Ever wanted to visit New Zealand and see what the other side of the world has to offer? Hike through the Southern Alps of Mt. Cook? Get your adrenaline flowing by bungee jumping off of Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown? Or even attempting to summit the famous Roy’s Peak? Welcome to TrekPrep’s road trip itinerary for traveling around the South Island of New Zealand for 2 weeks! With all of these options and a limited time to do it, we have created an itinerary which we think will help with having a memorable trip while hitting all the main towns and parks on the way.
What you can expect from this itinerary: As you fly over the snow capped mountain range from Auckland in the North Island, you will land in the South Island's capital of Christchurch. Here is where you will fly in and out of, rent a car and embark on our journey to Arthur’s Pass to summit Avalanche Peak and get up close and personal with Devil Punch Bowl. From Arthur’s Pass, you’ll take Highway 73 through the mountainous region to the west coast, passing through the quaint beach town of Hokitika, on the way to your next stop at Franz Joseph Glacier.
The next leg is the drive down to the adrenaline capital of the world known as Queenstown, where you can take part in any extreme activity from bungee jumping to jet boating the Kawarau River. Furthermore, a day trip from Queenstown to the Milford Sound is something you don’t want miss. If you have time, make the day trip up to Glenorchy and set foot on the battlefield of Isengard. From there, you will retrace your drive (only slightly!) back to Wanaka to hike Roy’s Peak.
For the last leg of your trip, you’ll make your way over to Mt. Cook’s village and walk the Hooker Valley Trek to get a close up of the Southern Alps. From there, you will make the drive to Lake Tekapo to relax at the hot springs and soaking in the beauty of the Lake. Once fully recharged, you will finally make the drive back to Christchurch.
Overall, there are a lot of variable in this trip that you can tinker with, so this road trip itinerary is more to show you what’s available and how to customize it to your liking. We’re here to show you the major stops and activities in the South Island of New Zealand.
2 Week Driving Map in New Zealand
What to Know Before You Go Information
The Geography of New Zealand
Contrary to popular belief, New Zealand is separated into two islands: the North and South island. In the North, you can find the capital, Auckland, along with places like the Hobbiton Movie Set, Tongariro National Park, Waitomo, and much more. Compared to the North, the South Island is much more picturesque and natural with places like Milford/Doubtful Sound, Mt. Cook, Wanaka, and Arthur’s Pass. Queenstown in the South Island also includes indulgence on any extreme activity from skydiving to paragliding and more. If this is your first time visiting New Zealand, we recommend that you consider going to the South Island first.
Time of Year to Travel
New Zealand is located in the deep south of the Southern Hemisphere which can make planning a little tricky. It is important to remember that the seasons are flipped: the spring and summer months are from November to April while their fall and winter is from May to October. We recommend going during the late spring and early summer (November-December) because the weather is perfect and the prices for accommodations are slightly cheaper being "off-season". Below is the current weather for Queenstown.
You do not need a visa for visiting New Zealand. US and UK citizens can stay for a 6 month period in New Zealand, but if you're a citizen of a country that has a visa waiver agreement, you'll need to make sure you complete that requirement before visiting.
For all travel visa or working holiday requirements, visit newzealand.com for more information
Budget Travel Tips for the South Island of New Zealand
Being able to save a dollar here and there while on a trip can go a long way to making this trip more affordable. Below are some suggestions to consider when deciding when to travel and the kind of accommodation you want to book.
Booking Accommodations Ahead of Time: During November-December, accommodations for hotels and hostels will be a little harder to come by so remember to book your rooms at least a week in advance. Note that prices for hotels and hostels will be slightly inflated compared to that of the off season. As the summer comes around from December to April you can expect accommodation prices to increase by several dollars
Food For Cooking cost is the best way to budget travel in New Zealand. Eating out can become expensive, especially for every meal, so we recommend stopping by a Four Square or another supermarket to stock up on food and cook in the hostel or BnB. You will save exponentially in overall expenses, and cooking in the hostel gives you a chance to mingle with other travelers!
