Many of you told us you simply couldn’t get away for more than a week. We didn’t want you to have to wait until you had more time, so we’ve cherry picked some of the best adventures, hikes, paddles and bike rides on the South Island and cleverly squeezed them into an unforgettable trip that will have you feeling refreshed in just 8 days. Will you see everything? Of course not. But it’ll be a great start until you can come back!
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THE ESSENTIAL SOUTH ISLAND
Short on time? No worries.
Mount Cook Glaciers
Alps to Ocean Track
Swim with Dolphins
Wilderness Jet Boat
Short South HIGHLIGHTS
Heaps of adventure packed into a week - an unforgettable introduction to New Zealand.
Bike the Alps to Ocean trail
Change up the pace biking on the Alps to Ocean Trail and and cover more ground on a bike around Queenstown.
Fill your lungs with fresh air hiking part of the famed Routeburn Track.
Sea Kayak Milford Sound
Sea kayak in iconic Milford Sound to sneak up on the local wildlife and give your legs a rest.
Jetboat the Wilkin River
Ever ride in a boat that could race along in just inches of water? You will in Mount Aspiring National Park.
Scenic flight to Siberia Valley
Start with an incredible scenic flight into the remote Siberia Valley and hike out to the jetboat that will take us back to civilization. The ultimate way to unplug and reconnect.
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Short South ITINERARY
Kayak Milford Sound
Real Journeys Milford Sound Boat
Day 1 – Welcome, Sea Kayak and Overnight Cruise Milford Sound
We’ve picked all of the best bits around the South Island and cleverly squeezed them into eight unforgettable days, packing as much fun as possible into your Short South trip. And it all begins today!
Your long-awaited New Zealand adventure starts with a bang! After meeting your guides and fellow travellers in Queenstown, we’ll get straight into it by heading for Milford Sound on arguably the most spectacular road in the country or anywhere -- the scenery is mind blowing. This afternoon we'll have a chance to meet the local wildlife of Fiordland National Park while out sea kayaking and spend our first night on a boat in Milford Sound.
Overnight boat in Milford Sound
Following our arrival at the most famous attraction in Fiordland National Park, we’ll jump on board our vessel for the night to explore majestic Milford Sound. It’s hard to take in the enormity of our environment, with mile-high granite cliffs towering above us, thundering waterfalls crashing back to earth and dolphins playing around the boat, it really is a feast for your senses. We’ll get settled on board in our cosy cabins and then spend the rest of the afternoon checking out the length of the fiord and getting to know each other – what a great way to start a trip!
Sea Kayak Milford Sound
We'll anchor in a calm and secluded cove deep in Milford Sound for the night and head out with specialist guides in kayaks or in a tender with a naturalist guide. No experience is required to give sea kayaking a go here. Your excellent team of sea kayaking guides will explain everything and be near you and your travel companions, making sure you are comfortable in your person-powered vessel. If you're in familiar territory, grab a paddle and go explore the peace and tranquillity of the fiord.
Day 2 – Hike the Routeburn Track
Wake up in gorgeous Milford Sound this morning to birdsong and the quiet, reassuring lapping of the water against the hull of the boat. Enjoy the crisp, fresh air and leave behind all the worries of the ‘real’ world – this is what rejuvenating holidays are all about. After we cruise back to the dock and disembark, we'll carry on to hike part of the famed Routeburn Track up to Key Summit for beautiful views. Overnight on the shores of Lake Te Anau.
Hike the Routeburn Track to Key Summit
Heading deeper into the wilderness of Fiordland National Park, we’ll stop to get our hearts pumping on the world famous Routeburn Track with a climb up to Key Summit. A well-formed track through an other-worldly beech forest allows you to really take in your surroundings - from the towering tree ferns, minuscule mosses that seem to have created their own micro-civilisations, to the plethora of birds providing the soundtrack to our hike, it’s hard not to love it here. The view from the top, across to the Darran Mountains and down the Hollyford Valley to the Tasman Sea, is the icing on the cake.
Tonight we're staying on the lakeshore and you'll have some time to explore Te Anau.
