The Perfect 11 Days New Zealand South Island Itinerary

You’re in the right place if you are looking for inspiration, inspired to travel, or actually planning a road trip in New Zealand’s South Island. This blog post gives an extremely detailed account of our New Zealand South Island itinerary including drive times, stunning landscapes, beautiful places to stay, must-try restaurants and foods, activities we did, and suggestions on what you can do.

We visited the South Island after spending seven days in North Island. If you wish to start at the beginning, read our North Island Itinerary, else continue reading below.

11 Days In Spectacular South Island - New Zealand South Island Itinerary

South Island is larger of the two main New Zealand Islands, less populous and definitely more spectacular. With rainforests, mountains, lakes and glaciers, the drives will leave you absolutely spellbound! It doesn’t matter if you aren’t doing many activities here; just standing amid surreal nature will be enough to enliven your day!

Given below is our South Island road trip map. It gives you a good idea of how to move around the country.

South Island Road Trip Route

Day 8: Kaikoura Calling—Wellington >> Picton >> Kaikoura

Ferry: Wellington to Picton- 102 km (3 hours 30 minutes)

Ending our adventures in North Island, we were ready to hop on the Interislander ferry to Picton and behold South Island’s panoramas. We handed over our car keys at the Omega Rental Cars office first thing in the morning, after which they dropped us off at the ferry terminal. Most people hire the same vehicle for the duration of their New Zealand road trip and ferry their cars/campervans to South Island or vice versa. Omega has an option to hire another car at Picton/Wellington, which saves the cost of transporting the car via ferry.

The three-and-a-half-hour journey on the Interislander is an enchanting one- through the Cook Straight into the magnificent Marlborough Sound. You can eat, drink, stroll, enjoy the view and just unwind. It’s not just a journey but an attraction in itself.

We found seats at the café on the ferry as we were hungry. However, the best seats would be at the lookout areas which are located on the sides of the ferry. If you care about a convenient good view, it is wise to reach early to be able to grab good window seats. If you don’t get good seats, you can always walk out to the balconies or the open-air deck.

Gorgeous view of green rolling hills from the interislander ferry headed toward Picton from Wellington, New Zealand
Look at those verdant hills

Picton to Kaikoura- 156 km (2 hours 15 minutes)

Omega’s shuttle from the terminal dropped us at their office. We picked our car (same model as before – Toyota Corolla Automatic) and continued our New Zealand road trip towards Kaikoura. As we neared the town, the road winded along the side of a mountain on one side, and the ocean with a rocky shore and crashing waves on the other. Seeing a dozen cars parked at one of the viewpoints beside the ocean was our cue to stop as well. To our surprise we found a group of seals on the rocks below, basking in the sun and splashing around. What a delight to find wildlife a stone’s throw away from the road. Or should I say- a rock’s throw away from the road.

Seals on rocks alongside the road near Kaikoura, New Zealand
Can you seal it?

On reaching Kaikoura, we immediately set out for the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. We parked at Point Kean Carpark and headed atop the cliffs where we found ourselves walking along a well-defined path between green and yellow fields. The cliffs offer a panoramic view of the Seaward Kaikoura Range and the Pacific Ocean. I got lost in the vast expanse of the ocean, the distant yet loud sound of waves and chirping of a huge colony of seagulls on the rocks below.

We chose to do only an hour of walking around. However, the entire walkway will take three hours to complete. You can also choose to walk along the elevated path on the rocks below for a closer view of wildlife. Remember to maintain distance from seals- they may seem lazy but they are fast and their bites are lethal!

Kaikoura (in the Māori language ‘kai’ means food, ‘koura’ means crayfish) is famous for its namesake, popularly known as rock lobsters. Try some out the Nin’s Bin which is close to the walkway.

For more suggestions on lip-smacking foods to eat, read 10 Must-Eat Foods in New Zealand.

Accommodation

Private Studio with Epic Views lived up to its name, offering an awesome view of the Kaikoura Coastline.

A view of the sea from atop the cliffs at Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
Lost in my surroundings at the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway

Day 9: Arthur in the Alps—Kaikoura >> Arthur’s Pass National Park

People mainly come to Kaikoura to get close to wildlife. It is the best place to go whale watching either by boat or helicopter. You can also go swimming with dolphins and seals, or watch them from kayaks; go albatross spotting; dive in the sea-life abundant coastline or even go fishing. We were to do the Whale Watch on this day, however, due to Christmas, there were no tours.

