Piercing blue lakes, snow-capped mountains, fields of colourful lupins, spectacular glaciers and mysterious fjords – New Zealand’s South Island might just be the most beautiful place on the planet.
A 2-week South Island road trip is the best way to get to know it and with this in mind, I have put together this 2 week New Zealand South Island itinerary to help you see all the best bits!
Today we’ll be talking about when to travel to New Zealand’s South Island, how to get about and which places need to be on your New Zealand must-see list!
In this 2 week New Zealand South Island Itinerary, we’ll cover all the South Island highlights such as Milford Sound, Queenstown, Franz Josef glacier and Abel Tasman National Park. There will be opportunities for hiking, horse riding, wine tasting, cycling, kayaking and also time to chill and recover in hot springs and spas along the way.
This New Zealand South Island Itinerary would suit anyone with a love for the outdoors and a taste for adventure!
Ready for a 2 week South Island road trip? Ok, let’s go…
What you can expect from this article...
- 1 The Perfect 2 week New Zealand South Island Itinerary – an Overview
- 2 When is the Best Time to Go to New Zealand’s South Island?
- 3 How to Get around New Zealand’s South Island
- 4 Your 2 Week New Zealand South Island Itinerary
- 4.1 Day 1 Christchurch – Lake Tekapo
- 4.2 Day 2 Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park
- 4.3 Day 3 and Day 4 – Te Anau and Milford Sound
- 4.4 Day 5 & 6 Queenstown
- 4.5 Day 7 Fox Glacier
- 4.6 Day 8 Lake Matheson and Franz Josef Glacier
- 4.7 Day 9 & 10 Abel Tasman National Park
- 4.8 Day 11 & 12 Marlborough Region
- 4.9 Day 13 & 14 Kaikoura and Hamner Springs
- 5 What to Pack for a Road Trip in New Zealand
The Perfect 2 week New Zealand South Island Itinerary – an Overview
We’ll get to the details in a bit after we cover the practicalities of taking a South Island road trip, but here’s a quick overview of this New Zealand South Island Itinerary to whet your appetite!
You will need at least 2 weeks on the South Island to complete the full road trip but if you have longer, even better! You won’t be short of things to do in New Zealand!
- Day 1-2 Christchurch & The Lake district; Lake Tekapo, Mt Cook
- Day 3-4 Te Anau and Milford Sound Fjords
- Day 5-6 Queenstown
- Day 7-8 Fox Glacier, Lake Matheson, Franz Josef Glacier
- Day 9-10 Abel Tasman National Park – hiking and kayaking
- Day 11-12 Marlborough Region – wine tasting and hiking
- Day 13 Kaikoura – swim with dolphins or go whale watching.
- Day 14 Hamner Springs Spa – Christchurch
** Pssst, this article may contain affiliate links. If you have no idea what this means, click here and everything will be explained!**
Now for the practical aspects…
When is the Best Time to Go to New Zealand’s South Island?
The weather is more unpredictable on New Zealand’s South island so summer may be the best time to travel especially if you are driving yourself. Though even in summer, you are likely to see snow on the top of the mountains.
There are lots of opportunities for skiing near Queenstown so if this is your thing, you may want to visit in winter. But it won’t be as easy to take a road trip around the South Island in winter so make sure you factor in extra time to allow for driving conditions. You would probably need to allocate much more than 2 weeks on the South Island if you travel in Winter.
Personally, I think the absolute best time to travel to the South Island of New Zealand is when the lupins are out in all their colourful splendour, between November and December. I travelled New Zealand in November and trust me when I say it was spectacular!
How to Get around New Zealand’s South Island
The best way to see New Zealand is on a road trip like in this New Zealand South Island itinerary. But there are different ways you can achieve this depending on your travel style and budget.
Ways to Travel in New Zealand
- Hop on Hop Off Tour, staying in hostels along the way
- Organised Small group adventure tour
- Hire a campervan and stay at campsites
- Hire a car and stay in hostels and hotels
Hop On Hop Off Tour
This is probably the most budget way to travel to New Zealand’s South Island. With these hop on hop off passes, such as with the Kiwi Experience, you can choose how long to stay at each place before you rejoin the bus tour to the next stop. It’s a sociable way to travel especially if you are a solo traveller in New Zealand but it’s also less flexible as you are restricted by the specific bus stops.
Take a Small Adventure Group Tour
Companies like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel are a great way to travel if you are a solo traveller. With groups between 10-15 people and all your transport and accommodation organised, sometimes it actually works out cheaper to travel like this if you are on your own. Usually, a few meals are included such as breakfast and some activities are included where others are optional giving you the option of free time.
