How To Spend Epic 2 Weeks On The South Island of New Zealand Hiking, And Taking Photos

Are you an avid hiker? Do you like to take beautiful photos? If you answered yes and you’re going to travel around New Zealand for a couple of weeks then this day-by-day road trip itinerary, covering the South Island will be your best guide!

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What type of traveler is this New Zealand itinerary perfect for?

New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary For Hikers and Photographers

This itinerary is designed for short-term visitors to New Zealand who like me love landscape photography and being outdoors.

It’s been optimized in the best way possible to cut the time spent in the car to a minimum in favor of spending time taking photos and hiking in the mountains. It includes all of my favorite photo spots and treks 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. 

Why should you stick to the South Island if you only have two weeks?

Milford Sound 14

My big advice is: if you do only have two weeks then focus on 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 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 breaks you will take, because around every corner there is a view worth stopping for.

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

Wanaka Bike Tours 4

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

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

Option 1: hire a compact car and stay in hotels or hostels

With the ban on freedom camping and the boom of campervan travel, traveling in a motorhome doesn’t give the freedom, that it used to. Hence renting a small, gas-friendly vehicle and staying in hostels, apartments or hotels is, in my opinion, a better option nowadays.

If you are looking for a quick and easy way to find the perfect car for your road trip check Discover Cars – a 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. 

Option 2: rent a campervan you can live out of and stay at campsites

The great side to traveling in a motorhome or small camper is that it takes away the check-in and check-out process, which you will have to go through a few times when staying in hotels. It’s also a cheaper accommodation option for group travelers.

Check the Motorhome Republic a search engine that compiles all camper van rental companies in New Zealand. It’s way easier than checking each and every one separately.

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

IMPORTANT: After the fleet size reductions caused by the pandemic, the choices of motorhomes and rental cars are limited, and book out quickly! Don’t miss out!

More 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. 

New Zealand’s South Island Hiking & Photography Road Trip Overview

Queenstown View From Remarkables 1
  • APPROXIMATE KILOMETER COUNT: 2000 (ca. 1250 miles)
  • PORT OF ENTRY AND EXIT: Christchurch International Airport
  • TOWNS VISITED: Tekapo, Mount Cook village, Wanaka, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Glenorchy, Franz Josef, Arthur’s Pass village
  • NATIONAL PARKS VISITED: Mount Cook National, Mount Aspiring National Park, Fiordland National Park, Westland Tai Poutini National Park, Arthur’s Pass National Park
  • REGIONS VISITED: Canterbury, Otago, Southland, West Coast

This road trip itinerary goes in a loop. You will start traveling in Christchurch – South Island’s biggest city and main airport hub.

You will then follow it clockwise visiting some of the most beautiful places on the South Island including Mount Cook National Park, Fiordland National Park, West Coast glaciers, and Arthur’s Pass National Park, just to name a few.

TIP: Since this itinerary goes in a loop it can also begin and finish in Queenstown, or be done counterclockwise (refer to the map below)

Two-week South Island hiking road trip itinerary: interactive 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 on the South Island, as well as the trailhead for many hikes.

Day 1: Drive from Christchurch to Tekapo

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 on the South Island, but cities are not the reason you came to New Zealand. You’re here for nature and you’re here for the adventure.  

Now you’ve finally picked up your car you’re ready to hit the road! If you opted for traveling in a campervan make sure to stock your food supplies in Christchurch before starting your journey. The prices here will definitely be more competitive than those in the little towns, which you will be passing, where there is usually just one supermarket.

Your first stop is Tekapo. The 3-hour drive from Christchurch to Tekapo is a beautiful way to be introduced to New Zealand’s countryside.

Accommodation options on night 1 in Lake Tekapo

Day 1 – Evening: stargazing in Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo belongs to the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, the largest of its kind in the World! What does that mean? Stargazing is pretty special around here.

Now, stargazing isn’t as simple as looking up at the sky at night. For best results schedule it for the new moon, find out where the core of the milky way is visible, research the night cloud cover, and most importantly dress up warm, to be able to withstand the nighttime temperatures in the mountains. Apps like, for example, Photo Pills are great for that! 

You can also book an immersive stargazing tour, where science and native Maori astronomy are brought together.

