Road Tripping New Zealand: Two-Week Itinerary of the South Island, Part 2

Road Trip Itinerary for New Zealand's South Island
Enjoying the sunset from our campervan.

Last week I wrote about the first half of a two-week road trip itinerary for New Zealand’s South Island.  We started in Christchurch, hiked through Mount Cook, checked out Oamaru, the Moeraki Boulders and Victorian and Edwardian architecture in Dunedin, before heading to the west coast to visit stunning Milford Sound.

Now it’s time to continue this road trip and take you to some of New Zealand’s best natural and adrenaline pumping attractions.

Day 8: Queenstown

New Zealand South Island Two-Week road trip itinerary
The Shotover Jet in Queenstown.

After visiting Milford Sound the day before and staying overnight in Te Anau once again, get an early start to your day and drive up to Queenstown for an adrenaline fix. If you’re a thrill seeker, then this is one city you don’t want to miss, as Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world.  Scream inducing activities include skydiving, canyon swinging, white water rafting and New Zealand’s biggest gift to adventure junkies, bungee jumping. We weren’t as adventurous as we thought we would be and opted to try the “tamer” Shotover Jet, a high-octane jet boat experience through the Shotover River. Unfortunately we were left completely underwhelmed and $119 NZD (each) lighter in our wallets. If you’re not into adventure activities, Queenstown still offers a variety of leisure activities; from hiking to kayaking, cycling to horseback riding, to skiing and snowboarding in the winter months. The Queenstown centre is small enough to walk and offers a variety of dining and shopping options, and a vibrant nightlife.

Day 9: Drive the Haast Pass

Two-week road trip itinerary for the South Island, New Zealand
Hiking to the Blue Pools along the Haast Pass.

Today entails a lot of driving, but once again, the beautiful scenery will distract you from that numb feeling in your bum. Travel north out of Queenstown, through Arrowtown, Cromwell and Wanaka, and up towards Haast. Between Wanaka and Haast, you’ll encounter the Haast Pass, a mountain pass named after 19th century explorer Julius von Haast. Through this part of your route, stop and stretch your legs at the various roadside walks (varying from 5 minutes to 1 hour return). Some of the notable stops include Roaring Billy Falls, Thunder Creek Falls, Cameron Lookout Walk, and our particular favourite, the Blue Pools. Continue driving north along the west coast up towards the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, and find a car park in the Fox Glacier township where you’ll call home for the next two nights. If you’re tired from sitting in a car for most of the day, head to one of the glaciers and walk the self-guided trail to the glacier’s terminal face. But if you want to keep all that excitement for the next day, consider getting some laundry done and take in the surrounding scenery.

Day 10: Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier

Two-week road trip itinerary for New Zealand's South Island
The Franz Josef Glacier

Welcome to glacier country, one of New Zealand’s most amazing natural attractions. Situated about 20km from each other, the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are the only two glaciers that reach the lower rainforests in the country, and thus, give you the amazing opportunity to explore them. There is a range of activities to choose from when visiting the glaciers to suit any budget. The cheapest option (ie: free) is to walk the self-guided path to the terminal face of each glacier. The only way to physically set foot on either glacier is to join a guided tour where you’ll hike on, and through parts of the glaciers. For a unique perspective, you can even take a helicopter ride up and over the glaciers, with some companies also offering snow landings on the glaciers themselves. The weather is always changing in glacier country as cloud coverage rolls in and out throughout the day. Before heading out for the day, double check the weather conditions at the Franz Josef i-SITE Visitor Centre.

You can visit both glaciers in the same day or, as mentioned above, you can visit one of the glaciers the previous day when you first arrive in the area.  Just 5km west of Fox Glacier township is Lake Matheson, a small lake that offers scenic bushwalks and an incredible photo opportunity of Mount Cook reflected in its waters.

Road trip Itinerary, South Island New Zealand
Starting in Queenstown, the second half of a two-week road trip on the South Island of New Zealand.

Day 11: Hokitika

Hokitika, New Zealand
The old public library now being used as the Hokitika Museum.

Continue driving north along the west coast up to Hokitika. Once a densely populated town during the gold rush in the 1860s, Hokitika is best known for the natural resources in the area, including pounamu (greenstone or jade) and the rare goodletite (containing ruby, sapphire, and tourmaline crystals). Jewellery and art shops line the small town centre with artists heavily influenced by native Maori symbols. Also in Hokitika is the National Kiwi Centre where you can view kiwis in a replicated nocturnal environment (the animal not the people that is). You can also view New Zealand’s oldest living dinosaur, the Tuatara, and feed 85-100 year old long-finned eels. After spending a few hours in Hokitika, hop back on the road and head north towards Greymouth. Pick up groceries along the way and find a car park or campsite for the night.

Day 12: Greymouth to Westport

Road trip itinerary for the South Island, New Zealand
A section of the Punakaiki Rocks in Paparoa National Park.

