North & South Island New Zealand Canterbury Trails

See stunning scenery and some of the best natural sights in both the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Experience extraordinary adventures such as Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Tongariro National Park including “Mount Doom” as well as Rotorua, centre of Maori culture and its famous geothermal attractions. Enjoy Christchurch, the TraNZ alpine train across the Southern Alps, the South Island’s West Coast and stunning Wanaka before bring dropped off in Queenstown.


Day 1: Auckland to Waitomo Caves & Tongariro NP/Taupo

Start your tour with TIME Unlimited Tours in Auckland where in the morning we pick you up in one of our beautiful Mercedes luxury vehicles at your hotel, Auckland airport, Auckland cruise terminal or from your preferred location. On the 2 ½ hour drive south, we follow the mighty Waikato River through the rich, rolling farmland of the Waikato region and the King Country. We pass through a string of small, historic river towns, including Ngaruawahia, site of the famous Turangawaewae Marae (traditional Maori meeting place) and seat of Aotearoa’s (New Zealand’s) Maori King. We also pass by the impressive volcano Mount Pirongia along the way.

Waitomo Caves is an amazing natural wonderland, which offers a vast range of unique sights and experiences. As part of your Private Tour, you can also choose to see a Kiwi, our national bird and emblem, as well as many of our native flora and fauna at the Otorohanga Kiwi House (additional cost).

At the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, you have a choice of several amazing options to marvel at an extraordinary Glowworm cave in total darkness. Each tour option brings you close to the beautiful Glowworms in Waitomo (additional cost). From Waitomo, we continue on to Tongariro National Park in the central North Island, location of “Mordor” in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Drop off at your choice of accommodation in Tongariro NP or Taupo (guest accommodation not included).

Day 2: Tongariro NP/Taupo to Rotorua

After enjoying the amazing scenery at the base of the North Island’s highest mountain (Mount Ruapehu), we set off from Tongariro National Park and drive to the huge volcanic caldera Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake. Lake Taupo is one of the largest crater lakes in the world and offers amazing scenery along the way.

On the way to Rotorua, we stop at a viewpoint for a spectacular view of Huka Falls on the mighty Waikato River. We can also show you the impressive Aratiatia Rapids, an amazing spectacle when a lock in the Waikato River is lifted and the river is allowed to roar through at amazing force and speed a few times per day. The Aratiatia Rapids were used for an extensive scene in Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy “The Hobbit”.

We continue north towards Rotorua, the region which is home to several of New Zealand’s most impressive thermal areas. We suggest visiting at least one of Wai-o-Tapu, Orakei Korako or Waimangu Volcanic Valley (additional cost), where you can experience the full might and majesty of this unique and spectacular volcanic landscape for which Rotorua and Taupo are world-renowned.

We continue on to Rotorua itself, where we catch our first glimpses of the shimmering blue lake with bush-clad Mokoia Island at its centre.

After settling into your Rotorua accommodation (guest accommodation not included), in the evening we recommend a Maori cultural experience in Rotorua. Here you can enjoy a traditional Kai (Maori food) cooked in a Hangi (earth oven) and enjoy a performance of song and dance in a traditional Maori village setting (additional cost). This includes the Haka, the Maori war dance made famous by New Zealand’s national Rugby Team, the “All Blacks”. Alternatively, you can just relax, or have the opportunity to explore more of Rotorua on foot at your leisure.

Day 3: Rotorua

Choose what you would like to see and do from the range of wonderful options that allow you to enjoy the best of what  Rotorua has to offer. We recommend a visit to Te Puia, featuring Pohutu, one of the most active geysers in the world (additional cost).

We can visit the Government Gardens where you can explore the historic gardens and take in the views of all there is on offer.

After this you might want to unwind and relax at the Polynesian Spa, a world-leading, natural hot mineral bathing and luxury spa retreat (additional cost).

Rotorua Geyser

You can take a leisurely uphill gondola ride at Skyline Rotorua to marvel at the beautiful views of Rotorua including the surrounding lakes and geothermal areas. Enjoy the three luge tracks with differing skill levels as you speed downhill, twisting and turning with the stunning backdrop of a Redwood forest. Or you can zoom through the forest on a zipline (additional cost).

