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18 Day Essence of New Zealand Guided Tour

Create your perfect New Zealand memory from a range of essential elements. It may be the spirit and energy of a Maori cultural performance – twirling poi and heart-pounding haka. Or it may be the scenic mountains and fiords of Milford Sound – breath-taking and untouched. So many faultless moments, so many special memories.

18 Day Essence of New Zealand Guided Tour

Create your perfect New Zealand memory from a range of essential elements. It may be the spirit and energy of a Maori cultural performance – twirling poi and heart-pounding haka. Or it may be the scenic mountains and fiords of Milford Sound – breath-taking and untouched. So many faultless moments, so many special memories.

Super Special - Save up to $530 per person!

Save up to $530 NZD per person on selected travel dates. Terms & conditions apply - ask us for details.

Tour Type: Group Tours
From: Christchurch to Auckland
Departs: Selected dates
Duration: 18 days
Tour Code: LCQA

Regions Visited

Click on the region name to view more information about the region

Christchurch, Dunedin, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Franz Josef, Punakaiki, Nelson, Picton & Marlborough Sounds, Wellington, Napier, Rotorua, Auckland

Tour Inclusions

  • Experienced Travel Director and Driver Guide
  • Comfortable accommodation
  • Travel by luxury air-conditioned coach
  • Airport transfers (flights to arrive prior to 4pm on day 1, flights can depart anytime on day 18)
  • Full buffet breakfasts (17)
  • Lunches (1)
  • ‘Highlight dinners’ (2)
  • Dinners (10)
  • Immerse yourself in Maori culture at a Hangi & Concert
  • Explore the geothermal valley at Te Puia in Rotorua
  • Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd on the shores of Lake Tekapo
  • Explore New Zealand’s only castle, Larnach Castle
  • Spend the night cruising on magical Milford Sound
  • Let loose in New Zealand’s adventure capital, beautiful Queenstown
  • Gondola ride and dinner at Skyline Restaurant on Bob’s Peak with spectacular views of Lake Wakatipu
  • Cruise through Waitomo Caves famous Glow Worm Grotto
  • Taste Central Otago stone fruit at a local orchard
  • See awe-inspiring Franz Josef Glacier
  • Watch artisans carving native greenstone (jade) in Hokitika
  • Punakaiki, home to the Pancake Rocks & Blowholes
  • Visit Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand
  • Tour through Christchurch to witness the incredible rebuild of this city

Day By Day Itinerary

DAY 1: WELCOME TO CHRISTCHURCH

Welcome to Christchurch, New Zealand’s Garden City. Flights can arrive any time prior to 4.00pm and you will be transferred from the airport to your Christchurch hotel. After you check-in, you can head out and explore Christchurch. Step back in time to a grand era of transport and relax as the Christchurch Tram takes you around the ‘must-see’ central attractions. The tram drivers provide a live commentary throughout the loop, identifying points of interest, historic architecture and the changes the city is under-going since the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. This evening, meet your fellow passengers and your AAT Kings Travel Director at a Welcome Reception and dinner at your hotel.

Accommodation: Hotel Ibis

DAY 2: CHRISTCHURCH / OMARAMA

This morning you may wish to take a brief walk around the city centre and Cathedral Square before departure. See how Christchurch is rebuilding after the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, and pop into the Transitional Cathedral in Latimer Square, the temporary home of the ChristChurch Cathedral. It is the world’s only cathedral made substantially of cardboard! After a Christchurch city sights tour, you will head out over the patchwork countryside of the Canterbury Plains to soak up some spectacular sightseeing. Sweeping views across the turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo framed by a backdrop of rugged hills and snow-capped mountains provide stunning alpine photography opportunities. You will visit the little stone-hewn Church of the Good Shepherd, and stop for a quick photo with the bronze statue of a collie dog, the touching tribute to the sheepdogs which helped develop the Mackenzie Country. You may want to take in Mount Cook National Park from the air this afternoon, on a scenic flight out over New Zealand’s highest peak, the Southern Alps and on to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers (optional – at own expense). Your day finishes in the heart of the Mackenzie Country at Omarama. Tonight, enjoy dinner at your hotel.

Accommodation: Heritage Gateway Hotel

DAY 3: OMARAMA / DUNEDIN

Your day starts with a journey along the Waitaki River, and a photo stop at the Waitaki Hydro Power Scheme and Benmore Dam. The Waitaki River marks the boundary between the regions of Canterbury and Otago, and with its large catchment it is an ideal source of hydro-electric power. The Benmore Dam holds back New Zealand’s largest artificial lake, and when the Benmore Power Station was opened in 1965 it was the largest power station in New Zealand. Even today, it is still the second largest, and generates enough electricity each year for about 298,000 average New Zealand homes. From the Waitaki Valley you will then travel through to the township of Oamaru, with its stately tree-lined streets and its famous white limestone buildings. As well as shipping limestone to the bigger cities of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin for construction of their Town Halls and various churches, Oamaru locals made sure that their own town represented the best in limestone building the mid-late 1800’s had to offer. This afternoon you will make your way down to the Southernmost New Zealand city, Dunedin. With the rest of your free afternoon you may wish to take part in an optional excursion to see more of the region. Take a Wildlife Cruise out to Otago Peninsula, visit the Speights Brewery – a New Zealand institution or ride the historic Taieri Gorge Railway. Tonight, enjoy dinner at your hotel.

