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In this blog, we’ve outlined an ideal two-week New Zealand South Island itinerary, which includes things you won’t want to miss on your trip. We’ve written this itinerary day by day including essential information like the route to drive, where to stay, and of course, the BEST places to stop!
New Zealand’s South Island is one of the best places to travel in the world. It’s small, rather unpopulated, and filled with so many amazing places to see and things to do. To me, visiting the South Island of New Zealand should be on everyone’s bucket list!
For many though, a trip to the South Island will be short. In fact, most people usually allow for two weeks – which is why we’ve crafted the perfect two-week South Island itinerary.
But what are the best places to visit and things to do on New Zealand’s South Island and how can you see them?
Well, in this 14-day South Island itinerary I’m going to lay it all out for you. Showing you where, when, and how to spend the most epic two weeks on New Zealand’s South Island!
- 2-Week South Island Itinerary Overview
- Two-week South Island Itinerary Map
- 2-Week South Island Itinerary
- Day 1 – Christchurch
- Day 2 – Christchurch to Franz Joseph
- Day 3 – Franz Josef to Wanaka
- Day 4 & 5 – Wanaka
- Day 6 & 7 – Queenstown
- Day 8 – Te Anau (Nights 7 & 8)
- Day 9 – Te Anau to Milford Sound
- Day 10 – Milford Sound (Night 10 in Cromwell)
- Day 11 – Cromwell to Mount Cook Village
- Day 12 – Mount Cook National Park (Night in Lake Tekapo)
- Day 13 – Lake Tekapo
- Day 14 – Lake Tekapo to Christchurch
- Getting Around for your NZ Road Trip
- Important Tips and Info for Planning your NZ Road Trip
- Thanks for reading!
2-Week South Island Itinerary Overview
Planning a two-week road trip on the South Island is a lot of work. I mean, there are tons of amazing places to visit and you could easily spend months exploring all of the different attractions. With that said, two weeks is enough time to check out the very best places and attractions – you just need to choose the right places and plan the correct route.
Below, you’ll find an ideal 14-day itinerary for a road trip around the South Island. I’ve carefully planned this route and selected the best places to stop based on a two-week time frame. Although you won’t see every corner of the South Island, this itinerary is excellent because you won’t be too rushed. Far too often I see 2-week South Island itineraries that include just too many places and don’t take into consideration driving distances.
The roads on the South Island are not great, and the estimated driving times that Google Maps provides are never quite right -you’ll to allow extra time. Most of the main highways on the South Island are single lanes, and with lots of tourists driving on the roads, you will likely be stuck behind slow-moving traffic. In the winter, snow and ice can make driving times longer too. Many roads are narrow and curvy, so you’ll need to take it easy. Single-lane bridges are also common and require traffic to alternate.
It’s important not to plan too much and stretch yourself too thin or you’ll end up spending your entire holiday driving rather than enjoying destinations. The 2-week itinerary we’ve carefully crafted takes this all into consideration and is the perfect trip for anybody who wants to see the highlights of the South Island without driving all day every day.
Two-week South Island Itinerary Map
2-Week South Island Itinerary
Here’s what I think is the ideal 14-day South Island New Zealand itinerary in a nutshell (I have details on the driving distances, best things to do, and where to stay detailed below:)
Day 1 – Christchurch
For most of you who come to visit New Zealand’s South Island your port of entry will be Christchurch. It’s not only the South Islands’ largest city but it’s also home to an international airport.
In recent years, Christchurch has begun to make a comeback after the devastating 2011 earthquake that crippled the city.
With that said, we recommend only spending 1 day in Christchurch. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christchurch, but it’s just another big city and New Zealand is about so much more!
Things to do in Christchurch
1. Take the gondola up to Mount Cavendish – A great activity to do even with a little jet lag. This is one of the best things to do in Christchurch!
2. Canterbury Earthquake Museum – Learn about the 2011 Christchurch earthquake that devastated the region.
3. Explore the Godley Head Hiking Trail – Even in Christchurch, you’re not far from nature. Heading out of the city to the Godley Head Trail is one of the best free things to do in Christchurch. Be sure to keep an eye out for dolphins, whales, and even Orcas.
4. Wander Brockworth Street – Brockworth Street is the most vibrant street in the city. It’s filled with street art, cafes, bars, and restaurants and the perfect place to get amongst the locals!
5. Take a tram tour of the city – You can jump on the tram that circles the city and do a hop-on-hop-off tram style tour to see the highlights of Christchurch in a short amount of time.
