This is part one of a two-part New Zealand itinerary covering both the North and South Islands. Read part 2 (5 days North Island New Zealand Itinerary)
Snowcapped mountains, and endless roads flanked by rolling green hills are just some of my favourite things about a road trip on the South Island.
Not to forget, New Zealand is also one of the best places to check off bucket list experiences. Imagine: bungy jumping over a bridge, heli-hiking along glaciers or jumping out of a plane at 10,000ft high. While your brain is scrambling to process the drop-dead gorgeous views, you’ll have the best photos and videos to return home with.
Hitting as many hikes and scenic drives as we could, here’s our South Island route. For the North Island, check out our 5-day North Island New Zealand itinerary exploring glow worm caves and geothermal terrains.
Read more: 2 Weeks New Zealand Itinerary Under S$2,500 — North & South Island Trip Planning Guide
– Pre-departure Supervised ART test — taken no more than 24 hours before departure (Pre-departure PCR test is accepted too)
– On arrival self ART on day 0/1 and on day 5/6 — COVID Antigen Test kits given out at the airport
– New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) — applied at least 72 hours before departure
Staying Connected: Pre-book a local SIM card and collect it at Queenstown International Airport upon arrival.
Car rental: Pre-book via Klook
South Island New Zealand Itinerary Route
Most South Island New Zealand itineraries begin from Christchurch but we flew into Queenstown for three reasons: (1) Flights from Singapore to Queenstown (stopover in Sydney or Melbourne) were much cheaper (2) Queenstown is the hub for all the adrenaline experiences that New Zealand is famous for (3) From Tekapo, we saved an hour driving straight to Castle Hill instead of making a stop at Christchurch.
This circuit route covers famous tourist stops like Milford Sound, Mount Cook and the Franz Joseph/Fox Glacier townships.
But because we’re such suckers for great views, we designed this route to cover scenic hikes like Lake Marian (on the way to Milford Sound), Hooker Valley (Mount Cook), Cave Stream (Castle Hill), Lake Metheson (Fox Glacier) and even a glacier hike that’s only accessible by a helicopter!
New Zealand Itinerary Budget Breakdown
TOTAL: S$2,172.29 (excl. flights)
(detailed New Zealand Itinerary breakdown for one pax here)
Day 1-2: Queenstown
Surrounded by dramatic landscapes, Queenstown is THE adventure capital of New Zealand. Stay at least two nights or even four to get your fill of adrenaline, drool-inducing burgers and gorgeous views from just about any corner. It’s also a great base for day trips to Cardrona (for snowboarding in winter), Glenorchy (gorgeous landscape featured on LOTR), and Milford Sound (although we recommend spending a night here).
Transport in Queenstown: Everything you need is within walking distance so there’s no need for a car on the nights you’ll be staying in Queenstown. From the airport, book the Super Shuttle which will bring you to the doorstep of your accommodation in Queenstown CBD for less than NZ$10/pax.
Bungy, Canyon Swing, Catapult or All?!
There are three bungy jump zones in Queenstown: Kawarau Bridge (the first bungy jump in the world), The Ledge (probably the most scenic because of the view of Queenstown in the background — temporarily closed!) and Nevis Bungy (the highest one in New Zealand at 134m over the Nevis River)! So it really depends on whether you love the classic, views or thrills.
Update (6 May 2022): The Ledge bungy jump is still temporarily closed.
If you’re headed for the Nevis Bungy, there’s also the Nevis Swing and the Nevis Catapult (newest to the AJ Hackett fam) in the same area. The Nevis River is gorgeous and one of the best ways to experience this is perhaps swinging upside down or getting shot across the canyon at over 100kph.
Onsen Hot Pools
Photo credit: Onsen
Overlooking New Zealand’s signature alpine scenery, the Queenstown Onsen Hot Pools is perfect for calming your nerves amidst scenic views. Each of the 14 cedar-lined hot pools is heated to around 38.5°C and refreshed daily with pure water from the surrounding mountains.
Cost: ~S$78 (incl. complimentary drink and snack)
Opening Hours: 9AM – 10PM
Address: 160 Arthurs Point Road, Arthurs Point, Queenstown, New Zealand
Fergburger, Fergbaker & Mrs Ferg
Every burger we had here was epic. It’s not hard to understand why they’ve earned the reputation of serving the best burgers in New Zealand (and some claim, the world!). We’re talking perfectly grilled patties, generous layers of cheese, the freshest vegetables and fragrant toasted buns. There are even two vegetarian burgers on the menu. ‘Nuff said, everyone, just try Fergburger for yourself.
