How to Make the Most of the South Island in One Week
The adventurous traveller makes to New Zealand but the hardcore adventure traveller attempts to travel the South Island in one week! All jokes aside, we get that sometimes we don’t get all the time we want to hit amazing travel destinations. So with that in mind, we have put together this epic road trip itinerary to hit the South Island in one week. Are you ready?
A week in the South Island is going to be an action-packed week. There will be a lot of driving to hit all the best spots but those who are up for the challenge will be rewarded with a week in the South Island they will never forget! The South Island itinerary below hits all the major sights of the South Island giving you enough time to do activities in each location (and on the road as well). Speaking of on the road, we will also throw in some car rental power tips to make your road trip smoother.
Renting a Car and Campervan for One Week in the South Island
Travelling for one week 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 one week 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 this nifty list.
For a complete comparison of car rental companies, check out The Best Car Rental Companies in Christchurch.
Bus Tours for One Week 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. Some of the tour companies that offer 6-7-day tours of the South Island, following an itinerary similar to the one featured below, include Topdeck, Wild Kiwi, Haka Tours, Stray Travel, Discover New Zealand, Thrifty Tours, Adventure South, World Expeditions and more!
Day 1 – Christchurch to Hokitika (via Arthur’s Pass)
Drive Time: 3 Hours
Welcome to New Zealand! After picking up your rental vehicle in Christchurch it’s time to jump straight into the mind-blowing scenery that you came here for. Your first drive is going to be through Arthur’s Pass, a mountainous national park in the Southern Alps. There will be plenty of opportunities to park up and take in the scenery. You’re likely to even be greeted by the native kea, the world’s only alpine parrot!
Just past Arthur’s Pass Village, to the Devils Punch Bowl Waterfall walk, just an hour return through the forest to an epic waterfall. Then continue on the road to Hokitika on the West Coast.
Things to Do in Hokitika
What time your flight got into Christchurch will determine how much you can do in Hokitika, but here are a few ideas.
- Catch the sunset on Hokitika Beach, one of the best places for sunsets in New Zealand
- At the northern town entrance, delve into the Glow-Worm Dell to see some glowworms
- Do the short walk to the vibrant blue Hokitika Gorge (25km from Hokitika)
- Walk the West Coast Treetop Walk among the canopy of native forest (15km from Hokitika)
- Explore the town with stores famous for its greenstone, glass-blowing and socks!
Accommodation in Hokitika
Day 2 – Hokitika to Franz Josef
Drive Time: 1h40min
There’s so much to do in Franz Josef that you’ll want to set off early to make the most of it! Drive along the stunning coastal road and toward the mountains and rainforest of Franz Josef, famous for having one of the world’s most accessible glaciers! Find out more about this area in Glacier Country – Guide for Backpackers.
Things to Do in Franz Josef
- Do a heli-hike on the Franz Josef Glacier
- Do New Zealand’s highest skydive over the glacier and Southern Alps
- Hike to the Franz Josef terminal face (1h30min one way)
- Relax in the Glacier Hot Pools
- Kayak on the reflective waters of Lake Mapourika
- Go horse trekking in the West Coast wilderness
Accommodation in Franz Josef
Day 3 – Franz Josef to Wanaka
Drive Time: 3h40min
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 minute’s 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
- Visit Puzzling World and get lost in their giant maze
- Do a skydive if you missed the chance in Franz Josef
Accommodation in Wanaka
Day 4 – 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 Queenstown – Guide for Backpackers or the list below.
Things to Do in Queenstown
- Do a bungy jump – you have three to choose from in Queenstown
- Do a skydive
- Go skiing or snowboarding in winter
- Do a jet boat tour
- Go white water rafting
- 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
- Party at the bars and clubs
- Do a wine-tasting tour
- Treat yourself to these Cheap Eats in Queenstown
Accommodation in Queenstown
- Black Sheep Backpackers
- Haka Lodge Queenstown
- Absoloot Value Accommodation
- YHA Queenstown Lakefront
- Alpine Lodge Backpackers
- The Flaming Kiwi Backpackers
- Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park
- Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park
- Sir Cedric Tahuna Pod Hostel
- Hippo Lodge Backpackers
- Queenstown Holiday Park & Motel Creeksyde
- Nomads Queenstown
- Base Queenstown
- Adventure Queenstown
Day 5 – 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 one week in the 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 Guide to Milford Sound and the Milford Road.
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 10 Queenstown Must-Dos.
Day 6 – 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. Once at Mt Cook, you have many options to explore the heart of the Southern Alps with its glaciers, glacier lakes and New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki Mt Cook.
Things to Do in Mt Cook
- Take a scenic flight, helicopter ride or land on a glacier in a ski plane
- If you missed out in Franz Josef, do a glacier heli-hike
- 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
Accommodation in Mt Cook
Day 7 – Mt Cook to Christchurch
Drive Time: 4 Hours
If you missed any of the awesome activities yesterday, take the time to do them before you hit the road to Christchurch. Stop by Lake Tekapo for some stunning photo opportunities, get a pie from the famous bakery in Fairlie, then continue through the Canterbury Plains to Christchurch. If you have more time in Christchurch, here are some things you can do and places to stay.
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
- And more in Christchurch City – Guide for Backpackers