Day 2 – Morning: Lake Tekapo

Option 1: Check out the Church of the Good Shepherd

Church of the good shepherd 1

Within walking distance of the town center, the Church of the Good Shepherd is a very photogenic beautiful little chapel situated close to the shore of the lake. 

It has become a very sought-after location by astrophotographers, which probably has something to do with the previously mentioned fact that Tekapo is a dark sky reserve.

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.

Option 2: Drive up to Mount John Observatory

Lake Tekapo 10

A 15-minute uphill drive further along State Highway 8 out of town leads you toward Mount John Observatory, located on the top of a mountain.

Complete with an awesome Astro cafe and the best view of Lake Tekapo that you can get, the drive up is definitely worth it. Just make sure you feel comfortable driving along narrow and steep roads. The windy road that leads to the top is not for the fainthearted.  

Option 3: Lupin Flowers along the shoreline

Lake Tekapo Lupin Flowers

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 turns 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.    

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.

Day 2 – Afternoon: drive to Mount Cook

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 favorite place on your road trip around New Zealand. It did to me!

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

Accommodation on nights 2 & 3: Mount Cook Village

Day 3: Mueller Hut hike

Mueller Hut Hike 26

This challenging full-day 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. 

You can also stay overnight in the famous Mueller Alpine Hut. Bookings are essential during the summer months (mid-November to April) and can be done online with DOC (NZ’s Department of Conservation).

For more info go to my detailed Mueller hut hike guide.

Day 4 Morning (option 1): Hooker Valley hike

Hooker Valley Mount Cook National Park 5

This relatively flat 10 kilometers round trip hike, has some of the most scenic views in the whole park. It’s also the busiest hike in Mount Cook, so I would recommend leaving very early to enjoy the path without the crowds.

From the White Horse Hill parking lot, the route travels all the way through the Hooker Valley eventually ending up at the Hooker Valley Glacial Lake.

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

Always make sure to check for any warnings or track closures before you set off. You can find the necessary information on the Department of Conservation website.

Day 4 Morning (Option 2): Book a scenic flight 

Mount Cook Valley 1

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 the scenery that you won’t be able to forget. 

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

Alternative accommodation on nights 2 & 3 in Twizel

TIP: Accommodation in Mount Cook is really scarce so book as far ahead as you can! If you didn’t make it in time and everything is fully booked already, the next biggest town is Twizel, where there are a lot more accommodation options.

Day 4-Afternoon: Drive to 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 on 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.

Accommodation options in Wanaka on nights 4,5 & 6

Day 5: Day hike around Wanaka

Option 1: Roys Peak

Roys Peak Lake Wanaka 5

The hike up to Roys Peak is a special one and it’s probably one of the most recognizable 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 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 to return.

Did you know that there are actually two very similar viewpoints 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. 

Option 2: Isthmus Peak

Isthmus Peak 12

Isthmus Peak has a similar duration to Roys Peak but is 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’s drive from Wanaka down Lake Hawea Road and this moderate track is well worth doing.

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

Day 6: Mount Aspiring National Park & Wanaka’s top photo spots

Option 1: Rocky Mountain Track

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.

Option 2: Rob Roy Glacier Track

Rob Roy Glacier Track 4

This 10 km and 3-4 hour return hike located in the Matukituki Valley in the Mount Aspiring National Park is a great opportunity to visit yet another one of New Zealand’s many glaciers.

The hike starts at the Raspberry Creek car park, the starting point of many other popular hikes in Wanaka including the Mount Aspiring Hut, the Cascade Saddle, and Liverpool hut hikes.

Best places to photograph in Wanaka

That Wanaka Tree 

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

Its huge popularity does attract quite a crowd. Getting it is really easy. Just walk along the lake shore from the town center towards Mount Roy. Alternatively, park your car at Stoney Creek Car Park.

Glendhu Bay and Bremner Bay  

Glendhu Bay Wanaka Reflections

Both are within a short drive from the town center. 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. 

Top adventure activities in Wanaka

Wanaka Bike Tours 5

Wanaka is also a great adventure hub with many exciting outdoor activities at your disposal. If you want to take a break from hiking then consider participating in one of my favorite activities which I included below.

