Location > the tours > self-drive tours overview > 15-day southern traverse

King of the mountains.

The 15-day Southern Traverse self-drive showcases the incredible diversity that lies on either side of the South Island's  magnificent Southern Alps. To the west are lush rainforests, golden sand beaches, and plunging fiords. To the east are  scenic tussock lands, rocky shores teeming with wildlife and glacial-blue waterways leading to the Pacific. An extension of the Coastal Explorer, this journey also includes Milford Sound and culminates in a stay at Mt Cook, where alpine hiking opportunities abound. Destinations include: Christchurch - Kaikoura* - Marlborough - Nelson - West Coast - Glaciers - Queenstown - Milford Sound - Mt Cook.

Below is a brief trip summary. For any questions and for details on optional activities, contact one of our Travel Consultants. Pricing includes pre-booked accommodation, rental car and insurance, your Milford Sound Nature Cruise and a comprehensive packet of personalized trip notes, road atlas, and more. See Self-drive Tour Pricing on our Dates & Rates page for details.

*Note, there is currently no public road access to Kaikoura; therefore, an alternative destination has been arranged. Talk to one of our Travel Shepherds for details.

    Day 1: Welcome to New Zealand!

    A Black Sheep Touring Co. representative will meet you at the Christchurch airport, assist you with your rental car, and take you through your tour documentation, providing tips on driving and travel in New Zealand. The remainder of the day is free to explore what is described as the most English of New Zealand's cities. Your trip notes will advise on Christchurch highlights so you can make the most of your time there.


    Day 2:  Christchurch to Kaikoura
    Head north through rolling farmland and along dramatic coastline to the seaside hamlet of Kaikoura, New Zealand's marine-life center. Take yourself on a spectacular hike around the Kaikoura Peninsula or embark on one of many optional marine-life adventures, including whale watching, swimming with dolphins or fur seals, or visiting the offshore feeding grounds of albatross. Pre-booking these popular activities with your Black Sheep Travel Consultant is highly recommended. Kaikoura means 'to eat crayfish (lobster)' and we  recommend the best places to sample the local specialty this evening.


    Day 3: From Water to Wine
    Travel through the Marlborough wine region, renowned worldwide for its Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays. After tastings and perhaps a winery lunch (don't forget to choose your designated driver!), continue on to your accommodation in sun-drenched Nelson, pausing for a short hike through native beech forest along the way.


    Day 4: Abel Tasman National Park

    The Abel Tasman, with its temperate forest, aquamarine waters, and golden sand beaches, is arguably one of the most beautiful parks in the country. We recommend you join a special sea kayaking experience along the coast, ducking in and out of secluded bays, stopping to stroll along its beaches, and drawing in the tranquil beauty of the sea. Your Black Sheep Travel Consultant can advise on details and pricing and pre-book for you (recommended). Alternatively, you can spend the day hiking in the park.


    Day 5:  Nelson to Punakaiki
    Head for the wild and woolly West Coast, making sensational scenic detours along the way. It's eyes on the road and hands upon the wheel as the route to Punakaiki hugs the coast, providing spectacular viewpoints of the Tasman Sea and lush, fern-clad coastline. After settling into your accommodation, the afternoon allows time to explore the area's features, including the Pancake Rocks and bounty of local craftspeople.


    Day 6: Taking the Underground
    This part of the South Island is honeycombed with intricate cave systems which can be explored in a choice of ways, from scenic caving to adventure caving to New Zealand's renowned and unforgettable cave rafting. Your Black Sheep Travel Consultant can advise on the options for this day, including above-ground alternatives.

    Day 7: Punakaiki to the Glaciers
    This morning is a spectacular drive to New Zealand's glacier region where you'll be based for the next two nights in comfortable alpine accommodation. Before dinner, stroll beneath a thick canopy of old-growth rainforest on one of the prettiest little walking tracks in New Zealand.

    Day 8: Adventures on Ice
    Your trip notes recommend the best ways to make the most of this spectacular region. Walk along the glacial riverbed to view the impressive terminal face of Fox Glacier and explore additional trails through neighbouring ancient rainforest. Optional activities allow you access to the glacier, including a variety of glacier hikes and a heli-flight that lands you on the neve. 

    Day 9: Queenstown Bound
    Walk around a forest-rimmed lake created by retreating glaciers long ago before embarking on a stunning drive to Queenstown. Your trip notes identify sensational hidden walks and scenic stops along the way. Dense rainforest gives way to the stark mountains of the Mt Aspiring National Park as you enter the Otago region, New Zealand's outback and home to its high country sheep stations. Queenstown, resting on beautiful Lake Wakatipu and flanked by the aptly named Remarkables mountain range is a stunning setting in which to stay for your remaining two nights.

    Day 10: Queenstown
    Queenstown is New Zealand's adrenalin center. There is a wide range of optional activities available, including jetboating, horse trekking, whitewater rafting, sky diving, four-wheel-drive adventures, and bungy jumping, or more leisurely pursuits such as walking, fishing and wine trails. Talk to our Black Sheep Travel Consultant about available options.

    Day 11: Milford Sound Nature Cruise
    Today, we have included a coach excursion into spectacular Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound. The journey to the fiord is one of the most scenic on which you could hope to travel. Letting someone else do the driving optimizes your ability to take in the scenery and you'll make brief stops along the way to explore nature's wonders. At Milford Sound, board your vessel and cruise the full length of the fiord and out to the Tasman Sea, passing alongside thundering waterfalls and fur seals basking on the rocks. Return by coach to Queenstown this evening or upgrade to a scenic return flight or overnight cruise (commenced on Day 10).

    Day 12: Queenstown to Mt Cook
    This morning, travel north along the eastern slopes of the Southern Alps to Aoraki/Mt Cook. On route, pass through the beautiful tussock land of the Lindis Pass and past the aquamarine, glacial waterways leading from the ranges. The alpine setting of Mt Cook village is spectacular, and once settled into your lodging, you can investigate your surroundings.

    Day 13: Alpine Wonderland
    Hiking opportunities abound here. Watch for unique alpine flora and fauna such as the large mountain buttercup, the Mt Cook lily, and the mischievous mountain parrot, the kea. Mt Cook is home to the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand's longest. An outstanding optional activity is to take a guided boat trip on the glacier's terminal lake, passing icebergs on your way to the glacier face. Your Black Sheep Travel Consultant can advise you on the price and details for this option.

    Day 14: Mt Cook to Christchurch
    Take a leisurely drive to Christchurch with scenic stops along the way, including the startlingly blue Lake Tekapo and a lush native forest of stately podocarps. Settle into your comfortable accommodation in Christchurch city.

    Day 15: Above and Beyond
    Depending on your flight schedule, you'll have time to relax and make final purchases before dropping your rental car at Christchurch airport and traveling home or to your next destination. Consider continuing your New Zealand adventure with a Black Sheep North Island component. We're confident you'll leave New Zealand with an experience that will enrich your life for years to come.