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New Zealand South Island Road Trip 14 day itinerary queenstown NZ

New Zealand South Island Road Trip – Complete 14 Day Itinerary

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.

Click here for more info and to book



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 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.

There are heaps of adrenaline-packed activities to get stuck into, including bungee-jumping, river-rafting, skydiving and, in the winter months, skiing and snowboarding. 

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 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





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 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 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 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 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?


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