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3 epic South Island road trip itineraries

Plan the perfect driving trip of the South Island with our hand-curated itineraries.

We’ve done all the work for you and made three unbeatable South Island itineraries for road trips as short as a week or as long as two weeks.

All our itineraries are round-trip and start in Christchurch, but can be adjusted to start anywhere along the route. For example, if you’re flying into Queenstown, you can tweak your trip to start here instead as all these itineraries are round-trip drives that pass through the adventure capital.

7-day South Island road trip

Christchurch – Franz Josef – Queenstown – Milford Sound – Christchurch

  • Distance: 1,352.8km (or 1,927.6km including Milford Sound)
  • Highlights and attractions: Queenstown, Milford Sound, Arthur’s Pass, Lake Tekapo
  • Landscape: Mountains, glaciers, lakes and coastal scenery
  • Recommended vehicle type: Economy or mid-sized/sedan (recommended for winter)

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Day 1: Christchurch to Hokitika

  • Distance: 248km
  • Approximate drive time: 3.5 hours

Highlights:

  • Head off to Arthur’s Pass National Park where you can hike Devil’s Punchbowl Falls
  • On your way stop briefly at Castle Hill
  • Continue onwards to Hokitika to walk to Hokitika Gorge
  • Spend the night in Hokitika

Where to spend the night in Hokitika: Bella Vista Hotel Hokitika

Day 2: Hokitika to Franz Josef

  • Distance: 134km
  • Approximate drive time: 1 hour and 40 minutes

    Highlights:

    Where to spend the night in Franz Josef: Terrace Motel

    Lake Wanaka tree

    Day 3: Franz Josef to Wanaka

    • Distance: 286km
    • Approximate drive time: 3 hours and 30 minutes

    Highlights

    • Drive Haast Pass Road to Wanaka with stops at Blue Pools and Thunder Creek Falls
    • Once in Wanaka spend the day exploring the area by kayaking, hiking to Roy's Peak, canyoning or even skydiving

    Where to spend the night in Wanaka: Wanaka View Motel

    Boat on the lake in Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand

    Day 4: Wanaka to Queenstown

    • Distance: 67.2km
    • Approximate drive time: 1 hour and 10 minutes

    Highlights

    Where to spend two nights in Queenstown: Heartland Hotel Queenstown

    Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand

    Day 5: Day trip to Milford Sound

    • Distance: 0km
    • Approximate drive time: 0

    If you add Milford Sound onto your trip, you’ll add 574.8km. The return drive is 7 hours

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    Day 6: Queenstown to Lake Tekapo

    • Distance: 255.6km
    • Approximate drive time: 3 hours

    Highlights

    • Another scenic drive will lead you to Lake Tekapo but first stop at Lake Pukaki to hike to Hooker Track
    • Continue to Lake Tekapo to spend some time in the Tekapo Springs
    • Stay up late to catch the starry sky at the Mt John Observatory
    • Spend the night in Lake Tekapo

    Where to spend the night in Lake Tekapo: Lake Tekapo Scenic Resort

    10-day South Island road trip

    Christchurch - Tekapo - Queenstown - Te Anau - Wanaka - Franz Josef - Arthur's Pass - Christchurch

    • Distance: 2,079km
    • Highlights and attractions: Queenstown, Wanaka, Franz Josef Glacier, Arthur’s Pass, Te Anau, Milford Sound
    • Landscape: Mountains, glaciers, lakes and coastal scenery
    • Recommended vehicle type: Economy or mid-sized/sedan (recommended for winter)

    Picture not described

    Day 1: Christchurch to Tekapo

    • Distance: 244km
    • Approximate drive time: 3 hours and 15 minutes

    Highlights

    • Head straight to Lake Tekapo to see NZ’s most photographed lake
    • Take the afternoon to go hiking on trails to the Mt John Summit
    • In the evening go stargazing at Mt John Observatory

    Where to spend your two nights in Tekapo: Lake Tekapo Scenic Resort

    Picture not described

    Day 2: Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki day trip

    • Distance: 164km
    • Approximate drive time: 2 hours and 10 minutes

    Highlights

    • Make the short drive to Lake Pukaki and hike the Hooker Track for the best views of the lake
    • Hike to Tasman Glacier view
    • Don’t miss Peter’s Lookout
    • Drive back to spend the night in Lake Tekapo

    Picture not described

    Day 3: Lake Tekapo to Queenstown

    • Distance: 275km
    • Approximate drive time: 3 hours, 24 minutes

    Highlights

    Where to spend your two nights in Queesntown: Heartland Hotel Queenstown

    Picture not described

    Day 4: Queenstown area

    • Distance: 92.4km
    • Approximate drive time: 1.5 hours

    Highlights

    • Take a short drive to Glenorchy for a morning spent in nature, half-day tours are also available
    • In the afternoon it’s time for relaxation, go on a wine and/or food tour