Wanaka Scenic Helicopter Flight

Wanaka Bike Tours 1

I have done many scenic flights in different parts of New Zealand and I still think Wanaka and its neighboring Mount Aspiring National Park is one of the best places to do it.

Soar high above the Matukituki Valley up towards the glacier, where you will land for a mandatory photo spot. Gaze at the otherworldly landscape, with its deep blue chasms and stunning glacial caps. An experience you won’t forget in a long time.

Wanaka 4×4 ride to Mount Burke

Helibiking Mount Burke Wanaka 17
Me on Mount Burke gazing at the Mou Waho island and Lake Wanaka

Hop aboard a shuttle boat and traverse Lake Wanaka, journeying toward the head of Stevenson’s arm. Marvel at the ever-changing landscape of steep walls and majestic alpine peaks that surround you. Delve into the captivating history of this sparsely inhabited region.

Pass by Stevenson’s Island and alight at the base of Mount Burke. Here, step onto a 4×4 vehicle with your knowledgeable guide, embarking on an ascent high above the lake. Feast your eyes on the expansive panorama of pristine, crystal-clear waters juxtaposed against the rugged summits of Mount Aspiring National Park, as you listen to stories of early settlers who sought farmland, gold, and a new life in New Zealand.

If that didn’t sound appealing enough, you will get to enjoy a picnic on the mountain with some of the best views in the country.

Wanaka Self-Guide MTB Tour

Wanaka Bike Tours 17

Biking from Lake Hawea back to Wanaka is the ultimate bike route in this region After renting your bike in Wanaka you will be transported to the nearby town of Hawea where you will start your ride on the serene Hawea River Track, surrounded by mountains.

This biking experience promises an unbeatable blend of scenic beauty and enjoyable moments and it was one of my favorite experiences in Wanaka. Make sure to grab an ice cream cone from Patagonia ice cream shop once you finish the ride.

Day 7 – Morning: Drive from Wanaka to Milford Sound

Distance from Wanaka to Milford Sound: 343 km / 143 miles / 4.5 hours

Milford Sound Sun Beams

Next on the itinerary is the journey to Milford Sound. Don’t worry we aren’t missing out on 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 day trip journey to Milford Sound and let someone else take you there! This is a great option if you are looking to shorten this itinerary.

I covered this choice in a separate post dedicated to Milford Sound. 

Wanaka to Milford Sound driving experience

Now from Wanaka to Milford Sound, via Queenstown, I recommend driving over the more scenic Crown Range Road. If you are traveling, 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.

If you thought the drive can’t get any better, you are up for a surprise. The best is yet to come. The Te Anau – Milford Sound Road is full of amazing views. Plan a stop at Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes, and Gertrude Valley lookouts.

On day 7 I highly recommend leaving Wanaka as early as possible. Even though the driving time on Google says 4.5 hours, one can easily spend the whole day when driving on this road.

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

Accommodation in Milford Sound on night 7

If you are traveling in a camper or tent, 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. 

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

Day 7 – Afternoon: Scenic Cruise around Milford Sound

Milford Sound 13
Me taking in the views of the Milford Sound during the cruise

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

Alternatively to the afternoon cruise, you can splurge on an overnight cruise, which will ultimately combine the overnight experience in Milford Sound with the cruise, plus a few extras on top, including an amazing experience on board a luxurious vessel.

No matter what you decide on, always bring a raincoat 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.

Day 8 Morning: hike along the Milford Road

On the way back to Te Anau hike either the Gertrude Saddle (6 hours, pictured above) or Lake Marian (3 hours), two of my favorite day hikes on the South Island of New Zealand. 

You can also hike to the Key Summit (3-4 hours) which is a part of the multiday Routeburn trek. This part is often done on its own as a day hike. 

Day 8 – Afternoon: drive to Queenstown

Distance from Milford Sound to Queenstown: 288 km / 179 miles / 3.5 hours  

Queenstown Bobs Peak Sunset 1 2

Queenstown is only a 2-hour drive from Te Anau or a 3.5-hour drive if you’re lucky enough to stay in Milford Sound.

