12 day itinerary in New Zealand South Island

Like any leg of our world adventure this far, we have to do quite a bit of researching & planning.  We had 2 weeks and needed an itinerary in New Zealand South Island. Due to our budget, we need to have a rough plan. So, when you find a blog post titled ‘South Island 10 Day Roadtrip Itinerary For The Outdoor Lover’ – that’s like a double bonus!

As soon as I started reading this blog, I knew it was an itinerary made for us… Outdoors..  walking… budget conscious!! YES!! And to top it off it came with an accompanied fully detailed Google map itinerary… well I just about stole the whole idea!!

I can’t thank Alice from www.backcountrycow.com for sharing such a fab blog and for making it so detailed.

There were some slight variances:

  • we had 13 nights whereas Alice only had 10!
  • Some of the accommodation she suggested were above our price bracket, so we adjusted this to suit us.
  • Towards the end, tired legs meant we didn’t do all the same walks.  (Plus fox glacier was shut!)
  • Plus we added in a stopover in Kaikoura for whale & dolphin watching.

We drove around 2,400km during our South Island itinerary.  Here’s how we faired:

Car hire

Cost £321 days with Ezicars. We found them to be quick, efficient and cheap! 

This time we got what we ordered, a Toyota Corolla… it was definitely more compact, only just squeezing a family of 4 (plus 2 large bags). In fact, the newer car we were given was too small and we had to request an older model!!  Once we were able to complete that Jigsaw puzzle of fitting everything in, we were happy enough.


Day 1 – Christchurch

Accommodation: TOP10 Holiday Park Christchurch

Facilities: basic cabin, shared facilities, communal kitchen, laundry, indoor pool and full kids facilities.

We flew from Auckland to Christchurch as the cost of one way rafters, plus ferry were far more expensive than paying for people to fly to Christchurch and pick up another car hire!

We arrived early evening, just enough time to grab some food and head to the campsite.  The campsite was fully equipped for kids as it had a small indoor swimming pool, games room, jumping pillow and large park. The kids wanted nothing more than to just play for a couple of hours!

We stayed in the basic (but lovely) cabins with shared facilities. Luckily they came with heaters and hot water bottles though – as I was freezing!! It was only around 7 degrees at night! I thought this was meant to be summer! (FYI – It’s late February 2019).

Day 2 – Lake Tekapo

Accommodation: Lake Tekapo Village Motel

Details: 4 bed dorm room in backpackers, shared bathroom, compact kitchen/dining room, no onsite kids facilities but a great park very close.

Driving: 3 hours

We decided to head to the nearby Pac n save supermarket to stock up on dinner for the next 2 nights as we’d be away from large towns. So we packed up and left, bearing in mind we’ll be in Christchurch for a day on our return.

We took a beautiful drive, catching our first glimpse of the beautiful scenery found in New Zealand’s South Island. We stopped at a lookout across the valley before dropping into Fairlie. It’s not hard to miss. There are lots of stopping points and lookouts along this route.

But, oh my! Nothing could prepare you for the view that is Lake Tekapo. The pictures of the lake – yes, they really are that colour!! Such an amazing aquamarine colour.

Also, one of the main reasons we came here was that this area is a Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Keith is really enjoying his photography and was looking forward to capturing the milky way from another view.

Things to do:

  • Walk up to Mt John observatory & enjoy a snack and cool drink at the top. It takes around 1 ¼ hours from the centre of town which takes on a nice walk along the lakefront. It starts from the bottom of the lake Tekapo hot springs. It’s easily signposted and the walk, although steep in sections wasn’t too challenging. It was an easy pathway up.
  • Walk the short distance, over the suspension bridge, to the Church of the Good Shepherd. It was a very busy photo spot and you’d be lucky (even at sunrise) to get a moment to yourself there. But it’s a lovely focal point on the waters edge. Plus a great place to take photos of the milky way.

Other things to do:

  • Mt John Observatory night skies tour. (Instead of walking up, there is a road which takes you to the top where you can pay to attend a tour).
  • lake Tekapo hot pools, including water slides for kids in summer.
  • Walk around lake Tekapo.
  • Water skiing – as we wandered around the lake we found there were a few people enjoying some water sports, mainly water skiing.

