South Island Sun and Snow New Zealand Itinerary
Where will I visit?
Visiting Christchurch, Hanmer Springs, Kaikoura, Nelson and Abel Tasman, Punakaiki, West Coast glaciers, Wanaka, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Mt Cook, Christchurch.
Experience the parks and gardens of Christchurch, the stunning bays and beaches of Nelson, and the pristine marine environment of Kaikoura.
Marvel at the unique glaciers and rugged coastline on the wild West Coast, and the World Heritage listed Mt Cook region.
Relax by Lake Wanaka, and be as "mild" or as "wild" as you like in New Zealand's "Adventure Capital" Queenstown.
And don't forget the "Eighth Wonder of the World", majestic Milford Sound.
1) You can view your interactive route map at the bottom of the page
2) Feel free to hire a car and use this itinerary as a guide, or fill out the form at the bottom of the page to talk to one of our local experts about a fully packaged self drive tour.
3) Place your cursor on a picture for a description of the picture.
Day by day - click on each day for more detail, then when you finish just click on your browsers back button to return here
Day 1 Arrive Christchurch
Day 2 Explore Christchurch
Day 3 Christchurch to Hanmer Springs
Day 4 Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura
Day 5 Kaikoura to Nelson
Day 6 Explore Nelson region
Day 7 Explore Nelson region
Day 8 Nelson to Punakaiki
Day 9 Punakaiki to the Glaciers
Day 10 Glaciers to Wanaka
Day 11 Wanaka to Queenstown
Day 12 Explore Queenstown
Day 13 Queenstown to Mt Cook
Day 14 Mt Cook to Christchurch
Day 15 Return home
Day 1 Arrive Christchurch
Arrive in Christchurch, ready to begin your South Island Sun and Snow adventure.
Often referred to as the "Garden City", Christchurch is home to over 700 parks.
Collect your rental car or camper van
With access to all of the leading rental brands, we can organize the perfect rental car or camper van for you.
To check prices and see our great range just click here.
Christchurch airport is about 20 minutes from the city center and there are also a range of hotels close to the airport.
Taxi services are available outside the airport terminal.
But to get from the airport to our hotel we usually use a shuttle service.
Check to see if your hotel offers a free shuttle service. If not, you can book one here.
Handy Tips about Christchurch accommodation
We suggest that you pre-book your accommodation in Christchurch, particularly if you want to be close to the city center.
Our favorite city center hotel is the Heritage. Huge rooms with high ceilings and close to the city center.
at Merivale was also very good. Reasonable rates and nice clean
spacious rooms. Close to restaurants on Papanui Road, and a 10-15 minute
walk to the city center.
You can read customer reviews and search a wide range of Christchurch accommodation here.
Motels near the airport
The closest hotel to the airport is the Sudima. It's very highly rated and you can read more here.
We've also stayed at the Airport Gateway Motor Lodge and it was great. Around 10 minutes drive from the airport, free shuttle bus, and a great restaurant for breakfast. Learn more here.
Day 2 Christchurch
Today you are free to explore Christchurch.
Christchurch has a very "English" feel,
which is reflected in the architecture, and the Avon river, which runs
through the city centre.
Suggested activities are a punt ride on the Avon, a tram ride through the city, a gondola ride, or perhaps a drive to Akaroa, a French settlement located seaside on Bank's Peninsula.
Akaroa is also well known as the location of the popular "Swim With The Dolphins" experience.
Day 3 Hanmer Springs
Time to hit the road on your New Zealand itinerary.
Today you are off to the beautiful village of Hanmer Springs, known for its thermal pools, water park and spa complex.
The drive takes around 1.5 hours. On arrival, check into your motel then head to the pools for a relaxing soak. There are a range of pools of varying temperatures. And for the kids (or the young at heart) there is also the water park, with a variety of slides, including a fully enclosed "dark" slide.
For a special treat, their spa offers a range of treatments including facials and massages.
Day 4 Kaikoura, Whale Watch Capital
Today your New Zealand itinerary tour takes you to the spectacular seaside township of Kaikoura.
The mountains touch the sea in Kaikoura, and in winter are snow capped, making for wonderful photo opportunities.
Kaikoura is famous for fresh seafood,
local seal colonies, and amazing scenery.
The best time to go whale watching is in the morning, before the wind and the seas pick up.
The whale watch trips are really good fun. The captain encourages you to "spot" whales. When someone sees one, it's back to your seats before the boat speeds off in the direction of the whales. On our last trip we saw several whales and also dolphins and penguins.