If you have a couple of extra days to spend in New Zealand, do consider adding Te Anau to your itinerary. Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland National Park and there are other Fjords you can visit whilst staying here, including a day trip to Doubtful 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! 🙂

Best places to stay in Queenstown on nights 8,9 & 10

Day 9 – Morning: day trip to Glenorchy

Mount Earnslaw Glenorchy Road

On the second day consider driving the road to Glenorchy, another little town nestled on the edge of Lake Wakatipu and only 46 kilometres or 29 miles away from Queenstown. I have driven this road countless times when I lived in Queenstown and it still remains one of my favorite drives in New Zealand.

Whilst it takes only 45 minutes to get there, there are a few stops along the way you shouldn’t miss, including:

  • Moke Lake
  • Bob’s Cove
  • Wilson Bay
  • Bennet’s Bluff
  • Glenorchy Jetty
  • Paradise Road (past Glenorchy)

All stops are very well marked. Count at least a couple of hours for the drive and another few to see Glenorchy itself.

Guided tours to Glenorchy

Since you have done quite a bit of driving in the past couple of days, maybe it’s time to take a break and let someone else take over the steering wheel. There are daily guided tours to Glenorchy leaving from Queenstown.

That way you don’t have to worry about taking the wrong turn. Just relax and take in the scenery. My favorite one from the ones below is the Canoe, Jet Boat, and Paradise Road combo, which let us experience the best of the area.

Day 10 – Morning: hike around Queenstown

Cecil Peak 3

One thing you can’t miss when visiting Queenstown is seeing the beautiful colors of Lake Wakatipu from above.

There are a few hikes in Queenstown that will allow that: Ben Lomond, Queenstown Hill, and Cecil Peak. Head to my other article for a full list of the best day hikes around Queenstown.

Day 10: Afternoon – adventure activity

Queenstown Paragliding

There is a reason why Queenstown has been known to some as the adventure capital of the World. I can’t think of any other place where you can Bungy jump, skydive, jet boat, and go rafting on the same day.

Part of my job when working in Queenstown involved booking tourists into the adventure activities and because I had to know the product I was selling, I got to experience almost every activity on offer! Here are my top summer activities in Queenstown.

Day 11 – Morning: drive from Queenstown to Glacier Country

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

Alex Knob Hike New Zealand 13

Unfortunately, the time has come when 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 the Crown Range road on the way down then drive through Cromwell on the way back up and vice versa. 

It does take around 5 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 places to stay in Fox and Franz Josef on night 11

Day 11 – Afternoon: visit some photo-worthy spots in Glacier Country

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson 2

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 Mount Cook reflecting perfectly in the water.

You read that right. Mount Cook is actually visible from here but at a totally different angle.

Okarito Lagoon and Beach

Okarito Sunset 3

About an hour north of Franz Josef Okarito is a small coastal town offering fantastic sunsets over the Tasman Sea. Squint your eyes and you might even see Australia 😉

Lake Mapourika

Lake Mapourika Sunset 1

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.

Day 12 – Morning: hike around Franz Josef 

Option 1: 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, it’s time for another hike! This time it will be a special one – a heli-hike on the glacier

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.

Option 2: Fox and Franz Josef glacier viewpoints

Franz Josef Valley 1

Apart from doing that awesome heli hike, 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 at which both glaciers are receding, due to climate change.

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?

Option 3: Alex Knob hike

Alex Knob Hike New Zealand 16

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 rainforest to the summit with panoramic views over the glacier (see photo above). 

Day 12 – Afternoon: drive to Arthur’s Pass National Park

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 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.

Top places to stay in Arthur’s Pass NP on nights 12 & 13

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

Places to stop along the way to Arthur’s Pass NP

Hokitika

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 jewelry. It is highly treasured in the Maori culture and often sourced locally. 

Hokitika Gorge
Hokitika Gorge 1

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

Day 13 – Morning: hike in Arthur’s Pass National Park

Arthur’s 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. 

Option 1: Bealey Spur Track

Bealey Spur Track Arthurs Pass 2

A moderate (5-hour return) hike which stays mainly within the bush line 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 Bealey Spur track starts 14km south of Arthurs Pass village at the end of Cloudesley Road.

Option 2: Avalanche Peak 

Avalanche Peak New Zealand 20

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

About 10 minutes into the track you’ll get spectacular views of the 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).   

