3 epic South Island New Zealand road trip itineraries

Plan the perfect driving trip of the New Zealand's South Island with our hand-curated itineraries.

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We've done all the work for you and made three unbeatable South Island New Zealand itineraries for road trips as short as a week or as long as two weeks.

All our itineraries start in Christchurch as many airlines, including Jetstar, fly into this hub from Australia. If you're flying into Queenstown, you can tweak your trip to start here instead as all these itineraries are round-trip drives that pass through the adventure capital.

7-day South Island road trip

Christchurch – Franz Josef – Queenstown – Milford Sound – Christchurch

  • Distance: 1,352.8km (or 1,927.6km including Milford Sound)
  • Highlights and attractions: Queenstown, Milford Sound, Arthur's Pass, Lake Tekapo
  • Landscape: Mountains, glaciers, lakes and coastal scenery
  • Recommended vehicle type: Economy or mid-sized/sedan (recommended for winter)

DayItinerary
Day 1
  • Distance: 248km
  • Approximate drive time: 3.5 hours

Christchurch to Hokitika
Day 2
  • Distance: 134km
  • Approximate drive time: 1 hour and 40 minutes

Hokitika to Franz Josef
Day 3
  • Distance: 286km
  • Approximate drive time: 3 hours and 30 minutes

Franz Josef to Wanaka
Day 4
  • Distance: 67.2km
  • Approximate drive time: 1 hour and 10 minutes

Wanaka to Queenstown
Day 5
  • Distance: 0km
  • Approximate drive time: 0

If you add Milford Sound onto your trip, you'll add 574.8km. The return drive is 7 hours

Day trip to Milford Sound
Day 6
  • Distance: 255.6km
  • Approximate drive time: 3 hours

Queenstown to Lake Tekapo
Day 7
  • Distance: 362km (including trip to Akaroa)
  • Approximate drive time: 5 hours

Lake Tekapo to Christchurch

Our recommended hotels

Hokitika: Bella Vista Motel Hokitika
Hokitika: Bella Vista Motel Hokitika

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Queenstown: Heartland Hotel Queenstown
Queenstown: Heartland Hotel Queenstown

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Lake Tekapo: Lake Tekapo Scenic Resort
Lake Tekapo: Lake Tekapo Scenic Resort

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10-day South Island road trip

Christchurch - Tekapo - Queenstown - Te Anau - Wanaka - Franz Josef - Arthur's Pass - Christchurch

  • Distance: 2,079km
  • Highlights and attractions: Queenstown, Wanaka, Franz Josef Glacier, Arthur's Pass, Te Anau, Milford Sound
  • Landscape: Mountains, glaciers, lakes and coastal scenery
  • Recommended vehicle type: Economy or mid-sized/sedan (recommended for winter)
DayItinerary
Day 1
  • Distance: 244km
  • Approximate drive time: 3 hours and 15 minutes

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
Day 2
  • Distance: 164km
  • Approximate drive time: 2 hours and 10 minutes

Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki day trip
Day 3
  • Distance: 275km
  • Approximate drive time: 3 hours, 24 minutes

Lake Tekapo to Queenstown
Day 4
  • Distance: 92.4km
  • Approximate drive time: 1.5 hours

Queenstown
Day 5
  • Distance: 172km
  • Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 6 minutes

Queenstown to Te Anau
Day 6
  • Distance: 238km
  • Approximate drive time: 3 hours

Te Anau to Milford Sound
Day 7
  • Distance: 226km
  • Approximate drive time: 3 hours

Te Anau to Wanaka
Day 8
  • Distance: 286km
  • Approximate drive time: 3 hours and 40 minutes

Wanaka to Franz Josef
Day 9
  • Distance: 232.7km
  • Approximate drive time: 3 hours

Franz Josef to Arthur's Pass
Day 10
  • Distance: 149km
  • Approximate drive time: 2 hours

