Julie Itinerary, New Zealand Leave a Comment

With 10 days on the South Island of New Zealand, you have just enough time to visit several top spots. Queenstown, Wanaka, the Milford Sound, and seeing Aoraki / Mount Cook (New Zealand’s tallest mountain) all top the list, but you also have the option to add on the Southern Scenic Route, Akaroa, Abel Tasman, and the Marlborough wine region. In this guide, we list four different ways to plan your 10-day South Island New Zealand itinerary, depending on your interests.

About These Itineraries

The first two itineraries are done point-to-point ending in Picton on the Cook Strait. These make great options if you also have plans to visit the North Island of New Zealand on this same trip.

The third itinerary is done as a loop. It travels the Southern Scenic Route of the South Island, visiting off the beaten track spots in New Zealand. This is a good pick for those on their second or third trip to New Zealand, or if you prefer visiting these less touristy coastal sights and towns.

Finally, the fourth itinerary moves a bit slower and travels less distance, but you’ll have more time in some of our favorite places, such as Wanaka and Queenstown.

These itineraries can be done all year. The best time to go hiking is spring through fall (September through May) and the best time to go skiing is in the winter (June through August).

You will need to rent a car or campervan for each of these itineraries.

Top Places to Go on the South Island

10 days on the South Island does not give you very much time, but you can visit several essential places. We have visited New Zealand twice, exploring the South Island on both of these trips, and with a quick visit to the South Island, here are the top places to visit.

Note: With 10 days, you can visit 4 to 5 of the places listed below. To visit all of them, extend your trip to 2 to 3 weeks.

Queenstown: The ‘Adventure Capital of the World,’ this town is home to a long list of thrilling experiences (bungy jumping, jet boat riding, and paragliding, just to name a few), plus a wonderfully long list of restaurants. Even on the fastest of itineraries, it’s worth spending at least 2 days in Queenstown.

Wanaka: Just an hour away from Queenstown, this lovely town has a spectacular setting on Lake Wanaka. Top experiences include hiking, wine tasting, climbing a waterfall, and dining with a view of Lake Wanaka.

Milford Sound: This is one of New Zealand’s top tourist attractions and often called one of the most beautiful places in the world. You can visit the Milford Sound on a day trip from Queenstown or on a more leisurely pace from Te Anau.

Aoraki / Mount Cook: This is the highest mountain in New Zealand. You can hike the trails at the base of the mountain at Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park or on a flightseeing tour from Queenstown, Mount Cook Village, or Franz Josef, mentioned next.

Franz Josef (Glacier Country): This area, which sits on the west coast of the South Island, is a land of lush rainforests, glacier capped mountains, and rugged coastlines. Take a flightseeing tour, land on a glacier, hike around Lake Matheson, go skydiving, and go hiking.

Southern Scenic Route: The Southern Scenic Route is a 600+ kilometer driving route that connects Dunedin, Invercargill, Te Anau, and Queenstown, New Zealand. It is one of New Zealand’s most scenic multi-day driving routes.

Marlborough Wine Region: The Marlborough wine region is the largest wine region in New Zealand. It is located on the north end of the South Island, not far from Picton.

Akaroa & Banks Peninsula: Banks Peninsula is a small, volcanic peninsula that sits on the east coast of the South Island. Akaroa is a small town that sits on Akaroa Harbour, the largest body of water on Banks Peninsula. Things to do include taking an eco-cruise to see Hector’s dolphins and penguins, hiking, scenic drives, and feeding alpacas.

Picton: If you have plans to also visit the North Island, you can fly between the two islands or cross the Cook Strait on the ferry. Picton is home to the ferry port on the South Island. From here, you cross the Cook Strait, ending the voyage in Wellington.

There are many other wonderful places to visit on the South Island, but with a limited amount of time, and if it is your first time in New Zealand, we think it is best to take your pick from the places listed above. But if you are curious about what else there is to do, take a look at our article Best Things to Do on the South Island of New Zealand.

Sheep Mount Cook New Zealand | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary #1

Queenstown, Aoraki / Mount Cook & Picton

HIGHLIGHTS: Queenstown, Milford Sound, Wanaka, Aoraki / Mount Cook, Christchurch, Kaikoura, Abel Tasman or the Marlborough wine region

This itinerary travels point-to-point from Queenstown to Blenheim and Picton. On this itinerary, you will visit a few of the must-see spots on the South Island, ending on the northern part of the South Island, which sets you up to take the ferry across the Cook Strait on the following day. You can also do this itinerary in the opposite order, if you will be starting your trip on the North Island.