Where to Stay in Christchurch
Freedom Camping – There are a few places around Christchurch where you can park your self-contained campervan or motorhome for free. Christchurch council has a really easy-to-read map outlining exactly where you can and cannot camp.
Amber Kiwi Holiday Park – This is a budget holiday park perfect for parking up your campervan for the night (you can’t book powered sites on booking.com). It’s close to the CBD and well priced considering the amazing reviews and facilities.
Jucy Snooze Christchurch – Jucy Snooze Christchurch is a trendy budget hotel that although it isn’t close to the city center, is actually within walking distance to the airport. It’s an ideal place to stay after arriving on your flight to pick up your rental vehicle.
Fable Christchurch – This is a mid-range hotel located in the heart of Christchurch. It’s got a hint of luxury but comes with a modest price tag. Overall, a comfortable place to stay to explore the city!
Day 2 – Christchurch to Franz Joseph
- Distance to drive: 381 kilometers (237 miles)
- Estimated drive time with stops: 7 hour
- Road conditions: Bad weather can close Arthurs Pass in spring and winter
Today is one of the longest driving days on this 14-day South Island itinerary. From Christchurch to Franz Josef it’s a 381 km (237 miles) drive that’s likely going to take all day.
Well, today’s the day you travel the stunning Arthurs Pass. This journey is beautiful and it’s one of the best road trips in New Zealand. So get comfy and enjoy the stunning views!
Along the way, you’ll want to make plenty of stops, especially along Arthurs Pass. I recommend setting off early on this day at around 8 am. This way, you’ll have plenty of time to complete the drive while having the freedom to stop for lunch along the way.
Hot Tip: Day 2 on this NZ South Island itinerary will also be your first day in Franz Joseph and after such a long day of driving it’s a great idea to stretch those legs on the Franz Joseph Glacier Valley Walk. Then, finish the night with some relaxation at the Franz Joseph hot pools!
Things to do in Franz Josef
1. Hike the Franz Joseph Glacier Valley Walk – A short 1-hour return trail that leads to the Franz Josef Glacier viewpoint.
2. Relax at the Franz Joseph Hot Pools – One of the best hot pools in New Zealand nestled in the most beautiful setting.
3. Go skydiving – Arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world to go skydiving! There are several different height options to choose from that range from 9,000ft to 20,000ft jumps and even a tandem option.
4. Glacier trekking and scenic flight – One of the best ways to get up close to the Franz Josef or Fox Glacier is a helicopter trekking tour. It’s on the pricier side but the small group setting and everything included is sure to be a special memory.
Where to Stay in Franz Josef
Freedom camping – You cannot freedom camp in Franz Josef town, but you can find spots on the outskirts of town. The easiest way to find a suitable spot is the visit the Franz Josef Visitor Center. They’ll be more than happy to help you find a great spot. For more info, check out the West Land website.
Franz Josef Top 10 Holiday Park – I stayed here on my trip up the West Coast. Although a little out of Franz Josef, it’s a beautiful place to stay with good amenities and even free wifi! You can only book powered sites directly through their website however you can get rooms through the link above.
Rainforest Retreat – Provides the perfect relaxing escape located inside the rainforest, there are spas and saunas on the property but it is also right in town making it easy to get popular attractions like the hot pools. The hospitality is highly rated and the rooms and private suites are modern, bright, and cozy. Rooms start at just $91 NZD.
Alpine Glacier Motel – This place is perfect or those wanting their own space. This motel specializes in studio-style apartments and they all come with a basic kitchen and parking at the unit. Rooms are well priced, especially for what you get.
Day 3 – Franz Josef to Wanaka
- Distance to drive: 285 kilometers (177 miles)
- Estimated drive time with stops: 8 hours
- Road conditions: Heavy rains can cause slips so be careful in spring
On day 3 of this South Island itinerary, you’re going to start the morning with your chosen activities in Franz Josef. Then, it’s time to make the beautiful journey along the stunning west coast from Franz Josef to Wanaka.
The 285km (177 miles) drive will take around 4 hours without stopping but as you could’ve guessed, this route is filled with hidden gems to explore!
From Franz Josef, you’ll head along the highway to Fox Glacier. Here you’ll have the opportunity to hike the Fox Glacier Viewpoint Trail (another hour-long hike similar to Franz Josef) or if you’re really keen head off in the early morning to the Lake Matheson Viewpoint. Although a longer hike, the views are breathtaking!
