Two Week Self Drive Road Trip Itinerary Around New Zealand’s South Island for Mountain and Photography Lovers

You finally made the decision to visit New Zealand! Congratulations you will quickly learn that this was one of the best decisions of your life!

Now it is time to plan your road trip. If you’re going to travel around New Zealand for a couple of weeks then this itinerary covering the South Island, which I put a lot of love into, should become your best guide on places to stay, activities to do, hikes to complete and locations to photograph!

This itinerary is completely free and the best one you will find on the internet! If you find it useful, it would mean the world to me if you use the affiliate links provided in the text and at the end of this post when you book hotels, rental cars, camper vans or activities. If you do, I will get paid a small commission, at no extra cost to you!

Ultimate two week New Zealand itinerary for people who love photography and hiking
Are you excited for your road trip just like these guys?

More of New Zealand road trip itineraries

This is just one of five itineraries I have designed for my New Zealand Travel Guide. Make sure to check out the other ones. They are everything you will ever need to plan your stay here. 

Who is this New Zealand itinerary perfect for?

This itinerary is designed for a short term visitors to New Zealand who like me love landscape photography and being outdoors. It’s been optimised in the best way possible in order to cut the time spent in the car to a minimum in favour of spending time on taking photos and being outdoors.

It includes all of my favourite photo spots and hikes on the South Island. Of course this is not a complete list of things to do and see in New Zealand!

For that you will need way more time than just two weeks, but I understand that not everyone can allow themselves to take long holidays and travel for an extensive amount of time. 

My big advice is: if you do only have two weeks then stick to the South Island. I promise you that it won’t disappoint you. Trying to see both islands in two weeks whilst doable, it’s rather ambitious.

Even though New Zealand isn’t a big country and the distances may seem small, the roads here are curvy, mountainous and speed limits are often very restrictive.

The distance that would normally take you 2 hours to complete on a highway can easily take twice as much time in New Zealand, not including the many photo stops you will make, because around every corner there is a view worth stopping for.

What’s the best way to travel around New Zealand?

Helicopter flight in Wanaka, New Zealand

Private helicopter of course! Unfortunately for us mere mortals this type of transport is way out of our budget! 

For self drive opportunities for travelling around the South Island here is what I recommend:

  1. rent a campervan you can live out of and stay at campsites
  2. hire a compact car and stay in hotels/hostels.

If you are looking for a quick and an easy way to find a perfect car for your road trip check Discover Cars  top rated car search engine with a huge database of car rental companies at competitive prices. I use them personally and always appreciate their great customer service. 

Alternatively you can rent a camper van. The great side to travelling in a motorhome or small camper is that it will save you a lot on accommodation, especially if you are travelling in a group.

There are a few things you should know before deciding on travelling in a campervan in New Zealand, so make sure to jump to my other post to learn more. 

Check Motorhome Republic a search engine that compiles all camper van rental companies in New Zealand. It’s way easier then checking each and every one separately. Companies like Britz, Maui, Jucy and Apollo are the leaders when it comes to motorhomes and can all be found on this website. 

Two week South Island road trip map

Below you can find the map for this itinerary. Press the top left button to switch on different layers. The map showcases many popular photography spots as on the South Island, as well as the trailhead for many hikes.

Day 1-2: Fly into Christchurch/Car Pick up/Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo at sunset
Lake Tekapo in the late afternoon sun

Distance from Christchurch to Tekapo: 230 km / 140 miles / 3 hours 

If you are arriving by air then chances are Christchurch International Airport will probably be the cheapest, and most convenient, airport to fly into.

Christchurch is the main and biggest city in the South Island, but cities are not the reason you came to New Zealand. You’re here for the nature and you’re here for the adventure.  

**Note: You can also fly into Queenstown this itinerary is a loop and can start/finish in Queenstown too.

Now you’ve finally picked up your car you’re ready to hit the road! Your first stop is Tekapo. The 3 hour drive from Christchurch to Tekapo is a beautiful way to be introduced to the New Zealand’s country side.

The quickest and shortest route takes you down Highway 1, Highway 79 and finally Highway 8 to the southern tip of the Lake at the small town of Tekapo.

