The Ultimate NZ Summer 10 Day South Island Road Trip Guide

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It is difficult to truly grasp the diverse natural beauty that New Zealand’s South Island presents without visiting for yourself and experiencing it with your own two eyes.

While this remarkable region of New Zealand is our largest island based on landmass, it is home to little more than 1 million inhabitants – providing plenty of room for nature to flourish. 

Visitors often remark at the sheer variety of ecosystems and visual delights that are located within a short distance from each other. If you drive for two hours in any direction throughout most of the island, you will find yourself in a completely different landscape.

We created the ultimate South Island road trip guide to help you plan for the journey of a lifetime

With such a diverse range of places to visit and things to do, it is practically impossible to experience it all in 10 days.

Different things appeal to different people, and we all enjoy travelling at our own pace. Whether you want to taste your way around the culinary delights, experience our unique wildlife, climb a variety of majestic mountains, explore pristine forests and lakes, get your adrenaline pumping, or enjoy a bit of everything, there is something for everyone here.

This guide has been developed with your unique tastes and needs in mind. Rather than prescribing a ‘one size fits all’ itinerary that covers what we like most, we have structured this guide a little differently.

Our South Island road trip guide is broken up into three main sections:

  1. Important things to know.
  2. The best routes to take, depending on what excites you.
  3. A comprehensive list of what’s on offer in each area.

We really hope that you find this resource valuable. As a boutique hotel in Christchurch, we are regularly accommodating visitors that come to travel around the South Island, and we’re always thrilled to hear about their adventures. 

Hopefully we can meet you in person one day and chat about your epic adventure that awaits!

Table of contents

  • Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
  • Tips and insights for travelling around the South Island of New Zealand
  • The best routes to take on your 10 day South Island road trip
  • What to do in each area during your visit
  • Come stay with us

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Here are our answers to the most common questions that people ask about travelling in New Zealand:

How long is NZ South Island?

Otherwise known as Te Waipounamu, the South Island is roughly 840 kilometres (522 miles) long, with 5,842 kilometres (3,630.1 miles) of coastline. This landmass covers 150,437 square kilometres (58,084 square miles), and is home to almost 1.15 million inhabitants.

How long does it take to drive around New Zealand South Island?

How long is a piece of string? The amount of time that it takes to drive around the South Island depends largely upon how long you are prepared to drive for each day and the places that you decide to visit.

Most travellers stop regularly to take in the sights, capture photos and visit popular attractions. If you drive around the coastal route of the South Island starting in Christchurch, with detours to Milford Sound and Takaka, this will take around 35-40 hours of nonstop driving (almost 2,600km).

Unlike highways in other parts of the world, New Zealand’s roads are renowned for being windy, unpredictable and narrow in many places. It is therefore important to factor in extra travel time to allow for delays.

This length of trip could be done in 10 days if you were to rush through it, but to take in all of the best sights and have time to really experience it, we recommend staying for at least 2-4 weeks (or longer if possible).

It is often remarked that there is something new and exciting around every corner – leaving more to be experienced after every visit!

What can you see in New Zealand in 10 days?

If you have 10 days to spend in New Zealand, the South Island is the best place to be! Here are ten fun things to do while you’re here:

  1. Experience the thrills in our bustling adventure capital, Queenstown – skydiving, bungee jumping, jet boating and much more!
  2. Marvel at the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.
  3. Go whale watching in Kaikoura. Or dolphin watching. Or perhaps watch the seals play?
  4. Taste some of the best wines in Central Otago and Marlborough.
  5. Gaze in awe at the beauty of Milford Sound in Fiordland.
  6. Explore the Banks Peninsula and French colonial village in Akaroa.
  7. Watch the sunrise eclipse the South Pacific Ocean beyond the Moeraki Boulders in Otago.
  8. Visit Bluff, the home to our world famous oysters and what is commonly known as the bottom of the South Island.
  9. Get a special piece of Pounamu (New Zealand Jade) from Hokitika to take home with you.
  10. Climb, hike and explore our great wilderness!

Of course, this is just a small taste of what’s on offer here! Jump to the section named ‘what to do in each area during your visit’ for a detailed list of things to see and do while you’re here.

How much time should I spend in New Zealand?

If you are planning to visit just the main highlights, we would recommend spending at least 2-3 weeks travelling the country. However, if you want to experience the beauty of our natural environments in more detail, we recommend staying for a month or longer. 

The North Island has an impressive range of things to do, especially for those who love the great outdoors. However, if you’re keen to experience a much more diverse selection of natural environments, then you’ll want to spend more time in the South Island.

Is 2 weeks long enough in New Zealand?

It really depends on how much you want to experience. There is certainly enough on offer here in Aotearoa to keep you entertained for two weeks – but that’s just scratching the surface.

If you have two weeks to spare, it’s definitely worth spending most or all of your time in the South Island. Rather than trying to experience everything all in one trip, we recommend taking the time to enjoy the best spots, and saving the rest for your next visit.

When is the best time to visit New Zealand?

“New Zealand has something special to offer every month of the year. As such, when to visit will depend entirely on your personal interests: be it hiking, skiing, a healthy dose of sunshine or a glimmer of autumnal gold”

Our peak tourism season runs from October until April, which tends to align with warmer weather and busier roads. Conversely, autumn (fall) and winter tend to be colder and quieter (except for places with ski resorts such as Queenstown, where it gets very busy).

For a detailed guide of what’s on offer at different times of the year, check out this article or this article.

What should you not miss on the South Island of New Zealand?

While the list of ‘South Island road trip must do’s’ is something that we could write at length about, here are a few top things not to miss!

  • Natural scenery – cruise Milford Sound.
  • Food – eat one of our world famous meat pies or cheese rolls.
  • Entertainment – party it up in Queenstown.
  • Wildlife – keep an eye out for seals, sea lions, penguins, whales and dolphins around the coastline.

What is the most visited place in New Zealand?

According to the Planet Ware blog, Fiordland National Park is the most visited place in New Zealand. 

Located in the South West corner of our beautiful island, this 12,600+ square kilometre national park is home to the Milford, Doubtful and Dusky Sounds, some of the best hiking in the world (such as the Kepler Track), a wide range of rugged mountains and serene lakes.

Although it does take a bit of a drive to reach Fiordland, it is definitely worth it!

Is New Zealand worth visiting?

The short answer: absolutely.

The longer answer: if you like experiencing the great outdoors, marvelling at scenery that takes your breath away, eating delicious food and being surrounded by friendly, relaxed locals – then yes, New Zealand is definitely worth visiting.

Can you drink water from the tap in New Zealand?

Yes, our tap water is safe to drink. Throughout most of New Zealand, water is sourced from underground aquifers, running streams, lakes and water tables. Except for in extreme circumstances, our tap water is safe to drink.

Is it expensive in New Zealand?

Unfortunately, the cost of travelling (and living) in New Zealand is more expensive than most western countries. This is largely due to the nature of our economy. Anything that is not made locally must be imported from around the world. 

Due to the fact that we have such a small population (which results in smaller economies of scale), and imports need to travel long distances to reach us, the cost of living in New Zealand is quite high.

Check out this article for a detailed look at the cost of travelling New Zealand in different levels of comfort, and how you can get the best value for your money.

Is it illegal to sleep in your car in NZ?

There has been a great deal of confusion around the legality of freedom camping in New Zealand during recent years. According to the 2011 Freedom Camping Act, it is perfectly legal to sleep in your car on public land.

As part of staying in any area, you are expected to abide by the same laws that everyone else follows – which essentially involves respecting the environment and the rights of others.

