Southern Explorer

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 Trip Length
12 Days
 Trip Starts
 Trip Finishes
12 Day Southern Explorer Itinerary (Haka Tours)
Countries Explored: New Zealand
Trip Style
3 - 4 Star
Max. Group Size
Guide Level
Fully Guided
Trip Code


Book online and enjoy exclusive savings on Haka Tours 12 Day Southern Explorer. Welcome to the 12 Day Southern Explorer Haka Plus Tour!

You’re never far from either the sea or the mountains on this New Zealand South Island 2 week itinerary as you cross the Cook Strait from Wellington, the nation’s capital, to the quaint town of Picton in the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. From here you venture into the heart of the majestic Southern Alps and on to the adventure playground of Queenstown.

Created for travellers in their mid-thirties and upwards, over the course of your week more a half tour you’ll travel through some of the most magical scenery you could hope to see. National Parks, rainforests, mountain ranges, UNESCO World Heritage Areas… everywhere you turn, there’s something different to behold.

This New Zealand South Island 2 week itinerary includes special activities such as one of the world’s most scenic train as well as one of the world’s most scenic ferry journeys, a scenic e-bike experience, a night of glamping and the opportunity to carve your own greenstone pendant.

You’ll have the opportunity to swim, kayak, skydive, hike, horse ride, see kiwis (and whales and dolphins), relax in hot pools, eat and drink like a local, and more!

But only if you want to; this is your trip. It’s designed to be flexible – we include some high-end essentials, but let you make the call on what kind of activities appeal to you. You can pre-book the things you are certain you want to do before the trip starts – and then add more on while you’re on tour.

We'll fill your days with the best things to see and do in the South Island and also give you a great insight into New Zealand life and culture. At the end of the day, you can relax in comfortable 3–4 star accommodation to ensure you have a great night’s sleep ready for the following day’s activities.

Book this New Zealand itinerary for 12 days of fun and adventure in the South Island today!


Settle into your accommodation and be ready for the 6pm pre-tour meeting. Here you will get to know your Tour Manager and be introduced to your new roadtrip friends. Afterwards, the evening is yours to enjoy. We recommend a good night's sleep to be ready for tomorrow's early start, but you may want to experience Christchurch's exciting nightlife - the choice is yours!

After a hearty breakfast we'll explore iconic downtown Christchurch and your guide will show you the cool and creative ways the city is being rebuilt after the life-changing 2011 earthquake here. Christchurch folk are an innovative and creative bunch – the Transitional Cathedral, created from cardboard, is totally inspirational. Mid-morning we head for Lake Tekapo. Ready your camera – the lake's breathtaking turquoise colour and mountain backdrop is a photographer's dream come true. The tiny Church of the Good Shepherd stands right at the water's edge, proving that small is bold and definitely beautiful. Grab some confetti and congratulate any passing brides – couples travel from all over the world for wedding shots in front of the chapel!

  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
  • Mt John Lookout

From the golden tussocklands of Mackenzie country – where epic battles of Return of the King were filmed – to the dramatic peaks of the Southern Alps, it's like you're driving into a postcard. We'll pause for lots of photo stops en route to give your camera a workout, including a stop at the spectacular Kawarau Gorge. This also happens to be the world home of bungy! Give it a go or enjoy watching the jumpers scream their way into the gorge. Whether you're an adrenaline junkie, an avid hiker, wine taster or scenery lover, Queenstown has something for absolutely everyone. With 2 nights and plenty of daylight hours here, get ready – this town certainly knows how to live life to the max.

  • Breakfast

With a full day in Queenstown, let's work on that bucket list! There are heaps of options to choose from: extreme jet boat rides, river kayaking, horseback riding through Lord of the Rings scenery, and the skyline gondola are just a few of our favourites. For scenery lovers, Milford Sound is a must-see. Whether you fly or drive, the scenery en route is as awesome as the destination. Once on the Sound, as you sail beneath thundering waterfalls and towering cliff faces you'll understand why we call it the “8th Wonder of the World”.

  • Breakfast

With the morning in Queenstown, you have another chance to tick off your bucket list today. What will it be? A trip to the top of the Skyline Gondola, or perhaps an adrenaline-pumping jet boat ride through the Shotover Canyon? You decide! This afternoon we jump back on the road and head off to Wanaka, a quick one hour drive away. The drive is a scenic highlight itself, so make sure your camera is fully charged and ready to go. En route we'll stop in charming Arrowtown, a historic gold rush village with heaps of old world character. This afternoon is your chance to relax in stunning Wanaka, known as Queenstown's slightly quieter little sister Blessed with towering peaks and a glacial blue lake, you'll soon see why Wanaka's considered to be one of New Zealand's most beautiful mountain towns. There are breathtaking hikes and easy bike rides for a welcome chance to relax.

