New Zealand’s South Island Road Trip Guide

It’s been a dream of mine to explore the South Island of New Zealand for the longest time. With snow-capped mountain peaks, incredible waterfalls, lush green forests, reflective lakes, deep blue waters and the freshest air in the world, a trip around the South Island should be at the top of your to-do list!

My road trip around the South Island took 10 days and started in Queenstown, went up the West Coast all the way to Nelson, and ended down in Christchurch. In total, we drove over 1200kms and spent 17 hours on the road. For anyone wanting to do a similar trip, I recommend at least a week to really appreciate what this beautiful country has to offer.

My trip started in Auckland, departing on an Air New Zealand flight to Queenstown. The flight duration is only 1 hour 55 mins, and between Air NZ and Jet Star, there are over 10 flights per day. Upon landing in Queenstown from Auckland and checking into our apartment at 53 Shotover Apartment, I set off to explore the Adventure Capital of the World.


Onsen Hot Pools
The Onsen Hot Pools is one of the most popular spots in Queenstown and was my first stop. The hot pools book out weeks, sometimes months, in advance so make sure you make your reservations early. The pools is completely private, accommodates up to four people and overlooks the Shotover river. Each session is an hour long, which is the perfect amount of time to relax and take in the scenic views before getting back to the action packed city.

Prices depend on how many people there are and the time of day. The Original Onsen Experience is $101 NZD for two people during the day sessions and $125 NZD for the night session.F

Ed Sheeran said the best burgers he’s ever eaten were from Fergburger, and he’s not wrong! Fergburger isn’t your regular burger joint, its an experience! Lines start forming around 10am and later in the day, the wait time to order can be up to an hour long!

If burgers aren’t your thing, right next door is Ferg Bakery (I recommend the almond croissants and pies!) and Mrs Ferg, a gelato store with more flavours than I can count!

During my 3-day visit to Queenstown, I ate from Fergburger twice (no regrets). On my first night, I got the Ferg-lafel ($12.90 NZD) and on my second night, I got the Fergburger with cheese ($12.90 NZD), Fries ($4.50 NZD) and Onion Rings ($7.50 NZD). Best. Burgers. Ever!

Pro tip: If you don’t want to wait around in line, order over the phone and pick your order up from the window about 20 minutes later!

Skyline Queenstown
For the best views of Queenstown, head up the Gondola at Skyline! The views from the top are breathtaking! For some extra excitement, buy a pass for the Luge and race someone down the race way! The Gondola + 2 Luge Rides cost $55 NZD for an adult and $41 NZD for a child.

Milford Sound

Known as the eighth Wonder of the World, Milford Sound is one of the most popular attractions in New Zealand. Arguably the most beautiful and untouched landscape in the country, Milford Sound is home to fur seal colonies sunbathing on the rocks, dolphins swimming alongside the boats, the highest waterfall in New Zealand and the cheeky Kea bird, the world’s only alpine parrot.

You’ll pass snowy mountain peaks as you enter Fjordland National Park as well as numerous waterfalls cascading down the cliffs (even better if its a rainy day!).

There are many ways to visit Milford Sound and many tours you can take. You can book a Coach-Cruise-Coach or Fly-Cruise-Fly tour (tours run daily) or you can drive there yourself. As I only had 3 days in Queenstown and having been busy with family and seeing the city for the first two days, I simply didn’t have time to take a coach tour. I got very lucky to get the very last seat on the Fly-Cruise-Fly package with Air Milford that was due to depart less than 2 hours after I booked it.

What to know:

  • It is one of the wettest places in the world and rains on average 182 days a year
  • It is a 4 hour drive from Queenstown
  • The closest town is Te Anau, which is 1 hour 40 mins away
  • There is no cellphone reception
  • The only accomodation at Milford Sound is the Milford Sound Lodge which books up weeks in advance. There’s a campervan park here too.
  • There are other campsites in Fiordland National Park


After a few adrenaline filled days in Queenstown, we headed up State Highway 6 to our next stop: Wanaka.

We headed straight to The Doughbin bakery to try their award-winning pies. This bakery has won numerous awards and proudly displays them in their window. I recommend taking your meal across the road to Lake Wanaka before making your way to That Wanaka Tree.

Blue Pools
Appropriately named, the Blue Pools is a short walk from the carpark located off the Haast Highway. The water is icy cold, but people love jumping in off the bridge!

This area is swarming with sand flies so make sure you bring bug spray to avoid being bitten!

Fox Glacier
Our first overnight stop since leaving Queenstown. We stayed at the Bella Vista Motel for one night, which was approx $250 NZD. I had fish & chips for dinner at the White Pub Cafe & Bar, a restaurant that was recommended by a local. Fox Glacier is a very small town with not many restaurants or accommodation. There are two main glaciers on the West Coast – Fox and Franz Josef. We didn’t have time to see the Glacier here, but it’s definitely on my list if I ever make it back!

Franz Josef Glacier
Only 20 minutes drive from Fox Glacier is Franz Josef, the bigger town of the two. We headed straight to the Glacier and began the 1.5 hour round trip walk to the top. The track is very easy but you’ve got to be careful when it rains due to possible flooding in the area. There’s a waterfall along the track called Trident Creek Falls that falls in three areas. You can’t get very close to the glacier anymore as its unstable and constantly retreating, but the viewpoint offers a good and safe look. If you want to walk on the Glacier, there are helicopter tours. We had lunch at The Landings before making our way to the next town.

Three hours away from Franz Josef is the little town of Punakaiki, made famous by one of the West Coast’s most impressive natural wonders, the Pancake Rocks.

The Pancake Rocks are layers and layers of limestone rock formations shaped like pancakes and were formed 30 million years ago by the water pressure, wind, rain and salt from the crashing sea.

There are surge pools and blowholes, best seen during high tide, and if you’re lucky, you can spot Hector’s Dolphins playing in the waters.


There’s a reason why Kaikoura was named the most trending destination of 2019 by Airbnb!

If you want to get up and close and personal to some incredible sea life, this is the place to be! There are many tours you can take to go Whale watching and swimming with dolphins, not to mention the thousands of seals sunbathing on the rocks. Just stop your car anywhere along the coast to see these animals not far from the road!

One thought on “New Zealand’s South Island Road Trip Guide

  1. I visited New Zealand way back in 2003, it was the first time I travelled outside Europe, and it still holds a special place in my heart to this day. Kaikoura in particular, a wonderful place with so much great wildlife to see. I sincerely hope to get back someday. All the best with your travels!


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