The Ultimate New Zealand Adventure Itinerary

For our next instalment of our Ultimate Itinerary Series, we thought we would put together all of the best adventure activities that this beaautiful country has to offer! After all, New Zealand is an adventurer’s playground that can be consumed quite comfortably in 14 day, 14-night itinerary. This itinerary doesn’t include every region in NZ as you would certainly need longer than 14 days but this route does include the best award-winning adventure activities that we think you should not miss!

Queenstown is often referred to NZ’s adventure capital so with no time to spare this is where you should start! After an adrenaline filled couple of days in Queenstown we suggest you embark on a road trip of a lifetime in a campervan or a hire car concluding your journey in Auckland.

Not feeling so adventurous? If you would like some other itinerary ideas we got you covered – check out our 10 North Island Itinerary, our 10 South Island Itinerary. And our incredible See It All in 30 days itinerary.

Top Tip: If you want more information on each particular region/destination that we mention then do click on the hyperlinks within this article as it will link you through to our much more in-depth articles on that particular region/destination.

Please Note: All views are our own, this is not a sponsored post and as we have done the majority of these activities that is why we can confidently recommend the suppliers and the activities to you!

The Route:

Queenstown to nelson Goingnz

rotoruatoauckland goingnz

 

Highlights of this itinerary include:

  • Bungy jumping the world’s first commercial bungee jump over the Kawarau River with AJ Hackett in Queenstown;
  • White Water Rafting on the Shotover River;
  • Kayak and explore the Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park at sunset;
  • Heli Hiking the Franz Josef glacier;
  • Kayak and hiking in the Abel Tasman National Park;
  • Get off-road in Rotorua
  • Embrace your fears – skydiving in Taupo!
  • Canyoning in the Coromandel perhaps the most challenging adventure of your trip!
  • Black Water Rafting in NZ’s cave country, Waitomo.

The Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive at Queenstown, go Bungee jumping!

Most international flights will arrive in Auckland if you have an early morning arrival we suggest flying straight down to Queenstown upon arrival and transfer to your accommodation of your choice for a two-night stay. You really wouldn’t require a car for your time in Queenstown as the town is so compact and most of the activity providers will offer free transfers to the place where the activity actually is based.

In the afternoon, we suggest you hit the ground jumping, quite literally! With a bungee jump at the Kawarau Bridge courtesy of AJ Hackett. Transfers will be organised from Queenstown.

bungee jump Goingnz
Fancy dipping your head in that?!

Day 2: Explore the best of the best in Queenstown:

In the morning, we guarantee you will be thankful for a lie in, the jet lag may have caught up with you! If you are still feeling adventuress you could try your hand at the new crazes- Flyboarding or even White Water Sledging! Or how about something a bit more romantic? A Hot Air Balloon ride over the Otago region with champagne breakfast included.

No trip to Queenstown is complete without a trip out to the Shotover River. The jet boating excursion here is really popular but we loved getting soaked whilst White Water Rafting the Shotover River. Or for the real daredevils they even off a Heli Rafting option!

Queenstown Going NZ
Your options are truly endless in Queenstown

Day 3: Travel to Te Anau, Explore Milford:

On this day pick up your campervan/ hire car and travel to Milford Sound (4-hour drive) for an overnight stay in the Fiordland National Park. In the afternoon Explore Milford Sound with a difference. A sunset kayak and Rosco’s Milford Kayak on the Milford Sound, this is the best way of avoiding the crowds and see the sound at its best. Return to Te Anau for an overnight stay to break up your drive to Wanaka the following day,

picture of milford sound, new zealand
Milford sound awaits

Day 4: Stunning Wanaka:

Wanaka is often now given enough credit than its neighbour, Queenstown. However, there is still plenty of adventurous activities in this small lakeside town to make your overnight stay worthwhile. Something really fun and different would be the U Flying activity that Wanaka offers. It’s a chance to see Mt Aspiring in a unique and different way, whilst flying your own plane J

Day 5: Travel to Franz Josef Glacier – Road Trip!

Now the real fun begins…Road Trip! An early start to travel to Haast Pass all the way to Franz Josef Glacier (4-hour drive tops). In the afternoon embark on a helicopter trip of a lifetime. Heli Hike the Franz Josef glacier – finishing in their hot pools (which is included in the package) to wind down after an exhilarating day.

dawn and isaac franz
Exploring the Glaciers is a must.

