Planning A Road Trip To New Zealand South Islands

After my 14 day trip across New Zealand's south islands, probing relatives urged me describe my experience and I was at a complete loss for words. To call New Zealand- stunning, picturesque or spectacular would not do justice to the purest natural landscapes of the South Islands. Why? Because New Zealand is one country that has gathered all the good stuff that leaves you spell bound. Travel here and one finds unending beauty at the end of the world. Inspired and wanna book right away but have limited time? We tell you all about planning a perfect road trip to New Zealand’s South Islands.

Your trip starts with spectacular sights of the Southern Alps and Canterbury plains as you fly over Christchurch, the hub for all international airlines. Its difficult to decide what all to do once you land, but do start by choosing a good car/camper van rental option as driving in New Zealand is a pleasurable experience. Dotted with breathtaking scenery, stunning landscapes of snow capped mountains, fjords, icy glaciers & adrenaline-pumping adventures mixed with glimpses of the Maori culture, this 14 day trip shall make you feel closer to nature. The best thing about the itinerary is that it loops the South Island so you get to return your rental car easily.

Jucy car rentals

We spent three nights at Christchurch (one night at the start of road trip + 2 nights towards the end of the trip) and enjoyed walking trails through exquisite botanical gardens. Though hit badly by the 2011 earthquake, Christchurch retains its title of “The Garden City and offers many sights.

Botanical Gardens

Take a relaxed cruise on the Avon River with an Edwardian punter, visit the International Antarctic Center, go shopping or people watch at cathedral square. You can also take a short trip to lyttelton harbour.

Avon River

Another fun activity at Christchurch is to challenge yourself at adrenaline forest, located among natural surroundings. Tree to tree aerial pathway and flying foxes is a fun activity for the whole family across all age groups with basic fitness levels.

Adrenaline Forest

Adrenaline Forest - Rope Bridge

Christchurch - Lake Tekapo (2 Nights at Lake Tekapo). Approximately 228 km - 3 hour drive.

Lake Tekapo - a three hour drive from Christchurch through endless fields and greenery is a must visit. Gentle rolling hills, wind in your hair and company of loved ones makes this drive unforgettable.

Approaching Lake Tekapo

Poised majestically against the Southern Alps, lake Tekapo gets its milky turquoise color because the glaciers in the headwaters grind rock into a fine dust on their journey down towards the lake. Surrounded by mountains and a cloud free sky, its one of the best places to go star gazing in the night.

Scenic Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd located on the shores of the lake. Built in 1935, the church is still used as a place of worship & is a very popular spot for tourists. Local activities at Lake Tekapo include hot pools, ice skating, scenic flights, hiking, stargazing and more. We stayed here for 1 night. 

Lake Tekapo - Mount Cook. Approximately 104 km 1 and 1/2 hour drive.

Aoraki Mount Cook is New Zealand's highest mountain, with a height of 3,754 metres. The road follows the turquoise shores of Lake Pukaki, with beautiful views of Mt Cook. The scenic views shall prompt you to make unscheduled stops to soak in the sights and it will be absolutely worth it!

Beautiful landscapes

A shimmering jewel in the Mackenzie Basin, Lake Pukaki is also known as a major location for ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit Trilogies'. 

Lake Pukaki

Explore the Tasman glacier via a Mac boat for a once in a lifetime experience to get up, close and personal with one of the largest glacier of New Zealand. If you wish, add an optional day to explore Mt Cook National Park.

Up and close with Tasman Glacier

Tasman Glacier

Mount Cook - Queenstown Via Arrowtown (3 Nights in Queenstown). Approximately 280 km - 4 hour drive.

The drive from Mt Cook to Queenstown via Arrowtown takes you through beautiful alpine landscapes. Arrowtown - a charming and quirky village wrapped in history is a beautiful place to stop.

Ever-changing Stunning Landscapes

Queenstown’s fantastic scenery, adventure activities and picturesque location makes it a true global adventure capital. Set on the shores of crystal clear Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown offers many adventure activities like skyline gondola ride, bungee jumping, lugging, white-water rafting, sky diving or shot over jet boat ride.


The picnic table outside my room

Try the jet boat ride, an amazing white water ride through dramatic and narrow canyons.

Shotover Jet - lucky to get front seats

Another favorite activity in Queenstown is a thrilling luge ride zooming down beautiful tracks in your luge carts. Other activities include bungy jumping, gondolas, riding on a luge, boating farm tours, cycling, wine tours, skydiving, helicopter rides and more.

Luge ride

Try juicy and huge burgers at Freg burger that remains open almost 21 hours a day after the adrenaline settles and you reminiscence a beautiful day gone by. 

Queenstown - Te Anau (3 Nights in Te Anau). Approximately 172 km - 2 hour drive.

A two hour drive from Queenstown brings you to Te Anau, a township on the edge of Lake Te Anau. The picturesque town with steep ravines, deep fjords and waterfalls is a perfect stopover on the way to Milford Sound from Queenstown.

Another beautiful drive

We stayed at Te Anau for the night and left early morning for Milford Sound. Carved by icy glaciers during ice age, visit Milford Sound for a spectacular cruise through fjords, tall mountain peaks and cascading waterfalls. Known for its towering Mitre Peak, Milford Sound is a fusion of spectacular natural features.

Milford Sound Cruise

In the evening visit glow worm caves, a mysterious underground world of rushing water and luminous shimmer of glowworms.

Te Anau-Dunedin (3 Nights in Dunedin). Approximately 289 km - 3 and 1/2 hour drive.

Dunedin also known as the Edinburgh of New Zealand, is one of the best-preserved Victorian and Edwardian cities. Victorian architecture mixes interestingly with plenty of entertainment avenues in this second largest city in the South Islands. Dunedin railway station is New Zealand’s most photographed building and a great photo opportunity.

Dunedin railway station

Taieri Gorge Railway

From Dunedin visitors can opt for a variety of wildlife tours to see rare yellow eyed penguins, sea lions and fur seals. Thought to be one of the rarest penguins in the world, the yellow eyed penguin gets its name because of its yellow iris and distinctive yellow head band. We chose Elm wildlife tours popular tour - Peninsula encounters that took us through the beautiful Otago Peninsula and its wildlife hot-spots.

Dunedin-Christchurch. Approximately 360 km  - 4 and 1/2 hour drive.

We started our trip back to Christchurch reminiscing our 14 day trip and making plans for our next stop over at Singapore.

How Do I Get Here:

Major airlines connect Mumbai to Christchurch with Air New Zealand being the popular choice. Book a comfortable vehicle/camper van for your road trip in advance. Indian residents need to apply for visa in advance.

Best Time To Travel:

New Zealand is a year round destination, depending on what you really wanna see across the country. The months of March - May offer slightly cheaper accommodation rates and lesser crowds and June - September attract skiers. Summer months of December to February are crowded with tourists. South Islands experience temperate weather hence travel with appropriate clothing according to your itinerary. In winters, road travel is advisable only during day time.

Where Do I Stay:

New Zealand offers a huge range of accommodation ranging from luxury hotels, resorts, premium self serviced lodges, motels and campsites. We tried a mix of accommodation options depending on the time spent on the road.

Where Do I Eat:

Cafes across New Zealand serve fantastic food and extremely good coffee or one can head to a local pub or bistro. Restaurants shut early in smaller towns though gas stations sell convenience food. A huge range of accommodation ranging from luxury hotels, premium lodges to motels can be hired as per choice.


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