This fast-paced 20-day road trip takes you through the best of New Zealand's South Island for travelers who want to see it all. Tram through Christchurch, relax at a spa in Hanmer Springs, explore the Marlborough wine region, and kayak in Abel Tasman National Park. Then enjoy some trekking at Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier, go skydiving in Wānaka, and try out bungee jumping in Queenstown. You'll also visit Stewart Island, Dunedin, and the Otago Peninsula, before returning to Queenstown.


  • Spend your first full day relaxing in the thermal pools at Hanmer Springs
  • Explore the Malborough wine region with scenic boat rides and wine tasting
  • Trek up the majestic Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier and join a guided heli-hike
  • Drive to Te Anau and take a two-hour cruise through Milford Sound / Piopiotahi

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Christchurch, Historic Tram Dinner Christchurch
Day 2 Drive to Hanmer Springs, Visit the Thermal Pools Hanmer Springs
Day 3 Drive to Kaikōura, Explore Kaikoura
Day 4 Drive to Blenheim, Seafood Odyssea Cruise Blenheim
Day 5 Full-Day Marlborough Icons Tour Blenheim
Day 6 Drive to Nelson, Explore Nelson
Day 7 Drive to Abel Tasman National Park, Half-Day Sea Kayaking Trip Abel Tasman 
Day 8 Guided Sea Kayaking Trip with Picnic Lunch Abel Tasman 
Day 9 Drive to Greymouth, Monteith's Brewery Tour Greymouth
Day 10 Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier, Hiking Franz Josef / Waiau
Day 11 Franz Josef / Waiau Heli-Hike, Drive to Wānaka Wānaka
Day 12 Skydiving in Wānaka, Drive to Queenstown, Farm Tour & Dinner Queenstown 
Day 13 Bungee & Swing Experience, Jet Boat Ride, Onsen Evening Session Queenstown 
Day 14 Half-Day Boutique Wine Tour, Skyline Gondola Ride Queenstown 
Day 15 Drive to Te Anau, Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, Nature Cruise Te Anau
Day 16 Drive to Invercargill, Explore Invercargill
Day 17 Drive to Bluff, Ferry to Stewart Island, Half-Day Guided Walk Stewart Island
Day 18 Wild Kiwi Encounter, Explore Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula Dunedin
Day 19 Castle to Cruise Tour, Queenstown Gondola & Buffet Dinner Queenstown
Day 20 Depart Queenstown  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch, Historic Tram Dinner

Ride a colonial-style tram while dining on a four-course meal

Welcome to Christchurch! Often referred to as the "Garden City," Christchurch is dotted with mature trees and extensive parks and gardens, the most notable of which is the expansive Hagley Park in the heart of the city. Bordering the park, you'll find a Gothic revival building housing the Canterbury Museum. Visitors to Christchurch today will witness a city reborn after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, with an urban center full of new secrets to discover. Prepare for new architecture and street art, cocktail bars, bustling restaurants, and charming laneways.

In the afternoon, consider a visit to Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, where you can see a wide range of New Zealand wildlife, including the flightless Kiwi bird. Then, at night, enjoy an elegant dinner in a historic colonial-style tram that will make the rounds of central Christchurch's top attractions. Sit back and relax as you take in the views of the Botanic Gardens, the Canterbury Museum, and the Avon River / Ōtākaro from your window-side table. Professional waitstaff will serve you a welcome drink upon arrival, followed by a gourmet four-course meal. 

Day 2: Drive to Hanmer Springs, Visit the Thermal Pools 

Hanmer Springs near Christchurch
Prepare to relax in thermal pools when you arrive in Hanmer Springs

This morning, head north from Christchurch to Hanmer Springs. The two-hour drive will take you through some fine rolling farmland and North Canterbury's major wine region, the Waipara Valley, before heading inland. Here, you'll find Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa, which offers 15 thermal pools of various temperatures. For families, there is a large family activity pool and water slides where kids can burn off excess energy.

Enjoy visiting the spa, where you'll have a choice of a 30-minute sauna, steam, or private thermal pool. You'll also have access to all outdoor pools. Some other activities you can enjoy in Hanmer include a 20-45 minute horse trek or a two-hour guided rafting adventure on the Waiau River.

