New Zealand South Island Self-Drive Road Trip Itinerary

A New Zealand South Island 14 Day Itinerary

How to Spend Two Weeks on a New Zealand South Island Road Trip

New Zealand’s South Island packs an almighty punch. A 14 day road trip around the island is an incredible and exhilarating ride. With so much to see the longer you have to explore the South Island the better. Our 14 day New Zealand South Island itinerary will guide you around one of the most spectacular corners of the globe.

Tips for the Perfect New Zealand South Island Road Trip

We recommend starting at Christchurch and travelling counter clockwise as the best route for a road trip around New Zealand’s South island. 

Though many people focus mostly on the jaw-dropping west coast, the central, southern and eastern regions all demand attention too,

The central region of the South Island is filled with vast gorgeous lakes and dramatic mountain ranges and are just as breath-taking as anywhere on the west coast. 

The calmer and more cultivated southern and eastern coasts, with beautiful old cities such as Oamaru and Dunedin, should also not be ignored. 

New Zealand South Island itinerary map
Map showing our two week New Zealand South Island self drive itinerary

New Zealand South Island 14 Day Road Trip - Table of Contents

How to Get to New Zealand's South Island

The main airport on New Zealand’s South Island is Christchurch International Airport.

As well as international flights there are also numerous internal flights to Christchurch from Wellington and Auckland on the North Island and the cities of Queenstown and Dunedin on the South Island.

Find the best deals on flights to Christchurch on Skyscanner here.

Getting Around the South Island

The only way to get around New Zealand’s South Island is with a set of wheels. 

If you need to hire a car for your South Island road trip there are a number of car rental companies to choose from in New Zealand. 

We use Discover Cars to find the best rates on car hire wherever we travel. 

 You can find the best car hire deals from Christchurch Airport on Discover Cars here.

Where to Stay During a South Island Road Trip

It’s best to spend a night or two at a few selected points whilst touring the South Island.

Towns such as Franz Josef, Wanaka, Queenstown, Te Anu and Oamaru are all great places to stay overnight. All are well stocked with shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, gas stations and hotels.

We make several recommendations for good places to stay at various points in our New Zealand South Island self drive itinerary.

If you’d like to find your own accommodation you can search for the best prices on hotels across the South Island here.

An Overview of our New Zealand South Island Itinerary

There is a multitude of things to do on the South Island of New Zealand, and our two week itinerary covers a huge chunk of the island.

Here’s the complete breakdown of our 14 day New Zealand South Island self drive itinerary:

A Two Week Self Drive South Island Itinerary

Taking a counter-clockwise route that starts on the west coast, here’s our 14 day New Zealand South Island road trip itinerary.

Day 1 - Christchurch to Hokitika

Though there is much to see and do in Christchurch, the real treasures on New Zealand’s South Island lie elsewhere. Our 14 day tour of New Zealand will end in Christchurch, so we begin by heading across Arthur’s Pass to the South Island’s west coast.

The West Coast Road bisects the South Island, one of only three roads that cross through the Southern Alps.

It takes just over three hours to reach the west coast from Christchurch, though with the number of stops along the way to marvel at the scenery, expect it to take a lot longer.

Donut statue in the town of Springfield, New Zealand South Island 14 day itinerary
Castle Hill on Arthur's Pass in New Zealand's South Island

A donut statue in the town of Springfield and Castle Hill on the way to Arthurs Pass

The road across Arthur’s Pass is a wonderful introduction to New Zealand’s huge incredible landscapes. The Castle Hill Conservation Area, also known as Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area, is well worth stopping for. 

Take the walking trail and admire the magical rock formations set amongst the sensational views of the surrounding mountains.

Visit the Kea at the Otira Viaduct Lookout

Further along Arthur’s Pass is the Otira Viaduct lookout also known as Death’s Corner. From here there is an incredible view of the viaduct the splits through the Otira valley. You’ll probably be met by a group of kea the inquisitive alpine parrot that are found only in New Zealand’s South Island.

Naturally curious and possessing a taste for rubber, you can expect at least one kea to perch on the roof of your car and nibble at the door lining. Keep all food out of their sight too or they won’t leave you alone.

Otira Viaduct on Arthur's Pass during our New Zealand South Island road trip
A kea at Otira Viaduct New Zealand South Island 14 day itinerary

The Otira Viaduct and a kea at the lookout

Hit Hokitika's Wild Beach

From Otira it’s just under an hour’s drive to the west coast. The small town of Hokitika is the first stop for many on the west coast and an ideal place to stay for the first night on New Zealand’s South Island.

Hokitika is sat right on the Tasman Sea, with the wild and rugged beach practically on the end of the town’s historic high street.

Head Out to Hokitika Gorge

Around a half an hour drive inland from Hokitika is Hokitika Gorge. Well worth the detour out of town, the spectacular blue waters of the Hokitika River are flanked by gorgeous green valleys and need to be seen to be believed. 

A walking trail through the surrounding trees leads to a slightly perilous rope bridge that crosses the incredible Hokitika River. Follow the trail around further for magnificent views of the gorge that include the rope bridge.

Hokitika Gorge, New Zealand South Island 14 day itinerary
The incredible blue waters of Hokitika River at Hokitika Gorge

Where to Stay in Hokitika

You can search for accommodation in Hokitika click here but if you need a few suggestions here are a few places that we recommend:

Budget

Hokitika Pioneer Hotel

If you’re keeping an eye on costs without wanting to scrimp on comfort and cleanliness take a look at the Hokitika Pioneer Hotel.

