South Island in One Week: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary

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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/15.5 miles from Hokitika)
  • Walk the West Coast Treetop Walk (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) among the canopy of native forest (15km/9 miles 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 our Franz Josef and Fox destination category.

Things to Do in Franz Josef

Accommodation in Franz Josef




South Island in One Week: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary©

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

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 The Complete Guide to Queenstown or the list below.

Things to Do in Queenstown

Accommodation in 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

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

Accommodation in Christchurch





The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Laura S.

This article has been reviewed and published by Laura, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Laura is a first-class honours journalism graduate and a travel journalist with expertise in New Zealand and South Pacific tourism for over 10 years. She also runs travel guides for five of the top destinations in the South Pacific and is the co-host of over 250 episodes of the NZ Travel Show on YouTube.

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