New Zealand South Island road trip itinerary
Planning a trip to New Zealand? Then be prepared to visit one of the most beautiful countries in the world! New Zealand consists of a northern island and a southern island. In this article, we’ll give you our best South Island New Zealand itinerary for a two weeks road trip.
Do you have more time? No problem, we’ll give you some tips for extra days at the end of this article. And don’t forget you can take the ferry to the North Island. We spent a total of 5 weeks in New Zealand and had a fantastic time!
The South Island is New Zealand’s largest island (Aotearoa). It is about 1500 kilometers or 932 miles long and is inhabited by approximately 1.1 million people, making it very sparsely populated.
The capital of the South Island is Christchurch. Other major cities include Dunedin, Invercargill, Timaru, and Queenstown. The South Island is also known as “Te Waipounamu”.
New Zealand’s South Island is a beautiful place to visit, from the rugged coastline to the majestic interior. Inland there are dense forests and crystal clear lakes, while the coast itself is home to a unique ecosystem with many species of rare animals.
Are you ready to discover the South Island with our two weeks New Zealand South Island itinerary?
The best time to visit New Zealand
The seasons in New Zealand are opposite to those we are used to. When it’s summer in the northern hemisphere, it’s winter in New Zealand. So when is the best time to travel to the South Island in New Zealand?
Early November to late February is the best time to visit South Island in New Zealand. It’s summer then which means the weather is pleasant and you have less chance of rain. This was also when we visited New Zealand.
If you’re planning on hiking or doing other outdoor activities, keep in mind that temperatures in the mountains can drop a lot at times, so bring warm clothes.
Their autumn (April and May) and spring (October and November) are wonderful times to visit the island because everything is green and flowery. Please note that it is often foggy on South Island in October and November.
Renting a car in New Zealand (or a camper)
Our preference is to rent a car or camper in New Zealand because of different reasons.
First of all, it’s the easiest way to travel around. You can reach the largest cities by public transport, but if you want to go to remote parts, that is not always obvious and you risk paying a lot of money to arrange private transport.
Would you rather not drive yourself? You can find some guided tours below that’ll explore the South Island with you.
Secondly, it’s a very budget-friendly way to travel and avoid having to pay a lot for expensive accommodations. With a camper or a car and tent, you can save a lot of money.
We rented a large car (Toyota RAV4) and bought a tent and camping equipment in the supermarket. After our trip, we sold our stuff on the second-hand market.
Here are some more tips for renting and driving a car or camper in New Zealand:
- In New Zealand, they drive on the left side. Don’t forget!
- The South Island is very big and sparsely populated. Be sure to fuel up in time. It could be hundreds of kilometers until you find the next gas station.
- Also, check the relocation deals for campers. This means the rental company lets you use and bring back a camper for nearly free. We drove a camper for 5 days, bringing it from the South Island back to the North Island for 5 dollars a day. And the camper company also paid for the ferry and fuel costs.
Great tips for a road trip in New Zealand
We give you some more practical tips for when you travel around New Zealand.
- New Zealand is a very popular destination. So book your accommodation well in advance. This way you avoid higher prices and disappointment when you arrive at a fully booked hotel after a long drive. Do not hesitate to contact the campsite by phone before you leave.
- At some campsites, you can only pay in cash, e.g. via an envelope. Here you will find an overview of all DOC campsites, which are managed by the government and are usually fantastically located.
- Be prepared for all weather conditions, and wear different layers.
- Download an offline map, which is useful if you are out of range. You can do this via Google maps or Maps.me.
- Buy a SIM card at Christchurch airport.
- Visit the South Island first and then try to go to the North Island via relocation of, for example, a mobile home. Most people start on the North Island so prices for planes or other transport are more affordable from the South to the North.
Find more tips for traveling on a budget in our guide to cheap family vacations on a budget.
New Zealand Itinerary South Island in 14 days + Extension
Day 1: Christchurch – Lake Tekapo
Total distance: After picking up your rental car, it’s about 2 hours drive from Christchurch airport towards Lake Tekapo.
What to do near Lake Tekapo
Depending on the time of your arrival in New Zealand, you can visit a few things. If you have rented a car you can first go to the supermarket for groceries (as we did). Once you have left Christchurch, you will no longer encounter large supermarkets.