Next Level

Beachfront Hotel

If you want the best views of Hokitika’s wild sea then book a room with an ocean view at the recently refurbished Beachfront Hotel.

Top of the Range

Hokitika Fire Station

The deluxe apartments at Hokitika Fire Station are beautifully decorated and located right in the very heart of the town.

Where to Eat in Hokitika

Most of Hokitika’s dining options tend to be daytime cafes, of which Stella Cafe on Revell Street is arguably the best. 

For evening meals, check out the whitebait pizza at Fat Pipi Pizzas or head to Kitchen Hokitika for a wide range of healthy and delicious meals.

Day 2: Hokitika to Franz Josef Glacier

The next morning drive south towards Franz Josef Glacier, one of the biggest draws to the South Island’s west coast.

The town of Franz Josef is just under a couple of hours from Hokitika and the route passes through some of the most beautiful of New Zealand’s natural scenery.

Almost all of this stretch of the South Island’s west coast is part of Te Wahipounamu, an enormous UNESCO World Heritage Area that includes Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Mount Cook, Mount Aspiring National Park and Fjordland, the home of Milford Sound.

Lake Mahinapua and the West Coast Tree Top Walkway

Just south of Hokitika is Lake Mahinapua. Hidden from the main road, take a turn onto Shanghai Road through the arched canopy of trees and the serene Lake Mahinapua appears as if from nowhere. 

For a higher vantage point, continue south on the highway and take a turn off for the West Coast Tree Top Walkway. Located on the opposite side of the lake, the West Coast Tree Top Walkway is a 450 metre elevated boardwalk 20 metres high, offering incredible views of the lake.

As well as the walkway there’s also a 40 metre tower with sublime views over the Tasman Sea and the Southern Alps. You can buy tickets for the West Coast Tree Top Walkway in advance here.

Driving along route 6 during a New Zealand South Island road trip
Okarito beach on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island

The drive between Hokitika and Franz Josef, and a rope swing on Okarito Beach

Discover the Wilder Side of the West Coast

The coastline between Hokitika and Franz Josef is wonderfully ragged. Though the highway runs mostly inland and away from the coast there are a few beaches and coastal areas along this stretch that are accessible and worth seeking out.

There are dramatic beaches at the tiny town of Ross and another at Okarito. At both beaches the relentless waves of the Tasman Sea roar and crash against the sand. 

Just like Hokitika Beach, these beaches are windswept and wild, caked in huge chunks of driftwood washed in from the sea.

In between Ross and Okarito is the Harihari Coastal Walkway. A thirty minute drive from the highway leads to the walkway which is one of the most scenic walks on the west coast.

Passing through swamp forests and along the shoreline the seven kilometre loop walk takes in spectacular views of the coast and the west coast’s mountain ranges.

Franz Josef

On arrival in Franz Josef, check in to your accommodation and head in to the small town centre. You’ll need a full day to get the most out of a visit to Franz Josef Glacier, so save this for the following day.

Franz Josef is geared entirely towards visitors to the glacier and the South Island’s west coast. As well as a wide range of excellent bars and restaurants in which to refuel, you can also wind the day down in the calming thermal waters at Glacier Hot Pools.

Where to Stay in Franz Josef

You can search for a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets in Franz Josef here. If you need a few suggestions here are a few places that we recommend:

Budget

Alpine Glacier Motel

If you’re looking for something budget friendly on the west coast, try the Alpine Glacier Motel right in the centre of Franz Josef.

Next Level

Franz Josef Oasis

Just outside the main town is the excellent Franz Josef Oasis, where rooms are large, spotlessly clean and incredibly comfortable.

Top of the Range

Te Waonui Forest Retreat

For something extra special in the heart of Franz Josef book a room that backs onto the forest at the Te Waonui Forest Retreat.

Where to Eat in Franz Josef

There’s a great range of places to eat in Franz Josef. For very good pub grub, as well as hearty breakfasts, you can’t go wrong with The Landing

The best meal in Franz Josef can be found at the cozy Alice May, which serves huge portions of beautifully cooked home-style meals. Be aware that you may need to book a table in advance. If you can’t get a table head to the excellent Blue Ice Cafe instead.

Day 3 - Franz Josef Glacier

Easily one of New Zealand’s greatest landmarks, Franz Josef Glacier is an essential stop on any South Island road trip. There are various ways to see the glacier and most will take up the bulk of a whole day.

The easiest way to see Franz Josef Glacier is from a distance at one of the viewing platforms that are fairly easy walks from the glacier’s car park. 

A much more challenging hour and a half walk leads to a viewing platform within 750 metres of the face of the glacier. The route is tricky and often uneven, so be sure to wear waterproofs and sturdy hiking shoes.

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand South Island 14 day itinerary
A distant view of Franz Josef Glacier

Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier

If you’d prefer to get on the ice, book a heli-hike tour of Franz Josef Glacier. Heli-hike tours begin down in the town Franz Josef, and after a short helicopter ride that lands on top of the glacier, a guide will lead you on a three hour trek over the ice.

An experience like no other, a heli-hike tour is the best way to see the incredible icescape of the glacier, as well as stunning views across some of the most spectacular scenery in all of New Zealand. 

All hikes are tailored to the physical ability of the group. As well as leading the trek, the guides also explain the history of the glacier as part of the tour.

Helicopter Rides over Franz Josef Glacier

If you don’t fancy the hike you can still take a helicopter tour over the glacier for the ultimate view of one of New Zealand’s most incredible sights. 

