This is a flexible travel pass around New Zealand. The Sheep Dog is a one-way pass starting in Auckland winding its way down the North Island, cruising down the West Coast of the South Island before making its way across to Christchurch. Being a one-way pass, this route has a minimum travel time of just 18 days, which is great if you are short on time but want a jam-packed adventure! However, the pass is valid for 12 months from the first day of travel, so you can really take your time seeing all that New Zealand has to offer. Hop off for longer at the compulsory stops or even visit the non-compulsory stops in between. All you need to do is book your own accommodation for the extra nights and then call the reservations line to reschedule your next bus pick-up date. The pass is complete once you've travelled each section once.
The base itinerary for this tour is: Auckland – The Coromandel (1 night) – Waitomo (1 night) – Rotorua (1 night) – Taupo (2 nights) – River Valley (1 night) – Wellington (1 night) – Able Tasman (1 night) – Westport (1 night) – Lake Mahinapua (1 night) – Franz Josef (2 nights) – Wanaka (1 night) – Queenstown (2 nights) – Lake Tekapo (1 night) – Christchurch (1 night). Of course, you can stay longer!
All the paid activities suggested in the itinerary are optional and can be booked on the day with your driver. There are quite a few free activities and attractions to enjoy as well!
Auckland – Hot Water Beach
Departing Auckland in the morning, head to the Coromandel Peninsula for an afternoon spent at the beautiful Cathedral Cove. Here you can go for a swim, try kayaking or just chill out on the beach (keep a lookout for dolphins!). Next up is Hot Water Beach, one of the top ten beaches in the world (according to Lonely Planet), here you'll grab a spade and dig your own natural hot tubs.
Hot Water Beach – Waitomo
We'll hit the road bright and early, towards our first stop of the day, Karanga Hake Scenic Reserve. Explore abandoned gold mines and learn about New Zealand's gold mining history. After which, it's on to Waitomo ("wai" meaning water and "tomo" meaning hole), home of the world-famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Feeling brave? Then head underground with the adrenaline-fuelled Black Water Rafting company! Leap off waterfalls, swim through caves and discover what makes these little glowworms so special.
Waitomo – Rotorua
Start the day with a scenic walk through Ruakuri Reserve (one of the top 10 short walks in New Zealand) before heading onto Rotorua. Along the way, the bus makes a pit stop at The Shire so you can explore the magical Hobbiton Movie Set, not just one for the Lord of the Rings fans! That evening you will visit TamakiMarae for a unique Maori cultural experience. Feast on a delicious hangi (food cooked underground) and enjoy a traditional performance from the locals at Tamaki Maori Village. Alternatively, you can visit Hells Gate and soak in the geothermal hot pools.
Rotorua – Taupo
Today, explore the geothermal reserve of TePuia, home to New Zealand's largest geyser and native Kiwi bird. On the road again, make a pit stop at Taupo's mighty Huka Falls. Once at Taupo, you'll discover why this stop is such a hit with backpackers, known as the adrenaline capital of the North Island, take the opportunity to go skydiving, sailing on Lake Taupo (New Zealand's largest lake) or tackle the infamous 19km Tongariro Crossing!
Taupo (Extra Day)
Today would be the perfect day to take on the Tongariro Crossing. On this 8-hour hike, you will be blown away by the spectacular scenery, passing the Emerald Lakes and Mount Ngauruhoe, aka Mount Doom; this really is a hike not to be missed! Fancy taking things a little easier? Then spend the day at Spa Park soaking in natural hot springs. (We add this extra day as there is just so much to do in Taupo! Short on time? You can skip this extra day, timetable allowing.)
Taupo – River Valley
This morning head around Lake Taupo to the World Heritage Tongariro National Park for a picnic lunch and walk through native bush and waterfalls. In the afternoon, drive off the beaten track to the picturesque location of River Valley. Situated deep in a valley, surrounded by towering cliffs, the River Valley Lodge offers access to heaps of outdoor activities, including grade 5 rafting on the Rangitikei River, scenic horse riding and many exhilarating hikes. After a jam-packed day outdoors, spend the evening relaxing by the fire and enjoy a delicious roast dinner.
River Valley – Wellington
Head out a little later after a morning of outdoor activities. You'll arrive in New Zealand's capital in the early evening, here you can get a flavour for Wellington's buzzing bar scene by indulging in a few drinks. We recommend jumping off the bus here and spending a couple of extra days exploring because there is simply so much to do! Check out the Te Papa Musem, visit the Beehive (New Zealand's parliament building), climb Mt Victoria and discover the filming secrets behind the LOTR at Sir Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop.