Arthur's Pass to Christchurch

Our recommended hotels

Queenstown: Heartland Hotel Queenstown
Queenstown: Heartland Hotel Queenstown

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Lake Tekapo: Lake Tekapo Scenic Resort
Lake Tekapo: Lake Tekapo Scenic Resort

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Te Anau: Lakeside Motel & Apartments
Te Anau: Lakeside Motel & Apartments

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Arthur’s Pass: Wilderness Lodge Arthur’s Pass
Arthur’s Pass: Wilderness Lodge Arthur’s Pass

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14-day South Island road trip

Christchurch - Tekapo - The Catlins - Te Anau - Queenstown - Glenorchy - Wanaka - Franz Josef - Nelson - Kaikoura - Christchurch

  • Distance: 2,786km
  • Highlights and attractions: Queenstown, Mt Cook, Milford Sound, Franz Josef Glacier, glow worm caves, Abel Tasman National Park
  • Landscape: Mountains, lakes, coastline
  • Recommended vehicle type: Economy or mid-sized/sedan (recommended for winter)
DayItinerary
Day 1
  • Distance: 237km
  • Approximate drive time: 3 hours

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
Day 2
  • Distance: 406km
  • Approximate drive time: 5 hours and 15 minutes

Lake Tekapo to The Catlins
Day 3
  • Distance: 233km
  • Approximate drive time: 3 hours

The Catlins to Te Anau
Day 4
  • Distance: 237km
  • Approximate drive time: 3.5 hours

Te Anau to Milford Sound
Day 5
  • Distance: 172km
  • Approximate drive time: 2 hours

Te Anau to Queenstown
Day 6
  • Distance: 93km
  • Approximate drive time: 1.5 hours

Day trip to Glenorchy
Day 7
  • Distance: 0km
  • Approximate drive time: 0

Queenstown
Day 8
  • Distance: 40km
  • Approximate drive time: 44 minutes

Queenstown
Day 9
  • Distance: 67km
  • Approximate drive time: 1 hour

Queenstown/Arrowtown to Wanaka
Day 10
  • Distance: 286km
  • Approximate drive time: 3 hours and 40 minutes

Wanaka to Franz Josef
Day 11
  • Distance: 459km
  • Approximate drive time: 6 hours

Franz Josef to Nelson
Day 12
  • Distance: 131km
  • Approximate drive time: 2 hours and 15 minutes

Nelson to Abel Tasman National Park
Day 13
  • Distance: 243km
  • Approximate drive time: 3.5 hours

Nelson to Kaikoura
Day 14
  • Distance: 182km
  • Approximate drive time: 2.5 hours

Kaikoura to Christchurch

Our recommended hotels

Queenstown: Heartland Hotel Queenstown
Queenstown: Heartland Hotel Queenstown

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Lake Tekapo: Lake Tekapo Scenic Resort
Lake Tekapo: Lake Tekapo Scenic Resort

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Te Anau: Lakeside Motel & Apartments
Te Anau: Lakeside Motel & Apartments

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The Catlins: Catlins Newhaven Holiday Park
The Catlins: Catlins Newhaven Holiday Park

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Kaikoura: Kaikoura Gateway Motor Lodge
Kaikoura: Kaikoura Gateway Motor Lodge

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New Zealand South Island overview

  • Weather: New Zealand weather can change quickly so it's best to expect the unexpected. Temperatures reach an average of 25°C in the summer and as low as 12°C in the winter. Average rainfall is higher in the winter but expect it year-round. There will be snow in the mountains, so keep that in mind if hiking is a part of your itinerary.
  • Best time to visit: While summer is the best time to travel for weather we recommend road tripping around New Zealand in autumn (March to May) when the colours are pretty, there are less people and accommodation doesn't get booked as fast.
  • Recommended vehicle type: Economy or mid-sized/sedan (recommended for winter)
  • Safety: It can drop below freezing point in the winter on the South Island and the roads can be windy, so it's recommended to drive carefully, stick to speed limits and make sure you have adequate car rental excess insurance in case anything goes wrong.

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