How to Make the Most of the South Island in Two Weeks (14 Days)
We get it, you only have two weeks to see New Zealand because that’s all the time you have from your commitments. (You must have heard a thousand times that two weeks is not long enough). Nevertheless, you can still have an epic time in New Zealand and see a great deal of the country even in two weeks. Just travelling one island, in this case, the South Island, is the perfect way to do that. With that in mind, this road trip itinerary for the South Island in two weeks (14 days) will help you really make the most of your time in New Zealand.
With sensational mountains, sandy beaches, rugged coast, lakes, fiords and forest, the itinerary below incorporates many different landscapes in the South Island. What’s more, you’ll get your chance for adrenaline activities, foodie experiences, Lord of the Rings fixes, wildlife sightings and much more with the number of awesome activities on offer. So here you are – a road trip itinerary of two weeks in the South Island!
Other Itineraries for the South Island in Two Weeks
Before we jump into the good stuff, we thought you might like to be aware of our other itineraries for the South Island in two weeks so that you are able to compare:
South Island Two-Week (14-Day) Itinerary Overview
- Day 1 – Christchurch to Kaikoura
- Day 2 – Kaikoura
- Day 3 – Kaikoura to Nelson (via Marlborough)
- Day 4 – Nelson (Abel Tasman National Park)
- Day 5 – Nelson to Punakaiki (via Nelson Lakes National Park)
- Day 6 – Punakaiki to Franz Josef
- Day 7 – Franz Josef to Wanaka
- Day 8 – Wanaka to Queenstown
- Day 9 – Queenstown (or Milford Sound)
- Day 10 – Queenstown to Mt Cook
- Day 11 – Mt Cook
- Day 12 – Mt Cook to Geraldine (via Lake Tekapo)
- Day 13 – Geraldine to Christchurch
- Day 14 – Christchurch (or Akaroa)
Renting a Car or Campervan for Two Weeks in the South Island
Travelling for two weeks on the South Island and looking for the perfect road trip itinerary? Renting a car or campervan is going to be the best way to squeeze everything you want into two weeks on the South Island. This means no waiting around for buses and gives you the freedom to hit all the incredible South Island destinations listed below. Plus, the itinerary below loops the South Island so you can return your rental car where you started. That means no expensive one-way fees! For more ways to save money on car rental take a look at the 21 Ways To Save Money on Car Rental in New Zealand.
For a complete comparison of car rental companies, check out The Best Car Rental Companies in Christchurch and The Best Campervan Rental Companies in Christchurch.
Bus Tours for Two Weeks in the South Island
For travellers who would rather let someone else do the driving, escorted bus tours are available to take you around New Zealand with like-minded people. Some tour companies that offer 12-14-day tours of the South Island are listed in The Best 10-12-Day Tours of the South Island. Plus, see How to Travel by Bus in New Zealand for more ways to experience New Zealand without a car.
Day 1 – Christchurch to Kaikoura
Drive Time: 2h15mins
Welcome to the South Island! As soon as you get your rental vehicle it’s time to hit the road. (Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to explore Christchurch later). Head toward Kaikoura, the marine wildlife mecca of New Zealand. The drive is a scenic one along the coast until you reach the small coastal town. Although you have a full day to make the most of Kaikoura tomorrow, there is so much to do that you can start exploring straight away!
Things to Do in Kaikoura
- Walk the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway with multiple viewpoints over seal colonies
- Catch a scenic flight to see whales from the sky with Wings Over Whales (more info and book tickets on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- Join a wildlife boat tour whether to see whales, dolphins or albatross – check out the 5 Best Wildlife Activities in Kaikoura to compare experiences
- Try some famous Kaikoura crayfish at Nins Bin
- Get a surf lesson with a local surf school.
Learn more about each experience and more in the 15 Best Things to Do in Kaikoura.
Accommodation in Kaikoura
Day 2 – Kaikoura
Drive Time: 0 Hours
Because there is so much to do in Kaikoura, we recommend spending the day doing any activities you missed yesterday. Plus, here are some more things to do in Kaikoura, which are best done if you are spending a whole day here.
More Things to Do in Kaikoura
- Hike Mt Fyffe for some epic views. It’s 5 hours return to the hut or 8 hours return to the summit
- Swim with dolphins in their natural habitat with Dolphin Encounter
- Swim with playful New Zealand fur seals with Seal Swim Kaikoura (more info on Viator or Tripadvisor).
Again, get much more ideas in our 13 Best Things to Do in Kaikoura.
Day 3 – Kaikoura to Nelson (via Marlborough)
Drive Time: 3h30mins
You have a long drive ahead today but there’s plenty of reasons to stop along the way to Nelson! Halfway on the route is the town of Blenheim in Marlborough, New Zealand’s largest wine-producing region. Take a wine-tasting tour or hire some bikes from a couple of hours and do some vineyard-hopping. (Remember to not drink your tastings, designated driver). We recommend Explore Marlborough for their self-guided and guided tours – find out more on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Alternatively, once you reach Havelock, take a boat cruise out into the Marlborough Sounds (such as the Greenshell Mussell Cruise – on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook) or join a kayaking tour down the Pelorus River – one of The Hobbit filming locations. Then you will reach New Zealand’s sunniest city, Nelson, where you will have more opportunities to explore tomorrow.