Included Breakfast

Today is your chance to explore one of the most beautiful towns in the southern lakes region with plenty of activities to tempt every lover of the outdoors. Included today – a visit to Mou Waho Island. Accessible only by boat from Wanaka and famous for being home to an (unnamed) island, in a lake (Arethusa Pool), on an island (Mou Waho), in a lake (Lake Wanaka), on an island (the South Island) in the ocean (the Pacific).

Sounds complicated, but once you are there it will all make sense! Mou Waho Island is also a predator-free reserve with a natural glacial-formed lake at its summit. On Mou Waho you can see the rare flightless Buff Weka (extinct on New Zealand's mainland since 1920) and the Mountain Stone Weta. In Wanaka there are many walks, hikes and biking trails to choose from – check out the famous “Wanaka Tree” while making your way around the lake! Or, if you feel like relaxing, ask your guide to recommend their favourite secret spots to enjoy the surrounding scenery. After a busy day checking out Wanaka, head back to the hotel and rest up for another day of exploring the sites en route to Franz Joseph.


  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
  • Mou Waho Island Cruise & Nature Walk

After a relaxing morning in Wanaka, the journey to Franz is another stunner – many of our Haka Guides rate it as their most favourite drive in New Zealand. As we hit the road, we'll stop at one of our most popular lakeside lookout points at Lake Hawea or Lake Wanaka. Your guide will keep an eye on the weather and pick the best option. From the cascading waterfalls of Haast Pass to classic Kiwi coastal views, you won't want to nap on the bus in case you miss anything.

Your guide will have some epic surprise photo stops and short walks along the way. Between September and December it's whitebait season (a small fish that's a delicacy in New Zealand). Fried up with eggs and served on toast, it's a local treat and shouldn't be missed. We'll stop at one of the local spots for a taste during the season. We roll into Franz Josef around late afternoon/early evening. This UNESCO World Heritage area is famous for its spectacular glacier, just 5km from town, which is begging to be explored tomorrow.


  • Breakfast
  • Blue Pools Walkway

With Aoraki/Mount Cook (New Zealand's highest mountain) twinkling behind the glaciers, Franz Josef is about as beautiful a setting as you can find in New Zealand. Te Wāhi Pounamu (which means ‘the place of greenstone' in Māori) is the name given to this part of the West Coast because of the abundance of pounamu (greenstone/jade) to be found here. Included in your tour today is a special opportunity to carve your very own pounamu pendant at a local gallery. There are heaps of ways to enjoy Franz Josef Glacier; weather permitting, to get up onto the bluest ice you can take a scenic helicopter flight and hike onto the glaciers. Or maybe you'd prefer to kayak on a glacial lake. As well as the awesome glacier activities, you could also get your heart pumping and try out skydiving or even a bit of group karaoke tonight in Franz Josef!

  • Breakfast
  • Greenstone pendant carving

After breakfast we head further along the beautiful west coast on another of the most spectacular drives in the country (and, some would say, the world): a rugged, primaeval landscape of luxuriant rainforest juxtaposed against breathtaking beach and ocean waves. We stop at Hokitika and visit a greenstone factory, a great place to stock up on souvenirs for your friends and family back home. Time permitting, we may also visit the National Kiwi Centre, where there is guaranteed viewing of rare kiwi birds in their nocturnal house.

On the way back to Christchurch, you'll traverse the South Island on the stunning TranzAlpine train crossing. Travelling across the Southern Alps through Arthur's Pass, this is considered as one of the world's most scenic train journeys. Along the way you'll see epic vistas, travel the edges of the ice-fed Waimakariri River and see miles of native beech forest. You'll arrive in Christchurch around 6.30pm before transferring to your accommodation.


  • Breakfast
  • Visit a Greenstone Factory in Hokitika
  • TranzAlpine Train

Rise and shine! Our destination is Kaikōura which literally means “to eat crayfish” – and the area is teeming with them. The nutrient-rich waters of this area attract a wide variety of marine wildlife including the stars of the show – the whales and dolphins. The chance to encounter dolphins in the wild is a massive New Zealand highlight for many travellers, and Kaikōura is one of the best places to find them, with pods of up to 300 of these playful creatures hanging out here at any one time. If you want to get up close to the giants of the ocean, a whale watching tour here is the way to do it. Humpbacks, sperm whales and orca all stop by at various times of year, so this is a great chance to meet some of them.

  • Breakfast

The first part of the day is the stunning drive up the coast to Marlborough, the region at the top of the South Island. One of the best ways to explore Marlborough is with your tastebuds. So before heading on to Picton, there's a crucial stop for a wine tasting, to sample some of the best vineyards in the country. Today we say goodbye to the South Island and take one of the world's most scenic ferry journeys as we cross the Cook Strait. It's a stunning farewell – gliding through the Marlborough Sounds as we depart Picton Harbour, you'll feel like you're in another world. And then… Wellington! Perched on the edge of a spectacular harbour, encircled by green, towering hills, Wellington is a stunning and compact city.

