This 10 day South Island Itinerary will give you a taste of everything New Zealand has to offer, from wine tasting and hot pools, to hiking and adventure activities. Whilst 10 days is tight, it’s still enough time to hit most of the South Island’s highlights, and you can easily add a few more days on to the route.
This route runs from Queenstown to Christchurch, however the roadtrip can easily be done in reverse.
You will need to hire a car for this itinerary, we went with ACE rentals and had no problems. There are multiple hire companies running on the Island, so just take your pick and collect the car form the Airport when you arrive. You can also opt to hire a campervan if you’d like some extra freedom. New Zealand is the perfect country to take a road trip, with the roads being excellent and the scenery stunning.
This itinerary has a strong focus on Queenstown, as its an incredible town with so much to do. However you could definitely cut a day from Queenstown and add on a another day elsewhere.
We also skipped Franz Josef Glacier in favour of Mount Cook, so if climbing the glaciers is high on your list then you can swap these two destinations.
We stayed at AirBnbs the whole trip, apart from in the Mount Cook National Park, and found them to very good value and quality.
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Day 1-4: Queenstown
Queenstown is the perfect introduction to New Zealand, boasting endless activities and beautiful scenery. It’s a lively little town, known for its skiing, adrenaline activities and surrounding wine country. Whilst it’s definitely the busiest of the South Island towns, we were there during the school holidays in September and didn’t find it overly crowded.
There is a range of accomodation options available, from hostels and hotels, to Airbnbs. We stayed at a beautiful Airbnb with lake views, situated about a 10 minute drive from the city centre. Parking in the town centre is easy to find and quite cheap.
What to do:
- Ski or snowboard during the snow season. Buses run from the Queenstown city centre to both the Remarkables and Coronet Peak snow fields.
- Try out an adventure activity such as skydiving, bungee jumping or a jet boat ride. All of these activities can easily be arranged from one of the many travel shops in town.
- Go on a winery hopping tour around the Otago region. The region is known for its Pinot Noir, and is home to countless beautiful wineries.
- Take a scenic drive out to Glenorchy. The town itself in small but the hour long drive there is seriously stunning.
- Go on a hike. There are tonnes of short walks and day hikes around Queenstown, our favourite was Bobs Cove.
- Soak in a hot pool. The Onsen Hotpools offers stunning views over the shot over river, and are the perfect way to relax after a busy day of adventuring.
Check our the best things to do in Queenstown here.
Where we stayed: This AirBnb with lake views.
Day 4-6: Te Anau and Milford Sound
In the afternoon of day 4 drive from Queenstown to Te Anau, known as the gateway to New Zealand ‘s Fiordlands. The town itself is small, but staying here is the perfect base for a day trip to Milford Sound. We unfortunately didn’t get to see Milford Sound as the only road in was closed to due Avalanche risk on the day of our tour, so make sure you check for weather and road closure updates.
You can also go on a Milford Sound tour departing from Queenstown, however be prepared for a 12 hour day.
What to do:
- Take a day trip to Milford Sound. You can opt to self drive, however we recommend a tour as weather conditions can often make the drive dangerous. This also allows you to relax and take in much more of the scenery. Most tours include the drive to Milford Sound and a boat trip through the Fiordland.
- Visit a glow worm cave. The tour will take you across Lake Te Anau and into the glow worm caves.
- If you wish to extend your stay you can hike the famous Milford Track. The hike takes 4 days and it is said to be the ‘worlds finest walk’.
Where we stayed: A lovely off the grid farmhouse .
Day 6-7: Wanaka
Its time to drive to Wanaka, a sleepy little lakeside town about a 3 hour drive from Te Anau. You can either spend your time relaxing by the lake and eating at the many amazing cafes, or go on one of the beautiful hikes the town has to offer.
What to do:
- Hike Roys Peak. This is one of New Zealand’s most well known hikes, and for good reason- the view at the peak is stunning! It is however a challenging hike, and the weather conditions can change quickly, so ensure that you are correctly prepared.
- Photograph the Wanaka Tree. This tree has to be the most famous tree in New Zealand, and it seems to be a photographers dream. The tree can be found on google maps, and is an easy walk along the lake. Just be prepared to joined by dozens of other tourists, all trying to get that perfect Wanaka Tree photo.
- Hike Mount Iron. If you’re looking for a bit of an easier hike than Roys Peak, then Mount Iron might be for you. The hike starts just out of the city centre, and offers beautiful views over Lake Wanaka.
- Go sky diving! Wanaka is a beautiful alternative to sky diving in Queenstown. We were actually meant to go sky diving here, but Tessa was too sick and wasn’t allowed to go. Hopefully next time!
Where we stayed: A guesthouse a few minutes from the lake.
Day 7-9: Mount Cook
The Mount Cook mountain ranges has to be one of the most beautiful areas in New Zealand, and the 2.5 hour drive there is equally scenic. The last leg of the drive winds around the stunning Lake Pukaki, which is the most crazy bright blue colour. Accomodation options in the National Park are limited, so we recommend booking well in advanced.
Be prepared for snow in this area if you’re coming in winter to early spring. We unexpectantly woke up to a blanket of snow in early October, which was beautiful even if it did limit our hiking options.
Hiking is the main activity here, so f you’re not interested in doing multiple hikes then you could choose spend just one night here and add on some more time in Queenstown or Wanaka.
What to do:
- Hooker Valley Track. This 3-4 hour hike will take you across a couple of beautiful swing bridges and through incredible alpine scenery. The track beings at the White horse Hill camping area.
- Tasman Glacier View Track. This easy track takes you down to a glacial lake where you will be able to see icebergs floating in the water. We loved this hike, and spent ages down at the lake playing with the ice.
- Kea Point Hike. Another easy hike that will give you spectacular views of Mount Cook.
Where we stayed: Aoraki Court Motel
Day 9-10: Christchurch
Spend your last day heading to Christchurch. Stop off at Lake Pukaki if you didn’t the day before, and then head to Lake Tekapo. This is another stunningly blue lake that is perfect for photo opportunities.
Another option is to drive back to Queenstown if you would prefer to fly in and out of the same airport.
What to do:
- Go hiking at Godley Head. This trail hugs the Christchurch coastline, and gives stunning views over the ocean.
- Take a Gondola ride. The ride will take you up to the top of Mount Cavendish, where you can see out over Christchurch and the southern Alps.
- Visit the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial. The memorial consists of 185 empty white chairs to honour those who lost their life in the tragedy.
We hope this itinerary offers you some guidance when planning your New Zealand road trip! Feel free to make some substitutions depending on what areas interest you the most. The entire South Island is incredible, so you really can’t go wrong!