The Ultimate New Zealand South Island Road Trip Itinerary for 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. 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 to 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 forests, 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 14 days on the South Island!
Quick tip; we show you how to plan this itinerary the EASY way with First Light Travel at the bottom of the itinerary.
South Island Road Trip Itinerary for 2 Weeks (14 Days): Overview
- Day 1 – Christchurch to Kaikoura
- Day 2 – Explore Kaikoura
- Day 3 – Kaikoura to Nelson (via Marlborough)
- Day 4 – Explore Nelson or Abel Tasman Day Trip
- 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 Trip
- Day 10 – Queenstown to Mt Cook
- Day 11 – Explore Mt Cook
- Day 12 – Mt Cook to Geraldine (via Lake Tekapo)
- Day 13 – Geraldine to Christchurch
- Day 14 – Explore Christchurch (or Akaroa) + Departure.
Renting a Car or Campervan for 14 Days on the South Island
Travelling for 14 days 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 rental companies, check out The Best Car Rental Companies in Christchurch and The Best Campervan Rental Companies in Christchurch.
Alternative Transport: 14-Day Bus Tours of 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.
For more ways to explore New Zealand, take a look at the 10 Best Ways to Travel Around New Zealand.
Day 1 – Christchurch to Kaikoura
Drive time: 2 hrs 15 mins
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 famous for its seafood and sea life. 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 with Wings Over Whales (more info on Viator and Klook) to see whales from the sky
- Join a wildlife boat tour to see whales with Whale Watch Kaikoura (on Viator and Klook)
- Have a close encounter with seals with Seal Kayak Kaikoura (on Viator and Klook)
- Try some famous Kaikoura crayfish at the local restaurants.
More details can be found in the 20 Best Things to Do in Kaikoura.
Accommodation in Kaikoura
Find more affordable stays in the 15 Best Budget Accommodations in Kaikoura.
For more options, take a look at the 21 Best Hotels & Places to Stay in Kaikoura.
Discover more details in the 15 Best Luxury Accommodations in Kaikoura.
Day 2 – Explore Kaikoura
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.
- Swim with dolphins in their natural habitat with Dolphin Encounter
- Land in the majestic Kaikoura Mountains with Kaikoura Helicopters
- See the world’s largest seabirds with Albatross Encounter
- Trek through woodlands with a special friend with Kaikoura Llama Trekking.
Again, more details can be found in the 20 Best Things to Do in Kaikoura.
Day 3 – Kaikoura to Nelson (via Marlborough)
Drive time: 3 hrs 30 mins
You have a long drive ahead today but there are 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, but you have a lot more options listed in the 15 Best Things to Do in Blenheim.
Alternatively, once you reach Havelock, take a boat cruise out into the Marlborough Sounds or join a kayaking tour with Pelorus Eco Adventures 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
- Visit the Omaka Aviation Centre in Blenheim (more info on Viator and Klook)
- Cruise on the Marlborough Sounds from Havelock
- Kayak with Pelorus Eco Adventures or do one of the many stunning walks by the Pelorus River
- Do part of the Link Pathway Track.
Get more details on these activities, as well as more ideas from the 15 Best Things to Do in Blenheim and the 10 Best Things to Do in Havelock.
Accommodation in Nelson
There’s a lot more listed in the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Nelson.
Check out more options in the 20 Best Hotels & Places to Stay in Nelson.
More indulgent options await in the 10 Best Luxury Accommodations in Nelson.
Day 4 – Nelson or Abel Tasman Day Trip
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, such as Wine, Art & Wilderness. 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
- Paddle a traditional Maori canoe with Waka Abel Tasman
- Skydive over beaches with Skydive Abel Tasman (more info on Viator and Klook)
- Do some beach-hopping by kayak with Wilson’s Abel Tasman
- Cruise Abel Tasman from Kaiteriteri with Wilson’s Abel Tasman
- Take a hiking a boat cruise of Abel Tasman from Nelson with Wine, Art & Wilderness.
Learn more about these activities and more in the 20 Best Things to Do in the Abel Tasman National Park.
Day 5 – Nelson to Punakaiki (via Nelson Lakes National Park)
Drive time: 3 hrs 45 mins
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 20-minute 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!
