New Zealand South Island Itinerary Skydiving
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The Ultimate New Zealand South Island Itinerary: Epic 2-Week Road Trip

Boasting majestic snowcapped mountains, spectacular fjords, and killer views on some of the world’s best hikes, the South Island of New Zealand is a paradise for travellers. Couple that with adrenaline-pumping activities in Queenstown, the world-renowned Milford Sound, and probably the most scenic of road trips, there is simply too much to do in New Zealand! We just had to do up a New Zealand South Island itinerary on our website after our epic 2-week trip, after getting loads of messages from our friends asking for our itinerary. Considering the amount of research done on our end, I hope this takes a load off for your travel planning to the South Island New Zealand!

Travel Tip: 

Make sure to get the right travel insurance to cover you during your travel.
Check out the best travel insurance on Singsaver.
You can also read this article to see which plan suits your trip best.

 

Before we begin, I actually highly recommend at least 3 weeks instead of 2 weeks if you can spare the time. 2 weeks for a New Zealand South Island itinerary was honestly pretty rushed for us, considering the endless number of locations and activities that we wanted to cover. But if you only have 2 weeks to work with, then this itinerary is perfect for you! Without further ado, let us introduce The Ultimate New Zealand South Island Itinerary: Epic 2-Week Road Trip.

The Ultimate New Zealand South Island Itinerary: Epic 2-Week Road Trip

Table of Contents:

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Mode of Transport for New Zealand South Island

new zealand south island honeymoon Kiwi Motorhomes

This New Zealand South Island itinerary is best suited for a campervan trip, but can also be used for a rental car as well. We highly recommend hiring a self-contained campervan for the amazing experience of ultimate freedom – being able to cook anywhere you go, a lovely experience especially for those who love cooking – my wife and her twin, stopping whenever you want for your perfect Instagram shot, and going at your own leisurely pace. Driving around the South Island of New Zealand is pretty easy as well with a GPS or Google Maps.

We picked the lovely 6 Berth Automatic Bella campervan from Kiwi Motorhomes for our epic road trip. The interiors were modern, while the beds were really pretty comfortable! Customer service was great from the Kiwi Motorhomes team as well, who offered us lots of travel advice prior to and during our trip. Be sure to check out their campervan package with exclusive perks for your very own road trip!

Important Travel Tips and Resources Before We Begin

  • Download the Campermate app. This useful app allows you to find and book campsites near you, along with toilets, free wifi, and more. They also have 10-15% off deals for paid campsites. An alternative is the Rankers Camping NZ app. I preferred the Campermate app as it looked more modern, but both apps have similar functionalities.
  • When travelling in New Zealand, keep a close eye on the weather forecast. Weather changes are quite unpredictable. It can be sunny in the morning, and in the afternoon there could be a downpour with strong winds, of which you may want to avoid especially if you are going to be hiking and doing outdoor activities. Download the MetService app prior to your trip.
  • Make sure to get travel insurance on your trip. Our friends at Singsaver have curated the best personal plans for you here. Be sure to get your campervan insured as well, in case of any accidents on the road.
  • Stay connected during your trip. Here is a 4G SIM Card for the whole of New Zealand that you can pick up from Auckland or Christchurch. Here is 4G WiFi that you can pick up in Singapore before heading off. Depending on your group size, either option may be cheaper.
  • Driving around New Zealand is very easy but take note that the speed limit is very strict – so always be aware not to cross it. 
  • We have curated a Google Map List here with all the locations mentioned in this 2-week New Zealand South Island itinerary marked out for your convenience. Do check it out, it should be really useful!
  • If you are into TripAdvisor instead of Google Maps, we created a TripAdvisor List here as well. Hope it is useful!

Check Out Our New Zealand South Island Video!

No time to read and prefer watching a video instead? Check out our New Zealand South Island video below, a condensed version of the 2-week New Zealand South Island itinerary!

Day 1: Christchurch, stock up for the road trip ahead

We flew into Christchurch late and spent the night there in order to get a good rest and start the day early next day. If you reach earlier and do not mind setting off immediately, then jump ahead to day 2 after settling the essentials. If you don’t mind spending a bit more for comfort, stay at Novotel Christchurch Airport. As the name suggests, it’s right at the airport! Otherwise, JUCY Snooze Christchurch will be a better budget option with clean, modern rooms (they even have the unique, really cheap pod rooms). Looking to save even further, then feel free to check out the other Christchurch hotels here.