There are plenty of rivers and lakes to explore, which could be done either by jet boating, white water rafting or kayaking. The region is a fisherman’s dream if you’re after catching some trophy Trout. We can visit the Agrodome which provides a truly unique New Zealand farming experience (additional cost).

If you’re interested in mountain biking or hiking, there are several trails you can enjoy, including through the mighty Redwood Forest. You can take a helicopter or floatplane for spectacular views of Rotorua including its stunning lakes, geothermal reserves and volcanoes. You even have the option of landing on White Island, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. This tour can combine landing on both White Island and also magnificent Mount Tarawera, Rotorua’s iconic volcano that last erupted in 1886 (additional cost).

Overnight at your choice of hotel in Rotorua (guest accommodation is not included).

Day 4: Rotorua and flight to Christchurch

The next morning on day 4 and as part of your Private Tour, we will show you more of Rotorua before transferring you to Rotorua airport for your flight to Christchurch. The best flight time for you to book is around midday (flights are not included).

In the morning we can show you (all part of our tour): • Rotorua Lake Front with view across to magical Mokoia Island. • Redwood Forest, widely regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful forests, Blue Lake and Lake Tarawera.

We can also arrange extra tour options (at your cost) to cater for your particular preferences and abilities. They include but are not limited to: • Helicopter or floatplane flights to see Lake Rotorua • Te Puia (NZ Maori Arts & Crafts Institute) to see geysers, mud pools, Maori carving and weaving plus our national bird, the Kiwi.

After an exciting morning in Rotorua, we take you to Rotorua Airport and and say “ka kite ano” (see you again soon) for your flight to Christchurch, where you will be picked up by Canterbury Trails .

From the airport to your accommodation Canterbury Trails will introduce  you to the city of Christchurch.  Learn about the earthquakes of 2010/2011 and  see a new vibrant rebuilt   modern downtown, fascinating street art, laneways, cafes and exciting retail.

Overnight in your choice of accommodation in Christchurch (guest accommodation is not included).

Day 5: Christchurch Today is a a day to explore the Banks Peninsula area just outside Christchurch. 

Travel by luxury vehicle to the quaint colonial town of Akaroa.  Settled by the French in 1840 and nestled in the crater of an ancient volcano the harbour is home to the Hectors Dolphins, (the world smallest dolphin), NZ Fur Seals and little Blue Penguins.

Your tour includes a two hour nature cruise on the harbour, lunch at an award winning Bistro and a breath-taking scenic drive.

Overnight at your accommodation in Christchurch (guest accommodation is not included).

Day 6: Christchurch to West Coast

TranzAlpine Adventure, your Canterbury Trails guide will collect you from the hotel at 7.30am and take you to the train station where you will board the TranzAlpine Express for this world-famous train journey (train ticket included). The train will take you through the spectacular Waimakariri Gorge before entering the picturesque high mountains of the Southern Alps and Arthur’s Pass, where you will be met by your guide.

Journey through the Arthur’s Pass National Park and depart Canterbury province for Westland. Originally used by the Maori to move greenstone from the West Coast and later as a link to the gold rush fields, this route will reveal great mountain valleys and you will marvel at the road as it winds its way down the spectacular Otira Gorge – a Geographer’s dream.

You will follow rivers that flow to the West Coast and observe the changes to the rainforest and the many varieties of ferns that dominate this region. Visit Hokitika, once the capital of Westland and a roaring gold mining town, and a place where the Maori sought their treasured greenstone (jade). Greenstone and gold are features in this town’s bustling centre of art and craft shops. As you journey south you will see the West Coast forests and further evidence of the last Ice Age in the kettle lakes created by the melting ice sheets. You will then arrive at Glacier Country to view the Franz Josef Glacier pushing into rainforest – truly incredible!

You will be transferred to your accommodation in either Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier where the evening is at your leisure (guest accommodation is not included).

Day 7: West Coast to Wanaka

Today you’ll explore this unique glaciated region with its glaciers pushing into re-generating temperate rainforest and happening on a Pacific Island – very special! Short walks can be made to experience the rainforest with the glacier in the background and it’s shattered, glacier formed landscape. Overlooking this are the Southern Alps and the high peaks of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. Walks that are available are to glacier viewpoints to witness the glacier’s descent down the mountain into the rainforest. An optional helicopter ride (additional cost) to view the Southern Alps with a snow landing on the upper reaches of the glacier is also available.

