18 Day AAT Kings Essence of New Zealand 22/23
Christchurch to Auckland
New Zealand tour itinerary name and information
AAT Kings

18 Day AAT Kings Essence of New Zealand 22/23

This New Zealand tour earns its name – it taps into the heart of the nation, from its rich Maori culture to its culinary traditions, natural wonders to adventure activities. You traverse both North and South islands, wine and dine in 10+ cities, cruise through a World Heritage Site (Milford Sound) and bask in the beauty of the country’s tallest mountains and fiercest waterfalls.

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Quick Itinerary Details

Escorted coach tour

This suggested tour costs from NZD$7,333 per person (twin share, low season)

Starts in Christchurch, finishes in Auckland

18 days/17 nights

Hotel 3 star

 Pre and post tour options? YES

 Viewed 32 times in the last 7 days

Tour Inclusions

All Blacks Experience
Christchurch City Tour
Cruise on the Interislander Ferry
Day trip to Stewart Island
Huka Falls
Maori Village Experience & Hangi (dinner), Rotorua
Punakaiki Rocks
Te Puia Thermal Reserve
Visit a Local Orchard
Visit a Pounamu Factory
Wellington City Tour
17 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 4 dinners, 1 special dinner
Tour at a glance

Day 1: Welcome to Christchurch

Day 2: Christchurch – Omarama

Day 3: Omarama – Dunedin Free Time

Day 4: Dunedin – Invercargill

Day 5: Stewart Island

Day 6: Invercargill – Queenstown

Day 7: Queenstown Free Time

Day 8: Queenstown – Franz Josef

Day 9: Franz Josef – Punakaiki

Day 10: Punakaiki – Nelson

Day 11: Nelson Free Time

Day 12: Nelson – Wellington

Day 13: Wellington Free Time

Day 14: Wellington – Napier

Day 15: Napier – Rotorua

Day 16: Rotorua Free Time

Day 17: Rotorua – Auckland

Day 18: Farewell from Auckland

Tour full itinerary

Detailed itinerary: 18 day tour starting in Christchurch

Day 1 - Welcome to Christchurch
Christchurch City Tour Tram

Welcome to Christchurch, New Zealand’s Garden City. Flights can arrive any time prior to 4.00pm. Take some time to relax or explore independently. You may like to step back in time to a grand era of transport and relax on the Christchurch Tram as it 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 2011 earthquake. This evening, meet your fellow travelling companions and your AAT Kings Travel Director for a welcome reception at your hotel.

Staying in:

  • Ibis Hotel Christchurch (1 night)
Day 2 - Christchurch – Omarama
Church of the Good Shepherd

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 Experience - at own expense). Your day finishes in the heart of the Mackenzie Country at Omarama. Tonight, enjoy dinner at your hotel.

Staying in:

  • Heritage Gateway Hotel (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner
Day 3 - Omarama – Dunedin Free Time
Dunedin Railway Station

Your day starts with a journey along the Waitaki River, which marks the boundary between the regions of Canterbury and Otago, and with its large catchment it is an ideal source of hydro-electric power. 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 Experience to see more of the region. Take a Wildlife Cruise out to Otago Peninsula, visit the Speights Brewery – a New Zealand institution or journey out to Larnach Castle – New Zealand’s only Castle. Tonight, speak with your Travel Director about dining recommendations in Dunedin’s inner city.

Staying in:

  • Kingsgate Hotel Dunedin (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 4 - Dunedin – Invercargill
Aerial View of Otago Peninsula

This morning we leave Dunedin and travel through lush green pastures, crossing sheep-filled farming land through to Gore, the country music capital of New Zealand for a lunch stop. As your journey continues, you arrive into Invercargill, New Zealands southernmost city. This commercial hub is full of grand architecture and gardens. A city obsessed with motoring history, there are tributes to speed legends across town, from the famous Burt Munro to Bill Richardson and his shed full of classic vehicles – the largest private collection of its type in the world. This afternoon you will have some free time to explore this city and its offerings.

