2-Week New Zealand South Island Road Trip Itinerary
The South Island of New Zealand is a remarkable destination with diverse nature including golden beaches, vast glaciers, tall mountains, and lush rainforest. New Zealand is an incredible country with so much to see and do, the hardest part is trying to decide what to prioritize during your two weeks in New Zealand. This itinerary shares the perfect plan that will allow you to explore top destinations on the South Island of New Zealand in two weeks.
2-Week South Island Itinerary: Contents
Things to Know Before Visiting New Zealand's South Island
- There are entry requirements into New Zealand that vary depending on what country you are from. Make sure to look into the requirements ahead of time as you may need a visa or New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) to visit New Zealand. The United States is a visa waiver country, but United States citizens are required to get a NZeTA.
- The weather in the South Island can vary widely so it is important to bring clothes for a range of weather. In the north part of the island you will get more consistent weather while in the south part of the Island you can get snow in the winter months (June-August)
- The South Island is larger than the North Island, so expect long driving distances to explore the South Island
- When in doubt, spend more time somewhere. The South Island of New Zealand is a remarkable destination. If you are not sure how long to spend here or in specific locations, know that the longer you can spend the better.
- A great website to search for accommodations on the South Island is booking.com which has a range of hotels, guest houses, apartments, and more for a perfect stay.
How to Get to the South Island of New Zealand
The main international airports on the South Island of New Zealand are Christchurch and Queenstown. Popular airlines that fly to New Zealand from the United States are Fiji Airways, Air New Zealand, Delta, and United. You can also reach the South Island with domestic flights within New Zealand, such as from Auckland to Queenstown. Search for flights to New Zealand on Skyscanner to find the best flight deal.
If you are doing a road trip that includes both the North Island and the South Island, you can get from Wellington to Picton on the South Island by ferry. Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferries have several departures that take you across the Cook Strait in about 3.5 hours. Enjoy views along the ferry ride, with the best views as you leave Wellington and come towards Picton.
How to Get Around the South Island of New Zealand
The best way to explore the South Island of New Zealand is to rent a car. Many of the top destinations on the South Island are remote and far from each other so a car will allow you the most flexibility. Book your rental car ahead of time with Discover Cars to find the best price across rental car companies.
Note that some rental car companies do not let you take the rental car on the ferry across the Cook Strait from North Island to South Island. In this case, you are planning to visit both islands you would need to return the rental car before taking the ferry and pickup a new rental car once you have reached the next island. The benefit here is that you don’t have to pay the ferry fee to transfer the vehicle across the islands.
There is public transportation available on the South Island of New Zealand so it is possible to get around by bus, but it is not recommended for this 2-week New Zealand itinerary.
Travel Medical Insurance
Don’t forget to get a travel insurance policy for your trip! SafetyWing offers affordable, flexible, and reliable travel medical insurance that can be purchased ahead of your travels or while you are already traveling.
Stay Connected While Exploring New Zealand
The best way to navigate on your road trip around the South Island of New Zealand is using google maps, which means you need data. We stayed connected by purchasing an eSIM from Airalo, which offers short-term affordable data plans for New Zealand that you can download directly on your phone. Although there are areas of the South Island that don’t have any service on any plan, it was helpful to have to navigate us from our initial to final destination for the day.
2-Week South Island Itinerary
This 2-week South Island road trip itinerary starts in the north part of the South Island and you make your way down to Queenstown. If you prefer you can also do this road trip in the other direction.
Day 1: Marlborough Sounds
If you take the ferry from Wellington on the North Island to the South Island, Picton is the town that you reach. Picton is a great place to explore Marlborough Sounds from. A popular way to experience Marlborough Sounds is by hiking the Queen Charlotte Track. The full Queen Charlotte Track from Ship Cove to Anakiwa is 73.5 km and usually takes about 3-5 days, however you can hike a smaller section of the hike.
One section of the track that you can easily do in a day starts from Anakiwa, a 40-minute drive from Picton. Park near the Anakiwa entrance (be aware of signs) and walk for as much time as you would like. You could spend a few hours here or hike for the whole day, just make sure to watch the time so you don’t get stuck in the dark. The forest is lush and there are great views of several bays along the Marlborough Sounds. The part of the track that we hiked did not require a Queen Charlotte Track Land Cooperative (QCTLC) Pass but certain parts do so make sure to check the requirements for the section you are planning to hike in advance.
Another way to explore Marlborough Sounds in one day is to reach a further section of the track with a boat cruise. The most popular sections to hike in one day are Furneaux lodge to Punga Cove and Ship Cove to Furneaux lodge. Make sure to book this full-day adventure from Picton ahead of time so that you don’t miss out: Queen Charlotte Track Cruise.