Point Kean, which is accessed along The Esplanade is an excellent spot to see seals. Often they sun themselves near the car park, so it's easy to get some good pictures.
The other main colony is at Ohau
Point, about 20 minutes drive North of Kaikoura on State Highway 1.
There is also a track into the forest where the seals play in a pool at
the base of a waterfall!
Where to stay in Kaikoura
There is a wide range of accommodation in Kaikoura.
Several of these have great ocean views, particularly those along The Esplanade.
Our favorite is the Anchor Inn.
It's around two kilometers level walk from the town center. Still close
enough to walk, but far enough to be away from the noise of the shopping
center. Sitting directly opposite the ocean, the rooms offer amazing views and are clean and comfortable. Tell the hosts that we sent you, and ask them to book you in for a meal at the Pier Hotel. You won't be disappointed.
There are also several motels along the main highway, but check if they have views before you book.
Days 5, 6 & 7 The Tasman Region
Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you to the bustling city of Nelson (3 hours drive), in the Tasman Region.
Nelson is located on the shores of Tasman Bay, and is the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park, one of the South Island's prime attractions.
The Abel Tasman is located around 1 hours drive from Nelson and is accessed via the bay side village of Marahau. The Park offers a wide range of walks, most notably the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, and activities such as kayak trips, guided tours, and water taxi rides.
Marahau has a range of accommodation including a camp ground with tent sites and cabins, and also some privately owned lodges and holiday homes.
Over the Takaka Hill from Marahau is the Golden Bay area, another idyllic coastal location.
The drive over Takaka Hill is a memorable one. As you descend on the Golden Bay side, the views are awesome. The village of Takaka is an arty community with lots of local crafts and produce available.
Nearby Farewell Spit is the north western edge of the South Island and is a popular location for bird and seal watching.
You can take four wheel drive adventure tours to the Spit and they are great fun as your driver takes you along the beach, pointing out spots of interest. On our last trip we stopped to roll down the sand dunes!
Another popular attraction is Pupu Springs, a freshwater spring with water so cold that divers are only permitted to stay submerged for limited periods.
Nelson also has many other attractions such as a selection of vineyards, the World of Wearable Art, and a large arts and cultural community.
Where to stay
As befits a city of this size, Nelson and the surrounding region have hundreds of places to stay.
If you want to stay close to the Abel Tasman National Park (around 1 hours drive from Nelson), we suggest the village of Marahau which borders the park (although accommodation here is limited).
For something a little different, the Kina Beach Vinyard, between Nelson and Motueka, offers onsite cottages with lovely water views. Sample their wines and not have to worry about driving home. Perfect!
You can search the full range of Nelson accommodation by clicking here.
Day 8 The Wild West Coast - Punakaiki
Today your 3.5 hour drive takes you to Punakaiki on the rugged west coast.
Punakaiki is famous for the unusual limestone rock formations known as the Pancake Rocks. These formations resemble stacks of pancakes, and they are complemented by the famous blowholes, which really blow during a big ocean swell.
Access to Pancake Rocks is a two minute walk by a sealed path from the main highway in the center of the village.
Punakaiki village has no shops other than a nice tavern and a coffee shop. For this reason we recommend stocking up on groceries and petrol at Westport, around 30 minutes North of Punakaiki.
Accommodation options in Punakaiki are limited, but don't despair. We have found a couple of really nice beach front favorites.
The Punakaiki Rocks resort is absolute beachfront offering stunning ocean views. The snow capped alps are also visible across the bay, and the resort restaurant offers the perfect location to sit and watch the sunset over the ocean.
And our new fave is the Wave Watchers cottage. This beautifully renovated gem sits on the beach, and has two bedrooms with ocean views, three bathrooms, and a full kitchen and living area.
With limited dining options in the village we loved the chance to use the kitchen for cooked meals. Nothing like fresh bacon and eggs whilst looking over the ocean.
It's also only about 100 meters walk to the local tavern.
You can search for other Punakaiki accommodation here.
Don't miss the glowworms and the tavern
There are several walks in the area, and just North of the village on the highway, there is a small cavern where you can see glowworms.
The Punakiki Tavern is a little gem. Located on the highway, it's a relaxing spot to stop off for a drink or a nice pub style meal.
Day 9 The Glaciers
Today is a 2.5 hour drive to the amazing west coast glaciers, Franz Josef and Fox. This is one of the highlights of this New Zealand itinerary.
