Want to road trip the South Island of NZ in a week?

Here is a one-week trip I recommended for some friends who had a week to see the and wanted to see as much of the South Island of NZ as possible, driving from Wellington and picking up his dad from Christchurch airport for part of the trip. It includes some optional extras, so could also make a great basis for a longer trip. The suggested end of this trip was Dunedin so they could fly back to Auckland then connect to an international flight.

Day 1: Take the ferry from Wellington to Picton across the Cook Straight, stay in Blenheim or Kaikoura.

Spend a day enjoying the Marlborough Sounds region – side trips could be to Nelson, Abel Tasman (if you want to do these perhaps add a night at one of these places) or as you’ll see some of the Marlborough Sounds from the ferry, head straight to Blenheim or even Kaikoura for the night. If you stay in Blenheim make sure you visit some of the local wineries.

Day 2: Drive to Kaikoura, stay in Hanmer.

Spend day in Kaikoura seeing whales, seals, dolphins etc (organise a cruise in advance). After enjoying Kaikoura drive to Hanmer Springs and stay the night there. In Hanmer you can go to the hot springs for the whole evening.

If possible stay in Cheltenham House in Hanmer, it is right by the Springs and the hosts hold wine time each evening in the billiards room. I’ve stayed here on and off since I was a child and the owner’s are just as lovely as always.

Day 3: Drive to Christchurch Airport – Pick up Dad drive to Tekapo. Stay Tekapo.

If you have time to kill at the airport or are interested in the Antarctic you can visit the Antarctic centre: or if you are lucky you may see a big US Antarctic plane take off (going to McMurdo Station).

Depending on the time of the day you pick your dad up and your tiredness levels I would then drive straight to Lake Tekapo, visit more hot springs!

If you choose to spend more time in Christchurch, here is a bit of background:

Christchurch (where I grew up) was a vibrant and gorgeous English style city until the terrible earthquakes of 2011. There is an interactive earthquake exhibit called Quake City (very interesting). You can drive out to Sumner (a beach suburb where most of the cliffs have given way since the Earthquake). When I was in Christchurch in 2011 and 2013, a lot of damage from the earthquake was still visible and a major issue was liquefaction, consequently the roads are pretty messed up but hopefully things are better now. I’ve visited again since and it is slowly returning to a “new normal” with the beautiful city centre starting to re-open.

Side trips from here are Akaroa (NZ’s first French settlement), a very cute little town and lots of outdoor activities and wildlife, totally laid back vibe. Or inland to Arthurs Pass (mountainous and windy roads and lots of cheeky Kia birds!), which can also be visited by train from Christchurch.

Day 4: Tekapo to Wanaka then Queenstown via Crown Range.  Stay Queenstown.

Spend morning enjoying Tekapo, be sure to see the gorgeous little church by the lake. Then drive to Wanaka and have lunch there, Be sure to do a quick detour (shouldn’t take more than 20 mins) to see Lake Hawea (I think it’s prettier). After lunch drive through the Crown Range (lovely drive) to Queenstown. If you’d prefer, have lunch at the pub in Cardrona. Continue on the Crown Pass, the very last section is steep with a few hairpin turns. After this you will arrive in Arrowtown which is a cute little gold-rush town, if you still have daylight go for a walk down the main street and have some afternoon tea before driving the last 20 mins to Queenstown.

There are lots of places to stay in the area, if you want me to recommend somewhere just give me your desires and budget otherwise I’m sure you’ll find somewhere easily.

Day 5: Queenstown exploration. Stay Queenstown.

Best of Queenstown (for more see my Queenstown post):

  • Skyline luge
  • Fergburger & fergbaker
  • Botswana butchery (make a reservation, you can have a private dining room if you wish for no extra charge and order the Merino Lamb shoulder and duck fat potatoes)
  • Bardeaux
  • Eat fish and chips on the shore of the lake
  • Shotover Jet
  • Amisfield and nearby wineries
  • Any thrill-seeking activities you have ever wanted to do!

Day 6: Queenstown to Te Anau, stay Te Anau

Continue exploring Queenstown then drive to Te Anau in the mid-afternoon. The drive along the lake from Queenstown is particularly scenic with part of it called the “Devil’s Staircase”.

If pressed for time do a daytrip to Milford from Queenstown (this is long day, and best to do on an organised tour to avoid dangerous road conditions and faitgue).

Day 7: Milford Sound excursion, Stay Te Anau

From Te Anau it is still another 2 hours drive to where you board a boat for a cruise around Milford Sound. Try to book your tour for the morning, in case there are delays. If you’ve got more time you can visit Doubtful Sound.

Day 8: Drive to Dunedin, fly back.

Dunedin has the world’s steepest street and a very well ranked university (Otago) with a beautiful campus you could check out before your flight.

If you have extra time you can drive to Bluff which is at the bottom of mainland New Zealand, take a photo with the sign and have lunch at Oyster Cove. From here you can visit the remote and rugged Stewart Island.

Also while in NZ you must eat: Jelly Tip Ice Cream, Cookie Time Cookies, Goody goody gum drops Ice Cream from Wendy’s, Squiggles biscuits.

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