‘Kia Ora’! 🙂
We were on road in New Zealand for two weeks 🙂 . This country and its breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, culture and welcoming people have made it ❤ one of the best trips ever.
We have put together a two weeks itinerary in case you are planning for a perfect trip to the South Island of New Zealand and are scratching your head around how to plan and make the best of your 14 days in South Island. We focused mainly on outskirts and the countryside, both touristy and non-touristy (but equally beautiful spots). We spent more time around nature than in major cities like Christchurch and Queenstown. We haven’t covered the Coastal Otago area because it would’ve taken more than two weeks to take a detour and head towards Southland.
We will cover a loop around the South Island starting from Christchurch and back to Christchurch in 14 days. You may start from and end at Queenstown as well. If you are visiting South Island just for 7 days we recommend flying in to Christchurch/Queenstown and flying out from Queenstown/Christchurch respectively and cover the spots in between the two cities. The weather in New Zealand is pretty unpredictable. Therefore, you may need to tweak the itinerary a little bit based on road closures, heavy rainfalls etc.
For what to expect while taking a road trip around New Zealand, check out our blog here. We will highlight the must-visit spots to cover and usual drive times, but they are also subject to weather conditions.
Day 1 : Christchurch
Arrive at Christchurch Airport and pick your car up from the Rentals. We rented the car from a company called BlueKey* car rental. We booked it for approximately NZD 1140 for 14 days with full car insurance & was a decent service. You can arrange for a pick up from the airport itself. We suggest that you purchase GPS as well as you may find yourself without network coverage in many parts of New Zealand.
Tip: You can buy a SIM card at airport or purchase a SIM card online from travel portals like Klook* (cheaper option than buying in New Zealand). If you are buying the SIM online prior to your trip, collect it from the airport and ensure that the SIM has 4G coverage at the airport itself. We had to make multiple calls to the Vodafone service center after leaving from Christchurch to fix the data services.
You can head to the city center to grab lunch/dinner or if you like do a little sightseeing in Christchurch itself! Check out our blog here for, what to expect on the road and where to stock up for your exciting trip ahead.
When in Christchurch:
- Take the insta-worthy pic of the makeshift Cardboard Church
- Shop away and grab a quick bite at the New Regent Street
- Experience the Maori Culture first hand at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve (only Maori Experience in the whole of South Island)
- Adore the city from the Christchurch Gondola
- Visit the beautiful Christchurch Botanical Gardens
- Drive up to Akaroa to see blue penguins and dolphins
- Visit the New Brighton or other beautiful beaches in Christchurch
Day 2 : Christchurch to Kaikoura (~ 2.5 – 3 hours)
You have a long drive ahead and a pretty good one – with farmlands on both sides and herds and herds of sheep. Kaikoura is famous for viewing New Zealand wildlife up-close – seals, dolphins, albatrosses and whales in their natural environment. Do book a tour in advance based on your interest. We did the whale watching with Whale Watch Kaikoura* and it was amazing experience!
Things to do on the way to Kaikoura :
- Gore Bay & the Cathedral Cliffs – Visit the beautiful black sand and pebbles beach 🙂 . Do note that this is a drone-friendly beach and you can fly your drone around to capture some beautiful photos and videos. Locals come for horse riding and picnics there! If you are lucky, you may even spot seals swimming by the shore ❤ !
When in Kaikoura :
- Explore the Hikes at Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
- Whale Watching & Dolphin Encounter (Book in advance as there are limited spots open)
- Seal Colony hike from Point Kean Viewpoint of Peninsula Walkway
Day 3 : Kaikoura to Blenheim (~ 1.5 hours):
If you missed the whale watching tour the previous day as they are usually by noon, try doing one in the morning before leaving for Blenheim. It’s worth it! Blenheim is the largest wine producing area in South Island. There are more than 35+ beautiful vineyards, one after the other. Tourists and locals hire bikes and go vineyard hopping. There are farms with fresh fruit ice-creams as well – a must try when in New Zealand! You’ll fall in love with them if you are a berries-holic.
When in Blenheim:
- Go on vineyard trails (maybe try a cycling tour around this beautiful landscape)
- Visit the only chocolate factory, Makana Confections* (It’s a bit pricey though)
- Enjoy a fresh-fruit ice-cream at one of the farms or visit the city centre
- Lunch or Dine amongst the gardens and olive trees of the family estate owned vineyards
Day 4: Blenheim to Nelson (~1.5 hours)
Nelson is a peppy little beach town with lot of arty-shops, cafes and locals chilling on the Tahunanui Beach. It is home to the Famous Ring Designer Jens Hansen*, who made the ‘precious’ one ring for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. If you want to go to Abel Tasman National Park, famous for its golden picturesque beaches and mountain hikes, take a day tour from Nelson (on ferry, better than driving all the way). You would need one extra day in Nelson for this as it is a full day tour.
