The Ultimate 14 Day South Island New Zealand Road Trip
New Zealand's South Island boasts one of the most diverse natural landscapes which will make your jaw drop. From magnificent blue lakes to rugged surrounding mountains and stunning glaciers to beautiful pristine golden sand beaches; a South Island road trip is an epic adventure you do not want to miss.
Our 14 day round trip itinerary is jam packed with city exploration, wineries, hiking and natural wonders that will leave you speechless. We have taken the time to collate the best places, driving times, things to do and accommodation options so we can take the stress out of planning and help you jump straight into the excitement!
We may be biased, but we believe there is no greater freedom than jumping in your car with nothing but the open road and free time in front of you. So, start this once in a lifetime scenic road trip in Christchurch with a hassle-free rental car and be on your way to making memories to fill your heart with joy.
New Zealand's South Island: A 14 Day Round Trip Itinerary
Our road trip itinerary will take you from Christchurch to the stunning Milford Sound at the bottom of the South Island, right to the Marlborough wine region at the top. By starting and ending in Christchurch, you can make sure you see everything the impressive South Island has to offer. Plus, you can even take the stress out of one-way car rentals or flying between places. Over 14 days, you will cover:
Arrive in Christchurch
Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook
Mount Cook through Lindis Pass to Queenstown
Queenstown to Milford Sound
Milford Sound through Haast Pass to Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier to Punakaiki
Punakaiki to Nelson
Nelson to Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park to Marlborough
Marlborough to Christchurch
This South Island road trip itinerary will take you to three incredible National Parks; Mount Cook, Mount Aspiring and Abel Tasman National Park. All of which appeared on our list of 5 Unmissable New Zealand National Parks so be prepared to be blown away.
14 Day Round Trip Overnight Stays
In our South Island road trip itinerary, we think you need at least two weeks to take advantage of all the adventures on offer. We recommend staying in the following places:
Christchurch - 1 night
Lake Tekapo - 1 night
Mount Cook - 1 night
Queenstown - 2 nights
Milford Sound or Lake Te Anau - 2 nights
Franz Josef Glacier - 2 nights
Punakaiki - 1 night
Nelson - 1 night
Abel Tasman national park - 1 night
Marlborough - 1 night
End in Christchurch
Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch
While you might be tempted to head straight out of the city once you’ve picked up your rental car at our Christchurch Airport Branch, there’s plenty of reasons to stay a night in the historic city. Voted as New Zealand's most scenic city, Christchurch is known as a garden city and a beautiful place to explore.
Things to do in Christchurch
Take a stroll in the blooming gardens or check out the Nobel-prize winning Magnetic Observatory.
Christchurch Arts Centre
Boasted as one of the best Christchurch attractions, the art centre is filled with artworks, cultural exhibitions and events. Spend an afternoon in Rutherford's Den for hands-on activities and science exhibitions galore!
At only a 20 minute drive away, you can enjoy a stunning panoramic view of Christchurch and take on many walking trails.
Places to eat in Christchurch
Feast on mouth-watering locally sourced delicacies and stock up on delicious road trip snacks!
Pedro’s House of Lamb
You have to try New Zealand's famous lamb and there is no better place than Pedro’s House of Lamb. Savour a succulent slow roasted lamb meal before you embark on your epic road trip.
Cook 'n' with gas
An award-winning seafood restaurant and bistro serving up homely dishes in a heritage villa. Cook 'n' with gas also appeared on our best restaurants in New Zealand article so you know it's worth it.
Places to stay in Christchurch
A historic 19th century manor with a touch of 20th century luxury, Eliza's Manor is the place to stay for romance and relaxation.
The Muse Art Hotel
This is definitely a unique option. With local art, a rooftop bar and plush luxury decor, you could add a bit of style to your stay in Christchurch.
Day 2: Lake Tekapo (261km, 3 hours 22 minutes)
Departing Christchurch early and taking the more scenic inland route (Route 77 and 72), will be so worth it for the impressive natural sights like Rakaia Gorge. Pulling onto Lake Tekapo will blow you away as you feast your eyes on one of the most vibrant turquoise coloured lakes in New Zealand.
