South island wonder itinerary

Set out on a three-week journey around New Zealand's South Island. You'll journey through glaciers, mountains, breathtaking vistas, and see more animals than your camera can handle from East to West and North to South. From bungee jumping to jet boating, mountain biking, skydiving, hiking, and so much more, there are plenty of adventurous activities to try along the road.

Go New Zealand Go New Zealand 1 month ago
South island wonder itinerary

Day 1: Spend the day in Christchurch

From the Botanical Gardens to the Arts Centre and the Avon River snaking through the city, Christchurch central is a wonderful site to explore. Head up to the Port Hills and ride the Crater Rim cycle track for extra action. Stop at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve on your way out of town to see some of New Zealand's most unusual birds and animals. Then go north to Waikuku, a beach village where you can spend the night before your excursion to Hanmer Springs the next day.

Christchurch
Christchurch
Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

Day 2: Christchurch to Hanmer Springs

Hanmer Springs, an alpine hamlet noted for its hot springs, is a picturesque drive away. There's also a wide choice of outdoor activities to try, such as mountain biking, horseback riding in the forest, or rafting the magnificent Waiau Gorge. Following that, a visit to the Hanmer Springs thermal springs is a must to relieve those aching muscles. This is a beautiful setting for a soothing bath, framed by the mountains and surrounded by snow in the winter. Take some time to stroll throughout town and browse the small gift shops and chic designer boutiques.

Hanmer Springs
Hanmer Springs
Hanmer Springs, New Zealand

Day 3: Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura

Kaikoura is located on a rugged and beautiful coastal location that is home to a diverse range of marine life as well as wonderful fish. 'Kai' means food in Maori, and 'koura' means crayfish, therefore this is the greatest spot to try fresh crayfish. With such a diverse marine habitat, this is the perfect site to go whale watching or swimming with dolphins or seals. Back on dry land, take a trip to the Ohau Waterfall or visit the Nga Niho Pa Site to learn more about the area. Trees for Travellers is a great place for environmentally minded travelers to plant a tree to help offset their carbon footprint.

Kaikōura
Kaikōura
Kaikōura, New Zealand

Day 4 - 5: Marlborough Wine Region

Marlborough is the top wine area on the South Island, and it's known for its Sauvignon Blanc. There are plenty of vineyards to visit for a tour or a sampling. Many establishments also serve a delectable lunch. The picturesque Marlborough Sounds, near the top of the South Island, are home to a plethora of complicated waterways only accessible by boat. You can take a boat trip, kayak, or hike a stretch of the Queen Charlotte Track to learn more about the area. This gorgeous region could easily keep you occupied for a couple of weeks.

Picton and Blenheim, which are famed for their attractive B&Bs and character accommodation, are two nearby towns to stay in.

Queen Charlotte Track
Queen Charlotte Track
Queen Charlotte Track, Big Bay, New Zealand

Day 6: Marlborough to Nelson

Nelson is one of New Zealand's sunniest cities, so it's a great spot to be outside. Happy Valley Adventure offers a variety of activities, including horseback riding, quad bike excursions, paintball, and the Skywire flying fox. Both Nelson and Motueka, which are about a half-hour drive apart, have an artistic, creative vibe. Nelson also has a burgeoning craft beer culture, with numerous local brewers offering tours and tastings. Because there are many orchards and berry plots in the area, you'll notice a lot of local fruit for sale on the sides of the road on your way to Motueka.

Te Waikoropupu Springs
Te Waikoropupu Springs
Te Waikoropupu Springs Pupu Springs Road, Tākaka, New Zealand
Nelson
Nelson
Nelson, New Zealand

Day 7 - 9: Abel Tasman National Park

The Abel Tasman National Park is a place of golden beaches, azure seas, and bush that reaches all the way down to the water's edge. If you want to get deeper into the park, you'll need a boat (there are water taxis that will take you from bay to bay) or a kayak, just like in the Marlborough Sounds. Many guided kayaking excursions begin in neighboring Marahau, and you can spend as many days and nights exploring the area as you like - just pull your kayak up onto the beach each day and camp nearby. You can also walk a section of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, passing estuaries and stopping at sandy beaches for a refreshing bath. The entire trail takes 3-5 days to complete, although you can walk a segment in a day.

