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10-Day New Zealand South Island Itinerary – 5 BEST Road Trip Options!

10-Day New Zealand South Island Itinerary – 5 BEST Road Trip Options!

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I don’t think anything beats hitting the road and exploring New Zealand’s South Island! Since moving to Queenstown in 2018, I’ve done so many epic road trips all over the South Island, and I know how difficult it can be to pick a route when there’s just SO much to see and do here. So if you’re in need of some inspiration or are struggling to plan your drive, I’ve outlined my top five picks in this blog.

All of these 10-day itineraries are tried and tested by none other than myself, and honestly, I’ve had a great time on each and every one. Reading through them all will hopefully make planning your trip a LOT easier!

My Top 5 Itineraries at a Glance

1. Overview of Itinerary #1 (Christchurch Loop)

Christchurch to Franz Josef to Wanaka to Queenstown to Mount Cook to Lake Tekapo to Christchurch road trip map new zealand
  • 10 days
  • Can start in either Christchurch or Queenstown
  • Completes a loop
  • Great for those wanting to see a lot on a scenic trip
  • Highlights are Arthur’s Pass, Franz Josef, Wanaka, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Mount Cook, Lake Tekapo, Christchurch

Day 1 – Drive Arthur’s Pass from Christchurch to Franz Josef

Day 2 – Franz Josef

Day 3 – Franz Josef

Day 4 – Wanaka

Day 5 – Queenstown

Day 6 – Queenstown (Day tour to Milford Sound)

Day 7 – Queenstown

Day 8 – Mount Cook

Day 9 – Lake Tekapo

Day 10 – Finish in Christchurch

2. Overview of Itinerary #2 (Christchurch to Queenstown)

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook to Wanaka to Te Anu to Queenstown road trip map new zealand
  • 10 Days
  • Can start in either Christchurch or Queenstown
  • Starts and ends at international airport
  • Great for those who want to hike more and see places in more detail
  • Highlights are Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, Wanaka, Te Anau, Milford Sound (possible overnight cruise), and Queenstown

Day 1 – Drive to Lake Tekapo from Christchurch

Day 2 – Lake Tekapo

Day 3 – Mount Cook

Day 4 – Mount Cook

Day 5 – Wanaka

Day 6 – Te Anau

Day 7 – Te Anau

Day 8 – Queenstown

Day 9 – Queenstown

Day 10 – Finish in Queenstown

3. Overview of Itinerary #3 (Picton to Queenstown)

Picton to Marahua to Punakaiki to Franz Josef to Queenstown road trip map new zealand
  • 10 Days
  • Can start in either Queenstown or Picton
  • Great for crossing to the North Island or crossing to the South Island
  • Perfect for those who don’t mind missing the central Southern Alps for the wild West Coast and Milford Sound area
  • Highlights are Picton, Abel Tasman, Franz Josef, Te Anau, Milford Sound, and Queenstown

Day 1 – Explore Picton

Day 2 – Drive to Marahau

Day 3 – Marahau

Day 4 – Drive to Punakaiki

Day 5 – Drive to Franz Josef

Day 6 – Franz Josef

Day 7 – Drive to Queenstown

Day 8 – Queenstown

Day 9 – Tour to Milford Sound from Queenstown

Day 10 – Queenstown

4. Overview of Itinerary #4 (Picton to Queenstown via the East Coast)

Picton to Kaikoura to Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook to Queenstown road trip map new zealand
  • 10 Days
  • Can start in either Queenstown or Picton
  • Great for crossing to the North Island or crossing to the South Island
  • Perfect for those who want to see the Southern Alps as well as wildlife stops like Kaikoura
  • Highlights are Picton, Kaikoura, Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, Wanaka, and Queenstown

Day 1 – Explore Picton

Day 2 – Drive to Kaikoura

Day 3 – Kaikoura

Day 4 – Drive to Lake Tekapo

Day 5 – Lake Tekapo

Day 6 – Mount Cook

Day 7 – Mount Cook

Day 8 – Queenstown

Day 9 – Tour to Milford Sound

Day 10 – Queenstown

5. Overview of Itinerary #5 (Christchurch to Queenstown via the Catlins)

Christchurch to Kaikoura to Dunedin to Curio Bay to Invercargill to Te Anu to Queenstown road trip map new zealand
  • 10 days
  • Starts in Christchurch but can also start from Queenstown
  • Starts and finishes at International Airport
  • Great for those wanting to get off the beaten path and see penguins and more wildlife
  • Highlights are Kaikoura, Christchurch, Dunedin, The Catlins, Te Anau, Milford Sound, and Queenstown

Day 1 – Christchurch

Day 2 – Day trip to Kaikoura

Day 3 – Dunedin

Day 4 – Drive through The Catlins to Curio Bay

Day 5 – Drive to Invercargill for the night or Moray Terrace Reserve Freedom Camping

Day 6 – Drive to Te Anau

Day 7 – Day trip to Milford Sound (stay in Te Anau again or Overnight cruise)

Day 8 – Drive to Queenstown

Day 9 – Queenstown

Day 10 – Queenstown

Need wheels? For rental cars, I always book with Discover Cars since the website is so easy to use with great prices. For motorhomes and campervans, I really like JUCY/Star RV because of their huge selection and multiple depot locations that make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. Plus, if you use my exclusive discount code DTRAVEL24, you’ll save 5%! This discount is only valid for bookings made before June 30, 2024, with travel dates before Dec 21, 2204. You can browse JUCY and Star RV’s availability here and apply the discount code at check-out.

5 BEST 10-Day New Zealand South Island Itineraries

1. Christchurch Loop 10-Day Itinerary

Bailey in the Muller Hut area stands on a rock with Mount Cook in the background
At the Mueller Hut with Mount Cook in the background!
Bailey at a bar in Queenstown drinking beer
Cheers from Queenstown!

This is one of my favorite South Island road trips because it combines a healthy sprinkle of adventure with plenty of time to enjoy Queenstown – and it’s no secret how much I love Queenstown! From exploring the Franz Josef glacier to hiking in Mount Cook National Park, this trip is perfect for those who want to see as much of the South Island’s scenery as possible. 

This trip is a loop that starts and ends in Christchurch, although you can always kick off in Queenstown instead. Just start from Day 5 and do the loop from there! Either way, you’ll only spend a night in Christchurch – no shade to the city, but this itinerary is all about jaw-dropping scenery. 

Day 1 – Drive Arthur’s Pass from Christchurch to Franz Josef

This road trip starts off strong with a super scenic drive from Christchurch to Franz Josef. It’s 381 kilometers (237 miles), which would take about 5 hours to drive without stopping but trust me, you’re going to want to make a day of this! 

I like stopping to stretch my legs with the 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) walk to Hokitika Gorge, which never fails to take my breath away. The West Coast Treetop Walk is another favorite stop of mine as following a path high above the trees is so peaceful and super scenic. But the highlight of the day is definitely driving Arthur’s Pass! 