Day 1: Arrive in Queenstown, drive to Te Anau
Day 2: Milford Sound
Day 3: Queenstown
Day 4: Queenstown
Day 5: Queenstown
Day 6: Wanaka
Day 7: Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Day 8: Drive to Christchurch
Day 9: Drive to Blenheim or Nelson
Day 10: Abel Tasman National Park or Marlborough wine region

10 Day South Island Itinerary

10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary #1

Day 1: Arrive in Queenstown, drive to Te Anau

It may seem odd to arrive in Queenstown and immediately leave it for another destination. This is what we did on our first trip to New Zealand and it actually works very well. By immediately driving to Te Anau, you set yourself up to follow it with several action-packed days in Queenstown.

Plus, the drive between Queenstown and Te Anau is gorgeous.

There are two main ways to visit the Milford Sound: from Te Anau (much closer) or as a day trip from Queenstown (a super long day trip with over 8 hours in a car, bus, or van). It is a much better experience to visit the Milford Sound from Te Anau and with 10 days on the South Island, you have plenty of time to do it this way.

At the Queenstown airport, pick up your rental car and then it is a 165 km, 2-hour stunning drive to Te Anau. You’ll drive along beautiful Lake Wakatipu, past farms filled with sheep, and countless amazing views of this part of New Zealand. It’s a great introduction to the beauty of the South Island.

Devils Staircase New Zealand | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Devils Staircase, a winding road that runs along Lake Wakatipu, on the drive between Queenstown and Te Anau.

Once in Te Anau, check into your hotel. Take a stroll along the waterfront and drive up to Lions Lookout Point for a panoramic view over the town.

Tonight, sleep in Te Anau. Recommended hotels include Annies on Milford (we stayed here and it’s one of the highest rated properties in town), Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments, and Bob & Maxine Backpackers. For dinner, we recommend Redcliff Restaurant & Bar.

Day 2: Milford Sound

Today is dedicated to visiting one of New Zealand’s most famous natural attractions, the Milford Sound. Since you are staying in Te Anau, you have plenty of time for the scenic drive to the Milford Sound, a longer Milford Sound cruise, and the option to add on the Key Summit hike.

For full details on how to plan your day, check out our Guide to the Milford Sound.

Milford Sound | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Milford Sound

Tonight, sleep in Te Anau. Have dinner at Ditto, Sandfly Café, or the MacKinnon Room.

Day 3: Queenstown

In the morning, drive to Queenstown (170 km, 2 hours). Spend the rest of the day in Queenstown.

Visiting Skyline Queenstown is a great thing to do on your first day here. The views are amazing and there’s lots to do to keep you busy, such as the Luge, mountain biking, hiking, bungy jumping, ziplining, and paragliding. If you are traveling with kids, you could easily spend all day here.

Queenstown

The view from Skyline Queenstown

In the evening, have dinner in town. You will sleep in Queenstown for three nights. For recommendations on where to stay and eat, check out our article Best Things to Do in Queenstown.

Day 4 & 5: Queenstown

Spend the next two days in Queenstown. There are a lot of different ways to plan your time, depending on your interests. From thrilling activities like bungy jumping and jet boat riding, to more chill experiences such as wine tasting and visiting a natural hot pool, you have tons of options (see the full list in our Queenstown Bucket List).

To help you plan your time, take a look at our Queenstown Itinerary, which lists multiple ways to plan your days, including great day trip options.

Shotover Jet | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Shotover Jet 

Day 6: Wanaka

In the morning, check out of your hotel and drive to Wanaka. There are two driving routes to choose from.

Via Crown Range Road: This drive is 70 km and takes an hour. On this drive, you will cross the Crown Range. At the highest point, make a pitstop and enjoy the views from the scenic overlooks. Then, descend to Cardrona, see the bra fence, and continue to Wanaka. This is the most scenic route but it is also the windiest.

Via State Highway 6: This drive is 110 km and takes an hour and a half. It goes through Cromwell and skips the switchbacks and curves of Crown Range Road. This route is not as scenic but it is a better option for those who have issues with motion sickness.

Spend the day in Wanaka. If you are a hiker, take your pick between Roys Peak Track and the Rocky Mountain Track to Diamond Lake. Those looking for even more adventure can do the Wildwire Via Ferrata and climb a waterfall. You can also go wine tasting, see #ThatWanakaTree, go for a cruise on Lake Wanaka, and watch a movie in Cinema Paradiso.

Roys Peak Track New Zealand | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Roys Peak Track

For dinner, we recommend Bistro Gentil (wine bar and French food with views of Lake Wanaka) or Big Fig (healthy Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine).

Tonight, sleep in Wanaka. We recommend Wanaka Homestead Lodge & Cottages, Wanaka Heights Motel, and Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park.

