This 10-day road trip in the South Island combines the best New Zealand has to offer. Discover jaw-dropping scenery here, including Lake Tekapo and its turquoise waters, Mt. Cook and the surrounding glaciers, the peaks of Mt. Aspiring National Park and the magnificent fjords. You will also enjoy more intimate and off-the-beaten-path experiences, including the exploration of the Banks Peninsula, with its active wildlife setting, as well as immersing yourself in the historical gold rush of the small town of Clyde.


  • Discover the history of Christchurch and zipline through the Adventure Park
  • Observe or swim with Hector’s dolphins in Akaroa
  • Go stargazing under clear skies at the observatory in Lake Tekapo
  • Explore the breathtaking fjords and stunning sounds of Te Anau

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Christchurch - Historical Tours, Ziplining, and Beaches Christchurch
Day 2 Akaroa - Hiking and Swimming with Dolphins Akaroa
Day 3 Lake Tekapo - Hiking, Hot Pools, and Stargazing Lake Tekapo
Day 4 Mt. Cook National Park - Walking Tours Mt. Cook Village
Days 5-6 Wanaka - Town Tour and Hiking in Mt. Aspiring National Park Wanaka
Days 7-8 Te Anau - Fiordland National Park and Guided Tours of the Sounds Te Anau
Day 9 Clyde - Town Exploration and Wine Tasting Clyde
Day 10 Queenstown - Goodbye New Zealand!  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Christchurch - Historical tours, ziplining, and beaches

Gondola on the Avon River
Punting on the Avon River

On your first day in the South Island region of New Zealand, you will explore the world-famous Christchurch, also known as “Garden City.” Expansive parks and public gardens are attributed to the founding fathers. However, in 2011, the central city and some of the neighboring eastern suburbs were devastated by the earthquake. Although many of the multi-story, historic buildings experienced destruction, rebuilding efforts are now fully underway.

Despite reconstruction efforts, there is still plenty to explore in Christchurch. You can start off by visiting Hagley Park. This park has been at the heart of Christchurch since the 1850s and is now the most significant central city park. It offers a diverse range of entertainment and recreational facilities close to the city’s center.

Next, you will visit the central and unifying public space of Cathedral Square, which has been a landmark and a cultural magnet for more than 150 years. The space provides the perfect backdrop for events, with open spaces, historic architecture, and heavy foot traffic, despite being under reconstruction.

For a fun activity, consider punting on the Avon River, where a guide will give you a tour via a flatbottom boat, which is similar to a gondola ride. 

In the afternoon, embark on a journey through Antarctica without leaving Christchurch at the Antarctic Centre. You'll experience snow and ice, a storm, learn about life in modern-day Antarctica and Scott Base, and hang out with penguins. For some added fun, take a trip on the Hagglund ride, as well as a fascinating simulated 4D cruise.

To continue the adventure, take the Zipline Tour at Christchurch Adventure Park. The zipline is dual-lined, which means you can race others through the park. With four stages ranging to up to a half-mile in length, this exciting way to experience Port Hills rivals no other. You can also take a tour that lasts about 2.5 hours and includes sites of geographical and historical significance, as well as some breathtaking heights.

In the early evening, visit Sumner Beach. This family-friendly destination is great for a walk on the beach or a refreshing dip in the water. The best local swimming spots here are Taylor’s Mistake and Corsair Bay.    

When night falls, take a trip on via the Tram Restaurant, only restaurant tram in New Zealand. You can experience a unique way to view the inner city while enjoying a delicious dinner.

Day 2: Akaroa - Hiking and swimming with dolphins

Akaroa Harbour
Akaroa Harbour

Today, you will explore the timelessness of Akaroa. Located southeast of Christchurch, this beach town offers plenty to see and do as a tourist.

Begin the day by exploring the sheer beauty of the Banks Peninsula. The highlight of this peninsula is Akaroa, itself, a historic French and British settlement nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano. Take a stroll through the village with its colonial architecture, galleries, craft stores, and cafés.

Next, you can enjoy the company of the local Hector’s dolphins. Known as one of the smallest dolphin species in the word, you can simply observe these mammals in their natural habitat, or choose to take a swim alongside them.

In the later afternoon, take a day walk on the Banks Track. Keep in mind, though, you will reach a high altitude fairly quickly, so plan to hydrate and rest accordingly. The views over the caldera are certainly worth the hard work!

If you were unable to visit the Antarctic Centre in Christchurch, you will have another chance to visit with local penguins. In the evening, take a penguin tour at the Royal Albatross Centre, which allows you to view little blue penguins without disturbing them. Get an up-close and personal look at the penguins, and possibly some new-borns surrounding their artificial nest boxes. If you are lucky, you may also get to see the yellow-eyed penguins breeding at the bay.

Day 3: Lake Tekapo – Hiking, hot pools, and stargazing

Church of the Good Shepherd - Lake Tekapo
Stargazing over the Church of the Good Shepherd in Lake Tekapo

Today, you will explore Lake Tekapo, which is a small town located at the southern end of its namesake lake. Since 2012, Lake Tekapo has been deemed one of the rare UNESCO World Heritage Starlight Reserves, making it somewhat of a national park in the sky!

