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South Island in Two Weeks: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

BackpackerGuide.NZ

How to Make the most of the South Island in two weeks.

We get it, you only have two weeks to see New Zealand because that’s all the time you have from your commitments. (You must have heard a thousand times that two weeks is not long enough). Nevertheless, you can still have an epic time in New Zealand and see a great deal of the country even in two weeks. Just travelling one island, in this case the South Island, is the perfect way to do that. With that in mind, this road trip itinerary for the South Island in two weeks will help you really make the most of your time in New Zealand.

With sensational mountains, sandy beaches, rugged coast, lakes, fiords and forest, the itinerary below incorporates many different landscapes in the South Island. What’s more, you’ll get your chance for adrenaline activities, foodie experiences, Lord of the Rings fixes, wildlife sightings and much more with the amount of awesome activities on offer. So here you are: a road trip itinerary of two weeks in the South Island!

Renting a car/campervan for two weeks in the South Island

Travelling for two weeks on the South Island and looking for the perfect road trip itinerary? Renting a car or campervan is going to be the best way to squeeze everything you want into two weeks on the South Island. This means no waiting around for buses and gives you the freedom to hit all the incredible South Island destinations listed below. Plus, the itinerary below loops the South Island so you can return your rental car where you started. That means no expensive one-way fees! For more ways to save money on car rental take a look at this nifty list.

For a complete comparison of car rental companies, check out The Best Car Rental Companies in Christchurch.

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Day 1 – Christchurch to Kaikoura

Drive Time: 2h15min

Welcome to the South Island! As soon as you get your rental vehicle it’s time to hit the road. (Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to explore Christchurch later). Head toward Kaikoura, the marine wildlife mecca of New Zealand. The drive is a scenic one along the coast until you reach the small coastal town of Kaikoura. Although you have a full day to make the most of Kaikoura tomorrow, there is so much to do that you can start exploring straight away!

Things to Do in Kaikoura
  • Walk the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway (2 hours one way) with multiple viewpoints over seal colonies
  • Catch a scenic flight to see whales from the sky (available all year round, weather dependent)
  • Join a wildlife boat tour whether to see whales, dolphins or albatross
  • Try some famous Kaikoura crayfish!
  • Get a surf lesson with a local surf school
Accommodation in Kaikoura

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Day 2 – Kaikoura

Drive Time: 0 Hours

Because there is so much to do in Kaikoura, we recommend spending the day doing any activities you missed yesterday. Plus, here are some more things to do in Kaikoura, which are best done if you are spending a whole day here.

More Things to do in Kaikoura
  • Hike Mt Fyffe for some epic views. It’s 5 hours return to the hut or 8 hours return to the summit
  • Swim with dolphins in their natural habitat
  • Swim with playful New Zealand fur seals

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Day 3 – Kaikoura to Nelson (via Marlborough)

Drive Time: 3h30min

You have a long drive ahead today but there’s plenty of reasons to stop along the way to Nelson! Halfway on the route is the town of Blenheim in Marlborough, New Zealand’s largest wine-producing region. Take a wine-tasting tour or hire some bikes from a couple of hours and do some vineyard-hopping. (Remember to not drink your tastings, designated driver). Or once you reach Havelock, take a boat cruise out into the Marlborough Sounds or join a kayaking tour down the Pelorus River – one of The Hobbit filming locations. Then you will reach New Zealand’s sunniest city, Nelson, where you will have more opportunities to explore tomorrow.

Things to Do between Kaikoura and Nelson
  • Do a winery-hopping tour in Blenheim
  • Visit the Omaka Aviation Centre in Blenheim
  • Cruise on the Marlborough Sounds from Havelock
  • Kayak or do one of the many stunning walks by the Pelorus River
  • Do part of the Link Pathway Track from Havelock
Accommodation in Nelson

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Day 4 – Nelson (Abel Tasman National Park)

Drive Time: 0 – 1 hour

Nelson is the gateway to three national parks in the South Island. One of which is the Abel Tasman National Park, full of pristine golden sand beaches backed with lush forest. Tours operate from Nelson daily taking you into the Abel Tasman National Park via Kaiteriteri. Either drive to Kaiteriteri yourself (1 hour one way) for maximum flexibility or take one of the shuttle services. In Kaiteriteri, you have a great deal of Abel Tasman options from kayaking tours, water taxis to hikes, or boat tours.

Things to Do in Nelson (Abel Tasman National Park)
  • Take a water taxi to do a day hike of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track – one of New Zealand’s Great Walks
  • Kayak in the Abel Tasman National Park
  • Take a boat tour to explore the bays and beaches of the Abel Tasman National Park
  • Board a sailing trip into the national park
  • Do some mountain biking in Kaiteriteri, Nelson or in the Abel Tasman National Park
  • Take on some canyoning in Abel Tasman

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Day 5 – Nelson to Punakaiki (Via Nelson lakes National Park)

Drive Time: 3h45min

There’s a fair bit of driving to do today but the beautiful views of the Buller Gorge helps pass the time quickly. There are a few quaint towns to stop by for a coffee, such as Murchison. However, to really make the most of the drive we suggest taking a detour into the Nelson Lakes National Park to see the beautiful Lake Rotoroa or Lake Rotoiti. Both are very similar in terms of views and short walks available so take your pick! This will add on an extra 20 minutes onto your drive time, but they are simply too good to miss.

Once you arrive in Punakaiki, you have a great deal of options, but don’t miss the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes for their impressive and bizarre rock formations.

