Road Mackenzie Basin 


Private Guided tours in the South Island, New Zealand


Whether you are travelling alone, as a couple or family, or as a group (maximum 11), you can enjoy your own private guided custom South Island tour, designed and personalised to your requirements. 


Your New Zealand local private tour guide is Terry Thomsen.  Read about Terry here.   


South Island tours for New Zealand groups

Covid-19 has caused New Zealand to be closed to international visitors, and has constrained New Zealanders from travelling abroad. There are very few silver linings, but one is that these quiet times are the perfect time to see the best of your own country.

I can drive/guide your private group around the South Island at a date that suits you (subject to my availability). I do not have scheduled departure dates.

I am currently offering my tour guiding services at a reduced group rate of NZ$950  (incl. GST) per day.  The rate per person is the group rate divided by your group size.  So the larger your group, the less expensive per individual.  Higher flat rates apply to groups larger than 11 people – please enquire.

The above rate includes my driving and guiding services, all tour vehicle costs, my personal expenses during the tour and my tour planning and organisation.

The rate does not include your accommodation, meals, or optional activities and attractions (such as cruises).

I work with you to design a South Island itinerary (usually starting and finishing in Christchurch) that best suits your group’s interests, specific needs and time frame. We visit whatever attractions you like, and there are numerous opportunities for short walks on good tracks.  The Inside Story has a DOC concession for almost 40 of the best short walks in the South Island.

After we finalise your itinerary, I recommend suitable accommodation for you in each overnight destination. They are most commonly motels, but can also be hotels, lodges or holiday parks.

I am an experienced nature guide and writer – my book about the origins and evolution of New Zealand’s plants and animals is scheduled for release by New Holland in June 2021.

Contact me at 027 342 0738 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



Scroll down for suggested itineraries and destinations in the South Island.



Arthur's Pass National Park



  • 'I have travelled extensively and this was, without question, the best guided tour I have ever taken.  The level of professionalism and knowledge was unsurpassed.  This combined with a personal touch not found with larger tour groups, made our trip to New Zealand one my son and I will never forget.  When we were dropped off at the airport (after our six day tour) we felt we were saying goodbye to a good friend rather than a tour guide'   Wayne Gourlay, USA.


  • 'Terry provided us with a magnificent tour of the South Island, that was full of insight and fun, and in every way professional'.  Ben, USA


Aoraki / Mt Cook from across Lake Pukaki on guided South Island tour

  • 'Terry planned the absolute best tour possible considering my time constraints and interests.  Had I only known what a fantastic experience the South Island would be in the care of such a genial, knowledgeable and professional guide as Terry, I would somehow have found more time.'  Jock, GA, USA




Additional testimonials are on TripAdvisor
(please note that The Inside Story is NOT closed, and is operating private multi-day South Island tours)



Suggested South Island Private Tour itineraries


South Island map showing major destinations and routesYour tour comes to life with your own local professional tour guide.  You combine the South Island's major attractions with simple and authentic pleasures off the beaten track - while gaining insights about the natural world, human history and culture of New Zealand.



Read more about the major destinations in the South Island


Request more information about a private guided South Island tour






Map Christchurch to Mt Cook 2 day tourChristchurch - Tekapo - Mt Cook - Christchurch

Get among the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, New Zealand's highest, just over a half-day's driving from Christchurch.  We pass through the rolling hill country of South Canterbury, the lakeside village of Tekapo, and the wide-open spaces of the Mackenzie basin. The approach to Mt Cook Village is by the shore of the distinctively milky-blue Lake Pukaki.  At our destination you may take a short walk, or alternatively a scenic flight.
Read about South Island destinations.



Map Christchurch to Franz Josef and Punakaiki 2 day tourChristchurch - West Coast - Franz Josef Glacier - Punakaiki - Christchurch

An alpine drive over the Southern Alps, via Arthur's Pass, to the South Island's wild, remote West Coast.  Visit two of its top attractions:  Franz Josef Glacier, where you can walk in a spectacular walled valley to view the icy terminus;  then the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki on a stunning coastline.   
Read about South Island destinations.



Map Christchurch to Hanmer and Kaikoura 2 day tour Christchurch - Kaikoura - Hanmer Springs - Christchurch

An easy loop, without too much driving, north of Christchurch. Visit coastal Kaikoura, with its whale-watching, dolphin swimming (or just watching), seal swimming and marine bird watching opportunities.  Then visit pretty sub-alpine Hanmer and take a dip in the thermal pools, before returning to Christchurch, optionally via the wineries at Waipara.
Read about South Island destinations 






Map Christchurch to Queenstown and Milford Sound 3 day tourChristchurch - Tekapo - Queenstown - Milford Sound - Christchurch

Three days is the absolute minimum time to visit Milford Sound by road from Christchurch, but be warned, these are very long driving days.  As well as visiting Milford Sound, you will pass through Tekapo and spend an overnight in Queenstown.  The return optionally passes through Dunedin.  From the plains near Christchurch to the sheer fiord of Milford Sound, and the South Island's finest mountain and lake scenery en route, it is astonishing how so much diverse scenery can be fitted into one island. 
Read about South Island destinations.