However, some councils are known to prevent freedom campers from staying in public areas. This is largely due to a history of tourists damaging the surroundings and leaving foul human waste after they leave.

If you decide to sleep in your car while travelling around our beautiful country, we strongly recommend doing your research first, and making sure that you leave each place in the same way that you found it.

For a full rundown on what you need to know when sleeping in your car, check out this guide.

Tips and insights for travelling around the South Island of New Zealand

Here are some things to keep in mind while you plan your trip around our region:

1. Get some wheels

Many people use buses and other forms of public transport to get between destinations. However, this is impractical if you are only here for 10 days. Instead, why not hire a car or campervan and have the freedom to go anywhere you like?

2. A larger engine isn’t necessarily a bad thing

As you travel around the South Island, you will probably traverse mountain passes and steep roads. In these areas, a little bit more power can be very helpful. Talk to your vehicle rental company about what they recommend, based on the route you are planning to take.

3. Shop around for the best deal on your car rental

There are plenty of companies offering cars and caravans for hire. To find out more about what’s on offer, check out our guide to the best rental car options in Christchurch.

4. Sort out your driver’s license before arriving

To drive on our roads, you are required to have a New Zealand drivers license or an international driving permit (with at least a month left on it). This is best arranged before you reach Aotearoa.

5. Don’t speed

The maximum speed limit on open roads in the South Island is 100km/hour. Unless you want to pay hefty fines, it’s best to stay safe and avoid exceeding the speed limits.

6. Stock up on food

If you are travelling by campervan, it’s a good idea to buy a sufficient amount of supplies in Christchurch before heading to the countryside. Most of the South Island is rural and remote, and this often means no major supermarkets or restaurants within a short drive.

7. Shops close early in small towns

Outside of main centres, shops tend to close their doors around 6pm (or earlier). If you are planning to buy something in a small town, make sure to sort it out during business hours.

8. Get offline maps

Whilst internet coverage is good throughout most of the South Island, it’s best not to rely on it. Apps such as Maps.Me and CamperMate allow you to download detailed maps for the areas that you are visiting, which can be viewed offline. This is especially important if you are planning to explore some of the more remote parts of the South Island.

9. Know the give way rules around bridges

There are a large number of single-lane bridges on our rural highways. To avoid accidents and inconveniences, it’s important to know when you have the right of way, and when you need to let cars from the other direction pass.

10. You can’t drive everywhere in 10 days

Although the South Island may not look very large on a map, there is far more to do here than you will be able to experience in 10 days. Make sure to plan ahead and select a route that gets you to the places you’re most excited about visiting.

11. Plan your trip around the natural cycles

By keeping an eye on the tides, and knowing when the sun rises and sets each day, you can get the most out of every moment here. For photography enthusiasts, this is especially important.

12. Allow for flexibility

We often meet travellers that have a jam packed schedule of events planned. To get the most out of your trip, we recommend allowing a couple of ‘flex days’ and not making any plans on these days. There are three primary reasons for building flexibility into your plans: (1) our weather can be quite unpredictable, (2) if you fall in love with a particular place, you might want to spend another day there and (3) Murphy’s Law.

13. Book well in advance

If you’re visiting during the peak season (summer), make sure to book your ‘must-do’ attractions well in advance. Experiences such as glacier hiking and whale watching are often sold out long beforehand. Rather than missing out, it’s best to reserve your spot as soon as possible.

14. Taste the kai (food)

Here in the South Island, we have a delicious selection of food on offer. Keep an eye out for cheese rolls, blue cod, meat pies (especially steak and cheese), bluff oysters and roast lamb, just to name a few.

15. Stay up to date with weather conditions

Before going out into nature, it’s important to know what the weather is doing. This resource by the Department of Conservation provides a list of links to places where you can find out more about local weather forecasts for national parks. To stay up to date with road closures, check out the NZTA website.

16. Wear sunblock

We have a hole in the ozone layer, which means that is is much easier to get sunburnt here in New Zealand – even on cloudy days. To avoid the discomfort of getting burnt, remember to apply SPF30+ or higher sunblock regularly.

17. Get a SIM card as soon as you land

This will make it much easier for you to get directions, book accommodation, and stay connected to the world.

18. Don’t bring food into the country

Our biosecurity laws are very strict, and there are significant fines if you are caught with potentially hazardous food. Rather than taking the risk, why not just buy food when you arrive? Check out this page for more information about what you can and cannot bring into New Zealand.

The best routes to take on your 10 day South Island road trip

Everyone has varying tastes, and we all enjoy doing different things. Here are a selection of our favourite 10 day journeys around the South Island.

Each route begins and ends in Christchurch, with a spare day at the end to allow for flexibility. If you decide to stop in a particular place for longer, or experience harsh weather conditions that prevent travel, this flex day can be spent in another part of the island.

Christchurch is the largest international airport in the South Island, and provides a convenient place to enter and depart from. We also have two other international airports – in Dunedin and Queenstown.

How to use this guide:

  1. Select the route which excites you the most.
  2. Have a look at the attractions and things to do at each stop along the way (in the next section).
  3. Decide what interests you most in each area, and tailor the details of your route to visit all of your favourite destinations.
  4. Book your tickets, and get ready for the trip of a lifetime!

The Coast-to-Coast Central Circuit

This route provides a taste of the best things to offer in the middle regions of the South Island. We have tailored this trip to include an eclectic mix of local gems and tourist hotspots. 

The route is designed so that you spend more time experiencing what’s on offer and less time driving between destinations.

Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch

Distance travelled: 11km.

Approximate driving time: 30 minutes from the airport.

When you arrive in Christchurch, you’ll want to collect your rental car and stock up on supplies for the journey ahead. Once you have checked into Hotel 115, it’s time to explore all that our garden city has to offer.

Day 2: Christchurch to Akaroa

Distance travelled: 82km.

Approximate driving time: 1.5 hours.

Head Southeast from Christchurch Central to reach SH74 and pass through the Lyttelton tunnel towards Banks Peninsula. In this lush green region, you will find plenty of outdoor attractions such as whale watching and swimming with the dolphins. Or perhaps you would prefer to explore the French settlement of Akaroa?

Check out our guide on things to do in Akaroa for a detailed list of what’s on offer here. 

Day 3: Akaroa to Oamaru

Distance travelled: 303km.

Approximate driving time: 4 – 4.5 hours.

As you depart from Akaroa, you will pass through Little River and Lake Ellesmere, and connect back to SH1 at Burnham. This section of the journey is known as the Canterbury Plains. It features straight roads, flat farmland and the Southern Alps to the west.

From here, you will pass through Rakaia, Ashburton and Timaru – and eventually reach Oamaru. Some of the highlights of Oamaru include the Victorian precinct, blue penguin colony, Craftwork beer brewery and the Moeraki boulders (slightly further South).

Day 4: Oamaru to Cromwell

Distance travelled: 246km.

Approximate driving time: 3-3.5 hours.

After spending a night in Oamaru or Moeraki, it’s time to visit Central Otago via State Highway 85. Before heading inland, it’s definitely worth catching a glimpse of the Moeraki boulders – especially if you can get there at sunrise!

Known locally as ‘the pigroot’, SH85 crosses over the Maniatoto Plains, travelling through Ranfurly, Wedderburn and Chatto Creek. This section of the journey is not very well known to visitors, and offers a glimpse into a less travelled section of Central Otago.

You will connect back up to the main highway at Clyde, which follows the Clutha river until you reach Cromwell. The hydroelectric dam at Clyde is a great place to stop for a break and take in the scenery.