Pick up your campervan

Maui Campervan New Zealand South Island Itinerary

If you are flying in and picking up your campervan straight, the airport provides a free shuttle service to the rental lot. If you are staying the night before, then liaise with your campervan company accordingly regarding the meetup point. Do check if they are able to meet you at your hotel before booking it. Do factor in orientation time, which takes about 30 minutes to 1 hour. Be sure to listen carefully to the functions of your campervan. We forgot how to operate the shower heater and almost had to bathe in the icy cold water slightly post-winter. Alternatively, get the Whatsapp contact of your campervan company. We recommend taking photos of the exterior and interior of your campervan just in case of any damage during the trip.

Shop for some groceries for the road

Savings tips: Head over to the nearby Pak’nSave Hornby for one of the biggest and cheapest supermarkets in New Zealand. Other supermarket chains are Countdown and New World, which are more expensive. That being said, there are less Pak’nSave locations than Countdown and New World. Hence, if you are at a Pak’nSave, stock up!

If you are interested to explore Christchurch, get the Christchurch Pass here.

Day 2: Road trip to Lake Tekapo

Total driving duration: ~4 hours

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo New Zealand South Island Itinerary

A short 3-hour drive should bring you the gorgeous Lake Tekapo with its brilliant turquoise colours. Part of the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, Lake Tekapo is the perfect spot for stargazing should you opt to stay nearby for the night.

Things to do at Lake Tekapo

1. Visit the Church of Good Shepherd

 

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Made it to our first stop at Lake Tekapo! 😊

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The charming Church of Good Shepherd makes for a beautiful shot with Lake Tekapo glistening in the background. Check out the interiors of the church for an incredible view of the lake inside, and a short prayer for a safe trip ahead!

2. Snap photos of the lupins at Lake Tekapo

Lupins Lake Tekapo New Zealand

Seen these beautiful photos and hope to take a lovely shot for your IG? Be sure to plan your schedule properly then. Apparently, the peak blooming season for lupins is from mid-November to late December. We were in New Zealand in mid-September and did not see any, though there were some claims on several websites mentioning that some do bloom in September, probably in other areas? Regardless, if you are headed to New Zealand in November or December, then you are in for a treat!

3. Soak in the hot pools of Tekapo Springs

Tekapo Hot Springs New Zealand
Image from Bookme

September’s weather was pretty cold at around 10 degrees Celcius, perfect for a relaxing soak in the hot pools. Other than the hot pools, Tekapo Springs also features steam & sauna, day spa, ice skating rink, snow tube park, stargazing in the hot pools, and a warm, toasty cafe with one of the most delicious carrot cakes we ever ate to top it off.

4. See Jupiter and the Orion Nebula at the Mt John Observatory

Mt John Observatory Tour New Zealand South Island Itinerary

Located in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, the Mt John Observatory is one of the most advanced observatories in the entire world. On a clear night, you may even see Jupiter and the Orion Nebula. Enjoy the two-hour tour with a guide and an astrophotographer who will help to capture a photo of the sparkling night sky. Check out the summit experience here.

Campground for the night: Lake Pukaki Reserve

We did freedom camping at Lake Pukaki Reserve, a simple campground with a couple of decently clean toilets. The view of the lake was incredible, so be sure to park deeper in to wake up to a majestic view.

To note for booking campgrounds: You can book your campgrounds via the Campermate app. Depending on which season you travel in, you may want to book your campgrounds in advance. If you are travelling in the shoulder or off season, then watch out for last-minute deals on the Campermate app. We managed to score some great deals up to 15% off!

Hotel accommodation: Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park (Budget) / Matuka Luxury Lodge (Luxury)

Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park is a pretty decently priced hotel to stay the night should you be driving around New Zealand in a rental car. Planning a luxury road trip with your friends? Check out the 5-star Matuka Luxury Lodge with lavish furnishings and a stunning view.

Day 3: Lake Pukaki & Hooker Valley

Total driving duration: ~3.5 hours

Hooker Valley New Zealand

Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki New Zealand South Island Itinerary
Image by Tourism New Zealand Rob Suisted

The largest lake in the Mackenzie Region, Lake Pukaki will provide one of the most scenic drives in this road trip. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled, and if you have a drone, this is the perfect area to film some aerial footage of your campervan with the lake providing a surreal backdrop. Do stop by Peter’s Viewpoint along the way for some pictures. Google map link here.

