Having accomplished the North Island on my working holiday visa and loving it, I definitely needed to do the South Island too! Here is my 16 day itinerary and photo highlights to encourage you to take on this adventure. #noregrets
- I would definitely recommend all the accommodations I stayed at apart from the Takaka one.
- There is plenty of possum road kill on the South Island so be careful and some roads were icy during this period so I can imagine it would be worse in Winter.
- My rock climbing and paragliding got cancelled due to poor weather so always have some idea of what you could do if the weather isn’t in your favour and be ready to adapt the below itinerary. If you see the weather is good, move main hikes around and accomplish them while you still can!
- Always fuel up when your tank isn’t full and you see a petrol station because you never know when you will come across another one!
- Pre load your destinations on maps as signal can die at any point and bring an iPod as the radio could also get cut at any point.
- Clockwise or Anti-clockwise road trip loop from Christchurch? Clockwise (what I did) starts off more intense and then it chills off as there isn’t as much to do/see/as many long days.
- Always cheaper and safer to travel with another person.
Day 1 – Landed late at night in Christchurch from Sydney and stayed at the YMCA which was surprisingly clean, comfortable and spacious. Highly recommended especially it’s central location and lowest price.
Day 2 – Christchurch and 3h drive to Tekapo – Started the morning with the Christchurch Gondola. There is a $10 NZD return Gondola specific shuttle that takes you from Canterbury Museum to the Gondola base and back to the city departing every hour on the half hour. The Gondola ($30) takes your to amazing lake and mountain views and there is even a short indoor train ride which takes you through a bit of history. You don’t really need more than 1 hour unless you’ll eat at the restaurant up top too.
I then spent plenty of time at the free Canterbury Museum and Botanic Gardens, walked to Cathedral Square to see the damaged Cathedral from the Earthquakes ><
Picked up my car from OMEGA car rentals (not recommended, not cleaned well and my car roof ended up leaking during my Queenstown leg of the trip so had to go out of my planned route to change cars midway though which wasted time) and drove to Tekapo to stay two nights as I wanted two chances of seeing the famous stars at night incase I came across bad weather. It was completely cloudy this night so enjoyed my AirBnB Ashwick Flat
Day 3 – Tekapo and 2h drive to Mount Cook – Caught sunrise at Lake Tekapo. Drove to the start of the Hooker Valley Track which should have been a 3hour return walk but the track was closed near the start so only made it to the first bridge. I then did the 1h return Kea lookout track which is in the same area for a view of Mount Cook. Anorak Mount Cook Village is near by where you can stop for lunch and the information centre. I then drove to Lake Pukaki and did the kettle hole track for a higher view point and 1h loop walk. This day was perfectly clear so I spent plenty of time at Lake Tekapo (bridge and Church of Good Shepherd) for sunset and viewing the stars. You can do a tour from Mt John Observatory but this cost over $100NZD (includes telescopes etc), but I just chose to enjoy it near my car for free.
Day 4 – 5h drive from Tekapo to Catlins – Nugget point and lighthouse, Purakaunui falls, Matai Falls and Horseshoe falls (these two are near each other on the same track) as Mclean Falls (the more famous one) was closed, and Florence hill lookout of the bay. Visited Curio Bay for penguins and dolphins after checking in but it wasn’t the right season. This was a random add on since the Mclean falls track was closed. I stayed at The Whistling Frog Resort, right next to Mclean Falls track, and the shared toilet and kitchen facilities were really clean.
Day 5 – 3.5h drive to Fiordland National Park and Te Anau– Eglinton Valley for views, Mirror Lake (don’t go when the sun is too high because you won’t see a reflection or when it’s bad weather because the lake has to be still), Chasm Gorge, Totuko Bridge, Milford Sound, Lake Gunn Nature Walk from Cascade Creek and stay the night in Te Anau. I fitted in a short lakeside walk at the start of the kepler Track in Te Anau before resting up in Fiordland Hotel the next two nights.
Day 6 – Te Anau bird sanctuary and lake, Humboldt falls, Key Summit Hike 3h, Te Anau Lion lookout point
Day 7 – 2h drive to Queenstown and another 40 to Glenorchy for the Glenorchy Lagoon walkway (1-2h depending on whether you want to do one or two different loops). Visited the little town for its lake and red boat shed too before heading back to Queenstown for skyline Gondola. Free parking is super hard to find in Queenstown (lots of tourists) so be prepared to walk up/down hills and go in circles before you find a spot. Beautiful skyline view indeed and enjoy the luge ride too. Stayed the night at 8 Cotswold Court AirBnB.