If you didn’t take a chopper tour in Franz Josef, Fox Glacier is your last chance to do it so don’t leave without a helicopter ride over Fox Glacier and Mount Cook. Even if you’re on a time crunch you can still squeeze in this activity because the flight is only 30 minutes.
Once you’ve left Fox Glacier, it’s into the wilderness and over the stunning Haast Pass. As you descend towards Wanaka it’s time to make a quick stop at Thunder Creek Falls. The falls are only a 5-minute walk from the main highway and a stop worth the hype.
Up the road, a little further is the very famous Blue Pools. The water here comes directly from the glaciers in the mountains nearby and because of that, it shines bright blue…literally! In summer, be sure to bring your swimmers but be warned, it’s bitterly cold!
As you drive further along you’ll pass two beautiful lakes, Lake Hawea and then Lake Wanaka. Here, make quick stops for photos, and if you’re visiting between November to January be sure to keep an eye out for the famous lupins (beautiful flowers)!
After that, it’s onto Wanaka where I’m sure you’re going to need some rest after this fun, but exhausting, day! Spend the night at one of Wanaka’s best restaurants and refuel or even take some drinks down to the edge of the lake and catch a stunning sunset!
Things to do between Franz Josef and Wanaka
Lake Matheson Trail – A truly beautiful trail well worth exploring, especially at sunrise!
Fox Glacier Viewpoint Trail – A 1-hour hike to the Fox Glacier Viewpoint.
The Blue Pools – One of the most beautiful rivers in New Zealand. This place is a must-visit!
Thunder Creek Falls – A 96m waterfall only a few minutes off the highway! A great quick stop on your road trip
Where to Stay in Wanaka
Freedom Camping – Freedom camping in Wanaka is heavily restricted. There are a few spots outside of the town boundary and you can find them on Campermate and Rankers. Alternatively, check out this map for areas you cannot freedom camp.
Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park – Located a little out of town but still within walking distance this cute little holiday park is a great place to stay in Wanaka. For the price, it’s one of the best value options in town! With rooms ranging from powered sites (can’t book on booking.com), triples, and all the way to a 3 bedroom apartment for up to 8 people, there’s something for everyone.
Wanaka Springs Lodge – The Wanaka Springs Lodge is a great mid-range option very close to town. The reviews on this place are amazing and all the rooms here include an exceptional breakfast. For anyone wanting a very personal touch at a small boutique hotel, this is a great choice!
Clearbrook Motel and Apartments – If (like me) you love having your own apartment with a kitchen, private entrance, and the extra room to feel at home then this place is worth looking at. It’s located right in town and makes you feel as though you’re a Wanaka local even if it’s just for a day or two!
Day 4 & 5 – Wanaka
For the next two days, it’s time to just enjoy Wanaka. On day 4 you may be wanting a more relaxing way to spend the day. Sleep in, enjoy the weather, and maybe head over to the Wanaka Lavender Farm or Puzzle World.
After that, take a walk along the lake to The Wanaka Tree. This is the famous willow tree you’re sure to have seen photos of while researching New Zealand! In my opinion, it’s not that impressive but it’s still totally worth a quick visit.
Enjoy that night how you please but don’t drink too much, day 5 is one of the best on this entire 14-day New Zealand South Island itinerary, and you’ll want to be fresh!
On day 5, if you’re up for it I highly recommend hiking the famous Roy’s Peak. The trail climbs over 1200m (3,937ft) in elevation over 8km (5mi) one way – so it’s not an easy hike. There are a lot of great hikes in Wanaka but it’s my favorite hike not only in Wanaka but in all of New Zealand (that’s a big statement to make!) If you want to avoid the crowds set off before sunrise, it’s not only cooler but you’ll just about have the place to yourself!
After hiking Roy’s Peak, it’s time to make the short drive into Queenstown for night number 5!
Things to do in Wanaka
Hike Roys Peak – Easily one of the best hikes in New Zealand and my personal favorite!
Diamond Lake Trail – A shorter trail with amazing views. It’s a great option if you’re not up to hiking Roy’s Peak.
Visit that Wanaka Tree – The most famous tree in New Zealand!
Swim in the lake – In winter you’d be crazy to, but in summer it’s a very popular activity!
Day 6 & 7 – Queenstown
- Distance to drive: 67 kilometers (41 miles)
- Estimated drive time with stops: 1.5 hours
- Road conditions: In the winter you must carry snow chains on the Crown Range (the road between Wanaka and Queenstown)
Sometime in the afternoon on day 5, you’ll arrive in Queenstown after a short drive from Wanaka (the place I called home in 2018!) If you were out hiking that day it’s time to sit back and enjoy the night how you see fit.
