Chugging along in our trusty campervan, we spent 2 & half weeks travelling around the south island of New Zealand in our trusty Escape Rentals van, taking in many incredible sights along the way! Here is our guide to the south island, including our route and key things to see and do! Also check out our Ultimate One Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary & Route!
New Zealand South Island Itinerary
Christchurch to Hanmer Springs
When you arrive in Christchurch, you have a few route options to consider! You can either go West towards Greymouth driving over Arthur’s Pass, South towards Dunedin or North towards Hanmer Springs. Keen to cover as much of the South island as possible, and in particular the West Coast, we decided to head North to Hanmer Springs and then West through Lewis’ Pass towards Westport on the West coast.
Hanmer Springs and Lewis Pass
There is incredible scenery en route to Hanmer Springs, and once you reach Lewis Pass the photo opportunities just keep coming and coming! We had some of the best views on the South island on this part of our journey. Approximately halfway between Hanmer Springs and the West coast, you will find Maruia Springs natural mineral rock pools and Japanese bath, which was a good place to stop for a wash and take in the scenery of deeply forested valleys surrounding the outdoor pools.
Hanmer Springs to the Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers
Continuing West will take you to the main town of Westport where we stopped briefly before heading straight down the West coast to Franz Joseph town where you’ll find the famous Franz Joseph glacier. Here you can book yourself into one of the many hikes or helicopter rides available to view the glacier. We opted to take the short 20 minute drive and one hour return walk to see the Franz Josef glacier as we booked onto a cheaper half day hike at the Fox glacier, less than one hour drive south from Franz Joseph.
The Fox Glacier to Queenstown
After hiking the fox glacier, it’s quite a long drive all the way down to Queenstown, so we decided to break up the journey by stopping off at a campsite along the way. There are lots of activities to do in Queenstown, but it’s also the most expensive town in New Zealand so there is a good chance you will find it cheaper to do most of the activities on offer elsewhere in New Zealand (such as jet boating). You could also visit an ice bar in Queenstown or enjoy a famous ‘Fergburger’ set against a stunning mountain backdrop. It’s also the perfect launchpad to visit Milford Sound!
Queenstown to Kaikoura
Kaikoura was our next main stop after Queenstown, however we decided to break up the long journey by spending a night at a campsite near Geraldine, approximately half way between Queenstown and Kaikoura on the East coast. Once in Kaikoura, you can get up close and personal at the seal colony, enjoy the fresh seafood on offer at the little huts on the beach or a drink with the locals at the friendly bars on the main street.
Kaikoura to Blenheim (Malborough wine region)
After a couple of days in Kaikoura, it was time for us to make the relatively short journey north to Blenheim in the Marlborough wine region. It was here we did one of our favourite activities; wine tasting! The Marlborough region is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, so we booked onto a marlborough wine tour and relaxed in this beautiful part of the world.
Blenheim to Motueka and Abel Tasman National Park
After tasting and purchasing much wine, it was time to do a little exercise, so we headed North West of Blenheim to Motueka and the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. We opted for one day in Abel Tasman, but there are many options including trekking for a number of days. We loved the park and found Motueka to be the perfect launchpad for exploring it!
Abel Tasman to Picton
Abel Tasman was our last main destination on the South Island, and after we’d had our day there, we made the short journey back to Picton where we caught the ferry to the North Island! Our North Island route will follow next week!