Things to Do in Punakaiki
  • Do the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes Walk (20 minute loop)
  • Visit the Punakaiki Cavern (just off the side of the state highway)
  • Horse trek into the Paparoa National Park
  • Sample the Paparoa Track, one of the New Zealand Great Walks
  • Check out the stunning overhang and waterfall onto the beach on the Truman Track (15 minutes one way)
Accommodation in Punakaiki

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Day 6 – Punakaiki to Franz Josef

Drive Time: 3 Hours

Head to the Glacier Country with one of the world’s most accessible glaciers! Franz Josef is your opportunity to walk on, crawl inside, fly over, skydive over or walk up to a glacier. Get some ideas on how you can take on the glacier here. Nevertheless, there’s actually more to do here than glacier gallivanting! Check it out in the list below.

Things to Do in Franz Josef
Accommodation in Franz Josef

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Day 7 – Franz Josef to Wanaka

Drive Time: 3h40min

You’ve got a long drive ahead today but plenty of reasons to stretch your legs. You’ll be going through another super scenic rode on the Haast Pass where we recommend you stop at Thunder Creek Falls – just a minute’s walk from the road. Then don’t miss the Blue Pools of Haast. This is an 1 hour return walk through forest to some of the clearest and bluest rivers you will ever see.

This evening you will have the time to relax by the beautiful Lake Wanaka.

Things to Do in Wanaka
  • Have a local craft beer or wine at one of the lakefront bars
  • Hire a stand-up paddle board or kayak and go exploring
  • Visit Puzzling World and get lost in their giant maze
  • Do a skydive if you missed the chance in Franz Josef
Accommodation in Wanaka

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Day 8 – Wanaka to Queenstown

Drive Time: 1 Hour

Time to hit the Adrenaline Capital of the World! Take the Cardrona Valley route to be the best views on the way to Queenstown. Once there you have so much to do! Take a look at Queenstown – Guide for Backpackers or the list below.

Things to Do in Queenstown
Accommodation in Queenstown

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Day 9 – Queenstown (or Milford Sound)

Drive Time: 0 Hours

If the list of things to do in Queenstown wasn’t enough for you, then you also have the option today to take a bus trip (or drive) to Milford Sound. We get it, Milford Sound is on almost everybody’s New Zealand bucket list, so this is a way to squeeze in the experience in a two-week South Island itinerary. With towering mountains, untouched rainforest and unbelievable scenery, Milford Sound is an unforgettable journey. To have a break from driving, we recommend taking one of the many bus tours to Milford Sound then boarding a cruise of the fiord. Bus trips give you plenty of opportunity to hop off the bus and do multiple short walks on the way. For more information, get your head in Guide to Milford Sound and the Milford Road.

However, if you want a break from the road, you have plenty more options of things to do in Queenstown listed above as well as some more inspiration in 10 Queenstown Must-Dos.

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Day 10 – Queenstown to Mt Cook

Drive Time: 3 Hours

If you have not had enough of epic scenic drives, then here’s one more for you through the Lindis Pass on the way to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. On the way to Mt Cook, consider stopping by the Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell to challenge your travel buddies to go-karting or stop by Omarama for their hot pools with a view. Additionally, there are The Lord of the Rings filming locations in Twizel which are best seen with a tour.

Once at Mt Cook, you have a great deal of options to explore the heart of the Southern Alps with its glaciers, but we’ll get onto that more tomorrow.

Accommodation in Mt Cook

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Day 11 – Mt Cook

Drive Time: 0 Hours

There are many ways to enjoy the impressive landscape of the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, from glaciers to lakes to mountains, so you’ll want to spend a whole day doing some or all of the following activities.

Things to Do in Mt Cook
  • Take a scenic flight, helicopter ride or land on a glacier in a ski plane
  • If you missed out in Franz Josef, do a glacier heli-hike on the Tasman Glacier – New Zealand’s longest glacier
  • Do one of the many hikes listed in 10 Must-Do Hikes Around Mt Cook
  • Do some stargazing in this International Dark Sky Reserve
  • Take a boat trip or kayak on a glacier lake

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Day 12 – Mt Cook to Geraldine (Via Lake Tekapo)

Drive Time: 2h15min

Next stop, Geraldine! This is not without an obligatory stop at Lake Tekapo with its vibrant blue lake and the most scenic church in New Zealand, The Church of the Good Shepherd. Stop by the Fairlie Bakery for one of their award-winning New Zealand pies, then onward to Geraldine. You have time to either do an activity this evening or tomorrow morning so take your pick from the following!

Things to Do in Geraldine
  • Do grade 5 white water rafting on the Rangitata River
  • Horse trek in the hills of Peel Forest
  • Hike, swim, rapel, cliff jump and more on a canyoning tour
  • Go mountain biking or 4×4 off roading
  • Take an alpaca for a walk
Accommodation in Geraldine

BackpackerGuide.NZ

day 13 – Geraldine to Christchurch

Drive Time: 2 Hours

If you missed any of the awesome activities yesterday, take the time to do them before you hit the road to Christchurch. Journey through the Canterbury Plains to Christchurch where you now get the chance to explore the South Island’s biggest hub.

Things to Do in Christchurch
Accommodation in Christchurch

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Day 14 – Christchurch

For your final day on the South Island, there are loads more things to do! If you have the whole day and still have energy for driving, take a trip to Akaroa for its wildlife tours! Alternatively, hit one of the beaches such as New Brighton or Sumner Beach, both within the city limits. Then it’s time to return your rental vehicle and move onto your next adventure whatever that may be.

More Things to Do in Christchurch
  • Take a trip to Akaroa to see dolphins and little blue penguins
  • Head over to Lyttleton and take the ferry to Quail Island
  • Surf or relax on New Brighton or Sumner Beach
  • See native New Zealand wildlife at Otukaikino Wildlife Reserve or Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
  • Walk or take the Christchurch Gondola going up Port Hills for views of the city.

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