The 15 Day Best of the South Island Itinerary


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Welcome to Christchurch

‘Haere Mai’ … Welcome to New Zealand. Now you can relax - you are officially on holiday. Everything has been taken care of, you will be met at the airport and transferred to your accommodation.

Welcome to Christchurch, relax you are on holiday and everything has been taken care of. You will be met at the airport and transferred to your central city accommodation. This South Island Self Drive itinerary has been designed to make your New Zealand experience as hassle-free as possible.

Some suggested activities around Christchurch

Easygoing Cycling Tour  Punting the Avon River  Lyttelton Harbour Wildlife Cruise
Māori Cultural EveningFrench Akaroa TourSouthern Alps Ballooning
Christchurch GondolaClearwater GolfArthur's Pass TranzAlpine Hike

Accommodation: Christchurch - 1 night

Punting Christchurch
Stay in the heart of Christchurch, the Rendezvous Hotel Christchurch offers chic accommodation with city views. Just 10 m from New Regent Street, the Rendezvous Hotel offers easy access to the Avon River as well as local restaurants and cafés. Christchurch Botanic Gardens is 3 minutes’ drive away.
The Heritage Christchurch


TranzAlpine Train Journey to Glacier Country

Travelling via Arthur's Pass to Greymouth on the West Coast. Climb aboard the TranzAlpine. This rail journey is truly something special. Enjoy thrilling vistas over deep gorges as you travel alongside the ice-fed Waimakariri River and traverse the mighty Southern Alps, where spectacular views of the chiseled alpine landscape will take your breath away at every turn. Ranked among the world’s top 6 train journeys, these tracks flow through some of New Zealand's most splendid countryside from the Southern Alps to Greymouth. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see natural grandeur on such a scale. 

Collect your rental vehicle on arrival into Greymouth and continue on to the west coast glacial village of Fox.

Approximate Distance: 196 km | 140 miles  Total Driving Time: 3 hours

Accommodation: Fox Glacier - 2 nights

Tranz Alpine

After your day exploring the West Coast, spending the night at Distinction Fox Glacier in the beautiful Fox Glacier Village is a real treat. Tucked into the foothills of the Southern Alps, rooms here feature their own balcony, spacious bedroom and lounge area. Spend the evening relaxing in the guest lounge or browsing through the many books in the Hotel library. 

Distinction Hotel - Fox Glacier


Twin Glacier Helicopter Flight – Fox & Franz

Fly over Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier on a spectacular helicopter tour that includes a landing right on the snow. Seeing both glaciers on a single helicopter flight offers an incredible perspective and understanding of New Zealand’s massive ice sheets, and you touch down on one of the glaciers to snap up-close photographs of the frozen terrain.


  • Spectacular aerial views of Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier
  • The live pilot commentary points out landmarks and unique features below
  • Walkout onto the snow after an exciting glacier landing
  • Bring home photographs of the glaciers and the stunning Southern Alps
Glacier Helihike


Lake Wanaka Cruise & Island Wildlife Walk

Today you'll tour the Isle of Mou Waho, one of only five islands to be found in the vastness of Lake Wanaka. Accessible only by a 35-minute boat cruise, Mou Waho is an island nature reserve with a difference. With no predators or pests roaming here, New Zealand's rare & endangered species can live in peace, giving you the opportunity to observe them up close. Walking with a long-time local guide, the well-formed track leads you through the native bush to Tyrwhitt Peak.

Here you will find Arethusa Pool, a beautiful miniature lake with small islands within it. Impress your friends by telling them you have visited an island in a lake, inside an island in a lake, inside an island in the ocean! From Tyrwhitt Peak, you'll be spellbound by the 360-degree views of Lake Wanaka surrounding you, and the mountains beyond. Don't forget your swimwear: on a hot day, it's hard to resist a swim in Mou Waho's cool clear waters.

Approximate Distance: 262 km | 187 miles  Total Driving Time: 3 hours 27 mins

Accommodation: Wanaka - 1 Night

Mou Waho

Situated on the lake shores, a stroll across the lawn will have you gazing across Lake Wanaka to the spectacular Southern Alps. Choose between one bedroom suites, studios and two bedroom apartments. Savour the lakeside atmosphere while you are treated to a fresh and contemporary menu in Sargoods Restaurant and Wineglass Cafe.

The Edgewater Resort Lake Wanaka


Queenstown & Steamer to High Country Farm

The drive to Queenstown is stunning, leading you over the rugged Crown Range on the highest main road in the country. Take your time and enjoy the scenic lookouts en route - your camera will get a workout.

Full Steam Ahead
All aboard the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw this old coal-fired beauty has been ferrying passengers around the lake for over a 100 years. Experience fascinating and love watching the stokers at work in the engine room and seeing the glowing fireboxes.

On arrival at Walter Peak High Country Farm on the western shores of Lake Wakatipu, you will get a real taste for rural New Zealand. Feel free to pet and feed the lambs (during Spring - Oct to December) and other farmyard animals, watch the sheepdog's round-up a flock of sheep, and see a shearing demonstration. The high country air works up a healthy appetite, so the trip includes morning or afternoon tea with fresh scones with jam. 

