New Zealand South Island Itinerary
We spent an incredible three weeks travelling from the North to the South of New Zealand in a campervan. We flew into Auckland and spent 8 days in the North Island which you can read about here. 11 days was then spent exploring the beautiful South Island. Set out below is my New Zealand South Island Itinerary.
Before I visited New Zealand, everyone I spoke to advised us to spend more time in the South than the North and I absolutely agree. There are some wonderful places in the North but the South is just incredible. It is just SO consistently beautiful! There is quite a distance between the main sights so be prepared to have some long days of driving. Also, always add on 10% extra time to what google maps tells you!
Day 1 of New Zealand South Island Itinerary: Ferry to Picton and Blenheim
We caught the Interislander Ferry (with our campervan) from Wellington to Picton which took 3.5 hours. The check in system was clear to follow and we departed almost on time. The ferry had more facilities than I expected with a couple of restaurants, bars, live music and a magician! There was plenty of space outside to take in the views closer to Picton which, by the way, are incredible!
After arrival in Picton, we drove into Blenheim and had short hike at Wither Hills Farm Park to the Rotary Lookout (30 mins). It had amazing views – you could see so many vineyards in Blenheim and beyond, the Wairau valley, mountains and out to the sea! You can walk to the lookout via Quail Stream which takes much longer (1hr 30 mins). The area is also suitable for mountain biking.
Our next stop was Harling Park which is a beautiful and tranquil Japanese garden. It was built as part of a sister city project to represent the relationship between Blenheim and Tendo and Otari in Japan. Rather surprisingly, there is a steep hillside that people can slide down using old flattened cardboard boxes as toboggans!
Last stop of the day was at Pollard Park which was a nice end to a sunny day casually walking around the park and beautiful flower garden.
We stayed for two nights at Spring Creek Holiday Park which (as the name suggests) overlooked the creek! It was a lovely spot with good facilities, including a swimming pool ($40 / night for 2 adults).
Day 2 of New Zealand South Island Itinerary: Marlborough Wine Tour
Commercial grapes were first planted in Marlborough in 1973, making this a New World wine region and since then the area has flourished. 85% of the grapes grown in Marlborough are Sauvignon Blanc but there are other fantastic wines being produced here.
We booked a full day wine tour with Marlborough Wine Tours who have been operating since 1999. The cost was $149 / £75 which included pick up / drop off and all of the cellar door fees. It was one of my best days in New Zealand and you can read more about it here.
Day 3 of New Zealand South Island Itinerary: Nelson and Marahau / Abel Tasman
We drove to Nelson, a town on the North Coast of the South Island. We visited Miyazu Park, a small Japanese park and then moved on to Nelson Saturday market which sells local produce and delicious food!
Via a NZ cricket game, we took a short but steep walk up to the ‘Centre of New Zealand‘ which had amazing views of the sea and mountain ranges. It is called the Centre of New Zealand because it was a central survey point in the 1800s!
In the afternoon we drove 1 hour 15 minutes to the Southern end of Abel Tasman National Park (Marahau). The national park is huge but there are not many accessible campsites and you would need 2/3 days to properly explore. We settled with a half day trip (see day 4 below) and a stay at Marahau Beach Camp ($40/night).
We had a lovely stroll along the beach (although it was very wet because the tide had come in) with the biggest ice cream! The evening was spent at the campsite restaurant / beer garden listening to a great guitarist playing.
Day 4 of New Zealand South Island Itinerary: Abel Tasman National Park
We booked a water taxi from Marahau to Bark Bay at 9am to embark on our half day hike ($80pp). Although it was a little expensive, it was one of the only ways we could experience Abel Tasman from the South of the park.
The water taxis are cleverly towed by a tractor into the sea! The trip was quite bumpy with lots of large waves and wind but we managed to spot a rainbow! We were also lucky enough to see adorable seal pups and a blue penguin.
