Day 1: The Milford Sound & Key Summit
Total Driving Distance: 240 kmTotal Driving Time: 3.5 hours
To drive from Te Anau to the Milford Sound takes almost 2 hours. Along the way, there are various viewpoints to visit. We gave ourselves 3 hours to get to Milford Sound, allowing extra time to stop at these viewpoints.
Driving to the Milford Sound from Te Anau | 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary
There are several companies that offer cruises of the Milford Sound. We used JUCY because of their low cost. All of the cruises make the same loop through the fiord, so what you get see on the cruise is almost identical, regardless of the company you choose. However, some companies also offer kayaking trips.
Cruises last 1.5 to 2 hours. Before or after the cruise, you can walk the short, easy trails along the sound.
Milford Sound | 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary
On the drive back to Te Anau, you have the option to hike to Key Summit. This is a 3-hour hike that walks a portion of the Routeburn Track. Honestly, we liked this hike more than the Milford Sound Cruise.
Key Summit Hike | 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary
Read more about the Milford Sound Cruise, hiking Key Summit, and the drive between Te Anau and the Milford Sound:The Perfect Day Trip: Te Anau to the Milford Sound
You can sleep in Te Anau or drive all of the way back to Queenstown. From the Milford Sound, it is a 290 km drive and takes almost 4 hours. We slept in Te Anau.
Accommodation In South Island
Since we were a group of 5 people, we mostly booked 3 bedroom houses with full kitchen and amenities, and they ended up costing us about $30-40 / night per person through Airbnb. Of course, if you are traveling in a smaller group, it will cost more. If I was traveling by myself I would look at backpacker hostels instead.
Alright, now lets cover the details of the 10-Day New Zealand South Island Road Trip Itinerary:
What Should I Not Miss On The South Island Of New Zealand
Before going into the depth of South Island, lets discover fun and enjoyable things you should not miss there.
Getting a scenic cruise in Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park
Visit a natural spa on South Island.
Do fishing in Kaikoura.
Bungee jumping, sky diving, hot air ballooning, swing, and do many adventures in Queenstown
Kayaking, SUP, and jet boarding
Cycling on the West Coast
Heli-Ski on glaciers
Hiking and walking on the Great Walks
Observe rare and native wildlife
Lets know more details.
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Taste The Wines Of Central Otago
Wineries, Central Otago
Central Otago is breathtaking, with vast undulating landscapes, rugged snow-capped mountains, clear blue rivers and tussock-clad hills. The gem of this region is the multitude of wineries, many world-renowned for their Pinot Noir. Meet the wine-makers, stroll or bike through the vines and savour the best of this region.
South Island New Zeland Map
As I said earlier, the South Island has extreme landscape features range from glaciers to wide plain lands. The inhabitants also call this island Te Waipounamu. With having a surface area of 150,437 km², this is the largest island . And it is the 12th largest island in the world. Actually, thats why it is called the mainland.
And inside the island, Southern Alps are running from north to south while the east side has plain lands. And on the west coast, it has rough coastlines, national parks, Glaciers, and native bushes. On the northern coast, there are tussock plains with a thousand miles of golden beaches. You can see remnants of volcanoes on the east coast with crystal blue bays. And the south side of the island has rare penguins. That diversity sounds crazy, right?
I must say that South Island is such a big island. And there are so many things to see. So do not try to cover everything within a few days since it is impossible at all.
Looking for the best hotels in South Island, New Zealand?? Just click here.
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What To Do At Aoraki / Mount Cook:
1. Hooker Valley Track This is a very easy yet scenic 10km return route. The track is mostly flat and can be done by children and adults alike. The trail ends at Hooker Lake, with a great view of the famous Mount Cook. You can read about my Hooker Valley Track experience here.
2. Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier another easy track, shorter than Hooker Valley that ends up with a glacier view.
3. Lake Pukaki the lesser-known twin of Lake Tekapo. Personally, I preferred Lake Pukaki better than Tekapo because its quieter! If you are here in the Spring, its also known for the Lupin flowers.
4. Lake Tekapo probably the most famous Alpine lake in New Zealand. Unlike Lake Pukaki, you can find restaurants and tourist center at the base of the lake closest to the main road.
5. Church of Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo Lake Tekapo is also where the famous church is located. This tiny yet picturesque stone church is an iconic landmark of Lake Tekapo and has been a popular subject of night photography. Dont expect to be the only photographer here!
Day Trip From Queenstown To Glenorchy
Horse riding in Glenorchy
If youve got a bit more time, I highly suggest you make a day trip from Queenstown to explore Glenorchy.
Now, this is a small settlement in the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. You can reach Glenorchy by going either by car or by boat from Queenstown. Its one of the most underrated, beautiful small settlements around the vicinity, especially during lupin season.
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When To Visit New Zealand
We did this trip in April 2015. It was autumn, a gorgeous time to visit New Zealand. Plus, the crowds were relatively low. We did have to deal with some rain but it didnt impact our schedule too much.
