7 Days Itinerary for South Island of New Zealand: Epic Road Trip From Christchurch to Queenstown
New Zealand’s South Island is a breathtaking paradise, drawing in visitors from across the globe who are enchanted by its natural splendor, diverse landscapes, and unique wildlife. While it is difficult for me to pinpoint my favorite country, New Zealand ranks near the top and South Island has a lot to do with it. Spend...Read More »
New Zealand’s South Island is a breathtaking paradise, drawing in visitors from across the globe who are enchanted by its natural splendor, diverse landscapes, and unique wildlife. While it is difficult for me to pinpoint my favorite country, New Zealand ranks near the top and South Island has a lot to do with it.
Spend an exciting seven-days in South Island, New Zealand through this easy-to-follow itinerary, exploring the best of the island from Christchurch to Milford Sound, making stops at picturesque locations such as Akaroa, Lake Tekapo, Arrowtown, and Queenstown. If you are seeking an unforgettable journey filled with outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, and beautiful scenery then look no further.
If you are heading to New Zealand soon, check out these promotions with Citi Cards for extra savings:
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Table of Contents
Day 1: Arrival in Christchurch
Tip: You can book your Christchurch airport transfers with KKDay here and enjoy up to 50% off.
Upon arrival in Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island, you will be greeted by a vibrant downtown filled with a mix of history, culture, and even a little bit of nature. Christchurch is known for its English heritage, making it the perfect starting point for a 7-day itinerary on the South Island.
Begin the day with a leisurely stroll through the picturesque Hagley Park, a sprawling green space where one can enjoy beautiful gardens, walking paths, and ponds. Within the park, travelers will find the renowned Christchurch Botanic Gardens. With over 21 hectares of garden displays, this attraction is home to an extensive collection of native and exotic plant species, which will enchant both nature enthusiasts and casual visitors alike.
If you prefer not to walk, another popular way of getting around the park is through a boat ride. Putting on the Avon allows one to go through the park on a flat-shaped boat, where a man dressed in ancient English costume rows one through the Avon River.
After exploring the park, head over to the Canterbury Museum, an iconic establishment situated at the edge of Hagley Park. This museum offers a fascinating glimpse into New Zealand’s history, culture, and natural world through a variety of exhibits and collections. From Maori artefacts to Antarctic exploration, to the city’s local history, there is something of interest for everyone.
As the day progresses, take time to wander through the city centre, where one can admire the combination of historic and modern architecture. Christchurch’s downtown area is a study of rebirth. Multiple earthquakes have forced a few rounds of reconstruction with the biggest one occurring after the 2010 earthquake that severely damaged the city.
Day 2: Explore the Rolling Hills & Swim with Dolphins in Akaroa
On the second day, embark on a journey from Christchurch to the picturesque town of Akaroa. The drive itself is approximately 85 kilometers and takes around 1.5 hours. Renting a car is highly recommended, as it offers the freedom and flexibility to explore the breathtaking scenery at one’s leisure. You can rent a car with Klook and enjoy 10% discount with minimum spend of S$150. Alternatively, one can also take a bus tour to Akaroa. I went with Akaroa French Connection which has daily departures from Christchurch at 9AM and return trip from Akaroa at 4PM.
The route to Akaroa from Christchurch passes by impressive natural attractions, including the open sea bordering the winding roads. Keep an eye out for native wildlife, as it is common to spot seals basking on the rocks and dolphins playing in the shallows. Along the way, stop by the Little River Railway Station which still has those old steam trains on display.
From Little River, the road rises steeply and twists and turns until you reach what is known as the hilltop. From there, the scenery changed from lakes, farmlands and small houses to rolling hills and green green grass. This viewpoint offers one of the best vistas of Akaroa.
Upon arriving in Akaroa, visitors will be greeted by the charming waterfront, lined with quaint cafes, boutique shops, and historic buildings. The town itself is nestled between rolling hills and the shimmering waters of the harbor, making it a perfect place for leisurely strolls and photo opportunities.
In addition to exploring the town’s streets, consider taking a boat tour of the harbor to see more wildlife and take in the stunning vistas from a different perspective. Swim with the rare Hector’s dolphins, one of the smallest and rarest dolphin species in the world, for an unforgettable experience. If outdoor activities aren’t a priority, simply sit back at one of the waterfront cafes and enjoy the serene atmosphere of this beautiful location. The Akaroa Fish and Chips Shop is one of the most popular places to eat in the area.
Tip: You can select from multiple activities & experiences on Klook and combine them for the S$150 minimum spend for the 10% discount
At around 4PM, head back to Christchurch if you are on the bus tour. If you are on a self-drive tour, you can proceed directly to the Lake Tekapo area and spend the night there.
Day 3: Onwards to the Unbelievably Turquoise Waters of Lake Tekapo
If you spent the previous night in Christchurch, start early for the 2.5 hour or so scenic drive through the Canterbury Plains, the largest area of flat land in New Zealand to Lake Tekapo. For this journey, you can either do a self-drive via a rental or go on a Christchurch to Queenstown bus tour that stops in Lake Tekapo.