Things to Do Between Kaikoura and Nelson
- Do a winery-hopping tour in Blenheim with Marlborough Wine Tours (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Visit the Omaka Aviation Centre in Blenheim (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- Cruise on the Marlborough Sounds from Havelock on the Greenshell Mussell Cruise (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- Kayak or do one of the many stunning walks by the Pelorus River (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Do part of the Link Pathway Track from Havelock.
Accommodation in Nelson
- The Prince Albert Backpackers & Bar
- Nelson City TOP 10 Holiday Park
- The Sails Nelson
- Bridge Backpackers
Day 4 – Nelson (Abel Tasman National Park)
Drive Time: 0 – 1 hour
Nelson is the gateway to three national parks in the South Island. One of which is the Abel Tasman National Park, full of pristine golden sand beaches backed with lush forest. Tours operate from Nelson daily taking you into the Abel Tasman National Park via Kaiteriteri. Either drive to Kaiteriteri yourself (1 hour one way) for maximum flexibility or take one of the shuttle services. In Kaiteriteri, you have a great deal of Abel Tasman options from kayaking tours, water taxis to hikes, or boat tours.
Things to Do in the Abel Tasman National Park
- Take a water taxi to do a day hike of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track – one of New Zealand’s Great Walks with Wilsons Abel Tasman
- Kayak in the Abel Tasman National Park with Wilsons
- Take a boat tour to explore the bays and beaches of the Abel Tasman National Park
- Board a sailing trip into the national park (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Do some mountain biking in Kaiteriteri, Nelson or in the Abel Tasman National Park.
And that’s not all! Check out the 11 Best Things to Do in the Abel Tasman National Park for more ideas.
Day 5 – Nelson to Punakaiki (via Nelson Lakes National Park)
Drive Time: 3h45mins
There’s a fair bit of driving to do today but the beautiful views of the Buller Gorge help pass the time quickly. There are a few quaint towns to stop by for a coffee, such as Murchison. However, to really make the most of the drive we suggest taking a detour into the Nelson Lakes National Park to see the beautiful Lake Rotoroa or Lake Rotoiti. Both are very similar in terms of views and short walks available so take your pick! This will add on an extra 20 minutes onto your drive time, but they are simply too good to miss.
Once you arrive in Punakaiki, you have many options, but don’t miss the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes for their impressive and bizarre rock formations.
Things to Do in Punakaiki
- Do the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes Walk
- Visit the Punakaiki Cavern
- Horse trek into the Paparoa National Park
- Sample the Paparoa Track, one of the New Zealand Great Walks
- Kayak on the Pororari River
- Check out the stunning overhang and waterfall onto the beach on the Truman Track.
Accommodation in Punakaiki
Day 6 – Punakaiki to Franz Josef
Drive Time: 3 Hours
Head to the Glacier Country with one of the world’s most accessible glaciers! Franz Josef is your opportunity to walk on, crawl inside, fly over, skydive over or walk up to a glacier. Get some ideas on how you can take on the glacier here. Nevertheless, there’s actually more to do here than glacier gallivanting! Check it out in the list below.
Things to Do in Franz Josef
- Do a heli-hike on the Franz Josef Glacier (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and KKday)
- Do one of New Zealand’s highest skydives over the glacier and the Southern Alps (on Viator, Tripadvisor, and Klook)
- Hike to the Franz Josef Terminal Face (1h30min one way)
- Kayak on the reflective waters of Lake Mapourika (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- Tackle the rugged glacial terrain on an ATV (on Viator and Tripadvisor).
Learn more about these experiences in the 20 Best Things to Do in Franz Josef.
Accommodation in Franz Josef
Day 7 – Franz Josef to Wanaka
Drive Time: 3h40mins
You’ve got a long drive ahead today but plenty of reasons to stretch your legs. You’ll be going through another super scenic rode on the Haast Pass where we recommend you stop at Thunder Creek Falls just a minutes walk from the road. Then don’t miss the Blue Pools of Haast. This is a 1-hour return walk through forest to some of the clearest and bluest rivers you will ever see.
This evening you will have the time to relax by the beautiful Lake Wanaka.
Things to Do in Wanaka
- Have a local craft beer or wine at one of the lakefront bars
- Do a stand-up paddleboard or kayak tour on Lake Wanaka (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Visit Puzzling World and get lost in their giant maze (on Klook, Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Do a skydive if you missed the chance in Franz Josef.
And that’s just a taste. Check out the 25 Best Things to Do in Wanaka.
Accommodation in Wanaka
Day 8 – Wanaka to Queenstown
Drive Time: 1 Hour
Time to hit the Adrenaline Capital of the World! Take the Cardrona Valley route to be the best views on the way to Queenstown. Once there you have so much to do! Take a look at The Complete Guide to Queenstown or the list below.