My pick is Franz Josef because the village has more accommodation and dining options.
Where to stay
In Franz Josef, we have stayed at Punga Grove motel several times and like it because it's clean, comfortable, and a short walk to the pubs, restaurants and Glacier Hot Pools complex.
We also like the Alpine Glacier Motel. Nice and close to the village center, and the spa studios are spacious and clean, and importantly, have cooking facilities.
And the view from our room last time was stunning.
You can see a full range of Franz Josef accommodation here.
Or click the following link for Fox Glacier hotels.
How to see the glaciers
There are several ways to see the glaciers up close. A walk from the car park to the glacier's face at Franz Josef will take around 1.5 to 2 hours return.
You will be stunned by the views and thrill of the helicopter ride. The air at the top of the glacier is so fresh and clear, it's like nothing we have ever experienced. A "must do" if funds permit.
Handy tip about flights
Please note though that flights are weather dependent. Conditions change quickly on the west coast, so bookings are essential.
Find things to do at the Glaciers
You can search through a full range of Franz Josef and Fox activities by clicking here.
The West Coast Wildlife Center in Franz Josef is a great option, particularly if the weather closes in. Here you can see New Zealand's flightless kiwi in its natural habitat.
A good bar
If you like good pub food, try The Landing Bar, on the main road in Franz Josef village. We can highly recommend the seafood chowder, steak sandwich, green lipped mussels and the whitebait fritters.
They also have a good range of wines and beers, and it's a good spot to just sit and watch the world go by.
Day 10 Wonderful Wanaka
Your South Island Sun and Snow New Zealand itinerary now takes you to the beautiful lake side town of Wanaka.
Wanaka is well known as the service town for two world class ski fields,
Cardrona and Treble Cone, and in the ski season the town buzzes with
The town center is located on the lake edge, and offers numerous dining and accommodation options. A lake view motel or apartment is well worth the extra money, as the views year round are stunning.
Our favorite is The Moorings. Located opposite the lake, the views are unbelievable. The rooms are modern and clean, and it's only a minute or so walk to the shops and restaurants. A beautiful spot.
If you have a chance, wander down to the lake front opposite the shopping center. There is a small jetty, and in the water underneath are the biggest trout I've ever seen!
There is much to see and do in Wanaka, including 4wd tours, scenic flights, winery tours, golf, and the quirky Puzzling World and maze.
Puzzling World is well worth a visit. It has a varied range of hands on activities including "try before you buy" puzzles, some wacky optical illusions, like the Wall of Following Faces, and a tricky maze (ok, I got lost).
Aviation fans flock to the area every two years for the Warbirds Over Wanaka festival, a celebration of military aviation history. Aerial and ground displays make it a fun event for the family.
Days 11 & 12 Queenstown, Adventure Capital
Today on your South Island Sun and Snow New Zealand itinerary, you head to what many consider to be one of the most spectacular locations in the world.
Queenstown is known as the "Adventure Capital" of New Zealand, and for good reason.
The variety of Queenstown activities is huge, with everything from bungy jumping (several locations), jet boating, para-sailing, para-gliding, 4wd tours, rafting, luge rides high above the town, and of course skiing and snowboarding at the two nearby ski fields, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables.
But it's also a place to relax
Not to be missed is a trip to Bob's Peak on the Skyline Gondola. Located a short walk from the town centre, the gondola will take you 450 metres above Queenstown to some of the best views you will ever see.
The Skyline complex also has a restaurant overlooking Queenstown, a snack bar, gift shop, and of course their famous luge rides (we are addicted to them).
On a nice day there are several spots to sit and have a drink, or read a book, taking in the views.
And if you are looking for other stress free things to do, a winery tour, a game of golf (at one of several superb courses), or a trip on Lake Wakatipu on the historic steamship, the TSS Earnslaw, may be to your liking.
Also popular is the nearby (20 minute drive) village of Arrowtown. Filled with historic buildings, craft and gift shops, and eateries, it's a nice place to spend a few hours.
Magical, mystical Milford Sound
But if there is one thing that the region is world famous for, it's Milford Sound.
Referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World, Milford Sound is the number one attraction in New Zealand, and with very good reason.
Towering peaks and sheer cliffs that seem to disappear into the clouds, waterfalls, and the deep dark waters of Milford Sound all combine to make this one of the most amazing places you will ever visit.