Things to do in Lake Tekapo
With a 360-degree viewing platform of the dramatic mountains, beautiful lakes and surrounding landscapes; you will want to leave a few hours to explore Mount John.
Quaint church of the good shepherd
Situated on the shores of Lake Tekapo, this quant church is the sole church in the region and well worth a visit.
We highly recommend finishing your day with some stargazing from the hot pools in Tekapo Springs.
Places to eat in Lake Tekapo
TLV Restaurant & Bar
With a view of the lake and mountains and a world-class espresso martini on offer, TLV Restaurant & Bar is a stunning place to dine.
Blue Lake Eatery & Bar
Add this place to your list if you want to try traditional Kiwi dishes like Mount Cook salmon, Canterbury lamb shank and Canter Valley duck leg.
MacKenzies Cafe Bar & Restaurant
A stunning restaurant serving up succulent hot stone meals in front of a floor to ceiling glass window view of the lake.
Places to stay in Lake Tekapo
Peppers Bluewater Resort
Surprisingly inexpensive, this resort hotel boasts incredible views and beautifully decorated rooms.
The Godley Hotel
Snuggle up in this country-style hotel with impressive views of the alpine landscape of Lake Tekapo.
Day 3: Mount Cook (103km, 1 hour 12 minutes)
It’s only a short drive from Tekapo to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, which is lucky, because you’re going to be making a lot of stops for photos of one of New Zealand’s most impressive peaks. The road leading up to Mount Cook is one of the country’s most scenic drives, and those willing to leave the comfort of their rental car can walk the Hooker Valley Track, a three hour return trail which takes in mountain, glacier and river views, crossing swing bridges and rocky hills along the way.
Things to do in Mount Cook
Mount Cook is one of only three places in New Zealand where you can take a scenic helicopter ride before climbing the longest glacier in NZ, the Tasman Glacier lake. Pretty epic, right?
Kayak Tasman Lake
Have you ever kayaked on an icy glacier melt? Now is your chance to kayak the stunningly beautiful Tasman Lake with a backdrop of the Tasman national park.
Stargazing with The Hermitage
Mount Cook is recognised as a dark sky reserve and is one of only 8 places in the world with this title. Head to The Hermitage hotel for a night of stargazing through their powerful telescopes.
You will be blown away by the bright turquoise colour of Lake Pukaki, flanked by the alpine Southern alps. It is a road trip photo opportunity you don't want to miss.
Places to eat in Mount Cook
Old Mountaineers' Cafe
With remarkable views of the Aoraki Mount Cook, you can cosy up here with a large coffee or beer and watch the world go by.
The Panorama Restaurant at The Hermitage
This iconic Mount Cook hotel is home to a selection of restaurants but their Panorama Restaurant is extra special. Pairing outstanding views with locally sourced and inventive flavours, you are in for a special night here.
Places to stay in Mount Cook
It goes without saying that this hotel is truly unique. With stargazing opportunities and delicious food, you would not regret basing your stay here in Mount Cook.
Aoraki Alpine Lodge
If a serene mountain lodge is what you are craving then look no further than the Aoraki Alpine Lodge.
Day 4: Lindis Pass to Queenstown (262km, 3 hours 16 minutes)
The Lindis Pass is one of the most scenic drives on New Zealand's South Island with twisting, winding roads through tussock-covered mountains. The three hour drive to Queenstown will quickly turn into four or five with multiple stops for photos, so we’d suggest leaving bright and early!
Places to stop in Lindis Pass
The Official Lindis Pass outlook
You absolutely must stop at the highest point of the official lookout. At 971m (3,186ft) above sea level, you will get chills from the achingly beautiful dramatic landscape.
Double Peak Hike
If you are craving a short hike to stretch your legs and gain a better view of Lindis Pass then take the 15 minute steep walkway from the lookout. We promise it is well worth it.
