Planning a trip to the South Island? For an ezi guide to explore the best of the South Island, follow this self-drive adventure plan.
Day One: Queenstown – Te Anau | 2 and 1/4 hours drive
High country landscapes and trout fishing rivers are features of the road to Te Anau. The first part of your drive clings scenically to the edge of Lake Wakatipu.
Take a break when you reach the small town of Kingston, the home of a remarkable vintage steam train. Further on, the settlements of Lumsden and Mossburn can be explored for unique shopping opportunities—a farm tour is another possibility.
Te Anau township sits on the shores of Lake Te Anau. From here, the wilderness of Fiordland National Park is within easy reach, including the spectacular Milford Sound. Visit the Department of Conservation wildlife centre for more information on what to do and discover in Te Anau.
Day Two: Te Anau – Fiordland National Park – Te Anau | Day trip
From Te Anau and to visit the fjords, you’ve got 2 main choices.
You can either take a day trip to Milford Sound from Te Anau or cruise the Doubtful Sound.
Option 1: Milford Sound
Described as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, Milford Sound is a breathtaking view of carved glaciers – get your camera ready!
The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound takes 1.5 hour and is an extremely beautiful road trip but it can also be a dangerous stretch of road so please drive safe to ensure you have a safe and unforgettable journey. For tips on driving in New Zealand please visit the drive safe website.
When you reach the tunnel on this spectacular road, don’t forget to look for keas (our very inquisitive mountain parrots). But be warned, if you leave your vehicle make sure you close the car door or you will be in for some amusing encounters with the kea!
Boat cruises are a popular way to experience the Sound with some saying that the Milford Sound’s deep icy waters, sheer rock faces, glacial hanging valleys, thick native forest and local wildlife are best seen by boat. Mitre Peak Cruises provides a luxury cruise excursion and you can save $$ with our Activity Discount Map.
If you enjoy hiking, the Milford Track is for you. This is one of New Zealand’s most famous Great Walks but it is a 4 day hike so you would have to extend your South Island trip slightly. The track begins at the northern end of Lake Te Anau and finishes at the spectacular Milford Sound. It winds its way through some of the world’s most vivid wilderness including valleys carved by glaciers, ancient rain forests and cascading waterfalls. It is an extremely popular hike with approximately 14,000 people completing it each year but a maximum of 40 independent walkers are permitted to start the track each day. For a day-to-day break down of the track you can click here.
Option 2: Doubtful Sound
Immerse yourself in the vast and untouched wilderness of Doubtful Sound, the second largest fiord in Fiordland National Park. A 20 minute drive from Te Anau to Lake Manapouri and you’ll find the Real Journey’s visitor centre where you will embark one of their boats for a amazing cruise across one of the deepest lake of New Zealand, Lake Manapouri. Then, the adventure goes on with a coach trip over Wilmot pass before reaching the boat which will take on on one of the most exclusive and beautiful journey you can have in NZ.
To book, talk to the guys at Real Journeys on the lake front in Te Anau and don’t forget to redeem your 10% discount on us!
Day Three and Four : Te Anau – Queenstown | 2 and 1/4 hours drive
Queenstown is a beautifully scenic and adventure packed town with something for everyone all year round. During the winter season, Queenstown becomes a buzzing base for skiers and snowboarders and other times of the year, it is a picturesque town for adventure and indulgence.
If your an adventure junkie, Queenstown has it all including snow sports, bungy jumping, jet boating and sky diving. Check out our adventure guide to Queenstown here. If your game for sky diving, check out our Activity Discount Map for a FREE $15 gift with your Tandem Skydive with NZONE. Alternatively, if your just looking for a few days of treats and indulgence, Queenstown offers exceptional food, wine and craft beer bars, lake cruises, spa treatments and boutique shopping.
We recommend a taste of New Zealand’s farming lifestyle at Walter Peak High Country Farm. Situated on picturesque Lake Wakatipu’s south-western shores, the farm is the perfect place to spend a relax with the family. The Farm Tour itself is a wonderful, interactive experience for the whole family, with something to keep everyone entertained and happy. By booking with us, you can enjoy 10% off with Real Journeys at Walter Peak Farm.
Queenstown is known internationally for its spectacular and unique skiing and snowboarding slopes so this is an experience that should not be missed! It is a skiers paradise with four ski fields, a vibrant ski culture, exuberant night-life and a buzzing alpine resort town. If you are going to hit the snow, head to Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. Coronet peak is just 25 minutes from Queenstown. It’s spectacular rollercoaster terrain makes it one of New Zealand’s most exciting ski destinations for all abilities. It provides skiers 280 skiable hectares and now offers longer on-snow hours than any other ski area in New Zealand. The Remarkables ski field located across the valley from Coronet Peak and just a 35 minute drive from Queenstown. The Remarkables offers terrain and facilities suitable for both first timers and expert skiers and snowboarders and is known for its spectacular north-facing sunny slopes. There is even a tubing park for fun snowy adventures without skis or a board.
Day Five: Queenstown – Wanaka | 1 hour drive
There are two ways to drive between Queenstown and Wanaka but we recommend the Crown range as this definitely the most memorable. It’s the highest main road in New Zealand and is the shorter distance to Wanaka, though travel time is longer due to the challenging route. It is approximately a 1 hour drive but you should also allow time to stop and admire the astonishing views. From Queenstown, take the clearly marked turnoff just past Lake Hayes. You will then zigzag up to the Crown Terrace where you can look down to Arrowtown, and across to the Remarkables Range. The road then climbs to the summit. For impressive views, leave your vehicle and walk up the track to the lookout.