Map Christchurch Mt Cook, Queenstown and Moeraki 3 day tourChristchurch - Tekapo - Mt Cook - Wanaka - Queenstown - Christchurch

Get among New Zealand's highest peaks at Mt Cook, then enjoy some time seeing the sights in the Wanaka and Queenstown area - plenty to see and do here!  The return trip to Christchurch allows you to see the dry craggy landscapes of Central Otago, the Moeraki Boulders and the old town and penguins of Oamaru.   
Read about South Island destinations.



Map Christchurch, Mt Cook, Queenstown, Franz Josef Glacier 3 day tourChristchurch - Tekapo - Mt Cook - Queenstown - Franz Josef Glacier - Christchurch

A classic South Island circuit, with two crossings of the Southern Alps, at Haast Pass and Arthur's Pass.  Quite a lot of driving time, but you will see the utterly different landscapes on each side of the mountains:  the expansive, high open country to the east, and the dense rainforests, lakes and rivers on the West Coast.  Tour highlights include Tekapo, Mt Cook Village, Queenstown and the glaciers on the West Coast.    
Read about South Island destinations.







Any of the three-day tours above, if done in four days, will give you a more relaxed tour with time to enjoy the sights and activities.  Many visitors like to spend a full day at Queenstown to enjoy all that this area has to offer.


If you want to see as much as possible of the South Island's great variety of scenery, then try this:


Map Christchurch, Mt Cook, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Franz Josef tourChristchurch - Tekapo - Mt Cook - Queenstown - Milford Sound - Franz Josef Glacier - Christchurch

A rewarding 'grand tour' of the South Island's top attractions on both sides of the Southern Alps, but doing this in four days does require some stamina, as these are very long touring days.  Where else in the world can you pack high peaks, glaciers, a fiord, numerous lakes and rivers, lush temperate rainforest, montane grasslands, farmland and an international resort town, into only 4 days of touring?   
Read about South Island destinations.







Take more time with any of the three-day and four-day tours, and enjoy your tour at more leisure, with less driving each day, and more time for stops, short walks, attractions and activities.  You can extend your stay in the Queenstown and Wanaka area, or add destinations such as Punakaiki or Akaroa.   
Read about South Island destinations.







Map Mt Cook, Oamaru, Dunedin, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Franz Josef, Punakaiki tourChristchurch - Tekapo - Mt Cook - Oamaru - Dunedin - Te Anau - Milford Sound - Queenstown - Franz Josef Glacier - Punakaiki -Christchurch

This is the minimum time for this itinerary that includes Oamaru and Dunedin (with their historical buildings and coastal wildlife) along with the scenic attractions visited in the above itineraries. 
Read about South Island destinations 








Read the shorter tours listed above.  With seven days or more, all of the South Island's top destinations mentioned above can be visited, with extra time for interesting detours, nature walks, gardens, beach visits, wine tasting, lingering at the many distinctive cafes, restaurants and bars, or just soaking up the views .  Alternatively, visit a smaller number of destinations, and take a leisurely tour to get off the beaten track and enjoy your accommodation at some of the best locations in the South Island. 

If you have enough time for more destinations,  OR  if you have been in the South Island before, or want something a little different, then consider these destinations:

  • Nelson and Golden Bay. The northern end of the South Island has three national parks, attractive short walks, excellent beaches, and plentiful artisanal food and crafts.

  • The Marlborough Sounds, picturesque drowned valleys, with NZ's largest wine-growing area just to the south.

  • Or just spend an extra day or so in and around Christchurch, exploring the city and visiting Akaroa.

Read about South Island destinations 



Request more information about a private guided South Island tour







ChristchurchLooking across Sumner beach to Christchurch on private New Zealand tour

The South Island's largest city has an attractive centre, with stone buildings, lovely public and private gardens and the River Avon lazily coursing through.  There is surprisingly fine scenery on the city outskirts; look out for sandy beaches, high rocky headlands, the old port town of Lyttelton with its steep streets of old wooden cottages, and excellent city and coastal views from the Port Hills. 

Christchurch is an excellent base for popular day trips.  You can travel across Banks Peninsula to the pretty seaside town of Akaroa;  head up to Arthur's Pass in the Southern Alps;  visit the thermal pools at Hanmer Springs (can be combined with winery visits);  or Kaikoura to go whale watching or swimming with dolphins. 