Milford Sound is around 4 hours drive each way from Queenstown, which makes for a very long and tiring day. Which is why we prefer to take a bus tour and cruise, and let someone else worry about the driving.
The trip to Milford Sound is a highlight in itself and has been described as one of the world's great drives. With huge canyons, snow capped peaks, raging streams, and the Homer Tunnel, there are lots of opportunities for great pictures on the drive (see if you can spot the cheeky native parrot, the Kea, near the Homer tunnel).
Be sure that your tour includes a cruise as it's the best way to experience Milford Sound. We also highly recommend the deepwater observatory where you descend several meters below the surface to view corals, fish, and other marine life.
And if you have time, the Milford Mariner overnight cruises are awesome. Imagine waking up to views like these.
We have no doubt that you will talk about Milford Sound for many years.
It is, in our opinion, the very best of all the available Queenstown
Queenstown Accommodation Handy Tip
Queenstown is a very hilly place, and car parking in the center of town is difficult to find, and is mostly pay to use.
Because of this, we recommend staying close to the center of town so that you don't need to drive.
As always, lakefront or lake view accommodation is our pick.
We have stayed at several but our favorite is Pepper's Beacon. They have a good range of rooms and the motel is a level two minute walk to the town center. Be sure to request a lake view room. It will cost more but the views are worth it.
Because Queenstown can be very busy we strongly recommend pre-booking your accommodation.
A huge range of accommodation in Queenstown
With everything from camping grounds to five star luxury, Queenstown has something to suit every taste and budget.
Please read reviews before you book. It's a good way to narrow down your search, particularly when the range of accommodation is so large.
You can check the numerous Queenstown accommodation options here.
If you're looking for a great backpacker lodge, check out Haka Lodge. It's highly rated.
Day 13 Aoraki Mt Cook
Today your South Island Sun and Snow New Zealand itinerary takes you to the World Heritage area of Mt Cook (3.5 hours drive).
Traveling from Queenstown on State Highway 8, the turnoff to Mt Cook village takes you onto State Highway 80, and almost immediately the brilliant turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki appear on your right hand side. Lake Pukaki is your companion then for around 40 of the 60 or so kilometres into Mt Cook village.
At 3,754 metres, Mt Cook is New Zealand's tallest mountain. The mountain is popular with climbers and hikers from around the world.
Mt Cook village is the service hub for the area, and is home to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, which
showcases the region's history, and contains a 3D movie theatre,
planetarium, and museum.
We have had some great times at Mt Cook, and every time we visit we just shake our heads in awe at the beauty of the place.
When you stand in Mt Cook village and look up at the mountain, it's difficult to believe that people actually climb it. It is huge.
There are various walks in and around the village. Before you go make sure to check weather conditions, as they can change rapidly. On our last visit we experienced several seasons in one day, with a cool clear day transforming rapidly into a whiteout as a blizzard swept through. Within an hour the sun was shining again, and Mt Cook reappeared.
If you are in Mt Cook between September and May, a "must do" is a trip with Glacier Explorers. They run a boat trip on the terminal lake of the mighty Tasman Glacier.
Huge icebergs break off the glacier and float in the lake. The guides take you up close and you can even taste the ice crystals, which are hundreds of years old. Awesome!
We usually stay at the Hermitage, which has a
range of room types, and an in house bar and restaurant. The Sir Edmund
Hillary Alpine Centre is also located in the Hermitage complex.
We can honestly say that Mt Cook is one of the most spectacular spots that we have ever visited.
Have your camera ready!
Day 14 Christchurch
Today on your South Island Sun and Snow tour, you take the 4 hour drive from Mt Cook to Christchurch.
Along the way, stop off at Lake Tekapo for a break, and take in the stunning views across the turquoise waters towards the alps.
And don't miss one of the most famous photo opportunities in New Zealand, through the window of the Church of the Good Shepherd.
Lake Tekapo is also a good spot to top up the fuel tank and have a snack before continuing on to Christchurch.
There are several motels close to Christchurch airport.
If you decide to return your rental car today, be sure to check that your motel have a shuttle service to the airport. If not, you can book one here.
The closest motel to the airport is the Sudima, which is about a five minute walk.
Day 15 Fly Home
Unfortunately all good things must end, and today you fly home.
We hope that you have enjoyed your stay in this amazing country, and that you found this New Zealand itinerary helpful.
To make the most of your South Island Sun and Snow New Zealand itinerary, click here to learn all about the various New Zealand regions.