Once you arrive in Cromwell, you can either spend the night here or journey on to Queenstown for a more vibrant and energetic atmosphere. Cromwell is a small town known for its delicious stone fruits (peaches, apricots, plums and cherries) and tasty wines.

Day 5: Day trip to Milford Sound

Distance travelled: 575km return from Queenstown.

Approximate driving time: 8-9 hours round trip if you drive (take the bus).

If you’re here to experience nature at its finest, a trip to the South Island isn’t complete without a visit to Fiordland. To get the most out of your journey and enjoy a break from driving, we recommend catching a bus to Milford Sound and experiencing this breathtaking scenery during a day trip.

The roads here tend to be extremely busy throughout summer, and you’ll want to be enjoying your surroundings rather than focusing on the road. Click here for a list of companies offering day tour packages.

Day 6: Experience Queenstown

Distance travelled: 0km.

Approximate driving time: 0 hours.

Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand for a reason – there is just so much to do here! Why not spend a day in Queenstown before journeying further afield?

Some of the most popular activities in Queenstown include skydiving, bungee jumping, wine tasting, shopping, fine dining, driving to Glenorchy (or further onwards to Paradise) and going up the Skyline Gondola.

Pro tip: book your Queenstown accommodation well in advance, because rooms here are not cheap, and tend to get booked very fast!

Day 7: Queenstown to Wanaka

Distance travelled: 67km.

Approximate driving time: 1 – 2 hours.

Once you’re ready to leave the hustle and bustle of Queenstown for a more relaxed atmosphere, it’s time to head onwards to Wanaka. 

There are two ways to get here, both of which are beautiful: drive through SH6 past Cromwell and Luggate, or head over the Crown Range. We highly recommend taking the latter option. 

The Crown Range provides majestic scenery, with contrasting colours and distinctive landscapes that will make you want to stop very often.

Thanks to the fact that Queenstown and Wanaka are located quite close to each other, you will have plenty of time to experience all that is on offer once you arrive.

People often describe Wanaka as ‘a more Kiwi version of Queenstown’. Lake Wanaka serves as the backdrop for adventure sports, fantastic walks, mountain climbs, and a wide range of other entertaining activities.

Day 8: Wanaka to Fox Glacier

Distance travelled: 262km.

Approximate driving time: 3.5 – 4 hours.

As you leave Wanaka and drive past Albert Town, you’ll travel alongside Lake Hawea and through the Haast Pass. This takes you to the West Coast. Along the way, you may want to stop at Lake Matheson or the Blue Pools. 

Fox Glacier is a small settlement, and the shops tend to close quite early here. If you need to stock up on supplies, make sure to arrive here before 6pm or buy what you need before departing from Wanaka.

As the name suggests, Fox is home to a natural glacier which serves as the centrepoint for tourism in this burgeoning township. If you can afford it, a Heli Hike is a great way to experience the glacier up close and personal.

Day 9: Fox Glacier to Arthur’s Pass

Distance travelled: 256km.

Approximate driving time: 3.5 – 4 hours.

The West Coast is a rugged, green, wet and wild part of the South Island. Whilst there isn’t much in the way of cities or infrastructure, there is no shortage of things to do here.

Here are some of our favourite places to visit along the way:

Once you reach the Kumara Junction, turn inland to traverse the Arthur’s Pass road. This is one of the highest mountain passes in New Zealand.

From Kumara, you can either head along SH73 for 78km to reach Arthur’s Pass Village. Or alternatively, why not take a detour to Lake Brunner?

Arthur’s Pass Village is a quaint township that around 300 residents call home. Here, you can take in the mountainous forests, enjoy a hike and relax in quiet tranquility of the area.

Day 10: Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch

Distance travelled: 149km.

Approximate driving time: 2.5 hours.

The final leg of this route follows the upper reaches of the Waimakariri River, passes Lake Pearson, travels through Castle Hill and back to Christchurch.

Castle Hill, otherwise known as Kura Tawhiti is a popular spot for rock climbers that features large limestone boulders. This area has also been featured in blockbuster films such as Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Once you get back to Christchurch, it’s time to check back into Hotel 115 and prepare for what awaits you next.

The Northern Coastal Explorer

Most South Island road trip guides place a particular emphasis on Central Otago and Fiordland. Whilst this is certainly an awe-inspiring region, there is so much more to see in the beautiful place that we call home.

This route takes you around the top of the South Island, down the West Coast, through Central Otago and back up to Christchurch through a trail that passes Lake Tekapo along the way.

If you want to experience more wildlife (such as seals, dolphins and whales), be close to the ocean, and don’t mind longer drive times, this may be the route for you!

Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch

Distance travelled: 11km.

Approximate driving time: 30 minutes from the airport.

Once you have collected your rental car and checked in to Hotel 115, it’s time to have a look around the city that we call home. 

Check out this guide for some ideas on what to do in Christchurch if you’re only here for a day. 

Or alternatively, you might want to head over to Akaroa and explore the Banks Peninsula on your first day? This is definitely a highlight of our beautiful region.

Day 2: Christchurch to Kaikoura

Distance travelled: 181km.

Approximate driving time: 3 hours.

Head north along SH1 towards Kaikoura. The first 1-2 hours of your trip goes through relatively ‘normal’ surroundings – townships and farmland. However, it gets more interesting once you pass Cheviot and begin heading towards the coast.

Kaikoura experienced a major earthquake (7.8 magnitude) in late 2016, which resulted in widespread damage to the village, roads and surrounding area. However, they have recovered and now things are back in full swing here.

As the ecotourism hub of the South Island, there are a wide range of wildlife encounter opportunities in Kaikoura – such as:

  • Whale watching – you have a 95% chance of seeing a sperm whale in person with this group!
  • Swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Encounter.
  • Albatross Encounter – watch nature’s most extraordinary seabirds up close with an albatross tour.
  • Catch a glimpse of fur seals relaxing on the rocky coastline.

If you’re a fan of seafood (known locally as kaimoana), then you’ll love Kaikoura. Crayfish and Paua (abalone) are abundant here!

Day 3: Kaikoura to Takaka

Distance travelled: 346 – 468km.

Approximate driving time: 5-7 hours.

There are a number of different routes that you can take to reach your next stop:

We recommend driving through Blenheim, Nelson and Motueka to reach Takaka. This way, you will have a chance to taste the wines in Marlborough (world famous for its sauvignon blanc), stop for a swim or picnic at the natural pools by Pelorus Bridge, take in the relaxing small city vibe of Nelson and have the chance to stop at a nice selection of lookout points along the way.

Once you reach Takaka, the options for exploring are endless – especially if you love the great outdoors. Here are a few ideas:

Pro tip: Takaka Hill is steep and long. If you have a larger engine in your car, you’ll be thankful for it now! Make sure that you have enough fuel before embarking on this part of the trip.

Day 4: Takaka to Westport

Distance travelled: 280km.

Approximate driving time: 4 – 4.5 hours.

This route takes you down through Glenhope, Murchison and Inangahua – where you will finally arrive in Westport.

“The first wave of European settlers came to Westport in 1861 as gold miners, and the first European vessel known to have entered the river was the sealing schooner Three Brothers in 1884. The 1880s saw many exploratory parties of geologists and surveyors combing the area for the presence of valuable resources and taking the measure of the land.”

Although this town is much quieter now than it once was, Westport used to be an important town in the gold mining industry. As a result, the roads in Westport are very wide, which contributes to the overall atmosphere that you will experience here.

