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:
- Rental car or campervan – This gives you complete freedom to visit all of the stops we recommend in this budget 7-day itinerary. The itinerary starts in Christchurch and ends in Queenstown so you will need to use a rental company that has depots in both towns. Start your research using The Guide to Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand and The Best Backpacker Campervan Rentals in New Zealand.
- National bus service – InterCity offers the cheapest way to get between the destinations mentioned in this budget itinerary. Find out more about the passes available in What’s the Difference Between InterCity Backpacker Bus Passes?
- Escorted bus tours – While bus tours won’t follow the exact itinerary, they’ll have their own set itineraries around the country hitting most of the destinations mentioned. Check out The Best 7-Day Tours of the South Island for more information.
- Hop-on hop-off tour – Like a bus tour, hop-on hop-off buses follow a set itinerary around the country but give you the flexibility to stay in some destinations longer. All you need to do is catch the next bus. Plus, hop-on hop-off bus tours tend to be cheaper than escorted bus tours. Find out more in What is a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus?
Day 1 – Christchurch Airport to Hokitika
Travel time: 3h20mins
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
- Mountain Jade Backpackers
- Birdsong Accommodation
- Shining Star Accommodation
- Hokitika Holiday Park
- Lake Mahinapua Campsite
Learn more about these accommodations in the 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in Hokitika.
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
- Rainforest Retreat
- JAG Escape Franz Alpine Retreat
- 58 On Cron Motel
- Glow Worm Accommodation
- Chateau Backpacker & Motel
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 Viator, Tripadvisor 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
- See the glacier on the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk
- Watch rare birds at the Okarito Lagoon
- Check out the glowworms on the Terrace Walk
- See kiwi birds at the West Coast Wildlife Centre (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Hike the challenging but remarkable Roberts Point Track.
For more free and cheap activities, head over to the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef.
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.
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
- Absoloot Hostel QT
- Adventure Queenstown Hostel
- Lakeside Motel
- Caples Court Motel
- Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park
Day 6 – Explore Queenstown or Milford Sound
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 Viator, Tripadvisor 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.
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:
- New Zealand in One Week: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary
- South Island in One Week: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary
- South Island Family Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days
- South Island Honeymoon Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days
- South Island Foodie Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days
- South Island Luxury Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days
- How to Create the Perfect New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary
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?