Day 7: Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park

In the morning, check out of your hotel and drive north to Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park (205 km, 2.5 hours). The drive along Lake Pukaki is one of the most beautiful and iconic scenic drives on the South Island of New Zealand.

Lake Pukaki Mount Cook

Lake Pukaki and Aoraki / Mount Cook

Spend the afternoon hiking the trails in the national park. The Hooker Valley Track is the most famous and gives you awesome views of New Zealand’s tallest mountain. You can also go flightseeing, stargazing, or hike the other shorter trails in the valley.

Sleep in Mount Cook Village.

Day 8: Drive to Christchurch

Again, it’s time to move on. Check out of your hotel and drive to Christchurch (330 km, 4 hours). On this drive, you’ll repeat the scenic drive along Lake Pukaki. Not long after, you’ll reach Lake Tekapo. This is a great spot to get out of your car, stretch your legs, and capture this stunning blue lake on your camera. The Church of the Good Shepherd is a popular photography spot here. You can also grab a snack or cup of coffee before resuming the drive.

Lake Tekapo | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Lake Tekapo

Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island of New Zealand. A series of devastating earthquakes rattled the city in 2010 and 2011, and these events have left their mark on the city.

This city makes a good stopover point as you head north towards Picton. Top experiences here include visiting Quake City (a museum about the earthquakes), Punting on the Avon, and visiting the museums in town.

Tonight, sleep in Christchurch.

Day 9: Drive to Blenheim or Nelson

Today is the last big driving day of this itinerary. You have an option on where to end the day, depending on what you choose to do tomorrow.

On the day 10 of this itinerary, you can either spend the day hiking and kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park or wine tasting in Marlborough. If you prefer to visit Abel Tasman, sleep in Nelson or Motueka. If you prefer to go wine tasting, stay in Blenheim.

The driving routes from Christchurch to Blenheim is different than the driving route from Christchurch to Nelson and Motueka. Here is an overview.

Christchurch to Abel Tasman National Park

Christchurch to Motueka: 420 km, 5.25 hours
Christchurch to Nelson: 410 km, 5 hours

If you choose to visit Abel Tasman, from Christchurch you will drive through the mountainous interior of the South Island.

You have the option to spend the morning in Christchurch before starting this drive, doing it in the afternoon, or immediately hitting the road and spending the afternoon in Nelson and Motueka. Sleep in Nelson or Motueka (Motueka is slightly closer to Abel Tasman National Park).

Christchurch to Blenheim

Christchurch to Blenheim: 310 km, 4 hours

If you choose to visit the Marlborough wine region, you will drive State Highway 1 along the east coast through Kaikoura, giving you the option to take a cruise to see and swim with dolphins.

Kaikoura Beach | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Kaikoura Beach

Three species of dolphins are found in the water near Kaikoura, including dusky dolphins, Hector’s dolphins, and common dolphins. Orca can also make an appearance from September to April.

Dolphin Encounter runs tours all year. You can either simply view the dolphins or, for about double the price, swim with dolphins.

Tonight, sleep in Blenheim. We recommend 14th Lane Urban Hotel and Ellena Court Motel (we have stayed in both of these and had great experiences at both of them). For dinner in Blenheim, we recommend Gramado’s, a Brazilian restaurant that gets rave reviews (try the Brazilian cheese bread and I loved the Feijoada, a Brazilian black bean stew).

Day 10: Abel Tasman National Park or Marlborough Wine Region

Abel Tasman National Park

Spend the day in Abel Tasman National Park. A great way to spend the day here is to do a cruise and hike combo. Learn more in our article How to Spend One Day in Abel Tasman National Park.

Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman National Park

Tonight, sleep in Motueka (a 180 km, 2.5-hour drive to Picton tomorrow) or sleep in Havelock, Blenheim, or Picton to have a shorter drive to the ferry port in Picton the following day.

Marlborough Wine Region

The Marlborough wine region is the largest wine region in New Zealand. This region produces some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world, along with Riesling, Gewürtztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris.

For information on how to plan your day, and to get recommended wineries, read our Guide to the Marlborough Wine Region.

Marlborough New Zealand | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Marlborough Wine Region

Tonight, sleep in Blenheim.