Whilst Westport is a nice and relaxed place to spend a night, you may also want to venture further south and stay in Punakaiki (home of the pancake rocks) or Hokitika.

Day 5: Westport to Franz Josef Glacier

Distance travelled: 277km.

Approximate driving time: 4 hours.

This wild and rugged section of the West Coast features a wide range of places to stop and things to do – bone carving, exploring lakes and waterfalls, hiking through lush rainforest and so much more!

Pro tip: if you are planning to hop on a glacier tour in Franz Josef, it’s important to plan your driving times and stops around this. Weather in the West Coast is wet and unpredictable, so allow extra time for unexpected delays.

Day 6: Franz Josef to Wanaka

Distance travelled: 288km.

Approximate driving time: 4 – 4.5 hours.

This section of the journey is remote, raw and pristine – especially once you reach the Haast Pass. Lake Mapourika, the Blue Pools Track and Lake Hawea and great places to stop for a scenic break on your way to Wanaka.

Day 7: Wanaka to Queenstown

Distance travelled: 67 – 112km.

Approximate driving time: 1 – 2 hours.

There are a couple of ways to reach Queenstown from Wanaka – either around SH6 or over the Crown Range. The SH6 route takes you past Lake Dunstan, Cromwell and the Kawarau Gorge, through Gibbston Valley and out at Arrow Junction.

If you travel over the Crown Range, you will pass the Cardrona Distillery, controversial Bra Fence and through some magnificent scenery.

Once you reach the Arrow Junction, you can either drive straight to Queenstown, passing the mirror-like Lake Hayes along the way. Or alternatively, you can take a detour through Arrowtown and explore this charming gold rush era village.

Here is a summary of the route options:

Day 8: Journey to Milford Sound

Distance travelled: 575km return from Queenstown.

Approximate driving time: 12.5 hours return by bus, including a cruise at Milford Sound (such as this one).

There are a few ways to reach Milford Sound – drive, bus or charter a plane. If you only have 10 days to spend in the South Island, we recommend taking the bus. This way, you won’t need to focus on the road and will get the chance to take in the stunning scenery.

If you have enough room in your budget to splash out, another way to experience this enchanting place is to do a ‘fly cruise fly’ tour of Milford Sound that takes you over the Southern Alps. More information here.

Day 8 (alternative to Milford Sound): Explore Central Otago

Distance travelled: 0 – 250km.

Approximate driving time: 0 – 4 hours.

Aside from adrenaline filled activities like skydiving, gourmet delicacies and retail therapy, there are plenty of other things to do while you’re in Queenstown and Central Otago.

How about some of these activities?

  • Drive to Glenorchy, and stop at the Bennetts Bluff Lookout to capture panoramic photos of Lake Wakatipu.
  • Cruise on the TSS Earnslaw around Lake Wakatipu.
  • Go on a wine tasting tour and enjoy some of the finest pinot noir that our country has to offer.
  • Visit Arrowtown or Bannockburn to discover the gold mining history of Central Otago.
  • Stock up on some of the freshest and tastiest cherries, apricots and nectarines in Cromwell.

Pro tip: if you cannot find suitable Queenstown accommodation on your favourite booking site, look for places on AirBnB in the surrounding areas such as Arrowtown and Cromwell. There are some seriously nice spots at very reasonable prices!

Day 9: Queenstown to Lake Tekapo

Distance travelled: 256km.

Approximate driving time: 3 – 3.5 hours.

This leg of the journey takes you over the majestic Lindis Pass (New Zealand’s highest mountain pass), through Omarama, past Lake Ruataniwha and Twizel.

If you love salmon, then it’s definitely worth stopping at the High Country Salmon farm near Lake Ruataniwha! 

As you pass Lake Pukaki and Tekapo, keep an eye out for purple lupins that flower during early summer…

(Source: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/b2/12/1d/b2121d0c679122663d06c4ef57255b3e.jpg)

This area includes Mount Cook and the surrounding national park, which provides an extraordinary range of opportunities for hiking, mountain climbing and exploring.

Here are some of the top things to do during your stay here:

  • Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd.
  • Go white water rafting down the Rangitata River.
  • Climb Mount John.

Day 10: Lake Tekapo to Christchurch

Distance travelled: 227km.

Approximate driving time: 3 hours.

As you drive from Lake Tekapo, through Central Canterbury and back to our main city, you will pass through Geraldine. While you’re here, it is definitely worth visiting the Barker’s factory to purchase some of New Zealand’s best condiments made from local produce.

“Barker’s of Geraldine is still on a corner of the original family farm, 8km from the South Canterbury town of Geraldine. The farm is now a thriving business, making world class jams, chutneys, syrups and condiments. Barker’s supports the local community employing around 200 local people, and always buys local produce whenever possible.”

When you get back to Christchurch, you’ll probably be ready to put your feet up and relax after such an adventure packed road trip. Why not spend a night with us at Hotel 115 and enjoy the complimentary spa, sauna and gym access?

The Southern Adventure Loop

This route is for the adventurers, the explorers, the wild ones, and the travellers that want to experience something a little different. If you’re keen to get away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds and experience a bit of southern Kiwi hospitality, untouched nature and tranquil surroundings, then keep reading!

Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch

Distance travelled: 11km.

Approximate driving time: 30 minutes from the airport.

When you fly into Christchurch Airport, the first thing you’ll probably want to do is pick up your rental car, and then check into Hotel 115. By starting in Christchurch, you will have the chance to stock up on supplies, make any last minute preparations and have a look around our beautiful district.

Here are a selection of fun and entertaining things to do in Christchurch:

Day 2: Christchurch to Dunedin

Distance travelled: 362km.

Approximate driving time: 5 hours.

This route takes you through the Canterbury Plains, passing Rakaia, Ashburton, Timaru, Oamaru and Palmerston to reach the Scottish-inspired city of Dunedin.

In the early to mid 1800s, a large number of Scottish immigrants moved to the South Island in search of wealth from the Otago Gold Rush, sealing, whaling and trading. A large amount of that resource was spent building the city of Dunedin.

To create a slice of home on the other side of the world, and build the burgeoning settlement into a permanent township, Dunedin was modelled after Edinburgh. They literally took the city plan, street names and layout – and dropped them onto Dunedin.

Fun fact: Dunedin is sometimes referred to as ‘Edinburgh of the South’. In fact, the name ‘Dunedin’ is a Gaelic word that translates to ‘Edinburgh’.

Upon arrival, you will probably want to check into your accommodation and unwind after driving along mostly straight roads for 5 hours. Here’s a rough guide for what to expect in each area of Dunedin:

  • The city center is made up of historic buildings that have a uniquely authentic charm to them.
  • North Dunedin is home to Otago University, student living and the North East Valley (which is where you find the ross creek reservoir and Baldwin Street – the world’s steepest street).
  • Port chalmers is a sleepy port town, which sits on the northern coast of the Otago Harbour, about 30 minutes drive from the city centre.
  • The Otago Peninsula is home to a plethora of wildlife, seaside accommodation, natural attractions and the historic Larnach Castle.

Day 3: Explore Dunedin and the surrounding area

Distance travelled: 0 – 120km.

Approximate driving time: 0 – 4 hours.

Dunedin and its coastal surrounds are an underrated part of the South Island that is surprisingly under-explored.

This iconic city and the surrounding infrastructure has played a critical role in the history of Otago’s growth – from a sparsely populated area rich in natural resources to a successful agricultural and tourism hub.

Here are some of our favourite things to do while visiting Dunedin:

Day 4: Dunedin to Bluff via the Catlins

Distance travelled: 259km

Approximate driving time: 3.5 – 4 hours.

