It’s really hard to describe the South Island of New Zealand because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The closest thing I can compare it to is a real life Narnia. Makes sense why they filmed most of the movie here!
Although you could spend a month in the South Island and still have things to do, I managed to squeeze all the best things into 10 days for my trip.
Pretty much all the best sightseeing is on the west coast, so if you start your journey in Christchurch, you will go down the west coast and make a giant loop.
Here’s the itinerary I created that was carefully designed to save the most money and see the best things.
As always I left plenty of room for additional exploration and spontaneity because that’s what makes traveling so much fun!
Rent a campervan: Jucy has some great options for vans that have 2 beds, a mini kitchen and plenty of room!
Stop at a New World Metro to stock up on groceries and all the best road trip snacks.
Drive to Punakaiki through Arthurs Pass (3.75 hours)
- Flock Hill Station
- Where they filmed the last battle in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
Arrive in Punakaiki and Paparoa National Park – camp there for the night
- Pancake Rocks
- Fun Walks: CLICK HERE
Drive to Wanaka
- Fox and Franz Josef Glacier
- We did Franz and it was amazing! If you have time, do a helicopter tour or guided treck through the ice caves
Camp in Wanaka or stop somewhere along the way and camp. We stopped at a random beach!
Fun things to do in Wanaka
- Lake Wanaka
- Find “That Wanaka Tree”
- Fun Hikes/Walks
- Mount Aspiring National Park
- Mount Iron Track (1.5 hours, 4.5 km) [we did this and it was beautiful!]
- Aspiring Hut Walk (1.5 hours)
- Rob Roy Glacier Track (1 hour from Wanaka, 3-4 hours, 10km)
- Cinema Paradiso: $15
- Super fun, old movie theatre that serves fresh cookies during intermission
- Mount Aspiring National Park
Camp in Wanaka
Drive to Queenstown via The Crown Range (The Hobbit was filmed here)
- Look out for the Omarama Clay Cliffs on your drive!
- You’ll pass through the Cardrona Valley with Mount Cardona
- Explore Queenstown
- Fun things to do in Queenstown
- Queenstown hill hike (you can take the gondola to the top if you don’t want to hike it)
- Luge (at the top of the hill hike)
- Jet Boat ride (this AMAZING. So beautiful and so fun)
- Mountain Biking
- Ice Bar
- World’s largest swing
- Bungee Jumping
- White water rafting
Places to eat
- There are so many great places to eat along the main road but you have to stop at Fergburger at LEAST once. We stopped there 3 times.
MONEY SAVING TIP: We went the grocery store and cooked a few meals in our hotel. Our hotel also had an AMAZING breakfast so we loaded up and that helped save $$ too.
- We took a break from the campervan in Queenstown and treated ourselves to a hotel. (Actually my parents did because they are Hilton honors members so we got a few free nights at the Double Tree) Let me tell ya, it was divine. I felt like royalty. If you want to splurge, this is the place to do it! There are many great hotels and resorts but how can you say no to fresh, warm cookies, a pool, spa and FREE breakfast with a cappuccino machine and custom made fresh squeezed juice?!
Queenstown Day 2
- This was the day we did a river jet boat tour combo with a nature walk through a Lord of the Rings filming location and explored more of Queenstown
- It took us through Glenorchy and Paradise which were both STUNNING
- See list above for ideas of fun things to do!
Queenstown Day 3
Milford Sound Tour
- We booked our tour through Kiwi Discovery and I can’t say enough good things about it. Our tour guide was INCREDIBLE, so funny and went out of his way to make our trip special and let us stop at additional places to see more things.
- It’s a pretty long trek to get to the Milford sound, but the drive is so beautiful you honestly won’t notice.
- There is only one road to the Milford Sound and if it rains a lot, it might flood and close, so try to be flexible because you might get rescheduled
Drive to Mt. Cook through Lindis Pass
(I lost my SD card along with all my photos on this day so I don’t have any pictures of it sadly)
Stay/Camp in Lake Tekapo (get the camper app to find free camp sites)
Drive to Moeraki Boulders
- Elephant Rocks
- Another fun Narnia filming site, run around and climb on the boulders
If you have time drive 30 minutes north to Oamaru to see the Blue Penguin Colony
Drive back up to Christchurch and camp
The Banks Peninsula
Fun day to explore! There’s a cute little town and so many beaches to choose from. We found a winding road that led to a beach in Goughs Bay where no one was so the guys surfed and the girls hung out on the sand and played with the dogs that were there.
Depart or continue exploring!
I hope this guide helps you put together your perfect South Island Road Trip! There are so many wonderful and amazing things to see on this island, definitely give yourself the time and flexibility to be spontaneous, take a different road and stop when you’re heart tells you to. You might discover something incredible!
Check out the other articles I’ve written about what to do in New Zealand!
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xx Nicole #DoStuff