The best New Zealand road trip: part 2 – South Island

New Zealand South Island Itinerary Overview

Welcome to part two of our epic whole-country New Zealand road trip. If you missed it, you can read part one here. We left off after travelling from the top of New Zealand’s North Island down to Wellington.

Now, it’s time to explore all the South Island has to offer. This part of the itinerary will take you from Wellington all the way to the bottom of the country. Then, we loop around and conclude the journey in Christchurch. This huge 13 day journey includes recommended activities and tours to enjoy along the way.

The best New Zealand South Island itinerary overview

New Zealand South Island Itinerary Overview

Part one covers the North Island over the first 11 days, and concludes in Wellington. Part two starts again on day 12.

  • Days 12 and 13: Wellington to Marlborough
  • Day 14: Marlborough to Hanmer Springs
  • Day 15: Hanmer Springs to Christchurch
  • Day 16 and 17: Christchurch to Dunedin
  • Day 18: Dunedin to Stewart Island
  • Days 19 and 20: Stewart Island to Fiordland
  • Days 21 and 22: Fiordland to Queenstown
  • Day 23: Queenstown – Wanaka
  • Day 24: Wanaka to Fox Glacier
  • Day 25: Fox Glacier to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass

We recommend renting a campervan or motorhome for the quintessential New Zealand road trip experience. As in part one, we’ll share our favourite TOP 10 Holiday Parks on the South Island to stay at along the way.

Days 12 & 13: Wellington to Marlborough

Days 12 & 13 Wellington to Marlborough
  • Picton
  • Marlborough

It’s time to farewell the North Island and make your way across the Cook Strait. We recommend pre-booking your spot on the Interislander Ferry, particularly if you’re transporting a vehicle. This scenic ride will take you to Picton, where you can start the next leg of your journey.

Enjoy a picturesque drive to Marlborough. Wine lovers – this is the destination you’ve been waiting for. Famous for its incredible Sauvignon-Blanc, you’ll have the opportunity to visit endless cellar doors here. If wine isn’t your tipple, don’t worry – Marlborough also boasts award-winning craft beer and gin.

river running through rock
(Marlborough – Image by @courtenaysoleil – shared with permission)

Perhaps the best way to experience Marlborough is by taking one of the many guided tours available. This way you can enjoy the region’s incredible food and drink with safe transport taken care of.

Places to stay near Marlborough

Things to do in and around Marlborough

Day 14: Marlborough to Hanmer Springs

Day 14 Marlborough to Hanmer Springs
  • Hanmer Springs

The hint is in the name – Hanmer Springs is another place where you can experience New Zealand’s famous thermal pools.

mountain with bridge crossing over a river
(Hanmer Springs – Image by @lost_in_aotearoa – shared with permission)

However, the delightful alpine setting offers much more. If you’ve had enough relaxation, indulge in adventure activities such as bungy jumping, jet boating or white water rafting.

Places to stay near Hanmer Springs

Things to do in and around Hanmer Springs

Day 15: Hanmer Springs to Christchurch

Day 15 Hanmer Springs to Christchurch
  • Christchurch City
  • Christchurch – Canterbury

If you’re an overseas visitor to New Zealand, you may only know Christchurch because of the earthquakes it endured in 2010 and 2011. However, there is much more to the city than these devastating events. While some parts of Christchurch are still rebuilding, it has a unique, quirky vibe that delights visitors.

sheep on mountain with city view in backround
(Christchurch – Image by @feruppenthal – shared with permission)

Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island and offers plenty of activities to keep you entertained. Why not punt on the Avon River or swim with dolphins? The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is also well worth checking out, home to adorable native animals.

Places to stay near Christchurch

Things to do in and around Christchurch

Days 16 & 17: Christchurch to Dunedin

Days 16 & 17 Christchuch to Dunedin
  • Moeraki Boulders
  • Oamaru
  • Dunedin

This leg of the journey comprises around five hours of driving, so do pace yourself. The good news is, the scenery along the way is incredible! Look out the window to see glimpses of the Southern Alps, a vast mountain range spanning around 500km.

Along the way, make a pit stop at Oamaru. This historic town is famous for its adorable colony of Blue Penguins. Another essential stop is the Moeraki Boulders. Some of the boulders have taken around four million years to naturally develop, so have your camera ready.

Blue penguin walking
(Blue Penguin – Image by @paulguihot – shared with permission)

Finally, proceed to Dunedin. We suggest spending a day here, as there’s so much to see and do. Dunedin is a quirky, picturesque university city with strong Scottish roots. Be sure to visit Baldwin Street, the world’s steepest residential street. The incredible 35% incline offers amazing photo opportunities and facilitates the famous annual Cadbury Jaffa Race. 

Places to stay near Dunedin

Things to do in and around Dunedin

Day 18: Dunedin to Stewart Island

Day 18 Dunedin to Stewart Island
  • Stewart Island – Rakiura

As you travel through the Catlins towards Stewart Island, you’ll find plenty of excuses to make a pit stop. There are endless natural wonders to discover including Purakaunui Falls and Surat Bay (home to sea lions).