Hooker Valley Hike

Elevation gain: 100m
Round trip duration: 3-4 hours
Parking location

The famous Hooker Valley hike is a relatively simple one with rewarding views of Mount Cook, an essential hike for every New Zealand South Island itinerary. It can get pretty windy at times, so do buy a good windbreaker prior to the trip. You’ll definitely find it useful, especially during the cold season. We took 3-4 hours as we stopped for quite a lot of photos, but it can possibly be done within 3 hours if you do not have much time to spare.

Next, we drove on towards Queenstown as we wanted to have the next few full days in Queenstown. Should you wish to stay at the Mount Cook National Park, consider the paid White Horse Hill Campground with great views. It can get pretty crowded, so you might want to book prior to your trip.

Campground for the night: Kawarau Bridge Historic Reserve

We opted for a second night of freedom camping, this time at Kawarau Bridge Historic Reserve, just outside of Queenstown (20 mins drive).  We recommend a maximum of two nights of freedom camping before staying at a paid powered campsite, considering the need to refuel the water tanks and charge your campervan. This campsite is right next to the AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungy, something you might want to consider doing right before heading into Queenstown to kickstart your adrenaline-pumping journey ahead!

Hotel accommodation: Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park / Matakauri Lodge (Ultimate Luxury)

If you are driving a car, head straight into Queenstown to stay for the next couple of nights. We recommend staying at Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park having stayed there, and thoroughly enjoying every minute of our stay. Looking for extravagant luxury in Queenstown to impress your partner on a honeymoon? You should definitely check out Matakauri Lodge. Pure class.

Day 4-5: Adrenaline rush at Queenstown! 

NZONE Skydive Queenstown New Zealand South Island Itinerary
Image by Must Do New Zealand

Time for the adrenaline-pumping activities in thrilling Queenstown! There are tons of options here for daredevils to conquer, but the top of everyone’s list – skydiving! You just have to do it if you are in New Zealand. The freefall feeling was epic, and who knows, you might get hooked on it and become a divemaster just like some of them at NZONE Skydive after their first jump.

Before we begin though, let’s visit the campground to stay at for the upcoming two nights to solve the parking problem for your campervan at Queenstown.

Campground for the night: Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park

Did research on parking in Queenstown, with our initial idea of freedom camping on the outskirts of Queenstown to save costs. Some websites mentioned free street parking during the day on Man Street, Hallenstein Street, or St Omer Park, but you have to get there before 9am as Queenstown is a tourist hotspot. Even then, we weren’t too sure about parking being free.

Considering all these, and deciding to save some hassle, we decided to pay a bit more and spend two nights at Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park. Google map link here. It turned out to be a great idea, with clean toilets for showering, and a huge communal kitchen for our cooking needs. Location was perfect, right smack in the middle of Queenstown. The view from the holiday park of snowcapped mountains was great as well. If you wish to take a break from sleeping in your campervan, or are travelling in a rental car, then click here for the accommodation options at Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park.

Things to do in Queenstown

There are plenty of thrilling activities to do in Queenstown. Here’s a pretty long list to explore, and you might want to consider spending more days in Queenstown if your group enjoys doing such activities.

1. NZONE Skydive

NZONE Tandem Skydive Queenstown
Image by DestinationANZ

Day 3. Now that we established that everyone on the trip is going skydiving, next step is to determine the height of your skydive. We highly highly recommend at least 12,000 ft for your skydive with NZONE, which features 45 seconds of freefall. 9,000 ft only has 25 seconds of freefall, in which the freefall will end way too fast before you even start enjoying the freefall feeling. We signed up for the 12,000 ft package via Klook, and somehow got a free upgrade to 15,000 ft. Perhaps they were feeling kind that day? Check out our New Zealand video for our skydiving session!

2. Gondola & Luge Rides at Skyline Queenstown

Skyline Luge Rides New Zealand South Island Itinerary
Image by Skyline

We went for the Skyline Gondola and Luge Rides on day 4 morning. I would recommend getting the Gondola + 5 Luge Rides package together with a lunch buffet. It’s just a few additional dollars for the additional luge rides. If you are looking to film your luge rides with your GoPro, I suggest a helmet strap accessory.

3. Ben Lomond Hike

Ben Lomond Hike New Zealand South Island Itinerary
Image by Destinationless Travel

Elevation gain: 1437m from Queenstown, 950m from Upper Gondola Terminal
Round trip duration: 6-8 hours from Queenstown, 4-6 hours from Upper Gondola Terminal

Since you saved 2 hours of hiking by taking the gondola up, might as well embark on the Ben Lomond hike. Unfortunately, we did not manage to find enough time to do this having reached the Skyline gondola and luge rides late. Lesson learnt – set off early! Not that we mattered as we didn’t mind having a chill time in Queenstown considering all the adrenaline activities to enjoy, plus we have a couple of huge hikes to lose the holiday fats in Wanaka (coming right up!).