Day 8 – Queenstown where we were suppose to do rock climbing and paragliding but the weather wasn’t great for it. Tried the famous Fergburger, walked the gardens and did two escape rooms before catching the Autumn festival in Arrowtown. From Arrowtown, we drove to Wanaka passing by Cardrona to stay the night at the amazing Airbnb for two nights, 10 Mills Road, Kirimoko Crescent. Since the weather was descent, I visited the Wanaka tree before sunset in case the weather forecast of rain to come would be correct (glad I did).
Day 9 – Wanaka – This day was suppose to be for the famous Roy’s Peak hike but our Airbnb host recommend we skip the hike because of poor weather conditions and heavy winds up top. Managed to book horse riding in Cardrona instead for the morning, spent the rest of the day at Puzzling world (great indoor option) and watched Avengers at night at their quaint Paradiso cinema (sofa cinema!). Found out the car war leaking from the roof onto the drivers seat somehow so had to sort some admin and organise for a change of cars.
Day 10 – Wanaka – Drove back to Queenstown in the morning to change the car and back to Wanaka to compete the 6h Roy’s Peak hike (did it in less than 6h including photos, not without pain! As you are going straight up and straight down for hours on muddy ground since it was raining and snowing) Did not want to miss the hike and am so glad I pushed through in the rain and snow as when I reached the top, the sky cleared for a window of about 25mins! The view was absolutely incredible and worth it. This was a tiring day starting the hike late and then having to drive 3.5h to our next stop Franz Josef to stay the next two nights. Worth it for the views! Stayed at Rainforest Retreat which was really nice and had a hot tub/Sauna too.
Day 11 – Franz Josef – so blessed the weather was perfect as all heli-hikes were cancelled before the entire week before we arrived. Our helicopter hike went ahead on Franz Josef Glacier and afterwards, we drove to Fox Glacier for Lake Matheson. From here you can see Mount Cook and the Tasman Glacier, and the lake is famous for being on most NZ postcards.
Day 12 – Hokitika Gorge which wasn’t as blue as it could be due to previous days of heavy rain but was still pretty, Punakaiki Pancake rock and blowholes (very unique rock formation), Truman Track where I spotted my first ever blue mushrooms (random), West Port for their River walk before heading to Murchison Hamden Hotel. The cheapest accom ever yet really good. $37 for the night! This day is a great middle stopping point on the way to the Nelson region furthest North of the South Island which is quite a large area. The drive along the West Coats is really pretty and you see NZ’s version of the twelve apostles along the way throughout the coastline.
Day 13 – Nelson/Abel Tasman National Park – Lake Rotoiti in the morning where the walkway still had ice on it giving it a great effect on the pictures. Te Waikoropupu Springs which definitely requires a drone if you want to see all the colours, and clear weather. You can tell it’s really clean from just looking at it but it’s hard to capture on pictures. Wharariki beach (this was pretty incredible, felt like a small version of the Sahara with all the dunes and pure sand) for rock formations, seals (including baby seals swimming in the pools near the beach) and a short drive to see Cape Farewell point (or you could walk there and back from the beach). Stayed the night in Takaka Telegraph hotel just to break up the drive to Nelson the next day.
Day 14 – Nelson/Abel Tasman National Park – Drove to Wainui falls (3.4km return), Skinner Point Lookout and Goat Bay 2h walk from Totaranui Beach and enjoyed amazing burgers at Fat Tui Foodtruck Marahau before ending the day with Split Apple Rock. Stayed the night at the Prince Albert Backpackers and Bar which was really good as they had plenty of facilities for guest such as a spacious TV room and free waffle breakfast.
Day 15 – 3h drive to Kaikoura for the Peninsula Walkway (it’s a 3h loop from the Seal Colony/point Kean Carpark). Drove to the Kaikoura view point (absolutely stunning panoramic views) and started the way from there actually as Google maps didn’t show there was a carpark at Point Kean. Saw seals of course! Headed to Hanmer Springs after ($25 entry for the hot pools, $5 for towels, extra $10 to use the slides). You could spend awhile here if you pay for the slides as it’s pretty much a water park. I just enjoyed the hot pools, hottest going up to 42 degrees! The petrol station here closes at 6pm so be sure to fill up before then. Drove another 1.5h to get to Honeyfields Alpaca Farm where we stayed the night. This was by far the best accom, $220 a night for a big apartment including a farm tour the next morning and breakfast.
Day 16 – Honeyfields Alpaca Farm – enjoyed farm things – feeding Alpacas, petting them, walking them, holding a chicken, picking fresh eggs, trying honey before driving 20mins to return the car near Christchurch Airport.