Thinking about a New Zealand South Island Road Trip? Well this complete 14 day itinerary takes in the best bits of the South Island!
Busy planning New Zealand South Island road trip?
I don’t blame you – the South Island of New Zealand is packed full of incredible destinations as well as heaps of things to do – and a road trip is certainly my favourite way to explore!
Here’s my 14 day itinerary to help you plan your own adventure, including top places to stay and activities too.
New Zealand South Island Road Trip | Complete 14-Day Itinerary
Car & Campervan Hire in New Zealand
First off, if you’re going to be doing a road trip in New Zealand, you’re going to need some wheels!
There are plenty of options for car hire in New Zealand and Campervan hire in New Zealand is super popular too.
Personally I’m a huge advocate of the campervan option – NZ has some incredible campsites and places to explore that you can only really take full advantage of in a camper.
However, car hire does work out a bit cheaper and gives you a whole array of options in terms of accomodation – from hostels and hotels through to AirBnBs, and you could always bundle a tent in the back if you did want to camp!
Head over to the guys at RTW Backapckers for the east deals and they’ll find the best option for your style and time frame.
Day 1: Christchurch
Drive Time: 15 minutes from the airport
Distance: 7.6 km (4.3 miles) from Christchurch International Airport
Kick off your New Zealand South Island Road Trip in Christchurch, a creative and innovative city located on the east coast of New Zealand. Since the devastating 2011 earthquake, ongoing reconstruction efforts have transformed this city into one of the country’s most popular travel destinations.
Accommodation in Christchurch
- Top backpacker accommodation: Delago Motel (US$ 91/ AUD 124/ £66)
- Top mid-range accommodation: Muse Christchurch Art Hotel (US$ 114 / AUD 155/ £83)
- Top luxury accommodation: The George (US $196 / AUD 266/ £143)
Top Free Things to Do in Christchurch
- Stroll through the Christchurch Botanical Gardens
- Visit the Canterbury Museum
- Check out Brockworth Street Art Gallery
Top Paid Things to Do in Christchurch
- Join a Christchurch tram city tour
- Go jet boating
- Visit the International Antarctic Center
Day 2 – 4: Queenstown
Drive Time: 5 hours 45 minutes from Christchurch
Distance: 482 km (300 miles) from Christchurch
Surrounded by towering mountains and positioned on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is a hub for outdoor adventure and is often referred to as the adrenaline capital of New Zealand.
For a more laid-back adventure, there are endless hiking, walking, and cycling trails as well – it really does have something for everyone and should be one of your main stops on the South Island and the highlight of any New Zealand South Island Road Trip
Accommodation in Queenstown
- Top backpacker accommodation: Tahuna Pod Queenstown (US$ 34/ AUD 46/ £24)
- Top mid-range accommodation: Swiss-Belresort Coronet Peak (US$ 115/ AUD 156/ £84)
- Top luxury accommodation: Swiss Belsuites Pounamu (US$ 172/ AUD 234/ £125)
Top Free Things to Do in Queenstown
- Cycling and mountain biking
- Hiking (Queenstown hill walk and the Ben Lomond track)
- Stroll through the Queenstown markets
Top Paid Things to Do in Queenstown
- Go white water rafting
- Skiing and snowboarding
- Horseback riding
Day 5: Milford Sound Day Trip
Drive Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Distance: 288 km (179 miles) from Queenstown
On day 5, take a day trip from Queenstown to the scenic Milford Sound. With plunging cliffs, raging waterfalls, and dark waters, this is without a doubt one of New Zealand’s best natural wonders.
There are many fun ways to explore Milford Sound, like hiking and kayaking. Alternatively, you can opt for a coach and cruise tour.
Day 6: Wanaka
Drive Time: 1 hour
Distance: 68 km (42 miles) from Queenstown
The lakeside setting, stunning mountains, and proximity to the UNESCO-listed Mt Aspiring National Park make Wanaka the ultimate base for outdoor activities.
The region is renowned for having four distinct seasons, each offering its own charms and attractions. Whether you visit in summer or winter, there are endless opportunities for adventure.
And of course you have to take a snap of the Insta Famous “That Wanaka Tree”!
Accommodation in Wanaka
- Top backpacker accommodation: YHA Wanaka (US$ 86/ AUD 116/ £62)
- Top mid-range accommodation: Wanaka Hotel (US$ 93/ AUD 127/ £68)
- Top luxury accommodation: Lime Tree Lodge ( US$ 255/ AUD 347/ £127)
Top Free Things to Do in Wanaka
- Hike Mount Iron
- Visit Wanaka Lavender Farm
- Picnic at Lake Wanaka
Top Paid Things to Do in Wanaka
- Join a photography workshop
- Kayaking on Lake Wanaka
- Skiing at Cardrona
Day 7 – 8: Franz Josef
Drive Time: 3 hours 40 minutes
Distance: 284 km (176 miles) from Wanaka
The lively Franz Josef town sits surrounded by lush rainforest and snow-capped alps and is a base for many visiting the famous Franz Josef Glacier.
