South Island Wonders Itinerary

22 DAYS

2703 km

Daya tarik

  • Kayak the Abel Tasman
  • West Coast glaciers
  • Dark Sky reserve

Kedekatan

CAR-FREE TRAVEL OPTIONS

Includes a return Ferry crossing to Stewart Island.

Set out on this unforgettable three-week trip through the South Island. From East to West and North to South, you'll travel through glaciers, mountains, dramatic landscapes, and encounter more wildlife than you’ve got space for in your camera.

There are plenty of thrilling activities to get stuck into along the way, from bungy-jumping to jet boating, mountain biking, skydiving, hiking and so much more.

Day 1: Spend the day in Christchurch

Christchurch - Canterbury
Street art, Christchurch, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Julian Apse

Christchurch - Canterbury

CANTERBURY

Innovation, culture and exhilarating activity

Daya tarik

  • Fascinating street art
  • Mountain biking in the Port Hills
  • Shopping and dining precincts

TOP EXPERIENCES IN CHRISTCHURCH

Relaxing natural environment and thrilling adventure activities.

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Christchurch central is a fascinating place to wander around – from the Botanical Gardens to the Arts Centre and the Avon River winding through the city. For more action, head up to the Port Hills and ride the Crater Rim cycle trail.

On your way out of town, stop at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve and meet some of New Zealand’s most unique bird and animal life. Then head north to the beach town of Waikuku, where you can stay tonight before the trip to Hanmer Springs tomorrow.

Day 2: Christchurch to Hanmer Springs

Christchurch - Canterbury
adventure-off-road-driving, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Thrillseekers Adventures

Daya tarik

  • Jet boats and quad bike tours
  • Thermal pools and spa
  • Skiing and snowboarding in winter

Kedekatan

  • By car: 1 h 54 min | 135 km SH1 & SH7
  • By bus: 2 h 10 min | by Intercity

TOP EXPERIENCES in HANMER SPRINGS

Offering the best of adventure and relaxation.

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It’s a scenic drive to Hanmer Springs, an alpine town known for its hot pools. There’s a great range of outdoor activities to do here as well, so challenge yourself on the many mountain bike trails, take a horse trek through the trees or try rafting the spectacular Waiau Gorge. 

Afterwards, the Hanmer Springs thermal springs are a must-do to soothe those sore muscles. Framed by the mountains and surrounded by snow in the winter, this is an idyllic spot to have a relaxing soak.

Take time to wander around the town and enjoy the quaint gift stores and stylish fashion boutiques.

Day 3: Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura

Christchurch - Canterbury
Mengamati paus, Kaikoura, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Sara Orme

Daya tarik

  • Fascinating marine mammals
  • Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
  • Delicious local seafood

Kedekatan

  • By car: 2 h | 130 km SH7 & SH1
  • By bus: No direct bus route - see car-free options

TOP EXPERIENCES IN KAIKOURA

Stunning scenic flights, whale watching and other wildlife encounters

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Kaikoura lies in a rugged and striking coastal area that’s home to a multitude of marine life, and delicious seafood. In the Maori language 'kai' means food, 'koura' means crayfish, which makes this the best place to taste fresh crayfish.

With such a vibrant marine ecosystem, this is the place to hop on a boat for some whale watching, or get closer with a dolphin or seal swim.

Back on dry land, explore the area with a walk to the Ohau Waterfall or a visit the Nga Niho Pa Site. Environmentally conscious travellers may like to plant a tree at Trees for Travellers to help to offset their carbon footprint. 

Car-free options:

Add a night in Waipara or Amberley before heading on to Kaikoura.

Day 4 - 5: Marlborough Wine Region

Marlborough
Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough

By Mike Heydon

Marlborough

MARLBOROUGH

From valleys of vines to sheltered waterways.

Daya tarik

  • Queen Charlotte Sound hiking trail
  • Wildlife cruises through the Sounds
  • World-class wine and delicious seafood

Kedekatan

  • By car: 2 h 35 min | 153 km via SH1
  • By : SH1 route is only open 7am - 8.30pm
  • By bus: 2 h 25 min | by Intercity or NakedBus

Marlborough is the South Island’s top wine region, and famous for its Sauvignon Blanc. There are vineyards galore where you can stop in for a tour or a tasting. Many places put on a delicious lunch too.

At the top of the South Island is the stunning Marlborough Sounds, with a multitude of intricate waterways accessible only from the sea. You can explore the area on a boat tour or by kayak, or hike a section of the Queen Charlotte Track. You could easily spend a couple of weeks exploring this breathtaking area.

Nearby towns to stay in include Picton and Blenheim, which is known for its charming B&Bs and character accommodation.

