We have put together this 8 Day South Island Itinerary that departs from Queenstown - New Zealand's Adventure Capital. This trip includes the rugged West Coast, some time in sunny Nelson Tasman, the opportunity for Whale Watching in Kaikoura and the stunning glacial lakes of the Mt Cook Region.
This itinerary includes some pretty big driving days, but that's the trade-off for you seeing a HUGE portion of the fantastic South Island of New Zealand.
Day 1: Queenstown to Franz Josef (Driving Time: ~ 4.5 hours)
Organize a rental car or campervan, and pick it up from Queenstown first thing in the morning. You'll want to leave Queenstown as early as possible as this is a pretty big day - a big day, but one filled with epic views and a huge variety of landscapes. You'll leave Queenstown in an alpine environment surrounded by tussock-covered hills, and by the end of the day you'll be surrounded in dense West Coast bush.
Day 2: Franz Josef
You have Day 2 to explore the small - but often busy - village of Franz Josef. Franz Josef's claim to fame is the glacier by the same name that terminates in the temperate rainforest that surrounds the town. You have a variety of options for visiting the Franz Josef Glacier - everything from a guided Franz Josef heli-hike to a walk up the valley to see its terminus. If you're especially keen on tramping, consider walking up to Alex Knob - an eight hour tramp that leaves you with incredible views of the glacier and as far away as the Tasman Coast. Spend the night in Franz Josef Village and be sure to head out to the pub to share some beers with the glacier guides. Check out Wotif for the best deals on Franz Josef accommodation.
Day 3: Franz Josef to Punakaiki (Driving Time: ~ 3 hours)
Leaving Franz Josef you'll head further up the rugged West Coast, passing the jade-mining town of Hokitika and the service town of Greymouth. The drive north from Greymouth to Westport is often ranked one of the best in the world (Top 10 by Lonely Planet). It's a stunning trip where you have the wild Tasman Sea on one side, and the snow-capped Southern Alps on the other. Overnight in the quiet seaside village of Punakaiki. Be sure to check out the Punakaiki rocks - a bizarre pancake like rock formation.
Day 4: Punakaiki to Marahu (Driving Time: ~ 3.5 hours)
Drive from Punakaiki to the sunny seaside town of Nelson. Stop to enjoy the seaside town, before continuing a bit further north to Marahu - the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. Be sure to stock up on groceries for your dinner in Marahau, as there isn't much along the way.
Day 5: Abel Tasman National Park
Here you have a full day to explore the Abel Tasman National Park. There are a variety of ways to experience the park - you can enjoy a self-guided walk and water taxi ride, a kayak on the beautiful waters of the park, or a combination of the three. Spend the night in Marahau again, or continue south as far as Nelson for a different place to spend the evening.
Day 6: Marahau - Kaikoura (Driving time: ~ 4 hours)
You've come pretty far north, and now it's time to begin making your way south to Queenstown. You've got two nights to cover some pretty big distances, and we suggest you head down the East Coast so you see something different on your way back to beautiful Queenstown. The drive from Nelson to Kaikoura passes through the Marlborough Region near Picton. You'll want to stop to taste some of New Zealand's renowned Sauvignon Blanc (but not too much, as you've got a bit further to drive!). Tonight you'll stay in the seaside town of Kaikoura (Kai meaning food and Koura meaning Crayfish (or lobster)).
Day 7: Kaikoura to Tekapo (Driving Time: ~ 5 hours)
Kaikoura is known not only for lobster, but for other marine life that frequents its shores. You can go on a Whale Watching tour to view Sperm Whales or you can swim with Dusky Dolphins. You'll want to do this early in the morning, as you've some more distance to cover on your way back to Queenstown. You've left the sea behind for the alpine lakes of Tekapo. The waters of this lake are an insanely blue/green color from the number of glaciers the feed into its waters. Hopefully it's a clear night as you get some of the best star-gazing in the world in Tekapo thanks to the lack of population and specifically designed street lights that keep the sky dark.
Day 8: Tekapo to Queenstown (Driving Time: ~ 3 hours)
Today you head back back to the Adventure Capital of the World. This is another stunning drive that passes more alpine lakes and a impressive system of canals filled with beautiful blue water. Be sure to stop to sample some farm raised salmon on the way. With any luck, you'll have a clear day and views as far as Aoraki Mt Cook - New Zealand's highest peak.
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.