Please do be aware that in winter, the road often becomes covered in snow and ice, making for very difficult driving conditions. Please have a quick read about the important things you need to know about driving in New Zealand and always check the road conditions before setting off. Snow chains are highly recommended which you can hire directly from us.
Wanaka sees lakes, mountains, rivers, wineries, delicious dining and endless adventure all wrapped up in a vibrant and friendly lakefront village. It is a must visit. While here you can:
- Explore Mount Aspiring National Park
- Hike one of the many beautiful walking tracks around the region. For recommended routes click here.
- Get sky high and admire the spectacular views of glaciers, mountain ranges, lakes and rivers
- Paddle the lakes and river
- Hit the slopes if in winter
If your a keen skier or snowboarder, we recommend Cardrona Alpine Resort which is found high in the Southern Alps between Wanaka and Queenstown. Cardrona is a relaxed & friendly ski area that has been a popular ski destination for 35 years. Cardrona has something to keep every skier and snowboarder smiling – wide open beginner trails, pristine groomers, fun freeride terrain & world class parks & pipes. Whatever your level, Cardrona has the slopes for you!
Day Six: Wanaka – Franz Joseph | 4 and 3/4 hours drive
This is a slightly longer stretch on the road trip but Franz Joseph is worth the drive! Be mindful of road closures, especially across the Haast Pass.
The Franz Josef Glacier is five kms from the town of Franz Joseph. From the glacier car park, you can hike to a choice of lookout points or if you want to get up close and make contact with the glacier, you can take a guided ice walk or a heli-hike with Franz Joseph Glacier Hikes.
While here, we also recommend a relaxing soak to unwind in the Glacier hot pools: New Zealand’s most unique hot pools experience in the heart of the rain-forest.
Day Seven: Franz Joseph – Punakaiki | 2 and 3/4 hours drive
Punakaiki is a small community between Westport and Greymouth on the edge of Paparoa National Park. It is most well-known for its Pancake Rocks and Blowholes which are a must-see when visiting the West Coast, and are easily accessible – just a 20 minute loop walk from where you park your vehicle on the main highway at Punakaiki. The Pancake rocks were formed 30 million years ago when the mildly acidic rain, wind and seawater sculpted the bizarre shapes. Looking like giant pancakes the intriguing limestone formations are especially spectacular at high tide in a westerly sea. Where the limestone has eroded, the sea bursts through vertical blowholes during high tides.
Day Eight and Nine: Punakaiki – Abel Tasman | 3 and 1/2 hours drive
The drive from Punakaiki to the Abel Tasman is one of the longer days on your road trip but we’re sure you will enjoy every minute of the beautiful scenery of the South Island. We recommend you to stay in Marahau where the Abel Tasman great walk starts from. Alternatively, the golden beach of Kaiteriteri is the perfect settlement in Abel Tasman.
Abel Tasman National Park is renowned for its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs, and its world-famous coast track. This is a coastal paradise to explore by foot or boat, sailing catamaran, water taxi or sea kayak. The Abel Tasman National Park is a perfect mix of physical exertion and relaxing beach life. Bursts of hiking or paddling are intermittent with sun bathing, swimming and spectacular snorkelling.
Again if your a keen hiker, the Abel Tasman is home to another of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The Abel Tasman track follows the coastline in the stunning Abel Tasman National Park. Known as New Zealand’s sunniest location, the area is blessed with golden beaches, lush coastal native bush and a mild climate all year round which means this is a great walk any time of the year. You can walk the whole track (if you extend your stay here as it is 3-5 day tramp) in either direction or take a water taxi or kayak between different locations. Read more here.
Day Ten and Eleven : Abel Tasman – Kaikoura | 4 hours drive
There are few places more spectacular than Kaikoura. It is picturesque coastal town and the perfect place for coastal walks and marine mammal encounters – sperm whales, fur seals and dolphins live permanently in the coastal waters.
You can save 10% with your Dolphin Encounter experience. At Dolphin Encounter you get the opportunity to swim with, or watch, the dusky dolphins in their natural environment off the coast of Kaikoura. Whether you choose to view from the boat or join the dolphins in the ocean for a swim, you will have a unique experience that will stay with you for a lifetime! We definitely recommend making the most of the experience and swimming with the Dolphins!
But Kaikoura is really famous for it’s sperm whales. They live there year round in the Kaikoura canyon, a very deep abyss where these impressive sea creatures spend most of their time. Save $$ with us with Whale Watch Kaikoura.
Hot tip: The local speciality is crayfish and you will be spoilt for choice whether you are eating in or dining out so be sure to make the most of this while your here! Head to Nin’s Bin, the locals favourite spot!
Day Twelve: Kaikoura – Christchurch | 2 and 1/2 hours
To complete your South Island roadie, return to Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city, described by Lonely Planet as a “vibrant city in transition, coping resiliently and creatively.” Having suffered the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, the city has bounced back with innovative new attractions and is becoming a more popular tourist destination, being the gateway to the South Island.
While here, we recommend a trip to the Re Start container mall to explore the colourful collection of funky shipping crate converted gift stores, fashion boutiques and food and coffee stalls. This mall represents Christchurch’s commitment to a creative and innovative rebuild to become a world-famous setting. There is also a wide array of delicious pop up restaurants and bars to enjoy.