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Spend 21 days exploring an endlessly stunning country and get a taste of the fascinating Māori culture during your Essence of New Zealand tour. This escorted tour will lead you to some of New Zealand’s most incredible places, but how you experience them is entirely up to you.

Travel from north to south, taking time to soak up some of the best experiences each of New Zealand’s two main islands have to offer. After landing in the city of Christchurch, your adventure begins in the South Island. Travel this breath-taking land, home to a stunning landscape adorned with endless mountains, lakes and glaciers, and find yourself lost in its natural wonder. Traverse the wide expanse of Canterbury Plains, intersected by meandering rivers, discover the awe-inspiring Southern Alps aboard the TranzAlpine train, and sample some of the local wines as you discover the Marlborough region.

Cross over to the North Island and you’ll find yet more beauty and a wealth of culture awaiting you. Here, the Rimutaka Ranges stand proudly and beautiful valleys beckon. Get lost in the magic of Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, where the hustle and bustle sits side by side with stunning scenery, then discover the stunning beauty of the 144 subtropical islands and islets of the Bay of Islands.


21 Days

Recommended For

Adventure, Couples, Iconic Journeys

Best Time to Go

December to February


Group basis

an island in the middle of a body of water

Trip Highlights

  • Cruise across beautiful Milford Sound, in the Fiordland National Park
  • Journey through the stunning Southern Alps aboard the TranzAlpine Train
  • Discover some of the 144 breathtaking islands of the Bay of Islands
  • Explore some of New Zealand’s iconic cities

Start your Journey

Day 1


Step off the plane and arrive in the city of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island. You’ll be met at the airport and taken to your hotel, Rydges Latimer Christchurch, your base for the night. Once you’ve settled in, wander the city and take in the sights as you enjoy drinks and canapes aboard a heritage tram. 

This evening, get to know your fellow travellers and dine on delicious food at a welcome dinner. 


  • Meals Dinner
  • Suggested Accommodation Rydges Latimer Christchurch
Day 2

Christchurch - Mt Cook

Leaving Christchurch behind, you’ll journey toward Mt Cook National Park. Take in the breath-taking views as you travel over the flat expanse of Canterbury Plains and make a stop at the charming Church of the Good Shepherd that sits serenely on the shore of Lake Tekapo. 

This afternoon, choose how you want to experience the area. You could join a guided nature walk or visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, gaze at the nights sky alongside an astronomer or, in the summer, see the icebergs on the Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake aboard a MAC boat. 

As evening draws in, relax at The Hermitage Hotel in Mt Cook, and take in the alpine views from your bedroom window. 


  • Meals Breakfast & Dinner
  • Suggested Accommodation The Hermitage Hotel
Day 3

Mt Cook - Dunedin

Enjoy today’s drive as you follow the shore of Lake Pukaki and visit the town of Oamaru. As you continue on, make a stop at Koekohe Beach and marvel at the spherical Moeraki Boulders that line the beach, then arrive in Dunedin. Enjoy some leisure time and explore this harbour city’s unique character before dinner. Tonight, you’ll get to stay at the elegant Distinction Dunedin Hotel.


  • Meals Breakfast & Dinner
  • Suggested Accommodation Distinction Dunedin Hotel
Day 4

Dunedin - Te Anau

Today, enjoy a morning discovering more of Dunedin as you embark on your chosen sightseeing outing. Visit Olveston Historic Home, discover New Zealand’s only castle, Larnach Castle, or perhaps enjoy a beer at Speight’s Brewery. 

After this morning’s exploration, take to the road by coach and enjoy the breath-taking views that pass by your window on the way to the lakeside town of Te Anau. For the next two nights, you’ll get to call the Distinction Te Anau Hotel and Villas home.


  • Meals Breakfast & Dinner
  • Suggested Accommodation Distinction Te Anau Hotel and Villas
Day 5

Te Anau

Spend today exploring Te Anau however you choose. Perhaps you’ll experience the wonder of thousands of glow worms as they light up underground limestone caves, or take to the water on a wilderness cruise along Doubtful Sound, or on a jet boat ride along the Upper Waiau River.