Places to eat in Lindis Pass
Tarras Country Cafe
If you are looking for a stop on your way into Queenstown then look no further than this cute country cafe. With home baked pastries and local dishes, it is a great road trip fuel stop.
Day 5: Queenstown
The adventure capital of the world, Queenstown is home to extreme activities for every level of thrill seeking. This is why we have planned 2 nights here on our South Island road trip itinerary so you can take advantage of everything on offer.
Things to do in Queenstown
The Nevis bungy jump, just outside of Queenstown, is the highest in all of Australasia and could be the highlight of your South Island trip! Just on the 4WD bungy bus from the city and embark on a thrilling adventure.
White Water Rafting
Hurl yourself down the Kawarau river rapids or the shotover river and get your heart beating fast. These gnarly advanced tracks will satisfy any adrenaline junkie's dreams.
A tandem skydive is on most people's bucket lists and you can't get a more beautiful location than the South Island adventure capital, Queenstown. Jump from 15,000ft at New Zealand's first ever skydiving location.
Seeking a little less adrenaline? Hike up Queenstown Hill for phenomenal views of the city, Lake Wakatipu and surrounding mountains.
Places to eat in Queenstown
This place is a burger institution and is often on the list of World's best burger joints. Don't miss the opportunity to taste mouth-watering prime NZ beef burgers and their innovative creations like a spicy satay tofu burger.
If you are looking to indulge in a fine dining experience then you will not be disappointed with celebrity chef, Josh Emett's restaurant. This luxury restaurant sources local organic ingredients paired with the best New Zealand wines.
A long road trip itinerary should be complete with a stop off for some soulful food. At Margo's, you can spend the evening devouring flavourful Mexican dishes paired with creative Margaritas.
Places to stay in Queenstown
Eichardt's Private Hotel
Housed in a historic gold vault, this is one hell of a romantic hotel to stay in! Have a nightcap in front of the fire before retiring to your boutique and comfortable room.
St Moritz hotel
For a more luxurious stay on your South Island road trip, the St Moritz Hotel offers alpine luxury that will make you feel transported to a Swiss-style lodge.
Day 6 & 7: Milford Sound (288km, 3 hours 45 minutes)
No South Island road trip would be complete without a Milford Sound stay. Home to New Zealand's most impressive Fjords, you will find epic valley views, thundering waterfalls and impressive glowworm caves.
There is only one place to stay in Milford Sound and dining options are limited so we recommend staying in Lake Te Anau which is just over an hour drive away.
Things to do in Milford Sound
Milford sound cruise
The best way to truly explore this magnificent natural wonder is by boat. Get up close and personal with the spectacular Fjords and feel at peace cruising the calm waters.
Hike the Key Summit
A steep zig-zag climb will take you to the top of Key Summit and immerse you in the outstanding mountain scenery with views from every side of the track.
Scuba Dive Milford sound
The underwater world of a glacial Fjord is utterly unique, with a diverse black coral normally only found in the deep sea. With more than 150 species of fish to spot, a scuba dive is a truly exciting way to explore Milford Sound.
Venture underground at Milford Sound to discover a magical and hidden glow worm cave with a local guide. These caves are a silent and beautiful grotto, providing you with some peaceful enchantment on yo0ur South Island road trip.
Where to eat in Milford Sound
Pio Pio at Milford sound Lodge
If you are going to visit Milford Sound then you should think ahead for your food options. Most cruises will provide food onboard but the only restaurant in the area is the amazing Pio Pio. Devour local delicacies like Fiordland wild venison and Marlborough salmon at their stunning indoor or outdoor dining rooms.
Redcliffe Cafe Te Anau
If you like to unwind with home-cooked food and live music then Redcliffe is the place to eat after your day at Milford Sound.
The Fat Duck Te Anau
A gastropub with something for everyone, from local craft beers and charcuterie boards to pub meals and a separate vegan menu. The Fat Duck even has a dedicated and homemade kids menu so you can keep everyone on your South Island road trip happy.