Food Eating Out is more than likely the expense that will fluctuate the most from traveler to traveler. We suggest cooking as much as possible, but it is good to treat yourself to a few delicious restaurant cooked meals and morning coffees.
South East Asia Travelers
If you are coming from South East Asia, it is important to remember that New Zealand is very different from other countries in the region. New Zealand is more expensive in nearly every aspect, from hostels to car rentals to just about everything, so be prepared to spend more. Furthermore, note that the high season is between December to March and that you have to book your accommodations a week in advance. Unfortunately, you cant just walk downstairs and book another room for the night that happened to several travelers and they had to find another place for that night because of it.
Getting Around New Zealand
Extra Transportation Information
By Car: We highly recommend checking out GoRentals; it’s a great website which has side-by-side comparisons of competing rental companies to find you the best deal. Many travelers have used SnapCar rentals and they have very reliable cars that are newer models then other companies.
By Campervan: If you are interested in renting a camper van for your trip, Drive Now and Jucy are great companies to rent from and are known for having reliable vehicles.
By Bus: If you decide that renting a car is not for you, there is the InterCity FlexiPass hop on/hop off bus system that is available and leaves both in the morning and at the night from each towns city center.
Day 0-1: Fly into Christchurch and Rent a Car
After landing into Auckland, you will take a flight from the capital to Christchurch. This is a short hour and a half flight and can be booked for as little as $60 USD round trip through Jetstar, the intercontinental budget airline.
Once you land in Christchurch, you can rent a car from one of the companies that are in airport, though we suggest you use Snapcar rentals (see below "Rent a Car") or if you decide to wait until the next day to pick one up, you can take the purple bus from outside the airport (Bus 29) and it will take you directly into the heart of Christchurch with the drop off at the city bus station.
We would recommend only staying one night in Christchurch; with a timeline of two weeks you'll want to make the most of your trip and there's a lot more to see on the South Island!
Cathedral Square: Located in the center of town (and currently under construction repair as of September 2018, this mid 1900’s cathedral is the focal point of the damage the earthquake in 2011, as well as after shocks, did to the city. Take in the scene, as this is also what you will expect to see here. During the year, many festivals and markets can be found around the Cathedral as well.
Re:StartMall: As any main city would have, the Re:StartMall is a good place to walk around and stack up on supplies for the journey ahead. As you walk through the squares, you'll find everything from small side street vendors to high-end boutiques. There are plenty of restaurants/pubs to stop and grab a bite to eat. There is a grocery store located near the bus station if you plan on doing cooking at the hostels.
Since you will only be spending a night in Christchurch, there are plenty of accommodation options you can choose from that wont break the bank. Some hostels that we recommend are Around the World Backpackers and Urbanz Hostels because they are close to the city center. For more accommodation options available in Christchurch, look at the map below. To find prices and availability, use Booking.com!
Days 2-4: Arthurs Pass
Once you’ve had a night (or if you flew in during the morning to pick up your car), start your road trip out of Christchurch on the Old West Coast road, which eventually leads to highway 73. This trip takes about 2 hours but once you make your way out of the city, your urge to stop every 15 minutes to view the scenery will kick in.
Castle Hill Pull Off
If you're slightly zoned out on your drive, you may just miss Arthur's pass! In this quaint mountain town that nestles in between . the valley between Mt Wilson and Mt. Rolleston, there are a handful of accommodations and even fewer stores. We recommend spending two nights here to make the most of your stay and taking part in some of the activities listed below.
Arthurs Pass Activities
Avalanche Peak (via Scott's Track)
Devils Punch Bowl Waterfall
Other Activities: If you are looking for another day walk, both the Bealey Spur Track and Carroll Hut are 4-6 hour hikes that are suitable for reasonably fit people. For more information on both, click the link here.
Arthurs Pass Accommodations
Arthur's Pass YHA offers a great accommodation given the small amount of options available. It has a large kitchen and is right next to the café in town in case you need to grab any supplies (though the selection is limited). The options are limited so check out the map below for your options. For other Arthurs Pass accommodation prices and availability, check out Booking.com.