For breakfast, Fergbaker (right next to Fergburger) bakes some mean bread and pastries. They’re famous for their meat pies but my personal favourite is the Pesto Tomato Focaccia (NZ$3.90, comes in a giant version too at NZ$5.90) which just about sent us to bread heaven.
And if you thought that was over, there’s also gelato next door at Mrs Ferg — Hokey Pokey was a unanimous favourite.
*Pro-tip: Save your receipt from Fergburger for a 10% discount at Mrs Ferg.
Cost: Burgers from NZ$12.50
Opening Hours: 8AM – 5AM (Great for supper!)
Address: 42 Shotover St, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand
Best View Of Queenstown
For the best vantage point of Queenstown, take a 40-minute hike to Bobs Peak or take a scenic gondola ride to Skyline Queenstown (NZ$64 with 2 luge rides). Head up early and have a go at the luge rides (closes at 5PM).
There are two lanes — scenic and advanced — but the latter is only for repeat riders so you’ll have to get a package with more than one Luge ride to attempt it.
If you’re planning to splurge on a meal this trip, the dinner at the Stratosfare Skyline Restaurant (NZ$85) is it. Not only do you get a gorgeous view, the spread consists of fresh seafood (including sashimi) and a good mix of Kiwi and international favourites. Plenty of vegetarian options too.
*Pro-tip: Book the Gondola + Lunch/Dinner + Luge rides package together for bundled savings.
Accommodation in Queenstown: Melbourne Lodge — From S$61.82/night in a 4-star bed and breakfast. The location is great — only a fifteen-minute walk to Lake Wakatipu and Skyline Gondola. We then took an Uber back to Queenstown Airport to collect our rental car.
Day 3: Queenstown – Milford Sound
After an early morning skydiving session (~S$266), we took an Uber back to Queenstown Airport to collect our rental car and headed for Milford Sound. From Queenstown, it’s a four-hour drive (Google Maps says three but trust us, it’s closer to four) to Milford Sound. If you’re a passenger, you might want to stay awake because the view on this drive is spectacular.
This is the last town before Milford Sound so stock up on groceries and petrol. This is also probably the last point before your Instagram stories stop uploading. Update the world about your temporary disappearance before leaving Te Anau.
After Te Anau, look out for scenic stops at Mirror Lake, Knobs Flat and Monkey Creek.
Lake Marian Hike
Lake Marian is an alpine lake with a clear reflection of the surrounding mountains. For a three-hour round trip hike, the views were definitely worth it.
The first 10 minutes of the path up to the waterfall involves a swing bridge and a sturdy wooden walkway (also wheelchair accessible). Beyond that, the ascent is steep and on an uneven rocky path which can get quite slippery when it rains. Plan for sufficient daylight and follow the orange arrows, especially on the return — we ended up going the wrong way as the track has a couple of splits when heading back to the carpark.
If the weather on this day isn’t ideal (the view will probably be covered by fog or the reflection will be disturbed by rain), head to Milford Sound early and save this hike for day four instead.
Hike Time: 3-hour roundtrip (but allocate 4 as the fog might take a while to clear up)
Parking: From Te Anau, look out for the Marian Corner Turn on the right to get on the Hollyford Track. From Milford Sound, the sign is a lot more obvious.
Accommodation: Milford Sound Lodge — NZ$40/pax in a six-bed dorm. The toilets and common area are separate from the backpackers’ dorms so bring along a raincoat in case it rains (which apparently does 200 days a year around here).
Day 4: Milford Sound – Queenstown
Get up early and explore the area around the pier. Take the easy 400m loop on the Milford Foreshore Walk for views of Mitre Peak.
Milford Sound Scenic Cruise
The Milford Sound Scenic Cruise is probably the main reason why people travel on eight-hour return trips from Queenstown to get here — it’s arguably the most beautiful place on earth! It’s pretty touristy but for good reason.
The two-and-a-half-hour scenic cruise explores the 16km long fjord flanked by sheer rock faces and waterfalls. It rains most of the year, so many of the waterfalls appear and disappear every day. Three permanent residents to look out for: Bowen Falls (visible from the pier), Fairy Falls and Stirling Falls (the famous fall where boats take turns to get up close).
Cost: From S$66.85 (varies depending on departure time)
Meeting Point: Milford Sound Visitor Centre (Free parking is available a 10-min walk away)
Accommodation: The Flaming Kiwi Backpacker — NZ$62.35/night in a Budget Twin. A walking distance to attractions around town, it’s a simple room with free wifi, free parking and a gorgeous view of the town.