Once you arrive in Punakaiki, you have plenty of experiences to choose from 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
- Kayak on the Pororari River with Waka Puna
- Experience Barrytown Beach by horse wagon with Golden Sands Horse and Wagon Tours
- Sample the Paparoa Track, one of the New Zealand Great Walks.
Learn about all of these activities and more in the 10 Best Things to Do in Punakaiki.
Accommodation in Punakaiki
More details on these hostels can be found in the 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in Punakaiki.
Day 6 – Punakaiki to Franz Josef
Drive time: 3 hours
Head to the West Coast’s Glacier Country where you’ll find some of the world’s most mesmerising glacier experiences. Franz Josef is your opportunity to walk on, crawl inside, fly over, skydive over or walk up to a glacier, as described in the 7 Ways to Take on New Zealand’s Glaciers. 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 with Franz Josef Glacier Guides
- Do one of New Zealand’s highest skydives over the glacier and the Southern Alps with Skydive Franz Josef & Fox Glacier (more info on Viator and Klook)
- Hike to the Franz Josef Terminal Face
- Relax in the Waiho Hot Tubs
- Kayak on the reflective waters of Lake Mapourika with Franz Josef Wilderness Tours (on Viator and Klook).
Get much more details over in the 25 Best Things to Do in Franz Josef.
Accommodation in Franz Josef
Discover more affordable stays in the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Franz Josef.
Head to the 20 Best Hotels & Places to Stay in Franz Josef for more recommendations.
For more details, check out the 10 Best Luxury Accommodations in Franz Josef.
Day 7 – Franz Josef to Wanaka
Drive time: 3 hrs 40 mins
You’ve got a long drive ahead today but plenty of reasons to stretch your legs. You’ll be going through another super scenic road on the Haast Pass where we recommend you stop at Thunder Creek Falls just a minute’s walk from the road. Then don’t miss the Blue Pools of Haast. This is a 1-hour return walk through the 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
- Hike up Roy’s Peak
- Climb a waterfall with Wild Wire Wanaka
- Visit Puzzling World and get lost in their giant maze
- Skydive over beautiful Lake Wanaka with Skydive Wanaka
- Cruise to a sanctuary island on Lake Wanka with Eco Wanaka Adventures.
Head to the 25 Best Things to Do in Wanaka for more ideas.
Accommodation in Wanaka
More cheap stays can be found in the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Wanaka.
- Club Wyndham Wanaka, Trademark Collection by Wyndham
- Archway Motels & Chalets
- The Moorings Motel and Apartments
Check out the 20 Best Hotels & Places to Stay in Wanaka for more ideas.
More recommendations can be found in the 10 Best Luxury Accommodations in Wanaka.
Day 8 – Wanaka to Queenstown
Drive time: 1 hour
Time to hit the “Adrenaline Capital of the World”! Take the Crown Range 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
- Do a giant swing with Nevis Swing or Shotover Canyon Swing
- Experience the thrills of a jet boat ride
- Go skiing or snowboarding at The Remarkables in winter
- Hike Ben Lomond.
The possibilities are endless, as described in the 45 Best Things to Do in Queenstown.
Accommodation in Queenstown
Choose from more affordable stays in the 15 Best Budget Accommodations in Queenstown.
Browse all of the top stays in The 50 Best Accommodations in Queenstown.
Find out more about each premium accommodation in our 20 Best Luxury Accommodations in Queenstown.
Day 9 – Explore Queenstown (or Milford Sound Day Trip)
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 South Island itinerary for 14 days.
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 and 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 or stop by Omarama for their hot pools with a view. Additionally, there is a pleasant river walk in Twizel.
Once at Mt Cook, you have a lot 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
You know the drill; check out 5 Best Budget Accommodations in Mt Cook.
See the 10 Best Hotels & Places to Stay in Mt Cook for your top options.
Go high-end with the 5 Best Luxury Accommodations in Mt Cook.
Day 11 – Explore Mt Cook
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
- Walk the Hooker Valley Track
- Land on the Tasman Glacier in a ski plane (more details on Viator or Klook)
- Do a heli-hike on New Zealand’s longest glacier with Mt Cook Glacier Guiding
- Go boating on the Tasman Lake with Glacier Explorers
- Stargaze in the Aoraki Mt Cook International Dark Sky Reserve.
