New Zealand South Island

New Zealand in three weeks: The South Island itinerary

We had ten days for seeing as many places in the South Island as possible. Autumn was coming and we had several rainy days, but in the end the weather was always good when we needed it most. Take a look at our South Island itinerary…

It took us 8 days to make a roadtrip around the North Island, but getting across from Rotorua to Wellington on a night bus was rather fast. We crossed Cook Strait between the islands on a big ferry called Interislander. It was a nice cruise, mainly the part through Tory Channel and Queen Charlotte Sound. In Picton, our journey to explore the South Island began. We picked up a car from Ace Rental Cars. It was Nissan Tiida, one of the most common cars in New Zealand. It was comparably larger than the Toyota Vitz that we shared with Viktoria and Marek on our North Island trip. We head approximately a 1800-kilometre journey ahead of us and we had to make it to Christchurch on March 4. Spoiler alert: We did it!

It was a pretty ambitious but possible.

Day 1: Wellington – Picton – Kaikoura

Going to the South Island by boat wasn’t just a cheaper means of transport, it’s also a part of getting to view something more of New Zealand. We didn’t have time to look around Picton and I was happy that we managed to see something of the northern South Island on Interislander. The drive from Picton to Kaikoura was a bit boring in the beginning, but very beautiful when we’ve got to the coast. We even saw a colony of seals. In Kaikoura, we unpacked our brand new tent and took a walk around the village, which is not really that much interesting.

Arriving to the South Island on Interislander.

Arriving to the South Island on Interislander.

Day 2: Whale watching in Kaikoura and a drive to the West Coast

The main attraction in Kaikoura and the reason why we decided to go along the east coast was whale watching. Due to special geographical conditions there are good conditions for whales to feed close to the coast in Kaikoura. We spotted a sperm whale called Tiaki twice and later also a pod of dusky dolphins. It was magnicifent!

Spotting a sperm whale was deifinitely one of the highlights of our trip.

Spotting a sperm whale was deifinitely one of the highlights of our trip.

Day 3: Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef and Fox Glacier are two of three glaciers in the world that descend to very low altitudes and meet temperate rainforests. It was raining and we were hesitating if it’s worth walking to the Franz Josef Glacier. And it was very annoying and we were completely wet, but it was worth it. Although I don’t know what is so stunning about a huge mass of ice, standing there I had the goose-flesh feeling.

Rainy and foggy but still impressive.

Rainy and foggy but still impressive.

Day 4: Kayaking in glacier country and Fox Glacier

When we went to bed the day before, we didn’t believe it could be sunny the next day. We probably suffered enough during the walk to the glacier, because we woke up to a beautiful sunny morning. Lake Mapourika was calm, probably calmer than me, sitting in a kayak for the first time. The guide from Glacier Country Kayaks was a funny guy and he made us feel like kayaking is no big deal. And it wasn’t. After few paddling strokes, my worries were gone and I totally loved it.

After the rainy previous day, I couldn't believe what a beautiful morning it was.

After the rainy previous day, I couldn’t believe what a beautiful morning it was.

Day 5: Wanaka, Gibbston Valley, Queenstown

It started as another rainy day and we reduced our plans in Wanaka to a single attraction, the Puzzling World. Then we drove to Queenstown, which is quite close. We stopped in the Gibbston Valley vineyard to do some wine tasting, one of the New Zealand’s must dos. We arrived to Queenstown just on time for a nice walk at sunset and the famous Fergburger.

Queenstown was one of the towns I would really like to return to.

Queenstown was one of the towns I would really like to return to.

Day 6: Milford Sound

A bus-cruise-bus trip to Milford Sound was our day off of driving. The scenic drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful in New Zealand, but it was raining again and we couldn’t see much. I’ve been told that a rainy day in Milford Sound is exactly what you want, so that you can admire lots of impressive waterfalls. I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as I would if it was a nicer day. I thought that it would be one of the highlights of our trip and it wasn’t, but still, worth visiting.