Helicopter flights over the glacier will usually include landing on the snowy mountaintops to fully appreciate the breathtaking views.

The helicopter flights over Franz Josef are around 30 minutes long and usually operate all day up until around 6.00pm (weather conditions permitting).

Fox Glacier

If you do choose a helicopter flight over Franz Josef Glacier and have time left in the day, head in to Fox Glacier and take a gentle stroll through the rainforest on the Minnehaha Walk

Then drive to Glacier View Road on the south side of the Fox River and trek the River Walk Lookout Track for sensational views of Fox Glacier. 

On the way back, follow the path as it branches off towards the historic suspension bridge that was built in 1929 and still stands over the Fox River. Details of these walks and many others along the west coast can be found here.

Day 4: Franz Josef to Wanaka

On day four continue the journey southbound along the west coast. If you’ve not yet had the chance to explore Fox Glacier do so today.

Just twelve miles down the road from Franz Josef and no less magnificent, there are several similar options to hike up to and onto Fox Glacier, as well as scenic helicopter rides for an unforgettable aerial view.

See the Mountains Reflecting in Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson near Franz Josef Glacier a must see on a New Zealand South Island road trip
Lake Matheson looking towards Mount Cook

For an an alternative stunning view of the landscapes around Fox Glacier, head to Lake Matheson early in the morning. 

Just a five minute drive from the town of Fox Glacier, looped walking trail surrounded by thick forest circles around Lake Matheson which includes a majestic view of Mount Cook in the distance. 

Arrive early on a sunny morning for the magnificent reflection of Mount Cook on the lake. The excellent Cafe Matheson at the start of the walk is a great place for a spot of breakfast or brunch afterwards.

Bruce Bay and Ship Creek

Afterwards continue south, where the journey passes through more of the west coast’s spell-binding beauty. Stop at Bruce Bay for a reminder of how wild the Tasman Sea can be. The beach at Bruce Bay is covered in huge tree trunks washed up from the forests around the Mahitahi River. 

Further south again, make a stop at Ship Creek. Walking trails and boardwalks cut through the strip of swampy forest between the main road and the coastline, leading to gorgeous sand dunes that back onto the Tasman Sea.

Washed up tree trunks and driftwood cover Bruce Bay in New Zealand's South Island
The tree covered beach at Bruce Bay

Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea

Shortly afterwards, the highway cuts inland and twists around the foot of the mountains of the Mount Aspiring National Park. The landscape spreads out before arriving at Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea.

The two enormous lakes of brilliant blue water sit side by side surrounded by the jagged peaks of the neighbouring mountains.

There are a number of lookouts en route from which you can stop and admire the mesmerising mountain views.

Don’t miss the gorgeous views of Lake Wanaka from Boundary Creek or the Lake Wanaka lookout just before The Neck, a narrow tract of land that separates the two stunning lakes.

Lake Wanaka in New Zealand's South Island
The view from Lake Wanaka lookout

Arrive in Wanaka

The small, busy and beautiful town of Wanaka sits at the southern end of the lake of the same name. 

After a long day of driving settle in with a walk along Roy’s Bay at the southern tip of the lake. Here you’ll find Wanaka’s most famous landmark, the solitary willow tree that grows in the lake’s waters at the eastern end of the bay.

With several great cafes, bars, restaurants and a wide range of accommodation, Wanaka is the perfect place to stay for a the night.

The famous Lake Wanaka tree, as seen on our 14 day New Zealand South Island road trip
Lake Wanaka's famous tree

Where to Stay in Wanaka

To search for more accommodation in Wanaka click here. Here are a few places to stay that we recommend:

Budget

Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels

A five minute drive to the centre of town, the studios and apartments at Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park are perfect for those on a budget.

Next Level

Clearbrook Motel & Serviced Apartments

Close to the city centre and just a few minutes’ walk from Lake Wanaka, the Clearbrook Motel & Serviced Apartments make for an ideal stay.

Top of the Range

Te Waonui Forest Retreat

For luxurious accommodation with breathtaking views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains book a room at the Lakeside Apartments.

Where to Eat in Wanaka

Wanaka is blessed with a number of fantastic places to get a bite to eat. Head to the Trout Bar and Restaurant for a great range of beautifully cooked dishes with a wonderful view of the lake. 

The always busy Kai Whakapai a few doors down is a great place to grab a healthy breakfast or brunch.

The super chic Federal Diner hidden down an alley behind Helwick Street is a great spot for breakfast, lunch or dinner. If you’re after a quick bite then The Doughbin on Ardmore Street is easily one of the best bakeries on the South Island.

Day 5 - Wanaka to Queenstown

Climb to the Summit of Roy's Peak

Wanaka sits right beneath the incredible Mount Aspiring National Park and there are more sensational views to be found close by. Start the day with the relatively easy if long and steep hike to Roy’s Peak.

The start of the track is just a five minute drive from the centre of Wanaka and the views from the top are utterly staggering. It takes roughly three hours to reach the summit of Roy’s Peak.

It’s a constantly climbing track and parts are fairly steep, but all along the way, and especially at the top, you’ll be rewarded with phenomenal views over Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring National Park.

The view from Roys Peak near Wanaka on New Zealand's South Island
The view from Roy's Peak

Drive Through the Cardrona Valley

From Wanaka it’s around an hour’s drive to Queenstown but take the Cardrona Valley Road instead of the main highway.

As well as driving past the picture perfect old Cardrona Hotel, this route means that you’ll get the chance to stop and marvel at more incredible views at Crown Range Summit, located just off the side of the road on the approach in to Queenstown.