Where to Stay in Franz Josef

Glow Worm Accommodation is where I stayed on my first West Coast trip and I always enjoy popping in here. It’s close to everything in town and the dorms and private rooms are affordable starting at only $40 NZD.

If you’d rather have a more mid-range option, Aspen Court Franz Josef is super well rated. It’s only a 10-minute drive from the glacier and the rooms are large with a rainforest garden outside. Rates start at $297 NZD.

Day 2 – Franz Josef 

Obviously, you’ve got to go and see the Franz Josef Glacier while you’re in town! You can hike to a viewing platform over it by yourself, or book this guided nature hike. The advantage of that hiking tour is having a knowledgeable guide to tell you about the glacier, wildlife, and plants in the area and it includes all the hiking equipment in case you don’t have your own.

But if you want to take it to the next level, you can book the same 30-minute scenic flight that I did, which was incredible beyond words. It takes you over snowy peaks, frozen waterfalls, and glaciers. But the highlight was landing on a mountaintop where hikers and vehicles can’t reach. I felt like James Bond!

I’ve also done a guided heli-hike in Franz Josef which was insane! It includes a scenic flight and then a chance to hike on the glacier and explore ice caves and dramatic landscapes. I’m not the only one who loved it either – this tour has hundreds of 5-star reviews you can read here!

A group of tourists walk on the Franz Josef Glacier on a tour
You feel so small on the Franz Josef Glacier!

Day 3 – Drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka

There are 284 kilometers (176 miles) between Franz Josef and Wanaka, which would take about 3.5 hours without stopping. But with so many awesome sights along the way, I recommend allowing 5-8 hours. 

I love stopping at South Westland Salmon Farm for breakfast and pulling over at Knights Point Lookout. I normally grab lunch in Haast before checking out the area’s beautiful waterfalls, like Roaring Billy and Fantail Falls.

You should get to Wanaka by mid-afternoon, and some chill time will be welcome after the drive. I like to unwind with a pint at Rhyme X Reason Brewery, or this happy hour lake cruise is always a blast.

Where to Stay in Wanaka

Since this itinerary calls for one night in Wanaka, you’ll need a nice place to stay. I like apartment-style hotels to cook my own meals and have room for bigger groups (I did this road trip with friends last time!). For that, the Archway Motels & Chalets has reasonable rooms starting at $200 NZD) with tons of space!

To relax and spoil yourself for the night, stay at Club Wyndham! This hotel has an outdoor heated pool, waterslide, hot tub, and sauna, Rooms start at $300 NZD and I recommend getting one with a lake view.

Day 4 – Wanaka

I love Wanaka almost as much as Queenstown, primarily because it’s an amazing place to go hiking. If you’re a keen hiker like me, Roy’s Peak Track is a must, or for something even more advanced you could tackle Isthmus Peak. Both are full-day hikes! 

If you’re not a hiker, you could use the morning to go quad biking in the Cardrona Valley (there’s a 10 am tour that fits this itinerary!), or visit the Wanaka Lavender Farm. Wandering through those purple fields is dreamy – talk about a great photo op! 

In the afternoon, it’s time to drive to Queenstown. This only takes an hour, although if you have extra time, I have a guide to some fantastic stops along the way. If you get into town in time, you could always catch the sunset from the top of the Bob’s Peak gondola.

The famous Roy's Peak with a person at the end at sunrise in Wanaka
Roy’s Peak isn’t a bad place to watch the sunrise!

Where to Stay in Queenstown

There are so many hotels in Queenstown, and since you’re going to be here for a couple of nights, I’d recommend La Quinta Queenstown. This beautiful hotel has amazing mountain views and all the rooms are HUGE with suite and studio options starting at $200 NZD.

If you’d like a little upgrade, Kamana Lakehouse is my pick. This place is on the outskirts of town overlooking the lake and mountains. Many of the rooms have lake views and some even have outdoor baths! Rooms book up quickly and typically start at $400 NZD.

Related Read: If you’re traveling with kids (or kids at heart!), check out my guide on the fun Cardona Mountain Carting!

Day 5 – Queenstown

Today, I recommend driving out to Glenorchy, which is about 40 minutes from Queenstown. It’s so quiet and the scenery is magnificent – a lot of Lord of the Rings scenes were shot here! If you’d like to take a break from driving, check out these tours of Glenorchy that include transport from Queenstown and curated itineraries to famous LOTR filming spots that can be hard to find on your own.

On a day trip from Queenstown, I love hiking the Diamond Creek Trail because it’s stunning and doesn’t take too long. The jetty and boardwalk along the Glenorchy Walkway are both beautiful and make sure you grab a pie from the famous Mrs Woolly’s!

But do try to get back to the city before 5 pm for what I consider to be another quintessential Queenstown experience: the lake cruise to Walter Peak Station for dinner and live farm demos like sheep shearing and sheep herding. It’s a whole experience with the scenic cruise, a homemade dinner at the famous Colonel’s Homestead, and the farm tour. I’ve done it three times now and love taking my family on this cruise when they come to visit!

Day 6 – Queenstown

Milford Sound might just be my favorite place in the world. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve visited, as I always take friends and family whenever they are in town. It’s a lot of driving for a day trip, so I recommend leaving the car in Queenstown and taking a tour. Trust me, it’s much more enjoyable that way. 

This premium small group tour to Milford Sound is fantastic, and includes lunch, a nature cruise (which is a MUST), and lots of scenic road trip stops to break up the journey. The cruise is on a smaller boat which isn’t as crowded (meaning you don’t have to fight to see the view!) and lets you get closer to the waterfalls and wildlife here. Plus, my guide, Dani, was just a joy to be around.

It’s a fully planned experience to see this “8th Wonder of the World” and I’m not the only one who loved it. It has 1,100 glowing reviews you can read here!

Bailey looks at a snow covered mountain on the milford sound nature cruise new zealand
Milford Sound is one of my favorite places in the world

Day 7 – Drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook 

When road-tripping, speed is not the goal – not for me, at least! So when driving from Queenstown to Mount Cook, I always take the scenic route through Wanaka. You will have already driven this way once, but it’s so beautiful that I never get tired of it.

At 268 kilometers (167 miles), the drive takes about 3.5 hours without stops, but come on, this is a road trip! I always have to stop for a photo at the Lindis Pass viewpoint and to enjoy a luxurious soak at the Omarama Hot Tubs. It’s pure bliss! The unique Omarama Clay Cliffs are also a must-visit on this journey. 

Where to Stay in Mount Cook

The Glentanner Park Center is my go-to choice for traveling on a budget. It’s a bit outside of town, but the rooms here are clean and cheap. A bed starts at $45 NZD per night, not a bad deal considering you’re on the doorstep of one of New Zealand’s most beautiful national parks!

By far, the most popular (and luxurious) option is the Hermitage Hotel. Most of the rooms have a view of Mount Cook itself! Rooms start at $467 NZD, but do book up far in advance.