Day 13 – Afternoon: check out the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall

Devils Punchbowl Waterfall 1

The waterfall is a short drive away from the center 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-meter-high waterfall is very impressive and definitely photo-worthy.

Day 14 – Drive to Christchurch

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

That’s a wrap! I hope you will have lots of fun following this hiking itinerary around the South Island of New Zealand. Make sure to leave me some feedback in the comment if you followed this plan. I am always keen on improving this site as much as possible. The same goes for any questions you may have! Just leave a comment below and I will answer personally!

Where to stop along the way from Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch?

Lake Pearson
Lake Pearson Autumn 4

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 is just next to the main road. The best time to see it is during autumn (April) when the trees growing along the shoreline turn yellow. 

Castle Hill  

Another spot that you will pass on your way back to Christchurch is Castle Hill. Made famous thanks to the Lord Of The Rings franchise.

Imagine hundreds of 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. 

How to shorten this two-week itinerary to 12 or 10 days?

If you don’t have two weeks here are a few ideas on how to shorten this road

  1. Instead of driving to Milford Sound from Wanaka, head straight for Queenstown. You can then book a day tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound and back
  2. Stay one day shorter in Wanaka
  3. Cut Glacier Country and Arthur’s Pass out of the itinerary and finish your road trip in Queenstown. That’s the route I cover in my one-week itinerary around New Zealand’s South Island. one-week

How to extend this two-week road trip?

  1. As mentioned previously in the article, I think it’s totally worth it to add two nights in Te Anau. You can easily do another cruise around the Fjords, for example, Doubtful Sound, or another hike.
  2. Consider backpacking one of New Zealand’s great walks. Kepler Track, Milford Track, or Routeburn Track. Either of them can easily be incorporated into the plan.

Tips for your New Zealand holiday planning

  1. If you are traveling within the peak season December through 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 traveling in the winter months from the end of June – the beginning of September then 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 the winter months, go to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation website. 
  4. Get the CamperMate travel app for finding the best campsites on the island. 

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 safe travels! 

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Marta
Marta

Hi! I am the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.com. 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.

45 Comments

    • Hi Maria. I am glad you are following my itinerary. You can definitely do this road trip in April. In fact I travelled the South Island in April twice before. It’s a great time to hike with autumn colours and fresh snow on the highest peaks. I do recommend packing a warmer jacket, a beanie and gloves though. Particularly if you plan on doing any summit hikes. I hope that helps!

  1. Hello Marta,
    Thanks for this great itinerary. I already used your website when I first planed my trip to NZ in December 2020 and this got canceled (Lovely COVID). Used your website as well for Canada this summer and bild around your best photo spot and this was a great source of information.

    I am now planning a new trip to NZ South Island only and I have 19 days in total (December and beginning of January). Day 19 is the departure and my flight leaves at 21h from Christchurch.

    What do you recommend for those extra 5 days? I am a landscape/traveler photographer so there goes my priority.

    Those were my first ideas :
    I was thinking going to the North : first stop Kaikoura (day of the arrival in Christchurch), than Marlborough sounds and Abel Tasman + Wharareki.
    After that I was thinking driving to Nelson Lake and than to Arthur’s pass and do your itinerary counter clock wise.
    I definitely have to remove Nelson Lake because otherwise my time will be cut short in the South if I stop there. This would than give me an extra night in your itinerary (for Doubful sounds maybe).
    I don’t want to rush anywhere and that is a lot of km extra so I have to stay 2 nights in Abel Tasman.
    First night Kaikoura
    1 night Marlborough sounds
    2 nights Abel Tasman + Wharareki
    1 night Nelson Lake (probably not)
    etc…

    I could also suppress Arthur’s pass from my itinerary after the North of the island and drive directly to Franz Josef but I dont want to. Arthur’s pass seems very scenic.

    The North seems a good option because it’s different and more sunny.

    It’s the first draft but I am definitely not blocked on that. The North has been recommended by a friend who lived there for a year but she’s not a photographer. She’s more an adventurer/globetrotter. I am both but photography is a big aspect for me.

    Nonetheless what do you think ? What would you recommend for those 19 days ?