Yet another stretch of dazzling scenery, the views along the west coast as you drive from Greymouth to Westport are spectacular. You may even fight over who has to drive this portion of the trip since you’ll just want to be staring out the passenger window the entire time. Take advantage of the number of photo opportunities located along the road. About halfway to Westport, stop at the Paparoa National Park and check out the naturally sculpted Punakaiki Pancake Rocks. Formed 30 million years ago, these limestone rocks have taken a beating from the natural elements which have formed them into what you see today. Give yourself about an hour to walk the natural and man-made path, and if you arrive during high tide, watch as the blowholes explode with water just meters in front of you. Continue driving north towards Westport and then inland to Victoria Forest Park and find a car park/campsite to park in for the night

Note: If you have extra time, consider continuing north to the Nelson and Marlborough regions, known for their seafood, fruit, vineyards, and white sand beaches.

Day 13: Hanmer Springs

A two-week road trip itinerary for New Zealand's South Island.
Relax in one of 12 open-air thermal pools at the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa.

It’s been 12 jam-packed days exploring and driving the better part of New Zealand’s South Island. You’ve been an excellent tourist and deserve a little relaxation for all your hard work. Hanmer Springs, located about 140km east of Reefton, is an alpine village complete with a golf course, olive grove, boutique shops and restaurants. But what draws visitors and locals alike to this area are the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa. Open year round (except Christmas Day), the complex includes twelve open-air thermal pools, three sulphur pools and six private indoor thermal pools, as well as a sauna/steam room.  There is also a family activity area with water slides and toys for the kids to enjoy. Reward yourself with a relaxing time soaking in the healing properties of the thermal pools and the surrounding mountain landscape. A single adult ticket costs $20.00 NZD and we paid $4.00 NZD for 4 hours of locker use.

Note: If you have extra time, consider heading north to Kaikoura where you can check out an impressive array of wildlife including the giant sperm whales that breach the water just off the coast.

Day 14: Christchurch

Road Tripping New Zealand, a two-week itinerary
The Hummingbird Coffee shop now being housed in a repurposed shipping container.

All good things must come to an end. It’s now time to head back to Christchurch where this incredible journey began. Return your campervan by noon and head out into Central Christchurch. In February 2011, Christchurch was hit by a devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of over 180 people and destroyed much of the infrastructure in the Central Business District (CBD). This came on the heels of an earthquake only 5 months earlier. But the city and people of Christchurch proved resilient and pushed ahead. The city is now in a transitional period, with rebuilding underway and outside-the-box ideas such as re-purposed old shipping containers now being used as retail space. The city is well known for its outdoor garden space especially Hagley Park, which has a commanding presence just minutes west of the CBD.

 

Want to learn how much this itinerary could cost? Check out our travel cost breakdown of our 2-week road trip in New Zealand.

Road tripping New Zealand was a breeze. The country understands its popularity and has made it hassle free to enjoy. Road signs are easily displayed and read, specific “scenic” routes have been pre-mapped out, designated conservation campgrounds have been established for the use of budget overnight parking for campervans and tents, and visitor centers are found at every major destination.

New Zealand firmly holds a well-deserved spot on the list of top road trips around the world and renting a campervan and driving around the country is the best way to take in all it has to offer.

If you have any questions or comments, please add them in the comment section below!

  • Shay Pedersen

    Thanks for this helpful post! We are also looking for budget options. Do you recommend ‘splurging’ to get a campervan with a shower and toilet? Or is there not much difference? It looks like you used Freedom campers. Would that be the best budget option? Thanks for your help!!

    • http://www.seeyousoon.ca Arienne

      Hi Shay! Thanks for the comment. Happy to hear this itinerary has been helpful in your planning! In terms of getting a campervan with a shower and toilet, we honestly didn’t feel that we really needed it. We made a point to stay at campgrounds that had washroom and shower facilities, and planned accordingly when campgrounds didn’t (though all campgrounds we stayed at had toilets). Freedom Campers will be one of your best budget options. They’re basic, with no frills, but was comfortable and got us all around the South Island.

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  • Ashley Misso

    Sorry to ask, i always wondered where you go to take a pee/poo whilst driving?

    • http://www.seeyousoon.ca Arienne

      Haha, it’s an important question! There were regular rest stops all along our route 😉

  • http://www.worldtravelerhd.com Allison at WorldTravelerHD

    This article, Part 1 and your cost article were so helpful! Apart from your great itinerary, your quick tips were so valuable to us like: -“you can’t get to the glacier without a guided tour” … and also your review of the Jet boat in Queenstown. Thanks so much- we’re there this March! -WorldTravelerHD

    • http://www.seeyousoon.ca Arienne

      I’m so happy to hear that Allison! Thank you for the comment and have a fantastic time!