Day 8 – Mount Cook 

You’ve got to do at least one hike in Mount Cook National Park! If you’re not a regular hiker, the Hooker Valley Track is flat and easy, but still stunning. Or for a more challenging route, I love the Mueller Hut Hike but head out early as it can take up to 8 hours. 

Mount Cook is known as “the cloud piercer” so I also think that the park is one of the best places in New Zealand to do a helicopter tour. This 50-minute flight will have your jaw on the floor! It includes a snow landing and gets you to remote and beautiful places without needing to hike.

Bailey at the Mount Cook road viewpoint with the stunning highway in the background on a road trip in New Zealand
I can never get enough of Mount Cook!

Then in the afternoon, it’s onto Lake Tekapo. It takes just over an hour to drive, but there are some beautiful stops along the way I’d encourage you to check out. 

Where to Stay in Lake Tekapo

Finish off the last leg of your trip on a high with a stay at The Mackenzie Suites. These luxury suites have stunning lakeside views, kitchenettes, and many also have balconies and a fireplace. It starts at $300 NZD, but is so well-loved, that it can book up months in advance.

I often roadtrip on a budget, so if you’re like me one place I always love to stay is the Lakes Edge Lodge. It’s conveniently located just a 3-minute drive from the town center with a bed in a dorm room under $50 NZD a night.

Day 9 – Lake Tekapo

Every time I visit Lake Tekapo, I’m always struck by how beautiful it is. Don’t miss a relaxing soak in the hot springs, which boast epic views and an on-site spa. I also like visiting Alexandrina Lake as it’s super tranquil. 

However, Lake Tekapo is even more amazing at night. It’s within a Dark Sky Reserve, so the stars here look INSANE! I love this stargazing experience at a mountaintop observatory. If you’ve never seen the Milky Way (and so many other spectacular stars!), the expert astronomers will ensure you do. But book well in advance as it’s understandably super popular. Make sure to visit the Church of the Good Shepherd after dark, too, because it looks incredible against the background of the night sky. 

Day 10 – Drive to Christchurch and finish trip

It’s back to Christchurch today, and if you have the time, naturally I recommend taking the scenic route. It’s 258 kilometers (160 miles) long and takes just over 3 hours without stopping, so it’s only slightly longer than going direct anyway. 

Families and animal lovers simply have to stop at the Gem Alpaca Farm, and I always enjoy having lunch at the Geraldine Orchard. In the winter, skiing at Mt Hutt is a must, but in summer I still like to drive up the access road to enjoy the views. And stopping at the beautiful Rakaia Gorge is always a treat! 

2. Christchurch to Queenstown 10-Day Itinerary

Bailey stands on the road into Mount Cook National Park with Mount Cook in the Background
The road to Mount Cook National Park!
Bailey holds two drinks at minus 5 Ice Bar in Queenstown (1)
Meet me in Queenstown and I’ll buy you a drink at Ice Bar!

This road trip connects two of the South Island’s most famous destinations and hits lots of iconic highlights along the way. There are international airports in both cities, and I think this road trip is best suited for people who like to explore places in depth. 

As a keen hiker, the chance to visit places like Mount Cook and Wanaka is super exciting for me, but honestly, you don’t need to love hiking to enjoy this trip. As long as you like beautiful scenery, you’re set! And of course, you can always start in Queenstown and do it in reverse.

Day 1 – Drive to Lake Tekapo from Christchurch

Having driven both the scenic and the direct route to Lake Tekapo from Christchurch, I can assure you that the former is so much better. It’s 258 kilometers (160 miles) long so there’s not actually that much more drive time involved, just more exciting stops, like Rakaia Gorge and Mt Hutt.

The drive takes about 3 hours without stopping, so even with a few extra hours to explore, you’ll be in Lake Tekapo by the evening. I recommend taking advantage of the incredible night sky here and either joining a stargazing tour or going for an after-dark soak at the hot springs.

Where to Stay in Lake Tekapo

Start this road trip on a high with a luxe stay at The Mackenzie Suites. The location couldn’t be better as you’re within a 5-minute walk from bars and restaurants and the lake views from the rooms are stunning. Rooms start at $300 NZD and can book up months in advance, so you’ll want to book soon!

If you’d rather save some money to spend on experiences, I love staying at Lakes Edge Lodge. It’s only a 3-minute drive from the center of town and has great BBQ facilities! Dorms here are under $50 NZD.

Day 2 – Lake Tekapo

It only takes about 1.5 hours to drive from Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook, so make the most of the morning by the lake! I love grabbing breakfast at Jack Rabbit Cafe. 

There are plenty of stops (see all my ideas here!) to break up the 104-kilometer (64.6-mile) journey to Mount Cook. Make sure to stop at Lake Pukaki, as well as NZ Alpine Lavender during the summer – it’s a photo opportunity I can never stand to miss! Speaking of which, make sure to snap the iconic Mount Cook road photo on the way into the National Park, but be careful!

View of Lake Tekapo taken from town with views of the church
Lake Tekapo’s blue waters are stunning!

Where to Stay in Mount Cook

By far, the most popular (and luxurious) option is the Hermitage Hotel. Most of the rooms have a view of Mount Cook itself! Rooms start at $467 NZD, but do book up far in advance.

The Glentanner Park Center is my go-to choice for traveling on a budget. It’s a bit outside of town, but the rooms here are clean and cheap. A bed starts at $45 NZD per night, not a bad deal considering you’re on the doorstep of one of New Zealand’s most beautiful national parks!

Day 3 – Mount Cook

Nothing beats spending a full day (and night) in Mount Cook, so make the most of it! If you’re the outdoorsy type like me, book a night in the Mueller Hut and tackle this fantastic track. You’ll need to book way in advance and bring your own sleeping bag and cooking equipment, but it’s an amazing experience and worth the extra planning.

But if not, no worries, because there are lots of easy but incredible hikes in the park, like the Tasman Glacier and the Hooker Valley Track. And if you don’t want to hike, it’s definitely worth considering a scenic flight. This helicopter flight goes over not only Mount Cook, but the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, and there’s a secret landing spot that genuinely took my breath away! 

Day 4 – Mount Cook

If you hiked to the Mueller Hut and stayed overnight, you’ll need to hike back down in the morning. If not then you can enjoy some chill time, or another hike before the 206-kilometer (128-mile) drive to Wanaka. It would take about 2.5 hours without stopping but I’ll tell you from experience that it easily turns into a full-day affair! 

I love a quick detour to explore the small town of Twizel, especially the mountain reflections in Lake Ruataniwha! And after hiking, I always stop for a soak (and a glass of wine) at the Omarama Hot Tubs. 

A lady sits ona rock and watches the sunrise at Tasman River Viewpoint in Mount Cook National Park
I never get sick of sunrise at Tasman Lake. Just be prepared for the cold!

Where to Stay in Wanaka

You’ll be spending one night in Wanaka, so I suggest the apartment-style Archway Motels & Chalets if you like more space. Rooms start at $200 NZD and include one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments.