Food Options in Arthurs Pass
We are not kidding when we say that food options are few and far in between. There are only two food options in town: Challenge Arthur's Pass Cafe and Restaurant and Wobbly Key. Challenge has everything you need from a small grocery store, to morning pies and coffee's, and sandwich options for hikes and dinner.
Days 4-6: Franz Joseph Glacier
Before you arrive in at Franz Joseph we want to prepare you for what lies ahead: some of the most amazing scenery that New Zealand has to offer. You will continue on Highway 73, which will lead you directly to the west coast highway (Highway 6). Once you pass through the Kumara Junction, you will take a left on to Highway 6 and drive parallel to the Tasman Sea. After about 20 minutes , you will end up in the small beach town of Hokatika.
Hokitika Pull Off Activities
From Hokitika, continue the drive down Highway 6. Once you pass Okarito you’ll be around 20 minutes away from the town center of Franz Josef. If you happen to arrive around sunset, it may be worth your time to pull in there and hike to Three Mile Lagoon. Apparently from there you can get an amazing view of the sunset hitting the Franz Joseph Glacier.
Once you're settled at your accommodations in Franz Joseph, look into these activities:
Franz Joseph Activities
While the town is small, there is a ton to do; whether it be visiting Tatare Tunnels or taking one of the scenic hikes up to the Franz Joseph Glacier. Given that you have 2 days planned for this stop, we have made some suggestions as to which hikes to do and places to see. The map below is of Franz Joseph and we highlight the key areas and hikes you should check out.
In the top right corner of the map you will seek hikes A-E. Here's the break down of each hike, as explained to us by locals:
A - Franz Joseph Glacier Walk: Described as the shortest walk, you can take this hour and a half trek to its end point where you see the front face of the glacier from a distance. Difficulty level is low.
C - Roberts Point Track: Described as the most beautiful walk, this one is highly recommended for those who have more time to spend at the glacier (4 hour return). The trek finished with a picnic table and a close up view of the glacier. Moderate difficulty level.
E - Alex Knob Trek: Described as the longest, you trek for 8 hours through tree covered mountain side without seeing the glacier until the very end where you have the best view and closest experience then the other treks. Highly recommended for going at sunrise and has a low level of difficulty.
Roberts Point Track
F - Terrace Walk to see Glow Worms:
Helicopter Flight (On Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier): While this itinerary is geared more towards budget backpackers, we were told that the heli-hikes on Franz Joseph are a one of a kind experience. Make sure to read the fine print though: you may not get your full money's worth. Reason being is the weather along the mountain range is susceptible to quick change as it's situated along the coast. If you fly to the glacier and are on the it for a minimum time (around an hour), then the tour will end and you will have "paid" for your full time. Always keep an eye on the weather to see if this would be a good addition to your trip.
If you have the money and time, visit TripAdvisor for more details on costs and people's experiences.
Franz Joseph Accommodations
Franz Joseph has plenty of motel and hostel options in town that make going out to restaurants and activities easy. For hostel accommodations, we recommend checking out Chateau Backpackers and YHA Franz Joseph. If you want to check out more options, look at the map below. For prices and availability, check out Booking.com. Furthermore, if you're interested in an AirBnb, looke what's avaialable here.
Food Options in Franz Joseph
Located in Franz Joseph are restaurants, cafe's, and a grocery store to stock up on supplies. If you're looking for a cheap bite to eat, we recommend checking out Alice Cafe. Snake Bite is a popular brewery that is located in the heart of Franz Joseph that has good drinks as well as food to fill up on after a long day of hiking. For a good breakfast option that wont break the bank, The Landing Restaurant in town is a great option. For more food options, check out the map below or Tripadvisor.