Queenstown sits at the bottom of the valley below the Crown Range Summit, with the surrounding mountains towering over the city. If you time your visit right and you might be able to watch planes fly past as they come into land at Queenstown airport.

There’s another spectacular viewpoint a little further south at Arrow Junction, just before the road zig-zags into Queenstown.

The Cardrona Hotel between Wanaka and Queenstown
The road towards Queenstown on a New Zealand South Island road trip

The Cardrona Hotel and the view from the Crown Range Summit

Hit the Town in Queenstown

As one of the largest towns on the southern end of the South Island, Queenstown is a vibrant place. 

Sat on the gorgeous Lake Wakatipu and beneath a multitude of mountains, Queensland prides itself on being the adventure capital of the world and is a popular stop off point on most South Island road trips.

It was here in Queenstown that commercial bungee jumping first became popular and almost every kind of white knuckle adventure can be organised in the centre of town.

There is so much to do in and around Queenstown that we recommend that you spend two nights here. This will also allow you to take advantage of the wide variety of great places to eat in Queenstown.

New Zealand's Queenstown at dawn
Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu at dawn

When you reach Queenstown, save any adventures for the following day. 

For now take a walk around the bustling town centre and the beautiful waterfront before finding somewhere to eat. Queenstown has a lively social scene and the wonderful variety of restaurants and bars, easily the biggest in the region.

Where to Stay in Queenstown

You can search through a wide range of accommodation in Queensland by clicking here. If you need some ideas here are a few places to stay that we recommend:

Budget

Alexis Motel & Apartments

With stunning views of Lake Wakatipu and super-friendly staff Alexis Motel & Apartments is a wonderful and affordable place to stay in Queenstown.

Next Level

Kamana Lakehouse

For a taste of luxury at a mid-range price, check in to the incredibly chic Kamana Lakehouse, a five minute drive from the centre of town.

Top of the Range

Sofitel Queenstown

Right in the heart of Queenstown is the palatial 5-star Sofitel Hotel and Spa, one of the very best hotels on the South Island

Where to Eat in Queenstown

Queenstown has an incredibly lively social scene and the widest variety by far of restaurants and bars in the region. 

No visit to Queenstown is complete without picking up a huge burger from Fergburger, a local institution. Incredibly popular, expect a long queue outside at almost all hours of the day. 

The Cow (housed in a former cowshed) serves excellent Italian dishes in the relaxed and intimate environment, whilst Fat Badgers serves up the best and biggest pizzas in town.

Day 6: Around Queenstown

If you planning on an adrenaline filled day then take your pick from the literally limitless options available in Queenstown. 

Whether it’s a bungy jump off a bridge or out of a planewhite water raftingquad biking, snowboarding, abseiling or paragliding, there’s something for you in Queenstown.

The view from the Skyline in Queenstown New Zealand
The view of Queenstown from the Skyline

Even if you’re not keen on adventure, a ride in a gondola on the Skyline to the top of Bob’s Peak is a must. The Skyline is probably the easiest ways to get stunning views in all of the South Island.

From the summit there are staggering views over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains. You can buy tickets for the Skyline in advance here.

Fittingly for Queenstown there are a couple of luge tracks next to the Skyline’s top terminal station, as well as a mountain bike trail in case you’d prefer to ride back down to the bottom of the hill.

Also at the summit are a number of walking trails, from short walks through the serene mountain bush, to full day hikes to the summit of Ben Lomond and to Arthur’s Point.

Alternatively you can just admire the breathtaking views with a bite to eat at the Market Kitchen Cafe or the swankier Stratosphere restaurant before taking the gondola back down to Queenstown.

Learn About New Zealand's Gold Rush in Arrowtown

There’s is also much to explore just outside of Queenstown. A twenty minute drive away is the historic and beautiful Arrowtown, which sits beneath a sweep of trees alongside the Arrow River.

The town sprang up when gold was discovered here in 1862 and an influx of settlers arrived looking to make a fortune. 

The architecture of Arrowtown has hardly changed since that time, with the houses and pretty tree-lined streets around the town still reminiscent of a late 19th century gold rush era.

The historic Ah Lum Chinese store in Arrowtown, New Zealand
A pink sunset over Glenorchy near Queenstown seen on a New Zealand South Island road trip

Ah Lum’s Store in the Chinese Settlement in Arrowtown and the pink sunset at Glenorchy

Arrowtown also saw some of the first Chinese miners to arrive in New Zealand, and their history and connection to the town is still evident. 

There are a handful of the old stone buildings built by the Chinese settlers, including Ah Lum’s Store, alongside the river just below the main town. 

The story of how the Chinese settlers made it to Arrowtown and the details of the tough and fascinating lives they lived here are documented around the settlement.

See the Sunset in Glenorchy

To the north west of Queenstown is the beautiful tranquil village of Glenorchy.It’s easy to see why Glenorchy has been used as setting for so many films and TV series, including one of New Zealand’s most famous exports, the Lord of the Rings.

Perched over the far northern end of Lake Wakatipu, a small boating pier stretches out on the lake looking out on to the neighbouring mountains.

Glenorchy is a wonderful place to come and watch the sunset as the sky turns pink just before nightfall.

The pier at Lake Wakatipu in Glenorchy, New Zealand
Glenorchy pier

Day 7: Queenstown to Te Anau

At the halfway point of your 14 day road trip of New Zealand’s South Island, spend the morning in or around Queenstown before driving to Te Anau in the afternoon. 