For a little bit of luxury after the drive, unwind at Club Wyndham! This hotel has an outdoor heated pool, waterslide, hot tub, and sauna, Rooms start at $300 NZD and I recommend getting one with a lake view. For more detailed info, check out my blog on where to stay in Wanaka for hotels for all budgets!

Day 5 – Wanaka 

There are two epic hiking trails to tackle in Wanaka: Roys Peak Track and Isthmus Peak. Both of these will keep you busy for most of the day, but you don’t have to hike. I can always find plenty of other things in Wanaka to keep me entertained, like checking out #ThatWanakaTree or going jet boating

Then, in the evening, it’s onto Te Anau. The drive is 227 kilometers (141 miles) and takes 3 hours, and I break it up with a stop for fish and chips at the Brown Trout Cafe.

Where to Stay in Te Anau

For families and budget travelers, the Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park and Motels is my pick. It’s perfect if you’re in a campervan or motorhome too. There’s a children’s playground and a hot tub where you can relax after a busy day on the road! Campsites start at $61 NZD with rooms around $100 NZD.

For some true R&R, Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments is a stunning property on the shores of Lake Te Anau. They went through extensive renos in 2019, with deluxe studio rooms now featuring 55-inch TV screens, electric fireplaces, and more. Rooms start at $275+ NZD.

Day 6 – Te Anau

One of the best reasons to visit Te Anau is that it’s 118 kilometers (73 miles) from Milford Sound! So if you’re visiting from here, I recommend driving yourself and booking this cruise in advance. I’ve done pretty much all of the cruises here and this is definitely the best daytime option! 

12:45 pm and 1:45 pm are the best times to book so you can stop at places like Eglinton Valley, the Mirror Lakes, and Pops Lookout on the way. However, if you’re an early riser you could do the 10:45 am cruise and check out more of the stops on the way back. I find that you see way more wildlife when you go early in the day! It’s a 5-star cruise with HUNDREDS of reviews you can read here!

Alternatively, you could do a Milford Sound overnight cruise. I did the Fiordland Discovery cruise, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done – and not just in New Zealand! You can read my full review of it here, and if you decide to do this cruise, you’ll just drive straight back to Queenstown on Day 7, with a stop for lunch in Te Anau. 

A waterfall far away with sun comingg over the top on the milford sound nature cruise new zealand
Milford Sound has the prettiest waterfalls!

Day 7 – Te Anau

If you’re waking up in Te Anau, use the morning to check out the glow worm caves! I was wowed by them, and it’s possible to book a morning tour. It starts with a scenic cruise on the lake before venturing into the underground caves where I thought the glow worms looked like a shimmering night sky!

If you did the overnight cruise, you won’t have time for this, but do stop at my go-to brunch spot, the Sandfly Cafe! Then, it’s a 2-hour drive to Queenstown, although you’ll have more time to explore the stops today. I love seeing the deer in Mossburn and stopping for photos at the Devil’s Staircase.

Where to Stay in Queenstown

I have a full guide on finding the right place to stay in Queenstown, but if you need a good hotel to book right now, I’d recommend La Quinta Queenstown. This beautiful hotel has amazing views of the Remarkables mountain range and the massive rooms are like tiny apartments starting at only $200 NZD.

For luxury travelers, spending a few nights at Kamana Lakehouse is the way to go. This place is only 5 minutes from downtown but has the lake and mountain views New Zealand is famous for. The rooms are around $400 NZD and feature contemporary decor and outdoor patios.

Day 8 – Queenstown

You’ve got three glorious days to spend in Queenstown – aka my home! – so why not check out my 3-day Queenstown itinerary

Today, I recommend driving to Glenorchy, which is only 45 minutes away and has some truly epic scenery. The drive itself is gorgeous and once you arrive, strolling along the 5 km (3 mile) Glenorchy Walkway is one of my favorite ways to take in the beauty of this place. I also love driving through Paradise, and the Glenorchy Animal Experience is so wholesome and perfect for families.

Windy road with mountain and lake views on the way to Glenorchy from Queenstown
The road to Glenorchy!

Day 9 – Queenstown

One of my favorite things about living in Queenstown is how many adventurous activities are on offer here, so take advantage of them! You could go ziplining at Bob’s Peakjet boating along the Shotover River, or paragliding over the city. (PS – all those experiences I linked have 5-star reviews and either I loved them or my friends recommended them!).

Bungy jumping is also super popular here – did you know that it started in Queenstown? 

In the evening, unwind with this dinner cruise, which includes a scenic ride across Lake Wakatipu on a historic steamship, and dinner at the famous Walter Peak High Country Farm. It’s so much fun and I loved the sheep shearing and sheepdog shows! 

Day 10 – Finish in Queenstown

If you’re flying out of Queenstown in the afternoon, spend a last leisurely morning here going for brunch at one of my favorite cafes. I love the pancakes at Odelay and the views at The Boat Shed

However, if you’ve got a little more time, head 20 minutes down the road for brunch in Arrowtown. It’s a historic gold mining town with lots of cute cafes and shops. I like the rainbow salad at Provisions of Arrowtown!

banner asking people to click to join the Queenstown Diary Facebook Group

3. Picton to Queenstown

Scenic viewpoint between Picton and Nelson
The area surrounding Picton is beautiful!
Bailey along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track
Hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track!

Picton is at the very tip of the South Island, so it’s great for those who are coming from, or going to, the North Island. You can do this trip in either direction and make it work for your itinerary, so it’s logistically very easy. 

This itinerary is ideal for anyone who doesn’t mind missing the central Southern Alps and would prefer to focus on the wild beauty of the West Coast. It covers some of what I consider to be the most amazing places in the entire country, including Abel Tasman National Park, Franz Josef, Milford Sound, and, of course, Queenstown! 

Day 1 – Explore Picton

One of my favorite things to do in Picton is cruise the stunning Marlborough Sounds. I loved this mail boat cruise where our group joined the postman on his mail delivery day to homes in the Queen Charlotte Sound. This is how mail has been delivered here for 150 years and it was so cool to be part of. We even stopped at a secluded beach along the way!

Picton is close to one of the best wine-growing areas in New Zealand – the Marlborough region. The Sauvignon Blanc here is world-renowned and since you’re right on the doorstep of so many incredible wineries, it would be a shame not to taste some! This half-day wine tasting tour visits five award-winning wineries and I loved sampling all the different wines while admiring the scenery.  

Later on, I recommend making the 30-minute hike up to Queen Charlotte View for an epic sunset. And for dinner, I love grabbing fish and chips from Kiwi Takeaways and enjoying a meal by the marina. 

Where to Stay in Picton

The Harbour View Motel is one of my favorite hotels in Picton because of its amazing location and views. From your room, you can stare out at the gorgeous marina and enjoy sunset drinks on your balcony – pure travel bliss! Rooms start at $173 NZD.

