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Two Week New Zealand South Island Itinerary

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An Epic (2 week) New Zealand South Island Itinerary

We recently spent two weeks in a campervan driving New Zealand’s South Island. it was an epic trip. I can’t believe that having grown up in Australia and traveled the world, I’d only just made it “across the ditch” to New Zealand. I should have done this so much earlier!

New Zealand’s South Island is a land of beautiful mountain ranges, the bluest lakes you will ever set eyes on, and the clearest water you will ever swim. There are epic hikes to exhaust yourself on, and relaxing hot pools to kick back in. It has rare dinosaur birds, great beer, people with funny accents, and shit tons of sand flies. Overall, New Zealand is one incredible place to visit.

 

 

Who is this guide for?

There are plenty of ways to travel around New Zealand’s South Island. The campervan road trip is one of the most popular ways to go, but it isn’t for everyone. The route runs from Christchurch to Te Anau via Queenstown, and back via Lake Tekapo.

This itinerary will work for anyone who wants to visit New Zealand’s South Island. However, it will work best if you are the type of person who can skip the luxury and rough it out a bit. Warning, there are showerless campgrounds with pit toilets involved.

You will need time, at least 10 days but preferably two weeks. Don’t try to see all of New Zealand in one week, it just won’t work. There are plenty of reminders around stating “New Zealand’s Roads Are Different.” That, I can assure is true.

You don’t need to be an adventure junkie, but keep an open mind to the activities. New Zealand’s South Island has some incredible scenery, but commonly you will need to hike a bit to see it. It’s natures way of saying, put the effort in and I’ll reward you.

 

Lake Lyndon
Lake Lyndon

 

Day 1 – Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass

Pick up your campervan or rental car on the first day in Christchurch. Most rental locations are located within one kilometer from the airport and offer free transfers to their depot, so check their terms and conditions to make the most of your booking!

We’re not going to hang around in Christchurch long, just enough time to pick up the campervan, load up on food from the supermarket, then head off over the mountain ranges.

In this New Zealand South Island travel itinerary, we head over to the West Coast via Arthur’s Pass. This is a scenic route, which heads high up into the mountains to an altitude of 739 meters.

If time permits, there are a series of day walks from Arthur’s Pass, ranging between 3 and 8 hours for a round trip. See more information on the New Zealand Department of Conservation.

If you don’t get quite as far as Arthurs Pass on the first day you can drop into the campsite at Lake Pearson. You get a beautiful view across this small lake in the early morning. The campground has a pit toilet, but no shower.

Stay: Lake Pearson Campground

Driving time: 4hrs

Driving distance: 150km

 

Haast Pass - Franz Josef to Wanaka
Sunrise out of Franz Josef

 

Day 2 – Arthur’s Pass to Franz Josef via Hokitika

Continue west from Arthur’s Pass to Hokitika. The drive down the mountains has beautiful landscape scenery so go slow and take in the views. As you come down out of the mountains to Hokitika you will get the first views of the ocean on the South Island West Coast.

I suggest making a rest stop in Hokitika for a short walk and a swim at Hokitika Gorge. The rope swing bridge here makes for some amazing photos of New Zealand’s South Island.

Hokitika Gorge is located about 30 kilometers from Hokitika along the road towards Kokatahi. The road out to Hokitika Gorge has some amazing views of the snow-capped mountains in the background.

After Hokitika Gorge continue back to the coast and head south for Franz Josef. Make a short stop at Lake Ianthe Campground for lunch and an afternoon swim.

Finally, continue south on the highway to Franz Josef. There are a couple of campervan parks in town offering powered an unpowered sites from NZD 20 per person per night.

Stay:

Driving time: 5hrs

Driving distance: 250km

 

Day 3 – Hiking in Franz Josef

Day 3 on our New Zealand South Island itinerary is all about the hiking.

In the morning, head out to the Franz Josef Glacier Trail. The trail is 5.4 kilometers one way and takes about three hours for a round trip. The trail passes by small waterfalls, glacial rivers, and reveals a nice view of the Franz Josef Glacier at the end. Honestly, I did expect the view to be a bit more impressive, and I’m sure it was about 10 years ago before global warming decided to melt so much of the ice.

