Ultimate South Island

Top to Bottom (self-drive)

15 days / 14 nights
Ex Wellington – Self-drive

Tour Cost
Prices on request

Explore the South Island of New Zealand staying at a range of beautiful retreats and lodges.

Explore the South Island’s legendary Queen Charlotte Sound and breathtaking West Coast including scenic Franz Josef/Waiau, staying at a range of beautiful retreats and lodges. This 15D/14N self-drive itinerary explores some of the South Island’s most picturesque and remarkable landscapes. Beginning in Wellington on the North Island, discover some of the sights of the country’s 3rd largest city, before taking the ferry through Cook Strait to Picton, at the top of the South Island. Your first lodge is the renowned Bay of Many Coves in Queen Charlotte Sound, home to superb walking trails and beautiful coastal bays.

Pick up your hire car in Picton and travel the island’s remote south-west coast from top to bottom. Enjoy the wonders of the surrounding wilderness including old-growth forests, glaciers, geological formations, mountains and postcard perfect towns, including beautiful Franz Josef/Waiau. On your way, stay at a selection of handpicked lodges and retreats, enjoying a few nights exploring each area at your leisure.

Franz Josef is home to some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery, including Franz Josef and Fox glaciers as well as countless walking trails and the West Coast Wildlife Centre, where you can see the rarest of the country’s five kiwi species – the Rowi. Finish your self-drive adventure in Queenstown.

Tour Details


Ultimate South Island – Top to Bottom (self-drive)

11 days/10 nights

Day 1


On arrival in Wellington, please make your own way to your hotel. The rest of the afternoon is at your leisure to explore the city.

Days 2 – 4

Bay of Many Coves

This morning, take the InterIslander ferry service from downtown Wellington across the Cook Straight to Picton. The journey is a scenic one that takes roughly between 3-3.5 hours. On arrival in Picton, take the water taxi to Bay of Many Coves resort situated in the beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound (approximately 30 minutes). Over the next 3 nights, enjoy doing as much, or as little, as you like in this incredibly picturesque part of New Zealand. Bushwalking is the highlight, with the lodge just a stone’s throw from the legendary Queen Charlotte Track. The sheltered bays and coastline can also be explored by kayak or stand-up paddle board whilst a host of other activities are also possible. Other lodge facilities guests can enjoy a peaceful swimming pool or the relaxing hot tub – a favourite activity at night under the stars.

Days 5 – 6

Maruia River

Depart the lodge this morning by water taxi back to Picton where you will pick up your hire car. Head south to Maruia River Retreat, approximately a 2h 45 minute drive. Alternatively, drive through the lovely Rai Valley and stop for lunch in beautiful Nelson (4 hours). Set a 500-acre nature estate along the magnificent Maruia River, Maruia River Retreat is peaceful, boutique lodge surrounded by mountains and forest. The retreat has just 7 private villas ensuring a quiet and intimate experience. The surrounding area offers plenty of superb walking opportunities whilst white water rafting is also possible. If a few nights of relaxing are in order, guests have private access to the outdoor hot tub, or alternatively, there is a spa offering a range of treatments and massage services. 

Days 7 – 8


Today, at your leisure, head towards the small town of Hokitika on the South Island’s beautiful southwest coast. The region is sometimes called “the land that time forgot” and today’s drive is either through the slightly shorter inland route (2h 45 minutes) or the slightly longer route (3h 20 minutes) that traverses the coastline. There are several small towns to stop and visit en route, including Shantytown – a well-recreated 1900’s pioneer town born from the gold rush of the 1860’s. 

Rimu Lodge is just 8km outside of Hokitika, in the beautiful Hokitika River Valley. The lodge has just 4 guest rooms, each decorated with a quiet elegance and facing north-east with views over the valley. Aside from walking or cycling the areas many trails, there are a range of interesting things to do during your stay. Explore Hokitika, home to numerous craft artists, sculptors, jewellers and painters, visit Hokitika Gorge where the water is a beautiful turquoise blue (due to the alluvial silt from the glaciers and Southern alps) or discover the fascinating geology of the region on short easy walks to Dorothy Waterfalls and Canoe Cove.