Best things to do in Tekapo

The Famous church of the good shepherd photographed in the night with Milky way in the background

Star gazing

Star gazing is generally incredible in all of New Zealand as long as you are in a dark spot away from city lights, but due to Lake Tekapo being the first international Dark Sky Reserve in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s pretty special around here. 

Now star gazing isn’t as simple as looking up at the sky at night. For best results schedule it for new moon, find out where the core of the milky way is visible, research the night cloud cover and most importantly dress up warm. Photo Pills app up is great for that! 

You can also book a stargazing tour operated from the top of Mount John Observatory near Tekapo village.    

Best places to photograph in Tekapo

Lupin flowers along the shoreline of Lake Tekapo

The Church of the Good Shepherd

Within walking distance of the town centre, the Church of the Good Shepherd is a very photogenic beautiful little chapel situated close to the shore of the lake. It has become very sought-after by astro photographers, which probably has something to do with Tekapo having some of the best star viewing in the world.

Be warned though, it’s very popular, in fact it’s one of the most popular photography spots on the South Island. If you want to get a good spot arrive early and be prepared to wait for your perfect shot. Be respectful too, after all, it is a house of worship.

Mount John Observatory (Both Day and Night)

A 15 minute up hill drive further along State Highway 8 out of town leads you toward Mount John Observatory.

Complete with night sky tours, an awesome astro cafe and the opportunity to look through really really big telescopes at night. The observatory is on top of a hill.

The views of Lake Tekapo from up there are breathtaking, but the windy road that leads to the top is not for the fainthearted.  

Lupin Flowers

Unfortunately this isn’t a year round phenomenon, they are only in bloom for around 6 weeks from the end of November until the start of the new year.

Technically Lupin flowers are just weeds that have spread around the island like a disease creating danger to native species of plants.

With that said no one can deny that Lupin flowers in bloom create fantastic scenery, where everything turn into a beautiful shade of pink and purple. They can be found all over the place from the shoreline of Lake Tekapo, along the roadside to Mount Cook and all around the surrounding meadows.    

Best places to stay in Tekapo

Day 2-4: Mount Cook/Aoraki National Park

Winter scenery of Mount Cook reflecting in the Hooker Lake
Mueller hut with Mount Cook in the background

Distance from Tekapo to Mount Cook: 105 km / 65 miles / 70 minutes

Located within one hour drive from Tekapo, Mount Cook National Park named after the highest mountain in the country will quickly become your favourite place on your roadtrip around New Zealand.

The scenic drive which hugs the shoreline of the crystal blue Lake Pukaki is for sure one of the most beautiful drives and Mount Cook National Park is one of the best hiking areas on the South Island.    

Best things to do in Mount Cook NP

Hike and stay the night in Mueller Hut

This challenging hike takes you to one of the most famous backcountry huts in New Zealand. The whole track, which starts at the White Horse Hill car park, takes around 6-8 hours to complete. 

If you plan an overnight staying in the alpine hut, bookings are essential during the summer months (mid November to April) and can be done online with DOC or at the visitor Centre in the Mount Cook village.

Again in the peak season spaces are booked far in advance so waiting to book in the visitor Centre might not be the best idea.

For more info go to my Mueller hut hike guide.  

Descending from Mount Olivier during dusk. Mount Cook and Mueller hut can be seen in the background.

Hike along the Hooker Valley 

This relatively flat 5 km hike has some of the most scenic views in the whole park. From White Horse Hill carpark the route travels all the way through the Hooker Valley eventually ending up at the Hooker Valley Glacial Lake.

Here iceberg’s can be seen carving off the glacier and floating all the way down to near the shoreline. A beautiful scene and one of my favourite day hikes on New Zealand’s South Island.

Book a scenic flight 

Mount Cook National Park is one of the best places to do a scenic flight. With many glaciers overhanging the steep mountain cliffs and the insanely blue glacial lakes it is scenery that you won’t be able to forget. 

See my first timer’s guide to Mount Cook National Park for more info. 

Best Places to stay in Mount Cook NP

TIP: Accommodation in Mount Cook is really scarce so book as far ahead as you can! Campsite is operated on a first come first serve basis. 