If you’re keen for another short walk, then check out Peter’s Pool. This track starts back at the carpark where the Franz Josef Glacier track started. Peter’s Pool is an easy 1.1km walk which leads to a spot with an amazing reflection of Mount Cook from the small lake. I’d say the view is actually nicer than the Franz Josef Glacier Track.

In the late afternoon, I highly recommend visiting the head to the Franz Josef Hot Pools. Entry is NZD 28 per person for 1.5 hours. The hot springs officially close at 9pm, but you are requested to get out of the pools by 8.45pm, so try to arrive by 7pm latest. The Franz Josef Hot Pools are not the natural geothermal pools you might imagine, but they are a fantastic way to end a big day of hiking.

Stay:

  • Franz Josef Campervan Park
  • Franz Josef Glacier Park

Driving time: 20min

Driving distance: 10km

 

Blue Pools - Haast Pass
Blue Pools, Haast Pass

 

Day 4 – Franz Josef to Wanaka (Haast Pass)

The drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka (Haast Pass) is a long one, with plenty to see in between. I’ve made a really detailed write up of the drive, be sure the check it out.

The first place you might want to stop is the Fox Glacier just south of Franz Josef. When we visited New Zealand’s South Island the road was actually closed due to poor conditions. If it is open again, I’ve heard Fox Glacier is well worth the visit.

As you head down the Haast Pass there are a few nice waterfalls to visit. I suggest checking out the Roaring Billy Falls. The walk is short and easy, and the viewing platform at the end is quite nice. You can also walk down into the river if you like.

About halfway along the Haast Pass, you will reach the Blue Pools. This is a must see! The walk from the main road down to the Blue Pools takes about 20 minutes one way and is quite easy. The water at the end is incredibly clear and blue. I felt like a new man after a quick swim there.

If you’re brave enough, try jumping from the bridge at the end of the trail. It’s a 10-meter drop into some freeeeezing water.

As you near Wanaka the scenery changes quite a lot. The road goes back up into the mountains and has some amazing views over Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. I suggest stopping at some of the lookout points near to “The Neck.”

Tip: be careful flying a drone here as the wind can get really strong. I almost lost my drone as it got taken out over the lake by a strong gust.

Wanaka is a pretty cool town where you will find lots of restaurants, bars, and cafes. If you have a few extra days then I definitely suggest spending them here.

Stay:

  • Wanaka Lakeview Glacier Park (NZD 20 per person per night)
  • Glendhu Motor Park (NZD 17 per person per night + NZD 1 for hot showers)
  • Freedom camping west of Wanaka along the lake

Driving time: 12 hrs (including stops)

Driving distance: 290km

 

Rob Roy's Glacier, New Zealand
Rob Roy’s Glacier, Wanaka

 

Day 5 – Hiking in Wanaka

There are some great hikes to do in Wanaka, there are perhaps some of the best in New Zealand’s South Island. I definitely suggest doing at least one hike, even if you’re not big on hiking. You will really miss out if you don’t go!

Roy’s Peak hike offers great views over Lake Wanaka. The 8 km trail (one way) is steep, and an absolute leg burner. The trail winds back and forth across the mountain until you finally reach an epic viewpoint up the top. You will get a view looking right out across Lake Wanaka.

The start of Roy’s Peak is located 6.5 km outside of Wanaka. There is a small carpark at the base of the hike which will be full already by the early morning.

Rob Roy’s Glacier is a less known hiking trail, but my definite favorite. The narrow trail takes you up through the forest passing glacial rivers and waterfalls. It opens up at the end (second lookout) to an amazing plateau surrounded by glaciers. The trail is 5 km one-way and takes about 4hrs.

The start of Rob Roy’s Glacier is located approximately 40km west of Wanaka. The drive takes just over an hour. Once you head into the Mount Aspiring National Park the road quality turns pretty terrible with huge potholes. Though it may look dodgy, I can confirm a campervan will still make it!

After a long day of hiking in the mountains, I loved kicking back at one of the local bars in Wanaka. Kai Whakapai has some awesome local crafts brews to enjoy watching the sunset over the lake.