Where to Stay
You have a couple of options for this night. You can spend the night in Picton where you can find a range of places to stay on booking.com or you can make your way down to the Marlborough wine region and stay there.
Day 2: Marlborough Wine Region
Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest wine region, known for its Sauvignon Blanc. Spend the day wine tasting at local wineries including Framingham Wine, Nautilus Estate, and Forrest Wines. A popular way to explore the area is by renting bikes and biking to the different vineyards. If you prefer an organized tour, explore Marlborough with this full-day wine tour from Blenhheim or Picton. Don’t miss the Marlborough Farmers Market on Sunday morning for a local experience.
Where to Stay in Marlborough Wine Region
Spend a night or two in Marlborough Wine Region where you can find Airbnbs and guesthouses nestled between vineyards in Renwick, Rapaura, and Spring Creek. You could also stay in the town of Blenheim, although you will be further from vineyards you will be closer to shops and restaurants. We stayed at this charming airbnb with vineyard views in Spring Creek that I highly recommend.
Day 3: Drive from Marlborough Wine Region to Marahau with Scenic Stops
Spend the day making the scenic drive from Blenheim to Marahau and stop at viewpoints, beaches, and hikes on the way. A quick stop you shouldn’t miss is Cullen Point Lookout which can be reached by following a short walking path. Another popular spot to stop is at Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve where you can take a walk or swim in the river. Take a 24 minute detour (round trip) to reach Cable Bay, where you can relax on the beach or take a walk to Cable Bay Lookout.
Day 4: Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand with lush forest, bright blue water, and breathtaking coastline. Explore Abel Tasman National Park by choosing a section of the track to hike for the day.
We hiked from Bark Bay to Anchorage Bay which required us to take a water taxi to Bark Bay and back from Anchorage Bay. We had plenty of time to relax on the beautiful beaches of Bark Bay and Anchorage Bay as well as enjoy our hike through the forest. One of the most unique parts of Abel Tasman National Park is that the tides fall and rise by about 15 feet which would affect which path you can take.
Another way to explore Abel Tasman is with this organized Abel Tasman Day Trip. The cruise will take you around Split Apple Rock all the way to Tonga Island Marine Reserve. The tour offers kayaks and snorkeling gear for you to use to explore Abel Tasman National Park. You will also have time to hike along Pitt Head Loop with views of Te Pukatea Bay.
Read More: One Day in Abel Tasman National Park
Where to Stay Near Abel Tasman National Park
I recommend staying in Marahau which is the town located right at the south entrance of the park. We found this one-bedroom chalet with incredible views tucked away in the forest. The large patio was perfect for enjoying the sunset, and the place was very comfortable and private. It was convenient to stay so close to the park, and this area is beautiful.
There are not many shops or restaurants in Marahau, so if you decide to stay here you will want to bring food and anything else you would need with you. The closest gas station to Marahau is 20 minutes away in Riwaka so don’t forget to fill up gas on the way. You can find a handful of restaurants in Marahau including The Park Cafe and Hooked on Marahau. Keep in mind they are open limited days and hours which depend on the season, so make sure to check in advance.
Day 5: Kayak Abel Tasman, Drive to Franz Josef
Another way to explore the beautiful coastline is to kayak around Abel Tasman National Park. We rented kayaks for a few hours and explored the coastline, kayaking by Split Rock and around Ngaio Island. You could also kayak further into Abel Tasman National Park and stop at different secluded beaches.
This one-day kayak rental provides all the equipment you need to kayak along the coast of Abel Tasman National Park. The benefit of this kayak rental is that you are not tied to a group and can explore at your own pace.
After the kayak experience drive to Franz Josef where you will stay for a couple of nights. The drive is 6 hours long so make sure not to leave too late. If you prefer to have time to stop places on the way, you could skip the kayak experience and spend the day driving to Franz Josef.
Where to Stay in Franz Josef
The town of Franz Josef has a number of accommodations to choose from. We stayed at 10 Cottages which was a comfortable place to stay for a good price. If you are looking for a nicer place to stay, you could book a Chalet at Kahere Retreat. For a luxury stay, consider Te Waonui Forest Retreat, a five-star hotel in Franz Josef. For a unique experience, stay in a deluxe tree lodge at Rainforest Deluxe.
Day 6: Explore Franz Josef
The town of Franz Josef is located near Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. There are several ways to see the glaciers including a helicopter flight, heli hiking tour, hike to viewpoints, and skydiving. Spend the day experiencing Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier in different ways, combining a hike with a thrilling experience like a helicopter flight.