G Adventures actually runs a trip almost identical to this New Zealand South Island Itinerary so you wont miss out on any of the highlights we’ll be talking about in this article.
Hire a Campervan
This is the way I travelled throughout the South Island and
We stayed alternate nights at campsites with facilities so we could take a shower and the alternate nights we’d camp for free or cheap at DOC campsites.
Shop around for your campervan hire and think about what standard of comfort is acceptable to you. You can get pretty cheap vans with Wicked Campers but they’re not particularly spacious and you’ll be cooking outside with the car boot door as your rain cover.
We chose a slightly more expensive van with a built-in inside kitchen. The seating area turned into a bed at night but there were no toilet facilities so we always chose campsites accordingly.
You could splash out on a fancy motorhome if you have the funds. This means you could save by staying mostly at budget or free DOC sites.
Another thing to consider when you book your camper is that it is cheaper if your start and end point are the same. Occasionally you can grab a great bargain if you are delivering a van back to its original start point like we managed to get. It’s always worth contacting the company and asking if they have any they need delivering.
Hire a Car and Stay in Hotels and Hostels
This allows you to be still just as flexible and may suit those that prefer not to rough it in a camper van! It can also work out cheaper if you are happy to stay in budget hostels! But remember if you are travelling in peak season, you may need to book ahead of time.
Okay, time to get to the good bit…
Your 2 Week New Zealand South Island Itinerary
Day 1 Christchurch – Lake Tekapo
Drive time 3 hours
Drive Distance 256 Km
What to Do
Fly into Christchurch. I chose not to spend much time in Christchurch as there’s not a lot to see and you’re not really in New Zealand to see the cities!
Sadly, a lot of Christchurch was destroyed in a 2011 earthquake which devastated the city centre. If you do stop by (as we did to get supplies) don’t be surprised to see a lot of missing buildings and a lot of reconstruction going on.
There is a ‘pop-up’ shopping centre which is worth a look around if you have time. But my advice would be to get on the road as soon as you’ve stocked up with the supplies you’ll need for your NZ road trip!
The main highlight today will be Lake Tekapo – my personal favourite lake in New Zealand. Particularly pretty in early summer where the lupins are in full bloom along the bright aqua lakes edge. Make sure you visit The Church of The Good Shepherd which is a particularly photogenic spot.
There are various activities you can do here. I personally loved cycling around the Lake (not all of it – it’s huge!) But another highlight here would be to go star gazing at Tekapo Hot springs. A hammock in the warm water makes for the most relaxing stargazing experience!
Where to Stay at Lake Tekapo
DOC campsite – no DOC here, closest is in Tasman Valley
Campsite with facilities – Lake Tekapo Motel & Holiday park
Mid-range Lake Tekapo Motel & Holiday park
Luxury White House
Day 2 Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park
Drive Time 1 hour
Drive Distance 100km
What to Do
The scenery here is just spectacular from the turquoise Lake Pukaki to the dramatic snow-capped peaks of Mt Cook. The best way to explore the area is by taking one of the many hikes.
I recommend the Tasman Valley hike which will take you to see lakes with floating icebergs. It’s only an hours’ hike (allow longer for photos) allowing you plenty more time to explore the area or do another hike in the afternoon. I chose to go horse riding but you could even take a helicopter trip to the top of Mt Cook!
Where to Stay near Mt Cook Village
DOC campsite White Horse Hill Campground
Campsite with Facilities Glentanner Park Centre
Budget YHA Mt Cook
Mid-range Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Lodge
Luxury The Hermitage Hotel
Day 3 and Day 4 – Te Anau and Milford Sound
Drive Time 5 hours to Te Anau, 1.5 hours to reach Milford Sound
Drive distance 420km / 120 km
The weather changes fast in the fjord areas of New Zealand’s South Island. It can be tipping it down one minute and glorious the next. So I’d recommend getting up early and driving there in the morning. That way you have either the afternoon on day 3 or the morning of day 4 to see Milford Sound depending on when the weather is at it’s best.
The drive between Te Anau and Milford Sound is beyond beautiful. You’ll want to allow plenty of time for photo stops along the way.
You’ll need to decide if to base yourself at Te Anau or actually at Milford Sound (which may be more pricey.) Bear in mind that if you do base yourself at Milford Sound, there is not much to do should it rain!
Te Anau can also be used as a base for Doubtful Sound if you’d prefer or if you have time to visit both!