Doing this Itinerary in the Opposite Direction

If you need to do this itinerary in the opposite direction:

Day 1: Abel Tasman or Marlborough wine region
Day 2: Drive to Christchurch
Day 3: Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook
Day 4: Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park in the morning, drive to Wanaka in the evening
Day 5: Wanaka
Day 6: Drive from Wanaka to Te Anau
Day 7: Milford Sound
Day 8: Drive to Queenstown in the morning
Day 9: Queenstown
Day 10: Queenstown


10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary #2

Queenstown, Glacier Country & Picton

HIGHLIGHTS: Queenstown, Milford Sound, Wanaka, Franz Josef/Glacier Country, Hoktika Gorge, Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, Abel Tasman National Park, Marlborough Wine Region

This itinerary is similar to the one above, in that it starts in Queenstown and ends on the north end of the South Island. However, you take a different route to get there. Instead of visiting Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park and driving east through Christchurch, you drive along the scenic western coast of the South Island and visit Glacier Country.

From Glacier Country, continue the scenic drive along the west coast, ending the trip with time in both Abel Tasman National Park and the Marlborough wine region.

Day 1: Queenstown
Day 2: Queenstown
Day 3: Milford Sound day trip
Day 4: Queenstown, drive to Wanaka
Day 5: Wanaka
Day 6: Drive to Franz Josef/Glacier Country
Day 7: Franz Josef/Glacier Country
Day 8: Drive to Abel Tasman National Park
Day 9: Abel Tasman National Park
Day 10: Marlborough wine region

10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary #2

Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park or Franz Josef / Glacier Country?

The Southern Alps separates Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park from the towns of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier (an area referred to as Glacier Country). On a map, they sit side by side. However, it is a 480 km, 6-hour drive between them. With 10 days in New Zealand, it’s not worth visiting both of them.
 
Which is better? It really depends on what you want to do and how else you plan to spend your time on the South Island.
 
Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park is more popular. You get the scenic drive along Lake Pukaki and can easily add on Lake Tekapo. It’s also the best place to get the iconic view of Aoraki / Mount Cook.
 
Franz Josef and Glacier Country is less popular. The main thing to do here is to take a flightseeing tour with a glacier landing, getting a bird’s eye view of Aoraki / Mount Cook and Mount Tasman (you can do that from Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park as well), hiking to glaciers, and seeing the rainforest along the west coast. On the drive north, you also get to see Hoktika Gorge and the Pancake Rocks.
 
Both are phenomenal experiences. However, I don’t think it’s worth driving to Franz Josef if you do not plan to do a flightseeing tour, since that is one of main things to do here.

Days 1 & 2: Queenstown

Plan your arrival for the first half of the day on day 1. Spend the first two days of this itinerary jet boat riding, bungy jumping, hiking, riding the Luge, and exploring Queenstown and its surrounds. For a list of things to do, as well as hotel and restaurant recommendations, take a look at our Queenstown Bucket List.

You will sleep in Queenstown for 3 nights.

Nest Kitchen and Bar Queenstown

Dining at Nest Kitchen and Bar in Queenstown

Day 3: Milford Sound Day Trip

The Milford Sound is a must-visit on a trip to the South Island. This experience usually combines a scenic drive from Te Anau to the Milford Sound and then a 1 to 3 hour cruise on the Milford Sound.

On this itinerary, you will day trip to the Milford Sound from Queenstown. It’s a long day but it gives you more free time later this week for Wanaka and Glacier Country.

There are several ways to day trip to the Milford Sound.

If you have a car, you can drive to the Milford Sound to Te Anau and continue on to the Milford Sound. Book a Milford Sound cruise midday and return to Queenstown in the evening. It’s about 4 hours of driving one way (8 hours round trip). This day trip lasts about 12 hours.

If you don’t have a car, or if you just prefer to let someone else handle the 8 hours of driving, book a tour. This tour is one of the highest rated from Queenstown. Or take a premium small group tour from Queenstown. These day trips last about 12 hours.

If the idea of spending 8 hours in a car, bus, or van sounds like torture, you have the option to take a flightseeing tour to the Milford Sound followed by a cruise. You miss the scenic drive from Te Anau to the Milford Sound, but you get to see the Southern Alps and the Milford Sound from the sky, so it is an incredible experience. It’s also the priciest, but it only takes a half a day, so you’ll also have more time in Queenstown.

Day 4: Queenstown, Drive to Wanaka

Spend the morning and midday in Queenstown. You also have the option to visit Arrowtown or the wineries near Cromwell, as these are located along the drive to Wanaka.

Central Otago Wine Region Te Kano | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Te Kano Estate near Cromwell

In the afternoon, drive to Wanaka via Crown Range Road (70 km, one hour, and Arrowtown is worth the quick detour along this drive) or through Cromwell (110 km, 1.5 hours, the Cromwell wineries are good add-ons to this drive).

Have dinner in Wanaka. You will spend two nights in Wanaka.