We rented a car and filled it with a tent and all the camping gear we needed. Then we immediately drove to our first campsite where we could test all of our gear.
If you still have time, you can plan a few stops around Lake tekapo.
- The Church of the Good Sheperd
This is probably one of the most photographed places in New Zealand. The church has azure blue water in the background and if you’re lucky (between November and February) also the purple “lupines” flowers that grow on the southern Alps of the Southern Island in New Zealand. A real postcard.
- Mount John Observatory
For €8 you can drive up by car. From here you have a breathtaking view of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
Here you can also come and watch the stars at night in one of the many star domes. This is 1 of the 5 International Dark Sky reserves in the world and therefore one of the best places in the southern hemisphere to watch the stars.
- Walk to Cowans Hill
From Lake Tekapo, you follow the “Cowan Hill Walkway“. The walk is 3,2 km (2 miles) one way and takes about 2 hours. Beautiful scenery and breathtaking views await you!
Where to stay in Christchurch
You can also choose to stay overnight in Christchurch if you arrive too late and head to Lake Tekapo the next day. Here are some suggestions for accommodations in Christchurch.
- Wigram Hotel: Located at a small airport outside the center of Christchurch you will find this nice hotel. It was used by pilots but now you can spend the night there yourself. It is 6 km (3,7 miles) from Christchurch International Airport. In the first part of our travel diary on the South Island, you can read more about our experiences.
- Crowne Plaza: This well-known hotel is located in the center of Christchurch. You will find a large family room with two large bunk beds and a beautiful view of the city. The Market Place Restaurant is open daily for breakfast and dinner.
- Intrepid Bed & Breakfast: a nice budget option in Christchurch, about 3 km (2 miles) from the center. The continental breakfast is included.
Where to stay in Lake Tekapo
- Camping Lake Alexendrie: this small campsite is located next to the water. The earlier you get there, the more chance of a nice place. The setting is beautiful, enjoy the beautiful sunset at the lake. Again, read more about it in our South Island travel diary.
- Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park: Are you looking for a small house, apartment, or studio? Then you can go here, near Lake Tekapo.
- Neptune Holiday House: This beautiful house is within walking distance of the lake. You will find 4 large bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and a well-equipped kitchen. Ideal if you are out with friends.
Day 2: Lake Tekapo – Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Total distance: From Lake Tekapo, we drive (without stops) for 2 hours or 216 km (134 miles) to the center of Aoraki National Park or Mount Cook National Park. On the way, we pass Lake Pukaki, a beautiful lake with Mount Cook in the background.
What to do in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Leave early for Mount Cook to walk the famous Hooker Valley Track in the afternoon. This is something you can’t miss on your south island itinerary road trip.
The way to Mount Coo is a highlight in itself with some amazing stops along the way.
- Lake Pukaki
You’ll pass Lake Pukaki on your way to the national park. It has the most amazing blue color (because of the glacier water). On the way, there are some fantastic viewpoints!
The most famous is probably the Lake Pukaki viewpoint. On a clear day, you can see Mount Cook in the background.
- New Zealand Alpine Lavender Farm
On your way to the national park, you can stop at this beautiful lavender farm. Even just to take a few pictures.
When the weather is clear, you can see the mighty mountains in the background.
- Hooker Valley Track
A phenomenal walk (one of the most beautiful ones we have ever made) over three suspension bridges and along the Hooker River. The walk takes about 3 hours and takes you to the glacial lake at the base of Mount Cook.
Ideal to do with children because it has only 80 meters height difference. Here you will find more information about the Hooker valley track and our personal experiences during our walk.
- Kea Point hike
A short hike brings you to the Mueller Lake lookout. There is a parking lot from where you can do this short hike. You can also do this early in the morning the next day on your way to Dunedin.
- Other fun activities in and around the Mount Cook National Park
There is a lot to do around Mount Cook. For example, you can go kayaking on Lake Tasman and paddle between the ice floes or skydive above the mountains.
But one of the top activities is definitely flying a helicopter to one of the glaciers (such as the Tasman/Haupapa glacier) and then take a walk there.