If you can spend a little more Picton Waterfront Luxury Apartments is one of the best options. All these mini-apartments overlook the water and have huge balconies. With rooms starting at $500 NZD, it’s not the cheapest, but you get some serious luxury for your money!

Day 2 – Drive to Marahau

It’s 198 kilometers (123 miles) from Picton to Marahau, which is the gateway to Abel Tasman. It takes 3 hours to drive without stopping, but allow time to check out fantastic places like the Ngakuta Bay jetty and Cullen Point lookout on Queen Charlotte Drive. I love walking the Cullen Point Coastal Track, which takes about an hour.

If you like seafood as much as I do, be sure to stop at Mills Bay Mussels in Havelock. On a warm day, don’t miss the chance to swim at Cable Bay Beach. I think it’s one of the most beautiful in New Zealand! 

Torrent Bay in Abel Tasman National Park
Torrent Bay in Abel Tasman National Park

Day 3 – Marahau

Today, it’s time to explore Abel Tasman National Park! I have a full guide on Abel Tasman full of ideas, but my favorite is hiking the Coast Track. Since you’re only here for a day, I recommend walking 12.4 kilometers (7.7 miles) from Marahau to Anchorage Bay and then taking a water taxi back.

If you don’t want to hike, I also think kayaking is an awesome way to explore. This kayaking tour is a total blast, and very family-friendly as you paddle to the iconic Split Apple Rock. Or, to get the best of both worlds, this catamaran cruise allows you to explore the water in the morning and enjoy a self-guided walk in the afternoon. 

Where to Stay in Marahau

Whether you want a cheap bed in a dorm room, a private room, or even a whole cabin to yourself, The Barn is my top pick! It’s in Marahau just steps from Abel Tasman’s entrance, so you can’t beat the location. A bed in the dorm room starts at $38 NZD while a private room starts at $104 NZD.

Day 4 – Drive to Punakaiki

The drive to Punakaiki is 283 kilometers (176 miles), but it’s super scenic! It’s 4 hours of drive time, so I definitely recommend breaking it up with a few fun stops along the way. Stretch your legs along the Old Ghost Road, check out the Buller Gorge swing bridge, or even go jet boating on the canyon! 

Once you get to Punakaiki, you can visit the cave in town to check out the glow worms, and I like walking along the Pororari River Track, which takes about 1.5 hours. And at sunset, I often go for a stroll along the boardwalk at Pancake Rocks! 

On the viewplatform at the end of the Truman Track
The coastline near Punakaiki is stunning!

Where to Stay in Punakaiki

For budget travelers, my pick is the Punakaiki Beach Hostel with its dorm beds and private rooms at an affordable price (starting at $45 NZD). It comes highly rated with beach views and for a hostel, let me tell you, this place is super clean!

For something a little nicer, a great mid-range option is Punakaiki Beachfront Motels. It’s basically on the beach and a quick walk to Pancake Rocks. The rooms all have kitchens and start under $200 NZD which is really reasonable for what you get.

Day 5 – Drive to Franz Josef

It’s onto Franz Josef today, so there are 217 kilometers (134 miles) of driving ahead. This takes about 3 hours, but of course, I have some great stops lined up for you! It’s always nice to grab lunch in Hokitika, and I highly recommend hiking to the gorge. I also love the short Pakihi Walk because it takes you to a really beautiful viewpoint. 

Once you get to Franz Josef, you should have time to do the glacier walk, as it only takes about half an hour. Peter’s Pool Walk is similarly quick, and it starts from the same car park, so it’s easy to combine the two.  

Where to Stay in Franz Josef

I stayed at Glow Worm Accommodation on my first trip down the West Coast and loved it! It’s within walking distance of everything and offers dorms and private rooms at really affordable prices starting at $40 NZD.

If you’re at the point in the road trip where you want to treat yourself, Aspen Court Franz Josef is a mid-range option with outstanding reviews. It’s on the outskirts of town with large, spacious rooms and a beautiful rainforest garden outside. Rooms start around $297 NZD.

Day 6 – Franz Josef

A whole day in Franz Josef gives you a ton of exciting options for things to do! For me, the famous Franz Josef Glacier walk is the closest you can get to this natural wonder without a tour, and it’s also the easiest! The 30-minute round trip hike leads to a viewpoint with a great view of the glacier.

I also loved the scenic helicopter flight that I did (with a snow landing!), or if you’ve got the budget, you can combine hiking and helicopters with the epic heli-hiking experience

And if you’re looking for something low-cost or free, you can check out Lake Matheson or head to Fox Glacier town and follow the walkway to a stunning glacier viewpoint. I also love visiting the Kiwi Wildlife Center to see the largest kiwi hatchery on the South Island – book a skip-the-line ticket to the Kiwi Wildlife Center here as it’s a popular spot!

A helicopter fly's towards the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand
On our way to the Franz Josef glacier in a helicopter!

Day 7 – Drive to Queenstown

This is the most driving-heavy day, since it’s 353 kilometers (219 miles) from Franz Josef to Queenstown. This takes about 5 hours without stopping. This time, I actually recommend driving nonstop for about 4 hours until you reach Wanaka. There are lots of places to grab lunch here, Ritual Espresso and Big Fig being two of my favorites. 

After that, head to Queenstown. The more direct route on Highway 6 allows you to stop and explore Cromwell, and watch brave souls bungee jumping at Kawarau Gorge. However, I love the scenic route because it takes you through Cardrona and along the gorgeous Crown Range Road.

Where to Stay in Queenstown

You won’t be in Queenstown for long, so don’t book the wrong hotel! My guide on the best hotels in Queenstown is full of ideas, but a quick recommendation is to go with La Quinta. It has beautiful views of the Remarkables mountains and I love the massive rooms starting at only $200 NZD.

If you’re at the point in the trip where you want to treat yourself, book a stay at Kamana Lakehouse. It’s only 5 minutes from the center of the city, but the views of the lake and mountains are wow-worthy – even for a local like me. Rooms start at $400 NZD with luxuries like stunning outdoor patios and baths.

Day 8 – Queenstown

This itinerary only allows for one full day in Queenstown, so make it count! I love driving to Glenorchy to admire the incredible scenery, or hanging out in Arrowtown. And if you’re looking for adventure, you’re in luck because, between jet boating, paragliding, and bungy jumping, I promise you it’s impossible to get bored here. I’ve lived here since 2018 and I’m still waiting! 

Grabbing a burger at the legendary Fergburger is a must, and I love rounding off the day by watching the sunset over Lake Wakatipu. Perky’s Floating Bar has awesome views or you can BYOB to Queenstown Beach! 

Day 9 – Day Tour to Milford Sound

Oh, Milford Sound. This fiord is truly beyond compare, but it’s a pretty long drive from Queenstown so I do recommend booking a tour. I’ve done so many of them while living here because I always go with friends and family who come to visit me, and I think that this highly-rated Milford Sound tour is hard to beat. It includes transportation, scenic stops on the way, and a spellbinding cruise past waterfalls.