Stay:

  • Wanaka Lakeview Glacier Park (NZD 20 per person per night)
  • Glendhu Motor Park (NZD 17 per person per night + NZD 1 for hot showers)
  • Freedom camping west of Wanaka along the lake

Driving time: 2hrs

Driving distance: 80km

 

Cascade Creek Campsite
Cascade Creek Campground, Te Anau

 

Day 6 – Wanaka to Te Anau

Wanaka to Te Anau, but what about Queenstown? Don’t worry, we’ll get back to it!

Wanaka to Te Anau is a pretty long but scenic drive. Heading south from Wanaka you will drive over the Crown Range. Mount Cadrona is the highest peak here at just over 1,900 meters and is one of New Zealand’s top ski resorts.

On the way over the ridge from Wanaka, you will get some amazing views looking down towards Queenstown. There are a few great photos stops here!

Pass through the outskirts of Queenstown and continue south following the signs to Milford Sound. The road from Queenstown to Te Anau is another 170km.

I find that staying outside of Te Anau in the Fiordland National Park is the way to go. There are some beautiful campsites along Te Anau Road such as the Cascade Creek Campsite where you will get toilets and a camp kitchen.

For full details of campsites along the way be sure to check out New Zealand’s Department of Conservation website.

Stay: Cascade Creek Campground – NZD 13 per person per night

Driving time: 5hrs

Driving distance: 230km

 

Views of Milford Sound
Milford Sound

 

Day 7 – Milford Sound Day Trip

Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most iconic destinations, so it only makes sense to include it on this two-week itinerary of New Zealand’s South Island.

Kick off with an early morning down to the Milford Sound Visitor Centre where you will board your cruise boat. The typical cruise runs for 3 hours where you will get up close to amazing waterfalls, see pods of dolphins jump out in front of the boat, and sea lions laze back on a sunny rock.

We did our Milford Sound cruise with Southern Discoveries and absolutely loved it. There are a few other cruise companies around. Each Milford Sound tour company offers a slight variation to the trip such as kayaking, underwater experience, or transfers from Queenstown. You could also opt for the scenic flight over Milford Sound which would be incredible, but unfortunately above our budget.

After spending the morning out at Milford Sound, head back to explore what the Fiordland National Park has to offer. There are plenty of quick stops to make such as; Eglinton Valley, Pop’s Lookout, and The Chasm.

There are also some longer hikes to make in the Fiordland National Park. One popular hiking trail in the Fiordland National Park is the Key Summit track which takes about three hours for a round trip journey.

After a big day of exploring I suggest spending another night out camping in the Fiordland National Park where you can enjoy the starry night sky and peaceful serenity of the forest.

Stay: Cascade Creek Campground – NZD 13 per person per night

Driving time: 2hrs

Driving distance: 100km

 

Lake Whakatipu
Lake Whakatipu, Queenstown

 

Day 8 and 9 – Te Anau to Queenstown

It is an easy drive back to Queenstown from Te Anau. There are some scenic lookout points around Lake Wakatipu where you can stop for lunch.

After arriving at Queenstown you can try out the adrenaline activities such as bungee jump (NZD 200), zip-line (NZD 50) and jet boat (NZD 100). All prices are approximate, check the local tour agencies for exact pricing.

Queenstown is known for being an adrenaline addicts paradise, however, there are also some more chilled out activities to do in town.

To slow down in Queenston you have to check out the Onsen Hot Pools. Here you will get a one-hour relaxation session gazing out over the mountains. The occasional jet boat will pass by in the Shotover River down below, but I guarantee you won’t feel very tempted to leave your hot pool.

Right in Queenstown, the Kiwi wildlife bird park is a great place to spend a few hours meeting New Zeeland’s local animals. They have bird shows every couple of hours and there are multiple Kiwi Bird feeding session each day. Yeah, that’s right, you’re actually guaranteed to see a Kiwi bird here! Seeing a Kiwi bird was high on my New Zealand bucket list, so I’m stoked to tick this off. Though you may not know it, Kiwi birds are really rare so seeing one alive is quite a privilege.

Note: do not take photos of the Kiwi birds in the dark enclosure. Their eyes are very sensitive to light and can be easily injured.

Stay: Lakeview Campervan Park (NZD 25 per person per night)

Driving time: 3.5hrs

Driving distance: 170km

 

Lake Pukaki
Lake Pukaki with a view of Mount Cook

 

Day 10 – Queenstown to Mount Cook

The journey north towards Christchurch begins with the leg to Mount Cook National Park. This is a big drive so leave Queenstown early in the morning.