Day 6: Explore Punakaiki

Travel to Punakaiki (3-hour drive) to explore the west coast and world famous Pancake Rocks. Maybe even explore the tremendous caves that Punakaiki has to offer.  Or for something a little bit different we recommend a two-hour horse trek along the beach.

Pancake Rocks Going NZ
The West Coast is not to be missed.

Day 7: Fall in love with The Abel Tasman National Park.

Travel to Abel Tasman National Park (3-hour drive), ditch the car/campervan and explore the Abel Tasman the right way. There are overnight kayaking and walking trips you can do in this beautifully stunning national park. We suggest staying overnight in Kaiteriteri ready for an early start in the morning.

Day 8 & 9: Get off the beaten track in the Abel Tasman National Park

Wilson’s offer overnight kayaking and walking trips within the park itself, with all transfer at each end so you won’t have to worry about a thing. They also have access to the most beautiful lodges if you want your stay to be extra special. If you don’t mind a bit of camping then we recommend Abel Tasman Kayaks as they offer overnight walking, kayaking and camping trips within the park. They even supply all the equipment, all you have to do is bring your own food!

Kayaking Abel Tasman GoingNZ
A Kayak trip through Abel Tasman National Park is a must.

Day 10: Travel to Rotorua

Return your Campervan or hire car at Nelson Airport and to save time we suggest flying to Rotorua (via Wellington). Pick up a small hire car in Rotorua and discover the incredible geothermal activity that the region has to offer. Rotorua is the North Island answer to Queenstown, with a list of adventure activities as long as my arm! Off Road NZ have to offer the best 4WD adventure in the North Island, you even get to drive the car, it’s pretty fun! We also suggest getting off the beaten track and discovering the geothermal hot spots at these free locations around the city!

 

 

Off Road NZ
Get off the beaten path with Off Road NZ

Off roading isn’t for everyone, if you’d prefer to go mountain biking for the day Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa Red Woods Mountain Bike Park has New Zealand’s finest mountain biking.

Day 11: Get Crazy in Taupo.

Time to get crazy…Sky Dive in Taupo (1-hour drive from Rotorua) the cheapest place in the world to sky drive. Your choice of options, 12,000ft or 15,000 ft., video and photo packages also available. It is pretty epic!

skydive goingnz
Us, just before we took the leap of faith.

Day 12: Visit the Coromandel Peninsula

Travel to the Coromandel Region (3.5-hour drive) – brace yourself for the best canyoning adventure in NZ around. The Sleeping God canyon tour is a vertical descent of over 300 metres, abseil, and jump and challenge yourself! You will have to leave Rotorua for this excursion as it is an all-day activity but it is certainly worth it!

Day 13: Travel to Waitomo

Travel to Waitomo, cave country to try your hand at Black Water Rafting, caving with a difference! You will tube through the majestic Ruakuri Cave and float underground in the river in rubber tubes, through in a few waterfalls and drops and it can get pretty exciting!

Day 14: Discover Auckland

End your vacation the exact way you started it – with a jump. Embark on the Sky Jump and Sky Walk of Auckland Sky tower – Goodbye New Zealand – hello memories!

sky tower goingnz
A Must Do: Aucklands’s Sky Jump

Please make sure you send us a postcard along the way!

See New Zealand In 30 Days With Our New Zealand Self Drive Itinerary

Continuing on from our ultimate itinerary series we thought we would put together all our favourite spots of New Zealand into one awesome itinerary. You can visit both the north and south islands in 30 Days very easily by following our 30 day New Zealand self drive itinerary which starts and finishes in Auckland.

This truly is a road trip of epic proportions, if you know New Zealand is going to be a  once in a lifetime opportunity and you want to see it all then this self drive, fast paced itinerary is perfect for you.

We have travelled the country in depth which took us 6 months in total to complete, this one-month self drive itinerary for New Zealand does visit quite a few “off the beaten track” destinations and often a first-time traveller to NZ may not have heard of all of them. But if you want to visit the true beauty of NZ we highly recommend these regions! So grab a campervan or a hire car and hit the road as this is our suggested self-drive itinerary including all the destinations within NZ that we think you should not miss!