    I evaluate the possibility to simply add those extra days to your itinerary and stay more nights in some places like Te Anau. This gives many opportunities :
    I could see Doubful Sounds with tranquility, spend more time in Glenorchy, Pukaki etc…
    Those extra days would facilitate many hikes which could be canceled if the weather is really bad.
    The Cathlins seems beautiful as well and require less driving (+ Nugget point and boulder beach etc…). The Cathlins is still in a bad weather zone but could be an option to add.

    I don’t mind driving but I really don’t like to waste days.

    Please let me know what you would recommend. Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Michael,

      Thanks for stopping by. I am glad you find my website useful. As for your question. I would definitely focus on the 2 week itinerary and just spent extra time in each place. There are so many lovely things to photograph around Queenstown, Wanaka, Milford Sound or Mt Cook. You could add an extra day in each of those places. Driving first North will add a lot of kilometres to your trip and I reckon it is unnecessary. Taking it slower, allowing contingency for bad weather days is definitely a good idea. The thing is even if you go for a full year you won’t be able to see everything so just maximize your time and take it slow so you are able to enjoy things. Maybe consider even incorporating a multiday hike? Milford, Kepler and Routeburn are fantastic for photography.

      • Thank you kindly for your response Marta.
        I will follow your itinerary and add the extra dates to the itinerary.
        Naturally, I will book as much as possible through your links in order to support your great website.
        All the best

  2. Hi Marta, great website and thanks for some amazing road trip ideas. I am planning on travelling on a 18 day road trip to south island. I will be in travelling first two weeks of May. Starting in Queenstown and ending in Christchurch. I have researched weather conditions and it seems like I will encounter rain. Is May still a good time to do the trip? Does Milford sound deserve 2 nights? as of right now rooms are available at Fiordland and the overnight cruise. I was thinking of staying one night in lodge and doing the one night cruise starting the second day. Any thoughts or tips?
    Thanks
    Paul

    • Hi Paul. New Zealand is very rainy in general, as long as you are prepared for the conditions you should be fine. It might be a bit more challenging with hikes as the official hiking season is over so you will just need to watch current weather/snow conditions. As for Milford Sound I reckon one night is enough. There is not much there, besides the cruises along the Fjord. The overnight cruise is amazing and I can definitely recommend that.

  3. Hi Marta – Thank you for putting together such an amazing itinerary. I plan to follow it very closely, if not exactly! My wife and I are planning a south island trip for the last two weeks of November this year. Would you expect any hikes/locations to have accessibility issues (weather/crowds etc)? Any other recommendations you might make for that time of year that aren’t included in this post?

    • Hi Adam, Thanks for visiting. The start of November is when the official hiking seazon begins so whilst there may be pockets of snow in shaded gullys etc, generally it is already fine for hiking. New Zealand can be quite rainy so definitely something to consider. Also bring bug repellent for the sand flies 🙂 I hope that helps!

  4. Hi Marta, Thanks for posting this itinerary. It looks perfect for our upcoming New Zealand 15 day visit. We will be in New Zealand in mid April. We are hoping that there will be fewer crowds in April, but are concerned that fall weather may limit some of our hiking options.

    I noticed that many of your photos appear to be taken in fall, what month of year did you take these? Do have any advice for fall hiking or touring the South Island?

    We are super exited about visiting your beautiful country.

    Regards
    Jeff

    • Hi Jeff. Thanks for visiting. It is still absolutely fine to hike in New Zealand in April. All the long distance treks and huts are still open in April. In fact most of the hikes I Did in New Zealand i did in April. You are right about the crowds. The weather is also pleasantly cooler. I don’t really like to hike in the summer when it is too hot. Another bonus is the beautiful fall colours. Sometimes there is a dusting of fresh snow on the peaks, but the snow doesn’t linger for too long. I hope you have an amazing time. You chose a good month to visit 🙂 Let me know if you have more questions!

      • hi Marta,

        Just got back from a 4 wk trip in NZ, exclusively on the South Island, hitting every spot you mentioned on your 2 wk itinerary (but also including Oamaru twice—visiting relatives!). Great suggestions and thanks.

        One comment I would make for the Wanaka hikes, Rob’s Peak and Isthmus Peak, is that the latter has 1/100 the number of people on it. Rob’s Peak is the Instagram hike and *EVERYBODY* does it. Isthmus…nobody.