Where to stay in Mount Cook:
- White Horse Hill Campground (DOC): this campsite is managed by the government. Pay attention, a ranger will come by to see if you have paid. This can be done through a letterbox at the entrance. There is also a large shelter where you can cook. We had very bad weather and had to sleep in our car.
- Mt Cook Lodge and Motel: from your family suite you have a view of the surrounding mountains. You can also eat in the Chamois Bar & Grill. In some chalets, you can cook yourself. Parking is free. This lodge is also centrally located in the National Park.
- Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge: nice lodge in the center of Mount Cook village. A standard room with 4 bunk beds. You can also book helicopter flights or flights with a seaplane here. An 11-minute walk will take you to the start of the Hooker Valley track.
Day 3: Aoraki (Mount Cook) – Dunedin
Total distance: A fairly long drive of 317 km or 200miles takes you to Dunedin in 3h30. But, as always in New Zealand, the drive is equally as beautiful as the destination.
What to do between Aoraki NP and Dunedin
Optionally you can go to the Mueller Lake lookout in the morning. You can drive back via Lake Tekapo or go down via the Omarama.
On the way, you can stop halfway to have lunch in Oamaru. A small town where you can spot penguins. From Oamaru, it’s another 1h30 drive.
This small, quiet town is located on the east coast of our South Island itinerary of New Zealand. You will find an old quarter with craft shops, breweries, and even a whiskey house. There is a cozy terrace at the Scotts Brewing Company, by the sea and you pay €15 for a board with five types of beer.
- Moeraki Builders Beach
You can take a short walk from the car park to these round rock formations, formed by erosion. Best to visit at low tide. The boulders are very photogenic, especially when the sun rises. We had to skip them however because of some bad weather.
- Orokonui Ecosanctuary
On your way to Dunedin you will come across the Orokonui Ecosanctuary. You will find all kinds of birds, including the well-known Kaka bird.
Make sure to book a guide to discover all the secrets of this lovely reserve. Super interesting to find out more about the special story of the birds in New Zealand.
We have written a full article about our experiences at the Orokonui Ecosanctuary.
Where to stay in Dunedin
- Thomas’s Catlins – Lodge & Holiday Park: nice campsite just outside the center of Dunedin. Lovely and large spots on the grass with lots of shade.
- Larnach Lodge & Stable stay: The Larnach Lodge is located on the grounds of the impressive castle of Larnach. From your room, you have a view over the entire bay of the Otago peninsula. You can have breakfast in the historic stables and enjoy the courtyard gardens of the castle.
- Luxury Studio in Manor Place Dunedin Central: this 4-berth apartment is located in the center of Dunedin. You have a living room, kitchenette, and bathroom. Be sure to book in advance as this place is regularly sold out.
Day 4: Dunedin – Owaka (The Catlins Forest Park)
Total distance: short drive of 1h25 or 120 km (74 miles) today to the Catlins Forest Park
What to do in Dunedin
Dunedin is a nice town with Scottish roots, located on the east coast of the South Island. You can wander around the lovely streets or do one of the fun city tours and activities.
But most people come here to discover the fantastic Otago Peninsula, the wild coasts, and most importantly, the beautiful wildlife.
We wrote a full report about our trip with ELM Wildlife tour. A real must that you can not miss!!
Depending on which excursion you book, you can stay an extra night in Dunedin, but then it is best to drive to Owaka (Catlins Forest Park) early in the morning the next day. We drove the same day.
Where to stay in Catlins Forest Park
- Seascape Accommodation: located at Kaka point, one of the beautiful lookout points of the Catlins. You can choose an apartment on the beach or with a sea view.
- You can also camp at the Freedom Camping site near Slope Point.
Day 5: Owaka (Catlins Forest Park )
Total Distance: Today we explore the Catlins, so the distance kind of depends on what you want to see.
What to do in The Catlins
Many people skip this part during their New Zealand road trip, but we loved it here and recommend an extra day in the Catlins. In the second part of our South Island travel diaries, you can find all of our experiences here.
Expect beautiful, wild coasts, small villages, and also the southernmost point in our South Island New Zealand Itinerary.
We list a number of viewpoints and walks here. Depending on where your hotel is, you can change the order.
There is usually a sign with the distance and any warnings at the entrance to the hiking trails – car parks. You can find a lot of extra info on the official site of the Catlins.