Approximate Distance: 71 km | 44 miles  Total Driving Time: 1 hour 10 mins

Accommodation: Queenstown - 2 Nights

Just 5 minutes’ walk from Lake Wakatipu, Autoline Queenstown Motel offers self-contained accommodation with a spa bath or a private balcony with mountain views. Guests enjoy free WiFi. The air-conditioned apartments have under-floor heating and a well-equipped kitchenette with a stove, a microwave and a refrigerator. Each apartment has a 42-inch flat-screen TV and satellite channels.
Autoline Queenstown


Milford Sound - Coach/Cruise/Fly

For the most engaging way to experience the riches of Fiordland National Park. This option includes three modes of transport (land, sea & air) making this the ‘holy grail’ of combination tours.

Coach: Board a luxury coach for a journey into beautiful Fiordland. The Road to Milford is one of New Zealand’s most scenic drives. The first part is relatively mild farmland, and then you’ll ease into a beech forest near the entrance to the Fiordland National Park. Look for the Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain and the Mirror Lakes and through the rough-hewn Homer Tunnel to Milford Sound.

Cruise: Enjoy a scenic cruise of the entire length of Milford Sound viewing the spectacular waterfalls and famous Mitre Peak. Grand, brooding, serene and wild, Milford Sound draws visitors from all over the globe to cruise its length. The purpose-built cruise boat offers excellent viewing of waterfalls, rainforest, mountains, and wildlife with large windows, spacious decks, and comfortable lounges.

Fly: Experience the “Absolutely Stunning” scenery as you fly over Sutherland Falls and over beautiful Milford Sound and lakes Te Anau and Lake Manapouri on your way back to Queenstown.

Milford Sound


Beautiful Lake Tekapo

Tekapo is one of three significant, neighboring lakes that border the Mackenzie Valley in New Zealand's South Island. Golden tussock grass carpets the surrounding hillside and roll away into the distance where the Southern Alps frame the horizon. The charming 'Church of the Good Shepherd' sits alone on Lake Tekapo's shores and the views to our highest mountain, Mt Cook, are remarkable.

Spend the evening with a stargazing experience discovering our illustrious night skies at the world's southernmost research observatory, located in the heart of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.  

Approximate Distance: 257 km | 184 miles  Total Driving Time: 3 hours 

Accommodation: Lake Tekapo - 2 nights

lake tekapo

Peppers Bluewater Lake Tekapo is the perfect place to explore the Lake, Mount Cook and the Mackenzie District. Surrounded by the breath-taking beauty of the Southern Alps, you’ll have access to numerous activities in the area such as kayaking, horse riding, trout fishing and enjoying the clear night skies. Peppers Bluewater hotel rooms are beautifully appointed with a range of options for couples and groups. 


Hooker Valley Walk - Mount Cook National Park

After a short journey through the Southern Alps, you'll arrive in Mt Cook Village at the heart of Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park.

Named for our country's highest mountain, Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park is exquisitely beautiful. The Maori name for Mt Cook is Aoraki, meaning ‘Cloud Piercer’: at 3,755m tall (12,016ft) this lofty peak deserves its name!

Hooker Valley Guided Hike: 5 Hours Walking
An ice-capped world of giant glaciers awaits as you embark on one of New Zealand's finest short walks: the Hooker Valley Track.

This stunning 11 km (6.8 miles) trek leads you to the terminal lake of the Hooker Glacier. The trail winds through the Hooker Valley in the shadow of Aoraki /Mount Cook, crossing the mighty Hooker River on old-fashioned swing bridges. Reaching the lake, you are rewarded by unsurpassed vistas of Aoraki / Mount Cook's south face and the surrounding glaciers.

Your knowledgeable guide brings the unique history, flora, and fauna to life as you wander.

Approximate Distance: 160 km | 100 miles  Total Driving Time: 1 Hour & 10 mins

Mt Cook


Hanmer Springs

Today your drive brings you to the alpine resort town of Hanmer Springs, renowned for its therapeutic thermal waters. Take in the crisp mountain air as you stroll through the village and enjoy entry into the hot pools for a relaxing soak in the naturally heated mineral waters.

Approximate Distance: 353 km | 219 miles  Total Driving Time: 4 hours 30 mins

Accommodation: Hanmer Springs  - 2 nights

Hanmer Springs
Modern, Spacious & Secure Luxury Apartments...Clear Ridge was designed with comfort, style and security in mind, the modern decor and spacious luxury apartments that Clear Ridge has to offer complement the spectacular alpine surroundings The Clearridge Apartments feature self-contained accommodation with spectacular views of the alpine surroundings. The property is a 2-minute walk from the main village and the thermal pools. Free WiFi and parking is provided. All apartments have a full kitchen with a dishwasher, an oven, a fridge and a microwave.
Clear Ridge Hanmer Springs


Soak in the Thermal Hot Springs

Soak in the famous, mineral-rich waters in hot pools surrounded by native gardens with mountain vistas. Find a water spout or jet to soothe your aches and pains. Or, if you have some energy to burn, hit the family leisure area. It’s complete with hydro slides, the South Island’s only aqua thrill ride and freshwater pools featuring waterfalls, spouts, and a giggle-filled lazy river.