Regardless, we heard the summit of Ben Lomond offers an unbelievable 360 degrees view of the Remarkables, Walter and Cecil Peak, Moke Lake, and infinite valleys and canyons. The route is also very well maintained by the Department of Conservation.

4. Shotover Jet Boat Ride

Shotover Jet Queenstown
Image by Everything Queenstown

This Shotover Jet Boat Ride looked incredibly cool! We gave this a miss as we were in New Zealand in September – the water’s freezing cold. But if you are there in warmer seasons, definitely give it a shot.

5. Kawaru Zipride

Kawarau Zipride New Zealand South Island Itinerary
Image by Bookme

Have a faint heart for bungy jumping? Give the Kawarau Zipride a shot, still pretty thrilling especially for families. The zipride zooms up to 60km/h with a lovely view of the Kawarau River and Gorge.

6. Kawarau Bridge Bungy

Kawarau Bridge Bungy New Zealand South Island Itinerary

If you got game, challenge your friends to Kawarau Bridge Bungy jumping. The 43m jump makes for an epic video too! Apparently you can even request to have water touches on your jump.. frightening stuff.

7. The Nevis Swing

Nevis Swing
Image by NewZealand.com

We’ve heard of the terrors of The Nevis Swing, and nope we definitely did not try this out. But if you are a true adrenaline junkie, this is one for the bucket list for sure. There’s also The Nevis Bungy as well, which boasts a longer 8.5 seconds of pure freefall thrill at 134m over the Nevis River.

8. A romantic Queenstown Sunrise Balloon Ride

Queenstown Sunrise Balloon

And the list goes on and on in Queenstown.. Having been on a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia (see video here), we highly highly recommend this experience of a lifetime, especially for couples. If you haven’t been on one, it’s definitely worth every penny!

9. Souvenir shopping at DF Souvenirs

Savings tip: Ok, something good for your family and friends. We scoured the entire Queenstown and the internet for the cheapest and best gift shop for souvenirs, and we are pretty sure this is the cheapest in town with a good variety of gifts – DF Souvenirs. Located along Mall St, this is probably the best place for souvenirs, and much cheaper than the other shops two streets away.

Places to dine in at Queenstown

1. Fergburger & Mrs Ferg Gelateria

Fergburger Queenstown

After your skydiving session, head over to the famous Fergburger for an appetising meal. To avoid the long queue, plan for your skydiving session to end past the usual lunch hours. We had a heavy breakfast prior, and ended up eating at Fergburger at 2+pm. Highly recommending the Sweet Bambi and Southern Swine, they were delicious! The burgers are huge so you could even share them with your travel mates. Refer to their menu here.

2. Atlas Beer Cafe

A favourite with locals and visitors, Atlas Beer Cafes is THE place for craft beers and a delicious meal. They have a huge variety of craft beer which we thoroughly enjoyed on day 4.

3. Erik’s Fish and Chips

You’ve gotta try some traditional Kiwi food. According to Erik, a visit to New Zealand is incomplete without trying their delicious fish and chips. Google map coordinates here.

Day 6: Lake Marian Falls

Total driving duration: ~5 hours

MJ Lake Marian New Zealand South Island Itinerary

Long drive ahead, so do take turns with your travel buddies on the road. Before we leave Queenstown, let’s head over to the supermarket to stock up on groceries.

Pak’nSave Queenstown

Savings tip: This will be the last Pak’nSave over the next couples of days, so time to stock up on your cheap groceries. Google map link here.

Te Anau – Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre

Stop at the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre and Te Anau to top up your petrol. From Te Anau to Lake Marian falls and Milford Sounds, there will not be any other petrol stations, and even cell phone service. So remember to plan properly here.

Lake Marian Falls Hike

Elevation gain: ~300m
Round trip duration: 3-4 hours
Parking location

Lake Marian falls hike was really enjoyable for us, navigating the forest trail (means lots of coverage), and lots of ups and downs throughout. 10 minutes in and you get treated to a beautiful series of plunging waterfalls. We also had our first falling snow experience in New Zealand here, half an hour from the summit. We took 4 hours for a round trip hike, probably because we were playing with snow and took our time with our meal by the serene lake at the summit. Highly recommend this for your New Zealand South Island itinerary!