Day 5: Wanaka

Spend the day in Wanaka. If you are a hiker, take your pick between Roys Peak Track and the Rocky Mountain Track to Diamond Lake. Those looking for even more adventure can do the Wildwire Via Ferrata and climb a waterfall. You can also go wine tasting, see #ThatWanakaTree, go for a cruise on Lake Wanaka, and watch a movie in Cinema Paradiso.

Diamond Lake Hike

The Rocky Mountain Track

Day 6: Drive to Franz Josef/Glacier Country

From Wanaka, it takes 4 hours to drive the 290 km to Franz Josef. Along the way, there are a few places to pause, enjoy the view, and even do a short hike.

From Wanaka, head north on State Highway 6. About 30 minutes into the drive you’ll reach The Neck, a narrow strip of land that sits between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. There are two scenic viewpoints here: Lake Hawea Lookout and Lake Wanaka Lookout.

Thirty minutes (35 km) north of The Neck is the Blue Pools Track. This 3 km out-and-back hike takes 30 minutes to an hour and takes you to viewpoints of vibrantly blue pools on the Makarora River.

Blue Pools New Zealand | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Blue Pools

Continue the scenic drive to Franz Josef. Once in Franz Josef, check into your hotel. If you still have time and energy, you can go on a short hike. For a full list of things to do and where to stay, take a look at our Guide to Glacier Country.

Day 7: Franz Josef/Glacier Country

Spend the day in Glacier Country. The best thing to do here is to take a flightseeing tour, where you get a bird’s eye view of Aoraki / Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. You can add on glacier landings and even go heli-hiking.

More things to do in Glacier Country include the scenic walk around Lake Matheson, hiking to viewpoints of the glaciers, seeing the rarest kiwi at the West Coast Wildlife Centre, and relaxing in the hot pools.

Tonight, sleep in Glacier Country.

Franz Josef Snow Landing

On a helicopter tour with snow landing from Franz Josef

 

Lake Matheson | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Lake Matheson

Day 8: Drive to Abel Tasman National Park

Today, drive to Motueka. This small town is a great place to stay to explore Abel Tasman National Park. To get here, it is a 6-hour drive (465 km) without stops. Like the drive on day 4, today is another scenic drive.

Hoktika Gorge is a short detour off of State Highway 6. You’ll reach this point about 2 hours into the drive from Franz Josef. This aquamarine gorge is a fantastic hiking and swimming spot on the South Island. A 2 km walking trail loops around the gorge, crossing several suspension bridges along the way. It takes about 45 minutes to do the walk, longer if you pause for a swim.

Hoktika Gorge

Hoktika Gorge

About an hour and a half drive north of Hoktika Gorge are the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. On this small peninsula sits stacks of limestone rocks, that with a little imagination, looks like stacks of pancakes. This view of the rocks and the coastline is one of our favorite coastal views on the South Island of New Zealand. To see the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, it is a 1.1 km walking loop that takes about 20 minutes. It is free to visit.

Pancake Rocks New Zealand | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

Continue the drive to Motueka and check into your hotel. We stayed at the Terraced Chalets and had a wonderful experience but the Abbey Court Motel and the Avalon Manor Motel also get great reviews.

Day 9: Abel Tasman National Park

Spend the day in Abel Tasman National Park. A great way to spend the day here is to do a cruise and hike combo. Learn more in our article How to Spend One Day in Abel Tasman National Park.

In the late afternoon, drive to Blenheim (175 km, 2.5 hours), have dinner, and check into your hotel.

Day 10: Marlborough wine region

Spend the day wine tasting in New Zealand’s largest wine region. For recommended wineries and tips on how to plan your day, read our Guide to the Marlborough Wine Region.

Doing this Itinerary in the Opposite Direction

If you need to do this itinerary in the opposite direction:

Day 1: Marlborough wine region
Day 2: Abel Tasman National Park
Day 3: Drive to Franz Josef
Day 4: Franz Josef / Glacier Country
Day 5: Drive to Wanaka
Day 6: Wanaka
Day 7: Drive to Queenstown in the morning, afternoon in Queenstown
Day 8: Queenstown
Day 9: Milford Sound day trip
Day 10: Queenstown


10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary #3

Queenstown & the Southern Scenic Route

HIGHLIGHTS: Queenstown, Wanaka, Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, Dunedin, Otago Peninsula, Southern Scenic Route, Cathedral Caves, Nugget Point Lighthouse, Bluff, Invercargill, Milford Sound, Te Anau

This itinerary is done as a loop, starting and ending in Queenstown. Rather than traveling north, on this itinerary, you travel to the southernmost part of the South Island along the Southern Scenic Route.

This itinerary is a good option for those who want to visit a few of the South Island’s most popular destinations (such as Queenstown, Wanaka, and Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park) but also go off the beaten path, exploring gorgeous coastal sites and quaint towns.