Day 3: Drive to Kaikōura, Explore

Kaikoura Township
Kaikōura is a year-round whale watching destination

As you make the two-hour drive from Hanmer Springs to Kaikōura, you'll be introduced to the South Island's most numerous inhabitants, the sheep. Once you arrive, you'll find a bustling little town with many cafés, restaurants, and shops. Kaikōura is also New Zealand's world-famous whale watching destination, and sperm whales can be seen here year-round. Depending on the season, you may also spot migrating humpback whales, blue whales, pilot whales, and southern right whales. New Zealand's only marine-based whale watching company, Whale Watch Kaikōura, is located here. 

Another great Kaikōura activity is swimming with seals. After donning a wet suit, you'll have the opportunity to interact with these inquisitive creatures on their own terms. Wings over Whales also offer tours from a fixed-wing aircraft to view the whales and other marine creatures from 500 feet (152 m) in the air. You could also try spotting dolphins on a snorkeling trip. 

Day 4: Drive to Blenheim, Seafood Odyssea Cruise

War Memorial and Clock Tower at Seymour Square in Blenheim
Check out the War Memorial and Clock Tower in Blenheim's Seymour Square

Today you'll drive two hours north from Kaikōura to reach Blenheim, following a road that hugs the shore for approximately 31 miles (50 km). Along the way, you'll have many opportunities to view native wildlife, such as seabirds and New Zealand fur seals. One of the best seal-watching locations is Ohau Point, 16 miles (25 km) north of Kaikōura, where you can observe adults on the shoreline and pups frolicking in a nearby waterfall. Crossing the dry hills of the Marlborough Ranges, head onward toward Marlborough, New Zealand's largest wine-producing region.

Surrounded by row upon row of picturesque vines, Blenheim sits at the heart of Marlborough. Soak up the country atmosphere here as you enjoy the local cafés, restaurants, and shops. In the evening, head off on a 3.5-hour cruise of the Marlborough Sounds to see breathtaking scenery, taste local seafood, and learn about the aquaculture industry. Cruise through the sheltered waters of Queen Charlotte Sound, enjoying samples of fresh seafood paired with a glass of local white wine as you keep an eye out for seals, dolphins, and penguins. 

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Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 5: Full-Day Marlborough Icons Tour

Take another cruise on the Marlborough Sounds—this time in the afternoon
Marlborough has become world-famous for two iconic areas: the Marlborough wine region and the Marlborough Sounds. Today, you'll enjoy a combined tour of both areas. The tour starts at the heart of the Marlborough wine region with two fine wine experiences before heading to lunch on the waterfront. Then, in the afternoon, enjoy another seafood and wine cruise on the Marlborough Sounds. 

Day 6: Drive to Nelson, Explore 

View of Nelson
Spend the afternoon in Nelson hiking, eating seafood, or shopping for local crafts

Today, you'll make the two-hour drive from Blenheim to Nelson. But first, a short drive north of Blenheim is the small port town of Havelock, which has a great variety of cafés and restaurants to choose from. Plan your journey to arrive in time for lunch. Then, cross the Bryant Range, arriving at Tasman Bay and the city of Nelson in the afternoon. Take the rest of the day to explore. Nelson's vibrant city center offers an abundance of cafés, restaurants, bars, and shops. Along the waterfront, you will find many fine restaurants specializing in seafood.

Nelson is also famous for its art and crafts, and you will find many local offerings here, including the world-famous Hoglund Glassworks. An array of craftspeople live in this region, including traditional, contemporary, and Māori artisans. Visit their studios, explore the weekend craft markets, taste delicious locally-made artisan products, and find something extraordinary to take home with you. You could also check out Founders Heritage Park, a living museum with a vintage railway. Hiking trails that cross paths with sheep are also available. 

Day 7: Drive to Abel Tasman National Park, Half-Day Sea Kayaking Trip

Go kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park
Take a remote kayaking tour starting from Awaroa

From Nelson, you'll follow the coastline for about an hour to reach Abel Tasman National Park. Pass through several small seaside towns, including the popular holiday destination of Kaiteriteri, with its magnificent sandy beaches and calm blue waters. Continuing on, you'll come to the tiny settlement of Marahau, the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, which is known for its pristine waters, beautiful native bush, and golden beaches. Once you've reached the park, check into your accommodation and prepare for a half-day guided sea kayaking trip starting from Awaroa.

