As Kiwis born and bred in New Zealand, the natural wonderland of the South Island is our backyard and favourite playground. Thinking about a trip down-under? We’ve put together what we think is the best New Zealand South Island Itinerary for our tours – and it’s brimming with glaciers, lakes, rainforests and mountains.
Day 1 – Start in New Zealand's premier resort town, Queenstown
Your adventure starts in Queenstown – a picturesque resort town perched on the edge of turquoise Lake Wakatipu – and get your bearings by wandering along the lakefront. Soak up the beauty of the lake and awe at the sky-scraping mounrains beyond then take a cruise on historic steamboat, the TSS Earnslaw.
Day 2 – Cruise majestic Milford then take to the sky
Drive one of the most scenic roads in the world to Milford Sound, then board a cruise to explore this famous fiord, lined with cascading waterfalls, lush rainforest clinging to granite cliffs and the dominating Mitre Peak. End the day by exploring Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Southern Alps from a whole new angle –a scenic flight; which promises to be a real highlight.
Day 3 – Discover why Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world
Spend a whole day exploring Queenstown, where adventure tourism was born. If you’re after adventure, we’d recommend a thrilling jet boat ride on the remote Dart River or a trying your hand at white water rafting down the Shotover. For those wanting to enjoy a slower pace, Queenstown has plenty of boutiques and leisurely lakeside walks.
Day 4 – See gold mining come to life in the leafy settlement of Arrowtown
Travel to historic gold mining town, Arrowtown, and wander the streets lined with trees and charming cottages, then pan for gold in the Arrow River, once one of the world’s richest sources of gold. In the afternoon journey on to beautiful Wanaka, where you can take a relaxing cycle or walk around the lake.
Day 5 – Catch a glimpse of ancient ice flow, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
Continue on to Mt Aspiring National Park and walk amongst the towering beech trees. Head north from the coast at Haast and you’ll begin to catch a glimpses of the mighty glaciers of Fox and Franz Josef as it descends almost to the sea. A popular option is a stroll around Lake Matheson, which perfectly mirrors the jagged peaks of the Southern Alps.
Day 6 – Search for rare birds in a World Heritage Park
Drive out to the coast to visit Okarito and jump in a kayak to explore the lagoon, a nesting site for the extremely rare white heron (kotuku). Use your day wisely to make the most of this World Heritage Park. Take a scenic flight over Sir Edmund Hillary’s training ground, Aoraki/Mt Cook, or relax in the glacial hot pools.
Day 7 – Wander the wild West Coast
Passing the backbone of the South Island, the Southern Alps, arrive in historic Hokitika and visit some of the artesian galleries. Then follow in the footsteps of ancient Maori on the Coastal Road to Punakaiki, where giant stacks of pancake-shaped limestone and vertical blow-holes put on a striking show.
Day 8 – Traverse Arthur’s Pass National Park back to city life
Journey through the towering mountain of Otira Gorge to Arthur’s Pass National Park and see if you can spot the Kea, New Zealand’s cheekiest native bird – make sure to lock your car as they love to ‘borrow’ shiny objects. Stretch your legs at Castle Hill amongst limestone formations before descending into the vibrant city of Christchurch.
Day 9 – Time to say “Ka kite ano” (See you again)
Make sure you allow plenty of time to explore Christchurch, which is full of innovative new attractions. It’s a great place to get any last minute souvenir shopping done before heading off home.
Does this itinerary sound like your style of New Zealand vacation? Miles, Ena and the team have designed one just like it. Get in touch today to chat about our 9-day Kea tour – the best New Zealand South Island Itinerary. If you're looking for the best of the North Island, you'll love this one.