Wellington and the South Island

Adventure in New Zealand

  • Wellington
  • Marlborough Sounds
  • Abel Tasman National Park
  • Queenstown
  • Milford Sound & Fjordlands National Park


February 5 - 20, 2023


  • Wellington's hip vibe, waterfront charm, and city highlights, including the Weta Cave Animation Studios and the Wellington Botanical Gardens
  • Discover vibrant Maori culture and heritage, including a visit to the fantastic Te Papa Tongarewa National Museum, which translates to "container of treasures" and showcases an enormous collection of art and immersive exhibits
  • The golden beaches and turquoise waters of Abel Tasman National Park
  • World-class wines of Wairarapa and Marlborough
  • Beautiful Queenstown on the shores of Lake Wakatipu
  • The otherworldly Fjordland National Park & Milford Sound, lined with glacial waterfalls and basking seals

Trip Description

Welcome to New Zealand – a world away in many respects, that are bound to inspire and add to the sweetness of life.  We’ll start our great adventure in Wellington, the capital, occupying one of the world’s great natural settings.  We’ll spend three nights, immersing ourselves in Maori and colonial history, the physicality of the city, perches on hills rising out of the bay, and in surrounding gems.  Those gems will include the fascinating Weta Cave film studio where innovative films like Avatar and Lord of the Rings have been brought to life, and the lovely Wairarapa Valley – home to the charming town of Martinborough, and the country’s smallest wine region.

The 3-hour ferry will carry us to Picton on the South Island.  Here, mountains meet sea everywhere.  Just south is the famous Marlborough wine district (crisp Sauvignon Blanc, anyone?); to the north lies Abel Tasman National Park.  Our route will take us down the South Island’s west coast, past the Franz Josef Glacier, to Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.  From the “Adrenaline Capital of the World” (in fact, bungee-jumping was invented in Queenstown), we go further off the map:  Te Anau, home to mesmerizing glowworm caves, and stunning Milford Sound & Fjordlands National Park.

Trip Price:  $9,165 / person (double occupancy; single supplement, $1,495)

Price includes ground transportation in New Zealand, boat tours, and inter-island ferries; accommodation in high-standard boutique hotels for 13 nights; breakfasts, 4 lunches, and 9 dinners; all activities & admissions per the itinerary; guide and concierge services throughout the trip.

Price does not include airfare; other meals & alcohol (except for group winery visits); trip insurance.


February 5 – 7

Depart the eastern US for our flights to Wellington, New Zealand.  We’ll lose a day when we cross the International Date Line . . . fun with vanishing time!

After arriving in Wellington, we’ll drop off our bags at our hotel, and enjoy a walking tour to introduce us to the city. We’ll discover the native Maori and colonial history, delve into New Zealand culture, and get acquainted with the city streets and sites. After our tour, we’ll check into our lovely hotel and relax after our travels. Overnight, Wellington.

February 8

Today, we’ll continue exploring Wellington and its cultural offerings. This morning, enjoy a visit of Te Papa National Museum, where we’ll learn about Maori and Pacific Islander culture, contemporary art, zoology, and more. Enjoy lunch on your own, either at the museum’s café or at a nearby restaurant. After lunch, we’ll reconvene in front of the museum, and board our bus to drive to the Mount Victoria Lookout Point to enjoy panoramic views of the city and water.

We’ll then visit Weta Cave Workshop, where we’ll have a guided tour of this special effects studio – known for their innovative work on famous films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Avatar. Relax back at the hotel and enjoy dinner. Overnight, Wellington.

February 9

Today will feature touring in the small but highly acclaimed Wairarapa wine region – known in particular for its world-class Pinot Noirs. This morning, enjoy a guided winery visit in the Martinborough area; lunch and exploration in the quaint, Victorian village of Martinborough. This evening, return to Wellington. Overnight, Wellington.

February 10

Breakfast at our hotel.

Visit the Wellington Museum or optionally, the Wellington Botanical Gardens. This afternoon, take the Interislander ferry across the Cook Strait to Picton. Welcome to New Zealand’s South Island!

Overnight, Marlborough.

February 11

Breakfast at our hotel. Today will day a day of scenic drives in “God’s country,” punctuated by the sensory highs of excellent grapes and down-home hospitality.  We’ll take in the wine country that surrounds Blenheim – capital of the Marlborough wine region – famous for crisp Sauvignon Blancs, as well as other varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. (‘Fess up:  Did you join this trip to drink Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs on location? . . . I did!)  We’ll drive over the low Weld Pass into the adjacent (and less-visited) Awatere River Valley . . . where cultivated fields abut the Pacific Ocean itself.

Overnight, Marlborough region.

