Lake Wanaka – South Island, New Zealand
Not only is New Zealand an incredible country to explore but it’s also quite small, making it easy to cover a lot of ground within a short amount of time! Once you’ve explored the North Island, you should make your way to the South Island for the adventure of a lifetime. Both islands are stunning and offer a wide range of activities for all ages. But the South Island is definitely centred around bold and adventurous travellers! This two week South Island itinerary will guide you through some of the most breathtaking sights in New Zealand and help get your holiday plans sorted.
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Getting Around the New Zealand’s South Island
Even though you can travel New Zealand by train and bus, the best way to get around the South Island is by car or camper van. A vehicle will allow you the freedom to move at your own pace and go where you want, when you want! Your trip will be more flexible as you can deviate during this 14 day New Zealand South Island itinerary if you want to. As you make your way through this South Island itinerary, you’ll see that there’s a lot of driving in order to get from place to place. If you don’t have a car or want to rent a camper van you can rent one through RentalCars.com. Check out pricing and availability here.
14 Day New Zealand South Island Itinerary
Day 1 – Fly in or Take a Boat from North Island and Drive to Christchurch
Sail through Marlborough Sound on your way from the North Island to the South Island
To get from the North to South Island you can either fly or take a ferry. You can fly into Christchurch where you can rent a car. If you have been travelling around the North Island you can take the InterIslander Ferry from Wellington to Picton and take your car with you. The crossing from North Island to South Island is 92km across the Cook strait which makes it approximately 3-3.5 hours long. This journey is quite scenic, particularly the final stretch where you sail through the magnificent Marlborough Sounds. The Marlborough Sounds are an extensive network of sea-drowned valleys. Enjoy steep forested hills and quiet bays as you cruise through to port in Picton. Once you make to land on the other side of New Zealand, you should head towards Christchurch, a vibrant city with lots to see and do!
It is then about a 5 hour drive from Picton to Christchurch making the day a long travelling day. However, you are driving through Marlborough Country, famous for its wine and food – fancy a local Sauvignon Blanc?. Possibly enjoy a few samples during your journey down the coast maybe stopping along the way at Blenheim or Kaikoura or any of the other towns along the way. Kaikoura is particularly beautiful. It is a coastal town and known for abundant wildlife including whales. Take the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway that winds through the town to lookout points and if time, go on a whale watching tour to see the might Sperm whales. Then onto Christchurch.
Where to stay in Christchurch
There are a number of accommodation options in Christchurch. Click on the links below for pricing, availability and to book.
Day 2 – Christchurch
Enjoy a full day in Christchurch where you can explore more of the city. The Riverside Market is a must when visiting Christchurch! It has some of the best food and drinks you’ll find in the city. You should also make time to stop by the Christchurch Art Gallery and Canterbury Museum if you’e interested in seeing some of the unique art pieces and learning more about Christchurch’s history. Don’t forget to check out the earthquake tours that are available if you want to learn more about the earthquake in 2011 that changed the city forever. The town centre was practically destroyed and many people were made homeless. You might want to take a stroll in the beautiful Botanic Gardens if you didn’t yesterday or stroll by the Christchurch Cathedral. Or maybe visit the International Antarctic Centre designed to provide informative accounts of life in the Antarctic without even leaving Christchurch.
End the day with a ride along the Christchurch Gondola for beautiful city views! Then back to your Christchurch accommodation.
If you loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy you may want to discover where the movies were filmed. If you have time, you can organise a day tour from Christchurch. Visit Mount Potts and see how it was transformed into Edoras, the capital city of the Rohan people. Check out pricing and availability following.
Day 3 – Christchurch to Dunedin
Dunedin Historic Train Station
The drive from Christchurch to Dunedin is about 4.5 hours. Dunedin is one of New Zealand’s best preserved Edwardian and Victorian cities with many beautiful buildings to admire, one such building the historic Train Station. Once you get to Dunedin you’ll find that this region of the south island is packed with things to do. If you’re interested in getting up close and personal with New Zealand’s wildlife, this is the place to do it! You can head to the Royal Albatross Centre or the Orokonui Ecosanctuary for an experience you’ll never forget.
If you didn’t get enough street art during your time in Christchurch, you can also explore Dunedin street art with Small City Big Walls. End your day with some local craft beer at Emerson’s Brewery before heading to your accommodation.
Where to stay in Dunedin
Dunedin has a number of accommodation options. Click on the links following for pricing, availalbity and to book.
Day 4 – Dunedin
With a full day in Dunedin, there are many more activities to do and ground to cover. Dunedin is known for its spectacular beaches so spend the day beach hopping if you’re travelling during the summer months. St Clair is popular for surfing but Brighton Beach and Long Beach are great options for swimming and exploring caves!