- Kaka Point: viewpoint on the ocean, nice at sunrise to start the day.
- Jack’s blowhole: from the car park you can count on a 1-hour walk return trip, only at high tide you can notice something of the splashing water.
- Nugget Point: parking is possible downstairs, from there steep climb to the lighthouse. Watch out for the steep cliffs with children.
- Cathedral caves: you can only visit this at low tide. Look on the personal website of the cathedral caves for the circumstances.
- Purakaunui waterfalls: these consist of 3 parts and fall over a height of 20 m. From the parking, it takes about 20 minutes to walk up there.
- Slope Point: the southernmost point of the South Island of New Zealand. You will see trees formed by the wind. About 20 minutes walk from the car park. Watch out for the sheep :-).
- Waipapa Point: short walk to a lighthouse. There is also a cemetery for the victims of a ship disaster on April 29, 1881.
You can choose to return to the accommodation of the previous night or to continue to Te Anau. Check the next day for accommodation suggestions for Te Anau.
Day 6: Owaka- Te Anau – Milford Sound (Fjordland National Park)
Total distance: we drive to Te Anau first and from there the drive to Milford Sound starts. You can count on 2h30 or 220km (137 miles). From Te Anau, it is 1h30 or 120km (75miles) one way to Milford Sound. This last part is breathtaking (The Milford Road or Highway) and you will undoubtedly have to include a few photo stops. You can do this in the afternoon.
What to do at Milford Sound
Milford Sound is part of Fjordland. Years ago, all fjords were formed by glaciers. Nature is unbelievably beautiful here!
Milford Sound is the easiest fjord to get to and a must-do on your New Zealand road trip itinerary on the South Island.
- The Milford Road or Highway
This road takes you to the fjords and is therefore breathtaking. Along the way, you get to see one view after another. There are several stops with stunning sights. More information about this beautiful route can be found on this site.
- Cruise in Milford Sound
The Milford Sound is no less than 16 km (10 miles) long. A cruise is the best way to explore the fjord.
As soon as you have arrived at the fjord you can join a cruise. We went on a trip with Cruise Milford.
You can find our article on this wonderful cruise trip in Milford Sound here.
- Other activities around Milford Sound
Besides a cruise, you can also discover the fjord by kayak. We didn’t have time for this anymore but it must be fantastic!
If you prefer not to drive to Milford Sound yourself, there are also several options for booking tours from Te Anau.
Where to stay in Te Anau:
Te Anau is the tourist hub from which everyone visits Milford Sound and Fjordland.
In Milford Sound, you only have one overnight accommodation, namely the Milford Sound Lodge, Beautiful but not for everyone’s budget. Another option is booking a cruise with a night aboard. A fantastic experience!
Here are some suggestions for a night in Te Anau.
- Camping Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park: nice campsite just next to the lake, with fantastic views over the surrounding mountains. We stayed here.
- ASURE Explorer Motel & Apartments: here you will find an apartment with 1 bedroom, sufficient for the whole family because there are two single beds and a double bed. Located in the center of Te Anau.
- Birchwood Cottages: these lie on the banks of Te Anau. Not far from the center, between the beeches. A lovely place to walk.
Day 7: Te Anau – Queenstown
Total distance: From Te Anau, you drive about 2h or 170 km (106 miles) to Queenstown.
What to do in Queenstown
Queenstown is pretty much the capital of all adventure sports in the world. You can really do anything there. It is best to book your activities in advance because everything fills up pretty quickly.
You can also go to Milford Sound in the morning, but then you have a fairly long drive from Milford to Queenstown (3h30).
We’ve listed the best activities in Queenstown for you (but there are many more!). It’s impossible to give a complete list. We also wrote a complete article about what to do in Queenstown with kids.
- Adventure jeep or motorized tours
- Water activities
Go rafting with Family Adventures in Skippers Canyon. You can choose the level of rafting you want and therefore if it has to be suitable for kids or can be more adventurous. The road to the start of the rafting is just as spectacular as the rafting itself.
Other fun water activities include a jet boat ride on the Shot River.
A cruise to the nearby Lake Wakatipu is also possible. This lake in the shape of a lightning bolt is located next to Queenstown. According to the Maori, the tides are caused by the heartbeat of the monster Matau that swims at the bottom of this lake. You can also do all kinds of water activities here.
