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.
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.