Day 5: Queenstown – Aoraki Mount Cook
The drive between Queenstown up to Aoraki Mount Cook was one of my favourites in the entire South Island of New Zealand! The three-and-a-half-hour drive passes quickly with many scenic roads like Lindis Pass and Mount Cook Road which rides on the edge of Lake Pukaki.
This isn’t exactly a stop but the roads are so beautiful I thought it deserved a header of its own.
*Pro-tip: Along the way, you’ll drive by a small town named Twizel — if you’re running low on petrol or groceries, stock up here before driving down Mount Cook Road towards Mount Cook.
Lake Pukaki has two great lookout points. The first is a slight detour, but it’s where you’ll find a small salmon store on the southern edge of Lake Pukaki — Mount Cook Alpine Salmon. They sell the freshest catch of the day at reasonable prices, but of course the sashimi is what most people come for.
There was a one-for-one sale when we were there (but we heard they’re always selling at one-for-one) so 500g+500g of sashimi only cost NZ$38! It even comes with Japanese soy sauce and wasabi so you can enjoy them at the tables beside the lake. If the weather’s bad, you can request for an ice pack and enjoy it back at your accommodation.
A 12-minute drive along the lake is Peter’s Lookout which is actually the more scenic of the two. Here you’ll have the perfect view of the windy roads leading right up to Mount Cook with the glistening blue lake of Lake Pukaki.
Tasman Glacier Hike
After being on the road for three and a half hours, the Tasman Glacier Track is a simple and relatively short hike you can squeeze in before the sun sets.
There are three short routes here you can cover under an hour but if you’re short on time, head straight for the Tasman Glacier View Point. It’s only a 15-minute hike up to the top and you’ll have a clear view of the Tasman Glacier Lake, the Blue Pools (now green) and the surrounding mountains.
Hike Time: 30mins – 1hr depending on the track
Parking: Free parking available at the end of Tasman Valley Road
Photo credit: Klook
Accommodation: Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge — S$167.53/pax for a double/ twin room. The view around here is AMAZING! The rooms are homely, with a fireplace to keep you warm and cosy at night.
Day 6: Mount Cook – Castle Hill
Exiting Mount Cook road, you’ll probably take a couple more stops to admire the unique grey-blue waters of Lake Pukaki before heading north towards Castle Hill. The last supermarket and major petrol kiosk (Mobil) is at Methven — an hour and a half before Castle Hill. But we recommend getting everything stocked up in Tekapo before the three-hour drive to Castle Hill.
Hooker Valley Track
Hooker Valley Track is the most popular track in the area around Mount Cook, thanks to the spectacular views throughout the track! It’s quite a long and open track but with very little incline, and flat gravel paths or paved boardwalks. It’s one of the easiest tracks with snowcapped mountains around you. The sun can be harsh though, so bring along sunblock!
Hike Time: 4 – 6 hours round trip (10km)
Parking: Plenty of free parking available at the end of Hooker Valley Road
Accommodation: Porters Lodge (Castle Hill) — NZ$119/2 pax for a private room for 4-6pax (extra guests pay NZ$35/pax). Getting there requires a bit of a drive on gravel roads that wind up the sides of a mountain. Try to arrive before it gets too dark. There isn’t a shared kitchen so you’ll have to order from the in-house cafe or have dinner before arriving. The generator is also turned off at night so arrive before 8PM if you’re planning to have a hot shower. Bonus if you love dogs — there are three of them, all named after characters from the Wizard of Oz!
Day 7: Castle Hill – Arthurs Pass – Hokitika
The drive between Castle Hill and Hokitika passes through many beautiful tramping tracks and accessible lookout points. Pick a few and enjoy the scenic drive from the east to west end of the South Island, before arriving at the beachfront town of Hokitika.
Kura Tāwhiti used to be under the sea until it retracted, leaving behind these interesting limestones scattered across the hilly area. The name also translates to Castle Hill because some say they resemble the ruins of a castle. Today, it’s mostly popular amongst rock climbers.
You can even rent boulder pads and shoes from Springfield (~30-minute drive from Kura Tāwhiti). But even for non-climbers, you can walk through the 1.4km access track.
Cave Stream Scenic Reserve
There are two entrances to the 594m cave where you can explore through knee-deep waters from one end to another. If you’re going through the cave, enter from the downstream entrance and walk against the flow of the river. If you’re not planning to get too wet, it’s also worth taking the short 15-minute walk down to the entrance of the cave.