- Other fun activities around Queenstown
As we said before, we can’t possibly list all the activities around Queenstown. There is for example also bungee jumping, but also plenty to do for those who are looking for less excitement!
Where to stay in Queenstown
- 12 Mile Delta: small campsite on the banks of the lake, just outside Queenstown.
- Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park: quite an expensive campsite but in the center of Queenstown, there are also houses for rent
- JUCY Snooze Queenstown: located in the center of the city, small suite with a nice view of the lake
- Tahuna Pod Hostel: best budget option in Queenstown.
Day 8: Queenstown
Total distance: Today we stay in the Queenstown area for a day.
You can fill this day with some of the activities we listed on day 7.
Another nice trip is a visit to Arrowtown. In our travel diary (part 3) of our South Island road trip in New Zealand, you can find our personal experiences.
What to do in Arrowtown
Arrowtown is an old mining town just 20 km (12 miles) from Queenstown. You can go there by car, but it is also possible to do a bike ride from Queenstown.
The town itself is not big but has a lot of charm. You can easily imagine yourself back in the time of the gold miners.
Stroll around between the beautiful old houses, enjoy a nice meal or a drink in one of the restaurants and take a look around the shops.
Along the water, you can also visit an old Chinese gold settlement that shows how they lived back then. Very interesting!
Do you really want to go back to the gold rush? Then you can also look for gold in the river that runs past the town.
Day 9: Queenstown – Wanaka – Franz Joseph Glacier
Total distance: We leave Queenstown and drive to the Franz Josef Glacier via Wanaka, about 350 km (217 miles) or 4h15 drive.
What to do in Wanaka and along the Haast Highway
Today we have a fairly long drive via Wanaka to the Franz Joseph Glacier. But… it runs along the Haast Highway and that is one of the most beautiful routes in the world. All around you can see waterfalls and breathtaking landscapes. You get the feeling that a dinosaur could just walk out of the forest.
Each bend looks like a new postcard. Here are some of the highlights you’ll see along the way.
This nice town, located on Lake Wanaka, is just as beautifully situated as Queenstown, but slightly quieter. Some people see this as a good alternative if you want to avoid the crowds in Queenstown.
You can do all kinds of fun activities there or simply enjoy the fantastic surroundings. And don’t forget to take a photo of Wanaka’s famous tree hanging over the lake!
- Haast Highway
As we wrote before, you should calculate enough time to drive this road. There are many stops and after every turn, you’ll want to take another picture of the fantastic landscape.
One of the highlights is definitely The Blue Pools. The water has an incredibly clear blue color. Also nice to take a (cold) dip in the water.
Then there are also some beautiful waterfalls to visit, sometimes with nice walks to them. The best known are the Fantail Falls and the Diana Falls.
And in addition, there are a lot of other waterfalls and viewpoints where you can stop. It is not for nothing that it is called one of the most beautiful roads in the world.
What to do at Franz Joseph Glacier and Fox Glacier
When we arrived at the Franz Joseph Glacier, it was quite busy and we did not immediately find a place to sleep. So better to book your overnight stay in advance.
When you visit this region, there are two glaciers that you can visit: Franz Joseph and Fox. We visited Franz Joseph and heard that it is not necessary to visit all two of them. But it is up to you what you prefer.
Of course, visiting the glacier is the main activity here. It is best to visit this in the morning the next day.
You can choose to explore it on foot from a distance or go to the top by helicopter and walk on the glacier with a guide. Our kids were too small for this so we chose the walk near the foot of the glacier.
We went on a trip with Glacier Valley Eco tours. We received a lot of explanation about the origin of the glaciers and unfortunately also why the glacier is disappearing. Along the way, you can see photos showing the glacier’s evolution.
Very interesting to do and our guide was highly recommended!
Another fun activity nearby is the Tatare Tunnels walk. This is a nice 1h20 walk through old mining tunnels nearby.
Where to stay in Franz Joseph
- Otto / McDonals Camping Area: nice campground just outside Franz Joseph
- Rainforest motel: all apartments have a kitchenette and a view over the beautiful mountains
- Kahere retreat: charming luxury chalet 5 km (3 miles) from Franz Joseph
Day 10: Franz Joseph Glacier – Hokitika
Total distance: We continue along the west coast of this New Zealand South Island itinerary from the Franz Joseph Glacier to Hokitika. A ride of 1h45 or 140 km (87miles).