Sea lion in water
(Sea Lion at Stewart Island – Image by @stewartislandadventures – shared with permission)

Make your way to the seaport town of Bluff and catch a ferry over to Stewart Island. Also known as Rakiura, 85% of the island is now designated Rakiura National Park. Explore the spectacular wilderness at your own pace, or take a guided wildlife tour.

Places to stay near Stewart Island

Things to do in and around Stewart Island

Days 19 & 20: Stewart Island to Fiordland

Days 19 & 20 Stewart Island to Fiordland
  • Fiordland
  • Milford Sound

The Fiordland region covers the south-west corner of the South Island. While large parts are inaccessible because of steep and inhospitable terrain, it is worth the effort to explore this spectacular region.

Fiordland is home to some of New Zealand’s most dramatic landscapes and stunning natural attractions. Perhaps the most famous of these is Milford Sound, the country’s only fjord accessible by road. 

sunset picture of Milford sound
(Milford Sound – Image by – shared with permission)

Cruising Milford Sound or taking a scenic flight is essential. The main activity here is simply experiencing the unparalleled natural beauty. However, you can also walk, kayak or go fishing.

Places to stay near Fiordland

Things to do in and around Fiordland

Days 21 & 22: Fiordland to Queenstown

Days 21 & 22 Fiordland to Queenstown
  • Queenstown

Queenstown is known around the world as New Zealand’s adventure capital. Whatever adrenaline fix you’re seeking, you’ll find it here. Why not bungy jump, sky dive, or go canyoning?

front tip of canoe on lake with green mountain view
(Queenstown – Image by @jeffclarkekiwi – shared with permission)

If you’re not a thrill-seeker, there’s still plenty to keep you occupied. Sample the region’s wine and craft beer, or discover cinema secrets with a Lord of the Rings tour.

Places to stay near Queenstown

Things to do in and around Queenstown

Day 23: Queenstown – Wanaka

Day 23 Queenstown to Wanaka
  • Crown Range road
  • Wanaka

When it’s time to move on from Queenstown, there are two routes you can take to Wanaka. Your ideal choice depends on your vehicle and driving experience.

Crown Range Road is a destination in its own right, being the highest main road in New Zealand. This route offers spectacular scenic views. However, driving conditions can be very difficult and it’s not always recommended for campervans and motorhomes.

ariel view of mountain range
(Crown Range – Image by @frankhopfler – shared with permission)

You may prefer to take the easier road via Cromwell, which also passes through lovely scenery. Once you arrive in Wanaka, you’ll be overwhelmed by the abounding natural beauty including famous Lake Wanaka.

man standing with a mountain view of lake wanaka
(Lake Wanaka – Image by @r._ed – shared with permission)

If you’re travelling in winter, Wanaka is a great destination for skiing and snowboarding. Like Queenstown, Wanaka also offers plenty of adventure activities such as kayaking and jet boating.

Places to stay near Wanaka

Things to do in and around Wanaka

Day 24: Wanaka to Fox Glacier

Day 24 Queenstown to Wanaka
  • Fox Glacier
  • Franz Josef Glacier
  • West Coast

Depending on how many detours you’d like to make, you may want to get up early today. There’s so much to see between Wanaka and Fox Glacier.

We recommend stopping for a short hike to the Blue Pools. Remember, the pools get their name from their association with Blue River, not their colour. They are usually clear – you may even spot fish lazing at the bottom! Other potential pit-stops include Jackson’s Bay (a popular fishing spot) and Roaring Billy Falls.

(Image by @foxglacierguidingnz– shared with permission)

Upon arrival at Fox Glacier, you’ll have plenty to explore. Fox Glacier is the twin of Franz Josef Glacier. Both are known for their untamed wilderness and year-round icy landscapes.

Places to stay on the West Coast

Things to do in and around the West Coast

Day 25: Fox Glacier to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass

Day 24 Fox Glacier to Christchurch
  • Devils Punchbowl
  • Arthur’s Pass

All good things must come to an end. It’s time to return to Christchurch to conclude your epic tour of New Zealand.

Before you get there, however, why not squeeze in a couple of final stops. Check out Arthur’s pass, a spectacular mountain pass which marks the boundary between Canterbury and the West Coast. While there, be sure to take a walk to see the Devils Punchbowl – a spectacular waterfall.

cloudy mountains with bridge road
(Arthurs Pass – Image by @swelsh19 – shared with permission)

When you’re ready, proceed to Christchurch. Here, you can drop off your campervan and either head home or on to your next adventure.

Things to do in and around Arthur’s Pass

Vehicle hire in Christchurch

Need help planning your next New Zealand road trip? We can help you find holiday parks here. You can also download our android / itunes app. We’d also love to see your holiday snaps – follow us on Facebook and Instagram.