Thanks to the rain we saw plenty of amazing waterfalls.

Thanks to the rain we saw plenty of amazing waterfalls.

Day 7: Queenstown, Cromwell, Tasman Glacier

We left Queenstown in the morning, heading to Mount Cook. We made a break in Cromwell to buy some fruit and juices from this famous fruit-producing area. When we came to Lake Pukaki I had to keep asking Martin to watch the road, not the lake. I read that Lake Tekapo has an incredibly blue colour, but I would say that Pukaki was way better. Having Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in front of us and the blue Lake Pukaki to the right, it was probably the best scenic route we drove. If you check the picture below carefully, you can see that Mount Cook is in a rain-cloud. Autumn was definitely coming to New Zealand and it was an annoying drizzle accompanying us to the Tasman Glacier.

The most stunning scenic road, with Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook.

The most stunning scenic road, with Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook.

Day 8: Hooker Valley Track and Mt. Cook, Lake Tekapo

It stopped raining, but Mount Cook completely disappeared in clouds and mist. We left for a 3-hour Hooker Valley track with bad mood, not expecting to see much. However, while we were walking the weather was getting better and better. When we came to a point from where we could see the highest mountain of New Zealand, it was already clear enough to actually see it. We got to the car around noon and soon we were in Lake Tekapo. I have seen such amazing pictures that I was very disappointed. I didn’t realize that the famous Russell Lupin flowers had finished flowering season a few weeks ago.

A beautiful view of Mount Cook, appearing and disappearing behind the clouds.

A beautiful view of Mount Cook, appearing and disappearing behind the clouds.

Day 9: Christchurch

And finally, our last destination in the South Island. Christchurch is known as the city that was destroyed by a severe earthquake in 2011. However, I would rather call it a city that was reborn. It is sad to walk along empty streets with collapsed buildings, but there is so much effort to restore the city. I was surprised by how much they have managed to do in four years. I especially liked punting on Avon River, a very peaceful, charming experience.

Avon River is a lively center of the reborn Christchurch.

Avon River is a lively center of the reborn Christchurch.

Day 10: Flight back to Auckland

Incredible how fast it went, right? It felt almost like a dream, full of unbelievable adventures. But it is not over yet. I have thousands of pictures (literally, almost 6 thousand if you want to know) that need sorting, processing and putting into posts that I will share with you :) I hope that this was just a trailer and that you will keep following my page to see all the beauty of New Zealand.

If you want to see the North Island itinerary, take a look at New Zealand in three weeks: The North Island itinerary



  • Reply darwinontherocks

    Amazing itinerary, I think I will bookmark it for future reference :-)

    March 23, 2015 at 14:33
    • Reply patriciatravelstheworld

      Thank you, so nice to hear that! It took a lot of planning to decide where to go, and more importantly, were not to go. There is just so much to see and do :)

      March 23, 2015 at 14:40
  • Reply Lucy

    Beautiful adventure! Thank you for the virtual tour. The picture of the whale is absolutely amazing <3

    April 1, 2015 at 13:56
    • Reply patriciatravelstheworld

      Thank you! The worst is just to pick pictures, because New Zealand is beautiful and I have a computer full of pictures :-)

      April 1, 2015 at 14:02
      • Reply Lucy

        Oh I know that feeling very well. It happened to me when I came back from Morocco :) Hardest decisions ever!

        April 1, 2015 at 14:11
  • Reply cityoftheweek

    AMAZING photos and adventures!
    New Zealand has been a dream of mine for quite a while, hope to make it there someday :)

    April 4, 2015 at 14:40
  • Reply Jet Eliot

    Thank you for sharing your itinerary. I am hoping to visit NZ next year and appreciate your input. Sounds like you had a wonderful time. :)

    April 4, 2015 at 19:47
    • Reply patriciatravelstheworld

      Thank you for coming across my itinerary! I hope it helps you with planning your trip next year. It’s very hard to choose only a few things to visit in New Zealand :)

      April 4, 2015 at 19:52

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