Whether that’s a drinking beer at Smiths or Atlas (the best places for craft beer in Queenstown), enjoying cocktails at World Bar or Attiqa (some of the best bars in Queenstown), dinner at Blue Kanu (my favorite restaurant), or even trying the very famous Ferg Burger you’re guaranteed to have a great evening!
On days 6 and 7 you’ll have almost two entire days to explore Queenstown. There are so many amazing things to do in Queenstown that you could spend your days a thousand different ways! However, you can find some of my favorite things to do below!
Sometime in the afternoon on day 7 of this itinerary, it’s time to move on to our next destination, Te Anau which is about a two-hour drive away. On this stretch of road there isn’t too much to see but be sure to stop as you head out of Queenstown along Lake Wakatipu, it’s really beautiful here!
Things to do in Queenstown
Go on Lake Wakatipu Cruise – Cruise the beautiful lake in Queenstown and take in views you simply can’t see from anywhere else!
Go hiking – There are so many fantastic hiking trails around Queenstown just waiting to be explored.
Go wine tasting – One of the best wine regions in NZ is only 20 minutes from Queenstown. The wineries near Queenstown in the Gibbston Valley are well worth checking out on a self-guided or organized tour!
Try an adventure sport – Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand so it only makes sense to try some of the craziest activities it has to offer. Some of the best are the Canyon Swing, Nevis Bungey, Jet Boating Skydiving, and the human catapult!
Take the scenic drive to Glenorchy – This is one of the most breathtaking drives in New Zealand. The 45km journey to Glenorchy is really a must-do!
Take the Gondola up to Bob’s Peak – The gondola in Queenstown is the best way to get amazing views without having to break a sweat! Up the top, you can enjoy a romantic buffet dinner or take a crazy ride on the Luge!
Hot tip: For more insider info on Queenstown, be sure to check out our blog which is a complete guide to visiting Queenstown, New Zealand!
Where to Stay in Queenstown
Freedom camping – Freedom camping is very limited in Queenstown. For a detailed map of where you cannot camp check out this government site here.
The Flaming Kiwi Backpackers – This was the first place I ever stayed in Queenstown. It’s a great budget backpacker hostel with a very social vibe. The building is kind of old but it’s great value and even has onsite parking for free! A dorm bed here will cost you around $28 NZD per night!
Autoline Queenstown Motel – Autoline Queenstown is a budget to a mid-range hotel located in the heart of Queenstown. They specialize in studio apartments with a luxury feel. The service here is really good and the reviews really make this hotel a tempting choice.
The Rees Hotel – The Rees Hotel is the perfect luxury option for those not only wanting a hint of luxury but also breathtaking views. Although located a little out of Queenstown center, they do provide a free shuttle every hour to town. With views like this, you’re sure to enjoy your stay!
Day 8 – Te Anau (Nights 7 & 8)
- Distance to drive: 172 kilometers (107 miles)
- Estimated drive time with stops: 2 hours
- Road conditions: Fine all year round
After driving to Te Anau on night 7 it’s time to sit back and relax. You’re officially at the halfway point of your two-week South Island road trip with still a huge list of adventures to be had.
Te Anau isn’t the most vibrant town but a quick walk along the edge of Lake Te Anau or maybe a nice dinner in town would be a great way to watch the sunset and get some rest for an epic day 8!
On day 8 you’ll have the entire day to explore Te Anau. You may be wanting to take some rest or maybe you’re up for an awesome adventure! Regardless, Te Anau really has something for everyone!
Highly recommended: One tour you really should consider is a tour to New Zealand’s second favorite fiord and that’s Doubtful Sound. Unlike Milford Sound, this fiord is much less touristic and from Te Anau, day tours are super convenient.
If you’re a keen hiker then consider hiking the Kepler track for the day. The trail to the Luxmore Hut and back takes around 6 hours, but wow, are the views amazing! If hiking sounds a little much you can also take a helicopter to the hut.
For those wanting a real NZ experience, a visit to the Te Anau Glow Worm Caves is another option. Glow worms are only found in a few places in New Zealand and Australia, and the caves in Te Anau are a great place to see them! Tours run daily to the caves and include a short boat ride.
Get some rest tonight as tomorrow you begin your epic road trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound!
If you’re short on time you could just do a tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound. I do not recommend this as you won’t get the amazing experience in Milford but it is an option for those wanting to save some time and it’s better than not visiting Milford at all. For more information, read our blog about traveling from Queenstown to Milford Sound.