Day 3 – Omarama

Accommodation: Top 10 Omarama holiday park Details: 4 bed cabin, shared bathroom, good size kitchen (pay bond for kitchen utensils and bedding), but small dining, laundry and small park with jumping pillow.

Driving: 2 ½ hours

Today we were heading to Mt Cook national park to walk the Hooker valley track. The route took us around Lake Pukaki, another stunning lake. As we drove alongside we could see the snowcapped Mt Cook in the background! Just incredible views.

I really hope you get a lovely day as it’s just fabulous.  Pull in to any of the stopping points along the route to capture and soak up the amazing scenery.

Things to do:

  • Hooker valley track – easy, fairly flat 3 hour return walk. Crossing 3 suspension bridges and waking up to a very cold glacial lake with mini icebergs floating along!  The boys found this an easy stroll and enjoyed seeing the glacier!

Other things to do

  • If you are feeling energetic there is a a bigger hike to Mueller Hut with some spectacular views of mt cook and the surrounding peaks.

Day 4 & 5 – Frankton, Nr Queenstown

Accommodation: Frankton motor camp

Facilities:  A very basic campsite with a handful of cabins, but there appears to be plans to get rid of these.  However, it was by far the cheapest place in/near Queenstown. The accommodation in this area is very expensive!

Drive: 2 ½ hours

What a vibe. I’d forgotten how much this place oozes ‘chill’ maannn, even though it’s the key area for adrenalin activities.  We spent our first afternoon exploring the town – there are plenty of shops and restaurant. But no stay in Queenstown would be complete without stopping to grab a famous Fergburger.  It was really good and not too expensive either!

Also, while at the top of bobs peak check out all the fun activities, including luging – which the boys loved!

Things to do:

  • Bob’s Peak  – take the steep but fairly short walk up to Bob’s Peak or alternatively you can catch the Gondala.  Read about our walk (to follow shortly) on what there is to do at the top here.
  • Bob’s Cove – drive 20 minutes out of Queenstown to the car parking area.  From here it’s a 20 minute walk to the lakefront. But be warned, even on a hot day the water is freezing!  There’s another short 20 minute walk up the hill to reach a viewpoint across the peninsula.
  • Queenstown Gardens & Park – our boys would have spent all day here, they loved it here! In fact, it wasn’t even the park.  There was a rope swing over the river and they couldn’t get enough of it. The gardens are fabulous and if you have time rent a frisbee and have a game of frisbee golf!  Great cheap activity.

Other things to do:

  • Basically any adrenalin sport you can think of… from White Water rafting to Skydiving.  There’s lots to get your heart racing. This is also the home of the shotover jet. We had planned to take the kids on this but they decided they didn’t want to do it and preferred to go Whale watching.
  • Various walks – there are plenty of walking options around Queenstown or if you prefer you can hire bikes.

Day 6 & 7 – Te Anau

Accommodation: Te Anau kiwi holiday park

Facilities:  Small Park area.  Good facilties, but it’s a large site so they have a couple of kitchens and dining facilities – plus laundry. Great location next to the lake.

Driving: 2 ¼ hours

We pushed down to Te Anau. But decided against travelling all the way to the Milford sound. We’ve seen some pretty awesome places on our journey so far. But the boys get bored on tours & although the Milford sound is dramatic (we did it pre kids), it’s not for us this time.

Instead, we looked in at the visitor centre, which had lots of ideas of walking tracks and current weather. Then had a stroll along the lake (with tired legs!), So didn’t go far before we stopped at the bird sanctuary. We saw there was a feeding for takahe birds at 9.30am each day. So as we planned to do lake Marian walk we promised to squeeze this in the next day.

See Jaspers blog post about the indigenous birds here and their feeding experience here. *To follow*

We headed back to the campsite for an early night, ready for our exploration tomorrow.

The drive to lake Marian car park takes around 1 ½ hours to drive there. If it’s a nice day, you must stop at mirror lake en-route. Beautiful scenery and only a 5 minutes walk from the road.