Kaikoura to Arthur’s Pass Village- 303 km (4 hours)

Since everything was closed for Christmas, we decided to head to our next destination – a small village in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. The drive from Kaikoura to Arthur’s Pass National Park began with vistas of the vast ocean and ended with splendid mountains having scree slopes and almost-barren valley river beds strewn with pebbles. A welcome change since we hadn’t lived in and experienced New Zealand’s mountains yet!

The first and only stop on our route was at Castle Hill, a scattering of monolithic limestone rocks. This area formed the backdrop of the battle in Chronicles of Narnia- The Witch and the Wardrobe. You can walk around and explore the place and maybe even have a picnic. It makes for a nice pitstop.

On reaching Arthur’s Pass Village, we had decided to walk the Devil’s Punchbowl Falls Track. Due to heavy rain, we ended up staying in. Other popular hikes in the area include Arthur’s Pass Walking TrackBealey SpurAvalanche PeakBealey Valley Track.

Accommodation

Arthur’s Pass Motel and Lodge offers private rooms in a lodge. We appreciated receiving an email from them detailing the village’s history, important pointers about the village and food availability on Christmas Day. Else we would have had to survive on just snacks!

Monolithic Stones and White Flowers at Castle Hill, New Zealand
A flowery view of Narnia (Castle Hill)

Day 10: Frolicking in Franz Josef: Arthur’s Pass >> Franz Josef Glacier Village

Arthur’s Pass Village to Franz Josef Glacier Village- 233 km (3 hours)

Not far from Arthur’s Pass Village, you will cross the often photographed Otira Viaduct that spans a stretch of unstable terrain. As you descend toward the West Coast, the scenery will gradually transform into lush rainforests. The diversity of landscapes you will see in these three hours will be awe-inspiring – mountains, rainforests, glacier, rivers, beaches, and ocean.  You will be left wondering how it is even possible for all of these to exist within a few kilometres of each other. However, if you think you’ve seen it all then hold that thought; there is more!

We finally reached the town of Franz Josef, a small one centred around its main attraction – the Franz Josef Glacier. We chose to spend the day exploring the town- passing heli/glacier tour centres and souvenir stores and trying various bars, restaurants and cafes. Do try Pavlova (a meringue-based dessert) at the restaurant Alice May!

Accommodation: We stayed at a motel here that we wouldn’t recommend.

Graffiti saying 'I Love Franz Josef' on an abandoned bus at Franz Josef Town, New Zealand
Exploring Franz Josef. No, This is Not the Motel.

Day 11: Foul Weather in Franz Josef

We had a heli-hike with Franz Josef Glacier Guides scheduled this morning, which got cancelled due to rainy weather. Such a bummer! If you really want to do the glacier hike, stay an extra day in Franz Josef. We were aware of such situations arising frequently and had accordingly designed our NZ South Island road trip itinerary. Also, there was no guarantee of the heli-hike going forward even the next day. So after getting ourselves put on the standby list for the next day’s tours, we set off to explore the glacier valley on foot.

The walk to the Franz Josef Glacier Terminal Face is an easy 1.5-hour trip from the glacier valley car park. It takes you through a forest, and past a waterfall along a wide river stone track. The glacier once covered the valley you will walk on. However,  you can’t get too close to the glacier face anymore. It has receded too far due to global warming.

If you have a heli-hike booked, then a dip in the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools comes complimentary, else you can always buy the tickets. Mend your muscles here after getting back from the hike. It’s easily the best thing to do on a rainy day. Since it was pouring outside and we were already cold and drenched, we preferred to just stay in, heading out to town only for dinner.

We didn’t end up doing much this day. But if you have the time, there are tons of things to do in and around Franz Josef.

Way to Franz Josef Glacier Terminal face during the New Zealand Road Trip through South Siland
The Route to the Franz Josef Glacier terminal face
Other activities to do in Franz Josef
  1. Alex Knob Track – If you aren’t going for the glacier heli hike and want a good view of the glacier from a mountain opposite it, then try this 17 km hike. You will also be rewarded with views of the Tasman Sea.
  2. Kayaking in Lake Mapourika – Spot wildlife and take in the beautiful scenery.
  3. West Coast Wildlife Centre – See rare kiwis, tuataras and walk through their interactive glacier display. This centre is located in the town itself.
  4. Tartare Tunnels Walk – An 80-minute round trip on foot to see glowworms in a non-commercial setting.
  5. Lake Matheson Walk – A 30-minute drive brings you to this lake that is famous for mirror reflections of New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Mount Cook.