Dunedin is also a great place for cycling and mountain biking with amazing downhill tracks not far from the city. If you’re up for a small drive you can make your way to Otago Rail Trail where you can ride through historic gold mining sites and a stunning landscape.
Day 5 – Dunedin to Invercargill
Invercargill – Ships Graveyard
When you’ve finished exploring all that Dunedin has to offer, you’ll drive about 2.5 hours to Invercargill, the southernmost city in all of New Zealand. There is no shortage of sheep in Invercargill, as it’s landscape is perfect for harvesting food and for livestock to roam.
While venturing through the city, you must stop by Queens Park for a picnic or to check out the sports facilities. Don’t forget to stop by Oreti Beach, only a few minutes from the city centre! It’s great for families, as well as adrenaline junkies with endless activities. Some include swimming, kayaking, horse riding, paddling or 4-wheel driving. It’s also a magnificent spot to watch the sunset!
Where to stay in Invercargill
Invercargill offers a number of accommodation options. Click on the links for pricing, availability and to book.
Hostels in Invercargill: Southern Comfort Backpackers, Tuatara Lodge
Budget Hotels in Invercargill: Whitehouse Hotel
Mid-range Hotels in Invercargill: Tower Lodge Motel, Quest Invercargill Serviced Apartments
Luxury Hotels in Invercargill: The Lodges At Transport World
Day 6 – Invercargill to Te Anau
Next stop on this 14 Day New Zealand South Island itinerary is Te Anau. Begin the drive west from Invercargill to Te Anau and the glacier region which is about 2 hours long. Once you arrive in Te Anau, you’ll want to settle in for the next few days as you’ll want to do a few day trips from this location! It’s right outside Fiordland National Park, and is your gateway to the Fiordland giving you easy access to amazing walks, hikes and bodies of water.
On arrival take a walk by Lake Te Anau, the second largest lake in the South Island of New Zealand where the town Te Anau is nestled. Venture to the glowworm caves which are an ecological wonder and definitely an interesting way to spend your afternoon in Te Anau! Te Anau is also a great spot for fishing if you want to kick back and relax.
Where to stay in Te Anau
You will be in Te Anau a few nights while doing day trips into the Fiordlands so you may want to upgrade your accommodation. Here are a few options.
Hostels in Te Anau: Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers, Barnyard Backpackers Te Anau
Budget Hotels in Te Anau: Alpenhon Motel, The Village Inn
Mid-range Hotel in Te Anau: Alpine View Motel, Kingsgate Hotel Te Anau
Luxury Hotels in Te Anau: Luxury on Howden
Apartments in Te Anau: Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments
Day 7 – Day trip to Doubtful Sound
Take a quick 15-minute drive to Manapouri to explore the magnificent Doubtful Sound. Once you get to Manapouri, you’ll hop on a cruise to see Doubtful Sound for yourself! There are many cruise options to choose from, none of which will disappoint. While many people come to New Zealand’s South Island just to see Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is arguably just as beautiful.
The mountains aren’t quite as high at Doubtful Sound but it’s less touristy and a quieter spot if you’re after something a little more secluded! You can book your tour to Doubtful Sound here.
Day 8 – Day trip to Milford Sound
Milford sound is only about 1.5 hours from Te Anau and definitely worth the journey! The drive in is beautiful with dozens of waterfalls on a rainy day and crystal clear water you can drink right from the streams. If you’re lucky enough to be there on a sunny, clear day, you’ll see bright blue water. The large fiords are world-renowned and offer some of the most incredible views in all of New Zealand! See the spectacular Bowen Falls and towering Mitre Peak, two highlights of Milford Sound
Hop aboard a cruise for the day to learn more about how these fiords formed thousands of years ago and to immerse yourself in this natural wonder.
Day 9 – Te Anau to Queenstown
The next stop is Queenstown which is about a 2-hour drive from Te Anau. Queenstown is without a doubt the adrenaline capital of New Zealand with heaps of adventurous activities to partake in. Take this opportunity to face your fears and skydive in Queenstown or try out a bungy or giant swing with AJ Hackett Bungy! Or maybe a jet boat ride is more your style!
The winter in Queenstown is absolutely magical and you can take up a wide range of winter sports such as downhill and cross country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and more.
Where to stay in Queenstown
Queenstown has a number of accommodation options. Check out the following suggestions and click on the links for pricing and availability.