Vibrant, exciting and cultured, the nation's capital combines the stimulation and sophistication of a big city with the quirkiness and personality of a much smaller town. This evening, the city lights are yours to enjoy. Discover why Wellington is celebrated for its foodie culture – you are truly spoilt for dining choices tonight. Wellington is also widely regarded as the craft beer capital of New Zealand. Want to test this for yourself? Talk to your Haka guide to find the hidden gems.


  • Breakfast
  • Cook Strait Ferry
  • Wine Tasting

Today is the final day of the tour, where we exchange photos and stories before saying our goodbyes and parting ways.

  • Breakfast

Trip Inclusions

  • Feast on daily hearty breakfasts and 2 dinners.
  • Ride one of the most scenic ferry journeys in the world, over the Cook Strait
  • Take in the stunning Southern Alps and the vast Canterbury Plains aboard the TranzAlpine, New Zealand's finest inland rail journey.
  • Taste some of the world's best sauvignon blanc at a Marlborough wine tasting.
  • Spend one night glamping (luxury camping) in Wanaka (available for tours starting before 1 September 2023).
  • Cruise through Wanaka on a scenic e-bike (bicycle with electric motor) experience (available on tours starting before 1 September 2023).
  • Enjoy a boat cruise on Lake Wanaka to the remote Mou Waho Island nature reserve (available on tours starting from 1 September 2023).
  • Carve your own pounamu (jade) pendant in Franz Josef.
  • Plus, many more surprise stops along the way!

  • What's included on every Haka Plus tour:
  • Passionate and knowledgeable local Kiwi guide
  • Comfortable and air-conditioned bus transport
  • Orientation tour of each and every location
  • Small groups of maximum 16 people
  • Experiences to teach you about our unique Māori culture

  • Stay 11 nights in twin-share 3–4 star accommodation: a mix of hotels, motels, lodges, and rainforest retreats.

  • Daily continental breakfasts and 2 dinners.

  • Itinerary and inclusions are subject to change
  • Price is for land, cruise and internal flights as specified. Flights not specified are not included
  • Please note: private room upgrades are not available for two nights on this tour: the glamping experience in Wanaka where accommodation is twin or triple-share only.

Trip Optionals These optional activities can be pre-booked & included in your trip price.

  • Location: Wanaka.
  • Skydive over the Lake Wanaka on this adrenaline pumping once in a lifetime experience. Duration: Half Day. Read more.

  • Location: Kaikoura.
  • Add on a beautiful encounter with dusky dolphins off the coast of Kaikoura on your tour of the South Island, New Zealand. Duration: half day. Read more.

  • Location: Franz Josef.
  • Glacier Kayaking in Franz Josef | South Island Activities | Haka Tours, NZ Duration: Half day. Read more.

  • Location: Franz Josef.
  • A truly amazing way to experience Franz Josef, this heli hike experience starts with a scenic flight from Franz Josef Village to Franz Josef Glacier where you will land on the ice itself. Once on the glacier you have around 3 hours to explore this exquisite natural icescape. Duration: half day. Read more.

  • Location: Lake Tekapo.
  • One of New Zealand’s must-do scenic flights, on this 50 minute experience in Lake Tekapo, you will get to see unrivalled views of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and more. Duration: 1 hour. Read more.

  • Location: Franz Josef.
  • Soak up unparalleled views of Franz Josef Glacier and New Zealand’s West Coast on this 25 minute scenic flight with snow landing. Duration: 25 mins flight time. Read more.

  • Location: Queenstown.
  • This is the World’s First Commercial Bungy Jump Site created by AJ Hackett. The Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge is a bridge which runs over the Kawarau River, Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand. Duration: allow 2 hours. Read more.

  • Location: Queenstown.
  • Discover some of NZ’s most breathtaking Lord of the Rings filming locations on this 4 wheel drive (4WD) adventure experience in Queenstown. Duration: Half Day. Read more.

  • Location: Queenstown.
  • Celebrated as ‘The World’s Most Exciting Jet Boat Ride’, the world-famous Shotover Jet has thrilled over 3 million people since 1965. Duration: half day. Read more.

  • Location: Kaikoura.
  • Experience up-close encounters with the world’s largest toothed predator - the Giant Sperm Whale - on this 2.5 hour boat tour. Duration: half day. Read more.
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Prices & Dates

There are currently no departures available on this trip. Either it's the end of the season and new departures will be released shortly, or this itinerary has been changed and will no longer continue. Feel free to contact us for information about when next seasons dates will be released or click here to view the general release dates for all destinations.

Tour & cruises prices are per person. Prices shown have savings applied, are subject to availability and may be withdrawn at any time without notice. Prices and trip information are correct at the time at this point in time, however are subject to confirmation at the time of booking and are subject to change by Haka Tours. For cruise itineraries, cabin images are sourced from Haka Tours. These should be treated as indicative only. Cabin inclusions, upholsteries and room layout may differ to the image(s) shown depending on the ship selected and your sailing dates.

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