It’s only a two hour journey from Queenstown to Te Anau, and whilst the scenery en route is as beautiful as anywhere on the South Island, there’s not a lot else to see and do on the way.

Admire the Lakes of Queenstown

Start the morning with a scenic cruise around Lake Wakatipu. The 90 minute sail around the lake takes in typically stunning views of the surrounding mountain peaks and stops off in a number of gorgeous secluded bays along Lake Wakatipu.

If you’d prefer to look at the water rather than get out on it, take a picnic and drive to either Moke Lake or Lake Hayes, two beautiful spots just a short distance from Queenstown.

Moke Lake is only a twenty minute drive from the centre of Queenstown. On a sunny and clear day there are incredible reflections of the mountains in the surface of the lake. 

There are handful of walking trails at Moke Lake, including a gentle loop trail that takes around an hour and a half to complete.

Lake Moke near Queenstown in New Zealand's South Island
Moke Lake 

Alternatively, head east from Queenstown to the equally wonderful Lake Hayes. Just a 15 minute drive from Queenstown, Lake Hayes offers similarly spectacular views with incredible reflections of the encroaching mountains.

Either drive up to the Lake Hayes Pavilion, just off the main highway to reach the lake’s circuit trail or drive up to the entrance of the Lake Hayes Reserve on the Arrowtown-Lake Hayes Road. 

If you need a few treats for a picnic pick up a few delicious cheeses and chutneys at the nearby Gibbston Valley Cheese.

Drive to Te Anau

In the early afternoon start the drive down to the next town of Te Anau. It’s a beautiful drive even if there are few things to stop and see along the way. That said, the Devil’s Staircase viewpoint is as sensational as any of the views elsewhere on the South Island. 

The tiny town of Kingston at the very southern tip of Lake Wakatipu is also a nice spot to stop with more phenomenal lake views. 

Housed in the town’s former railway station, the recently reopened Kingston Flyer Cafe and Bar does a fine burger and is a great place to stop for a bite to eat, or just to refuel with a coffee or a pot of tea.

Te Anau

Lake Te Anau in New Zealand
A jetty on Lake Te Anau

Compared to Queenstown Te Anau feels incredibly tranquil. Smaller and much more sedate, Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland and specifically to Milford Sound, the most easily accessible part of the vast fiords. 

The town faces the smooth calm waters of Lake Te Anau. Though it’s a small town there’s plenty of great restaurants in Te Anau, as well as cafes and bars and plenty of good accommodation. 

Don’t leave town without picking up a pie from Miles Better Pies, the perfect takeaway snack for when you’re on the road.

Where to Stay in Te Anau

You can find plenty of accommodation in Te Anau by clicking here. Here are a few options that we recommend:

Budget

Parklands Motel

If you’re keeping an eye on costs then consider a stay at the excellent Parklands Motel, a short walk from Lake Te Anau and the centre of town.

Next Level

Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments

For some of the best views of Lake Te Anau book in at the Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments, a perfect home from home.

Top of the Range

Radfords on the Lake

For a super comfortable stay in Te Anau check in at Radfords on the Lake, where every self contained apartment comes with views of the mountains and the lake.

Where to Eat in Te Anau

Te Anau has a small but busy town centre that boasts a number of excellent places to eat. 

The Fat Duck is one of the busiest places on the high street, serving up huge and hearty meals in a lovely atmosphere, as does The Ranch directly over the road.

The cozy Redcliff Cafe on Mokonui Street is also excellent, specialising in fine dining made from locally sourced ingredients.

Day 8: Milford Sound

The next day rise early for a trip to Milford Sound in the heart of the dramatic Fiordlands, an essential part of any New Zealand South Island itinerary.

It’s a near two-hour drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound through the Fiordland’s stunningly beautiful wilderness that is as magical as anywhere else along the west coast.

A boat trip around Milford Sound is a truly unforgettable experience, and it’s also a very popular one. The earlier that you can arrive the better. 

By starting early, not only will you beat the hordes – and not get stuck on the mountain road behind a coach – but you’ll also get to see Milford Sounds in all it’s most dramatic glory. 

Milford Sound, another highlight of a New Zealand South Island road trip

If the weather is poor on the day you head to Milford Sound, don’t panic. The Fjordland region is one of the wettest areas of New Zealand, with over 200 days of rain a year.

Even under the gloomiest of grey skies Milford Sound is utterly astonishing. Countless waterfalls pour into Milford Sound and after heavy rain is when they’re at their most powerful. Be sure to bring waterproofs and expect to get more than a little damp. 

Boat tours of Milford Sound start out beneath Mitre Peak, and sail out close to the the vast mountainsides that circle the water.

If you’re lucky you might spot dolphins swimming in the surprisingly calm fiord, whilst seals are also a common sight, lazing on the rocks at the water’s edge.

Milford Sound in Fiordland on New Zealand's South Island
Tourists on board a boat trip at Milford Sound in New Zealand

A tour of Milford Sound is easily one of the highlights of a New Zealand South Island road trip.

Cruises are around two hours long, and there are several companies that operate boat trips. Many also offer add-ons, such as lunch on board or a visit to Milford Sound Under Water Observatory.

Day 9: Te Anau to Nugget Point

Drive Down to the South Island's South Coast

After Te Anau it’s time to head towards the south coast. The landscape quickly becomes less spectacular but remains beautiful. Mountains and fiords are quickly replaced by sweeping green hills.

Continue due south to the beautiful Lake Manapouri for one last view of the dramatic west coast.

Afterwards the landscape flattens, and fields of cows, sheep and occasionally deer line the road. Charming towns dot the route, where agriculture replaces tourism as the predominant industry.