Things to do on the way to Nelson :
- Pelorus Bridge/River (Lord of the Rings river crossing scene was shot here) – you can take floats and kayaks and glide through the crystal clear streams or jump off the cliff/bridge. Remember to take insect sprays, the sand flies do bite.
When in Nelson :
- Hit the Tahunanui Beach
- Go shopping around the city centre for souvenirs and arty stuff
- Check out the local cellars and stokes on the Great Taste Trail
- Take a day trip to Abel Tasman National Park
- Visit the store of famous Lord of the Rings Jewellery creator Jens Hansen*
Day 5: Nelson to Greymouth (~4 hours)
A long drive ahead through the valleys and the mountains and the start of the picturesque road that will take your breath away. There are many beautiful stops along the way and each one gets better than the last one – something to keep you motivated for the long drive ahead. On the way to Greymouth, we would strongly recommend to take a detour (20-45 min) to visit the Nelson Lakes National Park for either Lake Rotoroa or Lake Rotoiti. Both are beautiful, hence we could not stop ourselves from visiting both! Pass along the beautiful Buller Gorge and then head to the Paparoa National Park. This is where the famous Punakaiki pancake rocks and Blowholes and Truman Track are located. If you are visiting during the right season, you can see some Blue Penguins in their natural habitat as well!
Greymouth is a sleepy city in itself and good for a stop over before heading to your next destination early next morning.
Things to do on the way to Greymouth:
- Lake Rotoiti & Rotoroa in the Nelson Lakes National Park
- Walk over the Buller River at Buller Gorge Swing Bridge Adventure and Heritage park
- Visit the Punakaiki Pancake rocks and Blowholes
- Check out how beautifully the waves have cut through cliffs over time at the Truman track
When in Greymouth:
- Head to the city center for grabbing dinner
- Head to Point Elizabeth Walkway for a stroll
Day 6: Greymouth to Franz Josef (~ 2.5 hours)
As you approach the Glacier country, you’ll start getting mesmerized with the snow-capped mountains, scenic turns and beautiful forest cover. Before that though, visit Hokitika on the way to Franz Josef. Have breakfast at one of the arty cafes. Shop for some jade (or New Zealand Green Stone) as you will find many local authentic shops near the Hokitika city centre. At Franz Josef, don’t get too disappointed if you are unable to do the helicopter ride due to weather, happens to most of us. Do the valley hikes and treks instead and book your helicopter ride for another slot.
Things to do on the way to Franz Josef:
- Take your Insta-perfect picture at “That Hokitika” sign
- Breakfast and Jade Shopping at Hokitika
- Visit Lake Mapourika (perfect reflections on a clear calm day)
When in Franz Josef:
- Take the Helicopter ride to Franz Josef Glacier
- Admire the beautiful landscape on the Franz Josef Valley Walk and other hikes
- Take a guided Glacier Hike tour and get amazed by the beautiful crevasses and pure waterfalls on the Glacial face
- Relax in Hot Springs bath & spas after a long day
Day 7: Franz Josef to Fox Glacier (~ 0.5 hours)
Just 25 km from Franz Josef area is the Fox Glacier. We missed getting a sight of the Glacier face due to bad weather, but we heard it’s more dramatic than the Franz Josef! Look for road closures prior to starting your drive in the morning!
When in Fox Glacier area:
- Take the Helicopter ride to Fox Glacier or sky-dive for the amazing view of the Alps! (in case you missed it in Franz Josef)
- Enjoy the amazing glacier and valley landscape on Fox Glacier Valley Walk and other hikes
- Take the guided Fox Glacier Hike tour (in case you missed it in Franz Josef)
- Hike around Lake Matheson (perfect reflections on a calm clear day)
- Head to the Gillespies Beach with views of Alps on one side and Tasman Sea on other ❤
Day 8 : Fox Glacier village to Wanaka ( ~ 3.5 hours)
A long drive ahead again, but a very pristine and beautiful one through the Haast (UNESCO World Heritage site) area. For this stretch we recommend enjoying the natural pools and waterfalls on the way and reach Wanaka in the evening. Visit the magnificent Blue Pools – the bluest, clearest and the most beautiful. Wanaka is like the Hamptons of South Island! Amazing cafes beside the lake, nightlife and party scene!
Things to do on the way to Wanaka:
- Take a walk at the scenic spot Shipwreck
- Take a perfect picture at the roaring Thunder Creek falls
- Get into water and soak under the Fantail Walls
- Swim in the clearest, bluest waters ever at Blue Pools (This one’s a MUST visit 🙂 )
When in Wanaka:
- Click away at the famous spot #ThatWanakaTree
- Walk through the beautiful Lavender Farm
- Relax and explore the cafes along the lake
Day 9, 10 : Wanaka to Te Anau (~3 hours)
Hit the road in the morning to catch the afternoon or evening Glow Worms tour at Te Anau (Book in advance!). On the way to Te Anau, you will pass cute little towns with populations of a few hundreds in some. There are beautiful farms and valleys on both sides. Stay overnight at Te Anau or nearby areas to take a day tour to Milford Sound on the next day! You cannot miss the beautiful and blissful Fiords that Milford Sound has to offer! People do visit Doubtful Sound from Te Anau in case Milford is inaccessible or if they want to avoid crowds. But the most touristy area in the Fiords is still Milford Sound.