Franz Josef Glacier offers one of the most epic hikes in New Zealand’s South Island and is a bucket list tick for any NZ itinerary. For a truly unforgettable experience, join a heli-hike tour.
Franz Josef Accommodation
- Top backpacker accommodation: Glow Worm Accommodation (US$74/ AUD 101/£54)
- Top mid-range accommodation: Rainforest Retreat (US$61/ AUD 81/ £45)
- Top luxury accommodation: Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier (US$213/ AUD 289/ £155)
Top Free Things to Do in Franz Josef
- Franz Josef Valley Walk
- Birdwatching at Okarito Lagoon
- Tatare Tunnels Walk
Top Paid Things to Do in Franz Josef
- Join a heli-hike tour
- Relax at the Franz Josef hot pools
- See kiwis at the West Coast Wildlife Centre
Day 9: Westport
Drive Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Distance: 275 km (171 miles) from Franz Josef
South Island’s Westport is another hub for outdoor adventure. It is also a town renowned for once being a hub for gold mining in New Zealand.
Although today, it is coal mining that keeps the town going. In Westport, visit the coal mining museum and catch a glimpse of what it is like to work underground or see some of the region’s scenic highlights.
Accommodation in Westport
- Top backpacker accommodation: Trippin Hostel Backpackers (US$ 64/ AUD 87/ £46)
- Top mid-range accommodation: Carters by the Sea (US$ 121/AUD 164 /£88)
- Top luxury accommodation: Omau Settlers Lodge Motel (US$ 128/ AUD 174/ £96)
Top Free Things to Do in Westport
- Walk the Cape Foulwind Walkway
- Browse the local art galleries
- Cycle the Kawatiri Water Trail
Top Paid Things to Do in Westport
- Visit the Coaltown Museum
- Learn to surf
- Clew Bay Cruise
Day 10-11: Abel Tasman
Drive Time: 4 hours 23 minutes
Distance: 313 km (195 miles) from Westport
Abel Tasman National Park is a coastal paradise on the north end of South Island. Here you will find lush green forests and lovely golden sand beaches.
Throughout the nature reserve, you will find an array of native wildlife, including little blue penguins, fur seals, and more. While there are luxurious lodges, sleeping under the stars is considered the best way to experience the Abel Tasman spirit.
Accommodation Near Abel Tasman
- Top backpacker accommodation: Barn Cabins & Camping (US$126/ AUD 177/ £95)
- Top mid-range accommodation: Kaiteri Motels & Apartments (US$148/ AUD 201/ £108)
- Top luxury accommodation: Kimi Ora Eco Resort (US$ 159/ AUD 216/ £116)
Top Free Things to Do in Abel Tasman
- Walk the Abel Tasman Coast Track
- Relax on the beach
- Admire the wildlife at Tonga Island
Top Paid Things to Do in Abel Tasman
- Hop on a sailboat or cruise
- Skydive over Abel Tasman
- Jump on a kayaking tour (overnight options available)
Day 12-13: Kaikoura
Drive Time: 7 hours 15 minutes
Distance: 497 km (309 miles) from Abel Tasman
One of your final stops is the coastal town of Kaikoura. This is an ideal spot for epic animal encounters and some say that the wildlife outnumbers the locals! A whale or dolphin watching tour is a must, and orcas often frequent the waters too.
Kaikoura is also one of the best places to eat crayfish! Interestingly, in the Mouri language, ‘kai’ means food and ‘koura’ means crayfish – hence the name of the town.
Accommodation in Kaikoura
- Top backpacker accommodation: Dusky Lodge and Backpackers (US$ 64/ AUD 87/ £46)
- Top mid-range accommodation: Bella Vista Motel Kaikoura (US$ 108/ AUD 147/ £79)
- Top luxury accommodation: The Fairways at Ocean Ridge (US$ 130/ AUD 177/ £95)
Top Free Things to Do in Kaikoura
- Watch the seals at Point Kean
- Hit up Kaikoura Beach
- Visit Kaikoura’s Farmers’ Market
Top Paid Things to Do in Kaikoura
- Go on a dolphin tour
- Eat delicious seafood
- Hop on a fishing charter
Day 14: Back to Christchurch via Lake Tekapo
Drive Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Distance: 181 km (113 miles) from Kaikoura
End off your trip with a drive back to Christchurch, passing by the enchanting Lake Tekapo. The lake has an intense milky colour, which it gets from the fine rock-flour suspended in the water. And in the distance, the Southern Alps provides a stunning backdrop to the tranquil lake and small town.
For more fun activities, check out these epic things to do on South Island, New Zealand.
Top Free Things to Do in Lake Tekapo
- Visit the Church of Good Shepherd
- Enjoy the colourful lupins
- Stargazing at Mt John University Observatory
Top Paid Things to Do in Lake Tekapo
- Relax at Tekapo Springs
- Go skiing
- Dinner and sunset at Dark Sky Diner
Have you done a New Zealand South Island road trip?
Any spots or trips you’d recommend including?