This week-long itinerary takes you on a scenic road trip through the South Island's most spectacular landscapes. Starting in Christchurch, set off across the Canterbury Plains to skirt the turquoise lakes of Tekapo and Pukaki and reach the towering Mount Cook. After two nights exploring the adventure capital of Queenstown, head north along the rugged West Coast to Franz Joseph Glacier. Take a break from driving for the final leg of your journey and return to Christchurch via a breathtaking train journey.


  • See the mountains and lakes of Mount Cook National Park
  • Try your hand at adrenaline sports in the adventure capital of Queenstown
  • Explore the stunning West Coast glaciers
  • Drive along the famous high-altitude Crown Range Road
  • Experience breathtaking views on the TranzAlpine Scenic Train

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Christchurch Christchurch
Day 2 Drive Through Canterbury & the MacKenzie Country to Mount Cook Mount Cook Village
Day 3 Drive Through the Lindis Pass & Central Otago to Queenstown Queenstown
Day 4 Explore Queenstown - New Zealand's Adventure Capital Queenstown
Day 5 Drive the Crown Range Road & the West Coast to Franz Joseph Franz Josef Glacier
Day 6 Drive to Greymouth, Catch the TranzAlpine Train to Christchurch Christchurch
Day 7 Depart Christchurch  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Christchurch

New Regent Street in the center of Christchurch
New Regent Street in the center of Christchurch

Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will take you to your accommodation in Christchurch. The largest city on the South Island, Christchurch is known as New Zealand's "Garden City" and is steadily transforming into a vibrant urban destination. Encompassing a large green belt, it is known for its wide, tree-lined avenues and lush gardens.

When you're ready to explore, see the sights on a double-decker Hop On Hop Off City Tour excursion, or ride a historic tram across town to the renowned Christchurch Botanic Gardens and the cardboard Transitional Cathedral.

Day 2: Drive Through Canterbury & the MacKenzie Country to Mount Cook

Spectacular views of  Aoraki/Mount Cook along the way

Today you'll pick up your rental car and set off into the heart of the South Island, crossing the vast Canterbury Plains. Catch your breath in Geraldine before continuing through Fairlie. Ascending Burkes Pass, you'll come to the picturesque lakeside town of Tekapo, where you can enjoy spectacular views of Aoraki/Mount Cook from the shores of the turquoise-blue Lake Pukaki. Continue along the lake to reach your final destination of Mount Cook Village. (If you plan to self-cater, make sure to stock up on supplies before you arrive, as Mount Cook has no food shops.)

Get settled into your accommodation, then set out to explore the area on a guided excursion. To see 500-year-old icebergs up-close, join a Glacier Explorers Tour. From the safety of a specially designed boat, you can marvel at towering ice cliffs and floating icebergs, and view unseen and inaccessible areas of New Zealand's largest glacier.

Back on land, take a rugged, backroad 4-wheel-drive adventure for awe-inspiring views over the Tasman Glacier and its gigantic moraine wall. You'll stop at several vantage points along the way, and walk up to the top of the wall to view some of the most spectacular photographic opportunities within the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. Learn about the area's unique geology and local flora and fauna from your knowledgeable guide, as you gain entertaining insight into the rich pioneering history and stories of the past 150 years.

Day 3: Drive Through the Lindis Pass & Central Otago to Queenstown

The scenic drive to Queenstown
The scenic drive to Queenstown

Today's drive takes you south, passing the lakeside town of Twizel and New Zealand's gliding capital of Omarama before ascending the Lindis Pass. Follow the road to Cromwell, located at the head of the Kawarau Gorge, then continue towards the Gibbston Valley, one of New Zealand's premier wine-growing regions. You'll see the historic Kawarau Bridge, where you can bungee jump (or relax and watch others take the plunge). Approaching Queenstown, the Remarkables mountain range comes into view as you arrive at the adventure capital of New Zealand and your base for the next two nights.

