When you start to plan your New Zealand holiday it throws up some difficult questions. I have often been asked which I like best, the North Island or the South Island. That is quite a difficult question, as living in a location is different to seeing it as a tourist. Scenically they are very different and both lovely.
However, if you have limited time for your New Zealand holiday I would definitely recommend the South Island as your choice. To really do justice to the South Island, you need 4-5 weeks. This allows you to take time to enjoy the many activities. You could spend a lot more time, if you are intending to do some of the long hikes such as the Milford Track, Heaphy Track, or go to some of the remoter areas. But usually choices have to be made.
The Best of the South Island Independent Tour Route
Some people may adapt this and manage a rushed New Zealand holiday in two weeks, but will have to reduce the suggested route further, or have quicker stops in some areas. This is itineray will take about 3 weeks , travelling time.
The route I would suggest that gives you the best overall coverage of the South Island, would start from Christchurch, the only international airport. This semi circular route can of course be driven in the opposite direction.
o Drive north to Kaikoura, for whale watching, swimming with dolphins and great crayfish!
o Hanmer Springs will make a nice break for a swim in the thermal hot pools.
o Carry on to Nelson. Take 2-3 days here to enjoy the beaches – don’t miss beautiful golden Kaiteriteri beach, check out some wineries, arts and crafts, and walk or kayak in Abel Tasman National Park.
o Blenheim, Marlborough, is the wine center – where our famous New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc grows best.
o Nelson Lakes – are very scenic, with plenty of day walks in the area.
o Drive through Murchison to the West Coast.
o Karamea – at the northern most tip is worth the rive if you have time – you will be doubling back.
o Greymouth – Shanty town will give the children a thrill with its replica goldmining town.
o Punakaiki Pancake Rocks – are a unique sight. The layered rocks, with pounding seas and blowholes are spectacular. The nikau forest is an unusual sight too, giving a tropical feel to the area.
o Hokitika – has glass blowing, greenstone carving, arts and crafts, and is right on the beach.
o Whataroa Sanctuary for the kotuku – New Zealand white heron – is a good trip in the season, to view New Zealand’s only white herons.
o Gillespie’s Beach, 25 kilometers north of Fox Glacier is a good beach walk to see the seals. There are about 1500 so it is quite a sight – and smell! But worth it! You need to allow several hours.
o Fox Glacier
o Franz Joseph Glacier – You will want to spend at least a couple of days in this glacier area to really have a good experience. You can do guided walks on the ice, fly over the glaciers, and enjoy the magnificent scenery.
o Haast Pass through to Lake Wanaka, which is a beautiful stop.
o From Wanaka you would go over the Crown Range a challenging but very scenic drive, or round Lake Dunstan , past Queenstown to
o Te Anau – From here you can go to
o Milford Sound
o Doubtful Sounds – this is an excellent wilderness boat trip
o Alternatively, base yourself in Queenstown and do a tour to Milford Sound
o Queenstown – If you have only a very limited time for your New Zealand holiday then Queenstown is the place to go. Voted one of the world’s top 10 destinations for 2008, you need to allow plenty of time to do day trips – Lord of the Rings tours, Arrowtown, try some of the extreme sports – bungee jumping, Shotover jet boat, 4WD to old goldmining towns, Skippers Canyon, jet boating, heli skiing, take the historic “Earnslaw” boat to Walter Peak sheep station across Lake Wakatipu.. The choices are prolific. Adventure activities are a major industry, the scenery stunning. There is something for everyone in this fabulous part of the country.
o Options – Twizel to Mt Cook if time is short, or to Dunedin then to Mt Cook.
o Twizel – once a town built for the workers building the power station, it has become a popular center for those wanting to do the many outdoor mountain activities in the area.
o Queenstown to Dunedin. Take a day to go out on the Otago Peninsula to the Albatross Colony and visit Larnach Castle. You can also see penguins.
o Travel up the East Coast via Moeraki Boulders- visit the Moeraki Fish Restaurant on the wharf, en route to
o Mt Cook – or Aoraki – New Zealand’s highest mountain. It tempts many climbers – but they do need to be experienced. Sadly it has claimed many lives. The walks and outdoor activities could keep you busy for a few days if you are keen. On to Christchurch via
o Lake Tekapo – see the little stone church with the sheep dog monument overlooking Lake Tekapo in the middle of the MacKenzie country.
o Arrive Christchurch.
This suggested itinerary could be increased by taking a route south via Invercargill, if you have an extra week or two. But the route above will give you an amazing scenic, activity packed holiday. You can also adapt it incorporating the best of the North Island and starting the circuit at Nelson.