What to Do at Milford Sound and Te Anau
There are so many things to do at Milford Sound – I really hope the weather is on your side! (It wasn’t on mine!) Here are a few of the best ways to see Milford Sound
- Cruise and underwater observatory tour
- Scenic flight
- Take a Glowworm Cave Tour from Te Anau.
Where to Stay at Te Anau
DOC campsite Henry Creek Campsite
Campsite with Facilities Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Park
Budget Hostel Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers
Mid-range Lakeside Motel and Apartments
Luxury Radfords on The Lake
Day 5 & 6 Queenstown
Drive Time 2 hours
Drive Distance 170 km
What to Do in Queenstown
Queenstown is a charming little town nestled in the mountains by the shore of Lake Wakatipu. It’s teeming with outdoors folk given it’s proximity to the lakes and mountains. It would make the perfect base for a longer holiday if you prefer not to take a South Island road trip!
You’ll definitely want to take a gondola ride to the top of Bob’s peak – 450m above Queenstown for amazing views. There’s a cafe at the top which serves an amazing hot chocolate (with a view!)
The scenery in the area is stunning so you may choose to see it by hiking, renting a mountain bike or taking a horse trek.
In the winter, Queenstown turns into a ski resort and in the summer there is a multitude of adventure outdoors activities you can try out. Here’s just a few suggestions.
- Shotover River Extreme Jet Boat ride
- Skyline gondola
- White Water Rafting
- Tandem Skydiving
- Wine Tasting Tour
- River Canyoning
- Lord of The Rings Tour
- Self-guided cycle tour
Where to Stay in Queenstown
DOC campsite Moke Lake Campsite (my favourite campsite of all.)
Campsite with Facilities Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park
Budget Hostel YHA Queenstown Lakefront
Mid-range Melbourne Lodge
Luxury Heartland Hotel
Day 7 Fox Glacier
Drive Time 4 hrs
Drive Distance 330km
On Day 7, hit the road after breakfast and enjoy a scenic drive through forest and mountains before you reach Fox Glacier just after lunchtime. Here you can take a walk to the base of the glacier. You can also do glacier hikes here but I’d personally recommend waiting until you get to Franz Josef.
You could consider visiting Lake Matheson this afternoon but personally, I would wait until the morning and go for dawn.
Where to Stay at Fox Glacier
DOC campsite Otto / Macdonalds Campsite
Campsite with Facilities Fox Glacier Top 10 Holiday Park and Motel
Budget Hostel Ivorytowers Backpacker Lodge
Mid-range Lake Matheson Motel
Day 8 Lake Matheson and Franz Josef Glacier
Drive Time 25 minutes
Drive Distance 25 km
Start super early with dawn at Lake Matheson. It is spectacular with the mist settling over the perfect reflection of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman in the still lake. The walk is around 6km and takes about an hour and a half. The best viewpoint for dawn and sunrise is about 20 minutes into the circular route. Don’t forget to take a head torch!
After dawn, find yourself some breakfast at the cafe onsite before driving 30 minutes to Franz Josef Glacier. Here you should take a helihike. It may be the most expensive thing you do in New Zealand but it will also be the best thing you do on this New Zealand South Island Itinerary – I have absolutely no regrets!
You’ll get kitted out in your crampons and warm waterproof clothing and then whisked off to the glacier on a helicopter getting great views as you ascend. You’ll then spend a few hours on the ice, squeezing through narrow ice tunnels. It’s like another world and it was my favourite thing to do throughout my whole trip.
Make sure you book well in advance! But be aware trips can get cancelled in high winds. So if you are desperate to do the trip and you have extra time, maybe spend it in this area just in case the weathers not on your side…
It’s been a packed day until now so it’s time to chill out. Spend a few hours soothing your achy muscles at Franz Josef Hot Springs surrounded by rainforest.
Where to Stay at Franz Josef
DOC campsite Otto / Macdonalds Campsite
Campsite with Facilities Top 10 Franz Josef
Budget Hostel YHA Franz Josef
Mid-range Rainforest Retreat
Luxury Te Waonui Forest Retreat
Day 9 & 10 Abel Tasman National Park
Drive Time 6 hours
Drive Distance 470km
What to do in Abel Tasman National Park
Day 11 will be a big drive day but at least it’ll be scenic! Make sure you book your trip in advance for Abel Tasman as it may be difficult to sort out on the day. I recommend doing a combined hike – kayak trip to get the best of both worlds. You’ll see rain forest, beautiful deserted beaches, lagoons and peaceful bays.