Things to do in Te Anau
Visit the Te Anau Glow Worm Cave – If you haven’t seen glow worms elsewhere in New Zealand then you really have to see them and Te Anau is the place to do so!
Hike the Kepler Track – The Kepler is my favorite Great Walk in New Zealand and on a day trip from Te Anau to the Luxmore Hut you can really get amazing views!
Visit the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary – If you love animals then you’re not going to want to miss this one. The Te Anau Bird Sanctuary is home to many rare and endangered birds and helps support conservation and rehabilitation.
Take a scenic flight on a floatplane – Scenic flights are always well worth doing and with the added bonus of taking off and landing in the water, this is once in a lifetime opportunity!
Where to Stay in Te Anau
Freedom Camping – Te Anau is a heavily restricted freedom camping zone. In fact, nowhere near the town can you freedom camp. My advice for Te Anau would be to look at a DOC campsite (there are lots around). One of the best is the Henry Creek Campsite in Te Anau Downs (around 30 minutes from Te Anau.)
Te Anau Lakeview Holiday Park – I have stayed at this holiday park many times. It’s a nice place close to town right on the edge of Lake Te Anau. They have non-powered, powered, and double rooms available. The facilities are good and kept clean.
Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers – Another accommodation option located right on the lake. The Lakefront Backpackers has budget double rooms and dorm beds for the solo traveler. The hostel is kept clean has great facilities and extremely helpful staff.
Fiordland Lakeview Motel – This place is such a beautiful hotel in a breathtaking location. Honestly, if you’re after a luxury stay in Te Anau you really can’t go past this hotel. Unfortunately, it’s booked up most of the summer, so get in fast!
Day 9 – Te Anau to Milford Sound
- Distance to drive: 118 kilometers (73 miles)
- Estimated drive time with stops: 3 to 6 hours
- Road conditions: In winter snow can cause issues. Check the online road report before driving in winter or after snow.
This is easily one of my favorite days on this two-week New Zealand South Island itinerary! Not only will you finally gaze your eyes upon Milford Sound, but honestly the road to get to Milford is just as beautiful!
Hot Tip: I highly recommend setting off early this morning no later than 8 am. Although only a 1.5-hour journey, if you choose to do a few hikes and stop at all the best viewpoints you’re going to need most of the day. Also, if you leave early you’ll get to most of the best attractions before the hundreds of tourists coming from Queenstown.
Today you’re going to arrive in Milford Sound sometime in the late afternoon (if you check out the must-see stops I mention below).
Now, you could jump on an afternoon cruise, but the best thing to do would be to take it easy and enjoy a sunset at Milford Sound from the shore. It’s crazy how quiet and peaceful Milford Sound is at sunset and it’s really a bucket list thing to see at least once!
You’ll spend the night near Milford Sound either at the Milford Sound lodge or a nearby campsite (more info below.)
Things to do on the Milford Road
Hike the Lake Marian Track – This is my favorite hike on the road to Milford Sound. The 3-hour return trek leads to one of the most beautiful Alpine Lakes in NZ.
Hike to the Key Summit – Another 3-hour hike that starts from the Great Divide (the start or end of the Routeburn Track). Only hike this trail on a clear day as the views are dependent on it!
Visit the Chasm – A hugely powerful waterfall that’s truly mesmerizing to see only a few minutes from the road.
Wander Mirror Lakes – A short boardwalk right on the edge of the road that on a calm, clear day reflects the mountains flawlessly!
Explore the Eglinton Valley – You can’t miss this one as you have to drive through it, but be sure to find a safe place to stop and take in the views! It’s crazy to think this valley was once filled with glaciers!
Stop at Pop’s Lookout – On a clear day, this viewpoint is really a beautiful place to stop. It’s also common to find Kea’s here.
For more info on the stops along Milford Road check out our road trip guide between Te Anau and Milford Sound!
Where to Stay near Milford Sound
Tonight you’ll be staying at the Milford Sound Lodge. It’s the only place to stay in Milford Sound. The lodge has powered sites for campervans only, dorm rooms, private rooms, and luxury apartments. Surprisingly the Milford Lodge isn’t that pricey and in my opinion, you can’t miss staying in Milford Sound.
Alternatively, if the Milford Lodge is out of your budget then stay at the Cascade Creek campsite. It’s the closest campsite to Milford Sound and only costs $13.50 per person to camp. The campsite cannot be booked and is first come first serve.