Places to stay in Milford Sound
Milford Sound Lodge
As the only accommodation in Milford Sound, we recommend booking early so you can take advantage of the stunning scenery at Milford after dark and early morning before it gets busy.
Radfords on the lake - Te Anau
Lake Te Anau is a beautiful place to stay with views of the mountain and Fiordlands National Park. Radfords on the lake is the ultimate 5 star luxury hotel with a range of suites and apartments to provide you with blissful privacy.
The cinema suites
This quirky and creative hotel is the perfect place to stop for a relaxing break from your full days of adventure. You can relax in their lounge cinema watching a local movie or retire to your colourful room.
Day 8: Haast Pass to Franz Josef Glacier (628km, 8 hours 30 minutes)
Heading up the west coast from Queenstown, you’ll find yourself driving through Haast Pass, a scenic drive with many short trails and natural sights to make pit stops along the route. Known as the wild west coast, the must sees include swinging bridges over unbelievably vivid Blue Pools, the gushing Fantail Falls, Thunder Creek Falls and Roaring Billy Falls, and coastal views at Knight’s Point Lookout, before continuing north to spend a night in Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier.
Places to stop in Haast Paas
Mount aspiring national park
Mount Aspiring is New Zealand's tallest mountain and a hiking lover's paradise. The fascinating National Park is a dreamland of snow capped mountains, glaciers and lakes and definitely worth a stop for a short walk. Make sure you check out the stunning lake Wanaka, New Zealand's fourth largest lake.
Blue pools track
The Makarora River's blue pools and swing bridge is a stop you don't want to miss. Walk over the swinging bridge and admire the pristine and sparkling blue pools below where you can clearly see the marine life and pool bed.
Along the Haast river in Mount Aspiring National Park, you will find the scenic fantail falls. We recommend stopping and taking the 0.2 mile short walk track to see this 'secret' waterfall gushing into a giant chasm of turquoise calm waters.
Thunder creek falls
What is better than 1 waterfall? 2 of course! You would be silly not to stop at Thunder Creek Falls observation deck to see the 92ft waterfall made by the melting glacier waters.
Roaring Billy Falls
"Another waterfall?" We hear you say. That's right, we are giving you 3 amazing waterfall stops on this part of the South Island road trip, because you are worth it! Stop at the roaring Billy falls and appreciate the tropical waterfall meandering its way through the wetlands forest of Mount Aspiring National Park.
Places to eat in Haast Pass
The Hook is an awesome lake to plate restaurant located in Wanaka, just before you hit the Haast Pass. You can actually book in to fish for your own meal before the talented chefs cook up a delicious feast with your catch. Don't like fish? Don't fear, they have a wood fire pizza oven to please everyone!
Situated on the stunning coast, The Craypot is so good it also featured on our Best Restaurants in New Zealand list. Savour some of the best and freshest seafood the South Island has to offer like crayfish chowder and a seafood basket. Yum, yes please!
The Hard Antler
This iconic wild west coast bar & restaurant is the perfect place to cosy up in front of the fire with a local craft beer, Monteiths, and dig into a country style dish.
Day 9: Glacier Country
You could easily spend a few days in the glacier country which is why we have planned a 2 nights stay here. Either get involved in epic icy adventures or take it easy and admire the scenic reserve from Glacier hot pools, or do both! Why not, it is a holiday after all.
Things to do in Franz Josef
If you want to hike on top of the icy crevasses of Fox glacier then you will need to book a helicopter and tour guide to make it there. but, we promise you it is well worth the 6 hour trip and money. There are not many places in the world where you can hike a Glacier so add Fox Glacier to your South Island road trip bucket list!
Glacier Hot Pools
Soothe your muscles and soul in one of 3 natural hot glacier pools surrounded by stunning lush green rainforest. Kids are welcome or you can book your own private pool for that extra bit of tranquillity!
Hike Roberts Point Track
This 12km return hiking track through Franz Josef Glacier offers up stunning views of the glacier and Waiho river. The steep climb at the end is not for the faint hearted but you will be rewarded with an awe-inspiring perspective and incredible photo opportunities.