When we arrived at Bark Bay, the sun came out just in time for our 4 hour hike through part of Abel Tasman park along the coast to Anchorage. The hike itself wasn’t too challenging or ambitious. There were some steep sections but they never lasted long (phew!).
We walked across swingbridges, many small streams, beaches, coves and over hills in the forest! We stopped off for lunch halfway at Torrent Bay and there were lots of people jumping in the sea from the jetty. Make sure you take plenty of food and drink with you as we didn’t see anywhere you could purchase anything!
On the second half of the walk, we visited Cleopatra’s pool (approx a 20 minute detour) and finally dipped our hot feet in the sea at Anchorage Bay before waiting for the water taxi back to Marahau.
We headed off towards the West Coast and stayed at Murchison Motor Home Park which was $38 / night for two adults.
Day 5 of New Zealand South Island Itinerary: West Coast
We started the day with a visit to the Buller Gorge Swingbridge which is New Zealand’s longest Swingbridge. It spans 110m long and is suspended 19 metres high above the Buller River. It is a little daunting walking over the bridge – make sure you hold on! The walk back / forth over the bridge and around the park is only $10. There is also a small zipline and a Buller Canyon Jet.
We drove 2 hours over to the West Coast to Punakaiki to visit the pancake rocks and blowholes. We travelled on the Great Coast Road and it was amazing. We have never seen waves and sea swell like it!
In Punakaiki the sea smashes in against the rocks and the pressure forces spray out of holes way above the ground. The sound is thundering and pretty ominous when you first arrive. In one section, we got absolutely soaked by the spray! A really unique place well worth visiting.
Our next stop was Hokitika Gorge with promises of the most turquoise waters from most publications. Alas, the water was pretty grey! Notwithstanding our disappointment that there were no glistening turquoise waters, it is still a pretty place to visit.
We stayed in Pukekura Lodge at a campsite run by a family of four out of a population of six in Pukekura (!) which was $25 / night for two adults.
Day 6 of New Zealand South Island Itinerary: Franz Josef Glacier
A 1 hour 15 minute journey took us to Franz Josef Glacier where we completed a 1.5 hour hike to the viewing point at the glacier. Not so long ago the glacier stretched many 100’s of metres inland but it has been receding for years. There were many waterfalls and streams along the way and the hike is suitable for most levels.
At the viewing point you could see just about see the glacier and lots of helicopters taking people up to the glacier to walk on the ice!
At the entrance to the hike, there is a separate walk to Peters Pool which is 25 minutes return. This is a must do as you admire reflective views of the glacier valley and mountains from the small kettle lake. Absolutely stunning! It was a worthy trip to see how the glacier has melted over the years and what now remains.
Glacier Hot Pools and More!
We rewarded ourselves after the hike with the Glacier Hot Pools where the water comes directly from the glacier. There are four hot pools varying from 36-40 degrees which are all very close to one another. It does not have the wow factor of the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua but it is still a relaxing way to spend a hour. We booked through Bookme for a specific time which reduced the price to only $19.
Our next stop was at Lake Matheson, a beautiful lake created due to the Fox Glacier receding. The whole loop takes 1 hour 30 minutes and on a very still day you can see the reflections of the mountains in the lake. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to see the reflections, there are the most amazing views of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman.
We started our long drive to our campsite on the shore of Lake Hawea with stops at Knights Point for views over the West Coast and the beautiful Thunder Creek Falls.
When we arrived at Lake Wanaka, we were blown away by the views. The sun was low in the sky and bouncing off the huge lake with mountains surrounding us.
When we turned into the small gravel road to Kidd Bush campsite it just got better! The mountains were reflecting in the lake and there was cattle all around, including on the road! This was our favourite campsite by far and at a bargain price of $16 / night for 2 adults. It was beyond stunning.