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Day 4: Explore Queenstown - New Zealand's Adventure Capital

Explore New Zealand's "adventure capital" at your own pace

Although celebrated as New Zealand's "adventure capital," Queenstown offers far more than a fast-paced, action-packed holiday. Settled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, beneath a soaring panorama of the Remarkables, this alpine town is surrounded by a plethora of historic, gastronomic, and scenic wonders.

Browse the waterfront cafés, take a leisurely lakeside stroll, or ride the gondola for breathtaking views. Venture further afield into the Fiordland National Park, or head over the Crown Range to Wanaka, where you can drive through Lord of the Rings (LOTR) country, or join one of many dedicated LOTR tours. Adrenaline junkies can hop aboard the iconic Big Red Jet Boat for an exhilarating ride through the narrow Shotover Canyon, or take spend an afternoon exploring the area's many bungee jumping, heli-skiing, or ziplining adventures.

If you're a wine enthusiast, take a trip down the Gibbston Valley Wine Trail to sample some of the region’s best grapes. Or join a small group tour for an afternoon amongst the boutique vineyards and splendid alpine scenery of Central Otago. Enjoy visits to four, premium wineries over two contrasting wine sub-regions, learn about the wine and pioneering history of the area, and visit the historic precinct of Old Cromwell.

For a memorable evening, go back in time on a round trip to Walter Peak High Country Farm aboard the historic TSS Earnslaw Steamship. You'll be greeted off the boat and guided through beautiful lakeside gardens to a charming homestead. After a gourmet BBQ dinner, cruise home and breathe in the fresh night air as you watch the lights of Queenstown draw nearer.

Day 5: Drive the Crown Range Road & the West Coast to Franz Joseph Village

The Franz Joseph Glacier at sunset
The Franz Joseph Glacier at sunset

Leaving Queenstown this morning, you'll cross the Crown Range, the highest sealed road in New Zealand, to reach the alpine town of Wanaka—gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. Traveling along the shores of both Lake Wanaka and Hawea, you'll enter the small town of Makarora where you can stop at the famous Blue Pools for a walk through native beech forest to a glacier-fed swimming hole. Continue through the remote seaside settlement of Haast before heading up the wild West Coast, a 372-mile (578 km) stretch of bush and native rainforest. After passing Fox Glacier you'll reach the village of Franz Joseph and your destination for the night. 

In the afternoon, see two of New Zealand's most famous glaciers from the air with a scenic helicopter flight, or head to the nearby Glacier Hot Pools to unwind and rejuvenate in a forest paradise.

Day 6: Drive to Greymouth, Catch the TranzAlpine Train to Christchurch

Take in views of Arthur's Pass National Park on a scenic train ride
Take in views of Arthur's Pass National Park on a scenic train ride

Today, head north through the historic gold mining region of Hokitika. Known for its greenstone (pounamu) this seaside town has a rich history dating back to the 1860s. Head to the coast and take in the endless sea views, or pick up a souvenir at one of the many craft shops. Continue to Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast and the starting point for the next leg of your journey—the TranzAlpine Scenic Train. Drop your rental car at the Greymouth Train Station depot, before boarding your train back to Christchurch.  

Considered one of the world's great train journeys, you'll travel across the South Island from the west to east coasts, crossing through Arthur's Pass National Park. From the comfort of your carriage, see lush beech forest, deep river valleys, and the spectacular peaks of the Southern Alps. Descend to the windswept Canterbury Plains before arriving in the city of Christchurch.

A driver will be waiting for you at the train station to transport you to your accommodation. Enjoy your final evening in New Zealand with a celebratory dinner and a night on the town.

Day 7: Depart Christchurch

Bid New Zealand farewell and catch your departing flight from Christchurch
Catch your departing flight from Christchurch Airport

Bid New Zealand farewell today, as a private transfer takes you to Christchurch Airport in time for your departing flight. Safe travels!                    

More New Zealand Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

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Map of New Zealand South Island Road Trip: Lakes, Mountains & Glaciers - 7 Days
Map of New Zealand South Island Road Trip: Lakes, Mountains & Glaciers - 7 Days