There are a handful of routes that you can take to get from Dunedin to the bottom of New Zealand (Bluff). Most people drive through Gore and Invercargill. However, this route of pristine rolling pastures doesn’t really leave much to the imagination. Instead, why not head through the Catlins and experience a place where few people venture?

“The Catlins has features which make it unique to the eastern coast of the South Island. It is rugged, remote and endowed with large tracts of native rainforest. It has abundant wildlife, is sparsely populated and is very scenic and unspoilt.”

During your drive through the Catlins, you will have plenty of opportunities to experience beautiful waterfalls, native forest and wildlife. 

Pro tip: take a detour to the Nugget Point Lighthouse for the chance to potentially see elephant seals, sea lions migrating whale colonies and Hector’s dolphins!

Should I stay in Bluff or Invercargill?

We selected Bluff for a few reasons: it’s relaxed, scenic, at the bottom of the South Island, and provides an easy crossover point to visit Stewart Island (Rakiura) if you have the time.

However, there are no proper hotels in Bluff, so if you are planning on enjoying a luxurious stay, it’s best to look for accommodation in Invercargill.

Day 5: Bluff to Te Anau

Distance travelled: 215km.

Approximate driving time: 3 hours.

If you drive up through Invercargill and turn left onto SH99 at Lorneville, this scenic road will take you along the south coast of the South Island towards Fiordland.

Drive up through Lake Manapouri to stop at Lake Te Anau for the night. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a little different, have a look for places to stay in Manapouri.

Day 6: Explore Fiordland

Distance travelled: 0 – 236km.

Approximate driving time: 0 – 4 hours.

If you’re a fan of the great outdoors, then this area will probably be a major highlight of your trip. Lake Te Anau, Manapouri, Milford Sound and the surrounding areas are home to some of the best hiking and exploring opportunities in New Zealand.

Most people come here to visit Milford Sound, and then leave almost immediately. However, there is so much more to see and do here! Here are some of the top things to do while in Fiordland:

  • Take a tour of the quieter Doubtful Sound.
  • Go for a kayak around Lake Te Anau, Manapouri or one of the many other bodies of water in the surrounding area.
  • Take photos of keas around the Homer Tunnel.
  • Hike one of these stunning tracks to uncover hidden slices of paradise around every corner!
  • Taste the delicious meat pies at Miles Better Pies in Te Anau near the lakefront.

Day 7: Explore Fiordland

Distance travelled: 0 – 236km.

Approximate driving time: 0 – 4 hours.

This part of New Zealand is rugged, remote and awe inspiring. If you’ve travelled so far to get here, why only stay for one day? If you’re interested in doing a multi-day hike while you’re here, there are a wide range of options to choose from.

Alternatively, you might want to swap this extra day for a visit to Stewart Island before leaving Bluff…

Day 8: Te Anau to Queenstown

Distance travelled: 171km.

Approximate driving time: 2.5 hours.

As you leave Te Anau, you will drive past Kingston and up to Queenstown. This final leg of this drive features stunning views of Lake Wakatipu on the left. 

It might be tempting to take your eyes off the road and admire the lake. However, it’s important to avoid doing so. This road, especially around the Devil’s Staircase is extremely dangerous – with an alarming number of crashes by visitors to the area.

If you want to admire the views and take photos, make sure to stop at one of the many viewing points along the way.

Day 9: Queenstown to Wanaka

Distance travelled: 67km

Approximate driving time: 1 – 2 hours.

The most scenic route to drive from Queenstown to Wanaka is over the Crown Range. However, you may decide to travel through Cromwell and alongside Lake Dunstan instead. Either way, make sure to set aside enough time in Wanaka to get a chance to explore!

Day 10: Wanaka to Christchurch

Distance travelled: 428km.

Approximate driving time: 5 – 6 hours.

This route follows SH8, taking you through the distinctive Lindis Pass, Omarama and through to Lake Ruataniwha. From here, you pass Twizel, Lake Pukaki, and Lake Tekapo.

Once you get to Fairlie, turn onto SH79, which will take you through Geraldine and connect back up to the main road, SH1 south of Ashburton. From here, it will take another 1.5 – 2 hours of driving to get back to Christchurch.

When you return to the garden city, come say hello to us at Hotel 115! We would love to see you!

What to do in each area during your visit

Now that we have taken a look at three of the best South Island road trip routes, let’s dive deeper into what’s on offer in each region:

Tasman region

The Tasman region is located at the top of the South Island, and covers the areas of Motueka, Richmond, Nelson Lakes, Abel Tasman National Park, Kahurangi National Park, Takaka, Collingwood and Farewell Spit.

Here are some of the best things to do while you’re in the area:

Attractions in Golden Bay:

Nelson Region

“Nelson is the oldest city in the South Island and the second-oldest settled city in New Zealand – it was established in 1841 and was proclaimed a city by royal charter in 1858. Nelson is well known for its thriving local arts and crafts scene; each year, the city hosts events popular with locals and tourists alike, such as the Nelson Arts Festival.”

Although geographically compact, Nelson is a vibrant destination with a relaxed coastal atmosphere, artistic vibe and friendly locals.

Things to do in Nelson: 

Marlborough Region

By contrast, the Marlborough region is well known for its vast tracts of vineyards and the local wine industry. It has been widely regarded as a prime spot for making sauvignon blanc, with some commentators proclaiming Marlborough ‘sav’ to be the best in the world.

“The Marlborough climate has a strong contrast between hot sunny days and cool nights, which extends the ripening period of the vines. This results in more intense flavour and aroma characters in the wine.”

The Marlborough region covers Blenheim and its surrounding vineyards, Marlborough Sounds, Picton and Havelock.

Things to do in Marlborough:

West Coast Region

On the other side of the island lies the stunning West Coast. This area exudes natural beauty, with rugged scenery that includes rainforests, lakes, waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, geothermal vents, obscure rock formations and much more.

Whilst the West Coast is a geographically large and diverse region (over 23,000 square kilometres), it is sparsely populated with less than 40,000 permanent inhabitants.

Here, we take a look at things to do in the West Coast from the top to the bottom…

  • Drive from Westport up to Karamea to experience a secluded and somewhat remote coastal beach town that hugs the Kahurangi National Park.
  • Visit the Tauranga Bay seal colony just south of Westport.
  • Go on an Underworld Rafting Tour, and experience the beauty of Charleston’s caves & glow worms by boat!
  • Hike one of the many trails in Paparoa National Park. If you’re looking for a short stroll that provides rewarding scenery while only being a short stroll from the road, have a look at the Truman Track.
  • Visit Punakaiki to check out the pancake rocks. This natural rock formation, located at Dolomite Point, is a “heavily eroded limestone area where the sea bursts through several vertical blowholes.
  • While you’re in Punakaiki, you may want to go for a horse trek around the surrounding valley and on the beach?
  • If you cross back over to Canterbury through Arthur’s Pass, make sure to check out the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall along the way. At 131m, it’s one of New Zealand’s most stunning waterfalls that can be accessed with just a short walk.

Things to do in Greymouth:

  • Visit the Monteith’s Brewery, taste the delicious West Coast beer or even take a tour.
  • Whitebait fritters are a local delicacy here on the West Coast. Whitebait is another name for juvenile fish, which are caught in the rivers surrounding Greymouth. Many of the cafes and restaurants around here sell whitebait fritters, and you will often find it for sale on the roadside if there is a particularly good harvest.
  • Have a look through Shanty Town, which is South of Greymouth. This historic village has been preserved and designed to look like the old West Coast mining towns of the 1800s. Here, you can experience what it would have been like to live here during the gold rush.