Not got 30 days? If you are short on time, that is okay, we got you covered – check out our 10 North Island Itinerary and our 10 South Island Itinerary.

Top Tip: If you want more information on each particular region/destination that we mention then do click on the hyperlinks within this article as it will link your through to our much more in-depth articles on that particular region/destination 🙂

The Route:

 

Highlights of this itinerary Include:

  • Sandboarding at Cape Reinga,
  • Exploring Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel
  • A day trip to White Island
  • Discovering Art Deco Napier
  • TheMarlboroughh Sounds
  • Kayaking at the Abel Tasman National Park
  • Heli hike at Franz Josef Glacier
  • Queenstown (nuff said!)
  • Getting away from it all in Stewart Island
  • Penguin watching at Oamaru,
  • Whale Watching in Kaikoura,
  • The Tongariro Alpine Crossing,
  • Surfing in Raglan

Day 1: Arrive into Auckland 

If you have an early morning arrival then you could pick up your hire car or campervan straight away and travel north to Paihia, (2.5 hours’ drive) the home of the Bay of Islands and your gateway to the Northland. Suggestions include: A visit to Waitangi which is close to Paihia and where the treaty between Maori chiefs and the British were signed back in 1840 it is well worth a visit. Or take the car ferry to the historical quaint village of Russell or jump on a boat cruise to explore the bay and its 144 different islands.

An alternative option would be to spend the day in Auckland, relaxing and exploring at your own pace and head up to Paihia the following morning.

Auckland Rainbow

Day 2: Explore Cape Reinga

You could drive to Cape Reinga as it is a great way to explore the Northland region at your own pace. Or you could let Salt Air take you by helicopter to Cape Reinga. Cape Reinga is the most northern point of NZ here your guide will take you along 90 mile beach and you will even have time to go sand tobogganing! All in the name of fun – it really is pretty awesome!

Sand boarding Fun!

Day 3: The Coromandel Peninsula 

Today you will travel south for around 5 hours to reach your next destination – the Coromandel Peninsula. It is a beach lover’s paradise! Stay overnight at Hahei and you will be close to all the highlights, Hot Water Beach, Cathedral Cove and Cooks Beach the region’s best beaches.

hot water beach going nz

Day 4: Beautiful Tauranga

Today make your way further south towards Tauranga (2.5 hours drive), there is plenty to see along the drive. Take a detour via the Karangahape Gorge and explore the walkways that follow the old railway lines along a jaw-dropping Canyon or climb Mount Maunganui for some incredible views of the Bay of Plenty.

Beautiful Tauranga

Day 5: Incredible White Island (Active Volcano)

Up early today to travel to Whakatane (1-hour drive), Whakatane is home to White Island. New Zealand’s only marine volcano. After an hour boat ride to the island, you will get a 2 hour guided tour of the island learning about the history of the miners in the island, the volcanic importance of the island and even get close to the active crater. Something truly and unique and possibly something you will only ever do once!

white island

Day 6: A Days Drive Around East Cape (Rural New Zealand at its best)

The Waioeka Scenic Drive from Whakatane to Gisborne (3.5-hour drive) takes you though the bush clad Waioeka Gorge, this narrow and winding gorge is a beautiful drive, takes your and time enjoy the views. After a spot of lunch in Gisborne, continue to your overnight spot just outside Art Deco Napier (3-hour drive).

An alternative option to this would be to drive straight to Napier and explore the city at your own pace, Napier is a beautiful small city with a stunning waterfront, marvel at the stunning Art Deco buildings, it is like stepping back in time!

East Cape Light House

Day 8: Drive to Wellington

Get up early to drive to longest place name in the world! This a photo opportunity you can’t miss! 85 characters long, but locals just call it Taumata Hill. Continue (4-hour drive) to Wellington where you can recharge your batteries for South Island ferry in the morning.

A great lunch time stop along the route is also the Wairarapa region. Stop for a spot of wine tasting at one of Martinborough’s award winning wineries.

Vineyards in Wairarapa
Vineyards in Wairarapa

Day 9: South Island!