Day 3 – Bike near Queenstown & Explore Wanaka
Today we leave the rainforest of Fiordland and head for the arid high country lakes of Central Otago. Explore some of the best bits on two wheels outside of Queenstown, from a historic gold mining town to the vineyards of Gibbston Valley, before we continue to the mountain resort town of Wanaka. Tonight we'll stay in Makarora, at the doorstep of Mt Aspiring National Park.
Bike near Queenstown
The air in Queenstown practically exudes adrenaline and physical activity, and visitors and locals alike feed off this buzz. You’ll see people out running, riding their bikes, climbing mountains or paragliding from the hilltops – living in nature's playground has its advantages! One of these is the fantastic new purpose-built bike trails that wind their way around the Wakatipu Basin. We'll be fitted with bikes in Arrowtown, an old gold mining town with rich Chinese mining history, then ride following the Kawarau River out towards the Gibbston Valley vineyards and the world’s first commercial bungy bridge.
A short hop over New Zealand's highest sealed road at 1022m takes us to Wanaka, a favourite holiday spot for Kiwis. Set in a lake-filled mountainous basin, Wanaka is the more relaxed cousin to Queenstown. The township is a great spot to explore on your own for a bit, trying out some of the local delicacies including meat pies, gelato with local flavours, great coffee and a local brew or two.
From here we'll take a short trip around the top of the lake to the small settlement of Makarora, where we spend the night surrounded by mountains on the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park.
Mt Aspiring NP
Day 4 – Scenic flight into Mount Aspiring National Park, Hike & Wilderness Jet boat
Get ready for a real Kiwi backcountry experience in style - this is the stuff legendary holiday stories are made of! First fly deep into Mt Aspiring National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and get dropped off for a picnic with views that will blow you away. Then hike back down to the river where a jetboat will be waiting to whisk you back to civilization and a comfortable bed in Wanaka tonight after a taste of wilderness.
Scenic Flight into Mount Aspiring National Park
Today's adventure begins on one of Southern Alps Air’s Cessna bush planes enjoying the views of the 355,000ha UNESCO World Heritage listed Mount Aspiring National Park. You will be surrounded by spectacular views of braided rivers, virgin beech forest, glaciated valleys, alpine lakes, glaciers and towering peaks before landing amongst the Southern Alps on the remote Siberia Valley air strip. Upon landing, we'll head up the valley to a backcountry hut with outrageous views of the surrounding peaks.
Hike Siberia Valley
After a yummy picnic lunch on the deck of the hut, we'll begin walking along a well-marked track through the natural native forest linking the Siberia Valley to the wilderness of the Wilkin Valley below. Be on the lookout for native birds along the way and the many photo opportunities as you immerse yourself in nature. The track was originally a cattle track used by Mount Albert Station to take stock into the valley for grazing. In total the track is 6.8 km in length, the first half of which climbs gently a total of 200m elevation from the airstrip before travelling downhill for the second half of the walk - a total drop in elevation of 470m.
Wilderness Jet Boat Trip
Jet boats were invented in New Zealand by Sir William Hamilton in 1954 for the shallow waters of NZ’s braided rivers; jet boating originally started on the Wilkin River in 1968 transporting venison out of the mountains before hiking and commercial work became more commonplace. On reaching the Wilkin River at Kerin Forks, our jet boats will be waiting to take us for a thrilling 30-minute scenic ride down the Wilkin River Valley and Makarora River back to Makarora Village. Watching the world rush by, feeling the wind in your hair and getting a whole different perspective on this stunning valley is a pretty cool way to travel!
Tonight we’ll head back around the lake to stay in Wanaka.
Hiking or Biking
Mt Cook Village
Day 5 – Hike or Bike Wanaka & Aoraki/Mount Cook
If you're keen, we'll do an early morning hike up Rocky Mountain to get the heart pumping. If you prefer a more relaxed start, you can do a self-guided walk on a track leaving from the accommodation, or we can organise a bike for a self-guided ride on the Hawea - Wanaka track around the lake. This afternoon, watch the scenery completely change before your eyes as we move from beech forests to the high tussocks, huge skies and glacial lakes of the Mackenzie country. We’ll stay at the foot of New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook, for the next couple of nights.
