We have put together this 8 Day South Island Itinerary that departs from Christchurch. This trip includes the rugged West Coast, some time to relax in Hanmer Springs, the opportunity to go hiking on the stunning Franz Josef Glacier and then finish up in Queenstown - New Zealand's Adventure Capital.
This itinerary includes some pretty big driving days, but that's the trade-off for you to see much of the fantastic South Island of New Zealand.
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Day 1: Christchurch to Hanmer Springs (Driving Time: ~ 2 hours)
Let's assume you're flying into Christchurch today. Pick up your rental car or campervan and head north to Hanmer Springs. This is a perfect way to shake off jetlag and get into the swing of your New Zealand adventure.
Hanmer Springs is a lovely little mountain resort town, and is famous for its thermal springs complex. A perfect place to relax and spend the night in, after your long day of flying and driving!
Day 2: Hanmer Springs to Westport to Punakaiki (Driving Time: ~ 4 hours)
Leave Hanmer Springs today and head onto the West Coast. Break up a long day of driving by making a quick stop in Westport. You have the chance of viewing seals just south of Westport at the Cape Foulwind seal colony.
Punakaiki is an epic small settlement on the wild West Coast. It has a much-visited pancake rock formation and is a very scenic place to spend the evening.
Check out Wotif for the best deals on Punakaiki accommodation.
Day 3 - 4: Punakaiki to Franz Josef (Driving Time: ~ 4 hours)
Today you’ll be doing a lot of driving, but there’s a silver lining. The entire drive, especially on the way to Greymouth and even beyond as you venture further down the West Coast, is absolutely incredible! Lonely Planet ranks it one of the top 10 most beautiful drives in the world, and it's certainly one of the top 3 in New Zealand.
You'll spend your third night in Franz Josef Village. Check out Wotif for the best deals on accommodation. Franz Josef Village is a busy little place thanks to the Franz Josef Glacier found just outside of town. The Franz Josef Glacier starts high in the Southern Alps and makes its way all the way to the temperate rainforest. It's a stunning sight and walking on it is an absolute must. Chances are you're in need of a relax after the big days you've already had, so spend the night soaking away sore muscles and preparing for the next days glacier hike with a soak at the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools.
Depending on how much time you want to commit to big Franz, you have a couple different options for checking out the glacier the next day. Franz Josef Glacier Guides offers a half day ice explorer tour with a guide that includes helicopter trip from the village onto the glacier. It's an NZ Must Do, and an incredible experience! Planit NZ can book your Franz Josef glacier tour in advance to guarantee you a spot. If you're short on time, don't feel up for a big hike or have some cash to blow, you can check out the glacier from the seat of a helicopter or an airplane - you'll also get some great views of Mt Cook.
Day 5: Franz Josef to Queenstown via Wanaka (Driving Time: ~ 5 hours)
After your Franz Josef Glacier experience, it's time to head further down the West Coast, over the Haast Pass and on to Wanaka. This is another fantastic drive, one that shouldn't be rushed, yet as you're slightly short on time with plenty of the South Island still to see, we suggest you power on through to Wanaka's hyperactive cousin, Queenstown.
Day 6 - 8: Queenstown
This is the Adventure Capital of the World, so take your pick - jump out of an airplane, throw yourself off a bridge with a bungy cord tacked on to your waist or simply take in the views of Walter and Cecil Peak from Queenstown's waterfront. If you're up for stretching your legs, consider walking up Queenstown Hill or to the top of the Skyline Gondola for big views across Lake Wakatipu.
A visit to Milford Sound is a must-do whilst traveling New Zealand! So on the next day, leave your car or campervan behind, and join a day tour to Milford Sound. Today you’ll travel through beautiful Fiordland and the majestic Milford Road before joining a cruise on Milford Sound. You will experience the incredible Fiordland National Park and enjoy unique photo stops and short walks along the way, allowing you to check out the native flora & fauna and the majestic glacial scenery.
If you’d like to maximize your time in Queenstown, you could do a scenic flight back from Milford Sound to Queenstown. The Coach - Cruise - Coach option to Milford Sound and back is a very big day, upwards of 10 hours. With a scenic flight back, you save the 4-5 hours in the bus after you’ve cruised on Milford Sound.
Check out Wotif for the best deals on Queenstown accommodation.
If you have any questions about this itinerary, be sure to contact us with any questions. Planit NZ offers a Free New Zealand Travel Planning Service where we can help you organize your trip and find you the best prices on activities around New Zealand.
Get help creating the perfect self-drive itinerary, finding the best deal on a car or campervan rental or booking the perfect tour. We offer personalized support prior to your trip. Contact us or fill out our FREE Travel Planning Service form below.
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Travel one-way from the Canterbury flatlands through the Southern Alps and to the mountainous region of Queenstown, New Zealand's adventure capital.
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