10 Day South Island New Zealand Itinerary


Have you got 10 days to explore the South Island? Do dramatic mountain ranges, stunning natural beauty, hot pools and some city adventure sound like you? Then have we got the perfect 10-day South Island New Zealand itinerary for you! 


Mt Cook National Park

This itinerary will take you to some of the most scenic spots the South Island has to offer! Soak in Tekapo’s hot pools while gazing into the mountains. Wake up to sun rays tickling the mountain tops in Aoraki Mt Cook Village. Maybe jump off the world’s first commercial bungy bridge. And dive into that green West Coast Wilderness.

Day 1: Start your 10-day South Island New Zealand itinerary in Christchurch - 1 night

Drop your luggage off at the hotel and spend the first day of your 10-day South Island itinerary exploring Christchurch. Luckily, nearly everything in New Zealand’s second-largest city can be reached on foot, by bike and public transport.

For a relaxing afternoon, head towards Hagley Park. Stop and smell the roses (quite literally) at Christchurch Botanical Garden, go for a leisurely stroll through the park or sit back and relax while punting on the Avon. If the weather happens to be a bit iffy, the Canterbury Museum is a great place to learn more about Canterbury (the region Christchurch is in).

New Regent Street is the perfect place to sit and people-watch. The street has been mainly unaffected by the big earthquakes of 2010/11 and still retains its old European charm. The street is packed with cafes and cocktail bars and is a great place to visit no matter the time of the day.

If you need more thrills to get over your jetlag, a visit to Christchurch Adventure Park is a must! Not only does the park have some of Christchurch’s best mountain biking trails and also the longest (over 1000m | 0.6mi) and the highest (150m | 492ft) zipline in all of New Zealand. If this doesn’t wake you up, I don’t know what will. 

Where to stay in Christchurch: The Heritage Christchurch

Perfectly located in the heart of the city, the Heritage Christchurch is only a few steps from New Regent Street and about a 5 minutes walk from the Botanic Garden. Restaurants, bars and shopping are just around the corner! 

Day 2 - 3: Drive to Lake Tekapo and/or Aoraki Mt Cook National Park - 2 nights

Approximate Distance: 359 km | 223 miles  Total Driving Time: 4 hours 45 mins

The early birds among you can catch the best sunrises of New Zealand high above the Canterbury Plains - in a hot air balloon! 

Spend the day in stunning Tekapo. Visit the famous Church of the Good Shepherd, the little stone chapel at the edge of the curiously blue Lake Tekapo.  A number of walking tracks can be found around Tekapo and the start of the popular Alps to Ocean cycling trail starts a little bit further up the lake.

Tekapo is also perfect for a relaxing day. Soak in the warm waters of Tekapo Springs, sign up for a spa treatment and sweat in their sauna. Tekapo Springs has several hot pools that entice you to spend the whole day in the warm water, looking out onto the lake and into the mountains. 

If you’re staying in Tekapo for the night, you must join one of the star-gazing tours! Tekapo is an international Dark Sky Reserve, meaning it has hardly any light pollution, making the stars twinkle extra brightly. Ask our team which tour is the right one for you. 

Mount Cook Road, the road turning off State Highway 8 in Twizel towards Aoraki Mt Cook, is probably one of the most scenic roads in New Zealand, so make sure you drive it during daylight and take enough time to stop and take pictures along the way. 

Where to stay in Aoraki Mt Cook Village: The Hermitage

At the Hermitage, you’ll get the best views of Mt Cook. Located at the end of Mt Cook Road, you’ll have an array of short and longer walks into the National Park right at your doorstep.

Day 3: Explore Mt Cook National Park

Start your day in the mountains with a scenic flight of Mt Cook and the Tasman Glacier. Morning flights tend to be calmer as winds pick up in the afternoon. Plus, a flight of the region first thing in the morning gives you a great overview of Mt Cook National Park. You can choose if you prefer a short scenic flight, a flight with a short landing on the mountain or glacier or a full-on heli hike of the Tasman Glacier.

In the afternoon, explore one of the many walks in the region. One of the most popular ones is Hooker Valley Track, a relatively easy but extremely scenic walk, crossing three swing bridges. 

On the Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake, you get an up-close-and-personal experience of the massive floating ice blocks. The giant icicles break off at the end of the glacier and drop into the lake where they float like ice cubes in a cocktail. The Tasman Glacier Lake tour takes you to and through the ice blocks on a dinghy and you might even get to touch the ice! 

Day 4 - 6: Drive to Queenstown - 3 nights

Approximate Distance: 255 km | 159 miles  Total Driving Time: 3 hours

On your way to Queenstown, you drive over the dramatic Lindis Pass. Make sure you stop plenty of times to take pictures! Cromwell is a great place for a break and a coffee. If you have some time, you might even want to hire a bike and ride the boardwalk along the lake on the Lake Dunstan trail. 

Once you’ve arrived in Queenstown, it’s time to explore the city centre and lakefront. Surrounded by towering mountain ranges, and hugging lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is a polarising beauty and knows it. Queenstown sure won’t leave you cold.

The city is bustling with people from all over the world and your choice of restaurant is sheer endless! Grab yourself one of the famous Ferg Burgers (the long queue at the joint is part of the experience) and eat it on the water’s shore. 

Or head up the Skyline Gondola for a buffet dinner with the most spectacular view of the lake and mountains, before or after racing your family on the Luge. For a more exclusive dinner, Rata is your venue of choice. 