Head straight towards the southern tip of the South Island and follow the coastline east. The sea and shoreline around here is just as wild and ragged here as it is higher up along the coast.

There are bracing views over the powerful sea at McCraken’s Rest, where the soft chalky orange cliffs at Gemstone Beach crumble into the sea, dropping huge tree trunks on to the sand below.

A rainbow over the sea in the Catlins during our New Zealand South Island road trip
A rainbow in the sea in the Catlins 

Discover the Catlins

From here cut across the south coast towards the Catlins, the rugged and often overlooked eastern end of the South Island’s south coast. All around the Catlins Forest Park are a number of beautiful beaches. 

At low tide, follow the bush walk and beach to the magnificent Cathedral Caves, the enormous 30 metre high caves that resonate with the sound of the sea (do note that the caves are often closed out of season due to high tides). 

At Surat Beach sea lions are often spotted on the long grass on the shore, whilst inland there are a number of magnificent waterfalls, particularly McLean Falls and Parakuanui Falls. Both can be reached by fairly gentle walks through the beautiful forest.

Visit Nugget Point Lighthouse

To the north on the east coast is Nugget Point. A long path leads along the shoreline to the picturesque lighthouse that sits at the end of the headland that looks over the Nuggets, the name given to the group of jagged islets that stand in the waters just below.

At the base of the lighthouse is a viewing platform that peers out onto the Southern Ocean. Sea lions often laze far beneath on the rocks below at a safe distance from the monstrous oceanic waves that crash against the cliffs.

Lighthouse at Nugget Point in South Island New Zealand

Where to Stay near Nugget Point

Accommodation is limited around Nugget Point but there are a few holiday cottages and motels on this stretch of the east coast. The village of Kaka Point, ten minutes north of Nugget Point and right on the sea, is probably the best spot to stay.

Nearby

Catlins Area Motel

The Catlins Area Motel in the small town of Owaka around half an hour drive from Kaka Point is a very good affordable option close to most of the area’s main attractions.

Next Level

Nugget View Motel

The Nugget View Motel is another good choice in a great location right opposite Kaka Point beach and close to the small town’s handful of amenities.

Top of the Range

Kaka Point Spa Motel

The Kaka Spa Motel is a beautifully decorated and well equipped self contained apartment with comfy beds, homely touches and fantastic views of the sea.

Where to Eat near Nugget Point

There are fewer dining options around Nugget Point than in other areas of the South Island though there are a few gems to be found. 

The Point Cafe and Bar in Kaka Point serves excellent hearty meals, including a great seafood platter, all with a view of the sea. If you’re craving a very good curry then head to the Raj Indian Restaurant in Balclutha and you’ll not be disappointed.

Day 10 - Nugget Point to Oamaru

From Nugget Point drive north to the Otago Peninsula and to Dunedin. Built during New Zealand’s gold rush, the historic city of Dunedin is famous for its grand Victorian architecture and, until recently, having the steepest road in the world.

Visit Dunedin and See New Zealand's Only Castle

Dunedin is surrounded by the gorgeous Otago Peninsula, and a wonderful twenty minute drive from Dunedin around the the peninsula leads to Larnach Castle, famously the only castle in New Zealand.

The Gothic Larnach Castle was actually built as a family home by William Larnach in the 1870s. Larnach was a phenomenally wealthy man, and no expense was spared in the construction of the castle.

Larnach Castle in Dunedin, New Zealand
View of Otago Bay from Larnach Castle Dunedin, New Zealand

After Larnach’s death family feuds saw the castle fall out of the family’s possession and into disrepair. The castle was bought in the 1960s by its current owners, who have painstakingly restored it inside and out to its former glory.

The new owners also added a wonderfully exotic garden in the castle’s grounds from where there are spectacular views out across the Otago Peninsula. 

See the Moeraki Boulders

Continue up the South Island’s east coast to arrive in Oamaru in the early afternoon.

On the way stop to admire at the Moeraki Boulders, a collection of metre wide spherical stones that photogenically line a stretch of the beautiful Koekohe beach just outside Oamaru.

Moeraki Boulders on New Zealand's South Island
The Moeraki boulders near Oamaru

Admire the Victorian Architecture of Oamaru

Reinvented as the home of Steampunk, Oamaru is centered around a beautiful historic area that is home to a wealth of grandiose Victorian-era public and commercial buildings, all built from local Oamaru stone.

The southern end of Thames Street and the neighbouring Tyne Street and Harbour Street are a remarkable sight, lined with classic Victorian buildings that once housed banks, grain merchants, auction houses and warehouses.

In most cases the industries for which these magnificent buildings were built have since disappeared or moved elsewhere. Whilst embracing the Victorian era-themed steampunk Oamaru has moved with the times. 

One of the many beautiful Victorian buildings in Oamaru, New Zealand
Oamaru in New Zealand's South Island

The Victorian architecture of Oamaru

Explore Oamaru’s thriving Victorian quarter, where the town’s historic buildings have become home to more modern trades, such as cafes, book shops, design stores as well as all things Steampunk. 

The regal Criterion Hotel wouldn’t look out of place on a Parisian boulevard, whilst the former Lane’s Emulsion factory now houses the excellent Harbour Street Bakery.

See Oamaru's Colony of Penguins

In the evening head to see the colony of blue penguins that come ashore each night just before sunset.

A purpose built viewing platform has been built just five minutes away from the centre of town where penguins can regularly be seen waddling back to their hives at the end of the day. 

