Day 1: Welcome to New Zealand!
The 20-day Great Southern Loop self-drive is a dream tour of New Zealand's South Island. Travelling from top to bottom, coast to coast, this trip takes in all of the Mainland's scenic, cultural and wildlife splendour. Starting and finishing in Christchurch, the Great Southern Loop features traditional South Island highlights and off-the-beaten track treasures, such as the charming French hamlet of Akaroa and the Otago Peninsula, rich with rare wildlife. Destinations include: Christchurch - Kaikoura* - Marlborough - Nelson - West Coast - Glaciers - Queenstown - Milford Sound - Dunedin - Mt Cook - Akaroa.
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.
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, walking amongst a spectacular limestone landscape and fur seals lounging on the rocks. Kaikoura means 'to eat crayfish (lobster)' and we recommend the best places to sample the local specialty this evening.
Day 3: Marine Encounters
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. Enjoy a second night in this remarkable setting.
Day 4: 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 5: 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 6: 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 7: 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 8: 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 9: 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 10: 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 11: 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 12: 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 11).
Day 13: Queenstown
Relax, or continue to enjoy the vast range of activities available in Queenstown. Overnight cruise guests return to Queenstown this afternoon.
Day 14: Queenstown to Dunedin
Depart Queenstown for the city of Dunedin. The architecture and ambience of this lively university town hark back to its Scottish routes, dubbing it the 'Edinburgh of the South'. Your Trip Notes suggest a choice of routes there, including the Southern Scenic Route, described by National Geographic magazine as one of the world's great road trips.
Day 15: Exploring Otago Peninsula
Head to the wild-life rich Otago Peninsula. Visit Larnach Castle perched on the peninsula's highest point for a stunning bird's eye view of the region and hike the labyrinth of trails in the area. The Otago Peninsula is home to rare sub-Antarctic species, including the yellow-eyed penguin, Hooker's sea lion and royal albatross. As an optional activity, you can join local naturalists for close, unobtrusive views of them in their habitats. Talk to our Black Sheep Travel Consultant about this opportunity.
Day 16: Dunedin to Mt Cook
Head north to Mt Cook, the village at the base of New Zealand's highest peak, Aoraki Mt Cook. The alpine setting is spectacular and once settled in your lodging, you can investigate your surroundings.
Day 17: 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, the longest glacier in New Zealand. 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 18: Mt Cook to Akaroa
Take a leisurely drive to Akaroa on the Canterbury Peninsula with scenic stops along the way, including the startlingly blue Lake Tekapo and a lush native forest of stately podocarps. Originally a French settlement, this charming waterfront town strives to retain its roots, from its boutique cheese factory, local herb gardens and Provence-inspired wineries to French street names and businesses. (Note: Due to seasonal closures, this night is spent in Christchurch over winter months, with an optional day trip to Akaroa tomorrow. Alternatives are also suggested.)
Day 19: Akaroa to Christchurch
Explore the area or take an optional nature cruise on the picturesque bay, keeping an eye out for the rare Hector's dolphin and little blue penguins. Your Black Sheep Travel Consultant can advise of this option. After a day enjoying the town's sights, shops and cuisine, travel to Christchurch where you'll settle for your final night. (See Note above regarding winter travel.)
Day 20: 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. We're confident you'll leave New Zealand with an experience that will enrich your life for years to come and have you planning for your return.