Day 4-6: Wanaka

Coromandel Peak on Mount Roy in Wanaka
The famous lone willow tree in Wanaka

Distance from Mount Cook to Wanaka: 210 km / 130 miles / 2,5 hours

On the way south from Mount Cook and after 2.5 hours of some of the best roads in the country, including the famous Lindis Pass, you’ll eventually arrive in Wanaka.

Thanks to being located in the heart of the southern alps near Mount Aspiring National Park, Wanaka is blessed with some of the most incredible scenery.

The town is also a great adventurer hub with many exciting outdoor activities at your disposal. 

Best hikes to do in Wanaka

Roys Peak

The hike up to Roys Peak is a special one and it’s probably one of the most recognisable views in the whole of NZ (apart from That Wanaka Tree but I’ll get to that soon).

The 16 km track starts from a small car park 6km away from Wanaka down the Mount Aspiring Road.

Make sure you take water because this hike is 100% exposed (no shade) so on a sunny day it gets sweaty. At an average pace it should take you around 5-6 hours return.

Did you know that there’s actually two very similar view points on the mountain? The one on the Roys Peak Track and one taken on Coromandel Peak (photo above) on the same mountain.

It’s worth noting that the second one is only accessible by helicopter. 

Sunrise view from the top of Rocky Mountain in Wanaka

Catch the sunrise on top of Rocky Mountain

The Rocky Mountain Track offers spectacular views over Lake Wanaka, completely unlike the views from the summit of Roys Peak. The track also encircles Diamond Lake and it is only a 7km (2-3hour) return.

The surrounding bluffs are very popular with rock climbers too. Rocky Mountain is an awesome spot if you want to catch a sunrise from the top of a mountain but don’t want to hike for too long.

Hike up Isthmus Peak

Isthmus Peak has a similar duration to Roys Peak but much less exposed at the start. Isthmus peak offers views of both Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka and the rugged nearby landscape.

The head of the trail is located half an hour drive from Wanaka down the Lake Hawea Road and this moderate track is well worth doing.

For more options view my post about best hikes around Wanaka. 

Best places to photograph in Wanaka

That Wanaka Tree 

Some love it some hate it, but it is undoubtedly a spot which lures thousands of photographers each year. That famous lone tree is truly photogenic but again be warned.

It’s huge popularity does attract quite the crowd. Getting there is really easy. Just walk along the lake shore from town centre towards Mount Roy. Alternatively park your car at the Stoney Creek Car Park.

Glendhu Bay and Bremner Bay  

Both are within short drives from the town centre. One to the East and one to the West. On still days with very little wind both bays offer beautiful reflecting mountains.

I have a separate post on the best photography spots around Wanaka. Make sure to check it out. 

Best places to stay in Wanaka

Day 6-7: Milford Sound via Te Anau

Sunset and sun beams over Mitre Peak in Milford Sound in New Zealand. A must visit spot on the two week self drive itinerary designed for hikers and photographers

Distance from Wanaka to Te Anau: 230 km / 143 miles / 3 hours

Next on the itinerary is the journey to Milford Sound via Te Anau. Don’t worry we aren’t missing out Queenstown, which you will pass on the way to Milford Sound. We are just breaking up the journey.

It makes more sense to go to Milford Sound first and then come back to Queenstown before you head over to Glacier Country, which is on the itinerary after Queenstown. This divides the driving time pretty evenly. 

Alternatively you can stay in Queenstown and book yourself onto a flight or bus journey to Milford Sound and let someone else take you there! I covered this option in a separate post dedicated to Milford Sound. 

Now from Wanaka to Milford Sound, via Queenstown go over the more scenic Crown Range Road. If you are travelling in the winter season, check the weather conditions first and carry snow chains! 

Once you pass Queenstown you will drive towards Te Anau through a beautiful stretch of road called the Devil’s staircase along the Remarkables Mountain Range. Make sure to keep your eyes on the road though! This is a very windy part of the journey.

When you get to Te Anau check into your accommodation and take a break. You can go on a stroll around the lake in the evening and recharge batteries before the big day tomorrow! 