There is a cost to enter the penguin viewing platform and a range of tickets available, with the entry fee going towards the conservation of the penguin’s protected breeding area.

Where to Stay in Oamaru

You can search for accommodation in Oamaru here. Here are a few places that we recommend:

Affordable

The Ambassador Motor Lodge

The Ambassador Motor Lodge is probably the best motel in Oamaru, with comfortable self-contained units just a few minutes north of the city centre.

Next Level

Brydone Hotel

For a taste of Oamaru’s Victorian era check in to the Brydone Hotel on Thames Street right in the heart of Oamaru within walking distance of all of the main attractions.

Top of the Range

Ocean View on Avon

One of the best holiday cottages in Oamaru is Ocean View on Avon, which combines a lovely homely interior with stunning views of the harbour.

Where to Eat in Oamaru

For great pizzas and and a wonderful range of home-brewed beers head to Scotts, just opposite Oamaru’s harbour and the Victorian quarter. 

The excellent Star and Garter on Itchen Street dishes up enormous servings of sumptuous food in a wonderful atmosphere, and for very good posh pub grub pop in to Fat Sally’s on Thames Street. 

If you fancy something a bit more exotic, try the fabulous sushi at Midori

Day 11 - Oamaru to Tekapo

Spend the Morning Fussing Over Wallabies

After Oamaru, drive forty minutes north to the uniquely named EnkleDooVery Korna, more commonly known as Tame Wallaby Park.

On an eclectic farm just on the outskirts of Waimate, the Tame Wallaby Park offers the rare chance to feed and dote over around 60 adorable hand-reared wallabies.

A wallaby at EnkleDooVery Korna Wallaby Park, New Zealand
Tame wallabies at EnkleDooVery Korna Wallaby Park in Waimate, New Zealand

The wallabies are penned off in large groups in sections of farmland. After a quick lesson on how to interact with a wallaby, you’re given a bag full of food and allowed to wander. 

The wallabies are all incredibly mild-mannered, patient and calm and love nothing more than chomping on a handful of food from the palm of your hand. 

Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo

From Waimate, head off the east coast and inland, back towards the stunning lakes and mountains of the central South Island. From here it’s less than a two hour drive through more breathtaking scenery to the incredible Lake Pukaki.

If you get peckish stop for some delicious alpine farmed salmon at High Country Salmon just before the pretty town of Twizel on the way.

Lake Pukaki, New Zealand South Island road trip itinerary
The Church of the Good Shepherd on Lake Tekapo
The road around Lake Pukaki and the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo

The famous Church of the Good Shepherd, sat on the banks of Lake Tekapo is just a short drive further along the road. One of New Zealand’s most beautiful lakes, there are a number of walking trails of varying lengths around Lake Tekapo.

Try the hike up to the Mount John Observatory on the Mount John Summit Track for breathtaking views over the lake and of the staggering surroundings, or drive if you want to see the view without breaking a sweat.

Lake Tekapo is also a wonderful place for stargazing. With no light pollution, the huge night sky is filled with thousands of stars each night.

Between each April and September, Lake Tekapo is also one of the best places to witness the Southern Lights, the southern hemisphere’s version of the more famous Northern Lights.

The Dark Sky Project, based in Lake Tekapo, run a number of different stargazing experiences which they term as astrotourism.

Where to Stay in Lake Tekapo

The minuscule town of Lake Tekapo is made up mostly of excellent holiday homes and apartments. You can search for accommodation in Lake Tekapo here – these are a few places that we recommend:

Affordable

Design Cabin

Located next to the Church of the Good Shepherd, the Design Cabin is a lovely modern holiday home with fabulous interior decor.

Next Level

Peppers Bluewater Resort

Peppers Bluewater Resort is a large resort and one of the best places to stay in Lake Tekapo with wonderful views facing onto Lake Tekapo.

Top of the Range

Mantra Lake Tekapo

The Mantra Lake Tekapo is one of the finest places to stay, a lovely large apartment hotel just on the edge of town with great views of the lake.

Where to Eat in Lake Tekapo

There’s a very good range of places to eat in Lake Tekapo considering it’s small size. 

The Greedy Cow is the best spot for the perfect breakfast, and head to Our Dog Friday for some of the best burgers anywhere on the South Island.

The authentic Japanese Kohan restaurant works wonders with the locally reared salmon, and don’t miss out on the excellent Astro Cafe if you make it to the Mount John observatory.

Day 12 - Lake Tekapo to Akaroa

From Lake Tekapo take a leisurely drive north through the beautiful Cantebury countyside and across the volcanic Banks Peninsula to the unique town of Akaroa.

Don’t miss the sublime views across the knobbly valleys towards the bays at the Hilltop Lookout Point on the way.

The view from Hilltop towards Akaroa - New Zealand South Island - New Zealand South Island
The Banks Peninsula from the Hilltop Lookout

Akaroa - New Zealand's French town

The gorgeous and historic town of Akaroa is the only French settlement in New Zealand.  The French landed in Akaroa in the 1840’s and used it as a base for whaling in the Southern Ocean and they left a lasting impression. 

Overlooking a gorgeous bay, the colourful town of Akaroa still retains much of its French heritage. Many of the elegant original European style houses built by the French settlers are still standing, and most of Akaroa’s streets have kept their original French names.

Be Dazzled by The Giant's House

On arrival, have  a spot of lunch at one of Akaroa’s many fantastic cafes or restaurants. After lunch, head up to the Giant’s House on Rue Balguerie. 