However, before the sun sets, you can explore the town and take advantage of its nature-fueled splendor. Start the day with a 2-hour hike to Mt. John Summit, or you can visit by car. Once you reach the peak, you will be treated to breathtaking 360° views. For a post-hike refresher, take a swim in the nearby Willow Bay Beach glacier lake.

The outdoor adventures continue as you make your way to the hot pools located at the base of Mt. John and overlooking Lake Tekapo and the mountains beyond. Access the Alpine Springs, Spa and Winter Park, where heated alpine water supplies four, large, outdoor, public hot pools and several private pools if you prefer some alone time. If you would like to indulge in some pampering, you can book a massage at the onsite health spa, too.

Once you are nice and relaxed, you can embark on a scenic flight around Mt. Cook (Aoraki) and Westland National Parks. Here, you will gain access to the view of New Zealand’s highest mountains, along with 12 major glaciers and nearly 125 miles of alpine and rainforest scenery unique to the region.

Make sure you also take in a lesson on the town’s past. You can visit the Church of the Good Shepherd for a history course. Built in 1935, this structure is a memorial honoring the glory of god built by the pioneers of Mackenzie Country.

After and fun-filled day, it is time to experience the town’s signature attraction. Mt. John Summit and Observatory consists of an asymmetrical rock shaped by the movement of ancient glaciers. The large mass of bedrock sits at an altitude of more than 3,380 feet above sea level, rising approximately nearly 1,000 feet above Lake Tekapo. On the summit of Mt. John is the University of Canterbury's astronomical observatory. The mountain was chosen as the best observatory site in New Zealand because of its high number of clear nights throughout the year, the stability and transparency of the atmosphere and the uniquely dark skies in the Mackenzie Basin, without the disruption of city light pollution. 

A visit to the observatory under the starry skies is the perfect way to end an active and productive day in Lake Tekapo.

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Day 4: Mt. Cook National Park - Walking tours

Hooker Lake near Mt Cook
Hooker Lake near Mt. Cook

On this day, you will make the trip to Mt. Cook in Arokai, which is the highest peak in New Zealand, where Sir Edmund Hillary made many of his expeditions. Standing more than 12,000 feet high, there is a variety of scenic walks you can enjoy to get the most out of this mountainous wonderland! You can embark on tracks including:

  • Mt. Cook: Take in the blue lakes and Tasman Glacier view. Take a stroll from the Blue Lakes Shelter past the lakes to view beyond the Moraine Wall. You can also make a pitstop to swim in the summertime. Duration: 40 minutes
  • Tasman Glacier Lake: This walk branches off the Tasman Glacier view track just past the Blue Lakes Shelter and leads to a viewpoint of the glacier terminal lake and the source of the Tasman River. Icebergs can be seen floating in the lake in the summer and in winter the lake freezes over. Duration: 1 hour
  • Hooker Valley: The most popular walk in the area is the Hooker Valley walk. Starting at The Hermitage, the walk takes in the camping ground, the site of the original Hermitage, an Alpine Memorial, and two swing bridges until the final destination of the Terminal Lake at the bottom of the Hooker Glacier is reached. The trip will vary in length, based on your starting point. Duration: 2.5-4 hours
  • Kea Point: The Kea Point track also begins at The Hermitage. The walk is relatively flat and provides great views of Aoraki/Mt. Cook, the Mueller Glacier, and the hanging glaciers and icefalls of Mount Sefton. There is seating at the Kea Point lookout at the end of the track, so you can take in the views. Duration: 1.5-2 hours
  • Glencoe Stream: Starting from behind the Hermitage, the walk zigzags through Totara trees and emerges at a lookout near the water tanks above The Hermitage. Walkers are rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of the village and beyond to the white ice of the Hooker Glacier and Aoraki/Mt. Cook. Sunrise and sunset are good times to catch the light on the mountains. Duration: 30 minutes

Days 5-6: Wanaka – Town tour and hiking in Mt. Aspiring National Park

Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka

Today is the half-way point of your trip, and you will explore Wanaka, a beautiful destination filled with lakes, mountains, rivers, diverse attractions, and endless activities. It is the world’s first protected lifestyle reserve. A quaint, little town nestled amongst breathtaking scenery, the settlement is located on the southern shores of Lake Wanaka.

In the summer, you can launch into the day with hiking through Mt. Aspiring National Park. During winter, consider skiing through Treble Cone and Cardrona, which are some of the best locations in the country!

Once you have had your exercise, take a load off to enjoy some wine tasting. Some of the best pinot noirs in New Zealand can be found in the middle of Central Otago, which is famous for its vineyards. Consider tastings at Bald Hills and Mt. Difficulty, along with Rippon Valley Vineyard, where you can also indulge in a fantastic lunch.