        In Franz Josef, we chose to do the Roberts Pt track which is phenomenal. We didn’t do the hike you mentioned since it seemed long and steep! Robert’s Pt was challenging (5 hrs round on uneven terrain ie, lots of rocks, but lots of fun including 4 suspension bridges and one suspended walkway). The view of the glacier from the observation deck was outstanding.

        FYI – next Marta stop in 2024…Norway!

        • Hi Stephen! Thank you so much for the amazing feedback and for your support on Ko-Fi. You are amazing. Yes, Isthmus peak is a lot more quite and enjoyable. I still have quite a few hikes on my to-do list in New Zealand 🙂
          Roberts Point Track sounds really nice too, especially the bridges. I am so glad to hear you will follow another one of my itineraries. Norway is amazing and in parts similar to New Zealand. Plenty of amazing hikes to do there too! Let me know if you have any questions. You can always leave another comment under one of my Norway articles. Happy hiking and safe travels! Thanks again

  5. Hi Marta!
    I will be doing 2 weeks in a campervan in the South Island in December. I’ve been slowly putting together my own itinerary for months now and your itineraries have been very helpful! I would like to stop by Dunedin and was wondering when you would suggest to fit that in? After Mount Cook before going to Queenstown? Going from Queenstown, to Dunedin, to Te Anau to Milford Sound? Or something else? What do you think would be best?

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Hey Aimee. Thanks for visiting. I am sorry but your question confuses me a bit. How you visit Dunedin depends on the previous location where you plan on staying at. Dunedin features on my 10-day itinerary around South Island. I would go there straight from Christchurch tbh, then visit Te Anau, Wanaka, Queenstown, Mount Cook and perhaps from Mount Cook to Franz Josef if you want to fit that in too.

  6. Hi Marta, first most its great of you to share your itinerary and may I say, so organised and tidy at that! I got excited and booked a full size campervan for 15 days in lieu of the peak season (end Nov to Dec). And as I poured through your itinerary in greater details, a question came to mind – How do I get around to see the different sights after I have parked my campervan? I am assuming I won’t be driving it around esp Christchurch or Tekapo where it more crowded and parking is limited? Are there grabs or taxis around? This is assuming I need to get to places that might be too far by foot. I really cant get a sense of how easy it is to park a campervan in the city/town center as there are conflicting comments online.

    • Hi Matt! Thanks for your support on Ko-Fi. New Zealand has a fantastic infrastructure for campervans. Most towns in this itinerary are so small that you can walk anywhere from the campsite. Campsites are often placed in beautiful places. Tekapo’s holiday park is right at the Lakefront. In Mount Cook the whitehorse campground is right at the trailhead of many hiking trails. In Milford Sound there is a huge parking lot close to the boat terminal and the Fjord’s shoreline. There are parking spaces at the trailheads etc. The only town where I wouldn’t use the camper is Queenstown, but public transport is available there. There is often traffic in Queenstown, that’s why it’s better to park your camper and just commute with the public transport. I hope that helps!

  7. This itinerary looks amazing ! We’re basically going to follow it to a T for trip this Xmas and I have already booked the Mueller Hut. 2 questions, can we join the hooker valley hike from the mueller hut? And what camera and lense do you use ?
    Thank you 😊

    • Hi Victoire. thanks so much for your fantastic feedback. I am glad you decided to follow my itinerary and I would be so happy if you used my affiliate links to support my site. As for your questions. Hooker valley trail and Mueller hut start from the same spot but go in different directions. You will have an amazing view of the entire Hooker Valley from the hike to Mueller hut, but if you also want to hike it then you will have to do it on a separate day.
      As for my camera equipment you can check it out here. Let me know if i can help further.

  8. Hi Marta, I just came back from 3 weeks in NZ and most of my itinerary was based on your suggestions 🙂 including your great “14 Best Day Hikes on the South Island of New Zealand” post – as my main goal was hiking. I can testify that your recommendations are excellent and truly describe the hikes well, which allowed me to pick the ones that best suited me.
    Thank you for a wonderful series of posts!

