My Ideal 7-Day New Zealand South Island Itinerary

Hello friends! So I’ve already told you all about my favorite itineraries over 5 days in Maui, 3 days in San Francisco, and 2 days in Rome, but how about this time we spend a few days in another hemisphere? 

I want to give you some great ideas for a 7-day itinerary in New Zealand’s South Island. Hobbits, Elves, and Orcs aren’t the only travelers to explore this island’s incredible landscape, and hey–we can finally find out if toilets really do flush the other way down there!

Important note: Due to COVID-19, entry into the South Island is highly controlled at the moment, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start making plans for a brighter day!

Planning your trip:

To get straight to the South Island, you can fly into Christchurch or to Queenstown. If you were hoping to visit the North Island a bit, you could always arrive in Auckland, explore for a few days, and then make your way south.

When it comes to weather, the climate can be surprising, so you’ll need to pack for flexibility! Especially if you’re planning on including day hikes, an exploration of the Franz Josef Glacier, and then a plunge in Lake Tekapo–that suitcase is going to have to fit together like a perfect game of Tetris. 

Luckily for you, I’ve put together this easy south island itinerary, so planning and packing will be a cinch!

Day 1: From Christchurch to Tekapo

mountain in Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown, New Zealand

Welcome to New Zealand’s South Island! We’re starting this trip off in Christchurch and ending in Queenstown. If you need to take a day to rest up and combat that jetlag, feel free. 

Why? Because you’ll need to stay awake for an epic road trip!

To get a rental car, you can check out services like Discover Cars, or if you want to travel in ultimate comfort, pick up a campervan like those available on Motorhome Republic. You can park your campervan in holiday parks and campsites across the South Island.

Ready to go? Our first stop is at Lake Tekapo, a mere 3-hour drive from Christchurch. Here, you can relax and admire the impossibly turquoise water, against a backdrop of the Southern Alps.

 If you’re visiting between April and September, this is the best time to see the Southern Lights, or the Aurora Australis to be exact. I’d recommend watching them from the Mount John Observatory

If you’re too tired for the hike, on the other hand, do as I did and spend your evening enjoying some lazy stargazing by the banks of Lake Tekapo itself.

I went ahead and stayed in Tekapo for the night (the jetlag was winning that day), but if you feel up for driving another hour, head to a hotel in Mount Cook Village. Do plan ahead if you can, because accommodation in Mount Cook fills up fast!

Day 2: Mount Cook Adventures

Person hiking in Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand
Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand

If you made it to Mount Cook Village last night, then good news! You’ve already arrived at your second destination.

In the Aoraki /Mount Cook National Park, you can admire the tallest mountain in New Zealand, or even ski on the Tasman Glacier. I had endured some cold and rainy weather on my arrival in Christchurch, so snow skiing was off the table for me. Instead, I went on a lovely mountain walk that began in Mount Cook Village. It reminded me of some of the great hikes I had at  Banff National Park, back in Canada!

After a bag lunch on the mountain walk, the jetlag was dragging me down again, and I found the best way to combat this was with a rest and a good book at the blue pools of Lake Pukaki

What can I say? A girl loves a lake.

If you really want to see the countryside, you can take in the amazing views on a helicopter flight, which will give you an aerial show of the whole Tasman Valley, Tasman glaciers, and of course Aoraki Mt Cook itself.

All tuckered out, I passed out in my room at Mount Cook Village. Early to bed, early to rise for the third day of our south island road trip!

Day 3: Wanaka and More

kayaker in Lake Wanaka  New Zealand
Lake Wanaka, Wanaka, New Zealand

After a good rest, it’s time to get on the road for a two and a half-hour drive and arrive in Wanaka for a full day of fun.

 A highlight of the Otago region, Wanaka has some more incredible day hikes, mountain biking trails (bikes are available to rent!), glaciers, kayak trips, and even adrenaline-junky attractions like skydiving. 

I opted for a day hike called the Waterfall Creek Track, which began with a walk alongside Lake Wanaka to take a picture of the lonely Wanaka willow tree and ended at the Rippon Winery and Vineyard for a wine tasting. Cheers!

 Then it was time to head back to Wanaka for a  relaxed dinner at Kai Whakapai and another early bedtime. If you’re more of a night owl, try out Wanaka’s bar scene!

Days 4-5: Milford Sound and Te Anau

The drive from Wanaka to Milford Sound on the West Coast is a little over 4-hours, so it’s a good idea to stay a bit longer in Milford Sound or nearby Te Anau once you arrive.

My feet were still sore from yesterday’s hike, so after checking into my hotel at Te Anau, I went for a cruise around the Fiordland’s. There’s a day tour of the fjords that leaves right from Te Anau, where the driver offered some colorful commentary, and there was even wifi on the boat ride so I could share it in real-time on my Instagram stories. Check out my post on how to take an aesthetic photo to see how I do it!

 You can find accommodation within Milford Sound at the Milford Sound Lodge, but I found it simpler to cruise back to Te Anau at the end of the day and sleep there.

 On Day 5, I decided to stick around and check out the wild Te Anau Glowworm Caves, a fascinating tour!

After the tour and an afternoon snack, it’s time to check out of Te Anau and drive a couple of hours to Queenstown.  Once you arrive, you’ll have just enough time to grab dinner and enjoy some of Queenstown’s nightlife before bed.

two chairs in Te Anau Lodge, Te Anau, New Zealand
Te Anau Lodge, Te Anau, New Zealand

Days 6-7: Queenstown

 On your second-to-last day, you might enjoy checking out nearby Glenorchy to get your Lord of the Rings fix, go on the Skyline Gondola, go bungee jumping, or even take a jet boat tour if you didn’t get enough of Milford Sound. People don’t call it an adventure capital for nothing!

 As for me, I loved exploring Glenorchy, feeling like I had been dropped in the thick of Middle Earth’s beautiful fields and mountains.

On my last day, there was just enough time to check out of the hotel, grab breakfast, and fly out of Queenstown, wishing I had more time!

If you’re able to visit New Zealand’s South Island, I highly recommend spending as much time here as you can, so you can follow this itinerary and add an extra day or two, to take in the breathtaking Fox Glacier, the alpine Arthur’s Pass mountain range, lovely Kaikoura in the Marlborough region, and more!

That being said, if you’re like me and you’ve only got a week to spend, this was a great way to do it! For now, it’s time to say Ka kite anō to New Zealand, which means ‘see you later’ in Māori–because of course, we’ll be back. 

Ka kite anō!

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