Alternative route: If you can’t get accommodation in Milford Sound (you should try to stay in Milford) then consider joining one of the latest cruises in the day and driving back to Te Anau for the night. If you do this you’ll also be able to make it to Mount Cook the next day and skip staying in Queenstown or Cromwell for night ten (as mentioned next.)
Day 10 – Milford Sound (Night 10 in Cromwell)
- Distance to drive: 344 kilometers (207 miles)
- Estimated drive time with stops: 4 hours
- Road conditions: Check conditions on the road from Milford Sound to Te Anau
Today’s the day you go on your amazing Milford Sound cruise! You have a big day ahead so it’s best to get on one of the first cruises! Luckily the best cruise I’ve done (I’ve done 3) is the 9:45 am, Encounter Nature Cruise. This cruise is all about spotting wildlife and getting up and close to waterfalls and even drinking pure glacier water right from the source!
The trip to Mount Cook is far too long to make in one day (it’s around 6 hours without stopping and believe me, you’ll want to stop!) So instead, pick a town along the way to spend the night.
We recommend staying in Cromwell. Although there isn’t much to do in this town, there are plenty of hotels and campsites here to choose from. Plus, there are many wineries nearby which you could visit if you get in early enough!
Hot Tip: As you’ll have plenty of time in the afternoon to make the trip to Cromwell then consider visiting some of the stops on Milford Road you missed on the way there!
Things to do in Milford Sound
There are lots of fun things to do in Milford Sound. Some of the highlights include:
Visit the Milford Swing – The Milford Sound Swing is a must-visit. It’s located only a short walk from the visitor center and is the perfect place for a beautiful photo!
Go Kayaking – Kayaking in Milford Sound is one way to truly get close to the fiord a gaze at its true size and beauty!
Visit Lady Bowen Falls – From the foreshore, you can take a short boat ride for $10 to Lady Bowen Falls. Lady Bowen is Milford’s most powerful waterfall and well worth checking out!
Where to Stay in Cromwell
Freedom Camping – You can’t freedom camp wherever you’d like in Cromwell, but there are a few designated freedom camping sites. One that I recommend is called Lowburn Harbour and you can find more information about it on the app Campermate.
Harvest Park Studios Workers Accommodation – This is a great option for those on a budget or looking for a comfortable modern space. They offer twin or queen studios that have simple private kitchenettes and are located within walking distance from a couple of wineries.
Brock House – This bed and breakfast-style hotel is quaint and affordable but also very comfortable with amazing reviews. It is also located only 2 kilometers from a popular winery that you could visit if you get in early enough!
The Harvest Hotel – This hotel is pure luxury located just outside of Cromwell with mountain views. It’s the perfect place to relax for a night and enjoy the peace and quiet. They also have a highly reviewed restaurant onsite so you don’t even have to leave for dinner!
Day 11 – Cromwell to Mount Cook Village
- Distance to drive: 203 kilometers (126 miles)
- Estimated drive time with stops: 4 hours
- Road conditions: Lindis Pass gets icy in winter. Drive carefully over the pass and carry snow chains.
Today it’s time to rise and shine nice and early to hit to road to Mount Cook. On this route, there’s plenty to see so get your camera ready and hit the road.
Direct from Cromwell it’s a 3.5-hour journey to Mount Cook Village. With stops allow 5 to 6 hours!
Once you leave Cromwell you begin your ascent to Lindis Pass. Lindis pass is our first stop and while there be sure to take a hike up one of the hills for amazing views of the surrounding mountains.
After Lindis Pass you’ll reach the small town of Omarama. Here you can choose to visit the Omarama Hot Tubs and/or the Omarama Clay Cliffs.
After your quick stop in Omarama, it’s time to drive to Mount Cook National Park. Once you reach the turnoff a really stunning drive begins. As you pass Lake Pukaki you’re in for a real treat, this stunning lake literally shines blue and along the way, you’ll want to make plenty of stops.
Continuing on, you’ll begin to get magnificent views of Mount Cook from the highway, and just before the airport is where the famous Mount Cook road photo is taken. Then, it’s onto Mount Cook Village to check into your hotel before heading off on a short hike.
I highly recommend either checking out the Tasman River Viewpoint or hiking the Hooker Valley Track. Both are short walks and perfect after a long day of driving! If you want to relax that’s okay too, you have all day tomorrow in Mount Cook National Park!
Things to do on the road to Mount Cook
Visit the Omarama Hot Tubs – A private hot tub in one of the most beautiful locations in New Zealand.
Explore Lindis Pass – You’ll have to travel this pass regardless if you stop or not but you really should explore, this place is amazing!
