South Island Budget Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days© Unsplash
South Island Budget Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days

South Island Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days

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Article Single Pages©
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7-Day Budget Itinerary for the South Island of New Zealand

The South Island of New Zealand treats the senses to breathtaking mountain landscapes, lush forests, rugged fiords and gorgeous lakes. What’s more, it’s possible to enjoy all of this and more not only with limited time but with limited funds. We show you how to make it happen in this South Island budget and backpacking itinerary for one week.

Plan an epic road trip from Christchurch to Queenstown incorporating free activities, affordable accommodation and South Island must-dos using this South Island budget and backpacking itinerary for 7 days.

How to Get Around the South Island in One Week on a Budget

The best ways to get around, utilising the below itinerary, are as follows:

South Island Budget Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days©

Day 1 – Christchurch Airport to Hokitika

Travel time: 3h20mins

You made it to the South Island of New Zealand! You don’t have much time to hang about so pick up your Christchurch rental car or campervan and hit the road for some awesome South Island scenery.

Must-do stops on the journey from Christchurch through Arthur’s Pass to Hokitika include the self-titled “Famous Sheffield Pie Shop” to try traditional Kiwi savoury pies, as well as the giant donut in the town of Springfield. The real fun begins in Arthur’s Pass Village, however, where you have a myriad of short hiking trails to explore. Try the Devils Punchbowl Walking Track, the Arthur’s Pass Walking Track or one of the other short walks listed on the Department of Conservation website.

Your final destination today is Hokitika. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to visit greenstone carving studios, check out glowworms at the Hokitika Glow Worm Dell, and put your toes in the sand at Hokitika Beach. A popular attraction is Hokitika Gorge, which is a 45-minute trip from the town. However, you will be seeing a similar attraction later in this itinerary if you’re not keen on the extra drive here. Find out about more activities in the area in the 10 Awesome Things to Do in Hokitika.

Free and Cheap Things to Do in Hokitika

  • Admire the glowworms at the Hokitika Glowworm Dell
  • Watch greenstone carvers at work in the carving studios
  • Watch the vivid hues of a West Coast sunset from Hokitika Beach
  • Take a trip to the milky blue waters of Hokitika Gorge
  • See a kiwi bird and tuatara at the National Kiwi Centre.

For more ideas, head to the 10 Awesome Things to Do in Hokitika.

Budget Accommodation in Hokitika

Learn more about these accommodations in the 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in Hokitika.

South Island Budget Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days©

Day 2 – Hokitika to Franz Josef

Travel time: 1h50mins

Today, head south to the Franz Josef Glacier stopping by the affordable West Coast Treetop Walk. Find out more on Viator and Tripadvisor. Alternatively, take a 10-minute detour to the Okarito Lagoon just outside of Franz Josef. It is the only habitat for extremely rare white herons, which can be seen on walks ranging from 20 minutes to 3h30mins.

We’ll talk more about the activities in Franz Josef tomorrow – some of which you might be able to fit in today. For now, check-in at your budget accommodation.

Budget Accommodation in Franz Josef

For more details on our top picks, check out the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Franz Josef and the 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in Franz Josef.

South Island Budget Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days© Miles Holden - Tourism New Zealand

Day 3 – Explore Franz Josef

Heli-hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier is on the bucket list for many backpackers, so if it’s also on yours, keep your fingers crossed for good weather. Otherwise, reschedule for tomorrow morning. Find out more about heli-hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier on ViatorTripadvisor and KKday.

Admittedly, glacier heli-hiking is an expensive activity. If you’d rather save your money, then there’s an array of breathtaking walks in the area that still make Franz Josef a must-visit destination on a one-week South Island trip.

Free and Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef

For more free and cheap activities, head over to the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef.

South Island Budget Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days©

Day 4 – Franz Josef to Makarora

Travel time: 2h50mins

Say goodbye to Franz Josef and get ready for a road trip where there’s something spectacular to see every 20 minutes or so!

In Fox Glacier, stop by the Lake Matheson Walk to enjoy vivid reflections of the Southern Alps. Then, it’s onwards to Haast where you can get your beach fix at the Monro Beach Walk or walk along the beach boardwalks at Ship Creek.

Stop for refreshments in Haast township, then continue down the Haast Pass with its array of short walks to Roaring Billy Falls, Thunder Creek Falls, Fantail Falls, Haast Pass Lookout and the Blue Pools of Haast. The latter is a one-hour return walk to a vibrant blue river with a swingbridge crossing – similar to Hokitika Gorge which we mentioned earlier.

At the end of Haast Pass is the tiny settlement of Makarora which makes a good stopover before your journey to Queenstown tomorrow. It has budget accommodation with million-dollar scenery, but book well ahead of time!

For more things to do around the Haast area, check out the list below or the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Haast.

Budget Accommodation in Makarora

For more details on each accommodation, as well as alternative accommodation in Haast town, check out the 5 Best Budget Accommodations in Haast.

South Island Budget Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days© Unsplash

Day 5 – Makarora to Queenstown

Travel time: 1h50mins

Enjoy views of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka as you make your way to Queenstown, stopping by Wanaka to take a photo of #ThatWanakaTree. You can check out more things to do in the town in our 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wanaka.

We then recommend a scenic drive through the Crown Range, where highlights include the Cardrona Bra Fence (yes, really) and horse riding with The Cardrona (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor). If you fancy stretching your legs, the Rock Peak Track offers excellent views.

Once you get to Queenstown, you can easily get carried away with jet boat rides, skydiving, bungy jumps, ziplining, white water rafting, canyon swinging and other adventures in the “Adrenaline Capital of New Zealand”. Be choosy to stick to your budget and plan ahead using our 20 Best Things to Do in Queenstown.

There’s plenty of budget accommodation but still, book early for a spot at this busy tourist destination.

Budget Accommodation in Queenstown

For more details on our top picks, check out the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Queenstown and the 10 Best Backpacker Hostels in Queenstown.

South Island Budget Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days©

Day 6 – Explore Queenstown or Milford Sound

It’s time to start checking things off your Queenstown bucket list, of which we have many suggestions in the 20 Best Things to Do in Queenstown.

If you’re on a tight budget, however, you can still have a blast between the walking trails, gardens and eateries. Check out a full list of recommendations to help you stick to your budget in the 16 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Queenstown.

Free and Cheap Things to Do in Queenstown

  • Hike up Queenstown Hill
  • Play disc golf in the Queenstown Gardens
  • Enjoy an affordable cruise with Southern Discoveries (on ViatorTripadvisor and Klook)
  • Scout out the Queenstown cheap eats
  • Go ice skating at the Queenstown Ice Arena.

Again, check out the 16 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Queenstown for more information on each activity and more ideas.

Milford Sound Day Trip

Alternatively, this day is a great opportunity to see the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, Milford Sound.

Because you have done A LOT of driving at this point, you might want to take a bus tour to Milford Sound with a cruise in the fiord included. Bus tours include plenty of stops at short walks and cafes along the way, so you won’t miss out too much compared to driving yourself. Check out recommended tours in the 10 Best Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown & Te Anau.

For those of you who want to drive the seven-hour return journey yourself, take a look at The Guide to Milford Sound and the Milford Road, as well as The Guide to Milford Sound on a Budget.

South Island Budget Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days© Unsplash

Day 7 – Queenstown to Queenstown Airport

Travel time: 10 mins

Leaving already? Hopefully, you had a blast in New Zealand doing this 7-day South Island budget itinerary. It’s time to fit in any last-minute activities you might have missed in Queenstown before making your way to Queenstown Airport.

Remember to give yourself plenty of time to return your rental vehicle. There are connecting flights between Queenstown and Auckland if you are flying out of Auckland, otherwise, flights to Australia leave from Queenstown.

More About a South Island Budget Itinerary for One Week/7 Days

That’s it for our New Zealand South Island budget and backpacking itinerary for 7 days. If that wasn’t the itinerary you were looking for, check out these alternative 7-day itineraries:

Finally, get advice on planning more of your backpacking or budget trip to New Zealand with The Travel Guide to New Zealand on a Budget and NZ Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to New Zealand Cost?


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Laura S.

This article has been reviewed and published by Laura, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Laura is a first-class honours journalism graduate and a travel journalist with expertise in New Zealand and South Pacific tourism for over 10 years. She also runs travel guides for five of the top destinations in the South Pacific and is the co-host of over 250 episodes of the NZ Travel Show on YouTube.

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