    Picture not described

    Day 5: Queenstown to Te Anau

    • Distance: 172km
    • Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 6 minutes

    Highlights:

    • Get going early for a leisurely 2-hour drive that will have lots of places you’ll want to stop for photo ops
    • In the afternoon take a cruise across the lake to the Te Anau worm caves

    Where to spend your two nights in Te Anau: Lakeside Motel and Apartments

    Picture not described

    Day 6: Day trip to Milford Sound

    • Distance: 238km
    • Approximate drive time: 3 hours

    Highlights

    • A picturesque drive to Milford Sound will take you just shy of 2 hours
    • Be sure to stop at Mirror Lakes and Eglinton River in Fiordland National Park
    • Once at Milford Sound you have the option to see the area by cruise, kayak or a scenic flight
    • Opt to walk along the shore of Milford Sound as well
    • Drive back to Te Anau to spend the night

    Picture not described

    Day 7: Te Anau to Wanaka

    • Distance: 226km
    • Approximate drive time: 3 hours

    Highlights

    • Be sure to drive along Crown Range Road on your way to Wanaka for scenic views
    • Once there stop by the famous Wanaka Tree
    • Hike the Rob Roy Glacier Track and/or check out Glendhu Bay Lookout

    Where to spend the night in Wanaka: Wanaka View Motel

    Picture not described

    Day 8: Wanaka to Franz Josef

    • Distance: 286km
    • Approximate drive time: 3 hours and 40 minutes

    Highlights

    • On the drive to Franz Josef stop at the Blue Pools and Knight’s Point Lookout
    • You have the option to stop at Fox Glacier along the way for a 2.5-hour hike or continue to Franz Josef Glacier where you can complete the 3-hour valley walk
    • Finish your day in Franz Josef village and relax in the hot springs before spending the night

    Where to spend the night in Franz Josef: Terrace Motel

    Picture not described

    Day 9: Franz Josef to Arthur’s Pass

    • Distance: 232.7km
    • Approximate drive time: 3 hours

    Highlights

    • Get going early so you can spend the majority of the day in Arthur’s Pass National Park
    • Walk the Hokitika Gorge, don’t miss Otira Viaduct lookout and complete the short 30-minute hike to Devil’s Punchbowl Falls

    Where to spend the night in Arthur’s Pass: Wilderness Lodge Arthur's Pass

    Picture not described

    Day 10: Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch

    • Distance: 149km
    • Approximate drive time: 2 hours

    Highlights

    • Rise early to make the most of your day in Christchurch with a stop at Castle Hill on the way
    • Ride the Christchurch Gondola and visit the Botanical Gardens
    • If time permits for 1 more hike walk the Bridle Path Walk

    14-day South Island road trip

    Christchurch - Tekapo - The Catlins - Te Anau - Queenstown - Glenorchy - Wanaka - Franz Josef - Nelson - Kaikoura - Christchurch

    • Distance: 2,786km
    • Highlights and attractions: Queenstown, Mt Cook, Milford Sound, Franz Josef Glacier, glow worm caves, Abel Tasman National Park
    • Landscape: Mountains, lakes, coastline
    • Recommended vehicle type: Economy or mid-sized/sedan (recommended for winter)

    Picture not described

    Day 1: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

    • Distance: 237km
    • Approximate drive time: 3 hours

    Highlights

    • Jump into your car rental and head straight to Lake Tekapo
    • Spend the afternoon at one of NZ’s most photographed lakes
    • Hike to the summit of Mt John
    • Spend the evening at the Mt John Observatory for epic stargazing

    Where to spend the night in Tekapo: Lake Tekapo Scenic Resort

    Picture not described

    Day 2: Lake Tekapo to The Catlins

    • Distance: 406km
    • Approximate drive time: 5 hours and 15 minutes

    Highlights

    • Take time to sleep in after the late night before heading off to Lake Pukaki where you can see NZ’s tallest mountain, Mt Cook and hike the Hooker Track
    • Make stops in Oamaru to see if you can spot some penguins and at the Moeraki Boulders that are almost perfect spheres for a photo op
    • Spend the night and sleep early along the Catlins Coast

    Where to spend the night in The Catlins: Catlins Newhaven Holiday Park

    Picture not described

    Day 3: The Catlins to Te Anau

    • Distance: 233km
    • Approximate drive time: 3 hours

    Highlights

    • Get going early, you’re going to want to make lots of photo stops on your way to Te Anau
    • Spend the afternoon on a cruise across a lake to the Te Anau glow worm caves