What to do in Hokitika
After exploring the glacier, we head to Hokitika, a lovely and cozy town by the sea.
- Hokitika, the capital of jade
You can admire and buy jade everywhere in one of the many shops or museums.
Stroll along the long beach and you might even find a piece of jade yourself.
At Bonz N Stonz you can make jewelry out of it, with professional help, of course. A fantastic experience with the best souvenir as a result.
- Hokitika Gorge (32 km or 20 miles)
This fantastic gorge is just outside Hokitika but is a must-see. The bluest water and a fantastic environment. The Hokitika Gorge walk takes about 2 hours.
Where to stay in Hokitika
- What about “The Mental house”? Yes, indeed! We stayed in the old psychiatry. We found this via the WikiCamps app. From the dormitories – kitchen you also have a beautiful view over the sea and sunset. You can cook for yourself in the large kitchen.
- Amberlea Cottage: nice holiday home near the sea
- Hokitika Fire Station Boutique Accommodation: stay in this hotel inspired by the fire station of Hokitika
Day 11: Hokitika – Nelson
Total distance: Today another beautiful but long ride is planned for 342 km (212 miles)or a 4h30 drive.
First, we drive further along this 14 days New Zealand South Island itinerary along the coast to the north of the South Island. Then we head inland towards Nelson.
What to do between Hokitika and Nelson
- Pancake Rocks
You cannot skip this unique rock formation. They all look like pancakes stacked on top of each other. You can take a nice walk with breathtaking views of the area. There is also a blowhole (only at high tide).
- Cape Farewell Spit and Wharariki Beach
From Nelson, you can drive to Cape Farewell Spit and the famous Wharariki Beach, located in the Golden Bay. This is quite a drive, so allow enough time or leave very early in the morning.
Farewell Spit is the most northerly point of the South Island and a birdwatcher’s paradise. Definitely worth for walking, spotting animals, and admiring the endless sandbanks.
A little west of Cape Farewell Spit you’ll find beautiful Wharariki Beach. The beach is well known to photographers and can only be reached after a 20-minutes walk between meadows and sheep.
- Abel Tasman National Park
This incredibly beautiful park, located on the coast, is well worth a visit. It is best known for the coastal path that you can follow for one or more days. To be able to walk this, you often have to book in advance.
So if you want to visit this park on this South Island road trip, you will have to skip something else or plan one to several days extra.
Where to stay in Nelson
- McKee Memorial Reserve: This nice campsite is located by the sea, with fantastic views over the bay.
- YHA Nelson Hostel: nice youth hostel in the center, worth 5* and not even that expensive
- The Wheelhouse Inn: nice little house just 10 minutes walk from the sea, it is only 5 minutes drive from Tahunanui Beach.
- Harbourside Lodge: a little further from the center at the marina of Nelson you will find this nice hotel. Enjoy the view of the marina from your terrace.
Day 12: Nelson – Kaikoura
Total distance: Today we continue to Kaikoura, known for its dolphins and whales. This is back south along the east side of the island. It is a drive of 3h30 or 250 km (155 miles).
What to do from Nelson to Kaikoura
- Havelock – Pelorus Eco Adventures
In Havelock, you can do a fantastic trip down the Pelorus river with Pelorus Eco Adventures. Several scenes from the Lord of the Rings movie were shot here.
A lovely experience with fun guides! We also spend the night in their lovely apartment with views over the water. Count an extra day if you want to do this as well.
We wrote a full report on this kayak tour and night with Pelorus Eco Adventures.
- Eating mussels
If you like mussels, be sure to try the typical green mussels of this region. And since you are here in one of the most famous wine regions in the world (Marlborough), you can combine it with a nice white wine!
The perfect lunch after a day of kayaking. This is a delicious mussels recipe.
- Queen Charlotte Drive
On the way to Kaikoura, you will also pass the Queen Charlotte Sound (fjord). You’ll have fantastic views along the way with fjords and cliffs. And therefore also some extra time to enjoy it!