Places to eat in Franz Josef
Alice May Restaurant
Be sure to wrap up warm and grab a seat outside to dine with an outstanding backdrop of the Southern Alps. Tuck into local New Zealand dishes like Whitebait omelette, beef cheeks and Akaroa salmon and make your tummy very happy!
Blue Ice restaurant
A family owned and operated business that has won Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence for several years in a row is the place you want to eat in the Southern Alps! You can even try the famous New Zealand green-lipped mussels, an absolute must on this South Island road trip.
Cook Saddle Cafe & Saloon
Who doesn't love a country saloon with heart meals, live music and a pool table? No one we would want to be on a 14 day road trip with that's for sure. Everyone is welcome at this family friendly restaurant in the heart of Franz Josef township so park up your car rental and grab yourself a local beer or mulled wine.
Places to stay in Franz Josef
Splurge on a family treehouse or luxury cabin surrounded by lush native rainforest in Franz Josef and you could wake up to the soothing sound of nature.
Te Awa Cottages
Located just outside of Franz Josef township are the quaint and beautiful Te Awa Cottages providing panoramic views of the Southern Alps and cute farm animals to watch!
Day 10: Franz Josef Glacier to Punakaiki (222km, 3 hours)
We highly recommend you break up the lengthy drive to Nelson with an overnight stop in Punakaiki, where you’ll find the quirky looking stone formations of Pancake Rocks, and plenty of options for picturesque hikes.
Things to do around Punakaiki
Taking a detour inland on the drive from Franz Josef to Punakaiki will be rewarding when you feast your eyes on Castle Hill. With rolling green hills, interesting rock formations and many beautiful hikes; it is the perfect place to spend a few hours exploring.
Hailed as the most spectacular pass across the Southern Alps, you will want to make the detour to Arthur's pass on your drive from Franz Josef to Punakaiki. It will take about an hour inland from the west coast highway and provide you with phenomenal hiking tracks in summer and ski fields in winter. The temple basin ski field in Arthur's Pass is the oldest club-run ski area in New Zealand with picturesque valleys, alpine peaks and waterfalls. Be sure to attach snow chains in the winter.
Paparoa national park
Punakaiki is home to one of New Zealand's greatest walk's, the Paparoa National Park track. It would take you 2-3 days to complete by staying in the National Parks huts along the way. But, we recommend you check out at least some of the track to see the mountain and limestone scenery formed over centuries.
Places to eat in Punakaiki
On the Beach Restaurant
An exceptional New Zealand fine dining restaurant with uninterrupted views of the ocean, you would not regret eating here.
Punakaiki Rocks Hotel & Garden Bar
For a more casual and homely affair, check out the Rocks Hotel and feast on wholesome pub classic meals.
Places to stay in Punakaiki
Canopy Camping Escapes
With a collection of canopy tents and quaint cabins, this escape could provide you with a magical and unique stay. Book an option with a hot tub and watch the sunset over the rolling green hills.
The Punakaiki Treehouse
Who doesn't love a treehouse? Even the most serious of adults would get excited to stay in a treehouse, we're sure! Stay in one of these studio tree houses with decks overlooking the native bush and live out your childhood dream.
Day 11: Nelson
One of the oldest cities in New Zealand, Nelson is the gateway to the stunning Abel Tasman National Park, and a good spot to base yourself for many of the activities on offer in the area. You could stay here for 2 nights or book the second night in Tasman.
Things to do in Nelson
Explore Nelson Wine Region
Boasting 25 cellar doors, you could actually spend a few days here checking out every single one. But, we recommend booking a day trip tour to drive you around so you can enjoy the deep and complex wines in the region.
On a Saturday and Sunday, you will find a classic, vibrant Kiwi market offering local produce and handmade crafts.
At just a 10 minute drive from the city, you could spend a whole day exploring this huge beach. Try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding, go-karting or dive into the Fun Park with your kids.