Day 6 – Your Choice in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is home to not only its namesake -- our highest and most sacred peak known as "the Cloud Piercer" to Maori looming at 3724m (over 12,000 feet) - but 19 peaks in total over 3,000 meters. This rugged land of rock and ice is a hiker's paradise, and you have several experiences to choose from today, including a chance to get up close to some icebergs on a glacier boat trip or even walk on the ice on a glacier heli-hike (both options are at additional cost) or hiking and sightseeing.
Some of the best alpine hikes in New Zealand are here in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. These are the mountains where Edmund Hillary honed his mountaineering skills before he and Tenzing Norgay became the first pair to summit Mount Everest in 1953.
The beauty of the hikes we've selected for today is that you don't have to be a mountaineer to enjoy some jaw-dropping views. Or, if you'd like to give your legs a break today, there are a couple of very special optional activities below at additional cost. With two guides, we can almost always offer everyone their first choice.
Day 6 Continued
Whichever option you choose, you won't be disappointed. After a full day of activities, we'll meet up and return to our cosy accommodation for a delicious dinner and trade stories of the day. We're staying within one of the best Dark Sky Reserves in the world so tonight you can simply walk outside to enjoy some of the best stargazing anywhere.
Day 6 Optional Add-ons
Below are some of the optional add-ons you can also enjoy:
Glacier heli hiking
Take a chopper and land high up on the Tasman, New Zealand's longest glacier, where you'll don crampons and explore the dramatic ice caves and clear blue ice with a specialist guide.USD$390+TAX
Glacier lake boat tour
Jump aboard a Zodiac boat to set off across the iceberg-filled glacial lake for an up-close encounter with the Tasman Glacier’s terminal face.USD$110+TAX
Bike around Lake Pukaki
Day 7 – Bike Alps to Ocean Track & Explore Akaroa
We’ll start the day today with a gorgeous cycle through the picturesque Mackenzie Country alongside the surreal turquoise Lake Pukaki. Then it's on to Akaroa, a historic French settlement on a quiet harbour, for our last night together.
Towering mountains give way to fertile farm land and eventually the sheltered Akaroa harbour, as we make our way east today.
Alps to Ocean Track
It's easy to see why Sir Peter Jackson often returns to film here. With Mount Cook standing tall in the background, you'll feel like a movie star riding on a set. We'll cycle a gorgeous section of the Alps to Ocean, a purpose-built, multi-day cycle trail that winds its way from Mount Cook all the way out to the ocean in Oamaru. After getting some fresh air into our lungs, we'll carry on through the tussock-filled basin east to the historic French settlement of Akaroa.
Akaroa, nestled on a quiet harbour surrounded by the remnants of an old volcano and rich in both Maori and French history, is the perfect place for our last night together. We’ll get there by late afternoon with plenty of time to get a good feel for the town, its colonial architecture, arts, crafts and the locals that call this place home.
Swim with Dolphins
Today we finish the trip in Christchurch
Day 8 – Akaroa Dolphin Swim & Finish in Christchurch
We’ve saved one last 'only in NZ' adventure for our last morning together -- a chance to get up close to very rare Hector's dolphins. Whether you choose to swim with them or watch from the boat, this promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Then we'll say our farewells in Christchurch this afternoon and send you home absolutely buzzing.
Akaroa Dolphin Swim
It’s our last morning together and we haven’t quite finished our adventure yet! Today we board a small purpose-fitted boat with our specialised guide to experience Akaroa Harbour and the rich marine wildlife that thrive here. After getting suited up in our wetsuits, we’ll take to the water to meet native Hector’s dolphins, the world’s smallest and rarest, in the only place in the world you can take a trip to swim with them. Whether you choose to swim or watch them from the boat, this promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience - it’s even on the Lonely Planet guide as one of the ‘Top 10 Marine Mammal Experiences in The World’!