That’s right, you can learn more about these experiences, as well as many others in the 20 Best Things to Do in Aoraki Mt Cook.
Day 12 – Mt Cook to Geraldine (via Lake Tekapo)
Drive time: 2 hrs 15 mins
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. We have a list of experiences for you in the 10 Best Things to Do in Lake Tekapo.
Stop by the Fairlie Bakehouse 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 with Hidden Valleys
- Go canyoning in the Kaumira Canyon with Big Rock Adventures
- Walk in the Talbot Forest Scenic Reserve
- Explore the Orari Gorge Track
- Visit all of the town’s vintage museums, including the Geraldine Vintage Car & Machinery Museum, Route 79 Museum, Roger Mahan Heritage Centre and Geraldine Museum.
All of these and more are listed 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, perhaps stopping by the Ashburton Domain to stretch your legs, to Christchurch where you now get the chance to explore the South Island’s biggest hub.
Things to Do in Christchurch
- Wander around the Christchurch Botanic Gardens
- Visit the Canterbury Museum
- Take to the skies in a unique way with Adventure Balloons NZ
- Take a hop-on hop-off tram tour of the city (more info on Viator and Klook)
- Feel the freeze at the International Antarctic Centre
- Try some Kiwi cuisine in Christchurch.
Get more details in the 15 Best Things to Do in Christchurch.
Accommodation in Christchurch
See more reasonably-priced stays in the 12 Best Budget Accommodations in Christchurch.
All the top recommendations can be found in 20 Best Hotels in Christchurch.
For the cream of the crop, check out the 15 Best Luxury Accommodations in Christchurch.
Day 14 – Explore Christchurch or Akaroa Day Trip + Departure
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.
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 and Klook).
And don’t forget that we have much more ideas in the 15 Best Things to Do in Christchurch.
Departure from Christchurch Airport
Then, it’s time to head to Christchurch Airport for the next step of life’s adventure. You can return your vehicle at your vehicle rental company’s Christchurch Airport depot and then the company will likely provide a free shuttle to your requested terminal.
If you’re taking an international flight, remember to arrive at the airport two hours before departure. For domestic flights, such as those to Auckland Airport, get advice from The Guide to Domestic Flights in New Zealand.
Plan This Itinerary with First Light Travel
If you like this South Island road trip itinerary for 14 days but don’t like the hassle of planning everything yourself, then there’s a way to lighten the load. First Light Travel is an online travel agent specialising in road trip itineraries in New Zealand. Plus, using their service is super simple:
- First, send First Light Travel an enquiry by completing their online form
- Then, you’ll receive your customised self-drive itinerary
- Review your itinerary and work with your First Light Travel agent on perfecting it
- Finally, First Light Travel will organise the rest including the bookings.
First Light Travel has access to more than 20,000 travel products, including almost all the tours and accommodations featured on this list (and more). With that and their local expertise here in New Zealand, they will create a well-catered itinerary to meet your needs while also suggesting some dream travel experiences that you may have never heard of. They only work with companies where their past clients have had positive experiences, so you know you’re in good hands.
What’s more, all of the bookings are arranged by First Light Travel, so instead of having to contact each individual accommodation and operator should your travel plans change, any amendments can be done through your FLT agent – easy! Did we mention the service is at no extra cost to you?!
For more information on planning your own New Zealand itinerary, see How to Create the Perfect New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary. Or better yet, jump on firstlighttravel.com and start making your own itinerary there.
Alternative Itineraries for 14 Days in the South Island
That’s it for our South Island 2-week itinerary but by no means the end of our road trip advice. We thought you might like to be aware of our other itineraries for the South Island in 14 days so that you are able to compare:
- South Island Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: 14 Days
- South Island Family Itinerary: 14 Days
- South Island Luxury Itinerary: 14 Days
- South Island Honeymoon & Romance Itinerary: 14 Days
- South Island Food Itinerary: 14 Days
- North Island in 2 Weeks: Road Trip Itinerary
- New Zealand in 2 Weeks: Road Trip Itinerary
Finally, be sure to bookmark the 31 Tips for Travelling in New Zealand and The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand – they’re pretty darn useful.