The South Island of New Zealand is one of the best places to take a road trip. Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island’s original Maori name, meaning the waters of greenstone) is known for stunning scenery, delicious food, and an abundance of things to do.
This itinerary is intended for you to choose what interests you most- if you’re attempting to stop at all attractions and areas on the road trip itinerary, an extra day or two is recommended. Roads in New Zealand are known for being windy, tight, and mentally demanding, which is why breaks to refresh between driving are a must. Whether you’ve got 7 days to complete your South Island roadie or plan to take this route at a slower pace, we’ve created the ultimate road trip itinerary for travelling the South Island.
Queenstown is a beautiful alpine township beside Lake Wakatipu and is known for its stunning vistas and adventure sports scene.
Things to do in Queenstown:
Drive time from Queenstown to Te Anau: 2 hours (171km)
Te Anau is a township bordering on the Fiordland National Park. This town is known internationally as the eighth wonder of the world, and it’s not hard to see why when you see an abundance of wildlife, waterfalls, steep mountains and its beautiful lake. If you’re planning on spending longer than 7 days travelling, we highly recommend travelling further down this road towards Milford & Doubtful Sounds.
Things to do near Te Anau:
Drive time from Te Anau to Bluff: 2 hours (180km)
Bluff is known for producing world-famous oysters due to the cold and clean waters found in the Foveaux Strait where they are grown. This town is the gateway to Stewart Island and is full of character.
Things to do in Bluff:
Travel time from Bluff to Stewart Island: 1-hour ferry ride
Stewart Island is the third-largest island of New Zealand, based 30km south of Bluff over the Foveaux Strait. Access to the island is by a ferry ride, where you’ll find a peaceful and relaxed township.
Things to do in Stewart Island:
Drive time from Ferry Transport to Dunedin: 2 hours 45 minutes (225km)
This city is full of life from both young professionals and students, as the University of Otago is NZ’s oldest university. Its nightlife is condensed in its famous octagon, however, there is no shortage of relaxing areas full of nature to explore. It has plenty of surf & beaches and is full of marine life such as Yellow Eyed Penguins, Sea Lion & Albatross.
Things to do in Dunedin:
Drive time from Dunedin to Wanaka: 3 hours 20 minutes (270km)
Wanaka is an outdoor adventure sports paradise. In the winter, there are plenty of ski areas close, as well as numerous heli-ski services and guided alpine tours, while summer is great for paddle boarding, swimming & other lake sports.
Things to do in Wanaka:
Drive time from Wanaka to Mt Cook Village: 2 hours 30 minutes (210km)
Aoraki, the Maori name for Mount Cook, is New Zealand’s highest mountain, at approximately 3,724 meters tall. Aoraki is considered incredibly sacred to Maori iwi (tribe) Ngai Tahu as it represents the most sacred ancestors, Aoraki who is the link between the spiritual and natural worlds. The Mt Cook village is small and quiet, which feels polar opposite to the serene surrounding areas.
Things to do in Aoraki Mt Cook:
Drive time from Mt Cook Village to Christchurch: 4 hours (330km)
Christchurch is known as the Garden City, which isn’t hard to understand why when you visit the impressive 21-hectare Botanical Gardens found in the heart of the city. This city has had extensive rebuilds in the past 10 years due to the 2011 earthquakes, which resulted in 185 deaths.
Things to do in Christchurch:
Drive time from Christchurch to Kaikoura: 2 hours 30 minutes (180km)
Travel north along the east coast to Kaikoura, a township known for plenty of marine life, including sperm whales which can be spotted from the Kaikoura coastline all year round.
Things to do in Kaikoura:
Drive time from Kaikoura to Nelson: 3 hours 30 minutes (250km)
Nelson is known for sunny beaches, craft stores art galleries, boutique shops and more. This area is a great place to stop to enjoy a bite to eat and a glass of wine too- this region has a wide range of restaurants & many vineyards to visit.
Things to do in Nelson:
Drive time from Nelson to Hokitika (West Coast): 4 hours (320km)
The west coast of the South Island is truly breathtaking for its rugged terrain, steep mountains, and amazing waterfalls. Haast Pass (State Highway 6) must be mentioned for its stunning scenery between Haast and Wanaka. State Highway 6 routes from Hokitika to Wanaka with more photo opportunities than your camera has space for.
Things to do on the West Coast:
Where are you the most excited to visit? If you’re looking for more road trip inspiration, don’t forget to check out our list of unmissable experiences from RealNZ.
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