From here, you'll have immediate access to the Tonga Island Marine Reserve and the Awaroa Lagoon, both offering top-class sea kayaking with a remote feel. The marine reserve trip explores the bays south of Awaroa with views of stunning granite sea cliffs, marine life thriving in a pristine marine ecosystem, and seabirds diving and foraging for food. Paddle past secluded beaches as you spot eagle rays feeding on the sea floor and seabirds feeding on the sandy banks. 

Day 8: Guided Sea Kayaking Trip with Picnic Lunch

Scenic beaches of Abel Tasman National Park
Look for scenic beaches at Abel Tasman National Park

Combining the best of Abel Tasman, today's kayaking trip highlight's the region's incredible beaches, coastal walks, and plentiful wildlife. First, meet your guide and join the morning Vista Cruise along the magnificent coastline to Torrent Bay. Then arrive at the Torrent Bay Lodge and kayak to discover beautiful beaches, tidal estuaries, and rivers. Stop for a picnic lunch in a sheltered cove and take some time to swim, explore, or sunbathe on the sand.

On your return trip, if the winds are favorable, sails will be hoisted, and you'll sail back via Pinnacle Island to view the seal colony there—if you're lucky, you may even see some resident blue penguins at the same time. During the summer, you'll have the option to enjoy an unguided coastal bush walk after the kayaking trip before you return.

Day 9: Drive to Greymouth, Monteith's Brewery Tour

Visit the Pancake Rocks along today's west coast route

The drive from Abel Tasman National Park to Greymouth covers approximately 200 miles (320 km) and takes around 5-6 hours. Enjoy a diverse range of landscapes, from rugged mountains and deep valleys to flat coastal regions, while looking out for notable sights such as Buller Gorge and the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. Your drive culminates in Greymouth, a historic gold-mining town and the largest settlement on the West Coast of New Zealand, which offers plenty of opportunities for exploration and entertainment, including Monteith's Brewery, founded in 1868.

Visit the brewery for an informative experience where you'll learn about the heritage and traditions of the brewing business. Witness beer being brewed in open fermenters by coal-fired boilers, using only the finest ingredients, and watch the brewers carefully handcraft the beer in small batches to develop its full natural flavors. When each batch is ready, the brewers employ a brilliant time-honored tradition for quality control—they taste it. On completion, you will receive a tasting of three beers of your choice from the tap at the brewery bar, plus your own personalized Monteith's bottle with your name on it.

Day 10: Drive to Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier, Hiking

Make a detour at Hokitika Gorge and walk over the turquoise-colored river

Leaving Greymouth today, you'll drive 3.5 hours south to get to Franz Josef / Waiau and Glacier Country. Pass through Hokitika and be sure to take a detour to the spectacular Hokitika Gorge, a turquoise-colored river surrounded by native bush-clad cliffs. Continue on through Ross, a historic gold mining town where several buildings still remain intact. As you travel farther down the coast, you'll also go through Hari Hari, the town where Guy Menzies, the first person to fly solo over the Tasman, crash-landed. Follow the coast through several more small towns before catching a glimpse of Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier as you arrive in the town center.

Visit the Department of Conservation Information Center in Franz Josef / Waiau to plan a hike in the area. There are many to choose from. Some of the most popular trails include the Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk and Sentinel Rock Walk, both of which provide views of Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier. Then there's the Lake Wombat track and Terrace Walk that take you through the forest and past former gold mining operations.

Day 11: Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier Heli-Hike, Drive to Wānaka

Franz Josef Helihike
This memorable hiking experience takes you through ice caves and frozen pinnacles

Experience Franz Josef / Waiau Glacier firsthand this morning during a heli-hike. You'll fly over all three of the glacier's icefalls, landing for a two-hour guided trek through this otherworldly ice landscape. A guide will take you through ice caves and spot frozen pinnacles, explaining the geology and history of the glacier. Afterward, make the four-hour drive to the alpine township of Wānaka. Heading south, you'll pass through the small town of Fox Glacier. Make a short side trip to view the glacier before heading along the coast and through more classic West Coast bush scenery.

Once you arrive in Wānaka, take a look around. This scenic resort town sits on the shores of one of the largest bodies of water in the Queenstown Lakes District, Lake Wānaka, and is surrounded by beautiful mountains. Later, enjoy a French dinner and wine at Bistro Gentil, a quaint bistro surrounded by lavender, offering tranquil lake views and beautiful sunsets.