Accommodation: Kingsgate Hotel

DAY 4: DUNEDIN / MILFORD SOUND

Today is one of those days where you will want to have your camera battery charged, and ready to go. And you will probably want to have a spare battery or two on hand… just in case. After leaving Te Anau, you will journey 119km through the Fiordland National Park and out to Milford Sound on one of the most scenic roads you could hope for. Travel through native rainforests, beech forests, alluvial flats and meadows. You will stop at Mirror Lakes where, as the name suggests, you can see the stunning mountain scenery perfectly reflected in the waters of the lakes. Then on to the Homer Tunnel, man’s attempt to master the sheer rocky ranges, still left rough-hewn around the edges. As you emerge out the other side of the tunnel, you are presented with one of the world’s most dramatic alpine drives, down through the Cleddau Valley. You will have a stop at the Chasm, where the roaring Cleddau River has carved its way through solid rock, and then it’s on to Milford Sound, where you will cruise the waters of this natural wonder. Your cruise meanders down the sound, taking in the Bowen and Stirling Falls as these plummet from glacial hanging valleys sharply into the sea, and the sheer pinnacle of Mitre Peak, rising from the deep waters of the fiord for your magical overnight cruise on Milford Sound.  (Please note: Cruise does not operate 21 May-15 September. During this period there will be a day cruise on Milford Sound and accommodation in Queenstown).

Accommodation: Overnight Milford Sound

DAY 5: MILFORD SOUND / QUEENSTOWN

This morning depart for the township of Te Anau, on the shores of Lake Te Anau, the largest lake on the South Island. Here you’ll explore the Te Anau Glow Worm Caves by boat with a Local Guide, before continuing to New Zealand’s adventure capital, Queenstown.

Accommodation: Copthorne Hotel & Resort

DAY 6: QUEENSTOWN

Explore exciting Queenstown your way! Why not soar through the trees on a Ziptrek Ecotour, or raft the mighty white water rapids of the Kawarau River? Take the opportunity to encounter a Queenstown legend and ride the Shotover Jet Boat or venture out onto the Dart River for a longer jet safari. If laid-back and relaxed is more your idea of fun then join a Queenstown Original Wine Tour and sample some of Central Otago’s award-winning wines, or play a round of golf at one of the spectacular alpine courses around Queenstown. Your AAT Kings Travel Director will assist you in booking all of your chosen optional experiences. After a day of activity, why not sit back and enjoy a peaceful evening cruise across Lake Wakatipu aboard New Zealand’s oldest steamship, the TSS Earnslaw, to Walter Peak Station (Optional Experience, own expense). Launched in 1912, the TSS Earnslaw is the largest and grandest vessel ever to ply Lake Wakatipu. Today, the TSS Earnslaw is believed to be the only coal-fired passenger carrying vessel still operating in the southern hemisphere. Partake in a gourmet BBQ Highlight Dinner at Walter Peaks’ Colonel’s Homestead and then enjoy an entertaining after-dinner farm show providing a glimpse into high-country farm life. On the cruise back to Queenstown, join in a vintage sing-a-long or grab your partner for a dance across the polished wooden floors of the Earnslaw.

Accommodation: Copthorne Hotel & Resort

DAY 7: QUEENSTOWN

Another action-packed day or take time out to relax. Tonight we ride a gondola up Bob’s Peak, and dine at the Skyline Restaurant, Stratosfare, overlooking Queenstown – the ultimate way to end a highlight day!

Accommodation: Copthorne Hotel & Resort

DAY 8: QUEENSTOWN / FRANZ JOSEF

This morning you will leave the alpine wonderland of Queenstown behind, and begin the passage through Central Otago and out to Westland. On the way out of the Queenstown region, you will stop and visit the faithfully restored gold mining settlement of Arrowtown. As you amble down the beautiful tree-lined avenues, past the 19th century wooden buildings, you will feel like you have stepped into a movie set. From here you will travel over to Cromwell, situated next to the sparkling pristine waters of Lake Dunstan, where you will stop in at a local orchard for a taste of some of the town’s delicious stone fruit. It is a day of gorgeous lakes, as after Dunstan, you will travel further into Central Otago and view the vivid blue waters of Lake Hawea, followed by Lake Wanaka, where the shoreline is charmingly lined by poplars and willows. Following an ancient greenstone trail, you will travel over Haast Pass, marking a change from the alpine scenery of the Southern Lakes, to the rainforest marvel of the wild West Coast. View the sheer drop of Thunder Creek Falls and the grand sight of Mt Hooker, flanked on three sides by extensive glaciers. Our final destination for today is the extraordinary rivers of ice that make up Franz Josef Glacier. You may want to get up close and personal with the glaciers on a helicopter flight. Your flight will hover over the snow face, and may land high up in the valley so that you can walk across the ice fall – subject to weather conditions (optional – at own expense). Tonight, enjoy dinner at your hotel.