Day 12: Way to Wanaka- Franz Josef >> Wanaka

We were to drive down to Wanaka early this day, however, we couldn’t do so for two reasons. We were on the heli-hike standby list and had woken up to beautiful clear weather. After waiting for four hours at the tour centre (which is shared with the town’s information centre) and enquiring multiple times, we were finally going to cancel our tour and ask for a refund. When we enquired for one last time if there were any slots vacant for the next tour, to our surprise, the person at the counter said ‘yes’. Yes!

Note that you will only be able to get a chance to do the hike depending on the weather and the number of people dropping out or not being allowed to go due to health conditions. We were lucky to be on one of the very few tours that happened all month. If you aren’t able to go, you can book a helicopter tour in Franz Josef or Queenstown (with ice landing) if you’re heading south, or ask for a refund. Do pre-book the heli-hike months in advance as they are quite popular.

The heli-hike experience is phenomenal albeit expensive! You will get appropriate gear and instructions before you set off. The helicopter ride to and back from the glacier offers impressive views of the glacier valley. On landing on the glacier, you will explore ice formations like glacier walls, ice caves, crevasses etc. Each glacier experience is truly one of a kind as the glacier formations change rapidly plus your route is tailored basis the condition of the ice on that day.

Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier during a New Zealand Road Trip through South Island
Walking between ice walls

Franz Josef Glacier Village to Wanaka: 286 km (4 hours)

If you think that the heli-hike would be the only highlight of your day, you’re in for a surprise. The drive to Wanaka will blow you away. This is where we thought New Zealand’s true beauty began. All the drives henceforth were beyond impressive. Today’s drive had in store for us another glacier, the ocean, and forested mountains. But the best bit was the seemingly endless drive by Lakes Hawea and Wanaka. You will want to stop over and over again at various lookout points and your trip of four hours will turn to over five. It just can’t be helped; it is that beautiful.

Note that the drive to Wanaka can also be made into a full day trip as there is enough to explore midway. Read here.

Lake Hawea on the drive to Wanaka from Franz Josef
Lake Hawea on the drive to Wanaka
Accommodation

Private, Tasteful Studio was an ensuite spacious room with a pretty private garden! It’s a great place to stay but you will have to drive about three kilometres to the CBD (Central Business District- what I call the centre of all hustle bustle) and find parking there. We didn’t mind because we loved it!

Day 13: Wow! Wanaka!

Our favourite town in New Zealand, Wanaka, offers brilliant views over Lake Wanaka and a chill culture with cafes, restaurants and bars dotting the CBD which is situated beside the lake. We simply walked around the next afternoon and exploring what the town had to offer.

While at the CBD, have lunch at Big Fig! Fill your plate as you like with slow-cooked foods that are great for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Then, get ice cream from Black Peak Gelato nearby and sit by the lake while you savour it. Whether you’re a foodie or not, I’m sure you will be thankful for the day you’re having!

With a happy tummy, visit the Wanaka Lavender Farm. It is a cute farm with not only lavender fields but also animals like alpacas, pigs, sheep, hens, yaks etc. They also have life-sized ‘Four in a Row’ and ‘Tic Tac Toe’ games. We ended our time here devouring honey-flavored ice cream and lavender tea at their café.

Walking through the Wanaka Lavender Farm, New Zealand
A Walk Through Lavender Fields

During sunset check out The Wanaka Tree, a 100-year old willow tree that stands alone in the water of Lake Wanaka with the Southern Alps as its backdrop. A popular spot for photographers!

What we missed: Wanaka is the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park which has an abundance of picturesque hikes. We had our minds set on doing the Roy’s Peak hike and getting there before sunrise for the marvellous view but gave in to the warmth of our bed. Joking! We decided on not doing it after our Tongariro experience – no more hikes without hiking shoes. If hikes are your thing, read about the best hikes around Wanaka.