The Chasm

A short 25 minute ride away from Lake Marian, The Chasm offers dramatic waterfalls and water-sculpted shapes in rocks. Just a short 10 minutes round trip, flat ground walk for this one, so no worries on doing this after the Lake Marian falls hike. Google map link here.

Campground for the night: Cascade Creek Campsite

The Cascade Creek campsite is one of the closest campsite to Milford Sounds, and is free with the DOC pass.

Hotel accommodation: Fiordland National Park Lodge / Cabot Lodge (Luxury)

Fiordland National Park Lodge is the nearest lodge to Milford Sound if you are driving a car. From there, it is approximately 1.5 hours to Milford Sound. A luxury option is Cabot Lodge, but do note that it is a 2-hour drive away from Milford Sound, so plan your time accordingly and you probably will want to book a later cruise timeslot.

Day 7: Milford Sound

Total driving duration: ~5-6 hours

Milford Sound New Zealand South Island Itinerary
Image by Azamara

Milford Sound is a must-do on your New Zealand South Island itinerary. We booked our Milford Sound cruise with Southern Discoveries via Klook, and got to witness the iconic Mitre Peak and got up close and personal with Milford Sound’s towering waterfall. Real Journeys is slightly more expensive with more reviews, but we thought Southern Discoveries did a great job nevertheless. You’ll definitely get to see some seals at Milford Sound, but if you are especially lucky, you might chance upon some penguins and dolphins too! It takes approximately 1 hour by car from Cascade Creek Campsite, and a 10-15 minute walk in. Factor this in! Google map link here.

Insider tip: Do double-check the weather with the MetService app for your best viewing pleasure. If it rains, chances are that Milford Sound might be misty and you will not get as great a view.

If you have a bigger budget and wish to avoid having to drive for so long to Milford Sound and back, consider chartering a helicopter flight from Queenstown. Talk about travelling in style!

Next up, travelling on the road again towards Wanaka.

Safety tip: Though some websites recommend taking the scenic Crown Range Road, we actually do not recommend doing so as we found out that our campervan insurance does not cover that particular road for safety reasons. So do check through your insurance clauses carefully. The longer way round is east of Crown Range Road, via State Highway 6 passing by Gibbston, Kawarau Gorge, Mount Pisa, Queensberry and Luggate.

Supermarket run at New World Wanaka

Stock up the New World Wanaka before the night. Google map link here.

Campground for the night: Mt Aspiring Holiday Park (Paid) / Red Bridge Campground (Free)

We decided to stay at Mt Aspiring Holiday Park as it was much closer to Wanaka town and Roy’s Peak, one of the hikes we were embarking on. Mt Aspiring Holiday Park even had a field where they reared sheep, plus a hot tub and swimming pool as well. Google map link here. If you are looking for a freedom campground, I would recommend Red Bridge Campground here.

Hotel accommodation: Ramada Resort by Wyndham Wanaka

Heated pool with a water slide. What more can you ask for? Well, a hot tub, and a sauna. We recommend the Ramada Resort if you are driving a car.

Day 8: Wanaka Lavender Farm & Roy’s Peak Hike

Total driving duration: ~1 hour

Wanaka Lavender Farm

Wanaka Lavender Farm
Image by Lake Wanaka Tourism

Looking for a perfect backdrop for your next IG post? Check out the Wanaka Lavender Farm for 15 acres of gorgeous lavender fields, and an animal farm where you can see alpacas, sheep, highland cows, kunekune pigs, shetland ponies and more. You can even take some time off your hectic travelling schedule and sip a cup of tea while buying lavender products and local honey from the farm. Google map link here.

#ThatWanakaTree

That Wanaka Tree
Image by Lonely Planet

This Wanaka Tree is a celebrity! It even has its own hashtag and Google map location here. Worth a stop for some epic photos.

Roy’s Peak Hike

Elevation gain: ~1,200m
Round trip duration: 5-7 hours
Parking location

One of the most popular hikes in New Zealand found in almost every single New Zealand South Island itinerary, the view from the viewpoint and summit of Roy’s Peak is simply surreal. In fact, expect breathtaking views throughout this hike. Some blogs mention this hike as being relatively simple, but it still can get pretty tiring. I guess relatively simple means just pure inclines throughout, as compared to hiking at the edge of cliffs, slippery rocks etc. Highly recommend this hike for the lovely pictures and scenic views throughout. Check out our Roy’s Peak hiking video for the views and some laughs.