Best places to stay in Te Anau

Best things to do in Milford Sound

Scenic cruise around Milford Sound
Me taking in the views of the Milford Sound during the cruise

Did you know that Milford Sound is the most visited place in the whole of Oceania? It’s also not a sound but a Fjord. It was wrongly named by the first explorers and the name just stuck.

From Te Anau you have another 120 km (75 miles) to get to Milford Sound. Make sure to set off early from Te Anau. Around 7AM would be my bet.

I know that’s early, but trust me it will be worth it and that way you will avoid the tour buses and have all the spots along the way to Milford Sound to yourself.

I am warning you now. You won’t know where to look! This road is simply spectacular! Best stops are Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lake, Hollyford Pass and the Chasm. 

Scenic cruise around the Fjords

A must do whilst you’re here is a cruise around the Fjords. There are few companies running the cruises offering similar service at a similar price with Southern Discoveries being the top choice for many. 

Bring a rain coat with you even if it’s perfectly sunny outside as all of the boat drivers like to get up close to the waterfalls! With that said don’t expect it to be sunny. Fiordland National Park is the rainiest part of New Zealand.

Aerial view of Milford Sound taking from the plane
Aerial view of Milford Sound taking from the plane

Scenic flight

There are a couple of different options for flights. Whether you want to go over the coast line or around the mountains or do a bit of both. Milford Sound is undeniably one of the best places for scenic flight in New Zealand, so if you haven’t it done one yet, now is your chance!


On the way back to Te Anau stop at either Gertrude Saddle or Lake Marian, two of my favourite day hikes on the South Island of New Zealand. 

You can also hike to the Key Summit which is a part of the multiday Routeburn trek. This part if often done on its own as a day hike. 

IMPORTANT: The road from Te Anau to Milford Sound does close some days during the winter due to snowfall. Always check the weather conditions with DOC first before you set off. Sometimes snow chains are also required. Make sure your rental vehicle is equipped with them before you hit the road!

Best places to stay in Milford Sound

Campervan & Bugdet

Milford Sound Lodge Backpackers Accommodation 


Milford Sound Lodge (Mountain View Chalets) 


Milford Sound Lodge (Premium Riverside Chalets)    

Important tip: Milford Sound Lodge is the only place to stay in Milford Sound for independent travellers. Reservations can only be made directly with them. Book as far ahead as you can as the spots fill up quick.

If you are travelling in a camper or your own camping equipment, there are a few basic DOC campgrounds along the way from Te Anau to Milford Sound as well. CamperMate App will guide you to those. 

Day 7-10: Queenstown + Glenorchy

Queenstown at dusk. The Remarkables mountain range can be seen in the distance

Distance from Te Anau to Queenstown: 170 km / 105 miles / 2 hours  

Queenstown is only a two hour drive from Te Anau or a 4 hour drive if you’re lucky enough to stay in Milford Sound.

Unfortunately you’re going to have to do this beautiful road twice as there’s only one way in and one way out of Milford Sound. How unlucky! 🙂

What To Do Around Queenstown

Me during my first bungy jump.
My friend Vanessa in the "basket of dreams" on the Queenstown Hill in New Zealand
Shotover Jet - one of many companies offering jet boat rides in Queenstown

Now where do I start with Queenstown. The adventure capital of the world. The atmosphere is so electric here, it’s filled with adrenaline junkies, people on business trips, hippies and ski bums in the winter. 

Hopefully you have some money left after the first week of your trip because whether its bungy jumping, skydiving, a leisurely cruise on Lake Wakatipu on board of TSS Earnslaw, you are going to be doing stuff here. And stuff costs money.

But remember that hiking is always free and Queenstown has some of the best hikes in New Zealand.

Sunset over Walter's Peak in Queenstown

I highly recommend that you reserve one of your days for a drive to Glenorchy. Stop at Bennet’s Bluff viewpoint and old Glenorchy wharf for some spectacular views.

The jetty in Glenorchy is an awesome spot for an afternoon hang out. You can also take the Paradise Road (yes there is a place in Glenorchy called Paradise) or hike up Mount Alfred and look at it from the top of a mountain.

If you paid close attention when watching first part of Lord Of The Rings you should be able to recognise Isengaard!

I spent a total of 7 months living and working in Queenstown and wrote separate posts on best photography spotsmust do activities and hiking in Queenstown.