  • Meals Breakfast
  • Suggested Accommodation Distinction Te Anau Hotel and Villas
Day 6

Te Anau - Milford Sound - Queenstown

Today, you’ll leave Te Anau behind and travel to Milford Sound. Enjoy the drive as the coach takes you down Eglinton and Hollyford Valleys and through Homer Tunnel, then gaze out your window at the incredible Mitre Peak. 

An incredible journey awaits you at Milford Sound. Cruise along this wondrous fjord, taking in the steep rocky slopes either side of you, some blanketed in lush green vegetation, and the tumbling waterfalls that crash into the water. 

Once you reach dry land once again, continue onto Queenstown, where you’ll get to spend your first of three nights at Millenium Hotel (or similar). 


  • Meals Breakfast & Dinner
  • Suggested Accommodation Millennium Hotel or similar
Day 7


Wake up in bustling Queenstown and choose what you want to explore. Visit iconic The Lord of the Rings filming locations, take a four-wheel-drive tour of Skippers Canyon, or take it a little slower on a Lake Wakatipu cruise or Central Otago wine tour. 

After a day of exploring Queenstown, experience some of the city’s delicious cuisine at a choice of a number of restaurants. 


  • Meals Breakfast & Dinner
  • Suggested Accommodation Millennium Hotel or similar
Day 8


Today’s your chance to get to know Queenstown a little better as you spend the day exploring at leisure. There’s so much to see and do in the area, from finding a touch of tranquility along the shores of Lake Wakatipu to wine tasting in the Gibbston Valley, or taking the skyline gondola for incredible panoramic views. 


  • Meals Breakfast
  • Suggested Accommodation Millennium Hotel or similar
Day 9

Queenstown - Franz Joseph Glacier

Today is all about taking in some of New Zealand’s most incredible views. Enjoy the journey from Queenstown to the impressive Franz Joseph Glacier, travelling alongside the shores of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Cross Haast Pass and enter into the stunning Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

When you reach Franz Joseph Glacier, check into Te Waonui Forest Retreat and gear up your tastebuds for a delicious four course dinner. 


  • Meals Breakfast & Dinner
  • Suggested Accommodation Te Waonui Forest Retreat
Day 10

Franz Jospeh Glacier - Christchurch

After driving a little north of Franz Jospeh Glacier to Greymouth, you’ll get to experience one of the country’s most incredible rail journeys. Board the TranzAlpine train and travel across the South Island’s breath-taking landscapes. Spend five hours gazing out at the stunning vistas of the Canterbury Plains and the impressive Southern Alps.

When you arrive in Christchurch, bid the TranzAlpine train farewell and make your way to Rydges Latimer Christchurch hotel for the evening. 


  • Meals Breakfast
  • Suggested Accommodation Rydges Latimer Christchurch
Day 11

Christchurch - Kaikoura - Blenheim

Leave Christchurch behind this morning and follow the island’s east coast to picturesque Kaikoura. After exploring this coastal town, journey through the wine region of Marlborough to Blenheim. A Highlights of Marlborough Dinner awaits you here; experience the superb tastes of local artisan produce and dishes paired with local wines. 

After dinner, relax into the Scenic Hotel Marlborough, your base for the next two nights.


  • Meals Breakfast & Dinner
  • Suggested Accommodation Scenic Hotel Marlborough
Day 12


Spend the day exploring Blenheim and the Marlborough region. Choose whether to take a tour of the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, enjoy a greenshell mussel cruise through the Marlborough Sounds, or visit some of Marlborough’s best wineries. 


  • Meals Breakfast
  • Suggested Accommodation Scenic Hotel Marlborough
Day 13

Blenheim - Picton - Wellington

Your time on New Zealand’s serene South Island comes to an end today as you board the Interislander ferry to the North Island. Cruise through the Queen Charlotte Sound and the Marlborough Sound, taking in the views of its sheltered coves and green-covered hills. As you cross the Cook Strait, keep an eye out for dolphins and whales and, if the sea is calm, the line where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet.