People Paddle Boarding on Lake Wanaka beside the Wanaka Tree, New Zealand
#ThatWanakaTree

Day 14: Towards Te Anau: Wanaka >> Arrowtown >> Te Anau

First thing this morning, we walked to a secluded spot at Lake Wanaka for an invigorating Maori Cultural experience by Joe of WanaHaka. The Hongi, Maori greeting where two people press their noses together, is the most powerful welcome I have experienced. It has a peaceful effect that cannot be put down in words; it has to be felt. Joe’s performance of the traditional Maori Welcome and the Haka was incredible. People usually perceive the Haka as just a war dance, but much can be said through actions in the performance. The entire setting went hand in hand with the story, and within a few seconds, we were teleported to the time when Europeans first arrived on this beautiful land inhabited by Maori people.

Do go for one of Joe’s tours. He is funny, thoughtful and makes sure you have a wonderful experience learning about the Maori History of Wanaka. He also does wine tours from Wanaka and Queenstown, which offer a combination of the history of the land and modern-day wines in the Central Otago region. We initially intended to do the wine tour but sadly couldn’t fit it in our New Zealand South Island road trip schedule, since we were on the move every day!

Hongi at a Maori Cultural Performance in Wanaka during New Zealand Road Trip through South Island
Hongi, the Maori way of greeting

Wanaka to Arrowtown - 54 km (50 minutes)

We didn’t have much to do this day at our final destination, Te Anau, so we decided to make a stop at Arrowtown for lunch, despite it not being on our itinerary. A slight detour that we are glad we made! This historical town from the gold-rush days has retained its colonial-era style buildings to this day. It wasn’t hard for us to imagine ourselves in long gowns and tailored suits walking down the lane of this one street town. A lip-smacking lunch at The Chop Shop Food Merchants was the cherry on the cake.

Arrowtown New Zealand
A lane in Arrowtown

Since we were in the area famous for its wineries, we just had to make another stop. We chose the Wet Jacket Cellar Door which used to be a sheep shearing shed. They have some exquisite wines to taste and cheese to buy. You can also step back in time and explore the 150-year-old woolshed. In addition to the tasting, they host events (sessions) in their garden. We were there for a summer session where people were having a laid-back time chilling on bean bags, playing games (cornhole), eating delicious food from a food truck and relishing beverages prepared by Wet Jacket.

Arrowtown to Te Anau- 180 km (2 hours 10 minutes)

Finally, we continued on our drive to Te Anau, the gateway to the Fjordland. Most people do the Milford cruise as a day trip from Queenstown. However, we chose to make a stop-over at Te Anau to cut down drive time for the next day (as it would be New Year’s Eve). Spending the night at Te Anau would also enable us to cruise around Milford Sound before the crowd from Queenstown arrived.

After settling in our accommodation, we decided to walk to the CBD to grab a bite. What we expected to be just a regular purposeful walk turned out to be a stroll by the impressive Te Anau lake. We watched people relax as if on a lazy Sunday evening- some transported their kayaks and boats back from the lake, some walked their dogs, some lay by the grass reading, some played with their children pointing toward approaching seagulls.  Have I mentioned this before- I love New Zealand’s lakeside towns and their ability to put everyone at ease so effortlessly.

Lakeside walks on defined path in Te Anau, New Zealand
Lakeside walk in Te Anau

Alternative: Wanaka to Te Anau- 227 km (3 hours)

You could head straight to Te Anau or Queenstown (if you don’t intend to stay at Te Anau). But do not skip Arrowtown!

At Te Anau, you could use your extra time to see the glow worm caves if you haven’t yet visited any in the country. No trip to New Zealand is complete without seeing these tiny bioluminescent creatures!

Also, if you’re a hiker, you can spend a few extra days in this area hiking one of the three New Zealand Great Walks– Kepler Track, Routeburn Track, and Milford Track.

Accommodation

We had the whole house to ourselves at Koa Tui Cottage. It is a really beautiful cottage with a great location, better suited for a family or group of four than a couple.

Day 15: Magnificent Milford - Te Anau >> Milford Sound >> Queenstown

Te Anau to Milford Sound- 118 km (1 hour 45 minutes)

Milford Sound is not really a Sound (valley carved by a river), but a Fjord (valley carved by glaciers). It is referred by some as the Eighth Wonder of the World, making visiting this place a must-do!