Upon arriving at Lake Tekapo, you will be mesmerized by stunning shades of turquoise water, a result of finely-ground rock particles from the surrounding glaciers. This beautiful lake is part of the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, offering some of the best stargazing opportunities in the Southern Hemisphere.
A must-visit spot in Lake Tekapo is the Church of the Good Shepherd, a small stone church offering a unique combination of astonishing natural scenery and history. Established in 1935, this iconic church sits on the shores of the lake, providing an excellent backdrop for photography enthusiasts.
Adventure seekers can embark on a journey to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, which is home to the country’s highest mountain – Mount Cook, also known as Aoraki. The park offers numerous hiking trails, one of which is the Sealy Tarns Track. The Sealy Tarns Track is a challenging yet rewarding hike that offers unparalleled views of the surrounding mountains, Tasman Lake, and the Canterbury Plains. If you are feeling luxurious, you can even book a helicopter tour with KKday and soar high above the Tasman Glacier. If you book on 25th of the month, you can even enjoy a discount of up to 50% (capped at S$50).
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is also home to a famous hotel – The Hermitage. This is also a common venue for a lunch stop while in the area.
For those interested in a more leisurely activity, stargazing at the Lake Tekapo is a definite must-do. As mentioned earlier, the region is part of the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, ensuring minimal light pollution and providing visitors with extraordinary views of the Southern Hemisphere’s celestial wonders. The combination of crystal-clear skies and the serene beauty of Lake Tekapo creates a truly unforgettable stargazing experience. You can join a shared stargazing tour of Lake Tekapo here.
Day 4: Relive the Gold Rush in Arrowtown
After a leisurely morning in Lake Tekapo or at the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park area, travelers should head towards Arrowtown, which is approximately a 2-hour drive.
Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town located at the outskirts of Queenstown, roughly 30 to 40 minutes away. In 2020, it was named as one of the Most Beautiful Small Town in New Zealand. If you are coming from Lake Tekapo, this town is worth a few hours of exploration before heading to Queenstown.
Many of the historic buildings in Arrowtown are located along Buckingham Street. The area carries a “wild west” kind of vibe, owing to the town’s history during the gold rush when Buckingham Street served as the town’s commercial heart. While here, make sure to check out the Historic Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. This is where the Chinese used to live when they came to Arrowtown searching for gold. Also worth a stop is the Lake District Museum and Gallery which provides more insights to life during the mining era. Visitors can also try their hand and gold panning and may strike some gold themselves. The pans are available for rent or purchase from the museum.
Aside from the charming historic area, Arrowtown is also a popular destination for those wishing to view autumn foliage. The change of colors peak at around April in this part of the South Island, with the mountains surrounding Arrowtown turning a mix of fiery red and yellow. It makes for such a stunning background when contrasted against the picturesque ensemble of restored buildings.
Day 5: Get Your Adrenalin Pumping in Queenstown
On day five, the adventure continues as the journey moves from Arrowtown to Queenstown, a distance of approximately 21 kilometers. The drive itself is scenic, taking in magnificent lakeside and mountain views. The Remarkables mountain range provides a stunning backdrop to the day’s activities.
Upon arrival in Queenstown, visitors can experience a wide range of adventure activities. The first one on the list could be hiking, with numerous trails catering to various difficulty levels. The trails around Queenstown offer breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape as well as the opportunity to spot native wildlife. Be sure to have comfortable footwear and suitable clothing for the trek.
You can also take a scenic ride on the Skyline Gondola. This thrilling experience offers panoramic views of the town, Lake Wakatipu, and the surrounding mountains.
One of the most iconic experiences Queenstown has to offer is bungy jumping. Home to the world’s first commercial bungy site at the Kawarau Bridge, adrenaline seekers can take a leap from a platform suspended 43 meters above the river. Another popular option is the Nevis Bungy which, at 134 meters, is the highest in New Zealand.
For those looking to satisfy their craving for adventure without leaving the ground, Queenstown is renowned for its variety of adrenaline-pumping activities. Jet boating along the Shotover River, white-water rafting, or ziplining through the forests are just some of the options available. Queenstown is truly an adventure lover’s paradise.
Once the day’s activities are done, it is time to refuel at one of the city’s famous eateries. Fergburger, a local institution, is known for serving some of the best burgers in town. Offering an extensive menu to cater to all tastes, this bustling burger joint is well worth the visit. It’s also just a short walk to many city center hotels in Queenstown.
Tip: Use your Citi PremierMiles Card for your dining spend overseas and earn 2 miles per S$1 which you can use to redeem with a wide number of frequent flyer programme partners.
Day 6: Queenstown to Milford Sound
On the sixth day, embark on a journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound, a breathtaking fiord in New Zealand’s South Island. This leg of the South Island road trip is rich with awe-inspiring landscapes and thrilling adventure opportunities.