Finish in Christchurch
This afternoon we finish our adventure in the South Island’s biggest city, Christchurch. It’s only a couple of hours from Akaroa to Christchurch so we’ll have you there with plenty of time for flights out, or we can drop you at your accommodation if you’d like to spend some time exploring this rejuvenating city. This trip fits in really well with our Sweet North trip if you’re keen to explore the North Island as well.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
It's very important to us that you have all your questions answered about our Short South trip. We’ve collected some of the questions we get asked most often and answered them below. Or visit our general FAQ page here for more answers!
And if you still can’t find the answers you need, give us a call or send us an email and we’ll help you out!
FAQs specific to this trip...
Click here to go to a handy page with a summary of the distances and approximate times for every walk and activity on our Short South trip!
With eight days to show off New Zealand to you, we’ve hand-picked a selection of fantastic places to rest your head. From the boat on Milford Sound to the Mount Cook Lodge and beyond you’ll discover a taste of the fun, friendly and quirky places New Zealand has to stay. Click here to find out more about the accommodation on this trip.
We pick you up in the lobby of the Novotel Queenstown Lakeside at 8.30am. We drop you off at 4pm at Queenstown International Airport or at your in-town accommodation around 4.30pm.
Let us know if you need assistance with arranging flights or with arranging your pre and post-trip accommodation. We have lots of great options.
Short South Photos
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Short South Reviews
We had an absolutely wonderful vacation!
Jim and Joyce Morgan Utah USA
“We loved both of our guides...Bruce and Kate! They are both very knowledgeable, as well as personable and FUN! We enjoyed learning about New Zealand through the eyes of a KIWI!! They worked so hard, and took excellent care of all of us! New Zealand is such a beautiful place, and we feel very fortunate that we were able to experience it through New Zealand Trails! Thank you for the most wonderful memories!”Photos of Jim and Joyce's trip
Fabulous way to see and experience the magnificent NZ countryside
Catherine Cronin Australia
“This trip was a fabulous way to see and experience the magnificent NZ countryside. The guides were amazing. They had tremendous local knowledge and went out of their way to ensure everyone had a fantastic and memorable holiday.”Photos of Catherine's trip
Like I was a visiting a magical land with some friends
David Nelson Utah, USA
“I’ve been on guided tours before where I'm a number, and we move in a herd. This is not that kind of trip. It didn't feel like we were on a guided tour. It felt like I was a visiting a magical land with some friends who just happen to be locals. I cannot recommend it enough!”Photos of David's trip
So much more than a brochure, and you can read it in the bath!
• Five guided tour options with detailed itineraries and maps.
• Find out if small group travel is right for you.
• Hidden gems, the must-see destinations you won't find travelling on your own.
• A local's guide to New Zealand food, culture, and the lingo.
• Everything you need and want to know about New Zealand to plan your adventure.
FREE TRAILS MAGAZINE
Our magazine is an extension of our tours – a collection of everything that makes New Zealand unique. Some might say we shouldn't have put so much love and elbow grease into creating a magazine, when you can find anything you want on the internet, but we say nope, we're proud of our work and we reckon you'll love it too! Here, you'll find a carefully thought out collection of 80+ pages of gorgeous pictures & inspiring Kiwi stories. You can read it anytime, anywhere. Even in the bath! You'll find maps, itineraries for our five trips, gear advice, stories from the locals, extraordinary landscapes and much more. Kick back and relax as we take you on a journey to New Zealand and introduce you to the people and stories behind the places, our laid-back outdoor lifestyle, Māori heritage, vintage Kiwiana and cheeky NZ pop culture.
Heoi anō tāku mō nāianei, and see you soon!
Jodi & the New Zealand Trails crew
Short South Tour
8 Day South Island Tour - Queenstown to Christchurch. All inclusive. US$36993699 + tax, per person (twin or double share)
We do have shorter trip options and solo travellers don’t pay more, unless you’d like an upgrade to a private room. PLEASE NOTE: This is a sample of our current itinerary. Keep in mind we are constantly fine-tuning and improving our trips based on feedback from our guests and guides, availability, etc. So your trip will be at least this good, but we reserve the right to make slight alterations without notice to make it even better!