Hostels in Queenstown: Nomads Queenstown, The Black Sheep Backpackers
Budget Hotels in Queenstown: Four Seasons Motel Queenstown
Mid-range Hotels in Queenstown: Mercure Queenstown Resort, Rydges Lakeland Resort Queenstown, Novotel Queenstown Lakeside
Luxury Hotels in Queenstown: The Rees Hotel & Luxury Apartments, The Spire Queenstown
Day 10 – Queenstown
With a full day in Queenstown, you can set out to explore the city centre, walk by Lake Wakatipu or maybe cruise around it, do a few short day hikes near the city. If you hope to jump into the lake, beware of the freezing cold water, even in the summer months! If you’re an adrenalin junkie, or even not, there are plenty of activities to partake in. Why not bungee jump or skydive while in Queenstown. Check out the tours following.
Queenstown is also known for its nightlife so you should certainly check out some of the bars in the city before you take off to Wanaka the next day.
Queenstown is in the heart of New Zealand’s Southern Alps and is a great base if you want to ski in New Zealand. The four ski resorts, Cardrona Alpine Resort, Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Treble Cone offer great snow and a variety of terrain that suits beginners to expert skiers. There is plenty of are ski as well in the bars and restaurants.
Day 11 – Queenstown to Wanaka
Don’t get too upset about leaving Queenstown because Wanaka is just as beautiful and only about an hour drive away! Wanaka is the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park and If you’re up for a hike, you must do Roy’s Peak while you’re in Wanaka. Start the hike in the afternoon to get to the peak by sunset. Just remember to bring a flashlight for your walk down the track on the way back.
You could also spend a chilled day in Wanaka, walking to the famous lone tree of Lake Wanaka, (a famous tree that’s grown out of Lake Wanaka near the shore). There are also boat cruises and bike tours if you’re looking for a different activity!
Where to stay in Wanaka
Wanaka has a number of accommodation options. Check out the following and click on the links for pricing and availability.
Hostels in Wanaka: YHA Wanaka, Wanaka Backpackers Bothy
Budget to Mid-range Hotels in Wanaka: Fairway Motel and Apartments, Oakridge Resort Wanaka, Edgewater Lake Wanaka
Luxury Hotels in Wanaka: Wanaka View Motel
Day 12 – Wanaka to Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Joseph Glacier
A trip to the Franz Josef Glacier just might be the highlight of your trip to New Zealand! It will take close to 4 hours to get there driving from Wanaka but it’s worth it. Leave early so you have enough time to do the heli hike where you get to explore the glacier with a guide, crawling through ice tunnels and caves and take in the breathtaking views! Time permitting, the Fox Glacier might be on your list to visit. Maybe end your day at the Glacier Hot Pools Experience. Enjoy the pools fed by rainwater and surrounding natural waters to revive your body after a hard day sightseeing!
The heli hikes are only available when weather permits so keep an eye out beforehand to ensure you’re able to get a spot. If the weather isn’t great there are a few hikes in the area that will lead you close to the glacier. Or perhaps you would want to take a scenic flight over Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak. A flight would be better, as it would be a long drive and unfortunately, not enough time on this 14 day New Zealand South Island Itinerary.
Where to stay in Franz Josef
Find a range of accommodation options in Franz Josef. Click on the links for pricing, availability and to book.
Day 13 – Franz Josef Glacier to Greymouth
Greymouth is your final stop on the South Island. It will take about 2.5 hours driving from Franz Josef to get there and is full of history. What was once a mining town on the West Coast of the South Island is now a unique destination where you can visit the Shantytown Museum and taste a few of Monteith’s finest beers!
If you’re interested in learning more about Greymouth’s history take on Point Elizabeth Walk (2 hours) that passes through old mining sites, a beach and a scenic reserve.
Where to stay in Greymouth
For your final night on this 14 day New Zealand South Itinerary check out the following accommodation in Greymouth.
Hostels in Weymouth: The Duke Hostel
Budget Hotels in Weymouth:
Mid-Range Hotels in Greymouth:
Luxury Hotels in Weymouth:
Day 14 – Greymouth to Picton
All good things must come to an end! Drive about 4.5 hours from Greymouth to Picton to catch a ferry back to the North Island. You could also drive about 3 hours instead to Christchurch to catch a flight out of the country if you’re continuing your travels or heading back home!
READ MORE: 7 Day New Zealand North Island Itinerary
Of course, there’s so much more to discover in New Zealand but this South Island itinerary will allow you to experience as much as possible in a short amount of time. If you happen to have more time to explore the North Island of New Zealand, you should do it! Both islands are unique and incredibly beautiful so it’s worth checking out if you can. Regardless, you’ll have a spectacular time venturing through this South Island itinerary!
Sharyn McCullum has travelled all her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. She loves travelling to different countries to immerse herself in the culture and in particular, enjoy the food. She currently calls Melbourne, Australia home.