Take the Interislander Ferry to the South Island (around 3 hours) enjoying a journey through the incredible Marlborough Sounds as you approach Picton. Upon arrival to the South Island travel to the Pelorus River. An opportunity to relax in the refreshing forest and river a must see for any Lord of the Rings fan.

picton going nz
Beautiful Picton

Day 10: Explore the Abel Tasman National Park

Today explore the Abel Tasman National Park with a days kayaking trip discovering all the hidden bays of the park. Enjoy a fresh picnic lunch half way through the day, enjoy a swim, snorkel and relax at the end! Find out about our fantastic day in the park here!

abel tasman

Day 11: Bullers Gorge

Travel to the Bullers Gorge Swing Bridge (2-hour drive) 110 metres in length in spans the Buller River and is NZ’s longest swing bridge. Over the other side, you can zip line across the river, take a jet boat ride, go swimming on walk one of the many trails following the earthquake faultline which was the epicentre of the 1929 earthquake that caused the land to rise more than4.5 metres. After, continue your journey to Punakaiki, home of the pancakes rocks and the beginning of the west coast highway.

Day 12: Explore Punakaiki and drive to Fox Glacier

Punakaiki is limestone country and is packed with caves systems that need exploring! The Charleston Glow worm cave tour explores the amazing underworld caving system you will see amazing displays of glow-worms and photogenic stalactites and stalagmite formations. In the afternoon travel to Fox Glacier (3-hour drive) and take in the stunning scenery at Lake Matheson.

pancake rocks goingnz

Day 11: Heli Hike Franz Josef Glacier

In the morning embark on a helicopter trip of a life time. Heli Hike the Franz Josef Glacier with the team at Franz Josef Glacier Guides. Explore spectacular ice caves and arches and access parts of the glacier that many don’t get to discover. In the afternoon travel to the Haast Pass (1.5 hours drive) a good overnight spot.

Exploring the Glaciers is a must.

Day 12: Blue Pool’s Track – Mount Aspiring National Park

Mount Aspiring National Park features the popular Blue Pool’s Walk. The short and easy walk leads to a viewing platform over the Blue Pools. Walks in these regions shouldn’t be rush bring lunch and enjoy the scenic surroundings. Continue your road trip to Wanaka before reaching your overnight destination in Queenstown.

haast pass

Day 13: Queenstown – Yes it really is incredible!

Queenstown is best known for its adrenaline filled fun! Rafting down the shot over the river has to be one of the exhilarating experiences! Other suggestions include: Stroll along the lakefront and take in the scenery or enjoy some down time in one of Queenstown many cafes and restaurants. You could try the world famous burgers at Ferg Burger for lunch, but go early there will be queues!

Queenstown Going NZ

Day 14: Travel to Te Anau – The Gateway to the Fiordland National Park

Travel to Te Anau (2-hour drive), stop at the visitor centre to learn about the many freedom hikes you can spend your day doing in this region. A section of the Routeburn Track or Kepler Track? You decide.

Day 15: Doubtful or Milford Sound?

Travel to the Doubtful Sound, the second largest fiord in the Fiordland National Park. Take a cruise along Lake Manapouri the wildlife is in abundance here, bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and rare crested Penguins can be seen here.

Another great alternative would be a visit to the Milford Sound, very similar but we personally prefer the Doubtful Sound as it is less visited, meaning fewer tourists!

Road to Fiordland

Day 16: Stewart Island

Travel to Stewart Island via Invercargill (2-hour drive) today. The one-hour car ferry will take you to Stewart Island. The island is well off the beaten track a great escape for a couple of nights.

Day 17: Free day on Stewart Island

Today you will be able to explore Stewart Island in your campervan at your own pace. The island is part of the Rakiura National Park, with its densely forested hills, tiny population, and untouched coastline and golden sandy beaches it is a wonderful place to unwind and enjoy the nature that surrounds you.

stewart island goingnz

Day 18: The Catlins

Heading back to civilization your overnight spot tonight will be in the Catlins (1.5-hour drive from Invercargill). The tranquillity of this region will blow you away, the untouched stunning bush land and rugged coastline is everywhere you turn.