Or, to save some time and get even more incredible views, this Coach, Cruise, and Flight tour allows you to fly one way to Milford Sound and then drive back so you also get to experience the beautiful road trip stops. And of course, the spectacular nature cruise is included too – it’s a triple threat of an experience! If you aren’t sold on the cruise yet, read my review on the Milford Sound Nature Cruise and you will be!

Day 10 – Queenstown

Today it’s time to say goodbye to Queenstown – sob! So make the most of it in the morning by strolling around town and heading somewhere nice for brunch. Yonder always delivers, and Bespoke Kitchen is hard to beat.  

Bailey onboard the TSS Earnslaw on her way to Walter Peak Station for dinner
Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown is best experienced by steamboat!

If you’re not leaving until late, I suggest getting out on Lake Wakatipu with the historic TSS Earnslaw cruise. Or, say goodbye to Queenstown by enjoying the phenomenal views at the top of Bob’s Peak gondola. You can even go ziplining while you’re up here or enjoy a few rides on the luge – this was a lot more fun than I expected!

4. Picton to Queenstown Via the East Coast

Bailey sips a glass of wine in the Marlborough Wine Region near Picton
Cheers from Picton!
Bailey walks Peninsula Walkway and Kaikoura Recreation Reserve
Kaikoura Recreation Reserve is gorgeous

Like the itinerary above, this road trip takes you from Picton to Queenstown or vice versa, as you can start at either destination! And again, it’s super easy if you’re coming from or going to the North Island, as you can get the ferry from Picton.

However, this itinerary takes you up the East Coast to see the Southern Alps and check out some amazing wildlife in Kaikoura! So basically, it’s very convenient for those who are traveling across both islands AND it showcases some of the South Island’s most dramatic scenery. What’s not to like?

Day 1 – Explore Picton

Picton provides a stunning introduction to the South Island (or goodbye if you’re following this itinerary in reverse). You’ve got the picturesque Marlborough Sounds right on your doorstep, and my favorite way to explore them is on this quirky mail boat cruise. It’s a great way to tour around the sound and the skipper, Jason, has the best stories!

However, I’m also a wildlife lover, so if you are too then you can also join this fantastic bird-watching and dolphin-spotting tour. We visited a bird sanctuary in the Marlborough Sounds and then with the help of marine biologists on board, I saw tons of wild dolphins!

Where to Stay in Picton

For location and views on a budget, the Harbour View Motel is my pick. When I’ve stayed here, I love looking out at the marina and enjoying a glass of wine on my balcony. Rooms start at $173 NZD.

For more space and a touch of luxury, upgrade to Picton Waterfront Luxury Apartments. These are more like mini-apartments than hotel rooms and they all look out over the water. It starts at $500 NZD.

Day 2 – Drive to Kaikoura

Kaikoura is 156 kilometers (97 miles) from Picton, which takes 2 hours without stopping. This drive is one of my favorites because it’s so quiet and the coastline is just beautiful. For that reason, I’d recommend allowing at least 4 hours for this journey, if not more!

The Monkey Bay Walking track only takes about 20 minutes out and back, and the views make it well worth the quick detour. Then, you’ll reach the lovely town of Blenheim, where I recommend grabbing lunch. It’s also fun to snap a photo on top of the Ward Beach Boulders, and I always stop for the views (and the seals!) at Ohau Point

Where to Stay in Kaikoura

If you’re on a budget, I love staying at the Dolphin Lodge when I’m looking to save a few dollars. There are cheap dorm beds, but I usually go for a private room with a mountain view for only $90 NZD!

For a unique stay, the Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses lets you sleep above the forest with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, Kaikoura, and the forest. Plus, each room has a 2-person spa bath, a fireplace, and a balcony starting at $1,000+ NZD nightly.

A humpback whale breaches the water in Kaikoura, NZ
Seeing whales in Kaikoura is unreal!

Day 3 – Kaikoura

If you ask me (or anyone who’s ever been to Kaikoura), by far the best thing to do here is go whale watching. Unlike other places in the world, you can spot these amazing creatures year-round! This whale watching tour is just incredible and has an impressive 95% success rate. In fact, if you don’t see any whales on the tour, you’ll even get 80% of your money back – that’s how common sightings are!

When I took the tour, our group saw sperm whales, seals, and some playful pods of Dusky dolphins. Plus, the ride on the modern catamaran was a lot of fun.

Later on, I recommend heading to Kaikoura Beach or driving up to the Kaikoura Lookout for sunset.

Day 4 – Drive to Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is 400 kilometers (249 miles) from Kaikoura, which takes five hours without any stops, so be prepared for a long drive today! However, the good news is that you can still make it into a fun journey. You can stop for lunch at a winery in Waipara, which is about an hour outside of Christchurch. I especially love Waipara Springs.

In Christchurch, I like to stretch my legs in the botanical gardens, and I usually take the scenic route from there to Lake Tekapo. Don’t worry, it doesn’t take much longer, and stopping at Rakaia Gorge and Mt. Hutt makes the drive much sweeter. 

Where to Stay in Lake Tekapo

If you’re ready for a bit of luxury at the midway point of this drive, a stay at The Mackenzie Suites delivers. Besides the lakefront views, there are balconies, fireplaces, and kitchenettes available. It’s a popular spot that can book up months in advance, so grab your room for around $300 NZD soon.

For those of us on a budget, I love the Lakes Edge Lodge. It’s clean, comfortable, and lakeside so the views are great. It’s more of a hostel-style accommodation, but there are private rooms starting at $160 NZD.

Views of lupins and Lake Tekapo on the south island of New Zealand
Lupins at Lake Tekapo

Day 5 – Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is pure magic. After the long drive yesterday, I think you definitely deserve a soak at the gorgeous hot springs! Or if you’ve got the energy for it, you could save them for later and hike Mount John Summit

This place really shines after dark though – literally! Lake Tekapo is a Dark Sky Reserve, so the stargazing here is next-level. I love admiring the night sky while soaking in the hot springs and don’t miss the chance to snap the famous photo of the Church of the Good Shepherd under the stars. Or, you can join professional astrologers on this stargazing session at the top of Mount John. It has a 4.5/5 star rating, but I guarantee you’ll see more stars than that!

Day 6 – Mount Cook

Mount Cook is 103 kilometers (64 miles) from Lake Tekapo, which takes 1.5 hours without stopping, so if you head out early you can be hiking in the National Park by the afternoon! It’s still worth making a quick stop at Lake Pukaki, though. 

If you’re a keen hiker, I recommend booking a stay in the amazing Mueller Hut and tackling the park’s most iconic hike. Remember to bring your own sleeping bag and cooking equipment, too! But if this sounds a bit too much, there are lots of hikes in Mount Cook (see my top 10 hikes in the park here!) with a great effort-to-reward ratio, like the Hooker Valley track. 