The road north will pass Lake Pukaki on the east. There are a few scenic stops along the way where you will get an amazing view of the sky blue Lake Pukaki with Mount Cook in the background. In fact, this is one of my favorite views of Mount Cook in all of New Zealand.

Mount Cook National Park is located at the end of the road, this is where you will camp for the night. The White Horse Hill Campground feels like it is laid out right below Mount Cook. You can look straight up from your tent and get an amazing view of glaciers on the mountains. You don’t get much better than this.

The White Horse Hill Campground is also located at the start of the popular Hooker Valley Track. If you want to avoid the crowds and get the best photos, then do this walk in the late afternoon. Just before sunset, the landscape is vibrant and Mount Cook just glows in the reflection of the sunset.

Stay: Cascade Creek Campground – NZD 13 per person per night

Driving time: 5hrs

Driving distance: 260km

 

Hooker Valley Track boardwalk
Hooker Valley Track, Mount Cook National Park

 

Day 11 – Hiking Around Mount Cook

There are a few other hikes in the Mount Cook National Park. An easy hike is up to the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint which only takes about 20 minutes from the carpark. At the top of the lookout, you will get a decent view across the Tasman Lake which is filled with icebergs that have broken off Tasman Glacier at the end.

The National Park runs small tours with inflatable rafts out on the Tasman Lake. These tours allow you to get right up next to the icebergs. This is when you realize just how big these chunks of ice really are!

For the keen hikers, consider the longer trails out to Ball Hut or Caroline Hut (4 hours one way). If departing in the morning you can make it out to the hut and back in one day, if departing in the afternoon you would plan for a night out there.

The view of the mountains at White Horse Hill Campground was that amazing that we actually spent two nights camping there. If you have the time to spare then I suggest you do also!

Stay: Cascade Creek Campground – NZD 13 per person per night

Driving time: None

Driving distance: None

 

Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo

 

Day 12 – Mount Cook to Lake Tekapo

At just 80km, the drive from Mount Cook National Park to Lake Tekapo is one of the shortest on this New Zealand South Island itinerary.

Lake Tekapo is a small village with a laid back vibe right alongside the water. The water at Lake Tekapo is quite calm when not windy, so try exploring the lake by kayak or paddleboard. You will find them for rent along the shore near Lake Tekapo Holiday Park.

Lake Tekapo is one of New Zealand’s most photographed destinations. At night the Church of the Good Shepherd is a very popular spot for long exposure photography. On a clear night, you will find hundreds of photographers out with their tripods and DSLR cameras, getting the perfect shot of the church and the starry sky in the background.

Stay: Cascade Creek Campground – NZD 13 per person per night

Driving time: 100km

Driving distance: 2hrs

 

Day 13 – Lake Tekapo to Christchurch

The final leg of this New Zeal The route runs east and South Island itinerary is from Lake Tekapo back to Christchurch. The route runs east through sprawling farming land and small towns until you reach Christchurch.

I can’t say there is really much to see between Lake Tekapo and Christchurch. Perhaps one of the most notable icons is the Raikasa Bridge which is the longest bridge in all of New Zealand. However, even that isn’t worth a photo stop.

I suggest leaving around lunch and get back to Christchurch in time to drop off your campervan before the office closes around 5pm.

Stay: Cascade Creek Campground – NZD 13 per person per night

Driving time: 230km

Driving distance: 5hrs

 

Day 14 – Depart Christchurch

 

 

A Few Quick Tips Before You Go

We learned a thing or two on the road which will really help you with this New Zealand South Island Itinerary.

  • Driving times given on Google Maps are not accurate for driving a campervan. Campervans travel slower as they are taller and move around a fair bit in the wind. You will probably average 80km per hour.
  • Petrol is very expensive in New Zealand’s South Island. If you see petrol for less than 1.50 NZD/L, fill up!
  • You can save money by getting a camp pass from the Department of Conservation.

 

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3 thoughts on “Two Week New Zealand South Island Itinerary”

  1. Michael Bona

    Thank you for your New Zealand itinerary which helped me already a lot for planning my upcoming tour end of November. I will send you a few comments as soon as I am back. All the best, Michael

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