  • Sebastien

    Man… i day dream about going there every day… how many days total was it? (including leaving from home to arrival back home? I’m currently planning a vacation there and i need to know how long i should be taking off. Also, it must be hard to get used to their time zone.

  • http://www.milesofhappiness.com Miles of Happiness

    I want to be there riiight now :)) It looks like you enjoy your trip too! New Zealand is my paradise :)

    • http://www.seeyousoon.ca Arienne

      I want to be back there right now too! Especially since it’s their summer 😉

      • http://www.milesofhappiness.com Miles of Happiness

        Yes, I’ve been there in summer it was just fantastic!

  • Mandy from Salt Spring Island

    Fantastic blog! We are in the early stages of planning another camping trip down under. We’ve done two campervan trips to Australia. One question – did you do the North Island as well? I’d live to read about it if you did as we pan to do both.

    • http://www.seeyousoon.ca Arienne

      Hi Mandy! So happy you found this post useful. It was a fantastic trip. Sadly we didn’t make it up to the North Island. With only 2 weeks, we wanted to fully explore one of the islands. It just means we’ll have to book a return trip to see what the North Island is all about :)

  • nz adventure

    hi Ive been to nz road adventure trip with mahira holiday homes who has a numbered of very well appointed holiday bungalows. the host are really friendly and generous. they do also organized trips to many other countries around the world. I have joined in their adventure road trip to south island new Zealand personally conducted by the host daughter named SITI. a very professional and amazing trip plus I only paid SGD$ 4100.00 for the whole 11 days 10 nights full board trip which includes return air fare, return airport transfer, accommondation in beautiful and clean self contained apartment , the whole journey with tour coordinator and with meals! surely recommend this to anyone who wants to visit NZ with package. her contact number +60123360098

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  • v2bahl

    Wow. What an amazing post. We are heading out to South Islands from the States (Texas). Read some guidebooks and talked to folks. But this is the most useful info Ive read. Heading out there with Wife and our 10 month old baby (at the time). Do you have any suggestions on camper van companies. Only thing Im finding is for USD3000 for a 2 week rental. Maybe cause its still high season? Also doing one way from Christchurch to Queenstown. Already done West Coast on a prior trip.

    • http://www.seeyousoon.ca Arienne

      Hey there! I’m so happy you found this post useful. Mission accomplished :) December and January is peak season in New Zealand, so prices for campervans are going to reflect this. Britz and Maui are the 2 big companies and offer a range of campervan sizes and styles. Also, if you’re only going one way between Christchuch and Queenstown, look in relocation rentals where you help to relocate a vehicle and pay about 1/2 of the usual cost. This works best though if your travel dates are flexible and you’re not planning on making extended stops along the way. We did this in Australia and it helped save us a lot of money, but it’s not for everyone. http://seeyousoon.ca/road-tripping-australia-relocation-rentals/ and our experience: http://seeyousoon.ca/road-tripping-australia-our-experience/

  • podgydad

    Great trip, we collect our camper tomorrow morning in Christchurch. Not sure how you managed to do it so cheaply though, we are doing 28 days and it’s cost is NZ$4000 just for the camper!

    • http://www.seeyousoon.ca Arienne

      It really depends on the time of year and size of camper van you rent. We traveled through the South Island at the end of March (just as Fall was setting in). December and January is peak season, so the prices will reflect this. We also drove a very modest (ie beater van) campervan. You’ll going to have a blast though, and a campervan is the best way to see the country!

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  • Charlie Beasy

    Wow! Looks amazing. I’m going to be doing a similar trip next year after backpacking SEA for 5 months.

    Do you know roughly how much it cost you to do this trip in NZ? Thanks!

    • http://www.seeyousoon.ca Arienne

      I know exactly how much it cost :) I still have to write that post, but here it is for you: $2,244.77 CAD for 15 days and that includes all costs (campervan rental, gas, tours, food, and beer).

      • Charlie Beasy

        Thank you for sharing, your website is extremely helpful!

        • http://www.seeyousoon.ca Arienne

          No problem, I’m happy to help!

      • Melanie Carroll Kerschbaum

        Hi! Was that cost for just one of you, or two of you? My sister and I plan on doing a 10 day tour and we are trying to figure out a budget right now. Thanks for your blog about the itinerary!

        • http://www.seeyousoon.ca Arienne

          Hey Melanie!

          Yes the total cost was for 2 people. The key was cooking almost all our own meals. Geez, I should really get on writing that cost break down :)

      • Peter D

        Was that including flights?

        • http://www.seeyousoon.ca Arienne

          Hey Peter! That total cost was excluding flights.

  • Pretraveller

    Thanks for an excellent story about your NZ trip. We travelled almost the identical route 3 years ago and had a lovely time!

    • http://www.seeyousoon.ca Arienne

      Thank you! I’m so happy you enjoyed it. It really is an amazing experience. Even I would love to do it again.