Make sure you are fully digested before making the trip to Wild Wire Via Ferrata. This couple- and family-friendly excursion provides a great adrenaline rush as you plunge into the heart of a waterfall among hidden pools and suspension bridges. Not for those afraid of heights, a traverse back to the base includes a picturesque trail on a final suspension bridge more than 100 feet high!

As an alternative, you can rent bicycles and kayaks in the are to explore more of the lake and its surroundings, or you can ascend Basecamp, an indoor rock-climbing playground that is jam-packed with 21 challenging lines. Then, take a load off at the hot pools at Hotel Grand Mercure Oakridge, just behind Basecamp.

Additionally, you can book full-day excursions to the steep-sloped Rob Roy Glacier or the eco-reserve of Mou Waho Island for a nature tour, which are both favorite field trips, according to the locals.

Wind down the day indoors by making your way to Puzzling World, a unique attraction that specializes in the oddity of puzzles, which offers a great maze and incredible illusion rooms. In the evening, save some time to enjoy Cinema Paradiso, a small, classic movie theater, where you can watch a movie from a comfortable sofa or from one of three seats in an old Morris Minor automobile!

Days 7-8: Te Anau - Fiordland National Park and guided tours of the sounds

Milford Sound
Milford Sound

On this two-day leg of your itinerary, you will experience more of New Zealand’s natural beauty–the gift that keeps on giving!

Begin your first day exploring Te Anau, known as the gateway to Fiordland National Park and part of the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage area. Te Anau is the ideal base camp for hikers. You can explore the stunning fjords and views galore via:

  • Kepler Track: You can go hiking or tramping (also known as backpacking) on this 37.3-mile loop, which is ideal from October 29-April 30. (Dates outside of this season are subject to avalanche risks, fewer facility accommodations, and previous experience is required.) The grass-covered ridgelines and gorgeous alpine vistas are complemented by lakeside pitstops throughout.
  • Routeburn Track: Explore this 20.5-mile track (one-way distance) during the same season as Kepler to ensure a smooth and gorgeous adventure. Expect to view winding meadows, reflective pools, blooming alpine gardens, and spectacular sites over the valleys and mountain ranges.

For a mysterious thrill, you can take a cruise to the western shores of Lake Te Anau. Once you arrive at the Cavern House, you will learn the history of this geographical wonder before you join your guide underground. Then, you will visit the subterranean Te Anau Glowworm Caves, a hidden world of rushing water, where you will drift in darkness until the illumination of thousands of glowworms ignites!  

On the second day, you can take time to explore the different sounds of the area.

A fjord located in the southwest region of the South Island, Milford Sound is accessed via Milford Road. This is the most iconic road in New Zealand that guides you to one of its most prized gems. Take the cruise on the fjord to explore countless waterfalls tumbling hundreds of feet down sheer cliffs and mountains rising straight out of the sea. In these flooded glacial valleys, you may also view fur seals and dolphins in their natural habitat. Make sure to pack some insect repellant to protect yourself from the sand flies, and a raincoat to shield you – nearly 40 feet of rainfall here each year!

On your way back from the 2-hour cruise, walk the beautiful grounds of Summit Track, or part of the Kepler Track, if you did not make the trip yesterday.  

For a full-day excursion option, the pristine fjord of Doubtful Sound begins with a cruise across Lake Manapouri to West Arm. You will then board a bus and travel the sub-alpine road over Wilmot Pass, pausing along the way to experience the dense Fiordland rainforest and view Doubtful Sound glistening below. When you arrive at Doubtful Sound, board a spacious catamaran Patea Explorer for a 3-hour cruise through some of the fjord’s most stunning scenery. Throughout the trip, a nature guide points out highlights and delivers commentary. Wildlife sightings are common in Doubtful Sound. Just like Milford Sound, you will witness fur seals (basking on the rocks of resident ponds), as well as bottlenose dolphins swimming the deep waters.

Day 9: Clyde - Town exploration and wine tasting 

Clyde tonwship
Clyde is home to the Otago Gold Rush of the 1860s

Your final day of adventuring unfolds in Clyde, which remains one of the most intact towns from the early New Zealand Otago Gold Rush of the 1860s. There is much to explore here, including:

  • Two museums.
  • Scenic gardens.
  • Various cafés.
  • Restaurants with local fare.
  • Fishing opportunities.
  • Shops for souvenirs.  

If you missed your chance to do some pinot noir tasting in Wakana, you can take the trip to Central Otago from Clyde to visit Bald Hills and Mt. Difficulty wineries. A final toast is on order when you visit the Big Picture Wine on SH6, which will cover the gamut of regional vino, along with inviting you into the Aroma Room to discover the scents associated with each grape. Be sure to inquire about an organized, guided tour, so are not driving while wine tasting on your last day of adventuring!

Day 10: Queenstown - Goodbye New Zealand!


Today, you will drive to Queenstown and drop your car off at the airport before flying back home. You will take with you memories of unforgettable adventures through the Land of the Long White Cloud!


Map of Best of New Zealand’s South Island - 10 Days
Map of Best of New Zealand’s South Island - 10 Days