Things to do in Hokitika:

  • Hokitika is the home of New Zealand Jade (otherwise known as pounamu or greenstone). If you’re looking for a unique gift for loved ones, why not buy them a greenstone necklace directly from the source?
  • The Bonz n Stonz workshop not only crafts unique stones for customers, but they also hold carving classes where you can learn how to make your own bone or greenstone pendant.
  • Visit the Hokitika Gorge (kokatahi) – “the vivid turquoise water surrounded by lush native bush is well worth a visit.” For more information about planning your visit to the Hokitika Gorge, check out this guide.
  • Visit the Glow Worm Dell and check out these beautiful creatures in their natural environment. Entry is free!
  • The National Kiwi Centre provides a chance to get up and close with living icons of the West Coast such as kiwi, tuatara, crayfish, giant eels and more.
  • Visit the historic mining town of Ross (just south of Hokitika) and experience the goldfields that were once mined here.

Things to do in and around Franz Josef Glacier:

  • Ōkārito is a small settlement north of Franz Josef, which features a beach, estuary, sea cliffs, beautiful forest and unsurpassed views of the Southern Alps.
  • Check out the White Heron Sanctuary to visit the only white heron nesting site in New Zealand.
  • Lake Mapourika is located just north of Franz Josef Glacier, and offers a stunning outlook with plenty of opportunities for fishing, kayaking, boating and birdwatching.
  • Visit the West Coast Wildlife Centre and watch baby kiwi up close in person.
  • Get out of your comfort zone and walk through the Tatare Tunnels.
  • Although it probably goes without saying, the main attraction to Franz Josef is the glacier. You can drive to the carpark and walk towards glacier for free. However, if you really want to experience the full glory of the glacier, you’ll need to visit in a helicopter.
  • If you’re a thrill seeker, you will be pleased to know that New Zealand’s highest skydive operates from here – falling from 20,000 feet (85+ seconds free fall!).
  • After spending your time exploring the area, you’ll probably be ready to put your feet up and relax. The Glacier Hot Pools are nestled in lush forest, and provide the perfect way to unwind after a long day of travelling!

Things to do in Fox Glacier:

  • Most people come here to experience the Fox Glacier. As New Zealand’s third largest glacier, Fox is 12km long and descends from the same height as Franz Josef Glacier. At this point, you’re probably wondering which glacier is the best to visit if you only have a little amount of time in the area. This guide compares the two glaciers to help you decide.
  • If you have the time, walk the Copland Track (multi-day hike) and go for a dip in the Welcome Flat Hot Pools.
  • Drive to Lake Matheson and be mesmerized by the reflections of the Southern Alps on the water surface.
  • For an affordable and stunning place to stay, check out the Gillespies Beach Campsite. This scenic destination is close to an old gold mining settlement and seal colony, and features a snowy mountainous backdrop to wake up to. Not to mention, the sunset here is magical.

Things to do in Haast:

  • Take a jet boat ‘River Safari’ along the Waiatoto River.
  • As you cross the Haast Pass through to Wanaka, check out the Roaring Billy Falls. This short 40 minute walk takes you to a majestic 30m cascading waterfall that feeds into the Haast River. It is particularly impressive after periods of rain.
  • If you’re a big fan of waterfalls, you might also enjoy the 96m Thunder Creek Falls, or perhaps the 23m cascading Fantail Falls, which both feed into the Haast River.
  • Check out the deep, clear and majestic water in the Blue Pools.

Canterbury Region

Canterbury is a large and diverse region of the South Island which encompasses a wide range of environments, ecosystems and landscapes.

In the north, you have Kaikoura and Hanmer Springs – which offer stunning wildlife and natural geothermal pools. Christchurch and Banks Peninsula are located along the coastline, and Timaru can be found further south.

If you travel inland from the coast, Central Canterbury features mountainous forest parks such as Craigieburn, Lake Sumner and Mount Cook National Park that include alpine regions, lakes, rivers and so much more.

Things to do in Kaikoura:

  • Visit the Albatross Encounter and watch these giant seabirds in person.
  • Experience the awe-inspiring natural beauty that can be found at the Hikurangi Marine Reserve. This huge underwater canyon is home to sperm whales, Dusky and Hector’s dolphins, seals, crayfish, a diverse range of seabirds and so much more.
  • Go whale watching with a tour that provides a 95% chance of seeing whales (if you don’t see any whales, you get an 80% refund).
  • Swim with the dolphins with Dolphin Encounter.
  • Take a scenic flight around Kaikoura and experience the natural beauty from above.
  • At some times of the year, you can stand on the beach and see snow capped mountains close by.
  • Taste the crayfish from one of the many restaurants, eateries and fish shops that sell it. Or alternatively, buy your own at one of the roadside stalls and cook it yourself.
  • Go for a walk around the Kaikoura Peninsula and take in the scenery at your own pace.
  • If you’re an adventure lover, why not challenge yourself to climb Mount Fyfe? The views from the top are magnificent!
  • Taste the fish and chips at Cooper’s Catch.
  • Cool down with a delicious real fruit ice cream from Poppy’s Cafe.
  • Visit the Point Kean Seal Colony.
  • Rent a surfboard and enjoy the waves.

Things to do in Hanmer Springs:

Things to do around Arthur’s Pass and Central Canterbury:

Things to do around Mount Cook National Park and the surrounding area:

Here, we take a look at the areas surrounding Mount Cook, which include Lake Pukaki, Twizel, Omarama, Lake Tekapo and Geraldine.

Mount Cook National Park:
  • Visit Aoraki Mount Cook Village and book your activities here.
  • Explore the mountains with an Air Safari.
  • Check out the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre.
  • Walk the Hooker Valley Track. This trail features walkways and flat land that makes it easy to walk, while providing truly stunning views of the Southern Alps.
  • If you are planning to stay here, and have a tent or self contained vehicle, the White Horse Hill Campground is perfectly located to take in the stars at night and be ready for your hike during the day.
  • Climb up the Sealy Tarns Track: “Dubbed the ‘stairway to heaven’, 2,200 steps take you straight up to the freshwater lakes of Sealy Tarns. This energetic walk provides spectacular views of the Hooker Valley and peaks of the area, including Aoraki/Mount Cook. An abundance of alpine flowers in summer and the views from the tarns make the effort worthwhile.”
  • As you drive between Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki, make sure to stop at Peter’s Lookout to take photos. This scenic viewpoint is where many photographers go to captured stunning shots of the area.
  • Go stargazing in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.
  • Visit the Tasman Glacier (New Zealand’s longest glacier) and go for a heli hike tour.
  • While you’re here, why not check out the Tasman Glacier Lake and Blue Lakes?
Lake Pukaki:
  • Indulge in some fresh, delicious salmon at the Alpine Salmon Farm.
  • Have a picnic on the lakefront and relax as you marvel at the scenery. It is often said that Lake Pukaki is quieter than the popular Tekapo, and it makes a great place to unwind after a long day of driving.
  • Zoom around Lake Pukaki on an H2 Hovercraft.
Twizel: 
Omarama:
  • As you drive through Omarama, take a slight detour to check out the natural clay cliff rock formations.
  • Go for a road trip down the Waitaki Valley and explore the Vanished World Trail. Along this trail, which is where the clay cliffs are located, you’ll find a range of interesting rock formations, fossils and historic Maori rock carvings.
  • If this trail piques your interest, you might enjoy visiting the Vanished World Centre in Duntroon.
  • Soak in fresh mountain water at the Omarama Hot Tubs.
  • Fly a glider around Omarama and the surrounding lakes.
Lake Tekapo:
  • Look for the lupines around Lake Tekapo. These purple flowers provide a distinctive contrast of colours to the region and make for great photography! But they only flower for around 6 weeks every year, so check beforehand to see if they will be in bloom during the time of your visit.
  • Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd, which was built as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie Country.
  • Explore the depths of space by visiting the Mount John Observatory at night and looking through their powerful telescope.
  • Climb Mount John during the day to take in the serenity of Lake Alexandrina from up above. This spring-fed lake has been dubbed ‘Mackenzie’s Hidden Gem’.
Geraldine:

Things to do in Christchurch:

Things to do in Banks Peninsula and Akaroa:

Otago Region:

Otago is home to a diverse range of landscapes, with some of the following features to marvel at:

  • Majestic lakes and mountains around the Southern Alps, with plenty of adventurous things to do in Queenstown and Wanaka.
  • The Central Otago wine and fruit growing regions of Gibbston Valley, Cromwell and Alexandra.
  • Hydroelectric power generation in Clyde, which harnesses the force of water in the Clutha River on its way out to the ocean.
  • North Otago features the Victorian town of Oamaru on the East coast, and the Moeraki Boulders slightly south of here.
  • Dunedin is an enchanting Scottish-inspired city modelled on the city of Edinburgh.

Here are top things to do in Otago, starting on the East Coast and moving inland from there:

Things to do in Oamaru:

  • Go for a stroll around the Victorian precinct of Oamaru, and check out the beautiful architecture.
  • Travel back in time and experience what it would have been like to live in Victorian Oamaru at the Whitestone City Heritage Hub.
  • Visit The New Zealand Whisky Collection’s Cellar Door and taste a slice of Otago history.
  • Check out the Steampunk HQ interactive museum.
  • Taste a delicious drop of craft beer at the Craftworks Brewery.
  • Visit the Oamaru blue penguin colony and learn about the life of these local icons.
  • Take a trip to the Bushy Beach Scenic Reserve and check out the breeding place of yellow eyed penguins. Here, you may also find fur seals, sea lions and elephant seals (just remember to stay at least 20m away from them at all times). 
  • Check out the Whitestone Cheese Factory and taste a delicious range of cheeses.
  • Stop for a bite to eat at the Riverstone Kitchen.
  • Drop in to Scott’s Brewing Co. for a delicious drop of craft beer right on the waterfront.
  • Learn more about the culture of the Waitaki District at the North Otago Museum.
  • As you drive South towards Dunedin, stop at the Moeraki Boulders to catch a glimpse of these interesting rock formations. If you’re into landscape photography, try to be here at sunrise for an awesome photo opportunity.
  • Fleur’s Place is located just around the corner from the Moeraki Bounders. This critically acclaimed seafood restaurant is owned and operated by Fleur Sullivan, who has a longstanding reputation in Central Otago for crafting delicious meals. When you come here, expect warm hospitality, local produce and fresh seafood.

Things to do in and around Dunedin:

  • Dunedin boasts a rich anthropological history, which began with Māori settlement around 1300AD. Captain Cook sailed past the area in 1770, and permanent European settlement commenced in the early 1800s. Although Dunedin is only the 7th largest city by population, its rich cultural and geographic history makes it one of the four main cities in New Zealand. To find out more about the story of Dunedin and some of the other fascinating stories of the area, check out the Otago Settlers Museum.
  • If you want to experience the Scottish influence on Dunedin, simply take a stroll around the city centre and check out the historic buildings. If you’re lucky, you might even hear someone playing bagpipes…
  • The Octagon is the official centre of the city. Here, you will find the cinema, public art gallery, St. Paul’s Cathedral and a vibrant array of bars & restaurants.
  • If you’re exploring the city by foot, start in The Octagon, and try walking up George Street towards the University of Otago. As you head along this road, you will notice the Knox Church on your left hand side. This distinctive building is representative of yet another feature of the Dunedin landscape – beautiful arthitecture.
  • North Dunedin is home to Otago University (and 20,000+ students). Established in 1869, the University of Otago is New Zealand’s oldest tertiary centre. If you’re interested in exploring more of Dunedin’s architecture, the university grounds are definitely worth a look.
  • The Otago Museum is located next to the University Campus, and features a diverse range of fascinating exhibits.
  • North Dunedin is also home to three other noteworthy attractions: 
    • Baldwin Street is the world’s steepest street. Seriously, try running up here (or rolling your car down the hill…).
    • The Dunedin Botanic Gardens are an exquisite public showcase of plants and birds from all over the world.
    • The Ross Creek Reservoir is an idyllic place to go for a walk. This forested area is home to Dunedin’s backup water supply, which provides a tranquil place to relax or gather your thoughts.
  • For a stunning view of Dunedin, drive up to the Signal Hill Lookout.
  • The Chinese Gardens represent another part of Dunedin’s rich history, and are an interesting attraction for those who want to experience something a little different.
  • Visit the train station and have a look around this beautifully designed building. While you’re here, why not experience the beauty of the Tairei Gorge or Otago Peninsula on a railway tour?
  • Go for a factory tour around the Speight’s Brewery or the Otago Chocolate Factory to find out how your beer and gourmet chocolate is made.
  • Get an ice cream and go for a walk along Saint Clair Beach.
  • Tunnel Beach represents an interesting story of love and dedication, with a tragic ending. Read this article to find out more. 
  • Go for a drive out to Port Chalmers and further on to Aramoana. This scenic route takes you past a relaxed port town, and out to the mouth of the harbour. 
  • It would be easy to spend a day exploring Dunedin City, but there’s so much more to do in the surrounding areas. Most wildlife lovers come here to visit the Otago Peninsula. Here are some of the top things to do around the Peninsula:

Things to do in Cromwell and Alexandra:

  • This area is known throughout the world for its ability to produce delicious Pinot Noir and other types of wine. Why not stop in at one of the many cellar doors and experience it for yourself? The best places to try Pinot Noir are in Bannockburn near Cromwell) and Gibbston Valley (towards Queenstown)
  • During the gold rush, a large amount of bullion came from this area. If you’re interested in learning more about how the gold was extracted, and the impact that it had on the surrounding environment, go for a walk around the Bannockburn Sluicings.
  • Bargarita is a nice place to have a drink while you’re in Cromwell.
  • Down by lakefront in Cromwell, you will find the Old Cromwell Township. Although part of this village has been submerged underwater, you can still experience some of the historic buildings and find out more about the early settler days of the area.
  • Cromwell and Alexandra are also home to a vibrant fruit industry. Stop in at one of the local orchards to taste fresh apples, pears, cherries, apricots, plums, peaches and nectarines.
  • For a quick and rewarding bit of exercise, try climbing the 45th Parallel Track up the Sugar Loaf.