Split Apple Rock
Split Apple Rock
Split Apple Rock Moonraker Way, Kaiteriteri, New Zealand

Day 10 - 11: West Coast & Glaciers

It's time to travel to the wild West Coast. The appropriately named Cape Foulwind is your first stop. A short stroll from here will take you to the fur seal colonies. The rare and amazing Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, as well as the famous blowholes, can be found further south in Paparoa National Park. Spend the night in Greymouth sampling beers at Monteith's Brewery Bar or continue on to Hokitika for some Hokitika Gorge kayaking. Make your way to Franz Josef Glacier the next day. A picturesque heli-flight will take you deep into the glacier's maze of ice, allowing you to get up close and personal with it. You can also walk to the terminal's front. After that, visit the Glacier Hot Pools to warm up your cold toes.

Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier, West Coast, New Zealand
Hokitika
Hokitika
Hokitika, West Coast, New Zealand

Day 12 - 15: Wanaka & Queenstown

Today you'll go to Wanaka via Haast Pass. There are a few towns along the road, but don't miss the stunning Blue Pools. Grab a cappuccino, then head out and explore with a lake boat and nature walk in Wanaka, which is a more laid-back version of its more adventurous next-door neighbor Queenstown. Alternatively, a peaceful wine tour around the region's many vineyards is an option. This location also has several excellent ski fields for visitors in the winter.

Then be ready to visit Queenstown!

It's tough to list everything to do in "New Zealand's adventure capital," but here are a few suggestions: jet boating, bungy jumping, skydiving, 4WD safaris, mountain biking, and hiking.

Coronet Peak
Coronet Peak
Coronet Peak, Queenstown, New Zealand

Day 16: Milford Sound day trip

Milford Sound is a refreshing change of pace from Queenstown, so hop on a tour bus for a day trip to this stunning location. You'll be on the road for a while, but once you're out on the water in the Sounds, you'll forget about it. It's magical to take a boat tour or rent a kayak and soak in the azure skies, green mountains, crystal-clear water, and cascading waterfalls. Instead of driving, you might take a flightseeing tour of the Sounds, which departs from Queenstown airport. Spend a night at Te Anau to explore glowworm caverns or trek one of Fiordland's many walking routes if you want to break up the journey.

Milford Sound
Milford Sound
Milford Sound, Southland, New Zealand

Day 17 - 19: Invercargill, Stewart Island and The Catlins

You're about to travel to the southernmost point of New Zealand. You can visit the Southland Museum in Invercargill and meet their giant Tuatara lounge. Then cross the Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island, New Zealand's third-largest island. Stewart Island Experience offers a variety of tours, including one to Ulva Island, which is home to several endangered species. Take a Kiwi Spotting Tour tonight and cross your fingers that you'll see the unique kiwi bird that gives New Zealanders its nickname. Return to the mainland on Day 19 and travel to Dunedin through the magnificent Catlins coast. Along the trip, make sure to stop at some of Catlin's stunning sites.

Stewart Island
Stewart Island
Stewart Island, Southland, New Zealand
The Catlins
The Catlins
The Catlins, New Zealand

Day 20: Dunedin

Dunedin is a university town with a vibrant student vibe during the semester. Make yourself at home at one of the many student pubs, or treat yourself to somewhere a little more upscale — the options are endless. The distinctive South Island brew was born at Dunedin's historic Speight's Brewery. After taking the Brewery Tour, dine in the original Speight's Brew House, where the food is paired with the ale. The Otago Peninsula, further out, is home to a variety of penguin species, including the adorable but endangered Yellow-Eyed Penguin. The majestic Royal Albatross, as well as multiple sea lion and seal groups, call this place home. Hire an electric bike or take a bus tour of the Peninsula.

Dunedin
Dunedin
Dunedin, New Zealand

Day 21: Lake Tekapo stargazing

Visit Orokonui Ecosanctuary on your journey north to Lake Tekapo, which is home to many rare native species. Travel inland from Oamaru through Kurow and Twizel if you're driving. You'll journey through the beautiful Southern Alps and see Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand's highest summit. The view from the roadside as you approach Lake Tekapo is usually breathtaking; the peculiar color of the lake will have you pulling over to the side of the road for a better look. This area is the world's largest Dark Sky Reserve, with an unrivaled range of stars visible at night. A stargazing tour is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the universe.

Mt Cook
Mt Cook
Mt Cook, Aoraki, Canterbury, New Zealand

Day 22: Return to Christchurch

As you return to Christchurch and the end of your journey, the route is lined with beautiful New Zealand scenery. Make a point of stopping for coffee or lunch in several of the towns you travel through. If you haven't got the chance to visit the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch yet, this is your chance. If you have a spare day, Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula is a terrific day or overnight excursion. Alternatively, before heading home, spend your last afternoon browsing the city's many boutique stores or relaxing in a trendy cafe.

Christchurch
Christchurch
Christchurch, New Zealand

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