Since this starts and ends in Queenstown, if you also have plans to visit the North Island, you can fly there from Queenstown or add on two to three days to drive to Picton.

Day 1: Queenstown to Wanaka
Day 2: Wanaka
Day 3: Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Day 4: Drive to Dunedin
Day 5: Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula
Day 6: Invercargill
Day 7: Drive to Te Anau
Day 8: Milford Sound
Day 9: Queenstown
Day 10: Queenstown

10 Day South Island Itinerary

10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary #3

Day 1: Queenstown to Wanaka

Arrive in Queenstown, ideally in the first half of the day, pick up your rental car, and drive to Wanaka. Spend the rest of the day in Wanaka, get settled into your hotel, and have dinner. You will spend two nights in Wanaka.

Day 2: Wanaka

Spend the day in Wanaka. Hikers can choose between the Roys Peak Track and the Rocky Mountain Track to Diamond Lake. You can also go wine tasting, climb a via ferrata, rent bikes and cycle around Lake Wanaka, see #ThatWanakaTree, go for a cruise on Lake Wanaka, visit a lavender farm, and watch a movie in Cinema Paradiso.

#ThatWanakaTree | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

#ThatWanakaTree

Day 3: Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park

In the morning, check out of your hotel and drive north to Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park (205 km, 2.5 hours). Enjoy the scenic drive along Lake Pukaki. Spend the day hiking in the national park. You can also go flightseeing and stargazing.

Tonight, sleep in Mount Cook Village.

Day 4: Drive to Dunedin

Today, drive to Dunedin. If you wake up early, you can fit it a short hike in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park before you go.

There are several routes to Dunedin. I recommend first driving to Lake Tekapo, one of New Zealand’s most beautiful lakes. It takes about an hour to drive here from Mount Cook Village. Get out, stretch your legs, and capture the lake’s brilliantly blue color on your camera or smartphone. It’s worth the extra drive.

Continue the drive along State Highway 8 through Burke’s Pass and out to the east coast. Once you hit State Highway 1 in Pareora, you’ll head south to Dunedin.

Along this drive, another worthwhile detour is the Moeraki Boulders. These boulders are a popular photography spot on the South Island. The Moeraki Boulders are located on Koekohe Beach (Moeraki Boulders Beach on Google Maps). Park at the Moeraki Boulders Café and it is a short walk out to the beach. At low tide, it is easy to walk right up to and photograph the boulders. At high tide, the bottoms will be covered with water. Our visit was near low tide.

Moeraki Boulders | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Moeraki Boulders

Continue the drive to Dunedin. Check into your hotel and have dinner. You will spend two nights in Dunedin. For hotel and restaurant recommendations, take a look at our Guide to Dunedin (coming soon).

Day 5: Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula

Dunedin is the second largest city on the South Island of New Zealand. Sitting next to Dunedin is the Otago Peninsula, a small peninsula filled with scenic overlooks, deserted beaches, and several places to see little blue penguins and yellow eyed penguins.

Otago Peninsula New Zealand

Otago Peninsula

Spend the morning visiting the sites in Dunedin and the afternoon on the Otago Peninsula, where you can tour a castle and go on eco tours to see yellow eyed penguins and little blue penguins.

For more information, read our Guide to Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula (coming soon).

Day 6: Drive to Invercargill

Today is your first day on the Southern Scenic Route. The Southern Scenic Route is a 600+ kilometer driving route that connects Dunedin to Queenstown. Most of this drive is along the coast, with options to add on short hikes and waterfalls.

Today you will drive 240 km of this route. Without stops, it takes just over 3 hours of driving. With detours, this will take a full day.

We have a detailed guide to the Southern Scenic Route which I recommend referring to. Here is a brief overview on the sites to visit between Dunedin and Invercargill.

Tunnel Beach: Just a short drive south of Dunedin, this picturesque beach is home to dramatic cliffs and a sea cave. To get to the beach, it is a steep, downhill, 0.8 km (0.5 mile) walk to the beach. Once at the beach, you can descend farther through the tunnel for a different view of the coastline. Then, repeat the walk, uphill this time, to get back to your car.

Southern Scenic Route | 10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Tunnel Beach

Nugget Point Lighthouse: This lighthouse is one of the most picturesque places to visit on the Southern Scenic Route. From the car park, it is a 0.8 km/0.5 mile walk (about 15 minutes) to get to the lighthouse.

Nugget Point Lighthouse

Nugget Point Lighthouse

Purakaunui Falls: Purakaunui Falls is a beautiful, multi-tiered waterfall. To get here, you’ll have to do a little bit of hiking. It takes 10 minutes to walk to the waterfall and this entire hike is through a dense forest. The total distance for this walk is 0.6 km.0.4 miles round trip with 30 meters/100 feet of total ascent.

