The South Island in New Zealand boats some of the most stunning scenic views that we’ve ever seen. Having visited it 3 times, its no wonder why we keep wanting to go back again.

This itinerary is for those who only have one week in the South Island, preferably spending the other week in the North Island. In reality, it would likely take a good 2 to 3 weeks (depending on your interests) to properly travel the South Island of New Zealand.

The itinerary also covers a few hikes, but if you’re not someone interested or keen on hiking, do not fret. It still lays out the general direction and main attractions to cover, and I’ve also included a lot more activities and points of interests in each town that could be preferable.

You’d need to rent a car so be sure to book it in advance and collect them from the airport once you’ve landed. We got a toyota yaris for $272 NZD, picked it up from Christchurch airport and dropped it off at Queenstown Airport.

Our accommodation tips are below after the end of each day. And our last tip would be regarding food. We’d recommend to book places that have cooking facilities, as eating out in New Zealand can get really expensive (approx $50 NZD per meal for 2). Pak n Save, Countdown and four square would be the best places to shop for groceries at good prices.

The road trip starts of at Christchurch which is the most popular international Airport there, and ends at Queenstown which has an International Airport as well. Therefore, do take note that this is not a looped road trip, and would be an ideal guide for someone who wants to fly to the North Island after.

Day 1: Christchurch to Akaroa (Day Trip)
Day 2: Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass to Lake Tekapo
Day 3: Lake Tekapo to Mt. Cook
Day 4: Mt. Cook to Wanaka
Day 5: Wanaka to Queenstown
Day 6: Queenstown
Day 7: Queenstown to Milford Sound (Day Trip)

This itinerary is completely free as I love sharing my best tips for roadtrips and travel. Do note that the itinerary is completely flexible and totally dependent on how you want to travel, which is the best part of travelling. If you want to skip certain places, and explore others that are possibly not listed in this post, it’s totally fine!

Day 1: Christchurch to Akaroa (Day Trip)

81km – approx 1hr 20m

We start the roadtrip off by driving to Akaroa from Christchurch. Stop by some amazing sights on the way there (shown on the map) by driving through the scenic summit road which are easily accessible with a car.

Sign of the Bellbird

The landscape of this part of New Zealand is truly unique and unbelievably phenomenal, and something we haven’t seen in any other parts of this beautiful country.

Akaroa is a charming harborside town founded by the French in 1840. Even hundreds of years later, the French influence is still prominent, as can be seen in the architecture of the town.

It’s also famous for its wildlife, cruises, sceneries and hikes. You can find information on cruises here, as well as swimming with the dolphins here.

Accommodation pro tip: You can easily find affordable places on airbnb in Christchurch.

Day 2: Christchurch to Arthurs Pass to Lake Tekapo

453km – approx 6h

It’s a long drive for Day 2, so head out early from Christchurch. Before heading directly to Lake Tekapo, stop by Devils Punchbowl Waterfall in Arthurs Pass. The scenic drive here is one to savour. It truly has it all, mountains, lakes, waterfalls, rock formations, bridges, flowers and many more sights.

Kura Tawhiti / Castle Hill Conservation Area

The Castle Hill Conservation Area is right on the way to Devil’s Punchbowl, and is a definite must see. Here, the Limestone rock formations are almost 30-40 million years old, carved and sculptered by glaciers and the constant erosion of the rain and wind. The Castle Hill boulders reminded early settlers of a fortified castle, hence its derived name. Try climbing up on those boulders, and enjoy the magnificent surrounding sights.

Devils Punchbowl Waterfall (Arthurs Pass)

Aside from the very plentiful steps, the track to the falls is easy to traverse and well organized, although as it’s very shady in winter there could be ice. From the carpark you get a preview of the falls, and again from the footbridge, but the grandeur when you reach the end of the trail to the falls is amazing.

Accommodation pro tip: Accommodation can get expensive here in Lake Tekapo, so we’d recommend looking for places in Farlie, which is right before Lake Tekapo on this route.

Day 3: Lake Tekapo to Mt. Cook

105km – approx 1.5h

Start Day 3 off with the gorgeous sights of Lake Tekapo. There are tons of activities to be done at this small town, such as horse riding, kayaking, stargazing and many more.

Lake Tekapo is famous for being the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the Southern Hemisphere. The town has an Observatory, University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory, which is a must go for stargazers. Booking is required so make sure to do them in advance!

Drive over to hooker valley trailhead via Mt cook road and take in the breathtaking views as you cruise along the coast of Lake Pukaki. Stop at the various scenic viewpoints at the edge of the lake and take that instagram worthy shot.