    • Hi Moshik! Thanks for taking the time t write your feedback. I really appreciate it. I am so glad my guides have made your NZ road trip special! Now time for Canada, Norway or Italiam Dolomites. My guides for those are even better! 🙂

    • Hello Marta! Thanks for this itinerary, we have an incoming trip to Nz this september. This is unrelated, but what camera do you use? It looks amazing! Thanks

  9. Awesome post – thanks for sharing! We are looking at this exact road trip loop, but in July this year with 2 adventurous kids (11 and 13). Are there any particular hikes that you would recommend during Winter?

  10. Hi Marta! Thanks for coming up with such detailed and wonderful itinerary! I will be travelling to the South Island for the first time and will be going on a 2 weeks road trip during late April and early May this year with my partner. We are keen to add in kayaking during our trip as well. Do you have any recommendations on how we could add in the kayaking in the itinerary and also where would be a scenic place for kayaking on South Island? Thanks so much!

    • Hi Angela. You can do kayaking on the lakes and Fjords. Here are a few choices: Lake Tekapo, Lake Wanaka, Wakatipu in Queenstown, Doubtful Sound (they even do overnight kayaking trips), and Milford Sound. I hope that helps a bit!

      • I’ve just had a couple stay with me and said that you had recommended my B&B. Thank you so much for your appraisal. I had no idea that you would single out my b&b. Helen

  11. Hi Marta, firstly thank you for all the information that you have put into the itinerary its very helpful.
    I will be travelling to the South Island for the very first time for approx 2 weeks from mid September this year. As I will be travelling on my own I just want to know about the driving conditions around Mount Cook and again from Te Anau to Milford, are they likely to be open then and how dangerous (icy) are they at that time of year??
    Also I will be travelling between peak times so do advise booking accommodation in Te Anau and Wanaka at this time?.
    Cheers Julie

    • Hi Julie,

      thanks for visiting. Whilst I can’t give you a guarantee, September is generally ok for driving around. It’s officially springtime and the weather is mild. Closures can happen at any time of the year including in the midst of summer (for example caused by heavy rains). Generally speaking, though you should be fine. September is also considered a low season, but since New Zealand was closed for so long, the sudden surge in tourism is big. What I do recommend is booking your rental car far in advance as fleets have been sold out during the pandemic and are now much smaller than they used to be. As for accommodation my guess would be that you could just wing it and book as you go. especially since you are a solo traveller. I hope that helps!

  12. Hi’ this itinerary looks amazing! I’d also like to add in Abel Tasman national park. Any recommendations on how to do this? (Potentially what to cut out from this itinerary to make extra time?) thanks!!!

    • Hi Tovah! Thanks for stopping by. Do you have two weeks on the South Island? Secondly, why Abel Tasman? You could cut out Arthur’s Pass and from Franz Josef drive to Abel Tasman and then from Abel Tasman around to Christchurch (but you will be adding a lot of kilometres!) or just finish your itinerary in Nelson and drop off your rental car there. Nelson also has a small airport for domestic flights. Arthur’s Pass is 10 times more beautiful than Abel Tasman in my humble opinion. If you want my advice then here it is. Accept the fact that it is impossible to see everything in two weeks and you will have to cut some things out 🙂 Spending less time in the car on more time exploring is a lot better. Let me know if you have any more questions.

    • Hi Aida! Thanks for stopping by. Your question is very vague. Anyone can travel to New Zealand. It really depends on what your expectations are! I have met people in the ’70s doing 14-day hut-to-hut hikes with climbing sections so I would say age is just a number.

  13. Hi Marta, love your itinerary! If flying in and out from Queenstown in February, can I skip Christchurch all together to save time? If so, how would you recommend the new itinerary? Many thanks!

    • Hi Jen! Thanks for visiting! If you want to visit all the places along the itinerary whilst at the same time not repeating the roads, then I am afraid you will have to drive by Christchurch. That doesn’t mean you have to stop there. Since this is kind of a loop itinerary you can just follow it from Queenstown and then back to Queenstown. The thing is New Zealand road Network, especially on the South Island isn’t very extensive. Let me know if I can help further!

  14. Hi I spent reading so many websites on NZ itinearies.
    I am thankful to chance upon yours.
    I will be travelling with 2 friends in end of Nov.

    Thank you for sharing.
    God Bless.

  15. 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!

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