Where to stay in Queenstown: QT Queenstown

This colourful and quirky hotel is only steps away from Lake Wakatipu. Some of the rooms have breathtaking views of the lake and the Remarkable Mountain Range in the distance. QT Queenstown is only a 5-minute stroll along the lake into the busy centre full of restaurants and bars. 

Day 5: Day trip to Milford Sound

Today, an exciting day in a spectacular natural landscape awaits you. Milford Sound is probably the number one bucket list item for most visitors of all places to visit in New Zealand. And rightfully so! Hardly any region in New Zealand is as green and mystical as Fiordland and Milford Sound is its poster child. And not just Milford Sound itself, already the road to Milford is incredibly beautiful and scenic! 

We recommend you join a tour for a day trip to Milford Sound as it makes for a very long day, even when you’re not the person driving. The coaches usually leave Queenstown around 7am and make their first stop in Te Anau. Once on Milford Road, they will stop at every scenic spot and make sure you have enough time to take pictures. All coaches will have a guide on the bus who will explain exactly what to expect of the next stop.

Day 6: Explore Queenstown

Spend the day today exploring Queenstown and its surroundings. There’s so much to see and do, you could easily add another day, or two, to your South Island itinerary. Here are some examples of how to spend a day in Queenstown:

Go on a joyride on one of New Zealand’s most exhilarating jet boat tours, Shotover Jet. You can either drive to Shotover River yourself or board their complimentary shuttle from town. Shotover Jet zooms and swivels at high speeds through the narrow Shotover Canyon, only inches from the sharp walls.

Once your heart is racing, you might want to keep that heart rate up on a bungy jump. The world’s first commercial bungy jump, by AJ Hackett, was off Kawerau Bridge outside of Queenstown and it’s still in the original owner’s hands today. 

Then drive on towards Gibbston Valley, the Central Otago wine region that’s most famous for its Pinot Noir. While you can tour the vineyards in your own car, it might be safer to join one of the many wine tours. Some are fully guided, others provide a hop-on/hop-off bus between the wineries, and you can even ride the bike between wineries.

Day 7 - 8: Drive to Franz Josef Glacier - 2 nights 

Approximate Distance: 352 km | 219 miles  Total Driving Time: 4 hours 30 mins

On your way towards the West Coast and Franz Josef Glacier, make a stop in Wanaka for a coffee and a stroll along the lake to the famous Wanaka Tree. Then drive the very scenic road along Lake Hāwea and Lake Wanaka to Haast Pass.

If you have some time, turn off near Fox Glacier for the 4.4km | 2.7mi walk around Lake Matheson. If the weather is calm, the lake acts like a mirror, perfectly reflecting the snow-capped mountains and lush bush in the water. 

Later, join a guided walk along the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier and learn about the role of Franz Josef Glacier in shaping this remarkable landscape. With the emphasis on geographical information and the glacier's history, you’re able to venture beyond the public barriers and right up to the dramatic terminal face of this advancing glacier with your experienced guide.

Where to stay in Franz Josef: Rainforest Retreat

Nestled in six acres of idyllic native bush at the foot of precipitous mountains the Rainforest Retreat is an inviting place to stay. Each unit was built exclusively to embrace its beautiful, secluded, natural environment, providing guests with choices of either forest floor or mid-canopy bush views.

Day 8: Franz Josef Glacier Heli Hike

Today you’ve got a bucket list experience waiting for you! Franz Josef Glacier is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

You start off your day tour by boarding a helicopter that shuttles you right onto Franz Josef Glacier. Once on the glacier, you put your crampons on and follow your guide as they lead you to an icy blue wonderland. You’ll clamber through ice caves, explore the inside of crevasses and walk past massive ice pinnacles, some as tall as buildings. This tour is truly unforgettable!

Back in the valley, relax your aching muscles in the woodfire-heated tubs at Waiho Hot Tubs. Nothing better to end an epic day than in a tub filled with hot water, surrounded by the sounds of the West Coast bushland. 

Day 9 - 10: Drive to Greymouth and TranzAlpine Train to Christchurch - 1 night 

Approximate Distance (to Greymouth): 171 km | 106 miles  Total Driving Time: 2 hours 10 mins

Today, you have a big day ahead of you. But at least you’ll only be driving half of it. On your way to Greymouth, wander around Ross Gold Town to pan for gold. Or if pounamu (New Zealand jade) is more your thing, stop in Hokitika for a walk on the rocky beach, looking for raw greenstone. If you have time, you can even carve it into a pendant at a local shop! 

But be sure to keep an eye on the time today. You wouldn’t want to miss your TranzAlpine train from Greymouth to Christchurch! This remarkable travel experience ranks among the most spectacular rail journeys in the world. Endless vistas unfold around every bend. The scenic train eventually returns to Christchurch, where you started your memorable 10-day South Island holiday. 

Day 10: Haere rā (goodbye) South Island!

Depending on when your flight is today, you might still have some time to buy your last New Zealand souvenirs. The best shops can be found at the shopping mall on Cashel Road. If you’re after edible gifts, the scenic Riverside Market is where you’ll want to go before it’s time to say goodbye to the South Island.

Do you want to know more about this 10-day South Island itinerary? Click here or message us your questions! If you have more or less time, check out our other South Island itineraries

Alexandra Diethelm
Alexandra Diethelm
: 18 Nov 2022 (Last updated: 24 Nov 2022)

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