After reaching the North Island, you’ll arrive in Wellington. Explore the area on a city sights tour, before settling into your hotel, InterContinental Wellington.


  • Meals Breakfast & Dinner
  • Suggested Accommodation InterContinental Wellington
Day 14

Wellington - Napier

Today, a journey through the breath-taking mountains of the Rimutaka Ranges awaits. After an awe-inspiring drive, arrive in the city of Napier, where you’ll get to enjoy an Art Deco tour of the city. 

Spend the night in Napier in the Scenic Te Pania Hotel, a modern and stylish hotel that sits on the stunning Hawke Bay.


  • Meals Breakfast & Dinner
  • Suggested Accommodation Scenic Te Pania Hotel
Day 15

Napier - Taupo - Rotorua

Hit the road again this morning and travel through Esk Valley and Te Pohue, then visit the town of Taupo on the shores of Lake Taupo. A little later, continue on to Rotorua, where you’ll get to experience a traditional Hāngī feast, and the dance, music and culture of the Māori people. 

After a fascinating evening, spend your first night of a two night stay at Millenium Hotel Rotorua on beautiful Lake Rotorua. 


  • Meals Breakfast & Dinner
  • Suggested Accommodation Millennium Hotel Rotorua
Day 16


Today, you’ll once again get to choose how you spend the day. Head to the Agrodome for a sheep show and visit Te Puia Thermal Reserve, explore the geothermal area of Wai-O-Tapu, or tour the Hobbiton™ Movie Set and get a taste of Middle-earth. 

After a day of adventure, spend the evening exploring at leisure. 


  • Meals Breakfast
  • Suggested Accommodation Millennium Hotel Rotorua
Day 17

Rotorua - Auckland

Set off from Rotorua this morning and journey across the Waikato region to Cambridge, then on to the city of Auckland. 

When you arrive, explore the city through a choice of sightseeing experiences. Cruise Waitemata Harbour, head to the SkyCity complex and enjoy a Weta Workshop or All Blacks Experience, or tour the Auckland’s awe-inspiring black sand beaches and lush rainforest. 

Tonight, you’ll get to stay in the city at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. 


  • Meals Breakfast & Dinner
  • Suggested Accommodation Crowne Plaza
Day 18

Auckland - Bay of Islands

Today, you’ll leave the hustle and bustle of Auckland behind and head towards the Bay of Islands. This small subtropical region boasts 144 stunning islands just waiting to be explored. 

Spend the first of two nights at the Scenic Hotel Bay of Islands.

  • Meals Breakfast & Dinner
  • Suggested Accommodation Scenic Hotel Bay of Islands
Day 19

Bay of Islands

Experience two of the Bay of Islands’ highlights today. Board a catamaran and sail across the open waters. You’ll pass breath-taking sandy beaches and rock formations stretching out into the ocean as you pass by some of the bay’s islands on your way to Cape Brett. Gaze up from the water and take in the picturesque Cape Brett Lighthouse, then journey onto the iconic Hole in the Rock. 


  • Meals Breakfast
  • Suggested Accommodation Scenic Hotel Bay of Islands
Day 20

Bay of Islands - Auckland

Today, you’ll travel back to Auckland and spend your final full day in New Zealand exploring at leisure, before spending the night at Crowne Plaza Hotel. 


  • Meals Breakfast
  • Suggested Accommodation Crowne Plaza
Day 21


After enjoying breakfast at you hotel, your Essence of New Zealand tour comes to an end. You’ll be driven to the airport to catch your flight home, or you may wish to continue your adventure - ask your Destination Specialist for recommendations.

  • Meals Breakfast


  • Board basis is Half Board, with 20 breakfasts and 13 dinners
  • Cost of accommodation for a total of 20 nights (alternative but similar accommodation may be used at certain times of the year)
  • Expert English-speaking local guides for all guided excursions as illustrated in the itinerary, and an APT Tour Director
  • APT’s Enriching Signature Experiences
  • APT’s Freedom of Choice concept, where you have the flexibility to tailor your sightseeing and dinner options in select locations, at no additional cost
  • Overseas transfers and luggage porterage

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