The busiest time to visit New Zealand is during the summer months . Expect large crowds, sold out accommodations, and more expensive prices.
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Comment below if you have any questions about this New Zealand itinerary.
More Information about New Zealand
ADVENTURES IN NEW ZEALAND: Go bungy jumping, hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, spend one day in Abel Tasman National Park, and go paragliding and jet boat riding in Queenstown.
NEW ZEALAND WITH KIDS: Put Hobbiton, the movie set for The Shire in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies, on top of your list. Kids will also love The Luge and the jet boat rides in Queenstown,sleeping in a silo, and spending some time on the North Island.
TRAVEL ITINERARIES:For more travel itineraries for destinations around the world, take a look at our Travel Itineraries page.
TRAVEL AROUND THE WORLD: Learn more how to plan a trip around the world in our Around the World Travel Guide. You can also read our 13 Month Around the World Itinerary and a recap about our around the world trip.
Read all of our articles about New Zealand in ourNew Zealand Travel Guide.
Abel Tasman National Park
One of my favorite places to visit on the South Island in the summer is Abel Tasman National Park. Not only does its location in the north provide much-needed warmer weather but the beautiful bays, coves, and beaches are some of the best in New Zealand. Honestly, if you thought the North Island had all the best beaches you were wrong!
Abel Tasman National Park is home to the Abel Tasman Coast Track which is one of New Zealands 10 Great Walks. The trail is often hiked over 4 to 5 days and follows the coastline visiting secluded bays and beaches along the way. Of course, most people dont hike the full trail since you can explore lots of the park on day trips from Nelson.
There is also a huge range of tours to the park and one of my favorites is the boat cruises. On them, youll explore the calm waters and visit beaches for a picnic lunch and a refreshing swim. Its good exercise and really fun!
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Day : Arrive In Auckland
Arrive in Auckland and get settled into your hotel. Most likely, you will be dealing with some level of jet lag. If you have the energy, you can go out and see the town.
Where to Stay:M Social Auckland is located in the city center and is one of the top reviewed properties in Auckland on Booking.com. Visit Booking.com for more options.
Auckland | 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary
Day : Drive The Southern Alps To Arthur’s Pass National Park
Heading north today on State Highway 6, you’ll pass through many small West Coast towns including Ross and Hokitika, home to excellent craft and gift stores offering a range of locally made items and souvenirs. Continue to State Highway 73, the main road between the West Coast and Christchurch that offers breathtaking scenery. Take your time on this routewith hundreds of waterfalls cascading down the bush-clad hillsides, it’s not a road to be rushed. Crossing the Otira Gorge on the eastern side of Arthur’s Pass, make time to stop at some of the numerous lookout points for great views of the valley.Your base for the next two nights is Wilderness Lodge, a 4000-acre working sheep farm and nature reserve in the heart of the Southern Alps. Arrive at your destination, nestled in a mountain beech forest on the doorstep of Arthurs Pass National Park, and rest up for a day of activity and adventure tomorrow.
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Visit New Zealand’s Only Castle
Lanarch Castle, Dunedin
Built by William Larnach in 1871, the Larnach castle is the only one of its kind in New Zealand. The castle and its creator offer a fascinating look into Dunedin’s history. Boasting a 3,000 square foot ballroom, a tower with sweeping views of the Otago Peninsula and stunning Victorian style gardens, Larnach Castle is a must-do. Soak up the atmosphere and stay for high tea, hosted each day at 3pm.
Day 1: Hike Roys Peak Track
For one of the best views over Wanaka and Mount Aspiring National Park, hike to the top of Roys Peak. Its a tough, uphill hike but you are rewarded with jaw-dropping views.
Roys Peak Track | 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary
Wanaka | 3 Week New Zealand Itinerary
The hike is 16 km round trip and takes five to six hours. Its best done on a clear day so that you can enjoy the views.
Afterwards, spend the rest of the day in Wanaka. Photograph #ThatWanakaTree, spend some time down by Lake Wanaka, or watch a movie and eat warm cookies at Cinema Paradiso.
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Best Way To Get Around New Zealand
There really is only one best way to get around New Zealands South Islandand quite frankly, the whole country in general. Its best if you rent a car, a campervan or a motorhome. This is the quintessential Kiwi experience and this will ensure that youre holding your own time in your very own hands.
- Great weather calls for eating outdoors!
- Eating our homecooked food in the campervan
Renting your personal vehicle is quicker, cheaper and its simply more enjoyable. Youll get to cook your own meals, youll get to decide when and where to stop, and youre simply freer to decide many aspects of your trip.
Plus, staying at a campsite or simply parking your vehicle at a desolate location will evidently be cheaper than renting a room or staying at a hotel. Its basically a win-win situation! Oh, did I mention that this is a really fun way to bond with your travel buddies?