Wander the Omarama Clay Cliffs – Beautiful clay formations located just outside the town of Omarama.
Take in the views of Lake Pukaki – Lake Pukaki is one of the bluest lakes in New Zealand and on a sunny day it’s sure to take your breath away.
Take the famous Mount Cook Road Photo – This stunning shot is worth stopping for. Just be sure to read our blog on how to take the famous Mount Cook road photo to find out exactly where to take the shot!
Where to stay in Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook National Park is one of the most sought-after places to stay in New Zealand. For this reason, it books up very fast. Therefore, you need to book your hotel in Mount Cook well in advance!
For a detailed guide on where to stay in Mount Cook check out our Mount Cook accommodation guide.
Day 12 – Mount Cook National Park (Night in Lake Tekapo)
Mount Cook is easily my all-time favorite place to visit in New Zealand. This stunning national park is an outdoor lover’s paradise. From amazing hikes (both short and long) to stunning viewpoints that’ll take your breath away, no road trip itinerary on New Zealand’s South Island would be complete without a visit to Mount Cook.
Today, you’ll have all day to explore the park! I recommend getting up early and heading to the Tasman River viewpoint for sunrise if you’re up for it. It’s such a beautiful place to spend sunrise!
You could also hike to the Mueller Hut in the afternoon and actually spend the night there instead of in the village for your second night! This is an epic hike and by staying in the hut you really get to take in the best views around.
Note: The hike to the Mueller Hut takes around 6 hours and the hut must be booked well in advance in the summer, but in the winter it is first come first serve!
Things to do in Mount Cook National Park
Hooker Valley Track – An easy 3-hour hike (round trip) to a stunning alpine lake called the Hooker Lake that sits below Mount Cook.
Tasman Lake Viewpoint – This place is beautiful, especially at sunrise and the best part is it’s only a 10-minute walk from the car parking lot.
Sealy Tarns Track – The Sealy Tarns trail is actually the first half of the Mueller Hut Trail. The hike involves climbing over 2,200 stairs to the Sealy Tarn.
Day 13 – Lake Tekapo
- Distance to drive: 105 kilometers (65 miles)
- Estimated drive time with stops: 1 hour
- Road conditions: Carry snow chains in winter
You’re coming to the end of your epic road trip around New Zealand’s South Island so it’s time to take it easy and enjoy your last couple of days. Luckily, Lake Tekapo is the perfect place to do this. It’s one of the most popular places in New Zealand and rightly so – it’s simply stunning.
On Day 13 after the short 1-hour drive from Mount Cook, you’ll have all day to relax and explore all that Lake Tekapo has to offer. A few things to fill your day include visiting the Church of the Good Shepard, relaxing by the lake, and exploring the stunning lupines (November to January).
During the evening, take it easy by eating at one of the restaurants in Lake Tekapo or consider visiting the Tekapo Hot Springs. Regardless, it’s a night to relax.
Things to do in Lake Tekapo
Visit the Church of the Good Shepard – This is arguably the most photographed church in New Zealand. It’s located right in town and is beautiful!
Go stargazing – Lake Tekapo is an official dark sky reserve which means the stars are incredible. Tours run every night in Lake Tekapo and are well worth checking out
Visit the Tekapo Hot Springs – Not my favorite hot springs in NZ, but still worth visiting and perfect for relaxing after a couple of days of hiking in Mount Cook.
Wander the Lupins – If you’re visiting between November and January then head to the edge of the lake and enjoy the stunning Lupins.
Where to stay in Lake Tekapo
Freedom Camping – In the town of Lake Tekapo, you cannot freedom camp, however outside the city limits you are free to do so in most places. In the town of Lake Tekapo, there are signs showing you where you cannot freedom camp.
Hot Tip: A great place I recommend for camping is Lake Alexandria just outside of Tekapo. I personally camped here a few nights and it’s a great safe spot. There is a gravel road to the spot and a closed gate. The road is fine for all vehicles and the gate just needs to be left closed after entering. It’s just for livestock.
Lake Tekapo Holiday Park – This place is one of the best mid-range options in Lake Tekapo. They have great little cabins with shared facilities at a great price. Overall, it’s a good option in an even better location.
Lakefront Lodge Backpackers – The Lakefront Lodge in Tekapo is your cheapest option for the solo traveler just looking for a dorm bed. It’s in an ideal location right by the hot springs and the Mt St John Track and is one of the best-rated budget options in town!
