The Ultimate New Zealand South Island Itinerary for 7 days
New Zealand’s South Island is considered one of the most beautiful regions in the world. It’s one of the reasons why many travellers spend weeks in the natural landscapes that featured the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Whether you’re backpacking, want to spend some time in nature or go on a self-drive vacation, South Island is the place to go. Don’t worry if you don’t have weeks to spend on the South Island, we can help you see the best places in just seven days.
Christchurch is the largest city on South Island and a good place to stay when visiting its surroundings. The city was struck by a devastating earthquake in 2011, destroying most of the centre. The newly-built Cardboard Cathedral is one of the buildings commemorating the earthquake while the Christ Church Cathedral was heavily damaged and still remains up to this day. You can visit some of the most hit places by joining a red zone tour. Christchurch is also regarded to as New Zealand’s ‘Garden City’ due to its beautiful tree lined avenues, lush gardens, and Botanical Gardens.
Leave your hotel in Christchurch and head for the Peninsula where you’ll find the small seaside town of Kaikoura. It can literally be translated as ‘to eat crayfish’, so tasting some of the delicious crayfish dishes is inevitable. On your way to Kaikoura, you will drive on one of the scenic roads of New Zealand, featuring the foothills of the Southern Alps and views on the Pacific Ocean. Kaikoura is highly popular amongst tourists for its whale-watching cruises. They almost guarantee you to see sperm whales during the half-day tours. Besides whales, there is also the chance to see the rare dusky dolphins. There are even tours available in Kaikoura that allow you to swim with these dolphins. The town itself has many museums giving you more information about the fishermen who lived here to catch crayfish.
You will want to get an early rise to get the best views on the drive from Kaikoura to the West Coast. The Lewis Pass is one of the most beautiful passes to cross the Southern Alps but it isn’t the only highlight during your road trip to the west. The section between Westport and Greymouth is regarded as one of the top 10 drives in the world. Hugging the Tasman Sea, alongside dense rainforests and giving you the best views of the majestic Southern Alps, it’s hard to argue this reputation. If you’re looking for a place to spend the night, consider a stop in Punakaiki. There aren’t many things to do in this small seaside town, but it’s quite epic to spend the night here since it’s home to blowholes and the Pancake rocks.
The Franz Josef Village is only three hours away from Punakaiki, making it ideal to spend some time in this busy little town. Views on the glacier just outside town are quite impressive and walking on it is just one of the must do activities here. There are different options to explore the glacier here. Either way, you are required to take a licensed tour guide when hiking on the 12 km long glacier. This half day tours include helicopter trips from the village to the Franz Josef Glacier and are a perfect way to get stunning views on Mount Cook. If you want to relax instead of getting your legs all sore from hiking, you can enjoy the glacier by spending some time in the Glacier Hot Pools. These are located in the lush rainforests surrounding the village. The water comes from the glacier stream and has temperatures ranging from 36 to 40 degrees.
Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand and one of the most photographed natural landmarks in the country. This national park is a great setting for making a day hike but also do offers options to continue your road trip. Continue your journey over the Haast Pass towards Wanaka. Along the route you will pass by Lake Matheson, often referred to as Mirror Lake, since the lake offers a reflection of Mount Cook on a clear day. In the area around Haast, you will find numerous hiking possibilities towards spectacular waterfalls or turquoise pools. The road trip is considered as one of the most dramatic ones on the South Island. If you have time, make a stop at the Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, a centre showcasing the Mount Cook Region and its people, honoring New Zealand’s greatest explorer Sir Edmund Hillary. As for accommodation, Wanaka is a great place to spend the night since it’s one of the most popular Kiwi hotspots.
Before you head off to the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown, be sure not to miss on the many things to do in Wanaka. One of the options is to take a walk towards some lookout points giving you panoramic views on Lake Wanaka, Aspiring NP and Clutha River. Another option is exploring the lake by kayak. In the afternoon you can continue your tour across the South Island via The Crown Range, the highest highway in the country. On your way, make a stop in Arrowtown. It was one of the most important towns during the gold rush in the 1860’s. Your next stop is Queenstown.
Queenstown is considered as the Adventure Capital of the World. The reason for this reputation is the many adrenaline-pumping activities offered in Queenstown. If you feel adventurous enough you can go skydiving, bungy-jumping, paragliding as well as white water rafting. The Kawarau bungee jump is quite popular but if you want to make your experience extraordinary, try the Nevis Swing. This is the highest swing in the world. The Nevis Bungy jump, however, is a 134 m high jump above the Nevis River. There is no doubt these are some of the most thrilling activities in the world. The Kawarau River offers huge rapids to get the best white water rafting experiences. It has both sections for novices as well for well-experienced rafters. The river that featured in the Lord of the Rings trilogy has the longest (400m) commercial rapid in the world, called the Dog Leg Rapid. In the afternoon, take your car one last time to drive to Milford Sound, a majestic fjord easily reached by Milford Road, a crowded but very scenic route.
April 11, 2017 by Denym Bird