Things to do on the way to Te Anau:
- Visit the famous Cardrona Fence with bras lined up on the fence
- Take a picture with the Devil’s staircase in background
- Stop over at local farms for fresh fruits and honey
When in Te Anau:
- Take the Glow Worm cave tour
- Take a day tour to Milford Sound/Doubtful Sound! You can also rest up and take a break from the road, take guided tours from Te Anau to Milford Sound, and they will share with you more information on the forests and avalanches, introduce you to happy cheeky local birds and take you to some of the most picturesque spots ever!
Day 11 : Te Anau to Queenstown (~ 2 hours)
Take the same way back through the Devil’s staircase all the way up to Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand! Bungee jumping, White water rafting, parasailing, skiing, snowboarding, luge – you name the adventure sport and you can find it in Queenstown. You can spend almost two days in this beautiful city, but for this itinerary let’s just say that you choose one activity out of the crazy adrenaline-rush list available and stay in Queenstown for a night. Queenstown has amazing night life too if you want to take a break from anything else – and just party away!
When in Queenstown:
- Try the very Instagram famous – Mr. Ferg’s Burger! It’s delicious!
- Go for an adventure like bungee jumping, White water rafting, parasailing, skiing, snowboarding etc.
- Walk along the Lake Wakatipu and admire some artists displaying their crafts and shows
- Do the Queenstown Hill hike or other treks for amazing views of the Remarkables and the lake
- Take the Cable car and luge and soak in a beautiful 360 degree view of the city
- Party hard at one of the Clubs or Bars
- Go for a Lord Of the Rings shoot location tours, if you are a big fan!
Day 12 : Queenstown to Mt. Cook/Aoraki Village (~ 3 hours)
Get ready to pass through one of the most beautiful terrains in South Island. Pass through beautiful valleys, amazingly rogue and blue gorges, chocolate brown hills with yellow flowers of Lindis Pass and beautiful snow capped Alps. Stop over at Cromwell which is famous for fresh fruits produce and stock up on some berries and apricots at a local farm shop. Pass through Twizel, where some of the Lord of the Rings shoots were done with the Alps in the background. You can book a local tour to cover all spots if you are an enthusiast. Admire the beautiful cyan blue color of the Pukaki lake lined with a few lupins along the way as you head towards the beautiful road leading up to Mt. Cook village.
Things to do on the way to Mt. Cook/ Aoraki Village:
- Stock up on some fresh fruits in Cromwell
- Stop by at Twizel and take a short walk in the beautiful town along the Twizel river & Lake Ruataniwha
- Admire the beautiful landscape of Lindis Pass
- Take a walk along Lake Pukaki
When in Mt Cook:
- Enjoy the views from the Helicopter Ride/Glacier hike at Tasman Glacier (longest glacier in New Zealand)
- Go for the Hooker Valley Loop hike at Tasman Glacier.
- Go for Tasman Blue Pools and Valley Walk. Check out how to reach up-close to the Icebergs on your hike here.
- Take a guided boat tour to see the dramatic blues as the sun falls on the Icebergs that broke off from the terminal face of Tasman Glacier.
Day 13 : Mt. Cook/Aoraki Village to Tekapo (~ 1 hour)
Tekapo is a beautiful town with one of the clearest skies in South Island. That is precisely why the Mt. John University Observatory is located here. They are part of the Dark Sky project and have various programs organized everyday where they provide guided tours up to the observatory. If the skies are clear of clouds, this tour is a treat.
When in Tekapo:
- Take the beautiful hikes around Lake Tekapo!
- If you can, we recommend taking a hike up Mt. John to the Observatory for some amazing views, do enquire before as you may have to pay some fees at entrance as its restricted entry, but they have an amazing café at the top!
- Visit the iconic Church of Good Shepherd
- Take a tour with Dark Sky Project
- Brush up your Astro-photography skills
- Click the perfect Insta-worthy picture with the beautiful lupins in the background
Day 14 : Tekapo to Christchurch (~ 3 hours)
Closing off our loop, we are back to the valleys, long stretches of roads with cattle and farms on both sides, and with cute little towns on the way. Fairlie has award-winning bakery for best New Zealand pies and Geraldine has amazing cafes and art shops as well.
Things to do on the way to Christchurch:
- As you leave Tekapo, there are chances you may locate fields full of lupins if it’s the blooming season! Pull over over to take a picture!
- Stop over at Geraldine for some shopping and cafe hopping! We recommend visiting the Barker’s of Geraldine* store and café and other areas around it for some shopping!
Rest up in Christchurch and explore the city if you missed any things to do on the first day! Happy Exploring!
We are eagerly waiting to visit NZ again sometime soon!
For free customised itinerary for New Zealand or any other city or country , Drop us a note here.
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