New Zealand’s South Island: a storybook itinerary

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Plan a trip to New Zealand - tips and advice

I’ve posted two huge articles with all the details of our one-month road trip in New Zealand – including our route, where we stayed, what we did, and how much it all cost – one post for the South Island and one for the North Island. It is most definitely one of the best trips we’ve ever done, a glorious immersion in the magnificence of New Zealand’s nature. It was exactly what we needed for a break from city life. If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand, then do have a look at those posts, but for those of you who prefer pictures to words, here’s the storybook version, filled with New Zealand tips…

New Zealand storybook itinerary

Planning a New Zealand road trip - Queenstown

It begins in Queenstown, New Zealand’s natural playground…

Planning a New Zealand road trip - Queenstown

…home to a crystal-clear lake…

New Zealand road trip - Queenstown

….and best viewed from up on high.

Queenstown - Nevis Swing
Queenstown is the world’s adventure capital.

New Zealand road trip - Queenstown Nevis Swing

Embrace it (and each other) to do the Nevis Swing.

Plan a trip to New Zealand - Dolphins at Milford Sound
A few away is the mighty Milford Sound. It’s one of the wettest places in the world.

Planning a New Zealand South Island trip - Milford Sound

And also one of the most beautiful, with towering waterfalls…

New Zealand road trip - Milford Sound

…and magical mists.

Plan a trip to New Zealand - Dolphins at Milford Sound

If you’re lucky you might see dolphins.

New Zealand road trip - Te Anau

Stay in Te Anau for the best of Air BnB views…

Plan a trip to New Zealand - Milford Sound

… and on your journey stop at the signs for enchanting viewpoints along the way. New Zealand is the land of fairytales.

New Zealand trip - Cromwell

On the other side of Queenstown is Cromwell, famous for its fruit.

New Zealand trip - fruit picking in Cromwell

Pick the season’s best, from cherries to apples to plums.

New Zealand trip - Lauder

And if you want to leave the beaten track, try a home exchange some place small. We went to Lauder for 10 peaceful days in a town that numbered just 16.

New Zealand trip - Wanaka

Wanaka is a nature lover’s dream…

New Zealand trip - Wanaka

…home to that famous tree

New Zealand trip - Wanaka

….and the perfect place to hike.

New Zealand trip - Wanaka camp site

Wake up in splendid nature…

New Zealand road trip, South Island

…before heading off to the winding Haast Pass and stopping at beauty spots along the way…



New Zealand road trip -waterfall

…from swing bridges..

New Zealand road trip -waterfall

…to waterfalls…

New Zealand road trip tips

…to dens made out of driftwood.

New Zealand road trip - Gillespies Beach

Gillespie’s beach is one of the most perfect places to camp. Look one way and you see the ocean…

New Zealand road trip - Gillespie Beach

….the other, you see Mount Cook.

New Zealand road trip - mountiain dial

In the morning, head to the handy dial to find out the names of the mountains you’ve been marvelling at…

New Zealand road trip - Lake Matheson

…then wander up to Lake Matheson.

New Zealand road trip - Lake Matheson

On a perfect day, the lake reflects the surrounding nature…

New Zealand road trip - Lake Matheson

…to create the mirror image of Mount Cook.

New Zealand road trip - Lake Matheson

It’s the kind of beauty you could stare at for days.

New Zealand road trip - Lake Matheson

But even without the reflections, the lake and forest are enough to delight.

Planning a trip to NZ - Fox Glacier

And your next stop brings even more awe, with the mighty Fox Glacier.

Plan a trip to New Zealand - Fox Glacier

View it from the ground…

Planning a trip to NZ - Fox Glacier

…or splash out and take a helicopter to the top…

Planning a trip to NZ - Fox Glacier

…and walk on the glacier itself.

Plan a trip to New Zealand - Hokitika

Up the coast is Hokitika, a little town…

Plan a trip to New Zealand - Hokitika

…with perfect sunsets. There’s a hashtag #westcoastbestcoast for a reason.

Plan a trip to New Zealand - Punakiki

Drive north for more coastal might and the peculiar pancake rocks.

Plan a trip to New Zealand - Punakiki

The blow holes and swell pools leave no doubt of nature’s crown.

Plan a trip to New Zealand - Lake Brunner

Inland you’ll pass Lake Brunner…

Plan a trip to New Zealand - Arthur's Pass

…en route to Arthur’s Pass, a drive of epic views.

New Zealand road trip tips, Castle Hill

Otherworldly sights are everyday in New Zealand, and Castle Hill proves that point.

Akaroa, New Zealand

Pass it as you drive to Akaroa, a pretty seaside town where you can swim with little dolphins…

Akaroa, New Zealand

…and be charmed by painted houses.

New Zealand road trip - Christchurch Cardboard Cathedral

Earthquakes have hit Christchurch hard, but the city strives boldly on. The cardboard cathedral is an impressive feat…

Plan a trip to New Zealand- Christchurch

…beautiful inside and out.

New Zealand road trip Kaikoura

Up the coast is rugged Kaikoura, homes to whales, dolphins and more.

New Zealand road trip: Marlborough wine tour

And then next you’ll hit Marlborough, the heartland of sauvingnon blanc. Ride bikes through the vineyards and fill your day with tastes.

New Zealand road trip - Nelson

Nelson is a tiny city…

Processed with VSCO with c3 preset

…cute and filled with quirks. Don’t miss the Saturday market.

New Zealand road trip: Cable Bay

Just north is Cable Bay where life slows to snail’s pace.

New Zealand travels - Cable Bay

Walk through the mud when the tide is low…

New Zealand trip - Cable Bay

…or take a kayak when it rolls back in.

Plan a trip to New Zealand - Abel Tasman Kayaking

And finally east is Abel Tasman where more kayaks await…

New Zealand planning - Abel Tasman

…and golden sands are there to explore.

New Zealand yurt

You could even sleep in a yurt

New Zealand is simply awesome in the truest sense of that word. Read our full itinerary for the South Island here, including where we stayed, all the things we did and how much it all cost. We also have a New Zealand North Island itinerary and and a photo story of the North Island here. And I also recommend this post by Katie at Two Wandering Soles, which has lots of money-saving tips for travelling in New Zealand. And this one with New Zealand North Island itinerary.

Let us know if you have any more New Zealand tips. It’s always useful for other readers, plus we’d love excuses to return!

9 thoughts on “New Zealand’s South Island: a storybook itinerary”

  1. A great itinerary! We live in Auckland but will be moving to Hong Kong in 2017. I am in the middle of planning our EPIC South Island adventure. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Our kiddos love to swim so much, but it was too windy and cold to swim except in a hot pool. Fortunately we had bought tickets to Tekapo Springs, a hot pool overlooking Lake Tekapo via bookme at a 50% discount. We paid only NZD 10 for one person, the normal price is NZD 20 for adult and NZD 12 for children.

  3. I am traveling to New Zealand in December, is it important for me to get a VPN before heading to the airposrt. I got a list of VPNs on reviewsdir, should i get one like Express or Nord or Vypr?

  4. Wow! These pictures are absolutely mesmerizing, and now I’m definitely going to plan that trip to New Zealand I’ve always wanted to. This blog is genius, and has been super helpful.


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