Days 9 – 11

Franz Josef/Waiau

This morning continue following the road south, to the fascinating and scenic town of Franz Josef (Waiau), approximately 130km (1h 40 mins). Your accommodation for the next 3 nights is either the Scenic Hotel Franz Josef or the renowned Te Waonui Forest Retreat, an eco-friendly retreat nestled within pristine forest. It is the ideal spot to discover some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery including Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. The surrounding area has countless walking trails, sensational gorges, lakes and the fascinating Tatare Tunnels – an old mining tunnel. Whilst here, the other must-do experience is a visit to the West Coast Wildlife Centre, located in the heart of the main town and where you can come face to face with the rarest of the country’s five kiwi species – the Rowi.

Days 12 – 14


Enjoy the morning in Franz Josef/Waiau before it’s time to head to your final destination – Queenstown – approximately a 350 kilometre (4h 30 minute) drive. A good spot to stop to break up your drive is a visit to the Gates of Haast, a series of rapids along the Haast River. The Gates of Haast Falls are located in Mt Aspiring National Park, along State Highway 6. Another detour is a stop in Wanaka, a small town on the shores of its namesake lake. You could stop at New Zealand’s most photographed tree – the ‘Wānaka Tree’ – that pokes its head above the waters of the lake. It is just a few minutes walk from the main town. There are a number of excellent restaurants and cafes in the town. 

On arrival in Queenstown make your way to either Matakauri Lodge or The Rees Hotel. Over the next 3 days explore this sensational town – often referred to as “The Adventure Capital of the World” – at your leisure. take a cruise on Lake Wakatipu, scenic flight over the mountains, kayak, walk, play a round of golf or ski (seasonal); there are countless activities to consider and enjoy. 

Day 15

Tour Ends

This morning after checking out, please drop off your hire car at the airport. Tour ends.

Please note: We can easily add an extra night or two at any of these fabulous properties if you wish to spend a little more time exploring.

B L D = Breakfast – Lunch – Dinner

Fancy Staying longer?

Discover Milford Sound
For those wishing to explore world-renowned Milford Sound in greater depth, why not stay at Milford Sound Lodge – the regions premier accommodation.

Milford Sound Lodge in New Zealand

Enquire Now

Places to stay in the South Island

Below is a range of suggested hotels in the South Island of New Zealand. Please contact us for availability.

The George

Located in the heart of Christchurch overlooking beautiful Hagley Park, The George offers superb accommodation and impeccable service

The Hermitage Hotel

Discover the wonders of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand's South Island staying at The Hermitage Hotel

The Lindis

Located in the remote and starkly beautiful Ahuriri Valley, The Lindis is a hidden paradise far from civilisation.

Rimu Lodge

Sometimes called “the land that time forgot” this is a region of snow-covered mountains, forest and gentle farmland where the Hokitika River runs down to the sea.

Maruia River Retreat

Find yourself in a world of peace and beauty at Maruia River Retreat, a boutique lodge surrounded by stunning natural wilderness on the Maruia River.

The Rees Hotel

Located 2.5 kilometres outside of beautiful Queenstown, The Rees Hotel is perfectly positioned right on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.

Matakauri Lodge

Matakauri Lodge echoes the perfect proportions of its crisp alpine surrounds with elements of warm, personable service and fiery interior accents.

Milford Sound Lodge

Milford Sound Lodge sits within the breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Listed Fiordland National Park in New Zealand’s South Island.

Split Apple Retreat

Located at the very top of New Zealand’s South Island, Split Apple Retreat sits on the shores of beautiful Tasman Bay, one hours drive north of the fascinating town of Nelson.

More New Zealand Tours

A personalised itinerary takes into account your individual travel style, budget and special interests. To get you started on deciding what you may want to do and see in New Zealand, we have compiled a range of suggested itineraries and inspirations in case you are travelling as a family, on a honeymoon or enjoy more physical activity. Below are some of our most popular sample tour in New Zealand.

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