Summits & Sounds
New Zealand’s South Island is as dramatic as it is diverse. It looks like something out of “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth,” but coloured and highlighted by Andy Warhol. This is a relentlessly spectacular landscape.
Start your tour in the reinvented city of Christchurch before exploring the green pastures and sandy bays of the Banks Peninsula. Head inland past shimmering turquoise lakes and ice fields that tumble down to the Tasman Sea. Hike family-friendly trails over swing bridges in Mount Cook National Park and dip your toes into eco paradise in Wanaka. Go for all out action in Queenstown before finding peace and solitude on the sounds in Fiordland. Explore caves that glitter with glow-worms like a million fairy lights. Finally get your wildlife fix in the hidden bays and rolling hills of the Otago Peninsula. This is an epic tour that guarantees a standing ovation.
- Flights: International flights from UK to Christchurch
- Transport: Car hire from airport pick-up to airport drop-off
- Accommodation: 11 nights in unique lodges, cottages, farm stays and apartments
- Meals: Breakfasts where stated
- Trip Pack: Key family-friendly information about the country you are visiting with recommended activity links, places to eat and fun facts.
- The best of Christchurch – gap fillers, parks, museums, bike tours and cardboard cathedrals
- Explore rolling hills and narrow inlets in the Banks Peninsula
- Visit aquamarine lakes and star-filled skies near Lake Tekapo
- Hike majestic trails and glacier heads around Mount Cook National Park
- Sample fine food & wine in Wanaka
- Enjoy action packed Queenstown and beautiful Glenorchy
- Visit Fiordland National Park and enjoy an optional cruise through breath-taking Milford or Doubtful Sound.
- Breathe in fresh sea air in the Catlins and hike to tumbling waterfalls
- Watch cheeky penguins & seals on the Otago Peninsula
- Visit epic film locations from the Lord of the Rings & follow in the footsteps of Frodo
- Enjoy adrenaline activities galore
- When can we go? All year round
- What type of tour is it? Self-drive & Optional Guided Excursions
- Who is it suitable for? For families that enjoy everything Mother Nature can throw at them. Also lovers of alpine scenery, fabulous hiking, adrenaline activities and spectacular wildlife.
- What is the minimum age? We would recommend a minimum age of 6 years due to the active nature of the trip. Please check the recommended activities as the minimum ages will differ.
We publish ‘guideline prices’ for both the high and low season to give a reasonable estimate of what you might expect to pay per person based on a family of four (two adults, two children). To get an accurate price based on your estimated departure date and party size please contact us directly.
Guide Price: Jan to Dec - £2,795pp
Christchurch suffered a devastating earthquake in February 2011 with many of its heritage buildings destroyed. But this charismatic city has reinvented itself in truly innovative ways. There are vibrant examples of this new, irreverent spirit everywhere you look. These include projects supplied by Gap-Filler such as a coin operated Dance-O-Mat, big enough for 50 people to shake their tail feathers on, public art spaces for talented spray-painters and pop up retail hubs & restaurants.
We would recommend heading to the Antigua Boatshed to hire a family sized canoe before visiting the Canterbury Museum for their Earthquake exhibition. If time allows take a Christchurch Bike Tour through Mona Vale, Deans Bush and Hagley Park with its glorious greenery. Next visit the Cardboard Cathedral to admire its visual simplicity before visiting the Margaret Mahy Playground with its maze of activities and the burger connoisseurs at Smash Palace.
Christchurch will be your base for the next two nights.
Fun Facts: The city of Christchurch is geographically unique because it is one of the world's eight pairs of cities that have a near-exact antipodal city. A Coruña in Spain is Christchurch's antipode.
Optional Activities: Wildlife reserve, adventure park
The stunning Banks Peninsula was formed by two giant volcanic eruptions about ten million years ago. It is a land of tumbling hills, green pastures, narrow inlets, broad bays and of course the ubiquitous wide-faced Romney sheep. Enjoy fresh farm produce, horse riding and fabulous mountain bike trails. Take absurdly beautiful roads around the edge of craters and explore tranquil bays dotting the peninsula's perimeter.
We would recommend heading to picturesque Akaroa, stopping en route at craft galleries, cheese stalls and alpaca farms. Take an optional boat cruise to swim with delightful Hector’s dolphins and see New Zealand fur seals and White-flippered penguins. You will probably be accompanied by a wildlife-spotting dog! If you are a bit of a penguin nut then we would highly recommend a tour to the Pohatu penguin colony nearby. Alternatively, visit the creative masterpiece of the Giant’s House whose sculptures and mosaics by local artist Josie Martin cascade down the hillside above Akaroa.