Hike Time: 15 minutes to the downstream cave entrance, 1 hour round trip from the carpark to the other cave entrance
Parking: The parking area is quite small but should be sufficient as there aren’t many people visiting.
Devils Punchbowl Waterfall
There are many hikes between Castle Hill and Arthurs Pass but the most popular is probably the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall. It’s not too far (2km) from the carpark and features a 131m waterfall (best seen when the weather is clear and sunny).
Hike Time: 1 hour round trip
Parking: Plenty of free parking available at the carpark on Punchbowl road
Accommodation: 252 Beachside Motels & Holiday Park — S$61.10/night for a standard cabin. A clean and simple room with a prime location by the beach, extremely value for money!
Day 8: Hokitika – Franz Joseph/Fox Glacier
Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier are small townships so stock up on petrol and groceries at the New World Supermarket in Hokitika.
This vivd turquoise blue gorge is a must-see when you’re in Hokitika. But if it has been raining, it’s probably going to be more grey. Despite that, it’s worth taking the short 15-minute trail on flat gravel path through luscious trees and ferns.
Hike Time: 30 minutes round trip
Parking: Ample free parking available
Scenic Lake Lookouts between Hokitika & Franz Joseph
From Hokitika, the drive to Franz Joseph is slightly under two hours with quick stops at popular lakes like Lake Mahinapua, Lake Ianthe and Lake Mapourika (closest to Franz Joseph). Each lake is a quick walk from the car park so if the weather’s clear, you’ll catch a nice reflection view from the edge of the lake.
Accommodation: Fox Glacier Lodge — S$97.46/night in a one-bedroom studio. Fox Glacier is a lot more quiet than Franz Joseph but we picked this because it was just a five-minute walk to our heli hike experience the next day. Common kitchens are available but central heating isn’t that great so the common areas can feel quite cold.
Day 9: Fox Glacier – Wanaka (Via Haast)
Wake up early for the heli hike experience and drive three and a half hours to Wanaka. You’ll want to leave early for sufficient sunlight on your drive. The drive through Haast Pass is another gorgeous drive and if you make it before sunset, stop by Lake Wanaka for the best views.
Heli Hike in Fox Glacier
Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier are the most accessible glaciers in the world. You can in fact take a walk up to the terminal face of the glacier. But the best way to really experience this is via a helicopter ride and guided glacier walk exploring the nooks and crannies (or rather crevices) of the glacier. This turned out to be a huge highlight in our South Island New Zealand itinerary!
Meeting Point: Fox Glacier Guiding Centre
*Pro-tip: Pick the first flight of the day. The activity is highly weather dependent, so your flight might get bumped up to a later session.
If there’s enough sunlight, catch the sunset with #thatwanakatree in your foreground (yes, that’s what it’s named on Google Maps)!
Accommodation: Clearbrook Motels Wanaka — ~S$147.28/night for a studio apartment. It’s right outside Wanaka, a five-minute drive to Lake Wanaka, and a 8-minute drive to Roys Peak Carpark.
Day 10: Wanaka – Queenstown
Hike Roy’s Peak or Isthmus Peak
The views on this hike are VERY photogenic. In fact, it’s probably the MOST popular one in the South Island. Roys Peak is a steep ridge line hike that spans up to six hours (round trip) but promises an amazing view of Lake Wanaka and Glendhu Bay. Unfortunately we didn’t make it for the hike but do tell us about it in the comments section below if you have!
Hike Time: 4 – 6 hours round trip (16km)
Parking: Ample free parking available at the carpark off Mount Aspiring Road
Annual Closure: 1 October – 10 November
*Pro-tip: This hike is usually very crowded. For a less crowded hike with similar views, check out Isthmus Peak instead.
Red Star Burger Bar
We only got here because a local challenged that this was better than Fergburger. We beg to differ but to be fair, Red Star does make really great burgers too. The burgers aren’t as extravagant but the ingredients and fresh buns are delicious! I also highly recommend the adding the Kumara (sweet potato) fries (NZ$8) with Aioli dip and malted milkshakes (NZ$6.50).
Cost: Burgers from NZ$12
Opening Hours: 11:30AM – 9PM
Address: 26 Ardmore St, Queenstown-Lakes 9305, New Zealand
And that concludes our 10 (very short) days South Island New Zealand Itinerary! More than just beautiful sights, New Zealand was also where we met some of the nicest locals, faced our fears and learnt how to dance in the rain while the storms pass. From Queenstown, we took an hour-and-a-half flight to Auckland where we continued to explore the North Island.