February 12

Breakfast at our hotel. Depart Marlborough today, and drive to the Motueka / Abel Tasman area.  Our drive will wind through the coastal range, offering views of the azure “reaches” of the Tasman Bay, playing along a wooded, green coastline.  We’ll pass isolated, verdant valleys, and then enter the Tasman Bay coast itself, at Nelson.  Our home for the next two nights will be Motueka, at the base of Takata Hill.  It’s a South Island paradise!

February 13

Breakfast at our hotel.

Enjoy a morning guided visit to the Ngarua Caves – an extensive network of limestone caves found in the Takaka Hill mountains. Spend the afternoon exploring Takaka Valley and Abel Tasman National Park; with opportunities for hiking, kayaking, and enjoying the golden beaches and turquoise waters. (Have your camera at the ready!)  We’ll return to our hotel in the late afternoon; enjoy free time and dinner on your own. Overnight, Motueka.

February 14

Breakfast at our hotel.  And we’re off for a day of serious driving – through stunning scenery – as we descend the west coast of the South Island.

We’ll break up our drive with lunch, and a stop at the enchanting Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki.  Then we’ll continue to Franz Josef Glacier – one of the jewels of the South Island Alps. Enjoy late-afternoon exploration of the stunning natural beauty. Overnight in our Franz Josef Glacier lodge.

February 15

Breakfast at our hotel.

Another driving push will bring us to Queenstown. Known as New Zealand’s adventure capital, Queenstown is a place where you can enjoy just about any exhilarating activity, surrounded by stunning scenery – and this is the “birthplace” of modern bungee jumping!  It’s a rush of adrenaline just to watch the spectacle over the historic Kawarau Bridge. We’ll orient ourselves to the lovely lakeside city, then relax after our travels. Overnight, Queenstown.

February 16

We’ll begin the day with a cruise across Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu – the longest lake in New Zealand. We’ll arrive at the Mt. Nicholas Farm – a working merino sheep farm located in the remote high country across the water from Queenstown. Enjoy the lovely scenery and lunch together, before we return across the water to Queenstown. In the afternoon, we’ll have options:  from “higher” adventure . . . to tasting wine in the Gibbston Valley . . . to R & R. We’ll enjoy dinner and our overnight in Queenstown.

February 17

Today, we’ll depart Queenstown and make our way to Te Anau and Fjordland National Park.  Enjoy a supremely scenic drive en route; upon arrival in Te Anau, we’ll enjoy lunch and a visit to the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary. This afternoon, we’ll enjoy a boat cruise across Lake Te Anau to visit the Glowworm Caves – an underground world of limestone grottos, some filled with thousands of glow worms. This evening, we’ll enjoy dinner and our overnight in Te Anau.

February 18

Today, we’ll strike out from Te Anau towards to Milford Sound, following the path of the incredible Milford Road. This unforgettable journey will take us through dramatic mountains, glacier-cut valleys, pristine lakes, and native rainforest. Have your camera ready to capture the breathtaking scenery as we make stops coming and going. Later, enjoy one last evening and overnight in Te Anau.

February 19

We’ll make our way back to Queenstown for our last full day in New Zealand. We’ll check back into our hotel; then enjoy free time this afternoon – the perfect opportunity for any exploration or activities that you might have missed before. Overnight, Queenstown.

February 20

Today is our journey across the Pacific back to the States. We’ll arrive at noon on February 20, and go through US Customs. Welcome back to the US!

What's Included

  • Ground transportation, boat tours, and inter-island ferries
  • Accommodation in high-standard boutique hotels for thirteen (13) nights
  • Breakfasts, 4 lunches and 9 dinners
  • All activities / admissions per the itinerary
  • Guide and concierge service throughout the trip

Trip Price

$9,165 / person (double occupancy; single supplement, $1,495)

What's Not Included

Price does not include international airfare; other meals; optional activities; alcohol (except for group winery visits); trip insurance.

Chumley really puts a personal touch (on) it. I don’t know anyone who takes better care of travelers.
If you want first-class service within a small group of traveling companions that you can really get to know, then definitely consider Explore Up Close.
I've traveled extensively and have never had a trip that felt as intimate and custom-tailored as this. The planning, flexibility, and attention to detail were second to none. A top shelf trip of a lifetime. Thank you, Caroline and Chumley!

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Please note, all trip participants should wait for confirmation from Explore Up Close that the trip has the minimum sign-up required to be a “go” before purchasing airline tickets.

Explore Up Close will provide a recommended flight itinerary for your consideration, which is intended as a helpful suggestion. We encourage travelers to choose airfare depending on their personal preferences, as some travelers may prefer to travel independently and meet at our destination, or may wish to extend their travels at the beginning or end of the trip. Our travel agent is available to assist you with booking flights and trip insurance.

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