Day 7 of New Zealand South Island Itinerary: Wanaka
We set ourselves the task of climbing Roy’s Peak today – a 7-8 hour hike 1500m up a mountain! Oh my, what can I say?! It was HARD – so steep most of the way! It was made even worse by the scorching sun. The views were so incredible in the first hour that I genuinely considered not going through with it. I just couldn’t get over the constant steepness – around each corner as there was no reprieve.
The views were absolutely incredible looking over Lake Wanaka and the mountain ranges. It made the sweat and pain worth it! We made it to the top in around 4 hours, including stop offs for snacks and water and a 20 minute wait at the viewpoint (around 45 minutes from the top) for photos.
The summit mound itself is rather small so I had a little bit of vertigo at the top. After recharging with some lunch we made our long descent. What a difficult but worthwhile hike – the views are simply incredible.
After our long hike, we visited the town for some well earned food and drinks! Our campsite, Lake Outlet, was on the edge of Lake Wanaka ($45/2 adults plus extra $1 for hot water).
Day 8 of New Zealand South Island Itinerary: Wanaka to Milford Sound
Today was a day of driving towards the remote but beautiful Milford Sound. Our drive took us on the Crown Range Road between Wanaka and Queenstown, the highest road in New Zealand and one of the most beautiful drives in the world. We stopped off at some viewpoints looking over Queenstown between the mountains which, unsurprisingly, were gorgeous.
We stopped off at Te Anau, the last town before Milford Sound (make sure you get petrol!) and had an ice cream sitting by the lake. Near Milford Sounds, we visited the Mirror Lakes, named so because of the beautiful reflection. However, sadly there is no reflection when there is a slight breeze but it looked pretty nonetheless. We also stopped off at Eglinton Valley for more viewpoints!
One of the only campsites within an hour of Milford Sounds (but not right nearby) was Knobs Flat. I found the person running the site pretty abrupt but so be it!
Day 9 of New Zealand South Island Itinerary: Milford Sound
If you are in or around Queenstown, a Milford Sound Cruise with Southern Discoveries is not to be missed. It is an absolutely beautiful place so expect to spend most of the cruise with your eyes wide open and a smile on your face!
We drove to Milford Sounds (known as the self drive option) and parked at the Park and Ride in Deepwater Basin. This is a free car park with a free shuttle bus to the ferry terminal which runs every 20 minutes. This car park is split into two sections so make sure you have a proper drive around before you give up. We arrived at 10.30 and found one of the last 3 spaces – it gets busy quickly! If you can’t park there, there is a paid car park slightly closer to the ferry. It is $10 a hour and you have to walk to the terminal.
You can read more about our Encounter Nature Cruise here.
Our final campsite was the amazing Mossburn Country Park where I could feed the animals including the alpacas and sheep! We had a lovely BBQ sat out in the sun having our last night with our Jucy van.
Day 10 of New Zealand South Island Itinerary: Queenstown
I didn’t expect to love Queenstown as much as I did! It is a small but very lively and pretty town situated in the South of the South Island in New Zealand. It is also known as the adventure capital of the world so of course we had to be thrillseekers. Our morning was spent on the Shotover Fox Canyon Extreme Zipline which was 182m high and 445m long with a 5m drop! Wow, it was just amazing. You can read more about it here.
In the afternoon we visited the Skyline Gondola, the steepest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere. The best part was the luge, which are non mechanical go karts which take you spiralling down two fun 800m tracks! Expect corners, tunnels and dips and guaranteed fun for all ages.
Day 11 of New Zealand South Island Itinerary: Queenstown
Contunuing being thrillseekers we experienced the Shotover Jet which is the only jet boat that has exclusive access over the Shotover river canyons. You will read about K Jet and Orange Boats but they operate in a different part of the rivers and lakes. You can experience riding through canyons at 90kmh, skimming around boulders and holding on tight in 360 degree spins for 25 minutes. It was super fun!
We spent the afternoon on the beach and wandering around Queenstown Gardens. It is such a cute town!
You may be interested in the following blog posts on Queenstonw:
East London Girl: New Zealand South Island Itinerary