After departing Queenstown, the drive towards Milford Sound is about 4 hours long, making it the perfect occasion to witness the rugged beauty around every corner. A must-stop along the way is the Te Anau Glowworm Caves, a unique natural attraction. These captivating caves offer guided tours that reveal the enchanting phenomenon of thousands of glowworms illuminating the dark cavern. If you are not driving to Milford Sound, you can book a day tour here via Klook.
Another worthwhile stop is the Mirror Lake – named as such due to the almost perfect reflection it gives off especially during a clear and sunny day.
Once in Milford Sound, it’s time to immerse oneself in the grandeur of this natural wonder. One of the best ways to fully appreciate this stunning fiord is by taking a nature cruise. These cruises allow visitors to get up close and personal with the dramatic cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and diverse wildlife, including seals, dolphins, and an array of bird species. You can get up to 50% off when booking this cruise with KKday every 25th of the month.
For a more adventurous activity, travelers can opt to kayak through the tranquil waters of the fiord, maneuvering around ancient rainforests and towering peaks rising from the sea. This intimate encounter with the pristine beauty of Milford Sound is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
At the end of the day, visitors can unwind in the quaint accommodations located within Milford Sound or return to Te Anau for an overnight stay before heading back to Queenstown.
From jaw-dropping natural attractions to thrilling activities, Day 6 of the South Island itinerary promises a memorable journey through New Zealand’s unparalleled landscapes.
Day 7: Journey to Paradise
New Zealand is widely known as the filming site for many a Lord of the Rings films. The films probably did more for New Zealand’s tourism industry than any other marketing campaign and it was a great tie up between their tourism ministry and Peter Jackson (the director of LotR) who incidentally is a Kiwi.
There are a few filming locations in the vicinity of Queenstown and I was particularly intrigued by one of them – a place that is literally called “Paradise.”
To get there, one has to drive / hire a 4WD vehicle as it crosses some unpaved roads or you could book a guided tour here with Klook and enjoy 10% off with minimum S$150 spend. Criss-crossing through the northern edge of Lake Wakatipu, one first passes through an impossibly picturesque town called Glenorchy. The town is close to many popular long walk routes (this is called tramping and the walks usually cover 2-3 days on average). It lies near the borders of Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park. Both are considered to be UNESCO World Heritage Sites and it’s not difficult to understand why after seeing these places.
In Glenorchy, make sure to stop by the boat house – a funky colored landmark near the dock. For a well-connected country like New Zealand, it is sometimes hard to believe that road access came to a place like Glenorchy only 20 years ago. Prior to that, townsfolk traveled to the nearest urban center (Queenstown) by boat through the lakeside dock near the boat house. This red house today serves as a museum containing photos from that period of time.
Nearby is the luxurious Blanket Bay, a 5-star hotel where Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston had their honeymoon. They had reportedly booked out the entire hotel to maintain their privacy (one room can go up to NZD 2,000+ per night).
Situated just a few kilometers from Glenorchy, is a place literally named Paradise and I personally cannot find any more appropriate name to it. Wide open fields, lakes teeming with abundant life, snowcapped mountains free of pollution or any visible manmade destruction – places like these justify the moniker of New Zealand as “God’s own country.” If anything, I believe a place like it can inspire even the laziest homebodies to become outdoor enthusiasts in a heartbeat.
The rest of the day is at your leisure after you head back to Queenstown or you can prepare for your impending departure. For a more relaxing way to spend the day before you leave, visit Queenstown’s tranquil Botanical Gardens. These gardens, nestled close to the lake’s edge, showcase a diverse range of native and exotic plants. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the winding paths while taking in the natural beauty of this serene destination.
From Queenstown, you can either take a car / bus back to Christchurch or fly to Christchurch / Auckland and back to your home destination.
Where to Stay Like a King
Tip: Book with Agoda and enjoy 20% off hotels worldwide (capped at $60). You can also enjoy up to S$120 off on Expedia with minimum spend of S$500.
Christchurch: In Christchurch, I stayed at the Aalton Motel. The property is located just steps from Hagley Park and is convenient for road trips out to Lake Tekapo and Queenstown as one gets to avoid the traffic jams along downtown.
Lake Tekapo/Mt Cook: The Hermitage is the most established hotel in the area, having been open since the late 1800s. Go for the full board option if you intend to go hiking / explore the glaciers around the area. Most rooms have stunning views of Mt. Cook.
Queenstown: It’s all about the views at the Novotel Queenstown Lakeside which offers panoramic vistas of surrounding Lake Wakatipu. It’s a short walk to the shoreline or to the dining outlets in the town center.
How to Get There (And Save With These Flight Deals!)
There are direct flights to Christchurch from Singapore via Singapore Airlines and there are also connections available from Auckland, New Zealand’s largest airport. You can check out flights from Trip.com here and get up to 50% off on flights every Friday.
From elsewhere in the world, your best bet of reaching New Zealand is via Auckland. Emirates flies from Dubai, Qatar Airways flies from Doha and Fiji Airways flies from Nadi. From Auckland, you can easily fly to Christchurch or Queenstown via a domestic flight.
If you are taking any of these airlines for an upcoming trip, check out these current promotions with Citi Cards for added savings:
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