Things to do

  • Lake Marian walk – See here for my my blog post about the lake Marian walk. Hidden here behind those trees! *To follow*

  • Stop at Englinton Valley and capture the amazing views through the long grass into the mountainous range behind.
  • Take a quick stop at  Mirror Lakes, it’s a short and easy 5 minute walk from the road and the views

Other things to do

  • Milford sound cruise – we did this year’s ago and it was stunning. But we didn’t feel it was something that the kids would really embrace… Well not yet anyway!
  • Milford Foreshore walk only a short 20 Min boardwalk with directly views of the Milford sound.
  • Lake gunn nature walk is only a short 45 minute loop.

Set off early to enjoy the many different walks within the area, as it’s about a 1 ½ hour drive to reach the sound.

Day 8 & 9 – Wanaka

Accommodation: Mt Aspiring Holiday Park

Facilities:  Good Park & trampoline, cold water swimming pool, good size kitchen and reasonable dining area. Based on the outskirts of town.

Driving: 3 ½ hours

We arrived in the picturesque town of Wanaka. Situated next to the lake, where you can find that Wanaka tree! The most Instagrammed NZ photo.I still have no idea why. Needless to say, we didn’t stop and take a photo. Instead, we headed just outside town to visit puzzling world.

After this, we grabbed a quick lunch then hired a few bikes and decided to cycle the easy route along the lake to Albert Town.  It’s around 15km and estimated to take around 1 hour each way. We stopped in Albert town for a drink and some food.

Things to do:

  • Hire bikes – lots of tours around the lake and rivers.
  • Puzzling world – a fabulous and fun entertainment attraction. We spent around 2 hours here, with 1 hour just trying to get out of the giant maze. Then enjoy a coffee & treats with lots of puzzles to play with in the cafe after!

Other things to do:

  • Lots more walking – we were a bit tired of walking, but the cycling tracks also double was walking tracks.  There are othere walks  such as Roys Peak Track – a #NZMustDO this half day walk will give you magnificent views of Wanaka, the lake and Southern Alps. Rob Roy Glacier Track – this half day walk leads you into Mount Aspiring National Park, an amazing world of mountains, glaciers, river valleys and alpine lakes.  Mt Iron track– An easy short track.

Day 10 – Fox Glacier

Accommodation: Ivory towers backpackers

Facilities:  Fantastic accommodation with well equipped and well organised kitchen.  The staff were very friendly and provided plenty of information and suggestions on things to do.  Our family room was a great size with large ensuite bathroom.

Driving: 3 ½ hours

A spectacular drive along the west coast, made even better with glorious sunshine!  

The route then winds away from the coast through the forest and mountain regions before reaching Fox Glacier.  Before we stopped at our accommodation we headed to lake Matheson for the reflective view of mount Cook.

Unfortunately the wind was a little strong, but at least I got to actually see mount Cook this time!  It can often be covered in cloud or fog! Keith actually went back for sunset and got much better photos! The walk around the lake is only 1hr 20mins but it’s a nice flat stroll.

Things to do

  • Stop at Knights picnic point – there are toilets, a number of picnic benches and a cracking view of the coastline here!

  • Minnihaha walk– 15 minutes. Our hotel recommended taking a walk here to see the glow worms after 10pm. The boys were just exhausted though, so keith took the opportunity to capture the event on our behalf!
  • Lake Matheson walk – 1 ½ hours around the lake.  Try and arrive either early in the morning or towards sunset for the calmest time. During the day you tend to get valley winds which adds a ripple to the water!

Other things to do

  • Fox glacier walk – takes approx. 1 hour. But unfortunately it was closed due to a flash flood when we visited.
  • There are also lots of tourist flights if you fancy a break from walking and your budget can stretch! Ours definitely can’t! $$$


Day 11 – Arthurs Pass

Accommodation: Arthur’s pass alpine motel

Facilities:  Self Contained and well equipped cabins (no oven).  The manager provided lots of ideas for walks around the area, including short walks in and around the town.  There is only 1 shop in town and closes at 5pm. There is also only a handful of eateries so either come prepared or eat out early.  Don’t arrive too late here.

