• Sydney Australia - credit Jackie Appleton

South Island of New Zealand

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Posted by:

Vicki Tester


For those with limited time to explore New Zealand, focusing on one island only is a great way to reduce the amount of time spent travelling, and allow more time to be spent exploring this beautiful country.

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South Island – New Zealand


Day 1:   Christchurch

Day 3:   Kaikoura

Day 4:   Blenheim

Day 6:   Abel Tasman National Park

Day 9:   Punakaiki

Day 10:   Arthurs Pass

Day 12:   Fox Glacier and Franz Josef

Day 14:   Wanaka

Day 15:   Queenstown

Day 17:   Te Anau

Day 19:   Stewart Island

Day 21:   The Catlins

Day 23:   Dunedin

Day 25:   Lake Tekapo

Day 27:   Akaroa

Day 29:   Depart Christchurch



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The south island offers dramatic mountain scenery with the Southern Alps running north to south, and with pristine lakes, majestic glaciers, jagged peaks and deserted beaches. Add to this wildlife, birdlife and marine life along with friendly locals and a fascinating culture, and this island makes for a fantastic introduction to New Zealand.

Christchurch and Queenstown are the two key international airports on this island, and a looped route from either one will provide a comprehensive and diverse holiday.

Day 1: Christchurch

Begin your holiday in the city of Christchurch. Punt along the river, visit the botanical gardens or take a tram ride around the town centre. Unique attractions to pop up since the earthquakes include Re:Start – a shopping centre comprised of shipping containers, and the Cardboard Cathedral.

Two nights Christchurch


Day 3: Kaikoura

Collect a hire car and head north to Kaikoura. Located on the coast and jammed in between the mountains and the sea, Kaikoura is famous for its fish and chips and crayfish! It is also the place for whale watching – either by sea or from the air.

One night Kaikoura

Day 4: Blenheim

This area produces some excellent wines and many wineries are open for tastings. The Marlborough Sound and Queen Charlotte sound are both in this area and well worth exploring if you have the time.

Two nights Blenheim

Day 6: Abel Tasman National Park

Drive around to Abel Tasman. This northern tip of the South Island is so often overlooked, but it is one of our favourites.  It is here that you’ll see the crescent shaped beaches backed by lush greenery – easy to spend a full day in the park, using the water taxis to get about, and perhaps walking one of the many trails in the park.

Three nights Abel Tasman

Day 9: Punakaiki

Coming down the west coast, it is nice to break the journey with an overnight stop at Punakaiki. This is the home of the Pancake Rocks – a strange rock formation, and the overnight stop simply allows you to take your time as these roads are so scenic that you will simply have to keep stopping for more pictures.

One night Punakaiki

 Day 10: Arthurs Pass

Turning inland to the central spine of mountains that run through the South Island, this is alpine scenery at its very best.  There are plenty of walking opportunities in the area with stunning views all around.

Two nights Arthurs Pass

Day 12: Fox Glacier and Franz Josef

Returning to the west coast, the next place of interest are the two glaciers of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. Take time to visit one or both glaciers, the beautiful Lake Matheson and the dramatic coast at Gillespie Beach.  From here also, you can take a sightseeing flight, with or without a glacier landing and hike, and hopefully good views of Mount Cook.

Two nights Fox Glacier

Day 14: Wanaka

The route to Wanaka takes you through the Haast Pass and past Lakes Wanaka and Hawea.  Simply beautiful – this little town is surrounded by mountains and is the Queenstown of yesteryear.  Where Queenstown has developed, Wanaka has remained delightfully small.

One night Wanaka

Day 15: Queenstown

Sitting on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is a sizeable town with activities for every adrenalin junkie!  Here you will find bungy jumping, sky diving, a luge and plenty more.  Much of the Lord of the Rings was filmed in this area, and although the sets had to be removed, the scenery will seem familiar!  For those not into extreme sports, a drive to Glenorchy is beautiful.

Two nights Queenstown

Day 17: Te Anau

Te Anau is the gateway to Fjordland National Park – for both Milford and Doubtful Sounds. For either, you can visit for a day, or take an overnight cruise. Of the two, Milford offers the more dramatic scenery but is busier. Doubtful Sound has fewer tourists and lovely scenery, but it’s not quite so dramatic.

Two nights Te Anau

Day 19: Stewart Island

At the very southern tip are areas of New Zealand that many never get to. Stewart Island is home to the only kiwi’s (the birds that is) to be found in the wild, and a must for birding enthusiasts. Access to the island is by ferry or by light aircraft – we suggest going by air as the ferry crossing can be quite choppy.

Two nights Stewart Island 

Day 21: The Catlins

The Catlins is the area in the far southeast corner of the South Island – a wild and remote corner for those whose idea of paradise is the absence of anyone else at all (or pretty well!) and with good opportunities to see wildlife such as Little Blue Penguins, Yellow Eyed Penguins, seals and sealions.

Two nights The Catlins

Day 23: Dunedin

Visited by many for its Scottish appeal and for the colony of albatross that call this home. This is a must for birders. There are a number of other attractions in the area including the Rail Trail – great for cycling. The Otago Peninsula is beautiful, and a stay here rather than in the city itself may appeal too.

Two nights Dunedin

Day 25: Lake Tekapo

This is the home of the Church of the Good Shepherd and the Collie Dog Memorial often features in brochures. This is also a great place for stargazing as it is a ‘designated dark sky’ area.

Two nights Lake Tekapo

Day 27: Akaroa

Located on the Banks Peninsula south east of Christchurch, this small town has a French feel to it and is a lovely place to relax for a day or two. From here, one can take a cruise to swim with wild Hector’s Dolphins – the smallest and rarest dolphin, which is endemic to New Zealand.

Two nights Akaroa

Day 29: Depart Christchurch

Depart Christchurch today to head home or to your next destination.

Fox Glacier – Credit Jim bell

Franz Josef Glacier Credit New Zealand Tourism

Queenstown – Credit Jim Bell

Rippon Vineyard-Lake Wanaka- credit David Wall

23 Nugget Point The Catlins- Credit Graeme Murray

Te Anau Milfor Sound – Credit 100% New Zealand

Arthurs Pass National Park Canterbury Credit Tourism New Zealand
















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