Our early morning drive to Milford was supremely spectacular, with clouds suspended low over not only lake Te Anau but also the ginormous mountains and fjords. We were aching to stop over and over again to absorb the view fully. Since there was no time to do so, we decided to make peace with midway stops on the way back to Queenstown. 

Cloud suspended over mountains on a drive to Milford Sound on New Zealand Road Trip South Island
On the drive to Milford Sound

The sky was dark when we got onboard our cruise and settled on the top deck with delicious cookies and coffee in hand (these are complimentary onboard). There was no other boat leaving when we did. Such bliss to be able to be the only boat wide and far in a popular place. As the boat began to cruise along the water, the sky slowly cleared up to bright blue with the sun peeping through the clouds. We were lucky!

Milford Sound receives an average of 182 days of rain per year with summer having the wettest months. We love sunny days hence I said we were lucky! But some would disagree with me. While giant fjords are clearly visible on sunny days, the brilliance of Milford waterfalls is magnified on rainy ones.

We chose to do the Milford tour with Cruise Milford as their boats are small. We were able to get really close to wildlife and waterfalls, the highlight of our tour. Also, when we came back and saw the crowd on the bigger cruises, we thanked our researching capabilities. We were okay paying a bit more to have a relatively more personalised experience.

Note
Cruising in Milford Sound, New Zealand
Cruising in Milford Sound

Milford Sound to Queenstown- 287 km (3 hours 50 minutes)

On the drive to Queenstown, we gave in to what our hearts wanted- multiple stops and more pictures of mountains leading to the fjords. There are 20 such stops on the way. We stopped at Mirror Lake where perfect reflections of the Earl Mountains can be seen and for a nap on Eglington Valley Viewpoint’s vast grass field.

Sleeping on the grassfields at Eglington Valley Viewpoint on the drive to Queenstown from Milford Sound during our New Zealand Road Trip through South Island
Making use of the grass at Eglington Valley Viewpoint

We reached Queenstown late afternoon. The town that we had heard the most about before our New Zealand vacation even began and where we just couldn’t find moderately inexpensive accommodation for New Year’s Eve even four months in advance. It is where the first-ever commercial bungee was established. There is so much to do in and around here that you can totally make it a base for exploring southern parts of the island. However, owing to its popularity and convenience, accommodation in Queenstown is highly expensive year-round for the most basic of hotels and B&Bs.

Despite how crowded and expensive Queenstown was, we thoroughly enjoyed our New Year’s Eve here- bar hopping, trying out food from cafes and street stalls while watching the concert that went on even beyond the midnight fireworks. Ah! The dazzling fireworks over the lake stole our hearts, what a welcome to the new year!

Queenstown Lanes crowded on New Year's Eve
A Queenstown Lane on New Year's Eve

After the celebrations, we could not find any taxi service that would take us back to our Airbnb that was located outside of town. We hadn’t brought the car and used an Uber instead due to parking issues on New Year’s! Ultimately, we ended up walking three kilometres to our accommodation, with about a kilometre and a half in absolute darkness on the highway.

It is essential in my view to find accommodation bam in the middle of the town on New Year’s Eve, or find a parking spot in town.

Read our post on why new year’s eve in Queenstown is awesome for more tips, things to do and reasons to celebrate new year’s here.

Accommodation

Starlight Retreat had everything we could ask for, except that it was a little bit outside of the town. The hosts are really kind and the place wasn’t as exorbitantly priced as all the others in town. Despite our adventures, I am glad we were able to find this listing on Airbnb.

Day 16: Glenorchy! You Beaut!

Queenstown to Glenorchy - 46 km (45 minutes)

The drive to Glenorchy from Queenstown is known to be one of the most beautiful in the whole wide world. The road takes you along the endless Lake Wakatipu toward Glenorchy beyond which there is a place called Paradise. That’s right, Paradise! The best bit is that lake Wakatipu is astonishingly beautiful and serene no matter the weather. On this rainy day, it was a mystical grey with the mountains beyond peeping through the fog.

At Glenorchy, we first stopped by the Glenorchy Wharf which has a boat shed – the red paint of which, pops quite beautifully against the colours of nature. Since it was raining, there were very few people at the wharf, which made for an even better experience.