Take the dramatic Evan's Pass on the way back and call at Sumner for fish & chips on the beach. A perfect way to end the day.
Fun Facts: Akaroa is New Zealand’s first and only French settlement. The small village breathes French culture, from shops to cuisine to architecture and hosts a yearly festival to celebrate all things French.
Optional Activities: Dolphin cruise, penguin tour, alpaca farm, mountain biking, horse-riding
Today is a long drive to your final destination of Twizel but there are plenty of fun stops along the way. Stop at Geraldine for craft galleries, artisan chocolate and the fabulous Geraldine observatory, a must stop for any young budding astronomer. Down the road in Fairlie you can enjoy sheep shearing & dog displays.
The scenery changes dramatically as you cross over Burke's Pass. You are now entering the McKenzie Basin, a flat expanse of tussock grasslands and home to New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki (Mt Cook). Lake Tekapo is a land of shimmering aquamarine lakes and river braids and is a great place for a few hours break. Take a snapshot of the much photographed Church of the Good Shepherd before heading to Tekapo Springs to enjoy hot pools, tubes and mud wraps. For seriously sublime views of the Southern Alps take a scenic flight into the heart of the Mt Cook and Tai Poutini National Parks. See snow-capped peaks, dazzling glaciers, twisting rivers and impossibly turquoise lakes. Include a snow landing for the ultimate vibe of tranquillity. As evening falls, the skies above reveal the world’s largest dark sky reserve. The star-studded skies above Mt. John University Observatory provide magical nightscapes (but remember a warm jacket!).
It is a 40-minute journey onto Twizel which will be your base for the next two nights.
Fun Facts: Mt Cook was first climbed by Tom Fyfe, Jack Clarke, and George Graham, on Christmas Day, 1894. On 3rd December 1910, Emmeline Freda Du Faur became the first woman to climb Mt Cook, with her attempt the fastest ascent to that date.
Optional Activities: Farm visit, hot springs, scenic flight over Mount Cook, observatory night tour
It is an easy drive to Mount Cook Village with jaw-dropping vistas guaranteed to fill your windscreen. This is alpine scenery in the purest sense with towering peaks, glittering glaciers and permanent snow fields.
There are various options for families in this area. The Glacier Explorer trip involves a guided walk to the Tasman Lake then a boat or kayak trip across the terminal lake to the face of the advancing glacier. Witness icebergs of every shape and size floating by. You could also explore the fern-filled fairy forest on the Governor’s Bush Track, a 45-minute loop through beautiful native bush. Alternatively, the Hooker Valley Track is one of the most popular short walks in the Mount Cook National Park. The track winds over multiple swing-bridges before finishing at the spectacular Hooker Glacier terminal lake. Here Mount Aoraki looms large with great walls of ice and buttresses of towering rock. This is New Zealand tramping at its finest.
Afterwards, eat, drink and relax in the Hermitage while enjoying the incredible views. The Edmund Hilary Alpine Centre located within the hotel is like a mini museum and well worth a look.
Fun Facts: According to Ngai Tahu legend, Aoraki and his three brothers were the sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father. While on a sea voyage, their canoe overturned on a reef. When the brothers climbed on top of their canoe, the freezing south wind turned them to stone. The canoe became the South Island; Aoraki and his brothers became the peaks of the Southern Alps.
Optional Activities: Glacier explorer trip, glacier sea kayaking
Today is a real treat for the eyes! Head south via the scenic Lindis Pass. Along the way you will be provided with directions to a secret pine forest where Arwen and Frodo were filmed fleeing on horseback. Continue following the Clutha River and you will also see the Misty Mountains from the LOTR trilogy. Eventually the road will bring you to the shores of Lake Wanaka, where the namesake town sits in the shadow of snow-capped crags and evergreen trees. The town is bursting with quaint schist buildings offering restaurants and roaring log fires at every turn but this place is essentially about the great outdoors.
You may choose to go mountain biking by the banks of the mighty Clutha River, join an eco-cruise to the bird sanctuary on Mou Waho Island, heli-hike to the three pristine Alpine Lakes (Bear Grylls training ground), go jet boating in the wilderness of Mount Aspiring National Park, tandem-paragliding off the side of a mountain or horse trekking on a gold discovery trail or through a vineyard. If you’ve never tried your hand at via ferrata mountain climbing then this is the place to do it. You get to climb up a waterfall. Exhilarating stuff, nuff said!