Days 7-10: Queenstown and Glenorchy
Once you’ve stopped by to see the glaciers, you are going to be taking quite a long drive (5 hours) to Queenstown. You will continue to take highway 6 down the coast through Haast and toward inland to Wanaka. Don’t worry, for the sake of the trip it’s better to wait for Wanaka after Queenstown to cut up the driving time a little bit. You will pass through one of the nicest drives of New Zealand in the Wakitipu Region. This 60 minute drive is absolutely incredible and one of the most memorable of your trip.
Arriving in Queenstown is unlike any other place in this world. One look up and you will see paragliders from Coronot Peak, bungee jump and jet boat signs posted outside every hostel corner that will make you want to indulge your inner adrenaline junky, and an a vibe that will make you want to extend your stay for another 2 weeks. Once you're situated in your accommodation, consider doing one of the many exciting activities Queenstown has to offer.
Any Adrenaline Activity: If you ever had any sort of inclination to try something far out of your comfort zone, Queenstown is the place to do it. Whether it be a bungee jump, jet boat ride, or sky/paragliding, you will most likely find somewhere to try it out. Our suggestion is to talk to your hostel and see what they say is the best, most cost efficient company. If you're lucky, you might just be asked to be a "test dummy" for jet boat ride when they're training their new driviers (meaning you get a free ride!)
Milford Sound Day Trip
Hike Moke Lake
Hike Mt. Crichton
Bob’s Cove: Right before the turn off to Mt. Crichton, a sign pointing down to Bob's Cove will lead to a beachfront area with a dock to run and jump off. During the Spring and Summer months, you can find locals and people from Queenstown catching some sun and relaxing by the water here during their time off work.
Queenstown Skyline: For around 30 NZD you can take the skyline gondola up to Bob's Peak for the day where they offer a restaurant and beautiful view. Once at the top, you can take one of the two skyline luge tracks down. The best part: you have the pass for the day and can do it all over again.
Accommodations in Queenstown
Given its popularity , Queenstown offers a plethora of hotels, hostels, apartments and AirBnB options so finding a place for your 3 nights here wont be an issue. Some hostels we suggest are YHA Lakefront if you're looking for a quieter place right outside of town or Nomads Hostel if you're looking for a party hostile. For more accommodation options, look at the map below. For price and availability, look at Booking.com. If you're interested in renting an Airbnb, click here.
Food Options in Queenstown
Home to the famous "Fergburger" and more, Queenstown have a range of food options that will fill any craving. Furthermore, there are small cafe's that line the lake side where you can sit down and enjoy the scenery. While eating out is a little more expensive here due to its popularity, you can find something that fits any budget range.
For a nice, white table cloth dinner, we suggest The Bunker which offers an array of New Zealand style and international food options. Bespoke Kitchen is a offers a nice option if you're looking moderately priced European food right next to the Skyline Queenstown and Erik's Fish and Chips is a famous local cheap eat for, you guessed it, fish and chips.
Check out the map below for the available options, as well as Yelp for more.
Glenorchy Day Trip
After spending your time in Queenstown, make a day trip up to Glenorchy (about 30 minute drive) to see the ever-famous Isenguard that you will probably recognize from the 1st Lord of the Rings. The town of Glenorchy is small and quaint, but has some hidden gems such as Paradise Road and the Glenorchy Pier.
Drive Down Paradise Road
Days 10-12: Wanaka
After having your adrenaline fill in Queenstown, the next leg of your trip takes you back to Wanaka. An hour drive, you’ll pull into this small town with and amazing view of a lake and mountain range backdrop.
The beauty of Wanaka really cannot be understood unless you witness it in person. After getting settled in your hostel, consider exploring the city with some these activities.
Rocky Mountain Peak
Visit Wanaka Tree at Sunset
Kayaking in Wanaka Lake: If you're visiting During the Spring and Summer, definitely take the time to either Kayak or Paddle board around Wanaka Lake to see the town from the water. A two hour rental is enough time for you to paddle to Ruby Island and back. The water is unbelievably clear and the experience wont disappoint.