Read more: 5-Day North Island New Zealand Itinerary in a Campervan Under S$600
New Zealand Itinerary Planning Essentials
Skydiving, bungy jumping and even the Milford Sound cruise are essential experiences in New Zealand but also highly popular. Favourable time slots run out pretty fast even on non-peak travel periods so advanced bookings are essential.
From utility products like the Supershuttle Airport Transfer to outdoor activities like skydiving and our heli-hike experience in Fox Glacier, we managed to find everything we needed in our South Island New Zealand itinerary on the Klook App.
Not only is it ultra convenient (all tickets were stored on the app), I also noticed on the ground that many activities were cheaper (even if it’s just a dollar) on Klook than the retail price!
There are over 300 activities for New Zealand on Klook, so trip planning on the app helped ease off a lot of the research on things to do in each city.
Driving in New Zealand
New Zealand is left-hand drive. Just take note of single-lane bridge crossings — if you see a red sign, you’ll need to give way to vehicles coming from the opposite end. If it’s blue, you have the right of way.
The car rental from Klook brought us through the many scenic roads from day three in Queenstown up till the morning of day eleven before we caught our flight to the North Island.
There’s a saying that sometimes, the most scenic views come by on the detours you didn’t mean to make, and that couldn’t have been more true for a place like New Zealand!
Road trippin’ New Zealand? Check out the more exciting activities beyond our New Zealand Itinerary that’s available on Klook!
Updated by: Alexis Ang
This South Island New Zealand Itinerary was brought to you by Klook.
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Hi, may I know when you guys went to
New Zealand South Island?
We were there in the first two weeks of May!
Hi sweet, do you recommend this timing after the experience?
Hi Rina, wanted to check what do you mean!
Enjoying reading your blog! Would June time be too cold for travelling and doing the activities? I’ll be travelling with a 9yo 😉
June would definitely be colder but I’m sure it’ll still be gorgeous! Need to check with the official websites for opening periods though. The AJ Hackett and Skydiving are very weather dependent so even during Summer they could close for a few hours or an entire day if the weather isn’t suitable.
Hi there! Just wanted to thank you for a wonderful article full of tips. As a fellow blogger, I know the effort that goes into a post like this. We’re planning a trip to NZ in a few months and this was very helpful! -Brooke
Aww, thanks for the kind words Brooke <3 All the best on your own trip!!
Hi! May I know how long do you recommend to travel around NZ? 🙂
As long as you have time for! 😉
If you love hiking and adrenaline activities there’s really so much to enjoy and really soak in. But if you’re short on time, I would personally spend at least 10 days on ONE island — South is my favourite 🙂
Hi we are a family of 5 in NZ and due to covid are having our family holiday in NZ this year – we are heading to the South Island in a few days for 11 nights in a camper van and are stealing your itinerary albeit with a few tweaks as we fly into Christchurch – thanks for all your effort!!
That’s great! Glad it’s still useful at a time of international travel restrictions and thanks for letting us know! 🙂
I am planning to visit with my parents too in May 2023 next year. May I know how is the weather, temperature, and overall season experiences over NZ in May period? Seen some reviews mentioned it could be quite rainy days and wet over there, is it true?
Thanks for this! Can I ask if you’d flown in SG > Queenstown and return from Christchurch>SG?
Actually this is part of a longer trip which included the North Island! The team recently did a New Zealand South island trip which involves flying into Queenstown and returning from Christchurch so do look out for that soon!
Hi, can I know which airline did you take for flying into Queenstown and how much was it? Thanks!
Hello WJ! Don’t remember which airline we took in 2019 when this trip was done but in my recent trip, I took Qantas for about $500 one-way (via Melbourne). Booked it about 1.5months before my trip in late Aug but the prices went up pretty quick after that week.
Hi! Would you recommed this itinerary for a solo traveller? Thanks 🙂
In terms of safety, absolutely! You’ll also meet a lot of solo travellers if you stay at hostels like the YHA. But the cost of travelling would definitely be more since you’re no longer splitting the cost of the car rental. Perks of staying at hostels also means you can sign up for their organised tours which are usually at pretty fair rates!
Noted. Thanks 🙂
Hi Cherie, was it easy to drive to milford sound? Heard that its quite windy. Pls share your experience
Extremely hard. We kept stopping to take photos along the way hahah. Jokes aside, make sure to download the offline maps before leaving Te Anu as that’s the last point before you’re out of data connection! The road conditions were fairly easy to navigate
I see, going on 7 oct so wasnt sure if snow chains are needed