See the 7.5-mile-long Franz Josef Glacier on a helicopter flight with a snow landing. This helicopter flight features views of the Southern Alps, Franz Josef Glacier and the lush rainforest. It also includes a 10-minute landing on top of a snowy peak. If you want to spend more time on the glacier, you should book this Franz Josef Heli Hiking Tour.
Another way to see the glaciers is by hiking to viewpoints. The Franz Josef Glacier Walk takes you to a view of Franz Josef Glacier but you don’t get to walk on the glacier. If you want to see a view of Fox Glacier, start at Fox Glacier South Side Walk and take the detour to Moraine walk for a rewarding walk in the rainforest. Another nice walk that you shouldn’t miss in this area is Lake Matheson where you can enjoy a reflection of Mount Cook.
We decided to take advantage of the opportunity to skydive in one of the most beautiful places in the world and did a tandem skydive over Franz Josef Glacier from 16,500 ft. We got to see views of glaciers, lakes, rivers, the Tasman Sea and Mt Cook. There were breathtaking views from the plane as we were rising to 16,500 ft, but nothing beats the experience of falling with these views surrounding you. After free falling for 60 seconds the instructor releases the parachute and you get to fall slowly while still enjoying the sensational views.
If you want to skydive but don’t want to jump from as high there are options to skydive from lower elevations. You can book this skydive from 13,000 ft or this skydive from 10,000 ft. The lower you skydive from the less time you will be free-falling and the cheaper the experience will cost.
Day 7: Drive to Wanaka with Stops in Mount Aspiring National Park
If you are planning to do a helicopter flight, heli-hike, or skydiving in Franz Josef you will want to save this morning as a backup in case the weather is not good the previous day.
After breakfast in Franz Josef, start your 4-hour drive from Franz Josef to Wanaka. Along the way you will drive through parts of Mount Aspiring National Park and more scenic areas. There are several stops on your drive that you shouldn’t miss including Knights Point Lookout, Thunder Creek Falls, Blue Pools, and Lake Wanaka Lookout. Blue Pools is a 1.5 km round-trip walk and takes you to a bridge over Makarora River with views of the Blue Pools.
When you reach Wanaka you can choose from a number of restaurants in the town center for dinner. We enjoyed Francesca’s Italian Kitchen and Speight’s Ale House.
Where to Stay in Wanaka
Spend the next couple of nights in the scenic town of Wanaka. It’s hard to find a place to stay in Wanaka with bad views because the town is so beautiful. We stayed at this one-bedroom apartment in Wanaka which had stunning views of the lake and was perfect for two people. If you prefer to stay closer to the center of the town, two good options are Wanaka Springs Lodge and Edgewater Hotel.
Day 8: Explore Wanaka
Wanaka is a beautiful town located in the Otago Region of the South Island. The picturesque town is surrounded by the Southern Alps and sits on the south end of Lake Wanaka making it the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Spend the day doing one of the two popular peak hikes to see a breathtaking view of the region: Roy’s Peak or Isthmus Peak. One place you can’t miss while visiting Wanaka is a small willow tree known as #ThatWanakaTree that is frequently photographed. While driving around Lake Wanaka, make sure to stop at Beacon Point and Glendhu Bay Lookout for wonderful views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
You can also explore Lake Wanaka by boat, with this 1-hour happy hour cruise which includes wine and a cheese board. If you are looking for a more thrilling way to explore the lake, you should book this Jet Boat Adventure which will take you across the lake and down the Clutha River.
Day 9: Mount Cook National Park
Visit Mount Cook National Park as a day trip from Wanaka. The drive from Wanaka to Mount Cook is about 2 hours. The benefit of visiting as a day trip from Wanaka is you don’t have to switch accommodations again and you’ll have more restaurant options to choose from when you get back for dinner.
Mount Cook National Park features the longest glacier in New Zealand and the highest mountain in New Zealand, making it a destination that you cannot miss on your New Zealand itinerary. The best way to explore Mount Cook National Park is on this 40-minute Mount Cook Mountains High Helicopter Flight with an alpine snow landing. On the helicopter flight you will get to see breathtaking views of Lake Pukaki, Mount Cook, and Tasman Glacier.
After the helicopter flight you should hike the 6.5-mile Hooker Valley Track. This trail guides you through the valley to Hooker Lake with Mount Cook towering above. If you still have energy make sure to check out Tasman Glacier Lookout. Tasman Glacier Lookout is a short trail but you need to go up about 300 steps. The lookout offers unparalleled views of Tasman Lake and the surrounding mountains.