Wanaka is similar to Queenstown with hostels and Airbnb's available located in town. For hostels, we suggest Wanaka YHA if you are looking for a laid back scene or Base Wanaka if you would like more of a party scene. For more accommodation options in Wanaka check out the map below. If you're looking at prices and availability, go to Booking.com. If you're interested in renting an Airbnb, click here.
Food Options in Wanaka
A majority of restaurants and cafe's are located along the lake shoreline in Wanaka. If you're looking for a good post hike meal, we suggest checking out either Federal Diner for a nice sit down dinner that's fairly priced or The Cow for a delicious (though pricer) pizza you'll never forget. For desert, stop by Alchemy for some of the best ice cream in New Zealand. Furthermore, the lake side bars have happy hours that typically take place right before dinner so make sure to stop by for a drink. For more options, check out the map below, as well as Yelp for more reviews.
Days 12-14 Mt. Cook and Lake Tekapo
Once you're finished up in Wanaka, you'll take the 2 and a half hour trip up to Mt. Cook village. A small mountain town surrounded by the Southern Alps (are they actually called the alps?)might be one (why just might be? you can say...is one of the most awe-inspiring places we've ever seen.. or make it more personal if you want. don't be lackluster in your description, especially if you actually think it is awe inspiring) of the most awe-inspiring places you will see.
Depending on when you leave Queenstown, you may be driving into Mt. Cook Village as the sun is setting. Park your car at one of the pull offs just outside of the village and you can see the peak of Mt. Cook glow a florescent pink.
Mt. Cook Activities
Hooker Valley Track
Make sure you book in at least a week in advance because there are limited bunk spaces available in the hut. This can be done through the DOC website.
Tasman Glacier View Point Hike
Mt. Cook Accommodations
Mt. Cook Village is home to only a couple options for accommodations so make sure that you book ahead of time. Glentanner (Mt. Cook) is a great hostel/camp ground thats about 15 minutes outside of Mt. Cook. They have a welcoming front office staff that is very friendly and will help set you up with any activity. Furthermore, it's a great place to star gaze since it is away from town where there aren't any lights. It has a nice kitchen and a place to BBQ if you want to grill, but like most places in NZ, the WiFi is a bit dodgy. Mt. Cook YHA: is another good option if it's available. For more Mt. Cook options for accommodations, please visit Booking.com. If you're interested in renting an Airbnb, click here.
Lake Tekapo Activities
Church of the Good Shepard
University of Canterbury Observatory View and Earth & Sky Stargazing Tour
Tekapo Springs: If you decide to finish your trip in Lake Tekapo, all of your hiking and trekking will be rewarded with a hot springs visit. For $25NZD you can spend the day relaxing in any of the 3 levels of hot pools they offer, as well as steam rooms and saunas. If you have some extra money, they offer spa packages that are a great option to help recover from all the hiking you've done over the past two weeks.
Lake Tekapo and Twitzel Accommodations
Lake Tekapo accommodations can be a bit on the pricey side if the budget options are filled up. This can be the case, especially during the high season for tourists. If this the case, Twitzel is a town right outside of Tekapo that has more options that are fairly priced and isn't too far out of the way.
If you plan on staying in Lake Tekapo, the YHA Lake Tekapo there is a great choice . ***NOTE*** Lake Takapo YHA is now closed until November 2018 due to renovations. Please see the linked website for more details. For more options, check out Booking.com. Furthermore, if you're interested in renting an Airbnb, click here.
Day 14: Return to Christchurch and Fly out
When leaving Lake Tekapo, remember to consider that the drive to Christchurch takes about 3 hours. You'll need to make time to drop off your car before you hop on the plane back home. Traffic isn't bad until you get near Rolleston as you get closer to the city.
Thank you for Visiting and Follow Us!
We hope that you have enjoyed this itinerary and that you were able to use it for your trip down to New Zealand! If you have any comments, suggestions or would like to know anymore information, please feel free to contact us when possible. We are always growing and any feedback is always a huge help. Remember to follow us on Instagram @TrekPrep_ and stay tuned for our next itinerary!
Thank you doc.govt.nz for pictured used and we do not own them but give credit when used in this post.