Day 12: Skydiving in Wānaka, Drive to Queenstown, Farm Tour & Dinner

Skydive Wanaka
 Experience an adrenaline rush with Skydive Wānaka

Extreme sports lovers will enjoy a skydiving experience with Skydive Wānaka. Get your adrenaline pumping, then leave Wānaka and drive an hour to Queenstown. You'll travel along the Crown Range Road before dropping into Arrowtown for some old-world charm and delicious lunch options. While here, consider partaking in one or more of Arrowtown's fun activities, like biking, exploring a Chinese village, walking through a quirky maze, or relaxing in hot pools.

From Arrowtown, it's just a short 20-minute drive to Queenstown, passing Lake Hayes before you catch your first glimpse of Lake Wakatipu and the bustling adventure capital of the world. This evening, step aboard the TSS Earnslaw steamship for a ride on Lake Wakatipu to the Walter Peak High Country Farm. Here you'll sit down to a barbecue dinner featuring rotisserie-cooked meats, seasonal vegetables, and salads, followed by dessert and New Zealand cheeses. 

Day 13: Bungee & Swing Experience, Jet Boat Ride, Onsen Evening Session

View of the Shotover River
Take a high-speed jet boat ride through the Shotover River Canyons

Get ready for an exciting experience today on the AJ Hackett Nevis Bungee & Swing. Swing by yourself or tandem with a friend, completing the 985-foot (300 m) arc, then enjoy 8.5 seconds of free-fall on a 440-foot (134 m) bungee jump—the highest in New Zealand. Afterward, take an exhilarating ride through the Shotover River Canyons in a high-speed jet boat that seems to defy gravity. Be prepared to get wet as your jet navigates through 46 miles (75 km) of rapids and narrow twists and turns.

Later this evening, relax in a hot pool under the stars. Based on the Japanese bathing tradition, Onsen offers cedar-lined steaming pools on a cliffside overlooking the Shotover River. Enjoy an hour-long soak accompanied by a drink and snack as you take in the alpine scenery. The water temperature averages 101.3°F (38.5°C), but one of the summer pools is kept cold for those who relish the thought of an icy plunge!

Day 14: Half-Day Boutique Wine Tour, Skyline Gondola Ride

Vineyards in Cromwell
Visit three boutique vineyards on today's tour

Experience a wine-tasting journey today in Central Otago's incredibly scenic and diverse wine sub-regions: Gibbston, Bannockburn, and Cromwell. You'll enjoy tastings at three boutique vineyards, followed by a platter-style lunch at a wine country restaurant. Savor the finest and freshest produce with a glass of premium wine. Stroll through the charming historical settlement of Old Cromwell and learn about this wine region's early pioneering history and development through fun facts and anecdotes from your knowledgeable wine guide.

Later, get ready for a thrill as you go for a ride on the southern hemisphere's highest cable car. Head to the edge of Queenstown and board the Skyline Gondola, which will whisk you up 1,476 feet (450 m) to the viewpoint at Bob's Peak. On the ascent, watch as the city drops away below you and then enjoy the breathtaking 360-degree views from the top. Here, you can see all the way to Coronet Peak around the Remarkables mountain range and out to Cecil and Walter Peaks on the other side of Lake Wakatipu.

Day 15: Drive to Te Anau, Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, Nature Cruise

The scenic drive to Te Anau
Start the day with a scenic drive to Te Anau

This morning, you'll drive the two-hour route to get to Te Anau, the gateway to the Fiordland National Park. Following the shores of Lake Wakatipu, the Remarkables mountain range towers over you as you approach the township of Kingston. You'll then venture into Southland before crossing the rolling tussock lands of Mossburn (the deer capital of New Zealand) that take you to Te Anau.

Once you arrive, check into your accommodation and then prepare to cruise the full length of the fjord on board the Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Nature Cruise. This is your chance to see Milford from a local's perspective, and you can get soaked under spectacular waterfalls.

Following the cruise, which includes lunch, visit the Milford Sound / Piopiotahi Underwater Observatory. Take a journey through the natural history, geology, and conservation efforts of this unique marine reserve, then descend beneath the water into a spacious viewing chamber with 360-degree views to see rare black coral and colorful sea creatures. 