Wellington – Abel Tasman
Depart Wellington early that morning for the ferry crossing to the South Island across the Cook Strait and through the spectacular MarlboroughSounds - keep a lookout for dolphins along the way! We take a scenic drive through vineyards towards New Zealand's sunniest capital, Nelson. After a pit stop for snacks and supplies, head to the beautiful beach town of Kaiteriteri on the edge of Abel Tasman National Park. Definitely stay an extra day here if you can; there are so many stunning bays to explore and water activities to do like, swimming, kayaking and sailing.
Abel Tasman – Westport
The bus leaves a little later today so that you can spend the morning enjoying more of Abel Tasman's golden beaches. Take a kayaking trip out to 'Split Apple Rock', spotting marine life along the way or catch a water taxi to one of the national park's secluded bays and take a stroll around New Zealand's native bush. That afternoon we will stop at legendary Nelson Lakes so you can get your 'insta' pic, jumping off the famous wharf! Then, head through snow-capped mountains and past the Buller Gorge before reaching the West Coast. Spend the night at the surf town ofWestport, where you can learn to ride the waves or have a go at stand up paddleboarding.
Westport – Lake Mahinapua
Journey along the picturesque State Highway 6 along the rugged Tasman coastline. That evening you'll stay the night in a traditional West Coast pub, where everyone will get their costumes ready for the infamous "Pu Party", feast on a delicious dinner and party the night away!
Lake Mahinapua – Franz Josef
Start the day with a hearty breakfast at Lake Mahinapua before continuing south past the Southern Alps to glacier country. Franz Josef is the northern gateway to Te Wahipounamu, the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage area. This region includes Aoraki/ Mount Cook, Mount Aspiring, the Fiordland National Parks and many more. It's truly spectacular.
Franz Josef (extra day)
Today is your chance to hike the impressive Franz Josef Glacier, rated as one of the top three activities to do in New Zealand by Kiwi passengers. If you don't fancy hiking the glacier, you have the opportunity to take a scenic helicopter flight, go horseback riding, quadbiking or enjoy one of the many walks in the area. We add this extra day in because Franz Josef really is an awesome spot, so whatever you do, get out there and make the most of it!
Franz Josef – Wanaka
Another early start, but it's well worth it. Head out in the morning to catch the reflections of Mount Cook and the Southern Alps on Lake Matheson. We then head to the breathtaking Southern Lakes region, where you'll have time to relax and take in the beautiful surroundings. After which, it is on to Mount Aspiring National Park, arriving in the glorious town of Wanaka for the afternoon.
Wanaka – Queenstown
Before we leave Wanaka, it's time to wake up those hungover heads at Puzzling World! After all those brain teasers, feel free to snooze on the coach before the tour reaches the adrenaline pumping Queenstown. The first stop is the World Home of Bungy - the 43 metre Kawarau Bridge jump! Are you brave enough to jump? Next, head into town and down to the beautiful lakefront, then afterwards, venture to some of Queenstown's infamous bars and sample the town's buzzing nightlife. It really is the adventure capital of the world.
Queenstown (extra day)
Queenstown is one of the coolest places in New Zealand and has been voted as one of our passengers' favourite spots - so take your time here! Explore the lake, take scenic walks, ride the gondola to the top of Bob's Peak and just soak it all in. Be sure to get involved with many of the adrenaline activities on offers such as jet boating, bungy jumping, white water rafting and skydiving - you won't regret it! But one activity that you just can't miss is a day trip to Milford Sound. Milford Sound is a spectacular fiord that is often considered the Eighth Natural Wonder of the World. You can take a 2-hour boat trip across the waters, marvelling at spectacular waterfalls, and you may even spot Humpback whales. However, if you are short on time, you can skip these days. Timetable permitting.
Queenstown – Lake Tekapo
Today, head out of Queenstown through Lindis Pass, also known as Lord of the Rings territory. After stopping to admire Mount Cook at Lake Pukaki, we travel on to Lake Tekapo, which is surrounded by the snow-capped Alps and underneath one of the clearest skies in the world (perfect for stargazing). You have the opportunity to hop off the bus here and head up to Mount Cook with your new mates, adding an extra night as it won't fit in the minimum 18-day timetable. In Lake Tekapo, you can enjoy scenic walks, relax by the lakeside, soak in natural hot springs or go stargazing at the world's largest dark sky reserve.
Lake Tekapo – Christchurch
Today the bus is heading to the largest city on the South Island and 3rd largest in New Zealand. Christchurch is a city that is rebuilding and flourishing in the wake of the 2011 earthquake; with new shops popping up every day (including the South Island's first H&M) and quirky street bars, Christchurch is full of surprises. Spend a bit of extra time here and drive north to the marine mecca of Kaikoura for the day. Kaikoura is renowned as one of the best coastal wildlife regions in the WORLD! Here you can spot whales, dolphins and seals; the name itself, Kaikoura, means to eat crayfish ('kai' meaning to eat, 'koura' meaning crayfish).