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:
- Milford Sound
- Arrowtown & Wanaka
- Mt Aspiring National Park, Fox Glacier & Franz Josef Glacier
- Abel Tasman National Park
- Hanmer Springs
- 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.
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!
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.
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.