Next, you will arrive in Kaikoura. If you still have time, you can do some of the activities we describe on day 13 in the evening.
Where to stay in Kaikoura
- Wacky stays: stay in an original wagon, yurt, or tipi. All kinds of crazy stays for a reasonable price.
- Manakau Lodge: are you looking for a cozy lodge? Then you have to be here. Enjoy the beautiful view of the mountains and the sea by the fireplace.
Day 13: Kaikoura – Christchurch
Total distance: In the afternoon we drive from Kaikoura back to Christchurch, the starting point of our trip around the South Island. You will also pass the Banks Peninsula and Akaroa. It is a 181 km (112 miles) or 2 hours drive.
What to do in Kaikoura
Everybody comes to Kaikoura to spot dolphins and/or whales, so you can’t miss this.
To avoid too many tourists and that the marine life is too much disturbed by boats, there is only one company with which you can go dolphin watching and one company to spot whales.
- Dolphin spotting with Dolphin Encounter in Kaikoura
You can choose to watch the dolphins from the boat or to swim with the dolphins. You do need to book in advance (especially if you want to swim).
First, you look for the dolphins, once found you can enjoy the spectacle! Unforgettable!
In our travel diary about our tour of the South Island of New Zealand (part 4), you can read all about our experiences.
- Whale watching with Whale Watch Kaikoura
We chose to see the dolphins, but we definitely want to go back for whale watching too. And with a bit of luck, you will also see seals, dolphins or albatrosses during this trip.
What to do in Akaroa
After Kaikoura, we drive down the coast via the Banks Peninsula. This is an ancient volcanic peninsula near Christchurch.
There is also the town of Akaroa, super picturesque, and flowers everywhere. So you can stroll around and enjoy the atmosphere.
There are also a lot of activities to do in and around Akaroa. From here you can visit dolphins, take a wildlife cruise on the sea or look for wild penguins.
After Akaroa, you drive on to Christchurch where you have an evening and possibly the next day to discover the city (depending on your flight).
Where to stay in Christchurch
- Wigram Hotel: Located at a small airport outside the center of Christchurch you will find this nice hotel, which was intended for pilots. Now you can spend the night here yourself. It is 6 km (3,7miles) from Christchurch International Airport.
- Crowne Plaza: This well-known hotel is located in the center of Christchurch. You will find a large family room with two large bunk beds and a beautiful view of the city. The Market Place Restaurant is open daily for breakfast and dinner.
- Intrepid Bed & Breakfast: a nice budget option in Christchurch, about 3 km (1,8 miles) from the center. The continental breakfast is included.
Day 14: Christchurch
Depending on when you have to leave, you can still visit Christchurch. It is a very pleasant and quiet city, so it is definitely worth setting aside some time for it.
What to do in Christchurch
Christchurch is very easy to explore on foot. All main sights are within walking distance of each other.
Since New Zealand’s South Island is a volcanic island, they are unfortunately also often hit by earthquakes. Christchurch, for example, was hit by some very severe ones in 2010 and 2011.
The damage can still be seen, especially at the cathedral. Be sure to walk past it.
In addition, there are also beautiful botanical gardens, many shops, and fun museums such as the Canterbury museum. We also really liked the Wigram Air museum. This is a nice article about Christchurch where you can read more about all the activities.
And that’s how we come to the end of our New Zealand South Island itinerary for 14 days. If you have more time to spend in New Zealand, read on.
New Zealand South Island Itinerary for 3 or 4 weeks
If you are lucky enough to be able to tour the South Island of New Zealand for longer than 14 days, we have the following extras for your itinerary.
- You can do multi-day trekkings everywhere, including 1-day hikes. We found this site about trekkings in New Zealand a nice source of inspiration. Of course, you will also find all the information on the official site of DOC New Zealand.
- In the south, you have Stewart Island. A piece of pure nature 30 km (18 miles) away from the mainland!
- Do you want to go to the North Island of New Zealand? Then you can either take the plane from Christchurch to Auckland and rent a car or camper there. Or you can take the beautiful ferry trip from Picon to Wellington. In that case, it is better to visit Christchurch and Akaroa in the beginning and you will have to drive up from Kaikoura again.
This brings us to the end of our article. Hopefully, you found it interesting and you are already looking forward to going to New Zealand!
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