How to spend a week on South Island New Zealand

If you don’t have much time in New Zealand but wish to get a flavour of its landscapes and most popular visitor attractions, you’ll need to plan your trip carefully. Help is at hand with this week-long itinerary showcasing the best of South Island New Zealand.

South Island New Zealand Week-long Itinerary

Day 1: Christchurch

Christchurch. South Island New Zealand

Begin the South Island New Zealand tour with a day exploring the streets of Christchurch. Devastated initially by the earthquake that hit in February 2011, the Garden City has bounced back. Visit the Botanic Gardens, founded in 1863, that give the city its nickname. In summer, a punt along the River Avon is a delightful way to pass an afternoon; in winter switch to pedal power and take a cycling tour of the place instead.

Day 2: Arthur’s Pass

Scenery from the TranzAlpine. South Island New Zealand
Scenery from the TranzAlpine

On the 2nd day of your South Island New Zealand trip, we’d suggest taking the TranzAlpine train across Arthur’s Pass. It’s a scenic ride that’s great in all seasons. You’ll pass tranquil Lake Brunner and be able to observe the highland scenery from the open air observation car. Crossing the pass and descending once more, if you wish to continue on public transport, you’ll arrive in Greymouth in time to connect with a bus to take you to Franz Josef.

Day 3: Franz Josef

Helicopter above Franz Josef
Helicopter above Franz Josef

It’s time to take a break from the road and get outdoors. Tourists come to Franz Josef to experience its glacier and near neighbour, Fox Glacier. There are a whole host of ways to explore the icy landscape. Whether you book a helicopter ride with a snow landing at the top of the glacier or opt for a climb in crampons that gives you a close up look at its crevasses, you’ll be blown away by the views. There’ll be time for a valley hike and a dip in the town’s thermal springs before dinner.

Day 4: Queenstown

Ledge Bungy, Queenstown: Photo by Will Ellis / CC 2.0
Ledge Bungy, Queenstown: Photo by Will Ellis / CC 2.0

With an early start, you can be in Queenstown by lunchtime. Nicknamed the adventure capital of New Zealand, this is the birthplace of bungee jumping. If you’re brave enough, you should head just out of town to AJ Hackett’s and give it a go. Back in the centre, head up the Skyline and see for yourself what a spectacular location Queenstown is blessed with, perched on the shore of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by hills.

Day 5: Milford Sound

Scenic flight from Milford Sound to Queenstown
Scenic flight from Milford Sound to Queenstown

It’s a long way to visit Milford Sound within a single day, almost four hours by road, so ditch the driving and take a bus tour instead. At Milford Sound, you’ll be able to take a scenic cruise out onto the fjord. From its decks, you’ll pass seals sunning themselves on the rocks and waterfalls cascading down the steep valley sides. If the weather is playing ball, you’ll be able to return to Queenstown the quick way with a spectacular flight across the Southern Alps.

Day 6: Dunedin

Dunedin Train Station Photo: Antilived CC BY-SA 3.0
Dunedin Train Station Photo: Antilived / CC BY-SA 3.0

Three and a half hours’ drive south east of Queenstown brings you to Dunedin. Its Scottish heritage makes it unique within New Zealand. It also has the distinction of being home to the country’s sole castle, Larnach Castle, which is open to visitors. Take a look too at the town’s railway station. Inside the mosaic floor tiles were created by Royal Doulton. It’s worth trying to squeeze in a visit to Olveston House, the former home of a wealthy merchant who spent a lifetime collecting the souvenirs from across the globe that you’ll still see in the house today.

Day 7: Tekapo

Moeraki Boulders. South Island New Zealand
Moeraki Boulders

A short distance north of Dunedin are the curious Moeraki Boulders. Heading inland from the coast, take a detour and follow the road that leads to Lake Tekapo. There, you’ll be able to stroll along the lake shore and visit the Church of the Good Shepherd. It sits right at the water’s edge in one of South Island’s most picturesque spots. From there it’s around a three hour drive back to Christchurch where our journey ends.

About JuliaHammond


Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

Other posts by the Author

14 Responses

  1. Fun in New Zealand - Queenstown Family Activities | Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] all ages when you visit this fantastic lakeside town. So if you ever get the chance to explore the amazing South Island of New Zealand, make sure you take time for a family road trip. You won’t regret […]

  2. Best New Zealand Relaxing Destinations | Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] inside South Island’s Nelson Lakes National Park you’ll find the Blue Lakes. Scientific tests carried out in 2011 […]

  3. A wild walk to Wharariki Beach South Island, NZ | Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] walk, we know just the place.  West of Cape Farewell, and almost as far north as you can get on South Island, Wharariki Beach is remote, beautiful and above all, […]

  4. Tips For Your New Zealand Vacation - Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] roads a treat and driving a pleasure.  If you’re not so keen, particularly if you plan to visit South Island in winter and don’t like the idea of driving on icy roads, then take advantage of New Zealand’s […]

  5. Things to Do at Lake Hawea - Go4Travel Blog

    […] South Island’s glacial Lake Hawea sits in a glacial valley a short drive from Lake Wanaka. At the closest point the two lakes are only 1000 metres apart, separated by a ridge of jagged rocks known as the Neck. Dammed by terminal moraine deposited more than 10000 years ago, this 35km long lake is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in the whole of New Zealand. For those looking for things to do at Lake Hawea, activities are centred around the outdoors, the lake and Mount Aspiring National Park. […]

  6. Akaroa French Colonial Settlement - Go4Travel Blog

    […] behind a bay just 75 kilometres from Christchurch, Akaroa is one of South Island’s little gems. Its picturesque setting will inspire you to don walking boots and try at least one […]

  7. Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes - Go4Travel Blog

    […] little way north of Greymouth on South Island’s west coast you’ll find the Paparoa National Park. The stars of the show are the Punakaiki […]

  8.  South Island New Zealand Great Walks - Go4Travel Blog

    […] make the cut in the Department of Conservation’s Great Walks; five of them are located on South Island. Here are the South Island New Zealand Great Walks and reasons why you should make at least one of […]

  9. Historical Buildings in Invercargill, NZ - Go4Travel Blog

    […] South Island town of Invercargill, the furthest south-west of any in New Zealand, has a collection of historic […]

  10. Christchurch to Dunedin Drive: Highlights - Go4Travel Blog

    […] stunning Christchurch to Dunedin drive in South Island, New Zealand is one route that you can enjoy all-year-round. Whether you take to the open road in spring, summer, […]

  11. Things to Do in Stewart Island, NZ - Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] kilometres south of South Island lies Stewart Island, New Zealand’s third largest.  Known in Maori as Rakiura, meaning “the […]

  12. Coastal Pacific Train Journey in New Zealand - Go4Travel Blog

    […] still time this season to take the Coastal Pacific train on South Island’s picturesque north-east coast.  The train operates from September to May, squeezing its way […]

  13. Dunedin Tourist Attractions: The Best Bits - Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] city of Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, has a long and interesting history. Unique among New Zealand settlements for its strong Scottish […]

  14. Things to do in Mount Cook, New Zealand - Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] a clear day, Mount Cook Village has some of the best views on South Island.  The Southern Alps frame the picture postcard vista from the road alongside Lake Pukaki.  This […]


Leave a Reply