Day 6: Marlborough to Nelson

Nelson
Beer on Tap , Nelson

By Cassels & Sons Group

Nelson

NELSON

Long golden beaches and untouched native forests.

Daya tarik

  • Home of NZ hops and craft breweries
  • Golden beaches and sheltered bays
  • Hiking and cycling trails

Kedekatan

  • By car: 1 h 35 min | 115 km via SH6
  • By bus: 1 h 45 min | by Intercity or NakedBus

Nelson is one of the sunniest places in New Zealand, so it’s a place to be outdoors. Happy Valley Adventure will give you plenty of activity options from horse treks to quad bike tours, paintball and more, including the Skywire flying fox.

Both Nelson and Motueka – about a half-hour drive away – have an arty, creative feel to them. There’s also a growing craft beer scene in Nelson, and many of the local breweries put on tours and tastings.

On your way to Motueka, you’ll see lots of local produce for sale on the sides of the road, as there are many orchards and berry plots in the area. 

Day 7 - 9: Abel Tasman National Park

Nelson
Split Apple Rock, Nelson

By Fraser Clements

Daya tarik

  • Kayaking to Split Apple Rock
  • Hike the Abel Tasman Coast track
  • Native forest and wildlife

Kedekatan

ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK

New Zealand's smallest national park- but perfectly formed.

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Abel Tasman National Park is an area of golden beaches, sparkling blue ocean and bush that grows right down to the water’s edge. Much like the Marlborough Sounds, if you want to head deeper into the park you’ll need a boat (there are water taxis that will take you from bay to bay) – or a kayak.

Many guided kayaking tours start in nearby Marahau, you can spend as many days and nights as you like exploring the area – pull your kayak up onto the beach each day and camp nearby.

You can also walk part of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, crossing estuaries or visiting sandy beaches for a well-deserved swim. The full track takes between 3-5 days, but you can walk a section on a day trip.

Day 10 - 11: West Coast & Glaciers

West Coast
Jelajahi lorong es, West Coast

By Fraser Clements

West Coast

WEST COAST

Rainforests, glaciers and geological treasures.

Daya tarik

  • Ancient glaciers
  • Pounamu and gold mining history
  • Wild west coast beaches

Kedekatan

  • By car: 4 h 25 min | 309 km Nelson to Greymouth SH6
  • By : 2 h 40 min | 196 km Greymouth to Glaciers SH6
  • By bus: 6 h | to Greymouth
    4 h | to Glaciers

Time to hit the wild West Coast. Your first stop is the appropriately named Cape Foulwind. From here, a short walk takes you to colonies fur seal. Further south, in Paparoa National Park you'll find the unusual and awesome Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and the famous blowholes. Spend the night in Greymouth and sample a few beers at the Monteith's Brewery Bar or travel on to Hokitika for some kayaking on the Hokitika Gorge.

The following day make your way to Franz Josef Glacier. A scenic heli-flight will take you deep into the glacier's maze of ice so you can experience it up close. Alternatively, you can walk to the terminal face.

Afterwards, soak your frozen toes at the Glacier Hot Pools.

Day 12 - 15: Wanaka & Queenstown

Queenstown
Bungy, Queenstown

By AJ Hackett Bungy

Queenstown

WANAKA & QUEENSTOWN

A mix of adventure and tranquillity.

Daya tarik

  • Bungy, skydiving, rafting and jetboating
  • Hiking, horse treks and 4WD offroad tour
  • Skiing and snowboarding in winter

Kedekatan

  • By car: 4 h 30 min | 262 km Queenstown via Wanaka
  • By bus: 7 h 15 min | to Queenstown via Wanaka
  • By : by Intercity or NakedBus

Today you'll head through Haast Pass to Wanaka. There are few towns along the way, but be sure to stop at the gorgeous Blue Pools.

Wanaka is a more slowed-down version of its adventurous next-door neighbour Queenstown, so grab a coffee then head out and explore with a lake cruise and nature walk. Alternatively, you could take a relaxing wine tour, through the region's many vineyards. For those visiting in winter, this area is also home to some top ski fields.

Then gear yourself up for Queenstown!

It’s impossible to cover everything there is to do in “the adventure capital of New Zealand", but here’s a start: jet boating, bungy jumping, skydiving, 4WD Safaris, mountain biking and hiking.

Day 16: Milford Sound day trip

Fiordland
Milford Sound, Fiordland

By Adam Bryce

Daya tarik

  • Boat cruises day and night
  • Kayaking and diving
  • Walk the Milford Track

Kedekatan

  • By car: 3 h 45 min | 287 km (one way) via SH6 & SH94
  • By : CAUTION: Drive times vary greatly in winter.
  • By bus: Visit the local iSITE for day trips & tours

DISCOVER MILFORD SOUND

Rudyard Kipling once called it the 'eighth wonder of the world.