Driving: 3 ½ hours

We took the very scenic route back towards the Western coastline before turning inland once more.  The route was a complete contrast to other areas of New Zealand. Following the rivers towards the centre and passing huge mountain ranges.

We also passed a number of stopping points directing you towards waterfalls. We didn’t have time to, having spent too long at Franz joseph. But if you have time they only appeared to be short walks.

Things to do

  • Franz Josef glacier walk – approx 1 ½ hours  and a very informative walk. It provides information along the way in how much the landscape had changed. Great!! Walking and learning – bonus!!
  • Otira Viaduct Lookout – great place to stop and see the local kea birds who frequent this area.

Other things to do

  • There were so many opportunities to stop en-route and around Arthur’s pass. There were sign after sign such as Thunder creek falls, Roaring Billy falls, Devils punchbowl falls and lots more! There were even a few walks in and around the town.
  • Hokitika gorge – we’d seen this mentioned by a couple of Instagram members. But one mentioned it was a little underwhelming.  I would have liked to stop and have a look but time just didn’t allow on this trip.

We didn’t have much time so didn’t get chance to explore this area very much due to our need to get to kaikoura earlier than expected!!

Day 12 – Kaikoura

Accommodation: Alpine Pacific Motels & Holiday Park

Facilities: .Basic but cheap accommodation. The kitchen and bathrooms were very clean but you need to rent a cutlery box for equipment, if you don’t have it.  The cabins are very simple with only 4 beds. The campsite does have a small swimming pool and 2 hot tubs!

Driving: 4 hours

We couldn’t come to New Zealand and not pay a visit to kaikoura, the home of the sperm whale!  We booked a tour on Thursday thinking it would be busy. But actually there appeared to be lots of space – thankfully!!

As it happens we saw that there was a storm brewing for Thursday so contacted them to see if we could get a tour for Wednesday afternoon instead. They were very accommodating – yay!! But we were now on a time constraint.

So we rushed along, barely taking in the views.  As we arrived closer to kaikoura we spotted a huge pod of dolphins from the shoreline!! Amazing. We just had to make a quick stop!  

Things to do

  • Read here to find out more about our kaikoura whale watching and dolphin tour and what we saw!
  • Stop at Omihi reserve and see if you can spot dolphins and seals from the shoreline.

Other things to do

  • If you have more time than we did then look into stopping to at Hamner springs – Best known for its natural hot pools and stunning landscapes, its a picturesque alpine village 90 minutes’ drive from Christchurch.

Day 13 – Christchurch

Accommodation: TOP10 Holiday Park Christchurch

Facilities: same as last time, except the kids had more time to enjoy it!

Driving: 2 ½ hours

Wow! After yesterday we were just shattered. So it was time to have a shanty, shanty day! We cruised our way back along the same route back to Christchurch. This time we had time to see the stunning scenery.

It was great to be returning to the top 10 holiday park in Christchurch.  They boys were looking forward to just chilling and playing. Everyone just needs a chilled day after such an busy activity based itinerary! 😴

However, we did make to get out and explore Christchurch and see the development with taking place in the area, especially after the 2010/2011 earthquakes.

Things to do

  • Margaret Mahy playground – a super fun park with lots of equipment to keep any ages entertained.  There’s a superb zipwire and a great water feature.

  • Botanical gardens – stunning soundings and wide open spaces to explore. They’re is a small park and swimming pool area, but we didn’t visit this time.  Either roam around the gardens or stroll up and down the river.
  • Trams – it’s nice to see they still exist in other destinations, but being from the Isle of Man a tram isn’t a novelty for us! In fact, we’ve still got horse teams as well as electric trams.
  • Shopping – with an the new renovation with the city centre looks slot more vibrant and trendy than I recall.  There’s lots of modern shops and shipping centres for you to visit if you need anything!


If you love the outdoors and hiking then you’ll love the south island. But even if you don’t love the outdoors, you really can’t help but fall in love with the beauty here. The gorgeous trails (suitable to any ability!), the landscape and those lakes!! Just awesome.  It will take something special to top those views.

I’d recommend a minimum of 3 weeks on South Island enable you to enjoy the hiking trails and activities without feeling completely burnt out . From the minute you start your adventure here, you just won’t want to stop!


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