Special tips to avoid the queue: As Roy’s Peak is a really popular hike, there usually is a queue at the viewpoint 30 minutes from the peak. To avoid the queue, here are some tips! Set off to reach the viewpoint at either sunset or sunrise. We took approximately 3 hours to reach the viewpoint, so plan your time accordingly. Oh and an important tip for good shots if you are aiming for sunset timing like us, aim for 30 minutes before sunset time (search on Google for specific sunset time for that day), so that you get the lovely sunset rays before it goes down below the ridges approximately 30 minutes before sunset time. You might also want to avoid the peak travelling season of New Zealand for shorter queues. We went during the shoulder season in September, and planned for a sunset hike, so by the time we got there, it was only us and a group of guys taking pictures and filming!

Another good thing for a sunset hike at Roy’s Peak? On the way down, when the sun goes down, you can literally see the entire Milky Way and millions of stars in the dark sky as Wanaka enjoys immensely clear skies with very little light pollution. If you arrive in autumn, you might even get to experience the Aurora Australis (the magical Southern Lights)! Here’s a picture of what we saw that night, trust me when I say the actual sky looked way more impressive than the photo.

Campground for the night: Mt Aspiring Holiday Park (Paid) / Red Bridge Campground (Free)

Similarly, you can choose between these two options to camp at night, as both are similar in distance to the next hiking destination – Isthmus Peak.

Day 9: Isthmus Peak

Total driving duration: ~1 hour

Isthmus Peak New Zealand South Island Itinerary

Elevation gain: ~1,000m
Round trip duration: 5-7 hours
Parking location

Imagine this majestic view in the picture behind us. Then multiply it 360-degrees. You’ll get to enjoy an utterly otherworldly view at the summit of Isthmus Peak, arguably a better view than Roy’s Peak in my personal opinion, with way less crowd. Pictures can’t do this place justice, so we covered it in a video as well here. Be sure to watch it! We only saw less than 20 hikers on our way up, and even got to enjoy a lovely mix of farm animals (horses, deers, cows, and more) and insane views throughout the hike.

Nevertheless, still did both Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak as we wanted to know which to recommend for your New Zealand South Island itinerary. If you have time for both, then yes please do so! But if you only have time for one, I would say perhaps go for Isthmus Peak especially if you are there during peak season, and Roy’s Peak if you are there during shoulder or off-peak season and love capturing a great shot.

Isthmus Peak also boasts its own scenic shot two-thirds up the summit. Look out for this particular rock and clearing on the way up!

Campground for the night: Boundary Creek Campsite

After the hike, drive up north for approximately 15 minutes, where you can stay at Boundary Creek Campsite for the night. Offers an amazing view of Lake Wanaka.

Hotel accommodation: Makarora Mountainview

Kinda the only motel that makes sense after heading to Isthmus Peak, as you head north towards the Blue Pools and Franz Josef Glacier tomorrow.

Day 10: Blue Pools, Thunder Creek Falls, Franz Josef Glacier

Total driving duration: ~3-4 hours

Heading towards the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, you will pass by some absolute beauties of natures – an absolutely blue pool, and a roaring waterfall.

Blue Pools Track

Blue Pools
Image by Pinterest

After two epic, back-to-back long hikes at Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak, we were really glad to arrive at the Blue Pools. It took us only 10 minutes or so to reach the suspension bridge, where we witnessed a couple jumping off the bridge into the icy cold water. Mind you, it was about 10 degrees Celcius and we were in our jackets! We even had a competitive game of skipping stones, think our record was 8 bounces. Google map link here.

Safety tip: There were tons of sandflies at the Blue Pools. Be sure to put on insect repellent, even in the cold weather. I saw many reviews mentioning that people were getting bitten in the summer, but none really mentioned getting bitten in the cold. I was so wrong! And the bite scar stayed on for weeks. So yes, protect yourself.

Thunder Creek Falls

Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak hikes were high effort, high return. Thunder Creek Falls was an incredible super low effort, decent return. Just a few minutes walk to a roaring waterfall. Definitely a must-do in your New Zealand South Island itinerary.

Franz Josef Glacier Hike

Franz Josef Glacier

The ultimate New Zealand South Island itinerary is not complete without the Franz Josef Glacier. Seeing the glacier up close left us with mixed feelings. Such an impressive natural phenomenon to witness, yet heartbreaking knowing that the glacier is retreating due to climate changes. Highly recommend the three hour Franz Josef Glacier valley walk, which comes with a complimentary Glacier Hot Pools pass after your hike.

Looking to walk on the glacier itself? Check out the Heli Hike in Franz Josef Glacier via Klook here. You’ll get to enjoy a thrilling helicopter flight with a jaw-dropping aerial view.

