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.

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