The Ultimate Road Trip Through New Zealand’s South Island

For the perfect itinerary that takes in the best of New Zealand’s stunning South Island, look no further than this 14 day itinerary that takes in cities, mountains, beaches and glaciers. All that’s left to do is book your rental car with Enterprise....

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. While the impact of the severe earthquake that hit Christchurch several years ago can still be seen, the city is slowly coming back to life, with cool new cafes, bars and restaurants worth seeking out, and plenty of boutique hotels that will leave you well rested for the journey ahead. Make a dinner stop at Pedro’s House of Lamb and try the homegrown lamb New Zealand is famous for, and get up early for a creative brunch at Hello Sunday Cafe in Sydenham.

Day 2: Lake Tekapo

Departing Christchurch and taking the more scenic inland route (Route 77 and 72), which takes in impressive natural sights like Rakaia Gorge, a three and a half hour drive will get you to Lake Tekapo, one of the many vibrantly turquoise coloured lakes in New Zealand. Make sure you’ve left yourself at least a few hours to explore the walking trails and views around the lake – driving up to Mt. John for spectacular views and visiting the quaint Church of the Good Shepard are must dos. Before you turn in at your accommodation in Tekapo, squeeze in some stargazing from the hot pools at Tekapo Springs.

Day 3: Mount Cook

It’s only a short drive from Tekapo to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, which is lucky, because you’re going to 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 swingbridges and rocky hills along the way. Spend the night in Mt. Cook Village or nearby Pukaki to rest your legs for your next adventure.

Day 4: Lindis Pass to Queenstown

The scenic drives continue with Lindis Pass, a twisting, winding road through tussock-covered mountains. The two and a half hour drive to Queenstown will quickly turn into four or five with multiple stops for photos, so we’d suggest leaving bright and early so you make to Queenstown in time for lunch at Fergberger – their burgers are practically a New Zealand icon.

Day 5: Queenstown

The adventure capital of the world, Queenstown is home to extreme activities for every level of thrill seeking (and an Enterprise Rent-A-Car branch if you opt to fly in to Queenstown Airport instead), so adrenalin junkies might want to plan to spend more than a day here to hit them all, from bungie jumping and white water rafting to canyon swinging and skydiving. For those who aren’t quite that adventurous, just spend the day exploring the city’s dining and drinking scene, with a climb up Queenstown Hill to work up an appetite.  

Day 6 & 7: Milford Sound

Thought fjords were only to be found in the northern hemisphere? Think again. Milford Sound is where you’ll find one of New Zealand’s most impressive fjords, with epic valley views, tumbling waterfalls and mountain tunnels to take in along the way. Doing the eight to ten hour return drive in a single day is a bit of a challenge, so split it in two and spend a night in Te Anau before making your way to Wanaka for a night, ensuring you have plenty of time for a scenic cruise, hiking, glowworm caves and maybe even a kayaking trip around the fjord.

Day 8: Haast Pass

Heading up the western coastline from Queenstown, you’ll find yourself driving through Haast Pass, a scenic drive with many short trails and natural sights to make pitstops for along the route. Must sees including the swinging bridges over the 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.

Day 9: Glacier Country

If walking on a glacier has always been on your bucket list, you can do it here, the only catch is that helicopter is the only way to get to the top of the icy crevasses of Fox Glacier or Franze Josef Glacier! Helicoptors not your thing? You can still take in the sight of the imposing glaciers from afar, with short walks to both that will keep your feet firmly on the ground.

Day 10: Punakaiki

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. Take a short detour to Arthur’s Pass along the way, where gorges, waterfalls and wildlife spotting opportunities abound.

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. Peer over the edge of Harwoods Hole, hit the beach or visit some of the nearby wineries, and if you’re in town on a Saturday, be sure to pay a visit to the Nelson Market, which takes over Montgomery Square every weekend with tasty local produce and handmade crafts.

Day 12: Abel Tasman National Park

You’ll have to leave the rental car 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!

Day 13: Marlborough Wine Region

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 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. Make sure you try the region’s famous Sauvignon Blanc – and maybe check your home country’s customs limits before you go.

Day 14: Drive to Christchurch

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!