Read the private day tours page for more information about these destinations in the vicinity of Christchurch. 


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View from Mt John, Lake Tekapo, on South Island private tourTekapo

Set on a striking milky-blue lake of the same name, Tekapo is a resort village that is is best known for the much photographed little stone Church of the Good Shepherd on the lake shore.  Adjacent Mt John has fabulous views across the lakes to the Southern Alps, as well as being the site of New Zealand's largest astronomical observatory.  The village also has a beautifully landscaped hot pool complex, skating and tubing.   





Mt Cook National ParkHiking at Mt Cook - Hooker Valley Track

The best place to see New Zealand's highest peaks, including 3,754 m (12,316 ft) Aoraki/Mt Cook, in the heart of the Southern Alps, the country's largest mountain range. 

This is a raw wilderness of sheer peaks, glaciers, rocky moraines and wild rivers - all attesting to the extreme geological dynamism of this area.

In the vicinity of Mt Cook Village, you can get amongst it all by taking short walks to viewpoints of the peaks and glaciers.  Alternatively take a boat tour on a glacier terminal lake to view ice cliffs and icebergs, or take a scenic flight or helicopter ride (with snow landing) over the peaks. 

On the way to Mt Cook, enjoy the wide-open spaces of the South Island's high country and its spectacular milky-blue lakes.


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Queenstown from gondola viewing deck on private guided South Island tourQueenstown

Queenstown is the South Island's major international resort, beautifully situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, with mountain views all around. 

If you have a day or so here, you may choose to take a lakeside walk, ride the gondola up Bob's Peak, take a historic steamer across the lake or visit the pretty old gold town of Arrowtown.  If you are looking for outdoor activities or adventures at Queenstown, take your choice of hiking, fishing, jet-boating, white-water rafting, skiiing, bungy jumping - you name it, it's here!. 

Right into the evening, Queenstown bustles with dining, shopping and entertainment, making this a popular stop for a night or two. 

Some interesting places are a short drive away.  Head of Lake Wakatipu on private South Island tour

Central Otago is a high, rocky and tawny landscape with a rich goldmining history, stone-fruit orchards, and wineries - if you are a wine buff, you can taste world-class pinot noir and riesling.

A drive by the lakeside to the head of Lake Wakatipu rewards with wonderful views towards the Southern Alps and a relaxing stop in the village of Glenorchy




Wanaka Vineyard on shore of Lake Wanaka


Wanaka is a smaller, lower-key resort than Queenstown.  It is set on its own lake, looking across to the mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park.  It's a good place to stop, relax, walk by the lake shore and admire the view. 

The direct road between Queenstown and Wanaka passes over the Crown Range, one of New Zealand's highest roads.




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Cruise to glow worm caves departs Te Anau, on South Island private guided tourTe Anau

Te Anau is a laid-back little tourist town, set on the shores of the South Island's largest lake, with views across the lake to the peaks and forests of the huge Fiordland National Park.  Te Anau is best known as the gateway to the Milford Sound route, but it is worth a stay in its own right.  You may take a cruise across the lake to the South Island's best glow-worm cave, see very rare takahe birds in an enclosure, or just stroll along the lake shore and look across at the mountains.   


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Stirling Falls on Milford Sound cruise, on South Island private guided tourMilford Sound

New Zealand's most renowned scenic attraction is a long way from anywhere, but it is well worth the journey!  The remote fiord is accessed by New Zealand's most dramatic alpine road among the sheer mountains of Fiordland and through the Homer Tunnel. 

The fiord itself is walled by precipitous rock faces, peaks and waterfalls - you need to take a cruise boat down the fiord to fully appreciate its grandeur. From the boat you often see New Zealand fur seals, and if you are lucky, dolphins. 

The road to Milford Sound sets out from the small town of Te Anau, gateway to Fiordland National Park. 


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West Coast, Franz Josef Glacier / Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier, seen on South Island private guided tourThe wild West Coast, accessible by a handful of mountain passes, is another world. Scenery abounds here:  rivers, lakes, innumerable mountain vistas and some of the finest temperate rain forest in the world.  

Its best known attractions, Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier, are fed by so much snowfall in the highest parts of the Southern Alps that they flow down steeply to only a few hundred metres above sea level, the only glaciers in the world to do so in a temperate latitude such as this.  

The ice cliffs at the terminus of Franz Josef Glacier can be seen by walking for 30-45 minutes in a scenic deep mountain valley.  Alternatively you may take a helicopter ride with brief glacier landing on either glacier.  If you are energetic, you may take a glacier heli-hike.   
Please note that walking access to Fox Glacier valley is currently closed due to flood damage. 



The Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki, on South Island private guided tourPunakaiki (Pancake Rocks)

The West Coast highway north of Greymouth is one of the most spectacular coastal drives in New Zealand.  Here the Paparoa ranges sweep steeply down through rainforest and nikau palm trees to meet the relentless surf off the Tasman Sea.    

The centrepiece of this area are the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki, where you may view dramatic patterned limestone formations, sea surges and blowholes.  The Punakaiki area is worth a visit in its own right, with its high limestone cliffs, river gorges and lush rain forest. 





Devils Punchbowl Falls at Arthur's Pass, on private guided South Island tourArthur's Pass

The direct route between Christchurch and the West Coast (including its main towns of Greymouth and Hokitika) is across the Southern Alps, via Arthur's Pass.  The route is best known for the TranzAlpine train ride, but the road journey is at least as impressive, as (unlike the train which passes through a long tunnel) the road crosses the high point of Arthur's Pass and descends the dramatic Otira Gorge

To the east of the Southern Alps main divide, the road threads among the mountain chains of the Canterbury High Country, with its montane basins, subalpine lakes and limestone formations.  The highway has numerous view points and walking tracks, and you may see New Zealand's mischievous alpine parrot, the kea.   


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Yellow eyed penguin on Otago Peninsula near Dunedin, on private guided South Island tourDunedin

The South Island's second largest city is a lively student town, with some of the best-preserved Victorian and Edwardian architectural heritage in the southern hemisphere.  It is an excellent base for viewing coastal marine life. 

On its doorstep, on Otago Peninsula, are opportunities to view sea lions, the world's only mainland colony of albatross (here, the Royal Albatross, one of the world's largest flying birds), and the Yellow-eyed Penguin, the world's rarest penguin.  You may also like to visit Larnach's Castle, a large historical mansion positioned to catch the best coastal views on the peninsula.

A little way south of Dunedin is the Catlins region - a remote area of wild beaches, high headlands, waterfalls and marine life.  The best-known attraction is the Jurassic petrified forest at Curio Bay.


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Oamaru and the Moeraki BouldersMoeraki Boulders on private New Zealand tour

On the coast north of Dunedin, is Oamaru, best-known for it's well-preserved 'whitestone' quarter, several narrow streets strikingly lined with Victorian commercial buildings and warehouses, all constructed of creamy limestone from nearby quarries.  At Oamaru you can visit a viewing area to see little blue penguins coming to shore after their day's fishing in the Pacific Ocean.   

South of Oamaru are the Moeraki Boulders,  a striking cluster of large hemispherical boulders scattered across a sandy beach. 


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Sea kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park near NelsonNelson

One of the sunniest towns in New Zealand, Nelson is a popular destination for its beaches and early colonial heritage.  The city and region are a centre of creative arts and crafts, with numerous galleries and shops specialising in glass, sculpture, painting, ceramics and jewellery.   

Nelson is also the gateway to several national parks, including the Abel Tasman National Park with its lovely coastal tracks and some of the best sea kayaking in New Zealand. 





MarlboroughCloudy Bay vineyard in Marlborough on private New Zealand tour

Any wine enthusiast can tell you about the Marlborough region's world class wines, in particular sauvignon blanc.  This is New Zealand's largest wine-producing region, and there are numerous boutique wineries open for tasting and dining. There are other attractions near Blenheim. including New Zealand's most fascinating aviation museum, specialising in World War I fighter planes. 

To the north of the wine area are the Marlborough Sounds, a beautiful area of sunken valleys with long, deep waterways enclosed by forested hills.  The area is popular for walking, boating, or just relaxing in one of the many dreamy remote spots in the Sounds. 

Kaikoura, on the route to Christchurch, is a seaside town that is best known for its marine wildlife cruises including whale watching, swimming with dolphins and seabird watching. 


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On your South Island itinerary, you have a range of quality, proven accommodation to choose from:  homely Bed and Breakfasts, hotels, motels, boutique hotels or lodges.  They can be found in bustling resorts, quaint towns or serene places in the middle of nowhere.  The choice is all yours.

The Inside Story will recommend suitable accommodation for you, depending on your preferences and budget - whether it is a clean, well-equipped motel unit, or a top-of-the-market lodge, most destinations have excellent, well-sited accommodation to suit your needs. 



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Request more information about a private guided South Island tour




  •  'Everything ran very smoothly; great information, wonderful company, and absolutely no problem.'  Juan, Spain
  • 'My sisters, brother and I had a very enjoyable trip in March to the South Island, New Zealand, thanks to our very nice and knowledgeable guide Terry Thomsen.  Terry is a soft spoken and obliging guide who also knows a lot about the history and geography of New Zealand.  We not only enjoyed ourselves, but gained a lot of insights on the history, culture and geography of New Zealand.  I have no hesitation in recommending his services to you.'  Lim Bee Imm, Singapore.








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