar fjords), we begin with a good look at famously lovely Christchurch, from which we’ll take the TranzAlpine Train to Arthur’s Pass Village, in the midst of the Southern Alps. Then we’re off to New Zealand’s highest peak, Mount Cook. At 12,313 feet, Cook—or Aoraki—isn’t among the world’s giants; it is however a mountain of tremendous presence and glacier-draped beauty, which we’ll get a feel for on a private Glacier Explorer tour and perhaps a visit to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center, dedicated to the world’s most famous Kiwi.

Dropping down from the mountains, we drive to Dunedin, yet one more of New Zealand’s rich collection of knockdown charming towns. And from Dunedin, we’ll venture out onto the Otago Peninsula for meetings with penguins, sea lions, fur seals, and teeming masses of cheerful birds. Back inland, through the Central Otago region, we reach the Wharekea Lodge in the pretty little lakeside town of Wanaka, at the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. The next morning we’re whisked by helicopter into the mountains for a stay at the Whare Kea Alpine Chalet, a marvelous hostelry in a trip brimming with them. After enjoying epic views, perhaps from the summit of Dragon Fly Peak, we helicopter back to the lodge, and make a scenic drive over the Crowne Range to Queenstown, cherished for much, but perhaps most for its dramatic situation at the foot of the Remarkable Ranges. As a dramatic wrap-up, we head to South Island’s western coast and the famed Fiordlands National Park for an overnight cruise aboard the Fiordland Navigator into magnificent Doubtful Sound, lengthier and far less visited than its better press-agented neighbor, Milford Sound.

(You may be familiar with two of New Zealand’s—and the world’s—most famous lodge-to-lodge treks, the four-day, three-night Routeburn Track, and the six-day, five-night Milford Track. Both are scenically stupendous, both end each night in a comfortable, well-provisioned lodge or hotel, and both are cherished highlights in any hiker’s life. Both are easily added to Mountains and Fiords for those seeking a little more intimacy with the country’s wondrous fiords and mountains. Give us a call for detailed itineraries for these trip extensions.)

South Island travel tour map

Itinerary at a Glance

  • Days 1 & 2: arrive Christchurch, tour
  • Day 3: drive to Mount Cook, Glacier Explorer tour
  • Day 4: drive south to Dunedin
  • Day 5: wandering in Otago Peninsula
  • Day 6: inland to Wanaka
  • Day 7: helicopter to Whare Kea Alpine Chalet
  • Day 8: helicopter to Wanaka, drive over Crowne Range to Queenstown
  • Day 9: cruise Doubtful Sound, Fiordlands National Park, overnight aboard Fiordland Navigator
  • Day 10: fiord viewing, cruise to Deep Bay, drive to Queenstown
  • Day 11: connect to flights back home.

  • Optional Milford Track Extension:
  • Days 11–14: Te Anau Downs to Glade House, Pompolona Lodge, Quintin Lodge, Mitri Peak Lodge
  • Days 15 & 16: to Queenstown, depart.

  • Optional Routeburn Track Extension:
  • Days 11–13: across the Divide to Lake Mackenzie, Routeburn Falls, Routeburn Road and back to Queenstown
  • Day 14: depart Queenstown.