Tekapo Heights – This is a boutique hotel that does not cut corners when it comes to luxuries and details. It is located within a 10-minute walk to the town center but still far enough away to have a quiet night. Rooms have mountain views and some have deep bathtubs with an epic view!
Day 14 – Lake Tekapo to Christchurch
On your last day, it’s time to head back to Christchurch from Lake Tekapo. The drive takes just over 3 hours to complete and you can leave depending on your flight time. On this route there isn’t too much to see, but if you have time be sure to drive up the Mt Hutt ski field and take in the stunning views of the Southern Alps!
Getting Around for your NZ Road Trip
The first step to planning your New Zealand road trip is choosing your set of wheels! Most people rent a campervan or motorhome to get around but you can also just rent a normal car and stay in hotels (as opposed to camping.)
You can search for rental cars online in advance to compare car models and prices.
You can also do this with motorhomes and campervans on a website called Motorhome Republic. It shows all of the available campervans and motorhomes for your specific New Zealand road trip dates. You can compare prices and company reviews here too!
Personally, we have rented a campervan from the company called Mad Campers before and had a great experience. Mad Campers is for budget travelers and they offer 1 and 2 berth campervans that are very comfortable and perfect for a road trip in New Zealand! You can read our full Mad Campers review for more info!
We also have a discount code for our readers. Use DTRAVEL5 at checkout to get 5% off your campervan rental with Mad Campers!
Kiwi Motorhomes is another company we personally recommend, but for motorhomes! They offer luxury motorhomes (as opposed to budget campervans) at really reasonable rates. Check out our full review on them as well as more info specific on renting a motorhome in NZ!
Kiwi Motorhomes has actually given us a discount code for our readers too! Use the code DEST5 at checkout to get 5% off your motorhome rental!
I’m not saying these are the only two good companies out there, because there really are lots! But both of these guys are great value and come approved by us – plus you get a discount!
Now that you have your wheels, all that’s left to do is go over your road trip packing list, pack your bags, and hit the road!
Important Tips and Info for Planning your NZ Road Trip
Now that you have chosen one of the different New Zealand road trip itineraries and have the route all planned out, there are a few other things you need to do to prepare for your road trip to New Zealand! Here is some other important information to help you out!
Booking accommodation in New Zealand
Would you believe it I told you Bailey and I have made over 250 hotel bookings since we started blogging! That’s a lot of bookings!
They are the best in our opinion and their price match guarantee (we have used this before) means you’ll always get the best deal. If you’re planning your New Zealand road trip and need a place to stay (we all need some luxury here and there!) or campground Booking.com is the best way!
- Travel insurance – Travel insurance to cover yourself in case of injury is very important in any country and New Zealand is no different. Travel insurance can also cover your bags, tech, and gear so if you want to stress less about your valuables this is the way to go to put your mind at ease.
- Car rental insurance – Did you know you can now get insurance for your rental excess. This new insurance is especially needed for campervans or motorhomes as the excesses on these vehicles can be $8,000 +.
Booking the Inter-Island Ferry
Booking your Inter-Island Ferry in advance is a great way to save money and hassle during your New Zealand Road trip. You can book the Inter-Island Ferry here.
A great company to book flights to and from New Zealand and internally is Kiwi.com. We have used them many times and find them to be one of the cheapest.
Packing for an NZ Road Trip
Packing the right items for your New Zealand road trip is super important. Some items often forgotten are:
- Travel adaptor – Try to get one with the USB plugins as well as a standard power plug.
- Flynet – In the South Island, the sandflies are bad. Getting a fly net for your face will protect it during your road trip from nasty bites that can last weeks.
- Lifestraw drink bottle – On many of the hikes in the New Zealand the water is generally safe to drink. However, to be sure a Life Straw Water Bottle is a, well, lifesaver!
- Reef-safe sunscreen – Protecting New Zealand’s pristine waterways is super important. Reef-safe sunscreen is a great way to do your part.
- Sand-proof towel – These towels are amazing. I can’t go back to a normal beach towel anymore.
- DEET-free bug repellent – The main ingredient in New Zealand bug repellent is DEET. It’s really bad for both humans and bugs and DEET-free options are just as effective.
- Road trip food – Make sure to pack some great snacks and easy food to make for your road trip. Stop at a grocery store before you hit the road and load up!
Thanks for reading!
And that’s it, the end of your 2-week New Zealand South Island road trip. I hope my detailed itinerary has helped plan your most epic trip. Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you!
We spent an entire year exploring all New Zealand has to offer. For planning your own road trip, some of these blogs we wrote should prove to be helpful! Check out our New Zealand page or the recommended articles below: