14-Day Budget Itinerary for the South Island of New Zealand
Snowy peaks, magnificent glaciers, carved fiords, wonderful wildlife and rugged coastlines: all make the South Island an unforgettable destination. You’ll experience all of these and more with this South Island budget itinerary for two weeks.
This 14-day budget and backpacking itinerary for the South Island of New Zealand encapsulates some of the hottest destinations, like Queenstown, but also takes you off the beaten track to places like The Catlins. Check them out, along with free/cheap activities, budget accommodation and tips on getting around, in this South Island budget and backpacking itinerary for 14 days.
How to Get Around the South Island in Two Weeks on a Budget
Two weeks gives you plenty of time to explore a good chunk of the South Island. The best ways to get around, utilising the below itinerary, are as follows:
- Rental car or campervan – For absolute freedom to visit all of the stops we recommend in this budget 14-day itinerary, rent a car or campervan. The itinerary loops back to Christchurch, enabling you to avoid any hefty one-way rental fees. Start your research using The Guide to Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand, The Best Campervan Rental Companies in Christchurch or 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, apart from The Catlins. Find out more about the passes available in What’s the Difference Between InterCity Backpacker Bus Passes?
- Do an escorted bus tour – 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 10-12-Day Tours of the South Island for more information.
- Do a 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, they tend to be cheaper than escorted bus tours. Find out more in What is a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus?
Day 1 – Explore Christchurch
Welcome to New Zealand! We recommend spending the day exploring your arrival city in the South Island not only because Christchurch is pretty cool, but also so you can have some time to rest if you’re one of the many who has travelled tens of thousands of kilometres to get here.
After picking up your rental vehicle or taking a shuttle to the city centre, it’s time to explore the “Garden City”. Check out gorgeous outdoor displays such as the Botanic Gardens or Mona Vale, as listed in the 10 Beautiful Gardens & Parks in Christchurch.
Learn more about the city and how it dealt with the 2010/11 earthquakes at Quake City or the free-entry Canterbury Museum. For those who want to explore a little further, Sumner and New Brighton Beaches are popular go-to’s, while taking the ferry to Quail Island from Lyttelton offers some surprises.
Check-in at your budget accommodation in the city. If you’re jet-lagged, try to stay awake while it’s daylight. Get more tips in the 10 Simple Ways to Get Over Jet Lag.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Christchurch
- Explore the Botanic Gardens
- Visit the Canterbury Museum
- Check out Sumner or New Brighton Beach
- Take the ferry to Quail Island
- See the warplanes at the Air Force Museum.
For more inspiration, check out the 14 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Christchurch.
Budget Accommodation in Christchurch
- BreakFree on Cashel
- All Stars Inn Hostel & Hotel Accommodation
- North South Holiday Park
- Southwark Apartments
Day 2 – Christchurch to Hokitika
Travel time: 3h20mins
Must-do stops on this journey 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. Once you reach Arthur’s Pass Village, you have a myriad of short hiking trails to explore, from the Devils Punchbowl Walking Track to the Arthur’s Pass Walking Track with amazing views. Check out more short walks 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 don’t want 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.
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 3 – Hokitika to Franz Josef
Travel time: 1h50mins
When heading south to the Franz Josef Glacier, don’t miss 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. 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 4 – Explore Franz Josef
Heli-hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier is on the bucket list for many travellers, so if it’s also yours, keep your fingers crossed for good weather. Otherwise, reschedule for tomorrow morning or wait to do a glacier hike in Aoraki Mt Cook which comes later in this itinerary. Find out more about heli-hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier on Viator, Tripadvisor and KKday.
Admittedly, glacier heli-hiking is expensive. If you’d rather save your money, then there’s an array of breathtaking walks in the area – even walks to view the glacier.
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 5 – Franz Josef to Makarora
Travel time: 2h50mins
Say goodbye to Franz Josef and get ready for a road trip packed with amazing forest walks, beach walks and more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at.
When you reach Fox Glacier, stop by the Lake Matheson Walk to enjoy vivid reflections of the Southern Alps. Then, head down toward Haast where you can get your beach fix and the Monro Beach Walk or walk along the beach boardwalks at Ship Creek.
Stop for refreshments in Haast, 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 – you know, the one similar to Hokitika Gorge, which we talked about earlier.
At the end of Haast Pass is the tiny settlement of Makarora which makes a good stopover in the wilderness before your journey to Queenstown tomorrow. It has budget accommodation with million-dollar scenery!
For more things to do around the Makarora and Haast area, check out the list below or the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Haast.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Haast and Makarora
- Check out Jackson Bay and its walking trails
- Do the Ships Creek walks
- Take a road trip down the Haast Pass Road
- Do a multi-day hike like the Paringa Cattle Track
- Check out the beehives at Santana.
For more details on each activity and more, check out 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 6 – Makarora to Queenstown
Travel time: 1h50mins
Lap up the 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 and plan ahead in order to stick to your budget – use 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 7 – Explore Queenstown
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 Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- Scout out the Queenstown cheap eats
- Go ice skating at the Queenstown Ice Arena.
For more information on each activity and more ideas, check out 16 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Queenstown.
Day 8 – Explore Queenstown or 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 9 – Queenstown to The Catlins
Travel time: 3h10mins
It’s time to leave the craziness of Queenstown behind and get off the beaten track. Travel south along the shores of Lake Wakatipu, stopping at the spectacular scenic lookouts.
Stop for refreshments in Lumsden. The next notable stop is Mandeville, home to the Croyden Aviation Heritage Museum. See impressive displays of vintage aircraft for an affordable admission fee.
You’ll then reach the town of Gore with its own set of attractions as listed in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Gore. The quirky Hokonui Moonshine Museum is cheap and a must! You might as well pop in the Eastern Southland Gallery while you’re there – it’s free and has some interesting statues from Africa.
Next is The Catlins, where you can either start your Catlins journey from Fortrose to see highlights like Waipapa Point and Slope Point or skip this part and pass through the Waikawa Valley onto Curio Bay or Chaslands where McLean Falls is. Do some research to see what attractions you want to hit in the 18 Amazing Attractions You Can’t Miss in The Catlins. What’s more, almost all of them are free.
Budget Accommodation in The Catlins
- Surat Bay Lodge
- Thomas’s Catlins Lodge and Camp Ground
- Catlins Area Motel
- The Whistling Frog Resort
- Owaka Lodge Motel
Note that The Catlins accommodations are scattered along the coast. Factor this into your driving time. For more details on our top picks, check out the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in The Catlins.
Day 10 – The Catlins to Dunedin
Travel time: 2h20mins
Free and Cheap Things to Do in The Catlins
- Check out the views and seals from the Nugget Point Lighthouse
- Scout out all of the waterfalls: McLean Falls, Purakaunui Falls, Matai Falls and Niagara Falls
- Visit the giant sea caves, Cathedral Caves
- Check out the fossilised forest and penguins at Curio Bay
- Step on the southernmost point of the South Island at Slope Point.
For more ideas on budget activities, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in The Catlins.
The Catlins officially ends in Balclutha, which is a good place to stop for a picnic in Naish Park. It’s then under an hour’s drive to Dunedin. If you have time, check out some of the city’s free attractions like the Otago Museum and Toitu Settlers Museum or join an affordable brewer tour of the Speight’s Brewery (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor). You might even want to catch an evening tour of the Otago Peninsula to see sea lions, penguins, seals and more? Find out more on the Elm Wildlife Tours page on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Dunedin
- Get amazing views from Signal Hill
- Explore the Botanic Garden
- Visit the Otago Museum
- Walk up the world’s steepest street
- See magnificent arches at Tunnel Beach.
For information on each activity and much more ideas, see our 17 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Dunedin.
Budget Accommodation in Dunedin
- 97 Motel Moray
- George Street Motel Apartments
- Dunedin Holiday Park
- Chalet Backpackers
- Wains Hotel Dunedin
Day 11 – Dunedin to Oamaru
Travel time: 1h40mins
It’s a relatively short drive today compared to the rest of this two-week South Island itinerary, so take the time to do anything you might have missed in Dunedin so far.
On your way to Oamaru, stop by the Moeraki Boulders – best seen at low tide. Learn more about them in The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Moeraki Boulders.
Once you reach the vibrant town of Oamaru, you are spoiled for things to do. Try your luck at spotting penguins at Bushy Beach or enter an alternative reality at the affordable Steampunk HQ. Check out more suggestions in the list below.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Oamaru
- Check out the Oamaru Victorian Precinct
- Watch penguins at Friendly Bay and Bushy Beach
- Stop by the Moeraki Boulders
- Take a road trip down the Waitaki Valley
- Visit the unique gallery of Steampunk HQ.
For more budget activities, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Oamaru.
Budget Accommodation in Oamaru
- Oamaru Backpackers
- Empire Hotel Backpackers
- Century House Bed and Breakfast
- Oamaru TOP 10 Holiday Park
- Old Bones Lodge
Day 12 – Oamaru to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Travel time: 2h35mins
Make a day out of this journey to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, especially as you’ll be travelling up the Waitaki Valley. The valley holds ancient Maori rock art, bizarre rock features called Elephant Rocks, fossils and prehistoric skeletons at the Duntroon Vanished World Centre and more. See the full list in the 7 Bizarre Sights in the Waitaki Valley.
In Omarama, take a 30-minute detour to the Clay Cliffs for its otherworldly formations of pinnacles and narrow ravines. After, Twizel offers plenty of cafes, the Twizel River Trail and your last convenience store before Aoraki Mt Cook.
It’s a super scenic journey alongside the vibrant blue waters of Lake Pukaki on your way to Aoraki Mt Cook Village where you’ll find the following budget accommodations…
Budget Accommodation in Aoraki Mt Cook
- Mt Cook Lodge & Motel
- Glentanner Park Centre
- Twizel Holiday Park
- High Country Lodge, Motels & Backpackers
For more details on each accommodation, check out the 5 Best Budget Accommodations in Mt Cook.
Day 13 – Explore Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Hikes, hikes and more hikes: they are the best ways to soak in the scenery of New Zealand’s highest mountains and longest glacier without spending a dime. Check out our top recommended walks in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Mt Cook. If you have the budget, however, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park is another excellent place for glacier heli-hiking, scenic flights, glacier lake tours and more – check out these paid activities in the 11 Unmissable Things to Do in Mt Cook.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Aoraki Mt Cook
- Hike the Hooker Valley Track
- Visit the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park Visitor Centre
- Check out the views from the Red Tarns Track
- Visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre
- Do some stargazing!
For more details, hikes and experiences, see the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Mt Cook.
Day 14 – Aoraki Mt Cook National Park to Christchurch Airport
Travel time: 4 hours
Book yourself an evening flight from Christchurch Airport, because you’re going to want to make the most out of your last road trip on the South Island.
After one hour into your journey, you’ll reach Lake Tekapo with its scenic lookout from the Church of the Good Shepherd and soothing hot pools complex.
Next is Fairlie, where it’s mandatory to get a pie from the Fairlie Bakery. The next significant town is Geraldine, known for its canyoning, whitewater rafting and alpaca farm tours – check out more activities in the 10 Excellent Things to Do in Geraldine.
Cruise on through the Canterbury Plains with farmland as far as the eye can see until you reach Ashburton, giving you another excuse to get refreshments and perhaps explore the Ashburton Domain. Take a photo of the giant fish sculpture in Rakaia before making the final stint to Christchurch Airport where you can return your rental vehicle (if applicable).
Goodbye, New Zealand! Next time, spend two weeks on the North Island using our other itinerary.
More About a South Island Budget Itinerary for Two Weeks/14 Days
That’s it for our New Zealand South Island budget and backpacking itinerary for 14 days. If that wasn’t the itinerary you were looking for, check out these alternative 14-day itineraries:
- New Zealand Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: Two Weeks / 14 Days
- New Zealand in Two Weeks: Road Trip Itinerary
- South Island in Two Weeks: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary
- South Island Family Itinerary: Two Weeks / 14 Days
- South Island Honeymoon Itinerary: Two Weeks / 14 Days
- South Island Foodie Itinerary: Two Weeks / 14 Days
- South Island Luxury Itinerary: Two Weeks / 14 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?