Day 19: Visit and Explore Dunedin

Travel to Dunedin today (2-hour drive). A city renowned for its Maori and Scottish heritage, spend the afternoon exploring the city at your own pace. Suggestions include Visiting NZ’s only castle, Larnach Castle, a trip to Cadbury world, a chocolate lovers delight! Or walk up worlds steepest street!

dunedin goingnz

Day 20: Moeraki Boulders & Oamaru

On the east coach beaches north of Dunedin lies the Moeraki Boulders, this a must see! The huge spherical boulders are scattered along the beach a perfect photo opportunity for that empty photo frame that you have sat at home. Stay overnight in Oamaru just 40 minutes away from there is a – penguin colony. A sunset each night the Penguins come up onto the beach to rest, so close you could almost touch them!

 

Day 21: Mt Cook National Park

The drive inland to Mt Cook National Park (3-hour drive) will take in breathe taking panoramic views of lakes and mountains. There will be plenty of time to stop for photo opportunities. Enjoy an afternoon in Mt Cook Village exploring the serenity of the Southern Alps region at your own pace before resting up for the night under the stars.

Mt Cook Going NZ

Day 22: Tekapo and Travel to Christchurch

Tekapo is just an hour drive’s drive from Mt Cook, giving you plenty of time to relax and slow down the driving pace. Don’t forget to drive to the top of Mt John for non-interruptive views of Lake Tekapo. In the afternoon continue to Christchurch (3-hour drive) for your overnight stop.

goingnz

Day 23: Visit Akaroa

Today you will visit the very best sights of Akaroa (a 2-hour drive). Suggestions include: A cruise of the harbor and peninsula, visit the largest penguin colony on the mainland, swim with dolphins or take one of the many scenic walks in the region. Overnight in Christchurch.

Day 24: Visit Kaikoura – Whale Watching

Travel to Kaikoura (2-hour drive) in the afternoon catch the last cruise to do a spot of whale watching.

kaikoura goingnz

Day 25: Head back to the North Island

Travel north back to Picton (2-hour drive), to catch the afternoon ferry to Wellington overnight in Wellington.

Please note: Due to the recent earthquake in November 2016 the coastal road, unfortunately, received some damage. Currently, this road is blocked and you have to drive the longer 7 hour inland route via Blenheim (great wine region!) to reach Picton. We suggest if this still affects you when you visit NZ to maybe remove the Kaikoura or Akaroa day visit and take your time with the drive, some great overnight spots include Hamner Springs (awesome thermal spa) and Blenheim (for the wine of course!)

wellington Going NZ

Day 26: Visit the Tongariro National Park

Travel to Tongariro National Park (4-hour drive) to explore what the volcanic region of NZ has to offer. There are walks ranging from 1-8 hours in this park, visit the visitor centre for maps and advice.

tongariro goingnz

Day 27: Embark on one of New Zealand’s best day walks.

Up early for the shuttle transfer to the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, this 7-8 hour walk passes some of the most stunning scenery the North Island has to offer.

Tongariro National Park

Day 28: Visit Waitomo and/or Hobbiton – Lord of the Rings

Depending on your personal interests on this day you could travel north to Waitomo, cave country. (2.5 hours’ drive). Here you can spend the afternoon exploring the glow worm caves but if you already have done some caving on the South Island you may find this very similar.

An alternative option would be to head to Rotorua if exploring some of NZ’s best geothermal spots is more your thing. If you are a huge Lord of the Rings fan then you could also visit Hobbiton on this day as it is very close to Rotorua.

Rotorua GoingNZ

Day 29: Raglan – for the surf of course!

Travel to Raglan (2.5 hours’ drive). A beautiful beach side town where the Kiwis holiday. Hire a surf board and ride the waves!

raglan goingnz
Surf at Raglan

Day 30: Goodbye New Zealand!

Today your road trip ends, return your campervan or car hire at Auckland Airport (2.5-hour drive) in time for your departing flight home – now that is what you call a road trip – make sure you send us a postcard!

Our 10 day North Island Self Drive Itinerary

As summer inches closer and closer to us every day and following on from my South Island 10 day self-drive itinerary that we did with my parent’s last summer I thought it was about time to share with you all my favourite spots on the North Island. All of them can easily be reached in ten days. Here is my perfect ten-day self-drive itinerary which should be on everyone’s bucket list!

