a 6 day road trip itinerary for new zealand's south island

We recently got back from spending Christmas week 2018 in New Zealand. We decided to spend 6 days road tripping and exploring the country's South Island, since we visited the North Island in March (don’t miss my post on Rotorua!) Known as the adventure capital of the world, we knew NZ was popular for adrenaline, beautiful scenery, and outdoorsy things to do, but we really had no reality of the beauty we were about to see.

ONSEN Hot Pools - Queenstown, NZ

I've never been anywhere more beautiful. There are no words or photos that can do this place the justice it deserves. It's a truly jaw-dropping beauty that you may see here or there in another country, but the ENTIRE country is this way. We spent 6 days driving all over the South Island and it was shocking how each drive (THE ENTIRE WAY EVERY TIME) was more stunning than the next. There wasn't a single spot that wasn't beautiful. How is this country such a gem?

Roy's Peak Track - Wanaka, New Zealand

If you're looking to visit, I included our 6 day itinerary below, but I also offer my exact itinerary available for you to view right within your Google Maps app! It offers the exact route, as well as things to do & spots to eat or drink along the tours. Trust me - it’s so convenient to be able to pop up your map app when you’re hungry on a road trip & easily figure out what’s coming up! If you’re not a google map fan, you can always save the map as a pdf on your phone or print it to take with you! You can find my curated South Island, New Zealand Map here.

I'd really recommend doing a round trip campervan, which you'll need a few extra days for. Since we both work full time, and have limited time off, we only had 6 days to allocate to this trip and did a one way route, flying into Christchurch and out of Queenstown. Because it was a one way trip, it was significantly cheaper to do a rental car + combination of Airbnb's & hotels. If you have more time, look into a campervan, which gives you a lot more flexibility on when you can stop and more creativity on places to sleep (some pretty damn scenic spots!!)

Here are the places we spent time in:


We really liked Christchurch, although you don’t need much time there unless you have extra to spend. We got in late and only spent a night and a half day there, and it seemed to be enough. We were really surprised how much of a family oriented town it was - lots of little families roaming around. There’s some cool cafes, a cute cable car steeet (which reminded me of San Francisco!) and beautiful parks. I’d recommend spending a morning walking around there before the 4-5 hour drive to Franz Josef! You can also rent Lime scooters (pay by app) that are conveniently all over the city!


These two glaciers are side-by-side, and the towns are about a half hour drive apart. You can do things like glacier hikes & bush walks in these areas. The towns themselves are tiny little towns but each offer a handful of restaurants and local drinking spots. Not many options for accommodation though! I cannot recommend doing a heli-hike more. We did the Fox Glacier heli-hike. You ride in a short helicopter ride up to the top of the glacier and get to hike around up there. It's STUNNING and such a unique thing that you can't do just anywhere!


One of my absolute favorite spots along the way. A gorgeous lake in the middle of a massive mountain range is what this cute little town was built around. Wanaka has hikes with gorgeous views (we did Roy’s Peak at sunrise!) and wineries - what more could you need?!


Te Anau is a pretty & quaint little town, sitting on a lake with a different mountain range as the backdrop, but there’s not much to do here. It’s more of a lodging town to visit the Milford Sound, which is just a 2 hour drive away. The next closest town is Queenstown, which is a 4 hour drive to the Milford Sound. Queenstown also offers flights & tours to the Milford Sound, so if you want to stay in more of the action & don't mind the commute and extra spend on tour packages, that's another good option for you.


Can't say enough about how cute QT is! It's the perfect little ski town, in winter in summer. Reminds me of Tahoe in that way - you can't go wrong no matter what season you visit in, since there's plenty of activities in either one! There's tons of cute restaurants, bars, wineries, and plenty of adrenaline rush activities available for you... if you're brave enough. I wasn't brave enough to go bungee jumping or do the Nevis Swing. We did, however do the Shotover Canyon jet boat which was SO FUN! It's just the right amount of adrenaline for me. There's also a cute neighboring town, about 15 minutes outside of Queenstown, called Arrowtown. I fell in LOVE with Arrowtown. It had the Stars Hollow vibe, and we actually stayed there, at an amazing resort called the Milbrook Resort. Stay tuned for a 2 days in Queenstown guide, or check out my custom map for all my specific recommendations on where to eat + drink and what to do!

You can certainly hit all 6 of these spots in 6 days, giving one day in each place + 2 days in Queenstown. An alternate route would be to skip Franz Josef, Fox Glacier, and Wanaka and visit Tekapo and Mt. Cook instead! You'll rack up about 1000 miles on the one way Christchurch > Queenstown trip in a mere 6 days, so GET READY to see it all!

Next, check out my 3 day Great Ocean Road map + itinerary that takes you through the beautiful coastline and countryside of Victoria, Australia, or read my travel guide here.

#newzealand #oceania #traveltips #travel


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