Hanmer Springs


Nelson - the Sunshine Capital

Heading North head to the relative calm of New Zealand's sunniest town: Nelson


Happily situated on the Northern Coast of the South Island, Nelson is a creative city known for its many galleries and artisan stores. The jeweler who created the One Ring for the Lord of the Rings movies is based here, and you can even buy your own identical replica. At the edge of town, you can climb Botanical Hill to find a lookout right at the geographical centre of New Zealand. Recover your energy with one of Nelson's outstanding craft beers at a local brewery.

Approximate Distance: 300 km | 186 miles  Total Driving Time: 4 hours

Accommodation: Nelson - 2 Nights

The Palms Motel is a great choice for a comfortable place to stay in Nelson. Relax on the open patio, take a dip in the pool or visit the nearby amenities. Located in the centre of beautiful Nelson, The Palms Motel offers a modern, interior decorated self-contained apartments with full kitchen facilities. Everything you need to have a hassle free time in beautiful Nelson.
The Palms Motel Nelson.


Abel Tasman - Split Apple Rock Kayak

Paddle a safe, sheltered section of the Abel Tasman Bay coastline. See lots of good stuff in a small area including islands, caves, beaches and of course, Split Apple Rock. Loved by families and the cruiser in all of us for the last 18 years. Two hours on the water of guided kayaking.

This trip has a strong emphasis on fun and enjoyment. We don’t just show you the best spots to travel to, you will have a great time with a group of people in a beautiful area. Like all of our short trips we paddle at a relaxed pace and pause often to enjoy views, stories and conversation.

  • No experience necessary.
  • Enjoy the most sheltered part of the Kaiteriteri coastline.
  • A great option for family fun.

For families with younger children we would recommend the morning tour. The afternoon tour can quite offen be breezy due to the sea breeze which picks up around midday.

Abel Tasman


Kaikoura - Seal Swim

Today you'll journey through the beautiful rural scenery to the town of Kaikoura, a marine wonderland where towering mountains meet the sea. Kaikoura's most famous residents are the many whales and dolphins who feast on the abundant seafood in its waters. Sperm whales visit year-round, while the mighty humpback is a regular visitor in June and July.

Kaikoura Seal Swim 

Snorkeling with wild New Zealand Fur Seals, in the shallow waters of the beautiful Kaikōura Peninsula, truly is a unique experience. It's one of those simple nature experiences that opens your mind to the sheer magnificence of our natural environment and its amazing inhabitants. End your unforgettable day with freshly caught crayfish at one of Kaikoura's cozy eateries, enjoying one of the glorious sunsets this region is famous for.

Approximate Distance:  243 km | 151 miles  Total Driving Time: 3 hours 30 mins

Accommodation: Kaikoura - 1 Night

seal swim kaikoura

The White Morph Motor Inn is situated on the waterfront with an easy stroll into the township for convenient dining, shops and bars (there is also a restaurant on site). Choose between the deluxe spa rooms with ocean view balcony, or the 4 star studio rooms & family apartments with garden views. 

White Morph Motor Inn - Kaikoura


Christchurch - The Garden City

Your final destination, Christchurch, is New Zealand’s second-largest city and the South Island's capital. Bordered by the Pacific Ocean, Christchurch is our "Garden City", blessed with beautiful parks and gardens right in the heart of town. English heritage buildings sit side by side with innovative post-earthquake regeneration in this vibrant place.

This afternoon why not relax with a punting trip down the Avon River? Gliding gently along in a flat-bottomed boat, you will take in Christchurch's 'must-see' historic attractions and botanic gardens away from the hustle and bustle of the streets.

Make the most of your last night in New Zealand by exploring Christchurch's foodie scene. With everything from relaxed cafes to fine dining on offer, you'll have no trouble finding the perfect spot to mull over your memories of the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Approximate Distance: 185 km | 132 miles  Total Driving Time: 2 hours 29 mins

Accommodation: Christchurch - 1 night

Stay in the heart of Christchurch, the Rendezvous Hotel Christchurch offers chic accommodation with city views. Just 10 m from New Regent Street, the Rendezvous Hotel offers easy access to the Avon River as well as local restaurants and cafés. Christchurch Botanic Gardens is 3 minutes’ drive away.
The Heritage Christchurch


Bon Voyage

"Haere rā" Goodbye! and Bon Voyage!

Return your rental vehicle at Christchurch Airport where you will board your onward flight, taking with you the magical memories of a truly exceptional New Zealand holiday.

Bon Voyage

What Emma says about this tour: There is so much beauty in the South Island, Abel Tasman in the North, Kaikoura and Franz Josef on opposite sides of the island, and of course the Southern Lakes area including Queenstown and Wanaka and their direct connections to Fiordland National Park. We have left nothing out - this is a trip of a lifetime - and I would love to assist you with your travel plans.
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