If your family prefer a more chilled affair you could visit Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World with its bizarre buildings, rooms of illusion and Great Maze, a local lavender farm for herbal tea and lavender ice cream or a local vineyard for fabulous wine and quite possibly the prettiest winery views in the world (If Carlsburg did …. etc). For hiking we would recommend the amazing Rob Roy Glacier Track or for families with shorter legs a hike around Diamond Lake. In the evening visit Cinema Paradiso for an old-fashioned movie experience. Spend the night in Wanaka.
Fun Facts: The “Wanaka tree" is a lone shrub that grows in the shallows of Roy's Bay on the southern end of Lake Wanaka. It's an absolute photographer's dream.
Optional Activities: Rock climbing, eco-cruise, heli-hike, mountain biking, jet boating, tandem paragliding, horse-riding, Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World, lavender farm, vineyard tour
Take the scenic route to Queenstown via the old gold mining town of Cardrona. Stop for a drink at the old Cardrona Hotel (like Prince Harry) or take a horse trek up the beautiful Cardrona Valley on Appaloosas. The views from the top of the pass are truly sensational.
Arrive in Queenstown, the Adventure Capital of New Zealand and your base for the next two nights. It has a breath-taking setting on the shores of crystal clear Lake Wakatipu amongst dramatic alpine ranges. The sheer breadth of family friendly activities on offer are almost impossible to list but we’ll give it a go; take a heritage cruise on a vintage steamship, go jetboating up Skippers Canyon, hit the ski slopes, go kayaking to secluded beaches on Pig and Pigeon Island, enjoy a quad bike tour, go ziplining or white-water rafting, take the Skyline Gondola up (and the luge back down), go river boarding (like bodyboarding but on a river!), take to the air in a giant balloon or see kiwi, kea, falcons and parakeets at the Kiwi Birdlife Park. For bike enthusiasts there are more 100km of easy gradient scenic tracks, wine trails, backcountry trails, serious downhill rides and a jump park. Biking=ticked!
If the weather is poor, no problem, Queenstown has that covered too. Go indoor carting, enjoy 4D motion rides, an indoor dry-slope terrain park or trampolining. Don’t worry you can rest & recuperate later in the trip!
After a good night sleep, we would recommend heading to Glenorchy into the beating heart of LOTR country. Glenorchy is nothing short of awe-inspiring, with the road from Queenstown aptly named the ‘road to paradise’. Pass by the film location of Beorn's House in The Hobbit, as well as backdrops for Isengard. In Glenorchy, take a guided walk of the spectacular Routeburn Track to see snow-capped mountain, reflective tarns, ancient beech forest and gushing waterfalls. Alternatively, jump on a horse and canter up the valley or take a Dart River Funyak for the ultimate immersion experience.
Fun Facts: During the filming of ‘The Lord of the Rings’, more than 500 people a day lined up at the casting rooms in Queenstown hoping for a part.
Optional Activities: Steamship cruise, jet boating, Skyline gondola, luge, quad biking, river boarding, zip-lining, kayaking, hot air balloon, birdlife park, white-water rafting, indoor karting, trampolining, guided hike, funyak
It is a 2-hour drive from Queenstown to Te Anau. Along the way we would recommend stopping at the Devils Staircase and following the 30-minute Kingston Lakefront Track. The pretty town of Te Anau lies nestled on the edge of the namesake lake whose pellucid waters reflect temperate rainforests clinging desperately to its western shore. It is the 'Gateway to Fiordland', the talisman of New Zealand tourism.
After the bustle of Queenstown, we would recommend a slower pace today. You could take a magical journey through a fairyland of enchanting lights and sculptured rock at the Te Anau Glow-worm Caves. Take a boat ride across the lake before descending into a network of hidden limestone passages where thousands of glow-worms inhabit a silent grotto. It is a once-in-a-lifetime magical experience that families will love.
In the evening you could enjoy mountains of crayfish, mouth-watering ceviche or a fabulous New Zealand pie before visiting the Fiordland Cinema. Stay in Te Anau for the next two nights.
Fun Facts: The extraordinary beauty of Fiordland was recognised by the United Nations in 1986 when it was made a World Heritage Area. The Fiordland National Park was described as having ‘superlative natural phenomena’ and ‘outstanding examples of…the earth’s evolutionary history’.
Optional Activities: Glow-worm caves
Today is a free day for you to enjoy the primeval rugged landscape of Fiordland. We would recommend a day trip to either Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound. Choosing which one is a tough decision.