Places to eat in Nelson
Inspired by South East Asian street food, Hawker House is a place to share and try new flavours.
Urban Oyster bar & Eatery
Pairing a Michelin-trained chef with the flavours of a local oyster shack and you have yourself a very sophisticated and classy Oyster bar.
Considered Nelson's best restaurant, Hopgoods is the place to dine for impeccable service and excellent flavours.
Places to stay in Nelson
A rare 5 star motel in New Zealand, The Sails offers up self-contained apartments with luxury furnishings.
Grand Arden Monaco Nelson
Located in a Victorian-style town complete with cobbled streets and laneways, the Grand Arden Monaco is a distinctive stay in Nelson. Each room has its own quirky character and you can take advantage of the gym, bike hire, outdoor pool, hairdressers, beauty salon or jewellers! This is a stylish road trip stay unique to New Zealand South Island.
Day 12: Abel Tasman National Park (60km, 1 hour)
You’ll have to leave the car rental behind for this adventure – the idyllic bays and beaches of Abel Tasman National Park are only accessible by boat or foot. If you opt not to join a group tour, a combination of shuttle buses and taxis will take you to various points throughout the park, where you can walk short sections of the beautiful Abel Tasman Coastal Track. But be warned, those deserted beaches might be inviting, however the water is mighty cold!
Things to do in Abel Tasman National Park
Step out of your comfort zone, strap up and abseil down the magnificent canyons in Abel Tasman National Park! With an abundance of unspoiled rainforest and natural rock pools, you can truly be at one with nature and satisfy any thrill seeking cravings.
Kayak the bays
The coastline crystal clear waters in Abel Tasman National Park cannot be seen by land, so it is well worth adding a kayaking tour to your South Island itinerary. You can even paddle in a traditional Maori waka!
Walk the Abel Tasman Coast Track
Now this walk is 53km in total but hear us out. This multi-day adventure provides secret swimming spots, natural rock formed slides and an opportunity to wake up in paradise without any crowds.
Places to eat in Abel Tasman
Hooked on Marahau
With both a burger bar and seafood offerings, Hooked is a great place to fuel up for your day trip adventures.
The Views Vegetarian Restaurant
Located in an eco resort, The Views is a scrumptious vegetarian restaurant offering up hot stone pizzas, platters and wholesome meals.
Places to stay in Abel Tasman
If you are tackling the multi-day hike then book a luxury stay in a beachfront lodge and enjoy one of the best sunrises on the west coast.
You can only get to this place by foot, boat or helicopter so you know it is going to provide a secluded and tranquil place to relax.
Day 13: Marlborough Wine Region (218km, 3 hours)
You’ve driven a few thousand kilometres – you deserve a drink (just be sure to have a designated driver)! The Marlborough Wine Region is one of New Zealand’s most famous and featured on our best wineries in New Zealand list, and rightly so. Dozens of award-winner vineyards and wineries dot the region, so choose a handful and set off, and be prepared to return to your hotel with at least a few bottles of your favourite drops.
Things to do in Marlborough
Book a wine tour
Leave the car rental behind and book yourself onto a small group tour. You deserve it after driving the length of New Zealand's South Island. Make sure you try the region’s famous Sauvignon Blanc – and maybe check your home country’s customs limits before you go.
Swim with dolphins
Book a spectacular cruise and take a dip in the waters to get up close and personal with the local dolphins.
Places to stay in Marlborough
Marlborough Wine barrel cabins
Nestled between vineyards and olive groves lies the Hobbit style barrel cabins offering up an exciting and quaint stay after a day in the vineyards.
Recognised as the leading luxury hotel on the South Island, The Chateau is the perfect place to finish your road trip in style.
Day 14: Drive to Christchurch (318km, 4 hours 20 minutes)
The road back to Christchurch is short, but it’s still a good idea to leave plenty of time to make the trip. We’ll be waiting with a smile at our Christchurch Airport branch on your return and would love to hear about your highlights on the South Island road trip!