Things to do in and around Queenstown:

  • As you drive into Queenstown, you may want to stop at Lake Hayes for a view over this tranquil lake. Situated in a valley, this body of water is almost always flat calm – offering great photo opportunities.
  • Officially dubbed the adventure capital of New Zealand, there is certainly no shortage of adrenaline-filled activities for thrill seekers here…
  • Take in the views of Queenstown from above by catching the Gondola up to the top of Bob’s Peak. While you’re here, why not go for a ride on the luge and race your kids to the bottom?
  • Queenstown is well known for its great retail shopping opportunities. If you want to get some gifts for loved ones back home, check out the shops here.
  • The foodie scene in Queenstown is also a vibrant hub of activity. While there are plenty of renwoned favourites here, Ferg Burger is certainly the most iconic place to eat. Be warned, though: you may need to wait for 15-30 minutes to place your order – however, it’s definitely worth the wait!
  • Not only is Queenstown known for its food scene, but the night life here is also pretty fantastic. As a resort town, there is always something happening in the central city bars and clubs.
  • Go on a quad biking or ATV tour with Nomad Safaris.
  • Be transported back to an enchanted world of magical surroundings with a Lord of the Rings tour.
  • Cruise on the TSS Earnslaw and go for a tour of the Walter Peak high country farm.
  • Go for a drive up to Glenorchy to check out this beautiful and tranquil area. On the way, make sure to stop at Bennett’s Bluff Lookout for a great photo opportunity. For a nice casual walk along the way, check out Bob’s Cove Track and Nature Walk.
  • If you want to experience this place from up above, a hot air ballooning experience might excite you?
  • After a full on day of adventure and adrenaline, you’ll probably be ready to unwind and relax. Why not hire your own private spa bath at Onsen Hot Pools and experience the views while soaking in warm water?
  • Arrowtown is a quaint and peaceful village around 20 minutes drive from Queenstown. This gold rush-era settlement is distinctively historic, and takes visitors back to the heyday of Central Otago.
  • Taste a selection of delicious wines and gourmet craft chocolates in the Gibbston Valley.
  • As you drive South from Queenstown to Te Anau, make sure to stop at the Devil’s Staircase lookout point for breathtaking views over Lake Wakatipu.

Things to do in and around Wanaka:

  • Get wet and wild with a deep canyoning experience.
  • Taste the delicious meat pies at Doughbin Cafe or Kai Whakapai in Wakana Township.
  • If it’s a rainy day and you don’t feel like going outside, why not visit Cinema Paradiso and catch a movie? On a side note, the cookies here are delicious!
  • Experience the world’s highest cable climb and Via Ferrata at Wild Wire Wanaka.
  • Go for a walk around the waterfront and capture a photo of #ThatWanakaTree
  • The Mount Iron track is an easy walk that offers scenic views of the Pisa Range, Upper Clutha Basin, Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps.
  • If you’re up for a challenge, climb Roy’s Peak or Isthmus Peak for much better view of the surrounding areas.
  • Another great place to explore is the Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain walks.
  • Locals flock to Wanaka on warm days to enjoy water sports on the lake. If the sun is shining, why not rent a kayak or stand up paddleboard to play on?
  • Take the young ones to Puzzling World for a fun filled day that the whole family can enjoy.
  • The Wanaka Lavender Farm is an idyllic hideaway on the outskirts of Wanaka, with a shop that sells a wide range of things made with lavender.
  • Lake Hawea is located next to Wanaka, and offers a much quieter (and more scenic outlook) to relax if tranquility is what you’re looking for.
  • Glendhu and Bremner Bays are also great places to visit for a picnic or to relax after an outdoor adventure.
  • Skydive Wanaka offers a great activity for thrill seekers. With scenic views of the lakes, surrounding farmland, and the snow capped Southern Alps, jumping out of a place here is certainly an unforgettable experience.
  • As you drive over the Crown Range, stop in at the Cardrona Distillery for a taste of artisan spirits made right here in Central Otago. While you’re here, keep an eye out for the bra fence. This contemporary landmark is a local favourite!
  • Or perhaps you would like to visit the Cardrona Hotel for a bite to eat? The food here is delicious!

Southland Region

As the name suggests, Southland is at the bottom of the South Island. This expansive area is mostly made up of nature reserves and farmland. Invercargill is the only city in Southland, which is located near the bottom of the region. 

Things to do in Fiordland:

  • Depending on how long you have to spend in this enchanting part of New Zealand, there are plenty of places to explore (70 tracks to be precise…). Click here to find out more.
  • Take a boat cruise on Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound.
  • Drive up to Milford Sound and explore the stunning area. The Milford Jetty is a great place to take photos.
  • On your way up to Milford Sound, you may want to stop at Homer’s Tunnel to experience an entertaining side effect of tourism… Here, the endemic alpine parrot, the Kea, is known to rip tourists cars to pieces as they happily take photos for Instagram… (Pro tip: don’t feed them because human food is harmful to the Kea).
  • While you’re up at Milford Sound, why not experience some of the stunning walks that this area has to offer? This resource takes a look at 5 nearby walks of varying difficulties.
  • Climb up to Lake Marian to experience a beautiful mountainous lake that is fed by gigantic waterfalls.
  • Lake Gunn Nature Walk is a short and sweet hike, with a beautiful view at the end.
  • The Chasm Walk offers “dramatic views of powerful waterfalls and water-sculpted shapes in the rocks.”
  • For an aerial view of this stunning area, charter a flight over Milford Sound.
Te Anau and Manapouri:

Things to do in the Catlins:

Things to do in Invercargill and Bluff:

  • Automotive enthusiasts will be thrilled to visit the Bill Richardson Transport World and Classic Motorcycle Mecca museums. These exquisite displays showcase a stunning variety of vehicles – including vintage heavy machinery, original Ford motor vehicles, trucks, diggers, high performance motorbikes and much more.
  • While you’re in the area, why not drop into the E Hayes hardware store to check out the orignial World’s Fastest Indian vehicle, along with a wide range of other vintage cars and bikes?
  • Queens Park a beautiful part of central Invercargill. This 80 hectare reserve features themed gardens from all over the world, an aviary, wildlife habitats, an 18 hole golf course, and so much more!
  • Bluff is commonly known as the bottom of the South Island. If you make it all the way to Invercargill, it’s definitely worth taking a trip down here and visiting the iconic yellow signs that point to various destinations around the world.
  • Bluff is also home to the critically acclaimed Bluff oysters. The season lasts from March to August, so it is unlikely that you will get a chance to taste this delicacy. However, if are here later in the summer, you might get a chance to slurp these tasty shellfish.
  • Dive with the great white sharks

Things to do in Stewart Island:

Māori legend proclaims that the South Island was the boat that Maui used to fish up the North Island (have a look at the map and you’ll see the resemblence between the North Island being shaped like a fish and the South Island looking like a boat). In this story, Stewart Island was the anchor.

Home to less than 500 permanent inhabitants, Stewart Island is rugged, remote and stunning. Adventure seekers come here to hike the Rakiura Track, Northwest Circuit and Southern Circuit, and hunters visit to shoot white tail deer.

However, if you’re on a tight schedule, you probably won’t have enough time for a multi-day bush adventure. Here are some of the top things to do in Stewart Island if you only have a day or two to spare:

  • Visit Ulva Island and experience our wildlife up close in person. You might even get a chance to see the Stewart Island Kiwi (known as the Roa). Unlike its nocturnal counterparts, this bird comes out during the day.
  • Carve your own greenstone at Rakiura Jade.
  • Take a scenic flight over the island.
  • Relax on one of the many quiet beaches around Half Moon Bay.
  • Stargaze at night (and keep an eye out for the Southern Lights).
  • Taste some delicious food at the South Sea Hotel (the local pub).

Come stay with us

We hope that you found this comprehensive South Island road trip guide to be very useful. If it helped you to plan your South Island road trip, then please share it with a friend and do say hi when you visit.

We look forward to meeting you in person and accommodating you in Christchurch. Click here to book directly with Hotel 115 and get the best deal.

And last but not least – have a great trip!



January 10, 2020 by Denym Bird



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