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Milford Sound is a relaxing contrast to Queenstown, so board a tour bus for a day trip to this beautiful spot.

You’ll spend a fair amount of time on the road, but once you get out on the water of the Sounds you’ll forget all about it. Take a boat cruise or hire a kayak and soak in the blue skies, green mountains, crystal-clear water and tumbling waterfalls – it’s magical.

Alternatively, instead of driving you can take a flightseeing tour of the Sounds, departing from Queenstown airport.

Or if you want to break up the trip spend a night at Te Anau, where you can explore glowworm caves or hike one of Fiordland's many walking trails.

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

Southland
Waipapa Point, The Catlins, Southland

By Venture Southland

Southland

SOUTHLAND

A land of rugged coast and rolling plains.

Daya tarik

  • Encounter Sealions in Curio Bay
  • Hiking on Stewart Island
  • Transport World

Kedekatan

You’re about to head as far south as it gets in New Zealand. 

In Invercargill, you can visit the Southland Museum and meet their large lounge of Tuatara.

Then cross the Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island, the third-largest island of New Zealand. Stewart Island Experience has a number of tours for you to try, including one to Ulva Island, home to many threatened species.Tonight may be your chance to spot the rare kiwi bird that gives New Zealanders their nickname, so take a Kiwi Spotting Tour and keep your fingers crossed.

On Day 19, return to the mainland and make your way along the stunning Catlins coast to Dunedin. Be sure to visit some of the beautiful Catlin's attractions along the way.

Day 20: Dunedin

Dunedin
Sunrise in Dunedin, Dunedin

By Dunedin Tourism

Dunedin

DUNEDIN

Quirky city vibe, wildlife encounters and a castle.

Daya tarik

  • Funky bars and vibrant nightlife
  • Royal Albatross Centre
  • Larnach Castle

Kedekatan

  • By car: 2 h 35 min | 205 km via SH1
  • By bus: 3 h 45 min | via Gore by Intercity
  • By : Visit the local iSITE for Dunedin day tours.

The city of Dunedin is a university town, with a lively student vibe during semester time. Make yourself at home at one of the many student bars, or go for something a bit more upmarket – the choices are abundant.

Dunedin’s historic Speight’s Brewery is the birthplace of the iconic South Island brew. Take the Brewery Tour then stop for dinner at the original Speight’s Ale House, where the food is matched to the ale.

Further afield, the Otago Peninsula is home to many species of penguin, including the cute but endangered Yellow-Eyed Penguin. The magnificent Royal Albatross and several sea lions and seals groups also live here. Book a bus tour or hire an electric bike and ride out the Peninsula.

Day 21: Lake Tekapo stargazing

Daya tarik

  • Stargazing in the Dark Sky Reserve
  • Hiking and cycling around Lake Tekapo
  • Soak in natural hot pools

Kedekatan

  • By car: 3 h 40 min | 332 km via SH1 & SH8
  • By bus: No direct bus route - see car-free options

Stargazing in New Zealand

With its dark, clear skies, New Zealand is one of the world's best places to stargaze.

Learn more

On your way north to Lake Tekapo, take time to visit Orokonui Ecosanctuary, home to many rare native species.

If you're driving, travel inland from Oamaru via Kurow and Twizel. You'll pass the stunning Southern Alps and get a view of New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki Mt Cook.

The arrival into Lake Tekapo is always spectacular, the unusual colour of the lake will have you pulling to the side of the road for a better look. This area is the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world – the vast spectrum of stars at night are unmatched, anywhere. A stargazing tour is a great way to learn more.

Car-free option

Add a night in Ashburton or Cromwell before travelling on to Tekapo.

Day 22: Return to Christchurch

Christchurch - Canterbury
1851 making coffee, Christchurch - Canterbury

By Crowne Plaza Christchurch

Daya tarik

  • Quirky cafes, restaurants and bars
  • Explore Akaroa & Banks Peninsula
  • Relax at Sumner Beach

Kedekatan

  • By car: 3 h | 228 km via SH1
  • By bus: 3 h 50 min | by Intercity or NakedBus

MUST-DO FREE EXPERIENCES

Discover the top 10 free things to do across New Zealand.

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Beautiful New Zealand scenery lines the route as you make your way back to Christchurch and the end of your journey. Be sure to stop for coffee or lunch at some the towns you pass along the way.

If you haven’t had the chance to explore Christchurch yet, this could be your chance to visit the International Antarctic Centre, or if you have a spare day, Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula makes a great day or overnight trip. Alternatively, you can spend your last afternoon checking out the city's many boutique stores or relaxing in a funky cafe, before you head home.

Driving in New Zealand

Important things you need to know about driving in New Zealand.

View the route below

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