If you’re hungry you can stop for a coffee, cake or sundae at Mrs Wooly’s General Store, a quaint souvenir and general store, visible as soon as you enter or exit Glenorchy.

A foggy day at the Glenorchy Wharf during a New Zealand Trip through South Island
The Mystical Glenorchy Wharf

Glenorchy to Queenstown – 46 km (45 minutes)

Back in Queenstown, we decided to ride the Skyline Gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak. This gondola is very steep and gets you up the peak in no time. Alternatively, you can get to the peak through an easy one-hour hike. Once at the top, you can enjoy sweeping views of Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkables Range beyond. There are a plethora of activities available to keep you entertained – you can choose to do paraglidingbungee jumpingluge ridingstargazing and even have dinner at their restaurant, Stratosfare. We chose to ride the luge on this day, an activity similar to go-karting except on non-motorized karts with wheels that roll down the curvy mountain slope.

If you’d like to save money in this rather expensive country, read these essential money-saving tips.

View of Luge and Lake Wakatipu from Bob's Peak in Queenstown on our New Zealand Road Trip through South Island
View from Bob's Peak

For sunset, we set out for Onsen Hot Pools which offers spa services with an astounding view overlooking the Shotover River Canyon. Physically and visually soaking in the marvels of nature in a candle-lit private cedar-lined pool while sipping wine is a must-have experience, especially if you are travelling with your better half! Do make sure to pre-book your slot, as it sells out fast.

Food- Fergburger is famous for its gourmet burgers. We would have loved to try a burger from here but the queues outside were so long always, with people gobbling them up while sitting on benches outside. The whole scene did not appeal to us! If you have more patience than us, try their burgers. Also, have some chocolates, coffee and ice cream at the lakeside Patagonia Chocolates.

Watching mist rise from the river while bathing at the Onsen Hot Pool
Watching the mist rise!

Day 17: Twinkling Tekapo - Queenstown>> Tekapo

The sun graced us today, for we had an adventure planned- bungy jumping. We could not have come to the adventure capital of NZ and gone back without getting our adrenaline levels up!

There are three bungees you can choose from in Queenstown – The Kawarau Bridge Bungy which is the first commercial bungee in the world with a fall of 43 meters, The Ledge Bungy which offers awe-inspiring views over Lake Wakatipu with a drop 47 meters , and The Nevis Bungy which is the highest bungy & swing at a whopping 134 meters.

We chose the Ledge because it’s the least time taking, has the best view over Queenstown and is freestyle (so we could just run into the unknown without having to look over ‘the ledge’). I am scared of heights. So the moment I made the jump, my eyes shut and I screamed for dear life. It was a thrilling experience! The moment my feet were back on the ground, my body started to shake; it took a while for me to get back to normal. Modi was so calm throughout; he didn’t even scream!


Bungy Jumping- No.1 on the new zealand bucket list
Jumping our way into the New Year

Now time for Tekapo. Oh, wait! We couldn’t leave without visiting Glenorchy on this beautiful day. The drive was so different this time with a clear view of the mountains and lake – a beautiful amalgamation of green and blue. While we enjoyed the drive yet again, the Glenorchy wharf experience wasn’t quite the same. There were hordes of people at the wharf, unlike the previous day. In fact, there were hordes of people everywhere. I guess that’s just how nice sunny days are in NZ summer!

Lake Wakatipu on a drive to Glenorchy from Queenstown during our New Zealand Road Trip in South Island
Lake Wakatipu on a drive to Glenorchy

Queenstown to Tekapo: 257 km (3 hours)

The drive to Tekapo takes you through vast expanses of vineyards of the famous wine-making Otago region. On the way, you will be tempted to stop at lake Pukaki as its waters are a brilliant bright turquoise, a result of the sun reflecting glacial particles in the water. In all honesty, Lake Tekapo is quite the same in terms of colour!

Tekapo is part of Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, one of the only 16 such reserves in the world. Low levels of light pollution make it perfect for stargazing. You can stargaze by yourself or take a tour to Mt. John Observatory to make more sense of that brilliant sky. Another interesting thing you could do is stargaze while soaking in hot pools. We did not take any tour and that’s one thing I absolutely suggest doing. The sky is breath-taking, almost unreal. Who knows when you’ll be able to see the milky way so clearly again.