Best places to stay in Queenstown

Day 10-12: Franz Joseph + Fox Glaciers

Franz Josef Glacier valley at sunset
View from the Alex Knob hike over Franz Josef Glacier

Distance from Queenstown to Franz Josef: 350 km / 217 miles / 5 hours 

Unfortunately the time has come where you need to leave Queenstown. I hope you made the most of your stay! But hey, you’re off on the road again on another adventure.

The drive out of Queenstown towards the glaciers goes back through Wanaka, so if you went via Cromwell on the way down you can drive over the Crown Range on the way back up and vice versa. 

It does take around 4 hours to drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef village over the beautiful Haast Pass, but break up the drive with a stop at the blue pools. It’s a short walk in Mount Aspiring National Park, around one hour past Wanaka.

Best things to do in Fox and Franz Josef

Helicopter flight and glacier hike

Once you’re in glacier country you’ll find it very quiet compared to Queenstown but that isn’t a bad thing it’ll just give you time to relax and wind down. 

JUST KIDDING!!!!!!! BOOK A HELICOPTER RIDE AND HIKE ON THAT GLACIER!!!!!!! Because I’ve done guided glacier hike tour on one of the most impressive glaciers in the world – Perito Moreno in Patagonia, I decided to skip this activity in NZ.

Ice trekking still remains one of the coolest things I’ve ever done though, so if you’ve got some money to spare go glacier hiking in New Zealand. You will be taken up on the glacier by a helicopter and guided through crevasses. The experience isn’t exactly cheap, but you won’t regret it.

Where to hike in Franz Josef 

Me with the Franz Josef Glacier in the background
Me with the Franz Josef Glacier in the background

Apart from doing that awesome helihike you can also hike through both Fox and Franz Josef Valleys to the foot of the Glaciers. Both of them are 20 min drive apart.

Unfortunately the viewpoints at the end of the hikes aren’t keeping up with the speed both glaciers are receding at, due to climate change. The views are still pretty damn stupendous. Just not as stupendous as the Helihike that’s all.

Fox and Franz Josef glacier viewpoints

The walk to Fox Glacier is a 2.6km (return) one hour stroll and the hike to Franz Josef is a 5.4km (return) which should take you about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remember to obey all signs. Glaciers are dangerous and you don’t want to die over that instagram shot, right?

If you are after something more challenging and want to see the Franz Josef Glacier without spending a few hundred dollars, check out the Alex Knob hike. This 6-8 hour return hike will take you through New Zealand’s native rain forest to the summit with panoramic views over the glacier (see photo above). 

Best places to photograph in the Glacier Country

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson is only a few minutes away from Fox Glacier. Get up for sunrise and hike counterclockwise to the reflection island from where you can photograph the Mount Cook reflecting perfectly in water. You read that right. Mount Cook is actually visible from here, but at a totally different angle.

A classic view of Lake Matheson with reflections of Mount Cook

Okarito Lagoon and Beach

About an hour north of Franz Josef Okarito is a small coastal town offering fantastic sunsets.

Okarito on the West Coast, perfect for catching a romantic sunset

Lake Mapourika

Another awesome spot to watch the sunset. Lake Mapourika is 20 minutes away and if you are heading to Okarito you will pass it on the way.

Best places to stay in Fox and Franz Josef

Day 12-14: Hokitika & Arthur’s Pass National Park – Christchurch

Hokitika Gorge
Avalanche Peak Summit

Distance from Franz Josef to Arthur’s Pass Village: 230 km / 143 miles / 3 hours

Now that your journey is coming to an end you can start to relax and take time to heal your probably tired and aching body. Just kidding…. LET’S GO HIKING AGAIN!!!!! When are you going to get a chance to do this again?

After leaving Franz Josef head North along the Highway 6 and take the 73 Highway inland toward the northern section of the southern alps. Arthurs pass village should take you around 3 hours to reach.

If you’re going to stop anywhere along the way, the coastal town of Hokitika is your best bet. The fish and chips are always best on the coast too!

This little town is famous for manufacturing Pounamu. Pounamu is a nephrite jade hand carved into jewellery. It is highly treasured in the Maori culture and often sourced locally. 