On a road map the route looks like this:

10-day-north-island-self-drive-itinerary

Day 1: Arrive into Auckland

If you are coming from overseas Auckland will more than likely be your arrival point. You could either spend the day resting and exploring Auckland at your own pace or even better jump on the passenger ferry to Waiheke island. It is just 40 minutes ferry ride away and you are in Paradise! This will be your first slice of what NZ truly represents. We suggest checking out Air B&B or Book a Bach to stay in a traditional kiwi bach overlooking the beach – welcome to NZ!

Auckland Waterfront

Day 2: Explore Waiheke Island

Take this day to explore Waiheke Island at your own pace. If you did stay in Auckland you can easily explore Waiheke in a day trip. Suggestion Include: Visiting one of Waiheke’s many wineries for a wine tour, tasting and/or lunch, hiring electric bikes for the best way to get around the island or simply relaxing at the beach!

waiheke beach Going NZ

Day 3: Travel to Waitomo

Today pick up your hire car and travel to Waitomo, cave country. (2.5 hours’ drive) Here you can spend the afternoon exploring the glow worm caves and finish your day in a beautiful family-run farm stay or a unique Air BnB. Spellbound is a fantastic trip that we did back in 2009, I would strongly recommend it to anyone wanting more than the average cave tour!

Waitomo Caves

Day 4: Travel to Tongariro National Park

Heading south drive towards the North Islands largest national park, Tongariro. (2.5 hours drive) Hiking here is world renowned and there are walks that take just 1 hour to 8 hours. Visit the visitors centre to discover the most suitable walk for you. If Glamping is your thing then there are some great glamping spots nearby, don’t forget dinner at the Station Cafe at the train station, the steak is fabulous!

Tongariro National Park

Day 5: Travel to explore Napier / Hawkes Bay

A three-hour drive east of the national park is Napier and Hawkes Bay. Napier is a great base to explore the Hawkes Bay region. Suggested Include: Viewing the gannets at Cape Kidnappers, visiting one of the very best wineries NZ has to offer and climbing Te Mata Peak for some incredible views of the bay. Te Mata peak was something out of the ordinary, so definitely spare some time to drive up and be wowed by the 360-degree views!

Te Mata Peak

Day 6: Travel East Cape

If you want to get off the beaten track, the coastal road to East Cape is a road that not is often travelled. It has to be one of the most rugged and untouristed regions in the country. IT IS BY FAR MY FAVOURITE REGION ON THE NORTH ISLAND.  We first did the drive back in 2010, safe to say we are well overdue for a visit! Trust me you will experience the true kiwi ambience here during the 5-hour drive to East Cape Lighthouse. We suggest retiring for the night in a remote bush lodge, experiencing kiwi hospitality at its best.

East Cape Coastal Drive

Day 7: Enjoy East Cape and continue to Whakatane

The historic East Cape Lighthouse is famed for the first place to see the day as it is NZ most easterly point. Get up early to be one of the very few to view the sunrise from this lighthouse. Perched 154 metres above sea level and enduring 700 steps to the top this will be a peaceful morning you won’t forget in a hurry. In the afternoon drive on to Whakatane for an overnight stay (3.5 hours drive). Spend the hours in the car attempting to say the name of the town – it will be fun!

East Cape Light House

Day 8: Incredible White Island

Whakatane is home to White Island. New Zealand’s only marine volcano. After an hour boat ride to the island, you will get a 2 hour guided tour of the island learning about the history of the miners in the island, the volcanic importance of the island and even get close to the active crater. Something truly and unique and possibly something you will only ever do once! You could stay the night in Whakatane if you feel too tired or continue on for the hours to Tauranga.

white island

Day 9: Enjoy Tauranga

On this day enjoy a free day exploring Tauranga and Mount Maunganui. Suggestions Include: Paddle boarding, climbing Mount Maunganui for some incredible views of the bay, trying your hand at surfing or simply relax – after all you are on holiday!

Tauranga

Day 10: Return to Auckland

Take this day to travel back to Auckland at your own pace (but maybe a bit faster if you have a flight to catch!). There are plenty of scenic stops along the route. For Lord of the Rings fan’s no trip to NZ would be complete without a stop at Hobbiton, the film set of the iconic movies filmed right here in NZ. Or take a detour via the Karangahape Gorge and explore the walkways that follow the old railway lines along a jaw-dropping canyon!