Milford Sound is ridiculously epic. Lorded over by the iconic Mitre Peak, there are countless waterfalls tumbling hundreds of metres down sheer cliffs, mountains rising straight out of the sea and fur seals. The drive there has to be one of the most beautiful in New Zealand. For families with older children we would recommend stopping to hike the Key Summit Trail (2.5-hour return) for Instagram perfect mountain views and alpine lakes. Younger families can enjoy Lake Marian Falls or The Chasm (both 20 min return) and seeing the Kea who hang out by the Homer Tunnel. At Milford Sound take a cruise with an underwater viewing chamber for maximum fun for the kids!
Doubtful Sound provides a more remote wilderness experience than Milford Sound. It’s a staggering 10 times bigger and home to fur seals, fiordland crested penguins and its own pod of dolphins. Vertical cliffs are covered with the ubiquitous ancient hanging forest of silver beech. Getting there is a huge adventure in itself; take a boat cruise across beautiful Lake Manapouri, before catching a bus over the Wilmot Pass through Fiordland rainforest to the sound. The whole landscape feels ancient and prehistoric and there will hardly be a soul around to spoil the tranquillity. Doubtful Sound is our own personal favourite.
Back in Te Anau, hit the bao food truck for amazing value cuisine.
Fun Facts: Captain James Cook sighted the entrance to Doubtful Sound on his first voyage to New Zealand in 1770. He called the place Doubtful Harbour and didn’t enter the sound because he was doubtful about whether he could turn back to sea.
Optional Activities: Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound boat cruise
Today is a long drive over to Dunedin so we would recommend an early start. You will witness classic Southland scenery en route, with rolling green hills and verdant farming vistas. Along the way stop at Balclutha passing over the six-arch road bridge before taking a detour off to the Catlins. The Catlins provide a huge wildlife fix - walk amongst thick green forests to stunning waterfalls and barefoot onto sandy beaches with sunbathing sea lions. We would recommend driving to Nugget Point with its lovely little lighthouse perched above crashing ocean waves. See Yellow-eyed penguins at nearby Roaring Bay. If time permits also visit Purakaunui Falls, a cascading 3-tier waterfall just a short walk through impressive podocarp and beech forest.
Arrive in Dunedin, early afternoon, and enjoy the rest of the day in this rich Scottish heritage city. Visit museums where you can witness the release of newly-emerged butterflies, go on a journey to the edge of the universe and learn how the night sky looks in the Perpetual Guardian Planetarium. Take a picnic to the botanical gardens. Feed the ducks and play in the playground. A tour of the local chocolate factory is also a must on your trip to Dunedin. Inhale the chocolaty goodness before sampling the products. Yum!
In the evening, if you are not easily spooked, you could take a ghost tour where a local guide will take you on a journey through the snickleways of haunted Victorian Dunedin. Spend the night in Dunedin.
Fun Facts: Dunedin’s Baldwin Street is recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the steepest street in the world with an average gradient of 1:5. It is the venue of the world-famous Jaffa Race during Cadbury’s Chocolate Carnival where 25,000 sweets are rolled down the street en-masse.
Optional Activities: Museum, chocolate factory tour, ghost tour
Set out this morning to explore the Otago Peninsula, a picturesque haven of rolling hills, hidden bays, golden beaches and clifftop trails. The peninsula is high and rugged on the ocean side; warm and sheltered on the harbour side. It is also home to the South Island’s most accessible diversity of wildlife, including the royal albatross, fur seals, penguins and sea lions.
This is one of the most scenic drives in the whole of New Zealand with constantly breath-taking vistas. Follow the coastal road past small villages and bays to see the albatross, seals and sea lions. You could join a 4WD tour to get up and close to this amazing wildlife. Afterwards enjoy the toe-tingling cliffs at The Chasm and Lovers Leap. The peninsula's only town is tiny Portobello which is a great spot for lunch.
It is a short drive up the coast to Oamaru which will be the base for your final night on the South Island. Along the way we would recommend stopping at the Moeraki boulders for that perfect shot. You will arrive in time at Oamaru to make an evening visit to a natural colony of Blue Penguin, the smallest penguin in the world, which is located just minutes away from town.
Fun Facts: There are over 50 boulders along Koekohe Beach but there used to be many more. Back in the 19th century people took the smaller boulders to use as garden ornaments or as souvenirs.
Optional Activities: Albatross colony, 4WD tour, penguin tour
It is time to drive back up the coast to Christchurch Airport for your flight home to the UK. After an amazing, adventure filled 12 days it is time to finally get some rest. Return home with a bag full of fabulous adventures and possibly a toy penguin (or two).
Wandering Tribe has travelled to all of the destinations that we feature and we like nothing better than talking about them. If you would like further information about these tours or a tailor-made quote then please contact us on 07392 742333. Alternatively you can fill in the contact form and we will endeavour to get back to you as soon as possible.