Things to Do in Queenstown
- Do a bungy jump – you have three to choose from in Queenstown
- Go skiing or snowboarding in winter
- Do a jet boat tour
- Visit the Lord of the Rings filming locations
- Go up the Gondola and do some luging/mountain biking/eating/sightseeing
- See native wildlife at the Kiwi Birdlife Park (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Party at the bars and clubs
- Do a wine-tasting tour (on Viator and Tripadvisor).
And there’s so much more to do listed in the 45 Best Things to Do in Queenstown.
Accommodation in Queenstown
See more stays in The 50 Best Accommodations in Queenstown or take a look at the following:
Day 9 – Queenstown (or Milford Sound)
Drive Time: 0 Hours
If the list of things to do in Queenstown wasn’t enough for you, then you also have the option today to take a bus trip (or drive) to Milford Sound. We get it, Milford Sound is on almost everybody’s New Zealand bucket list, so this is a way to squeeze in the experience in a two-week South Island itinerary.
With towering mountains, untouched rainforest and unbelievable scenery, Milford Sound is an unforgettable journey. To have a break from driving, we recommend taking one of the many bus tours to Milford Sound then boarding a cruise of the fiord. Bus trips give you plenty of opportunities to hop off the bus and do multiple short walks on the way. For more information, get your head in the 10 Best Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown or consider a flight to Milford Sound instead, using the 6 Best Scenic Flights to Milford Sound from Queenstown.
However, if you want a break from the road, you have plenty more options for things to do in Queenstown listed above as well as some more inspiration in the 45 Best Things to Do in Queenstown.
Day 10 – Queenstown to Mt Cook
Drive Time: 3 Hours
If you have not had enough of epic scenic drives, then here’s one more for you through the Lindis Pass on the way to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. On the way to Mt Cook, consider stopping by the Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell to challenge your travel buddies to go-karting (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) or stop by Omarama for their hot pools with a view.
Once at Mt Cook, you have plenty of options to explore the heart of the Southern Alps with its glaciers, but we’ll get onto that more tomorrow.
Accommodation in Mt Cook
Day 11 – Mt Cook
Drive Time: 0 Hours
There are many ways to enjoy the impressive landscape of the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, from glaciers to lakes to mountains, so you’ll want to spend a whole day doing some or all of the following activities.
Things to Do in Mt Cook
- Take a scenic flight, helicopter ride or land on a glacier in a ski plane (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor or Klook)
- If you missed out in Franz Josef, do a glacier heli-hike on the Tasman Glacier New Zealand’s longest glacier (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Do one of the many hikes listed in the 10 Must-Do Hikes Around Mt Cook
- Do some stargazing in this International Dark Sky Reserve
- Take a boat trip or kayak on a glacier lake.
More details on all of these activities can be found in the 20 Best Things to Do in Aoraki Mt Cook.
Day 12 – Mt Cook to Geraldine (via Lake Tekapo)
Drive Time: 2h15mins
Next stop, Geraldine! This is not without an obligatory stop at Lake Tekapo with its vibrant blue lake and the most scenic church in New Zealand, The Church of the Good Shepherd. Stop by the Fairlie Bakery for one of their award-winning New Zealand pies, then onward to Geraldine. You have time to either do an activity this evening or tomorrow morning so take your pick from the following!
Things to Do in Geraldine
- Do grade 5 white water rafting on the Rangitata River
- Horse trek in the hills of Peel Forest
- Hike, swim, rappel, cliff jump and more on a canyoning tour
- Go mountain biking or 4×4 off-roading
- Take an alpaca for a walk.
See how to do all these exciting experiences in the 10 Best Things to Do in Geraldine.
Accommodation in Geraldine
Day 13 – Geraldine to Christchurch
Drive Time: 2 Hours
If you missed any of the awesome activities yesterday, take the time to do them before you hit the road to Christchurch. Journey through the Canterbury Plains to Christchurch where you now get the chance to explore the South Island’s biggest hub.
Things to Do in Christchurch
- Walk in the Botanic Gardens
- Visit the Canterbury Museum
- Take an open-top bus tour of the city
- Grab some souvenirs to take home
- Try some Kiwi cuisine in Christchurch.
See the 15 Best Things to Do in Christchurch for much more ideas (and details).
Accommodation in Christchurch
Day 14 – Christchurch (or Akaroa)
For your final day on the South Island, there are loads more things to do! If you have the whole day and still have the energy for driving, take a trip to Akaroa for its wildlife tours! Alternatively, hit one of the beaches such as New Brighton or Sumner Beach, both within the city limits. Then it’s time to return your rental vehicle and move on to your next adventure whatever that may be…
More Things to Do in Christchurch
- Take a trip to Akaroa to see dolphins and little blue penguins
- Head over to Lyttelton and take the ferry to Quail Island
- Surf or relax on New Brighton or Sumner Beach
- Walk or take the Christchurch Gondola going up the Port Hills for views of the city (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook and KKday).
And don’t forget that we have much more ideas in the 15 Best Things to Do in Christchurch.
More About Planning a Two-Week Trip to the South Island
That’s it for our South Island 2-week itinerary but by no means the end of our road trip advice. Check out the following guides if you simply can’t get enough of our NZ tips:
- The Best Time to Visit New Zealand
- 10 Ways to Relax on a Road Trip
- 51 Best Things to Do on the South Island