If youll be driving around New Zealand for the very first time, I wrote this guide to driving in New Zealand which will give you the basics as to what to expect when driving around the country .
South Island New Zealand: Visit Otago
Otago is the home for the adventurous hotspot in New Zealand, Queenstown. Rafting, parasailing, canyon swing, snowboarding, skydiving, mountain biking, heli-hiking, and most importantly, bungee jumping and jet boarding are more the highlighted activities. Actually, this is the place where bungee jumping and jet boarding were born.
But keep in mind, all of the above activities are very expensive in Queenstown. But, they are authentic and unique.
Beyond Queenstown, there are trails in Wanaka, Fox, and Franz Josef Glaciers as well. Also, stunning waterfalls like Roaring Billy Falls and Fantail will add more passion to your journey in Otago on the South Island.
Ok, Lets take a look at the most beautiful places to visit in Otago.
South Island New Zealand: Visit Wanaka
Looking for whitewater kayaking or Standup paddleboarding? Wanaka is one of the best places for you on South Island. Clutha, the second-longest river in New Zealand, and Wanaka Lake offers you the chance for whitewater kayaking and SUP with whirlpool water. If I tell you about the Lake, it has a depth of 65 feet. But, the water is so clear, calm, and swimmable till the bottom.
Since the River Clutha is very long from Lake Wanaka to Dunedins east Pacific coast, you may have to SUP or whitewater kayak for a week to complete the journey. Dont worry the entire river trail can be paddled since the water flows between 7000 and 21000 cubic feet per second.
Visit Mount Aspiring National Park
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The Islands Recreational Activities
Since the Island isnt very populated, this means that there are many fun activities to take part in! You can go skydiving, take a gondola ride or take a hot air balloon ride over the Southern Alps while the sunsets over the mountains. Apart from this, you can also go bungee jumping or swinging across the Nevis River. If you prefer other sports, you can go luging down the mountains or take a shot over the jet boat which is only found in New Zealand South Island. You are hurled down the river at almost 85 km/h on a jet boat and you get some beautiful views. You can also find plenty of zip lines here if you want something more thrilling. You can also go kayaking and cycling around town.
Almost every Lord of the Rings fan will know of this special spot where Frodo jumped on Gandalfs eagle and flew to Middle Earth. You have to take a helicopter to get here and you will have to sign up for the Lord of the Rings tour which goes on for about 3 and a half hours. The helicopter will take you into Isengard and around the Misty Mountains and finally to the Ford of Bruinen. A scene from the movie was actually shot here and they moved around the place in a helicopter. Apart from the celebrity importance, the view you find here is nothing short of picturesque, snow-covered mountain peaks, glaciers and multiple levels of waterfalls.
Day 2: Aoraki/mount Cook Village
Driving time from the Waitaki District: About an hour from Omarama, 96km
Where to stop on the way
- High Country Salmon near Twizel for the best salmon pate of your life
- Ahuriri Bridge Campsite if its lupin season
- Petes Lookout for the best view of the windy road heading towards Aoraki
How long to stay in Aoraki/Mount Cook Village: Day trip or 1-2 days depending on how many walks you want to do
My first trip to Aoraki Village in August was cancelled by a terrible fire at Lake Pukaki, so I booked a second trip down for December of this year and had the most amazing time.
The drive to the village is truly one of the most beautiful drives Ive ever done, and Id recommend giving yourself time so you can stop for photos whenever you feel like it.
- The view back down from the Tasman Glacier lookout
- The road to Aoraki
Things to do in Aoraki/Mount Cook Village
- Hike! Try the Tasman Glacier Hike if youre short on time or the longer Hooker Valley hike if youve got half a day. There are longer, more advanced hikes/climbs too depending on your experience, check with the visitor centre to get full info on the options that will suit you.
- See the mountains from the best vantage point with a scenic flight
- Visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre
- Do a 15,000 foot skydive for the most insane views
- Go for a boat ride on the Tasman Glacier lake
- Treat yourself to a fancy dinner at theHermitage Hotel, their cocktails are incredible!
Where to stay in Aoraki/Mount Cook Village
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New Zealand South Island Overview
The majority of beautiful New Zealand landscape and photos you see in travel magazines are located in the South Island. And I swear, there is a lot to see here 10 days was barely enough to scratch the surface of South Island. Every point of interest is so spread apart with a lot of ground to cover because, at around 150,000km², its not exactly a tiny island.
Despite this, I was surprised to learn that there are actually fewer people living in the entirety of South Island than there are people living in Auckland, the biggest city in New Zealand in the North Island. So to put things into perspective for myself, I looked up the comparison of South Island to Singapore in terms of population density. And it turns out, there are nearly 6x more people in the tiny island of Singapore than in South Island, even though the size of Singapore is only 0.5% the size of the South Island.
Crazy stuff, hey? So its either Singapore is way too tiny or New Zealand is just that sparsely populated .
OK, Im done feeling small about my home country now back to the itinerary.