Southern Scenic Route Waterfall

Parakaunui Falls

Florence Hill Overlook: For a sweeping view of Tautuku Beach, it’s worth the quick stop at Florence Hill Lookout.

Cathedral Caves: These caves can only be visited at low tide, since they are located on a beach, but they are one of the most interesting places to visit on the Southern Scenic Route. Get the full details here.

Curio Bay: Visit this spot for scenic views along the coastline.

Curio Bay New Zealand

Curio Bay

Slope Point: Slope Point is the southernmost point of the South Island of New Zealand. It is a 1.8 km (1.1 mile) out-and-back walk to the point, with 100 meters (325 feet) of total ascent. Plan on spending about 30 to 45 minutes here, which gives you enough time to do the walk and take photos.

End the day in Invercargill. Have dinner and get checked into your hotel. We recommend staying at The Lodges at Transport World.

Day 7: Drive to Te Anau

Today’s drive is 190 km and will take just over two hours, without stops. However, we have a few detours and scenic places to visit along the drive.

Before leaving Invercargill, you have the option to make the detour to Bluff, for scenic views over the town and a view of nearby Stewart Island.

Then, on the drive to Te Anau, visit Cosy Nook (a quiet, scenic, secluded spot), Gemstone Beach, and McCracken’s Rest.

Places to Go South Island New Zealand

McCracken’s Rest

As you enter Te Anau, make the quick stop at the Lions Lookout Point for panoramic views of the town.

Spend the afternoon in Te Anau. You have the option to visit the Te Anau Glowworm Caves today. Have dinner and check into your hotel. You will spend two nights in Te Anau.

Day 8: Milford Sound

Today, spend the day visiting the Milford Sound with the option to add on the Key Summit Hike. Learn more in our Guide to the Milford Sound.

Key Summit Trail

Key Summit Trail

Days 9 & 10: Queenstown

On the morning of day 9, drive to Queenstown (completing the Southern Scenic Route) and spend the rest of your time in Queenstown. Refer to our Queenstown Itinerary for suggestions on how to plan your time.

New Zealand Guide


10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary #4

Christchurch to Queenstown

HIGHLIGHTS: Christchurch, Akaroa and Banks Peninsula, Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, Wanaka, Te Anau, Milford Sound, Queenstown

This itinerary covers less real estate on the South Island, but the advantage is that you spend less time in a car and have a little bit more time to relax. This itinerary is a good option for those who still want to see a few highlights of the South Island, have a nice amount of time in Queenstown, without doing a ton of driving.

There are international airports in both Christchurch and Queenstown, so getting here and moving on to your next destination is easy to do.

Day 1: Christchurch & Banks Peninsula
Day 2: Akaroa & Banks Peninsula
Day 3: Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Day 4: Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
Day 5: Wanaka
Day 6: Drive to Te Anau
Day 7: Milford Sound
Day 8: Queenstown
Day 9: Queenstown
Day 10: Queenstown

South Island New Zealand 10 Day Itinerary

10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary #4

Day 1: Christchurch & Banks Peninsula

Arrive in Christchurch ideally in the morning. Pick up your rental car and spend the mid portion of the day in Christchurch. There are a lot of ways to fill your time in Christchurch. You can go Punting on the Avon, visit the International Antarctic Centre, learn about the earthquakes that rattled Christchurch at Quake City, or ride the gondola for panoramic views over Christchurch and the Banks Peninsula.

In the late afternoon, drive to Akaroa (80 km, 1.5 hours). Check into your hotel and have dinner. For hotel and restaurant recommendations, and more information on how to spend your time, visit our Guide to Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula.

Day 2: Akaroa & Banks Peninsula

Banks Peninsula is a small, volcanic peninsula located on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Sitting in the center of this mountainous landscape is Akaroa Harbour and the small town of Akaroa.

Akaroa Harbour Photo

Akaroa Harbour

 

Alpacas Akaroa

photo credit: Shamarra Alpacas

Spend the day on the Banks Peninsula. Take a wildlife cruise to see Hector’s dolphins (the smallest dolphins in the world), go on a scenic drive on Summit Road and/or to Misty Peaks Reserve, and meet the Shamarra Alpacas.

Tonight, sleep in Akaroa.

Day 3: Drive to Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park

Today is the longest driving day of this itinerary. To get to Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, it is a 380 km drive that takes just under 5 hours.