Where to Stay in Mount Cook

My pick for budget travelers and famlies is Glentanner Park Center. There’s a range of accomodations from dorm beds to entire cabins! Cabins start at $160 NZD while beds are $45 NZD – trust me, these are great prices for the location!

For more luxury, the popular Hermitage Hotel is a winner. Most rooms have a view of Mount Cook itself! You do pay for the views at $467 NZD nightly, but it’s a nice way to treat yourself.

Bailey poses for a photo along the Sealy Tarn Track
Mount Cook National Park is epic!

Day 7 – Mount Cook

This morning, you’ll either hike down from the Mueller Hut or have a few hours in Mount Cook. I suggest the Tasman Glacier hike, which only takes 30 minutes! 

Then, the drive to Queenstown is about 3.25 hours without stopping, but I always make tons of stops, so leave at least 6 hours. I love the quirky stops on this drive, like the Omarama Clay Cliffs, which remind me of walking on Mars, the famous Wanaka tree, and the Cardrona bras! My favorite has to be Lake Hayes, though, which is right before Queenstown – I’ve spent so many happy days enjoying the views here.

Where to Stay in Queenstown

You’re going to be in Queenstown for a few days (lucky you!), so my guide on the best hotels in Queenstown may be helpful. One of my top picks is La Quinta Queenstown for the epic views of the Remarkables mountains and spacious rooms starting at only $200 NZD.

If you’d like to finish the trip on a high, treat yourself to a stay at Kamana Lakehouse. It has views over over Lake Wakatipu and the nearby mountains and the bonus is it’s only 5 mins from downtown. Rooms start at $400 NZD in peak season and include luxuries like outdoor baths and premium beds.

Day 8 – Queenstown

Queenstown definitely deserves three days, since there are so many fantastic day trips from here! You can check out this 3-day itinerary that I use with friends who come to visit, but I’ll deliver the abridged version here. 

In the morning, I love to get breakfast to go and stroll around the city, then hike Queenstown Hill in the afternoon. If you’ve had enough of hiking, why not go for the iconic TSS Earnslaw steamship cruise? Then, head up to Bob’s Peak on the gondola for sunset, and enjoy some luge rides, a ziplining tour, or dinner at the Stratosfare Restaurant – but make sure to book ahead! 

Bailey looks out the window at the views from a table on a Milford Sound cruise
Wine and my one true love … Milford Sound! Or is it the other way around?

Day 9 – Tour to Milford Sound

Honestly, I think that Milford Sound is the most amazing place in New Zealand. It’s beautiful, remote, and teeming with wildlife. I’ve been here dozens of times and I’d still go again tomorrow! 

I find that a day trip here from Queenstown involves way too much driving for one day, so I highly recommend booking a tour. I’ve had amazing experiences with this tour, because it’s so well organized and the cruise boat is small, allowing you to get much closer to the wildlife and waterfalls.

Alternatively, this scenic flight tour flies you in and out of Milford Sound for a nature cruise instead. It’s honestly one of the best things I have ever done, and the views were awe-inspiring.

Day 10 – Queenstown

If you’re able to spend a full day in Queenstown today, then make the most of it by driving to Glenorchy and Paradise to take in the incredible scenery. You’ll be far from the crowds out here, which is what the South Island is all about in my opinion! Or, you can head for brunch and a stroll around the shops in Arrowtown, which is super cute and only 20 minutes from the city center. 

And if you don’t have long, you can’t go wrong with baked goods and hot chocolate at Patagonia Chocolates. Having spent a lot of time in Argentina, I can tell you that the treats here are the real deal! 

5. Christchurch to Queenstown Via the Catlins

Bailey at the New Regent Street Precinct in Christchurch, New Zealand
Christchurch is such a pretty town!
Bailey enjoys the views of Milford Sound from the side of the boat
Enjoying my favorite place ever, Milford Sound!

If you’ve visited the more touristy parts of New Zealand before, or you just love getting off the beaten path, this 10-day itinerary is perfect. It’s super convenient, too, as it starts and ends at major cities with international airports. And of course, you can start in either city. 

I also think that this is a great choice for wildlife lovers. The route goes through Kaikoura, which is one of the best places in New Zealand to see whales, and Dunedin, which is famous for its penguins, sea lions, and albatrosses. Oh, and Milford Sound, where I’ve seen pretty much all of the above! 

Day 1 – Christchurch

When I’m in Christchurch, a ride on the Christchurch gondola is one of my favorite ways to take it all in. I also can never pass up the chance to go to the Riverside Market for delicious food and a beer in the garden.  

For families and wildlife lovers, I recommend The International Antarctic Center. My favorite parts were the 4D shows, seeing the cute Little Blue penguins, and the “cuddle zone” where I was surrounded by adorable Huskies! It’s open every day and tickets are available here.

If you’re not about big cities then never fear, because Christchurch is surrounded by nature. When I want beautiful views, I love to drive 30 minutes out of the city to walk the Godley Head Loop Track.

Where to Stay in Christchurch

I recently stayed at Tasman Holiday Parks Christchurch and loved it! It’s a holiday park, so perfect for those with a campervan or motorhome, but they also have newly renovated rooms and apartments available for a great price! There are kitchens, BBQs, and an indoor pool with stays starting at $114 NZD.

In the city center, the Crown Plaza Christchurch is perfect for a luxury stay. It’s a large hotel with amazing views of the city. You can grab a coffee at the on-site cafe or cozy up by the bar’s fireplace with a cocktail. Prices start at $250 NZD.

Related Read: If you need more ideas, here are the best Christchurch tours including glaciers, whale watching, hikes, and LOTR filming spots!

Day 2 – Day trip to Kaikoura

Kaikoura is 2.5 hours from Christchurch, and I love visiting because it’s New Zealand’s whale hotspot! The drive there is fantastic, so budget some extra time because you’re going to want to stop in the Waipara wine region and beautiful Gore Bay. 

Once you arrive, you can take this top-rated whale watching tour or go kayaking alongside them. I can promise you that both are incredible experiences! Afterward, visit the Kaikoura Marine Nesting Area to see the fur seals basking on the rocks, and bring binoculars because you may well spot dolphins and even more whales in the ocean behind them.

Tunnel Beach Dunedin
Tunnel Beach, Dunedin

Day 3 – Dunedin

The drive from Christchurch to Dunedin is 360 kilometers (223.7 miles), and it runs pretty much entirely along the coast. It takes 4.5 hours without stopping but I like to make this into a full-day trip (or even a multi-day one when I have the time). 

There are lots of fantastic stops I recommend along the way, but my favorites include the unique Moeraki Boulders, and Katiki Point to see seals and yellow-eyed penguins at the Lighthouse sanctuary. If I need to stretch my legs, Heyward Point Track takes about 2 hours and offers beautiful coastal views.

Where to Stay in Dunedin

A former post office, the historic Distinction Dunedin Hotel has recently been upgraded and the rooms are luxurious. You can even dine privately in one of the original vaults! Rooms start at $299 NZD.