Day 16: Drive to Invercargill, Explore

Drive down a long coastal highway to get to Oreti Beach

Today's route is a two-hour drive from Te Anau to New Zealand's last city before Antarctica, called Invercargill, which was founded in the 1850s. Now, it has a population of approximately 60,000 and is the capital of Southland. Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Deco heritage buildings give the city a charming old-world character. Just minutes from the city center are an array of great coastal landscapes for visitors to explore, from the long coastal highway of Oreti Beach to the native wonders of Waituna Wetlands and Omaui. Or, head for the boardwalk on the estuary with its heritage wharves.

Queens Park, the largest park in the city, covers 200 acres (80 ha). Here, you'll find different attractions for children, as well as two botanical gardens where roses, rhododendrons, and azaleas dominate. Water Tower, the flagship Victorian monument of the city built in red brick in 1889, is unmissable. Some more interesting attractions include the Civic Theater, an English Renaissance-style building, the Victoria Railway Hotel, which was built in 1896 to accommodate travelers, and the Bill Richardson Transport World and Motorcycle Mecca, perfect for lovers of vintage cars and motorcycles.

Day 17: Drive to Bluff, Ferry to Stewart Island, Half-Day Guided Walk

Take the ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island
Take the ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island

From Invercargill, make a short drive south to Bluff, the gateway to Stewart Island. Then, prepare to experience Foveaux Strait in comfort and style on board a Stewart Island Experience express catamaran. During the one-hour crossing between Bluff and Stewart Island, keep a lookout for wildlife, including seals, dolphins, and seabirds. Stewart Island, also known as Rakiura, has a land area of nearly 1,243 miles (2,000 sq km), 85% of which is included within the boundaries of Rakiura National Park.

New Zealand's national park, Rakiura is an enchanted world of pristine ecosystems and habitats. You'll also have the chance to discover the rare and endangered birds and plants of Ulva Island with an exceptional local guide. Well-maintained walking trails weave around fallen trees and through lush native podocarp forest filled with birdsong. See exquisite orchids and be amazed by the friendly birdlife that will come too close for your camera lens.

Day 18: Wild Kiwi Encounter, Drive to Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula

End the day in Dunedin, home of the country's oldest university

Today, you'll depart Halfmoon Bay on Stewart Island for a cruise to Little Glory Cove. Learn about Stewart Island's rich history and disembark for a guided walk across the peninsula. Follow your guide through the native forest to reach Ocean Beach. On this wide, sandy beach, the southern brown kiwi (Rakiura tokoeka) can often be found searching for food.

Afterward, return to Bluff on the mainland and make the three-hour drive to Dunedin and the stunning Otago Peninsula. Founded by Scottish settlers in the 1840s, Dunedin is full of grand Gothic Revival architecture and is home to the country's oldest university. 

Day 19: Castle to Cruise Tour, Queenstown Gondola & Buffet Dinner

Larnach Castle
Take a guided tour of Larnach Castle, built in 1871

Today, you'll be welcomed onto the MV Monarch for a wildlife cruise around Taiaroa Head, home to the world's only mainland nesting site for royal albatross. Scattered along the rocks, you'll also see New Zealand fur seals basking in the sun and possibly New Zealand sea lions on the beach. Back on land, you'll take a guided tour of New Zealand's only castle, Larnach Castle, built in 1871. Learn about the castle's history, and explore the beautiful Garden of International Significance. Your final stop of the day is Penguin Place, a natural nesting site for the rarest penguin in the world, the yellow-eyed penguin.

Afterward, make the 3.5-hour journey back to Queenstown, driving through the heart of the historic Otago Goldfields along the way. Once arrived, treat yourself to a great dining experience at Skyline's Stratosfare Restaurant & Bar at the top of the gondola. As you dine, the floor-to-ceiling windows and panoramic views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the surrounding mountains will captivate you. The memorable buffet dining experience offers something for everyone, from locally-sourced meats to seasonal vegetarian dishes and a delicious dessert bar.

Day 20: Depart Queenstown

Aerial view of Queenstown
Until next time, Queenstown!

It's time to say goodbye to New Zealand's South Island! At the appointed time, you'll drop off your rental car at the airport and board your departure flight. Safe travels!

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Map of New Zealand South Island Road Trip: Christchurch to Dunedin - 20 Days
Map of New Zealand South Island Road Trip: Christchurch to Dunedin - 20 Days