Accommodation: Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier

DAY 9: FRANZ JOSEF / PUNAKAIKI

This morning, you have the opputtunity to experience the Franz Josef Glacier from the air or take a glacier hike to the terminal face (both optional experiences). Later, we travel to Hokitika, home of the native greenstone (jade), for a factory visit. Then, continue to Punakaiki to view the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. Tonight we stay in an eco-friendly resort right on the waterfront. Enjoy dinner while watching the thundering surf at your doorstep!

Accommodation: Punakaiki Resort

DAY 10: PUNAKAIKI / NELSON

Soak up the scenic wilderness of the Heritage Highway through the impressive Buller Gorge and the Kahurangi National Park before arriving in Nelson. This afternoon you’ll visit the World of Wearable Art and Collectable Cars.

Accommodation: Grand Mercure Monaco Resort

DAY 11: NELSON

On this day at leisure, you’ll have the opportunity to journey to the top of the South Island and enjoy a relaxing cruise in the Abel Tasman National Park, or perhaps take a short bush walk, relax in sunny Nelson or explore the many arts and craft shops. The choice is yours!

Accommodation: Grand Mercure Monaco Resort

DAY 12: NELSON / WELLINGTON

Visit the seaside village of Picton and cruise on tranquil Queen Charlotte Sound, before you head across the Cook Strait to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. Enjoy a city sights tour before you visit   Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, to explore New Zealand’s nature, art, history and cultural heritage.

Accommodation: Travelodge

DAY 13: WELLINGTON AT LEISURE

A free day to see the sights. Perhaps take a tour of Parliament or one of the Lord of the Rings movie tours, or even cruise to Somes Island in Wellington Harbour (own expense).

Accommodation: Travelodge

DAY 14: WELLINGTON / NAPIER

Travel through the vineyards of the Wairapa and Hawkes Bay on your way to Napier. Enjoy a city walking tour with a local guide and learn how Napier was rebuilt after a devastating Earthquake in 1931.

Accommodation: Scenic Hotel Te Pania

DAY 15: NAPIER / ROTORUA

Travel inland to Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. Visit the mighty Huka Falls and then it’s on to Rotorua. On arrival a sightseeing tour takes in views of Lake Rotorua.  This evening enjoy a Maori Hangi feast highlight dinner and concert at the Tamaki Maori Village.

Accommodation: Hotel Ibis

DAY 16: ROTORUA

Today is your chance to experience the scenic wonders of the geothermal wonderland of Rotorua. This morning you will head to the Agrodome Sheep Show, a hilarious, interactive way to gain an insight into New Zealand’s biggest industry – agriculture. After the Agrodome, visit Te Puia, the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, where you’ll see demonstrations of wood carving and weaving. Then tour the geothermal valley and hear the importance of the geysers and mud pools to the Maori people. Later, you may wish to travel back to Rotorua township and relax lakeside, or you may prefer to choose from one of the varied Optional Activities on offer. Take a scenic flight out over Lake Rotorua for a bird’s eye view of the region. You may even want to stop at the top of Mt Tarawera, the site of the largest eruption in New Zealand’s living memory! Explore Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park, and take a ‘behind the scenes’ tour through the working kiwi nursery and hatchery. Later, why not spend a little more time experiencing the thermal wonders, with a soak in the hot mineral waters of the Polynesian Spas? Your AAT Kings Travel Director will assist you in booking all of your chosen optional experiences. Tonight you have the option of staying at your hotel or on a nearby farm. Enjoy genuine New Zealand hospitality this evening and spend the night on a nearby farm. You’ll enjoy dinner and breakfast, comfortable accommodation and a farm tour to introduce you to the way of life. (Additional cost).

Accommodation: Hotel Ibis

DAY 17: ROTORUA / AUCKLAND

Visit the Agrodome Farm Show, the multi-award-winning and highly entertaining stage show, to gain an insight into agricultural life in New Zealand. You’ll see the art of sheep shearing, sheepdog demonstrations, cow milking, bottle feeding of lambs and an exciting sheep auction. Later, travel through the dairy farming district of Waikato then continue to Auckland, where your city sightseeing tour takes in Bastion Point, Viaduct Harbour and the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Stay: VR Queen Street Hotel & Suites

DAY 18: FAREWELL FROM AUCKLAND

Your holiday concludes this morning after breakfast. You will be transferred to Auckland Airport for your onward flight.

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