I love Hotel St Clair as it’s in one of my favorite areas in Dunedin – just an 8-minute drive from the city center. It’s a beachfront boutique hotel and some of the rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows facing the beach! Rooms start at $249 NZD.

Day 4 – Drive through The Catlins to Curio Bay

Wild, rugged, and way off of the tourist track, the Catlins area is absolutely beautiful. Oh, and there are TONS of waterfalls here. It’s well worth the slight detour! It’s 184 kilometers (114 miles) of driving today, which takes just under 3 hours, but you’re definitely going to want to explore in depth.

As you come into the Catlins, the Cathedral Caves are spectacular, but you can only visit at low tide. Trust me, it’s worth checking the tide times and scheduling your visit accordingly! I also visited all of the Catlins waterfalls when I traveled through the area in my van. Koropuku and Mclean Falls were definitely the most spectacular. 

Try to get to Curio Bay by sunset to see the yellow-eyed penguins do the famous penguin walk! When I stayed at the campground, there were also Little Penguins walking around at night! Or, if you want to freedom camp, there’s a site nearby. 

A lady sits at Koropuku Falls in the Catlins region
The Catlins has so many great waterfalls!

Day 5 – Drive to Invercargill for the night or Moray Terrace Reserve Freedom Camping

This morning, you’ll want to get those binoculars out again because Curio Bay is a fantastic place to spot whales and dolphins. The petrified forest is also a super interesting place to visit, but it’s on a small reef, so you can only visit at low tide.

There’s just over an hour of drive time today but we’re stretching it into an epic road trip! Don’t miss Slope Point, which is the southernmost tip of the South Island. I also like stopping at Waipapa Point Lighthouse to see the seals and sea lions – sometimes, they even fight! The Cliffs at Fortrose Viewpoint are incredible and really showcase the island’s gorgeous coastline. It’s very peaceful, too, so bring a picnic! 

Today is all about the road, but I recommend spending the night in either Invercargill or Moray Terrace Reserve Freedom Camping. This is another favorite of mine from my van life days! If you do want a hotel, I’ve personally stayed at the Bella Vista Motel Invercargill. It’s clean, comfortable and there’s a nice breakfast for $13 NZD.

Day 6 – Drive to Te Anau

The drive to Te Anau takes about 2.5 hours, and this is one drive where there aren’t many great stops, so I like to go early and spend the afternoon in Te Anau. My favorite thing to do is take a glow worm cave tour – it’s a truly magical adventure. The caves here are 12,000 years old and walking through them as they are lit up by thousands of glow worms is one of my favorite memories of Te Anau.

Glow worms are unique to New Zealand (and one small Australian region) so you’re unlikely to see them elsewhere in the world, so take advantage of this while you’re here!

Te Anau Glow Worm Caves 
The Te Anau glow worm caves are incredible!

Then, in the evening, grab some takeaway food from town and head to the jetty at the lake. The sunsets here are breathtaking and so peaceful!

Where to Stay in Te Anau

Stay right on the shore of Lake Te Anau at the Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments. The newly renovated deluxe studio rooms are gorgeous and start at $275 NZD.

If you’re traveling in a campervan or motorhome or as a family, the Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park and Motels is perfect. There’s a playground for the kids and a hot tub to relax in, plus it’s budget-friendly with campsites at $61 NZD and rooms around $100 NZD.

Day 7 – Day trip to Milford Sound

Te Anau is just under 2 hours from my favorite place ever: Milford Sound! This remote fjord is stunning beyond words, and having visited more times than I can count, I can tell you that this cruise is the best one. The small boats just deliver a much better experience! There are some fantastic stops on the drive, like Eglinton Valley and the Mirror Lakes, so book either the 12:45 or 1:45 pm slot so that you have time to explore them. 

Or, for a true bucket-list experience, this overnight cruise honestly cannot be topped. I dreamed about doing it for YEARS, and when I did, it exceeded all of my expectations! 

Day 8 – Drive to Queenstown

If you did the day cruise and stayed in Te Anau, you can spend the morning here doing something fun like this jet boating tour. It’s an epic two-hour adventure right in the heart of Fiordland National Park. But if you did the overnight cruise, you’ll spend the morning driving back to Te Anau, and then it’s onto Queenstown! 

It’s worth using the afternoon to make a road trip out of this 2-hour drive. I like to grab a coffee and check out the art at the Five Rivers Café and Art Gallery, and grab some local honey at Garston Hunny Shop. I usually need to stretch my legs by the time I’m approaching Queenstown, and the 7-km (4.3-mi) Wye Creek Track is the perfect summer hike. It takes you to what I consider to be the city’s most underrated viewpoint! 

Where to Stay in Queenstown

I have a full guide on finding the right place to stay in Queenstown, but if you need a good hotel to book right now, I’d recommend La Quinta Queenstown. The views are the main attraction here with mountains and the lake. Plus, the rooms are spacious and feel more like an apartment for only $200 NZD.

Finish the road trip on a high with a couple of nights at Kamana Lakehouse. It has the views you came to New Zealand for (hello mountains and lakes!) and the contemporary decor and upscale rooms just ooze luxury. Rooms start at $400 NZD.

On the TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu
On the TSS Earnslaw sailing back to Queenstown!

Day 9 – Queenstown

This is a pretty off-the-beaten-path road trip, which is why I recommend driving out to Glenorchy today. It’s only 40 minutes from the city, but the scenery is stunning and this place is so tranquil.

My favorite way to spend a night in Queenstown is to take the historic (and scenic) TSS Earnslaw cruise over to Walter Peak Station for a delicious barbecue dinner. The views are incredible both on the lake and from the farm, and I loved the live farm demonstrations! 

Day 10 – Queenstown

I never like to waste a moment in Queenstown, so if you’ve only got the morning here, make the most of it with brunch. I love Yonder, but it’s worth driving to Arrowtown if you’ve got a bit more time to spare. It’s such a cute mining town and Provisions of Arrowtown also delivers on the brunch front. 

Or if you’re not leaving until the evening, I love going up Bob’s Peak gondola for epic views of the city and some luge rides. Check out my tips before riding the luge if it’s your first time here! And if there’s enough time, I can’t think of a better way to round off your trip than with dinner and a view at the Stratosfare restaurant! 

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey stands overlooking Mount Cook National Park from one side of Lake Pukaki, New Zealand
Thanks for reading!

Thanks for sticking around to the end! I had so much fun putting together these 10-day itineraries to explore the South Island. I hope you’ve found a route that’s calling your name. Each of the five road trips on my list is special and I loved all of them. There’s a reason I moved to the South Island after all!

If you enjoyed this blog then don’t rush off. Check out more of my blogs about the South Island for more travel inspiration and helpful tips.

North Island VS South Island of New Zealand – Which is Better?

The BEST time to visit Queenstown – Comparing the Four Seasons

50+ EPIC Things to do on the South Island, New Zealand (By a Local!)