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In this blog, we’ve outlined an ideal 14 day 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 New Zealand 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!
*An important note about this paricular 2 week South Island Itinerary: Bailey and I have traveled New Zealand extensively. For this reason, our two week itinerary may miss some places – this is deliberate. We know New Zealand’s roads well, the stops along them, and understand the time it takes to actually visit these places. The most common issue with New Zealand road trip itineraries is trying to do too much. I have read other itineraries on the internet and find them to be far too much driving and honestly, you won’t regret making your trip about quality, not quantity!
New Zealand South Island Itinerary Map
Red markers indicate main destinations and blue markers indicate places to visit on the road.
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. This once a ghost town is now a vibrant city filled with tons of amazing places to explore!
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.
2. Canterbury Earthquake Museum – Learn about the 2011 Christchurch earthquake that devastated the region.
3. Explore the Godly Head Hiking Trail – Even in Christchurch, you’re not far from nature. Heading out of the city to the Godly Head trail is one of the best things to do in the city. 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 have 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 walking distance to the airport. It’s an ideal place to stay after arriving on your flight to pick up your rental vehicle.
Rendezvous Hotel – This 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 km (237 miles)|
|Estimated drive time with stops:||7 hours|
|Road conditions:||Bad weather can cause Arthurs |
Pass to close (mainly in the winter and spring)
Today is one of the longest driving days on this South Island road trip 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 itineray 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!
4. Glacier trekking and scenic flight – One of the best ways to get up close to the Franz Josef or Fox Glacier is one a helicopter trekking tour.
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.
YHA Franz Josef – For budget options in Franz Josef, you really can’t go wrong with the YHA. It offers budget double rooms as well as dorm-style accommodation. The hostel has a fully equipped kitchen and great common areas for socializing.
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:||285km km (177 miles) to Wanaka|
|Estimated drive time with stops:||8 hours|
|Road conditions:||Heavy rains can cause slips or |
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 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 your really keen head off in the early morning to the Lake Matheson Viewpoint. Although a longer hike, the views are breathtaking!
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 a restaurant 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 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 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 in elevation over 8km one way – so it’s not an easy hike. But it’s my favorite hike I have ever done in New Zealand (and 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:||67km (41 miles) to Queenstown|
|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
Sometime in the afternoon on day 5 you’ll arrive in Queenstown (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 Day 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 onto 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 amazing 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 Bungee, 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!
For more insider info on Queenstown, be sure to check out our blog that is a complete guide to visiting Queenstown, New Zealand!
Where to Stay in Queenstown
Freedom camping – There are lots of places to freedom camp outside of the Queenstown town limits. Places like Coronet Peak (not during ski season) and the road to Glenorchy are good spots. I slept at lots during my time in Queenstown. For a detailed map of where you cannot camp check out this government site here.
YHA Queenstown Lakefront – For the budget traveler, the YHA Lakefront is a great hostel. It’s located on the quiet end of town but is still within walking distance to the main downtown area. There is lots of parking outside the hostel and the views from here are incredible.
Autoline Queenstown Motel – Autoline Queenstown is a budget to 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:||172km (107 miles) to Te Anau|
|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 almost only found in NZ 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!
Not recommended variation: 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 travelling 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 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, its booked up most of the summer, so get in fast!
Day 9 – Te Anau to Milford Sound
|Distance to drive:||118km (73 miles)|
|Estimated drive time with stops:||3 – 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:||334 km to Cromwell (207 miles)|
|Estimated drive time with stops:||4 hours|
|Road conditions:||Check conditions on the road from |
Milford to Te anau online.
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, the 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!
If you want to do another cruise or kayaking experience your free to do so but later today it’s time to drive begin our journey to Mount Cook National Park!
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.
Cromwell Top 10 Holiday Park – This is a great option for those on a budget or looking for a comfortable powered campsite. They even offer apartments! This holiday park has great amenities and is located within walking distance from town as well as the lake.
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 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 km (126 miles) from Cromwell|
|Estimated drive time with stops:||4 hours|
|Road conditions:||Lindis Pass gets icy in winter. Drive |
carefully over the pass and carry
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 breathe 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:||105km (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).
On your night in Lake Tekapo, just take it easy 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.
YHA Lake Tekapo – The YHA Lake Tekapo is your cheapest option for the solo traveler just looking for a dorm bed. It’s in n ideal location 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. 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!
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:
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars many times. World Nomads is a great company to use if you are an adventure traveler like us!
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