We only visited the Franz Josef Glacier as we thought both glaciers were pretty similar. But if you are looking to choose between one more thoroughly, do note that Franz Josef Glacier is steeper than Fox Glacier which has a gradual incline. The steeper the gradient of the glacier, the more dramatic the formations. Franz Josef Glacier town also has much more options for food and shopping, together with its Glacier Hot Pools. Regardless, here’s some information on Fox Glacier should you prefer the quieter neighbour.

Fox Glacier Heli Hike

Fox Glacier New Zealand South Island Itinerary
Image by Fox Glacier Guiding

Hike and explore the magical ice caves of Fox Glacier with a professional guide with the Heli Hike Experience here. You can choose from 3 packages – Flying Fox Heli Hike, Heli Ice Climbing Adventure, or the ultimate Fox Extreme Heli Hike Day Adventure.

Terrace Walk for Glow Worms

This is an absolute gem of a place to see glow worms for FREE! Google map link here. Featuring a dark, secretive forest, you will be able to see blue hues of glow worms at night time. The return journey takes approximately 30 minutes.

Campground/Hotel accommodation for the night: Rainforest Retreat Holiday Park

Rainforest Retreat Holiday Park

We highly recommend staying at the Rainforest Retreat Franz Josef with its lush, verdant greenery and contemporary interiors. We rented a campervan lot when we were there, but taking a second look at the modern interiors, we just might have booked a tree hut for some well-deserved luxury! Google map link here.

Do dine at the in-house Monsoon restaurant for a lovely meal and great ambience. Cocktails and beer were priced pretty decently too. A great experience overall.

Day 11: Hokitika Gorge, Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Seal Colony

Total driving duration: ~5-6 hours

Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge
Image by South Island NZ Travel Blog

A 2 hours drive from the Rainforest Retreat lies another beauty of Mother Nature. Similar to the Blue Pools, Hokitika Gorge features a mesmerising baby blue hue in its waters. A short 20-minute round trip journey, we highly recommend visiting here for some beautiful pictures. There are tons of sandflies here as well, so remember to apply your insect repellent. Parking location here.

Possible alternative route back to Christchurch: After Hokitika Gorge, if your travel group has been delayed by a couple of days due to bad weather, or simply wish for a more relaxing, spread out itinerary, feel free to head on to Arthur’s Pass. Drive through the Great Alpine Highway through the Arthur’s Pass National Park, it’s absolutely mindblowing. In the middle of Arthur’s Pass lies the spectacular Devil’s Punchbowl Falls (carpark location here), be sure to check that out too and cater 1 hour for a round trip. Perhaps 1.5 hours factoring in photo taking.

Hooked on the beautiful hikes all around the South Island of New Zealand? You can embark on another hike here as well – Avalanche Peak. Sounds daunting? Well, it is a pretty demanding 6-8 hour round-trip hike with an elevation gain of ~1,000m and requires scrambling over boulders, but that makes it all the more fun and rewarding. The Avalanche Peak hike can be converted into a loop via the Scotts Tracks, which offers great views of the Devil Punchbowl Falls. Taking this alternative route will buy you 3 extra days of time, which you can spread out over the earlier part of the 2-week New Zealand South Island itinerary.

Arthur's Pass National Park
Arthur’s Pass National Park – Image by Department of Conservation
Avalanche Peak
Avalanche Peak – Image by The Flying Surgeon

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Walk

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes
Image by Tourism West Coast

1.5 hours drive from Hokitika Gorge, the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes is a popular 20-minute track, suitable for all ages. Check out the exceptional limestone formations of pancake rocks and blowholes here, formed approximately 30 million years ago. The blowholes are best viewed at high tide, so do check online (we refer to Surf-Forecast) to know when is high tide period. Google map link here.

Seal Colony at Tauranga Bay

Seal Colony Tauranga Bay
Image by West Coast New Zealand

An hour’s drive from Tauranga Bay lies one of New Zealand’s most accessible seal colonies. A short 10-minute walk from the carpark, the best time to visit the seal colony is from October to March, when mating season starts and you can see playful pups all around. Google map link here.

Campground for the night: Carters Beach Top 10 Holiday Park (Paid)

Located right next to Carters Beach, the highly-rated holiday park offers a much-needed respite from the long driving.

Hotel accommodation: Carters by the Sea Beachside Apartments / Birds Ferry Lodge (Luxury)

Carters by the Sea Beachside Apartments is a bit more expensive than its neighbours, but we picked it for its relatively more modern interiors. Looking for rustic luxury and seclusion? Try out Birds Ferry Lodge set on 40 acres of native gardens.

Day 12: Abel Tasman

Total driving duration: ~4-5 hours

Things to do in Abel Tasman

1. Kayaking around Abel Tasman’s Beaches

Kayaking Split Apple Rock New Zealand South Island Itinerary

What better way to explore Abel Tasman that to kayak around the area and discover hidden islands along the coast! If you are lucky, you may even bump into a couple of fur seals on the rocks during your expedition. Thereafter, you can also catch a 45-minute cruise back to Kaiteriteri.

2. Visit the Te Waikoropupū Springs

Te Waikoropupū Springs

Known to be the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand, Te Waikoropupū Springs have incredible visibility of up to 63m underwater. The local Māori considers the place as a taonga (treasure) and wāhi tapu, a place held in high cultural and spiritual regard. So be sure to respect the culture and not touch the water.

Campground for the night: Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve Apartments (Paid) / Waitapu River Campervan Park (Free)

A 4-star holiday park in Motueka, this beachfront campground in the scenic Kaiteriteri Reserve makes for a great place to stay at, especially when it’s nearing the end of your trip. It has 400 powered sites, so not to worry about finding a spot here. If you have budget to spare, you might want to consider the luxury apartments overlooking the bay. Google map link here.

If budget is a concern, then check out freedom camping site Waitapu River Campervan Park. Google map link here. It’s very close to the Te Waikoropupū Springs, so you might want to settle down here for the night.

Hotel accommodation: Motueka Garden Motel / Split Apple Lodge – Eco Lodge & Spa (Luxury)

Motueka Garden Motel is a pretty cosy motel for a night’s stay, but the Split Apple Lodge is a charming lodge with a breathtaking panoramic view on its communal deck. If you have some cash to spare, go for Split Apple Lodge!

Day 13: Kaikoura

Total driving duration: ~4-5 hours

Things to do in Kaikoura

1. Go Whale Watching in Kaikoura

Whale Watching Kaikoura
Image by RNZ

Catching the mighty sperm whale in action on this whale watching tour in Kaikoura has to be part of your New Zealand South Island itinerary. Fan of the old-school movie Free Willy? You can even catch sightings of killer whales here as well! Meet up location at the Kaikoura airport here.

2. Swim with Dolphins in Kaikoura

Swim with Dolphins Kaikoura New Zealand South Island Itinerary
Image by Dolphin Encounter

Get up close and personal with schools of dolphins and even swim right next alongside them. If you’d rather watch the dolphins from the boat, it is still an enjoyable experience. Book here in advance with Klook. Meet up location here.

3. Fishing Experience in Kaikoura

Kaikoura Fishing Experience

Meet up at the South Bay Fishing Charters (Google map link here) for the Kaikoura Fishing Experience. Be it a first-time fisher or an experienced fishing expert, you will definitely enjoy this seamless experience with specially designed electric reels.

Campground for the night: Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park (Paid)

Featuring a heated swimming pool and a covered BBQ area, Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park would be the perfect last stop for your trip before heading back to Christchurch.

Hotel accommodation: Kakatu Retreat / Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses (Luxury)

Kakatu is a charming B&B with a lovely sun terrace, decent for a last night’s stay. If you are looking to go out with a bang on your last night, stay at the opulent Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses. It’s not every day that you get to stay in a luxurious treehouse 10 metres up within the trees!

Day 14: Back to Christchurch and back home

Total driving duration: ~2-3 hours

Wrapping up on our New Zealand South Island itinerary, 2 weeks have gone by so fast, and you are back in Christchurch again. We do hope that you had some really fond memories of New Zealand by now. We certainly enjoyed our epic adventure, hopefully as much as you did! Next up, settling the campervan. Before returning your campervan, you will have to empty your waste tank and refill the gas. You can do so here at the BP by Russley Road, located a stone’s throw away from the Christchurch International Airport. Remember to return your rental vehicle in clean condition.

 

We hope this 2-week New Zealand South Island itinerary has been useful for planning your very own New Zealand trip! Do let us know in the comments below if you think our New Zealand South Island itinerary is lacking a majestic sight or hike that you might know of, or if you need advice, feel free to let us know!

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Travel addict, aspiring filmmaker, and one who can't seem to say no to good soup. Matt is an ultimate frisbee enthusiast who runs The Wedding Vow with his loving wife, Joce. In his spare time, he is seen either playing ultimate all around the world, being a couch potato, or slurping down delicious meals prepared by Joce. P.S. Check out his videos and photos on @mattpan32!