Going NZ goodbye auckland

So there you have it I just rolled all our favourite spots on the North Island into ten days! Where would you go if you only have ten days to spare? 

Our 10 day South Island Self Drive Itinerary

In February we embarked on a 10 day self-drive trip of the South Island. It had been almost 6 years since we last visited the South Island so we were excited to visit all our favourite spots again and also visit areas we didn’t get the chance to visit before.

As many of you know we had my parents visit us for 3 months and it was their first time here, it was important for all of us that we saw the best bits of the South Island without feeling like we were following the crowd, this is the route we choose and why we think everyone who is short on time should do the same!

Want a longer road trip? We got you covered – check out our 30 day New Zealand self drive itinerary

The Route:

South Island NZ Road Trip Route

Day 1: Fly into Queenstown:

How Many Nights? 1 Night at Blue Peaks Lodge

Why? None of our group are adrenaline junkies, so we decided one night would be enough here, the accommodation was also overpriced and we knew spending more time here would mean more damage to our wallets!

What did we do? We landed at midday and me and Isaac went jet boating whilst the parents explored the town and the park. Last time we were here we missed out on going up the Gondola, this time we went all out and had the buffet meal, it was the best buffet meal I have ever had! The next day we also had time to check out Kawarau River and Gibbston Valley Winery for some wine tasting – nothing like drinking in the morning when you’re on holiday!

What we would do again? Bite the bullet, expand the wallet and stay for longer! Yes even though everything in Queenstown is pretty much triple figures it doesn’t mean the town has lost any of it’s charm. Queenstown is a gem and exactly as I remembered it. The town has attitude, its funky, the locals are friendly and it really does make you feel like your whole life can become a holiday, it’s a little bubble that you never quite want to leave!

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Day 2: Travel to Te Anau (2 Hour Drive)

How Many Nights? 2 Nights at a Book a Bach

Why? Queenstown was fully booked!

What did we do? After a morning at Karwau River near Queenstown we drove 2 hours to Te Anau. The drive was incredible, and incredibly easy! For a long while the road is straight and scenic. We had a fantastic 3 bedroom house half the price of the accommodation in Queenstown and it even had air con which made the men happy!

What we would do again? Nothing, it was a great idea to break up the drive to Milford Sound, you hear of people doing it all in one day from Queenstown and yes the drive Queenstown to Te Anau is an easy one it is quite a challenge to reach Milford after Te Anau – not one we would want to do in one day whilst tired!

Kawarau River

Day 3: Milford Sound (2 Hour Drive from Te Anau)

Why? We didn’t get to see this 6 years ago and it my mums top #NZMustDo

What did we do? 11am Milford Sound Nature Cruise with Southern Discoveries.

What we would do again? Nothing! The time of the cruise was perfect, the road was not busy, the car park was not full and the ferry wasn’t full. However when we got back to the visitor centre after the cruise the visitor centre was packed! We drove back to Te Anau around 3pm and didn’t find the road busy, we did hear of an accident later that afternoon so we were glad we took the initiative and left before all the coaches.

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Day 4: Drive to Wanaka (3 Hour Drive via Cardrona)

How many nights? 1 Night but in an Air BnB at Lake Hawea

Why? Wanaka was sold out, Lake Hawea was off the beaten track!

What did we do? Today was quite a bit of driving, 3 hours to Wanaka via a lunch time stop in Arrowtown and an afternoon tea stop at the world famous Cardrona Hotel. It made the day very long. We didn’t have much time to explore Wanaka after driving the incredible roads to Cardrona!

What we would do again? Again stay longer! We love Wanaka, and I would have liked my parents to see more of the town and the lake. Plus the Air BnB we were in was 5 star quality with friendly hosts.

Cardrona Hotel, South Island, New Zealand

Day 5: Drive to Fairlie (3 Hour Drive)

How many nights? 1 Night at Book a Bach in Fairlie

Why? Tekapo was sold out!

What did we do? Again a long day on the road, but this was a road trip after all! Lake Pukaki was a highlight of our day as well as Tekapo. Isaac had a dip in the cold lake (it was the hottest day of the year at 30 degrees) over lunch and the drive up Mt John was incredible, however it was just too hot to enjoy the views for longer – we seriously thought we were melting!