About an hour before you reach the national park, you will arrive at Lake Tekapo. This is a great place to grab a bite to eat and go for a lovely stroll along Lake Tekapo. If you are doing well on time, you can also add on the quick detour up to the Mount John Observatory for panoramic views over Lake Tekapo (well worth it when the weather is good, this adds on about 20 km and 45 minutes, which includes time for photos).

Church of the Good Sheperd

Church of the Good Sheperd at Lake Tekapo

Continue the drive to Mount Cook Village. Enjoy those spectacular views of Aoraki / Mount Cook as you wind along Lake Pukaki.

Check into your hotel and have dinner.

Day 4: Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

Spend the day hiking the trails in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, with the option to add on a flightseeing tour.

In the late afternoon, drive to Wanaka (205 km, 2.5 hours), check into your hotel, and have dinner. You will spend two nights in Wanaka.

Hooker Valley Track

Hooker Valley Track, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Day 5: Wanaka

On this itinerary, you have one full day in Wanaka. In the morning, we recommend going for a hike, and there are a lot to choose from, from short, quick hikes to challenging day hikes. You also have the option to do the Wildwire Via Ferrata and climb a waterfall.

In the afternoon, go wine tasting, visit the lavender farm, go to the movies at Cinema Paradiso, or go for a cruise on Lake Wanaka. For the full list, read our Guide to Wanaka.

Day 6: Drive to Te Anau

Today, you have two options. Both involve driving to Te Anau (230 km, 3 hours).

In the morning, drive to Te Anau and spend the afternoon touring the Te Anau Glowworm Caves. Or, spend the morning in Wanaka and in the afternoon drive to Te Anau.

You will spend two nights in Te Anau.

Day 7: Milford Sound

Today, visit the Milford Sound with the option to add on the Key Summit Hike. We cover these in detail in our Guide to the Milford Sound.

Days 8, 9 & 10: Queenstown

On the morning of day 8, drive to Queenstown and spend the rest of your time in Queenstown. For ideas on how to plan your time, take a look at our Queenstown Itinerary.


More Information for Your Trip to New Zealand

If you are having a tough time deciding which itinerary is right for you, let us know in the comment section below. Just tell us a little bit about your interests (if you are a hiker, a foodie, a family, etc.) and what time of year you plan to visit New Zealand, and we can help you pick the best option. Also, if you want to know how to modify and of these itineraries, we can help you do that, too.

NEW ZEALAND ROAD TRIP (NORTH & SOUTH ISLAND): With 3 weeks in New Zealand, visit the highlights on a road trip to the North Island and South Island. If you have less time, you can shorten this itinerary by spending 2 weeks on the South Island.

SOUTH ISLAND ITINERARIES: Whether you have one week or three on the South Island of New Zealand, plan your visit with our one week itinerary and 2 week itinerary. Each itinerary lists multiple ways to plan your road trip, depending on your interests.

PLACES TO GO ON THE SOUTH ISLAND: Take a look out our South Island of New Zealand Bucket List for 40 memorable things to see and do on the South Island. For those with plans to visit the North Island, we also have a North Island Bucket List.

We have TONS more information about New Zealand in our New Zealand Travel Guide, including Auckland, Queenstown, Wanaka, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Franz Josef, Christchurch, Wellington, Taupō, and the Milford Sound.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many days do you need for the South Island of New Zealand?

At a bare minimum, plan on spending one week on the South Island. This gives you just enough time to spend a few days in Queenstown, a few days in Wanaka, and a day trip to the Milford Sound.

With more time, you can add on Franz Josef and Glacier Country, Christchurch, Banks Peninsula, the Marlborough Wine Region, and Abel Tasman National Park. Those with 10 days can also add in the Southern Scenic Route.

When are the best months to visit the South Island?

The South Island can be visited all year.

Summer (December through February) is generally the best time to be here, with warmer, drier weather. However, it is also the busiest time of year to be here.

In autumn (March through May), temperatures cool off, as do the crowds, but rain chances increase. Fall colors make an appearance.

In the winter (June, July, and August), many alpine trails close once the snow begins to fall. This is the best time to visit the South Island if you plan to go skiing.

And finally, in the spring (September through November), temperatures warm up and flowers begin to bloom. In late spring, rainfall goes down but crowds start to rise.

What are the best things to do on the South Island?

For first time visitors, Queenstown, the Milford Sound, Wanaka, and Aoraki / Mount Cook top the to do list. More great places to visit include Franz Josef and Glacier Country, Abel Tasman National Park, Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula, the Marlborough wine region, the Southern Scenic Route, and Christrchurch. For the full list, read our article Best Things to Do on the South Island of New Zealand.


If you have any questions about these 10-day South Island New Zealand itinerary options, let us know in the comment section below.

 

10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary

 

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