From Glacier Country, travel south and reach the mighty Haast River valley. Here you can enjoy an optional jetboat ride up a remote back country river into UNESCO South West New Zealand World Heritage area (at extra cost).

Learn the early Maori history and the harshness of wilderness that faced the European settlers. Walk through an ancient beech forest untouched by man for thousands of years.

Following the Haast Highway, you can observe how the landscape again changes dramatically as the road climbs over the Haast Pass from the dense rain forest of the West Coast to the drier tussock lands of Otago. On the way, you can take short walks on a remote beach or to see waterfalls and if there has been recent rainfall, the Haast River passing through the gorge known as the Gates of Haast can be truly spectacular.

After crossing the Haast Pass the road skirts first the banks of the headwaters of Lake Wanaka, then making a slight turn and rising over a ridge, Lake Wanaka is left behind and Lake Hawea is before you. The road follows the shoreline of this lake and then you reach Wanaka village on the southern shores of Lake Wanaka.

Overnight in your choice of accommodation in Wanaka (guest accommodation is not included).

Day 8: Wanaka to Queenstown

Today you have the option to enjoy a boat cruise on Lake Wanaka (at extra cost) to the remote and magical Mou Waho Island nature reserve, which is predator–free and home to the rare flightless Buff Weka (extinct on the mainland since 1920). Enjoy a one hour return guided bush walk, which takes you up to reveal the island’s secret – a lake right on top of the island! Or you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the birdlife at the beach and shelter at the island base with your own morning or afternoon tea.

Alternatively another option here is to see the awe-inspiring beauty of alpine New Zealand though the eyes of a high- country farming family. Join a 4WD adventure through Criffel Station overlooking Wanaka (at extra cost). Have a look around the farming operation before heading up in to the hills for an authentic high-country experience and a morning tea you won’t forget in a hurry.

Following your optional morning activities, enjoy a café style lunch (at extra cost) in Wanaka. Then we will take an optional tour of the Cardrona Distillery (at extra cost) and learn about the entire spirit making process, from grain to glass. You will discover the secrets to Cardrona’s artisan spirits, starting with their water source, malted barley and water.  You will see where the malt is milled, mashed, fermented and distilled and matured before tasting the wares with a tutored spirit tasting of Cardrona spirits.

We will then head over the rugged and remote Crown Range, the site of gold diggings in the 1860’s and arrive in a quaint old gold mining village of Arrowtown. If time permits, we will enjoy wine tasting at one of the many stunning wineries in the area.

It is then a short drive to your Queenstown accommodation (guest accommodation not included) or the airport where your Canterbury Trails guide will bid you farewell.

Important Information

Trip Includes:
  • Fully guided Private Tour in a Mercedes luxury vehicle. 4 days North Island and 4 days South Island. For extensions please enquire and we will be happy to assist.
  • North Island: Pick-up in Auckland and drop-off in Rotorua.
  • South Island: Pick-up in Christchurch and drop-off in Queenstown.
  • Akaroa Harbour cruise.
  • TranzAlpine Train tickets from Christchurch to Arthurs Pass.
  • Tour times flexible to work in with your requirements.
  • Complimentary snacks & water.
  • All tours support local eco-cultural initiatives.
  • Flights, such as flight between Rotorua and Christchurch.
  • Entry fees to optional activities
  • Guest accommodation and meals.
  • Anything not specifically mentioned in the itinerary
What To Bring – Clothing:

South Island weather is extremely variable. Sudden changes are not uncommon! As we include walks on our tours it is advisable that you wear comfortable clothing suitable for being active and, as you will be in the mountains or on the ocean, a wind proof top is a must. It is advisable to wear layers of clothing that can be added and/or removed.

The following is recommended:
  • wind/shower proof jacket that will keep you dry in a sharp shower
  • Sweater or jacket suitable for cooler weather
  • hat (type depending on weather)
  • waterproof jacket
  • day pack
  • sunscreen (high SPF)
  • sunglasses
  • reusable water bottle


Had two days with this day tour company with my guide, Fiona. Went to Arthur Pass National Park the first day and then to Akaroa the next day. Both days were so informative and we were able to hit highlights! Fiona was very knowledgeable not only on the sites and places and history but also about botany and geology with the natural areas! Felt all needs were met and exceeded. The company had attention to detail! Would definitely use again when in the area! Bravo!”

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