What we would do again? Stay longer and make it too Mt Cook. When we got to the view point at Lake Pukaki and we could see Mt Cook in the distance and I think we all felt a sense of disappointment that we didn’t have time to drive up to Mt Cook and explore the national park at a more relaxed pace.

Us as close as we got to Mt Cook
Us as close as we got to Mt Cook

Day 6: Drive to Greymouth (5 Hour Drive via Arthurs Pass)

How many nights? 1 Night at Bella Vista Motel, Greymouth

Why? We wanted to see Arthurs Pass and knew Greymouth was just a pit stop after a long day’s drive.

What did we do? This was our longest drive day by far but we had to do this as there was pretty much no accommodation between Fairlie and Greymouth. We considered going to Christchurch and up the east coast but I wanted the parents to have a taste of the incredible west coast and of course the Abel Tasman National Park.

What we would do again? It was the only day of the holiday that it rained, but it we had longer I am sure the walks at Arthurs Pass village would of been amazing, I felt like because of the rain we didn’t see as much as we had hoped for! For this reason I nicknamed it “Arthurs Ass”, but looking back I may have been a bit unfair!

arthurs pass

 

Day 7:  Drive to Sedonville (2 Hour Drive)

How many nights? 1 Night at Rough and Tumble Bush Lodge

Why? I wanted the parents to spend a night in the bush, and not be roughing it! We didn’t know what to expect but it was good fun!

What did we do? A two hour drive from Greymouth is a tiny settlement known as Seddonville the home of the start of the cycling trail “The Old Ghost Road” I stumbled upon this lodge online built by a American who fell in love with the seclusion of the spot, it’s not hard to see why, the lodge is right on the river bed and extremely peaceful. Our host Weasel was incredibly friendly, good fun, his cooking skills were top notch and we spent our night drinking beer and playing dominoes in there cosy lounge area. I felt like a child again and this is one of those nights I will remember for a long time, in the bush drinking beer with my parents –in NZ – sometimes dreams do come true!

What we would do again? Do I have to say it again? STAY LONGER!

Rough and tumble bush lodge
Rough and tumble bush lodge

Day 8: Drive to Ruby Bay, close to Abel Tasman National Park (3.5 Hour Drive)

How many nights? 2 Nights at a Book a Bach, the cutest Bach we have ever seen.

Why? We wanted our final two nights to not be on the move! The parents had never done a road trip like this so I knew they would appreciate this. I didn’t expect my Mum to fall in love with the Bach, she didn’t want to leave!

What did we do? We took the parent to Buller Gorge on the way, we had fond memories of this place from 6 years ago and we wanted to show the parents this place. It is home to NZ longest swing bridge, I purposely left this information out when I told the parents about it. Well NZ is home to the adrenaline junkie and that day Mum and Dad become one!

What we would do again? Nothing we had to do this drive to get to Abel Tasman, it was good fun!

swing bridge

Day 9: Abel Tasman National Park

Why? I had heard so much about this place and regretted not going 6 years ago.

What did we do? Today we spilt up, me and Isaac had the pleasure of enjoying a kayaking trip with Abel Tasman Sea Kayak’s and the parents took the boat to Torrent Bay, they really enjoyed there day relaxing on the beach.

What we would do again? STAY FOR LONGER! And for us camp at the National Park, we were impressed at the quality of the campsites – flushing toilets!

Abel Tasman
Ready to float!

Day 10: Fly out of Nelson back to Auckland

Why? I had to go to work the next day 🙁

What did we do? Our trip was over, we returned our hire car and flew home.

What we would do again? Fly out later, we only touched upon Nelson and felt like a morning there would have been nice, but we opted for the earlier flight in case the other ones were delayed – were a bit like that – over cautious!

 

So there you have it, the South Island in 10 days, my top tip if I had to do it all over again? 2 nights in each place and use Air BnB and Book a Bach, you meet the locals, find some unique spots and by staying a few nights in each area you really get to explore each region you visit at a slower pace!

Until Next Time South Island!

Visitng the North Island too? Check out our 10 day itinerary for your North Island road trip!