girls hand on map in jucy car

JUCY Blog

Travelling around the South Island of New Zealand in two weeks - mission possible? Affirmative! With limited time you can still see all of the highlights in the South Island by following the two-week itinerary below. 

highlights of the south island

Here are the top places to visit in the South Island of New Zealand: 

  • Queenstown
  • Milford Sound
  • Arrowtown & Wanaka
  • Mt Aspiring National Park, Fox Glacier & Franz Josef Glacier
  • Abel Tasman National Park
  • Nelson 
  • Hanmer Springs
  • Christchurch
  • Lake Tekapo
  • Lake Pukaki & Aoraki/ Mount Cook National Park

how to travel the south island

The main highlights of the South Island are quite far apart. The easiest way to see all of the best places to visit in the South Island is to hire a self-contained camper. A camper means you'll be fully mobile and won't have to worry about relying on public transport. You'll also save money as you can camp in free and cheap campgrounds - you can even freedom camp! There are plenty of free campgrounds around the South Island of New Zealand that you need to be certified as “self-contained” to use. Self-contained means that you have a toilet on board and your own water supply. The JUCY Condo, Chaser, Coaster, and Compass are all fully self-contained. 

If you do want to see all of the top places to visit in the South Island you'll end up driving quite a lot. This is just one more reason to do the trip in a comfy JUCY camper - with a kitchen in the back you can pull over for a tea break at any time!

A rental car is also a convenient option for travelling around the South Island. You can still pitch tents in campgrounds, but you won't be able to stay in places without toilet facilities. 

Without your own vehicle, you will be at the mercy of public transport or private transfers and tours. Going public means limited options, while private is hideously expensive. 

Two week road trip itinerary around the south island

The easiest place to start your South Island road trip is in Queenstown. With an international airport it's easily accessible, plus it's an excellent base for exploring the surrounding area. This two-week South Island road trip itinerary starts and finishes in Queenstown. You can also plan to fly into Queenstown and out of Christchurch, or vice versa. 

Day 1: Queenstown

Spend your first night in Queenstown, exploring the shops and camping stores where you can stock up on supplies for your road trip around the South Island (some destinations are remote - it can be hard to find camping gear outside of main towns!).

You can also spend an afternoon walking along the lakefront or climbing up the Queenstown hill for fabulous views of the town, lake, and Remarkables mountains.

view of queenstown at dusk

day 2: Milford Sound

Milford Sound is the number one day trip destination from Queenstown. The road to Milford Sound has plenty of places to stop and enjoy views of mountains, lakes and waterfalls, so it's worth taking your time to drive the Milford Sound Highway.  

An alternative way of getting there is to hike the Milford Track. The hike passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, but note that it's four days long. Unless you are an experienced outdoorsperson, the track is only accessible during summer and you'll need to book your spot in the huts along the route in advance. 

Whether you arrive at Milford Sound on foot or on wheels, you'll want to take a cruise. Getting out on the water is the best way to experience the scenery, and there's a good chance you'll see dolphins!

colorful sunset in milford sound

day 3-5: Arrowtown and Wanaka

Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town with old-world charm in spades. It makes a good day trip from Queenstown, or stopover on your way to Wanaka. Arrowtown looks particularly spectacular in autumn (March-May) when all the trees in and around the town turn deep shades of orange. 

Wanaka is one of the best places to visit in the South Island. Surrounded by mountains, with the lake on its door front, it's outdoorsy heaven. Walk, cycle, or kayak to your heart's content. Top hikes in the area include Roy's Peak and Isthmus Peak - both give panoramic views of the lake and Southern Alps. 

Albert Town campground is a basic but beautiful place to stay just outside of Wanaka town. 

view of lake wanaka from roys peak

day 6-7: HAAST PASS, fox and franz josef glacier  

If you head to the west coast of the South Island, you can fit all of these sights into one day. 

The drive from Wanaka to the west coast is stunning. On the stretch between Makarora and Haast, there are a number of waterfall walks, including Fantail Falls and Thunder Creek Falls. You should also stop in Mt Aspiring National Park to do the Blue Pools walk. It’s short, easy and beautiful!

The glaciers are another couple of hours north-west. Franz Josef Glacier Township is a convenient spot to spend the night. Both Fox and Franz Josef are worth visiting and easy to access. You can walk to the foot of both glaciers. Go with a professional guide if you wish to take a journey onto the ice. 

blue river in south island new zealand

day 8-9: Abel Tasman National Park

At the tippy top of the South Island, this national park hugs a decent amount of coastline. There is an abundance of beautiful blue water, white sand, and incredible views. You can spend one day hiking in the park, covering just a section of the Abel Tasman Coast Track. A kayaking trip is another way to get great views of the landscape and enjoy the crystal clear water. 
No matter which option you take, you'll need at least a couple of nights here!

day 10: Nelson

Sunny Nelson is home to some wonderful cafés, good coffee, and plenty of good breweries and vineyards. There is an artsy feel to the town and you can pick up some great souvenirs from the local art galleries and arts and crafts stores. 
Swap your campervan for a bicycle for a fun way of touring the area. 

day 11: Kaikoura

Make your way down the east coast to Kaikoura. This is the marine wildlife hotspot of New Zealand. Go for coastal walks to spot seals and dolphins, or take a whale-watching tour to see giant flukes arcing out of the water. Following the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway to the lookout point at Point Kean is a South Island must-do. 
woman stands on rock looking at view of kaikoura bay

day 12: Christchurch

Driving back into a city after spending time in the South Island's wilderness areas might feel confronting at first. Despite this, it's worth checking out Christchurch to see how the town is rebuilding itself after the devastating earthquake in 2011. This is also a good chance to treat yourself to some hot showers and top up your supplies. 

day 13: Lake Tekapo

Vibrant blue water surrounded by even more vibrant flowers - that's Lake Tekapo. The lupins that pop up in spring make this an insanely visual location. You might catch yourself with your mouth open more than once. 
You can just stop by on your way to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, or spend a whole night here. You can camp under the stars - if you're lucky enough to get a cloudless night you will enjoy some of the best stargazing in the whole country. 
jucy caravan parked in front of lupin flowers at lake tekapo

day 14: Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and Lake Pukaki

Mount Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand. it's surrounded by glaciers and alpine lakes, which makes this an enticing spot for both hikers and serious climbers. There are a range of walking trails in the park to suit all fitness levels. You don't need to walk far to take in the magnificent scenery.  
Unless you're flying to Mount Cook on a helicopter, you'll drive along the edge of Lake Pukaki on your way to and from the park. This is one of the most photogenic spots in the whole of the South Island, so make sure to stop here and snap some photos! From Lake Pukaki you can make your way back to either Christchurch or Queenstown and catch your flight home. 
girl walking across bridge in new zealand national park

Yes it's fast, but you can road trip around the South Island in two weeks with a JUCY camper