Staying in:

  • Kelvin Hotel (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 5 - Stewart Island
Penguins on Stewart Island

Board a ferry at Bluff and cruise to Stewart Island. Stewart Island is known by locals as Rakiura which is the Maori reference to Glowing Skies. It has been described as rugged, pristine and tranquil – and rightly so as 97% of the island is designated National Park and Conservation Estate.  This means the birdlife, native flora & fauna and other natural environmental features have been able to thrive. Once you arrive, you will gain an entertaining insight into New Zealand’s southernmost community and learn about the history and environment of Stewart Island on a Village and Bays tour. Later, enjoy some free time. Join a guided sail around Paterson Inlet that will take you past unique places including Acker’s Cottage before docking at Ulva Island to admire the bird life and native flora. For a more active option you could hire an E-bike and explore the Island for yourself. Travel back to Bluff by ferry before arriving back to your accommodation in Invercargill.

Staying in:

  • Kelvin Hotel (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 6 - Invercargill – Queenstown
Sunset in Queenstown Harbour

Enjoy a relaxed start in Invercargill before departing for Queenstown. Known for its adventure you will have a free afternoon to explore. Take the opportunity to encounter a Queenstown legend and ride the Shotover Jet Boat or venture out on a Skippers Canyon Scenic Tour. If laid-back and relaxed is more your idea of fun, then join a Wine Tour and sample some of Central Otago’s award-winning wines. Your AAT Kings Travel Director will assist you in booking all of your chosen optional experiences. This evening, 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-along or grab your partner for a dance across the polished wooden floors of the Earnslaw.

Staying in:

  • Copthorne Hotel and Resort Queenstown (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 7 - Queenstown Free Time
Skyline Lookout over Queenstown

While Queenstown wears its Global Adventure badge proudly, it’s also the perfect place to relax and explore. The town boasts great shopping with luxury brands, iconic New Zealand design stores and boutique fashion. If bungy jumping or tree-to-tree ziplining aren't your cup of tea, consider an Optional Experience to spectacular Milford Sound, travel to the UNESCO World Heritage Fiordland National Park. Experience magnificent scenery and many photo opportunities afforded by the Mirror Lakes, Knobs Flat, Hollyford Valley lookout (Pop’s view), Cleddau Valley and the Chasm, drive through the hand-hewn Homer Tunnel towards the iconic Mitre Peak and the Bowen Falls before reaching Milford Sound for your cruise.

Staying in:

  • Copthorne Hotel and Resort Queenstown (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 8 - Queenstown – Franz Josef
Road to 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 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 Experience – at own expense). Tonight, enjoy dinner at your hotel.

Staying in:

  • Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier (Graham Wing) (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner
Day 9 - Franz Josef – Punakaiki
Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki

If weather conditions are unfavourable on Day 8, you will get another chance to fly up to the glaciers this morning or you might want to take a stroll through the small but lively Franz Josef village. Then you head off to the drift-wood strewn beaches of Hokitika. As well as being one of the few West Coast communities to embrace its coastal landscape, Hokitika struck it rich in the resource's stakes. Here you will visit a pounamu factory (native greenstone or jade), for the chance to see master carvers at work creating intricate pieces of jewellery and art. Maori tradition says it is bad luck to buy pounamu for yourself, so if you fancy a trinket of your own, make sure you have someone there to purchase it for you. 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

Staying in:

  • Ocean View Retreat Punakaiki (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner
Day 10 - Punakaiki – Nelson
Nelson Bell Tower

Soak up the scenic wilderness of the Heritage Highway through the impressive Buller Gorge and the Kahurangi National Park before arriving in Nelson.

Staying in:

  • The Rutherford Hotel (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 11 - Nelson Free Time
Wooden Church in Founders Heritage Park in 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!

Staying in:

  • The Rutherford Hotel (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 12 - Nelson – Wellington
Picton Harbour

This morning, we travel to the pretty seaside fishing village of Picton where you will board the Interislander for a cruise across the Cook Strait, from the South Island to the North. Surprisingly it takes longer to cruise through the Queen Charlotte Sound and up the Tory Channel than it does to cross the open ocean of Cook Strait. You will meander through a maze of arms and inlets out of Picton. Once in Wellington enjoy a City tour including viewing New Zealand’s Parliament Buildings. Tonight is an evening at leisure, speak with your Travel Director about dining recommendations in Wellington’s inner city.

