Have you thought about making your way to New Zealand’s South Island for a trekking adventure, but don’t know where to go or what to do? Look no further! I was lucky enough to explore the South Island by campervan last December and have put together a 10-day itinerary, which includes trekking through mountains and valleys, gazing at glacier views, cruising Milford Sound, and a fair bit of driving. If you’re not keen on camping, this itinerary can easily be adjusted to drive between locations with overnight accommodation in hotels. If you have less time, base yourself in Queenstown and choose a few days from this itinerary to catch the highlights. Of course, there’s always the option of joining one of our New Zealand challenges next year as well!
Day 1: Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass National Park
Grab your campervan/car, stock your chilly bin, and hit the road towards Arthur’s Pass National Park. After about 2-3 hours driving up to the mountains, you’ll find yourself in Arthur’s Pass Village, where you can head to the Visitor’s Centre for some local insight on the available walking paths. If you’d like to fit in a few shorter treks, check out the Bealey Valley Trek for a 1 hour return walk. On this walk you’ll make your way through the valley before coming across a beautifully calm waterfall and creek where you can relax and take it in before heading back on the same route. After this, head over towards the Devil’s Punchbowl track for some stair-climbing and stunning waterfall views. Set up camp for the night in the campground across from the Visitor’s Centre or settle into accommodation at one of the town’s hotels.
Day 2: Arthur’s Pass to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
Start the day off with a drive towards the west coast where you’ll find Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. If you’re looking to trek on the glaciers, you’ll need to book this in with a specialised tour group, but if you’re like me and want a cost-effective (read: free) opportunity to view the glaciers, there are other options! Both glaciers have self-guided walks available through the valleys with viewpoints of the glaciers. On each walk you’ll have lush green cliffs rising up on either side with flowing waterfalls. Keep in mind the lookout points for each glacier are dictated by weather patterns and glacial movements, so some days you’ll be able to get closer to the base than others.
Day 3: Franz Josef or Fox Glacier to Queenstown
Today, take the drive south from Franz Josef or Fox Glacier all the way to Queenstown. It’s a longer day of driving, but a beautiful one as you coast alongside Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, both with picturesque views of the mountains in the background. Spend the afternoon relaxing in Queenstown along Lake Wakatipu and if you’re after a short walk to stretch your legs, head to the Queenstown Gardens where you can enjoy a nice stroll and stunning views of The Remarkables mountain range. If you’re camping tonight, drive to Moke Lake, just outside of Queenstown, for a scenic lakeside campground tucked away in the valley.
Day 4: Queenstown
If you’re looking for a thrilling adventure day, Queenstown is your place to do it! They’re known for their adventure sports and offer day tours from bungy-jumping to white-water rafting. If these activities aren’t for you, enjoy a more relaxed day on a Lake Wakatipu cruise to soak in the views, or explore the downtown centre. If you’re somewhere in the middle between seeking adventure or relaxing, the Queenstown luge is a fun (and less extreme) option!
Day 5: Queenstown to Fiordland National Park
This morning, start the drive south towards Milford Sound via Te Anau where you can stop for a picnic lunch on the lake and pop into the Visitor’s Centre for some local insight on the area. From here, keep driving towards Milford Sound and stop off for a beautiful hike on the Key Summit Trek. This trek is roughly 3 hours return with a steady incline up the mountainside until you reach Key Summit. At the top, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. There is also a self-guided nature walk with information on the local flora, fauna and glacial history of the region.
Day 6: Milford Sound
Today, make the rest of the drive to Milford Sound. The most popular activity here is to board a boat and cruise the Milford Sound, or consider booking in a kayak tour instead. This area of Fiordland National Park is not to miss, with cliffs stretching high to the sky on either side of the sound. If you’re lucky, you may spot the local bottlenose dolphins or spot a fur seal. After you take in Milford Sound, head for an afternoon trek up to Lake Marian where you’ll be treated to a clear glacial lake with stunning mountain surrounds. The trek is about 3 hours return and well worth it!
Day 7: Fiordland National Park to Wanaka
Hop back in the car for a longer day of driving and make your way from Fiordland National Park to the lakeside town of Wanaka. If you’re up for a short walk, check out the Mount Iron walking track, a relatively easy 1 hour loop providing views overlooking the town and lake.
Day 8: Wanaka to Mount Cook Aoraki
Spend some time in Wanaka this morning and begin the drive to Mount Cook. On the drive you’ll pass by Lake Pukaki, a bright turquoise lake with views of Mt. Cook/Aoraki in the background. Drive to Mount Cook Village and head to the Hooker Valley walking track. This is a relatively flat 4 hour return walk through the Hooker Valley. On the walk you’ll cross over three suspension bridges as you meander towards Hooker Lake with views of Mount Cook in the background. If you’re camping, set up camp at the campsite near the start of the walk and enjoy the clear skies for some stargazing tonight.
Day 9: Mount Cook to Christchurch
Hit the road again towards Christchurch to wrap up your adventure. Explore the city and check out the Re:Start mall in town for a unique shopping experience. Walk through the town centre and Cathedral Square and meander down Regent Street where you’ll feel like you’ve wandered into a town in Europe.
Day 10: Christchurch
Enjoy breakfast at one of the many cafés in Christchurch and board your plane back home to wrap up your adventure! Keep in mind that these are just a few highlights from the South Island. If you have more time to spare, I would highly recommend heading further up north and down south to enjoy the diverse landscape that the island has to offer!
A few tips to keep in mind for your adventure:
- Always allow for extra time when planning your drive each day as the roads can be quite windy and narrow, meaning even Google Maps is not always accurate!
- Summertime in New Zealand means the days are quite long. This is ideal when you are driving and camping as you’ll enjoy a few extra hours of daylight, with the sun going down around 9pm.
- If you decide to camp, check out the app Campermate which will help you plan out where to stay each night. It can even be accessed when out of range, so is quite handy when you’re on the move and need to find a spot for the night.
Wherever you go, you can’t go wrong! New Zealand is a stunning destination with gorgeous views at every turn.
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