    Where to spend your two nights in Te Anau: Lakeside Motel and Apartments

    Picture not described

    Day 4: Te Anau to Milford Sound

    • Distance: 237km
    • Approximate drive time: 3.5 hours

    Highlights

    • Drive the scenic Milford Sound Highway and be prepared for photo stops at places such as Mirror Lakes and Eglinton River in Fiordland National Park
    • Take the afternoon to take in the site of Milford Sound by taking a cruise, kayaking or a scenic flight
    • If time permits be sure to hike around the area

    Picture not described

    Day 5: Te Anau to Queenstown

    • Distance: 172km
    • Approximate drive time: 2 hours

    Highlights

    Where to spend four nights in Queenstown: Heartland Hotel Queenstown

    Picture not described

    Day 6: Day trip to Glenorchy

    • Distance: 93km
    • Approximate drive time: 1.5 hours

    Highlights

    • For Lord of the Rings fans a trip to Glenorchy is in order
    • Nature lovers can enjoy the hikes through the forest and adrenaline lovers can jump on the jet boat
    • If you want a day of no driving, tours are available

    Picture not described

    Day 7: Queenstown

    • Distance: 0km
    • Approximate drive time: 0

    Highlights

    Picture not described

    Day 8: Queenstown

    • Distance: 40km
    • Approximate drive time: 44 minutes

    Highlights

    Picture not described

    Day 9: Queenstown/Arrowtown to Wanaka

    • Distance: 67km
    • Approximate drive time: 1 hour

    Highlights

    • Though it’s a short drive to Wanaka get going early
    • Spend the day exploring the lake, on land or in the water
    • Visit Mt Aspiring National Park for scenery of glaciers and more on the 10km Rob Roy Glacier Track
    • Or hike to Roy’s Peak for the best views of Wanaka (16km)

    Where to spend the night in Wanaka: Wanaka View Motel

    Picture not described

    Day 10: Wanaka to Franz Josef

    • Distance: 286km
    • Approximate drive time: 3 hours and 40 minutes

    Highlights

    • It’s a very scenic drive so give yourself plenty of time to stop at places such as Blue Pools Park to see a waterfall
    • Finish the day’s long drive in Franz Josef village and relax in the hot springs

    Where to spend the night in Franz Josef: Terrace Motel

    Picture not described

    Day 11: Franz Josef to Nelson

    • Distance: 459km
    • Approximate drive time: 6 hours

    Highlights

    Where to spend two nights in Nelson: Century Park Motor Lodge

    Picture not described

    Day 12: Nelson to Abel Tasman

    • Distance: 131km
    • Approximate drive time: 2 hours and 15 minutes

    Highlights

    • Nelson is only a base for exploring Abel Tasman National Park
    • The park can only be accessed by water or on foot but tours are available for all (cruise only, cruise and walk or kayak and walk)
    • Drive back to Nelson for the night

    Picture not described

    Day 13: Nelson to Kaikoura

    • Distance: 243km
    • Approximate drive time: 3.5 hours

    Highlights

    • The drive from Nelson to Kaikoura is another scenic drive that can be broken up with a stop in the Marlborough wine region
    • In Kaikoura go whale watching, check out Peninsula Lookout and see the Point Kean Seal Colony

    Where to spend the night in Kaikoura: Kaikoura Gateway Motor Lodge

    Picture not described

    Day 14: Kaikoura to Christchurch

    • Distance: 182km
    • Approximate drive time: 2.5 hours

    Highlights

    • Spend the day exploring the town before an evening flight
    • Ride the Christchurch Gondola and visit the Botanical Gardens

    South Island overview

    • Weather: The South Island’s weather can change quickly so it’s best to expect the unexpected. Temperatures reach an average of 25°C in the summer and as low as 12°C in the winter. If you’re toward the south, like in Te Anau or Milford Sound, temperatures may only reach the high teens in summer on a cool day. Average rainfall is higher in the winter but expect it year-round. There will be snow in the mountains, so keep that in mind if hiking is a part of your itinerary.
    • Best time to visit: While summer is the best time to travel for weather we recommend road tripping in autumn (March to May) when the colours are pretty, there are less people and accommodation doesn’t get booked as fast.
    • Recommended vehicle type: Economy or mid-sized/sedan (recommended for winter)
    • Safety: It can drop below freezing point in the winter on the South Island and the roads can be windy, so it’s recommended to drive carefully, stick to speed limits and make sure you have adequate car rental excess insurance in case anything goes wrong.

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