Hokitika Gorge is a good spot to break up the journey, stretch your legs and take in some views.

Arthurs pass is the divide between the west coast glaciers and the east coast beaches. High up in the mountains there’s plenty of hiking to be done. 

Best hikes in Arthur’s Pass NP

Hiker on the summit of Avalanche Peak in Arthur's Pass National Park in New Zealand.

Bealey Spur Track

A moderate (5 hour return) hike which stays mainly within the bushline is a lovely day out exploring the forest.

The views do get better but not right until the very end, where it comes out just below a ridgeline and offers fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and of  the Waimakariri River.

The track starts 14km south of Arthurs Pass village at the end of cloudesley road.

Avalanche Peak 

A difficult all day hike taking 6-8 hours to complete. The views are so good from the summit though that this is the most popular walk in Arthur’s Pass. The Avalanche Peak track starts in the centre of the village.

About 10 minutes into the track you’ll get spectacular views oft he southern foot of the crowfoot glacier and the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall, the highest waterfall in New Zealand (Well apart from some waterfalls in Milford Sound but they aren’t permanent so don’t count).   

Best place to photograph Around Arthur’s Pass NP

Devils Punchbowl Waterfall

Devil's Punchbowl waterfall

The waterfall is a short drive away from the centre of the village northbound on the 73. The walk itself doesn’t take long (around an hour) and is very well maintained, but it does include a series of steps. The 131 metre high waterfall is very impressive and definitely photo worthy.

Lake Pearson

Lake Pearson bathed in autumn colours

It lies just outside the boundary of Arthur’s Pass NP but you will pass it nevertheless, when driving back to Christchurch. It’s super easy to reach, as it just next to the main road. Best time to see it is during autumn (April) when the trees growing along the shoreline turn yellow. 

Castle Hill  

Another spot which you will pass on your way back to Christchurch is Castle Hill. Made famous thanks to the Lord Of The Rings franchise. Imagine hundreds massive limestone boulders scattered on the green tussock hills, New Zealand is so famous for. It’s a great stop for stretching your longs and an easy walk with beautiful views surrounding the place. 

Distance from Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch: 142 km / 88 miles / 2 hours 

Top places to stay in Arthur’s Pass NP

TIP: Accommodation in Arthur’s Pass village is very scarce so book as far ahead as you can!

Travel resources for your New Zealand road trip

For your bookings i highly recommend  

  • for hotels and hostels
  • Discover Cars for finding best deals on car rentals 
  • Motorhome Republic for finding best deals on campervan and motorhome rental
  • Get Your Guide – booking engine for tours & activities around the World 
  • World Nomads – travel insurance is a must! Make sure it also covers adventure activities! World Nomads are the leaders in the industry.

Tips for your New Zealand holiday planning

  1. If you are travelling within the peak season December through until March I highly recommend booking your accommodation and car/camper as far in advance as you can. It’s a busy time! 
  2. If you are travelling in the winter months end of end of June – beginning of September make sure your accommodation in Queenstown and Wanaka is booked in advance. Those are ski season months and both of those places are famous and busy ski towns.
  3. To check roads and hiking trail conditions especially in winter months, go to the New Zealand’s Department of Conservation website
  4. Get CamperMate travel app for finding the best campsites on the island. 

Total kilometer count for this itinerary is ca 1900 kms or 1180 miles

I hope you will fall in love with New Zealand just as much as I did. If you have questions, write them in the comments and I promise I’ll respond! Don’t forget to like or share this with friends who might find it useful. Happy and save travels! 

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Marta Kulesza

I am Marta Kulesza - the photographer and creator of I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains.


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  1. Thank you for posting, seems like a great itinerary. I’m taking the family in October for 2 weeks and would like to follow this as covers my “must see” locations. Just a question, do you think there is any issues doing this itinerary in reverse and heading over to the West Coast from Christchurch to start?

    • Hi Jamie. Thanks for stopping by and your feedback. Yes, you can absolutely do this itinerary in reverse. Do let me know if you have more questions. Just bear in mind that in October there is still lots of snow up in the mountains so not all hikes on this list will be accessible. Happy roadtripping!