Day 10 & 11: Explore Queenstown
Start your day with a 1.5-hour scenic drive from Wanaka to Queenstown through the town of Cromwell. Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. Here you can find endless thrilling experiences such as bungee jumping, skydiving, and jet boat rides. It is a top destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with wonderful hiking trails including Ben Lomond, Queenstown Hill, and Fernhill Loop. Queenstown is also an ideal destination to visit if you want to relax and enjoy breathtaking views. This Scenic Cruise on Lake Wakatipu is a must-do to experience the beauty of this area.
Queenstown is known for its food and wine scene where you can find a range of restaurants with delicious food serving their locally grown Pinot Noir. This Central Otago Wine Tour is the best way to get a taste of the wine region, which includes wine tasting at 4 vineyards and lunch.
You can find breathtaking views all around Queenstown, but there are a few spots that shouldn’t be missed. Stop at Lake Hayes Lookout for an unparalleled view of the lake surrounded by mountains. The 45-minute scenic drive to the town of Glenorchy is a must-do for dreamy views of Lake Wakatipu and the mountain landscape. While in Glenorchy Wharf and the Glenorchy Lagoon Scenic Walkway.
Where to Stay in Queenstown
You can also find unique Airbnbs outside of the town center. We spent a couple nights at this Airbnb on a vineyard along the Shotover River which had great views of The Remarkables.
Day 12: Queenstown Day Hike, Drive to Te Anau
Spend the day in Queenstown doing a hike that you didn’t get to yet. An off-the-beaten-path hike that we did is Moke Lake Secret Viewpoint. This trail took us along a pasture up a mountain peak with breathtaking views. of Moke Lake Note that this trail is very steep so do not attempt if it is raining. One of the best parts of this trail was that we got to enjoy the peak all by ourselves and only saw one person on our way down.
After getting lunch in Queenstown, make your way to your accommodation in Te Anau so you’ll have the full next day to explore Milford Sound.
Where to Stay Near Milford Sound
Stay one or two nights in Te Anau, a small town located only two hours from Milford Sound with a number of accommodations, restaurants, and stores. You can search for and book accommodation in Te Anau on Booking.com. Although the town is small it is a great spot to base yourself while visiting Milford Sound. It is located on the biggest lake in South Island and cuts down the driving time on your day visiting Milford Sound in half.
The only accommodation option in Milford Sound is Milford Sound Lodge. To stay in Milford Sound Lodge you have to book far in advance. Staying in Milford Sound overnight is a great option if you want to have more time to hike, take a boat cruise, kayak, and more. It is also the best place to stay if you want to spend more than one day in Milford Sound.
Day 13: Milford Sound
Milford Sound, located in Fiordland National Park, is one of the most incredible places in New Zealand. There are many ways to spend your day in Milford Sound such as doing a scenic drive, hiking, kayaking, or going on a boat cruise. In one day you won’t have time to see everything so choose the activities that interest you the most. If you have more days for your New Zealand vacation you could also consider staying at the Milford Sound Lodge so you can spend more time exploring Fiordland National Park.
We decided to explore Milford Sound by kayak and on a boat cruise along with the scenic drive back to Te Anau. We did a sunrise kayaking tour so it was dark when we drove to Milford Sound from Te Anau in the early morning. Rosco’s Milford Kayaks offers a 2 hour paddle option (Milford Cruiser) and a 3 hour paddle option (Sunriser Classic). We did the Sunriser Classic which is about 10 km kayaking in 3 hours. There were two guides with a fairly small group of people which made it a very intimate experience. We got to learn more about the history of Milford Sound, the plants, and Maori stories about Milford Sound.
After the kayak tour we booked this Small Boat Cruise which I highly recommend! The boat only has up to 75 people with plenty of space to sit inside or stand outside. Since the boat is smaller it can get closer to the wildlife and mountains than the bigger boats. If you do the boat cruise in the late afternoon you are more likely to get a less busy boat because the organized day tours are gone by then.
If you are interested in kayaking in Milford Sound but want to do a short trip that is combined with a boat cruise you could book this Cruise and Kayak Tour with Southern Discoveries. Unlike the Sunriser Classic with Rosco’s Milford Kayaks, no prior kayaking experience is required for this tour. You will have about 90 minutes to explore Harrison Cove in a group of up to 8 kayaks including a nature guide who will share information about fiord features and wildlife. By booking this experience you will get to do a boat cruise, visit the underwater observatory, kayak, and enjoy a picnic lunch.
Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Milford Sound
Day 14: Drive Back to Queenstown / fly out
Spend your last day on the South Island of New Zealand making your way back to Queenstown. When in Queenstown, choose from the diverse activities that Queenstown offers like a thrilling Jet Boat adventure.
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