This marvelous house is the home and canvas of the artist Josie Martin. In the garden of the grand house Martin has created a cornucopia of fantastically brash and bright mosaic sculptures.

French house in Akaroa on a New Zealand South Island road trip
A ceramic statue in the Giants House in Akaroa
The Giant's House in Akaroa, New Zealand

A typical French house and the colourful artworks at the Giants House in Akaroa

The artworks depict a range of delights and a colourful cast of characters, including musicians, artists and animals, all set against a beautiful backdrop of the rolling hills around Akaroa.

Afterwards, take a wander around Akaroa’s colourful and charismatic town centre and the beautiful bay. Take a walk along the front of French Bay back towards town and grab a bite 

Where to Stay in Akaroa

To find the best deals on accommodation in Akaroa click here. Here are a few options that we recommend:

Affordable

Akaroa Criterion Motel

For fabulous views and great rooms in the centre of town at a great price try the Akaroa Criterion Motel.

Next Level

French Bay House

For a charming and authentic taste of old Akaroa book a room at the beautiful French Bay House on Rue Jolie.

Top of the Range

Akaroa Village Inn

If you’d prefer to be right on the water take a look at the Akaroa Village Inn, a homely apartment hotel that sits right on the town’s harbour.

Where to Eat in Akaroa

You can’t visit Akaroa without treating yourself to fish and chips from Murphy’s, either from their stand on the harbour or from the shop at Murphy’s On The Corner

For the best French cuisine made from the finest New Zealand ingredients head to the Little Bistro.

The Brasserie Kitchen And Bar is a great place for a hearty breakfast or brunch, while Harbar is the perfect spot for a laid back lunch or dinner with gorgeous views overlooking Akaroa Bay.

Day 13 - Akaroa

Go Sailing with Akaroa's Tiny Dolphins

The next day get out on the water and go dolphin spotting on a cruise around Akaroa harbour. The waters around Akaroa are protected, meaning that a varied and abundant marine life can be found just off shore. 

There are several boat trips a day from Akaroa from where you’re almost guaranteed to see dolphins. You can also tick off one from the bucket-list and go for a swim with Akaroa’s dolphins.

The Hector dolphins in Akaroa’s waters are the world’s smallest breed of dolphin and are unique to New Zealand. 

Large groups of dolphins often swim excitedly alongside the boats and you can also expect to see seals lounging on the rocks around Scenery Nook, as well as the occasional penguin depending on the time of year.

Dolphins in Akaroa harbour New Zealand
A dolphin swimming in Akaora harbour

Try Some of New Zealand's Best Fish and Chips

When you get back on land pick up some of the best fish and chips in the South Island from Murphy’s Fish and Chips stand on the pier.

The fish is caught daily and fried to order. Sit on the end of the pier and savour the taste of some of the freshest and most delicious fish and chips you’ll ever taste.

Visit Akaroa's Vineyards

Later, head to one of the many vineyards that can be found around Akaroa. Visit the Meniscus Wine Lounge at the Meniscus vineyard just on the edge of Akaroa for wine tastings and pick up a few of their award winning wines to take home. 

Alongside the excellent wines the vineyard also comes with gorgeous views over the harbour. Afterwards, continue further on Lighthouse Road beyond Meniscus vineyard where the views get even more spectacular.

Day 14 - Akaroa to Christchurch

On the last of your 14 days in New Zealand’s South Island, return to Christchurch, which is around an hour and half drive from Akaroa. Though still recovering from the devastating earthquakes that struck the city in 2010 and 2011, Christchurch still has much to explore.

Famous for its colourful street art and a burgeoning food scene, Christchurch blends contemporary modern living with a Victorian British history.

Go punting on the Avon River that winds around Christchurch’s blissful Botanic Gardens, or explore the city’s heritage with a historic tram tour.

In the evening, wander the laneways around Christchurch’s CBD and take your pick from a huge variety of places to eat.

Where to Stay in Christchurch

There’s a huge variety of accommodation available in Christchurch – you can search for somewhere to stay in the city by clicking here. Here are three options that we recommend:

Affordable

Quest on Thorndon

The recently renovated apartments at Quest on Thorndon are stylish, centrally located and fantastic value for money.

Next Level

Doubletree By Hilton

Right in the heart of the city is the Doubletree By Hilton, a smart and stylish hotel close to all of the city’s main attractions.

Top of the Range

Ohtel

End your stay on New Zealand’s South Island in style with a stay at the chic boutique 5-star Ohtel overlooking Oriental Bay.

The Best New Zealand South Island Guidebooks

Here are the best guidebook in case you need even more inspiration for your self-drive tour of New Zealand’s South Island.

Lonely Planet – New Zealand’s South Island

Lonely Planet’s guides are always a step ahead of the game and this guidebook to the South Island is no different. Updated and reissued in 2022. this edition is crammed with inspiration and practical advice as well as suggested itineraries and route maps.

Lonely Planet’s New Zealand South Island Road Trips

Lonely Planet have also created this guide to four different road trips around New Zealand’s South Island. If your looking to add even more detail to a South Island self drive tour then this book will certainly come into its own, with reviews, route maps, and insider tips for numerous points around the island.

Moon New Zealand

Though this guidebook covers the whole country rather than just the South Island, Moon’s travel guides bring a fresh new perspective to wherever they venture. Moon’s guide to New Zealand is more than just a travel guide, also offering insights into Kiwi culture and history that has helped to shape this incredible nation.

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The ultimate New Zealand South Island 14 day itinerary
New Zealand South Island 14 day road trip itinerary

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