Mt Cook – Hooker Valley Trail

Hooker Valley Trail is an easy 3 hour trek on flat rocky ground with minimal elevation, and is definitely a must-do activity. The magnificent views coupled with the pristine melted iced caps from the surrounding mountains is extraordinary. You can even spot chunks of ice blocks in the mountain run off.

Distance: 10.6 km

Elevation gain: 191m

Difficulty: Easy

Duration: 3 hours return

Accommodation pro tip: We’d recommend looking for a place in Twizel as any other bnbs and hotels/motels around Lake Pukaki and Mt cook are expensive.

Day 4: Mt. Cook to Wanaka

150km – approx 1h 45 mins

Roys Peak

Start off Day 4 with a hearty breakfast and be prepared for the hike of a lifetime. A grueling 6 hour return hike with steep elevations, but worth every minute of it once you get to the top. Words and pictures can never paint the full picture of the beauty of this one. I can name all the adjectives, and it still won’t do it justice. It’s as if you’re in a painting, and its our favourite view of New Zealand. Be sure to pack some light snacks and sufficient water to endure the long hike, especially on a hot day in summer.

Distance: 12.8 km

Elevation gain: 1300m

Difficulty: Hard

Duration: 6 hours return

Lake Wanaka

If you’d rather skip the Roys Peak hike, then take it easy on this day and just hang out in Wanaka. If not, head on down to Lake Wanaka after the hike. This small town boasts some amazing restaurants and an impressive lakefront of Lake Wanaka. There are many impressive viewpoints in and around the area of the town, so lookout for them on our maps in the post above. Be sure to catch a picture of the ever famous #thatwanakatree. After that exhausting hike, your body is going to be begging you to go get some rest.

Accommodation pro tip: Head on back to your accommodation in Wanaka which has some affordable BnBs near the town.

Day 5: Wanaka to Queenstown

75km – approx 1h 10mins

Skyline Queenstown

Day 5 is an exciting one. The drive to Queenstown, our favourite town in New Zealand by far. No trip to the South Island of New Zealand is complete without stopping by Queenstown. Take the Gondola up at Skyline Queenstown to get spectacular views of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains. And be sure to try out the luge ride at the peak. We booked ours through klook which included the gondola ride + 5 luge rides($60 NZD per person). Alternatively, you can buy the tickets directly at the ticketing booth located at the foot of the Gondola. We’d very much recommend to get the maximum 5 rides for the luge as its highly addictive.

Queenstown has loads of activities to choose from so enjoy the rest of the day exploring them. In the evening, catch the sunset with some ice cream at the waterfront with beautiful views of the mountains.

Accommodation pro tip: We’d recommend to spend a little more on accommodation in Queenstown than usual as the vibes and views of this amazing town is one to savour.

Day 6: Queenstown to Glenorchy

Nevis Swing

There are loads of activities to choose from here in Queenstown. All kind of various height element activities can be done at AJ Hackett, Ziptrek Ecotours, iFLY Indoor Skydiving, Shotover Canyon Swing or NZONE Skydive Queenstown. There’s also fun places for families and kids at places such as Odyssey Sensory Maze Queenstown and Thrillzone Queenstown.

Out of all the choices, we chose to do the Nevis Swing. The first of its kind in the world, measuring 300m the world’s biggest swing. This is a must do for thrill seekers. You can do bungee jump and catapult swing shot there as well! Just a heads up, it’s going to take up half your day. You’ll need to report in to AJ Hackett Meet up point somewhere downtown and they will drive you up to the mountains for the jumps. Find out more here!


46km – 45mins

Glenorchy is a quant small town that’s about an hour drive away from Queenstown. Though not many things to be done within the town, it has some spectacular views of the dart river that leads to Lake Wakatipu.

Day 7: Queenstown to Milford Sound (Day Trip)

290km – approx 4-5h

Milford Sound is a magical place where the fiord flows out into the Tasman Sea. Although it is pretty inaccessible, and requires a demanding 5 hour drive from Queenstown, it is thoroughly worth the hassle. We’d strongly recommend doing a full day kayak or hopping on a cruise to take you around the fiord. If you’re lucky, you can get to see seals and dolphins around the sound. We did the former and it was absolutely amazing, and costs $139 NZD/pax. You can find out more details on kayaking at Milford Sound here, and ferry cruises here.

And that’s the end of our itinerary for the South Island of New Zealand. We’d advice to either stay longer and take a domestic flight to the Northern part of New Zealand and spend at least another week there. Check out our top places to see in New Zealand North Island here.

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