Where to Stay Near Abel Tasman National Park
DOC campsite Totaranui Campsite
Campsite with Facilities Montueka Top 10 Holiday Park
Budget Hostel Adventure Inn Marahau
Mid-range Awaroa Lodge
Luxury Kimi Ora Eco Resort
Day 11 & 12 Marlborough Region
Drive Time 2 hrs 50
Drive Distance 170km
What to do in the Marlborough Region
Set off after breakfast towards the Marlborough Region. Make sure you stop somewhere for lunch to line your stomach and then head out on a wine tasting tour. Some of the best wine is made in the Marlborough region – in fact a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is my absolute favourite tipple! So if you like your wines too then you simply must do a wine tour.
The next day I would recommend you explore the Marlborough sounds on another hike along Queen Charlotte track as long as you’re not feeling too sore after your hike-kayak trip in Abel Tasman!
Where to Stay in the Marlborough Region
DOC campsite Rarangi Campsite
Campsite with Facilities Picton Top 10 Holiday Park
Budget Hostel Fat Cod Backpackers
Mid-range Aldan Lodge
Day 13 & 14 Kaikoura and Hamner Springs
Drive Time 2 hr 20 then 3 hr 40
Drive Distance 150 + 260km
What to do in Kaikoura and Hmaner Springs
If you like wildlife then Kaikoura is the place for you. It is one of the best places in New Zealand to see whales, seals and dolphins. Take a whale watching tour, go swimming with seals or even swimming with dolphins.
The beach itself is absolutely beautiful with snowcapped mountains rising in the distance. A walk along the coast will reward you with seal sightings but don
The following day, head for Hamner Springs. There are some adventure activities nearby like
Where to Stay in Kaikoura
DOC campsite Puhi Puhi Campsite
Campsite with Facilities Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park
Budget Hostel Dolphin Lodge
Mid-range Kakatu Retreat
Luxury Manakau Lodge
What to Pack for a Road Trip in New Zealand
1. Decent insurance. This is really important when you are visiting somewhere like New Zealand. You need to make sure it will cover you for the adventure activities New Zealand has on offer like like kayaking, bungee jumping, sky diving and cycling. I usually recommend Nomads for adventure travel insurance.
2. A good lightweight raincoat, Heads up, it rains a lot in New Zealand, especially in the South Island! I have a Patagonia jacket which has served me well over the past 6 years! North Face are another reliable make. I recommend also taking a lightweight but warm coat with you for colder days as it can get chilly even in the summer.
3. Thermal Layers Especially important if you are planning on camping or spending much time in the mountains. Trust me, even in summer, thermals come in handy in New Zealand!
3. Decent hiking boots which can keep your feet both comfy and dry. I always use Salomon boots and recommend them if you plan to do a lot of hiking especially if you have flat feet as they have in-built orthotics. I’ve had lots of cheaper boots in the past but once I invested in these, I never looked back! I’ve not had a single blister yet..!
3. DEET mosquito repellant. I was surprised by how many mozzies there were here. So definitely bring DEET. Don’t scrimp on your mozzie repellant – use the good stuff. I trust DEET but make sure you keep it wrapped up inside a plastic bag to avoid a mess if it leaks!
4. A Waterproof Phone Cover You will need one of these when you go kayaking – it’s so beautiful you won’t want to miss out on taking photos in Abel Tasman National Park!
7. A Quick Dry Antibacterial Towel which will dry quickly so you can use it on the go. I love these colourful ones from Dock & Bay.
8. A Head torch. If you are planning to stay at any campsites, don’t forget a head torch. You’ll be glad of this at night when you need a trip to the toilet! Though turn it off before you get back in your camper van or all the midgies will follow you in…
9. A dry bag to keep your belongings dry if you go kayaking
10. Anti-theft Bag or a padlock to keep your belongings safe on bus journeys and in hostels. You can actually get some really pretty anti-theft bags like this one…
11. A Power bank to stay connected on long journeys where you may not have access to plug sockets. This powerful power bank can also be solar charged which is especially handy for camping trips.
12. A Kindle – essential for long bus journeys or car trips if you’re not the driver. I wouldn’t go backpacking without mine.
13. A Water To Go Bottle – these clever bottles filter the water as your drink allowing you to drink from any river or tap helping you save
- A 2 week South Island Itinerary
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- New Zealand North vs South Island? Which is Best?
I hope you’ve found this 2 week New Zealand South Island Itinerary useful to help you plan your own 2 weeks in New Zealand. No matter where you go, you’re bound to have an amazing time. New Zealand is one of the most diverse and beautiful countries so if you are looking for an adventure, you will certainly get one!
Have you got any questions about spending 2 weeks in New Zealand South Island? If so, please put them in the comments section below and I’ll answer them as soon as possible!
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