The brilliant blue waters of Lake Pukaki enroute Tekapo during our New Zealand Road Trip in South Island
The brilliant blue water of Lake Pukaki

Alternative: Queenstown to Mt. Cook - 264 km (3 hours 15 minutes)

Instead of making a stop at Tekapo on your New Zealand South Island road trip, you could spend a day or two at Mt. Cook Village, hiking around Mount Cook National Park. Mt. Cook is the highest New Zealand mountain standing tall at 3,724 meters. The village is quite expensive and it is quite tough to find accommodation. For that reason, it wasn’t on our itinerary! Some people we met on the way were shocked we weren’t going there, so yes, it is fab! The activity on my bucket list here was kayaking on Lake Tasman, a lake with icebergs floating in the water surrounded by snow-clad peaks that lets you get close to the Tasman Glacier. 

Accommodation: We stayed at an Airbnb in Tekapo that we wouldn’t recommend.

Day 18: The Last Supper - Tekapo >> Christchurch

At Tekapo, visit the Church of the Good Shepherd, an old stone church located on the banks of Lake Tekapo. It is known for its location next to the lake which makes it an ideal spot for photographers. Near the church is a statue of a sheepdog, which was commissioned in recognition of the indispensable role of the sheepdog in the local’s livelihoods.

Later, you can drive toward Mount Cook to see it up close (if you’re aren’t staying there). You can also click the famous Instagram picture on the road with the mountain in the background. We did not go on this drive, as we didn’t want to rush the last day of our New Zealand honeymoon visiting multiple places. Plus there was a lot of haze due to the Australian bushfires. We didn’t want to go there and end up not being able to see Mt. Cook anyway.

Tekapo to Christchurch- 226 km (2 hours 50 minutes)

The drive from Tekapo to Christchurch is dotted with pretty purple lupins along the road and never-ending undulating green hills beyond. Stop at Fairlie for some pies from the famous Fairlie Bakehouse or at Geraldine for some fresh berries sold right on the roadside.

Lupins on the drive to Christchurch on New Zealand Road Trip through South Island
Lupins on the road to Christchurch

Christchurch, a resilient city hit by earthquakes time and again, has a quaint artsy charm to it. There is street art in every corner of the city, some to cover up the damage done by the 2011 quake, some as a canvas for creativity and hope in times of distress.

Walking around the city CBD looking for a good restaurant for our last meal in NZ, we chanced upon the iconic New Regent Street. It is a walking street built in the Spanish Mission Style in the 1930s, with a distinct pastel colour theme. The only vehicle that passes through is the city tram. Do visit here, there are plenty of shops, restaurants and bars to keep you occupied.

It was here we learnt about Little High Eatery from a storekeeper. We walked about a kilometre and reach this eatery which has 8 local businesses serving international cuisine with shared seating amongst them. Our search for finding a place with vegetarian options was finally over after two hours of walking. Yes, that is how much we struggled to come to a consensus on where to eat.

New Regent Street at Christchurch on our last day during our New Zealand Road Trip South Island
The Colourful New Regent Street at Christchurch

Last meal done, last day over! We refuelled our car for the coming morning’s drop off. Was this amazing New Zealand road trip over already? Already! Even after 18 days, we did not want to board our flight back home; there was so much left to explore. We left with the parting thought- we will be back!

Accommodation

We stayed at Premium Ensuite A, Next Uni, Close to Airport/CBD. It was a comfortable short stay at a private room in a shared house, with street parking.

Conclusion

New Zealand has tons of things to do for every kind of traveller – the easy-going, the beach bum, the adventure junkie, the nature lover, the honeymooner, the list can go on and on. So why not start planning your perfect New Zealand road trip?

Did you think this article was long or did you appreciate the details? Do let us know in the comments below.

  • All distances and drive times mentioned are as per Google Maps. They may differ depending on road conditions, traffic etc.
  • All images are clicked on the iPhone 11 or Pixel 3A.
  • All accommodations mentioned have parking available either on or off-street.
  • This blog post has affiliate links that enable us to earn a small commission when you make a purchase, with no extra cost to you. We only recommend products and activities we like and those that might interest you.
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trisha and modi chicago bean
Hello!

We, Mayank and Trisha, are travel and photography enthusiasts from India. We love hiking, exploring towns and cities on foot, and trying out new things be it food or activities. We hope to make planning a vacation easier for you and inspire you to wander more.

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