Staying in:

  • Travelodge Wellington (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 13 - Wellington Free Time
Wellington Cable Car

You have a day at leisure to see the sights of your choice. Perhaps take a tour of Parliament or one of the Lord of the Rings movie tours, or venture to Weta Workshop, the home of the special effects' wizards whose work features in many blockbuster movies. Enjoy the café lifestyle in our capital city or simply shop till you drop, there is something in Wellington for everyone! This evening enjoy dinner at your hotel.

Staying in:

  • Travelodge Wellington (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast, Dinner
Day 14 - Wellington – Napier
Napier Town Centre

You’ll have lunch included today provided by ‘Eat My Lunch’. ‘Eat My Lunch’ is a charity organisation that provides lunch for New Zealand school children who otherwise would be going to school without. By having lunch today, you are giving a lunch to a child in need. Travel through the dairy farming land of Manawatu to Napier. In February 1931, Napier was levelled by earthquake and fire but was rebuilt in the depths of the Great Depression in just two years. Nowhere else in the world can you see such a concentration of buildings in the styles of the 1930s: Art Deco, Spanish Mission and Stripped Classical. You’ll hear the story of the earthquake that devastated Napier in 1931 and be introduced to the Art Deco style and hear stories of the characters involved in rebuilding this city. A Local Guide will accompany you on a walking tour.

Staying in:

  • Scenic Hotel Te Pania (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch
Day 15 - Napier – Rotorua
Maori Cultural Experience

Enjoy a leisurely start to our day before continuing our journey to Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. Visit the spectacular Huka Falls, the only outlet of water from Lake Taupo and then it’s on to Rotorua.  Before dinner, we have a guided tour of Te Puia. Guides take us through the greenstone, wood carving and flax weaving schools at the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute, Rotowhio Pā, Kiwi Conservation Centre and Te Whakarewarewa geothermal valley including the Pōhutu geyser. Tonight, we experience Te Puia's world-famous hāngī buffet dinner. Enjoy spectacular geothermal views while dining on a range of delicious New Zealand flavours. The menu is smartly sophisticated – infusing Māori flavours, with an array of global cuisines and cooking styles. After dinner you will get to enjoy a cultural performance that will take place in their beautifully carved meeting house, Te Aronui a Rua. Witness a pōwhiri (traditional welcome), waiata (song), mōteatea (traditional chant) poi and haka. The evening culminates with hot chocolate and steamed pudding surrounded by steam and the geyser terrace bathed in coloured light

Staying in:

  • Sudima Lake Rotorua (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast, Speciality Dinner
Day 16 - Rotorua Free Time
Whakarewareva Living Maori Village

Today is your chance to experience the scenic wonders of the geothermal wonderland of Rotorua. 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 Experiences 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 Nature Park & The National Kiwi Hatchery, 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.

Staying in:

  • Sudima Lake Rotorua (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 17 - Rotorua – Auckland
View of Auckland

Today you will follow the meandering trail of the Waikato River, New Zealand’s longest river, past the lush farmlands of the Waikato Region. As you journey over the Bombay Hills, the landscape changes from green, grassy meadowlands to the edges of suburbia. As you make your way into the heart of New Zealand’s largest city, you will discover what it takes to make shape and become an All Black at The All-Blacks Experience. This interactive experience celebrates New Zealand’s rugby heritage, achievements, and culture through exceptional innovation and technology. Your guided tour will feature the jaw-dropping, knee-trembling haka on a four-metre-high screen and entry to the interactive Step-Up zone where you can compare your kicking, catching, and lineout skills to current All Blacks and Black Ferns players.

Staying in:

  • Holiday Inn Express, Auckland (1 night)
Meals included: Breakfast
Day 18 - Farewell from Auckland
AAT King Coach Tour

Your holiday concludes this morning after breakfast.

Meals included: Breakfast
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18 Day AAT Kings Essence of New Zealand 22/23

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