Visiting Christchurch, Mt Cook village, Wanaka, Queenstown, Te Anau (Fiordland) and Tekapo
Dear Frederic, Vicki, family and friends,
welcome to New Zealand's stunning South Island.
Thanks for choosing us to help you plan your perfect New Zealand holiday.
Given the amount of time that you have available, we were concerned that if you followed the full 15 Day South Island Highlights itinerary, you might not have enough time to enjoy some of the best spots.
So we've only concentrated on the bottom half/two thirds of the South Island.
This will give you several multi-day stops, which should allow you time to explore without feeling too rushed.
We hope that's okay with you, but of course we can make any changes that you need.
We've made some recommendations for places to stay, but have had some difficulty at times finding B & Bs as requested.
Many don't cater for groups of six, or are unavailable for your tour dates. Since the borders re-opened, things are booking out quickly.
So we've offered some other options, based on our own experience and on customer reviews.
During our travels we've tended to use apartments at some locations so that we have washing and cooking facilities.
We've included a search box at the bottom of the page so you can check accommodation availability (and customer reviews) in each location.
And there's also a search box at the bottom to select your vehicle.
Throughout your itinerary we've included clickable links (they appear in blue) where you can find more information on a particular topic. These links will open in a new window on your browser.
If you ever need to return to the top of this page just click on the "Top" button that appears in the bottom right hand corner of your screen.
And if you hover your cursor over a picture a description will appear.
Here's our draft itinerary for you. There's lots of information below, so maybe grab a coffee while you have a read.
We look forward to hearing back.
& New Zealand Travel Showcase
Day 1 Friday 3rd November - arrive in Christchurch and check in to your accommodation
Day 2 Saturday 4th November - collect your rental car, then you have the day free to explore Christchurch
Day 3 Sunday 5th November - drive from Christchurch to Mt Cook Village (4 hours drive, 329 kilometres). Check in to your accommodation
Day 4 Monday 6th November - explore the region
Day 5 Tuesday 7th November - drive from Mt Cook to Wanaka (2.5 hours drive, 206 kilometres)
Day 6 Wednesday 8th November - explore Wanaka
Day 7 Thursday 9th November - explore Wanaka
Day 8 Friday 10th November - drive from Wanaka to Queenstown via Cardrona and Crown Range (1 hour, 69 kilometres)
Day 9 Saturday 11th November - explore Queenstown
Day 10 Sunday 12th November - explore Queenstown
Day 11 Monday 13th November - drive from Queenstown to Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland (2 hours, 171 kilometres)
Day 12 Tuesday 14th November - explore Fiordland
Day 13 Wednesday 15th November - drive from Te Anau to Tekapo village (5 hours, 414 kilometres)
Day 14 Thursday 16th November - explore Tekapo
Day 15 Friday 17th November - drive from Tekapo to Christchurch (3 hours, 225 kilometres)
Day 16 Saturday 18th November - return car and fly to Sydney
Your travel route - use the "+" and "-" buttons to zoom in and out
Day by day in more detail
Day 1 - 3rd November - Christchurch
Today you arrive in Christchurch, the South Island's largest city.
Depending on your flight arrival time, collect your car then head to your accommodation for the next 2 nights.
We use DriveNow for our vehicle rentals. They have been trading for many years, offer market leading rates, and have access to all the major rental brands.
I've included a search box below so you can look at various options (select the "Cars" tab at the top of the search box).
At the time of writing, a Kia Carnival 8 seat people mover, hired from say 10 am on the 4th November, to 10 am on the 18th November, would cost around NZD$1784.
Tip - after your search results appear you can then select the number of seats you require which narrows down the available options.
Tip - check to make sure that the car supplier that you choose has an "in terminal" depot. Some suppliers (like Apex) have their depot off airport meaning you might need to get a shuttle to collect and drop off your car.
Where to stay in Christchurch
As befits a city of this size, Christchurch has a wide range of accommodation.
The closest B & B to the airport is Travellers Retreat (around 4 kilometres). We haven't stayed there but it's highly rated.
The Airport Gateway is around 4 kilometres from the airport. Pavillions is a little further (on Papanui Rd around 15 minutes drive), and is near a variety of restaurants. Pavillions is also a short walk from the Christchurch CBD.
Another good option is the Novotel at the airport. It's around 100 steps from the terminal and is a great option if you are arriving late at night, or departing early in the morning. There's also a good selection of restaurants within a five minute walk of the Novotel (we had a really nice dinner at Lonestar on our last visit).
Day 2 - 4th November - explore Christchurch
Christchurch is a thriving, bustling city of some 370,000 people.
Known as the garden city, Christchurch is home to hundreds of parks.
The Southern Alps stand proudly to the West of the city, and in the cooler months their snow capped beauty is a thing to behold.
The city has a very "English" feel, reflected in the architecture (and the Avon river which runs through the centre of the city).
If you stroll along the river banks, it's very likely that you will spot some huge trout which inhabit the Avon. The water is rarely more than a metre or so deep, and is very clear so the trout are pretty easy to spot.
There's lots to see and do in Christchurch
There is a huge range of
things to do in Christchurch (see our dedicated Christchurch page).
The International Antarctic Center, located at Christchurch airport, provides a wonderful overview of antarctic exploration.
It's also a convenient way to pass a few hours if you have a late flight out of Christchurch.
If the cold doesn't bother you too much, try the wind chill room. Brrrrr!
Other recommended activities in Christchurch are a tram ride through the city, a punt ride on the Avon, a trip on the gondola (excellent views of the area), and a drive to the quaint, seaside "French" village of Akaroa, where you can swim with the dolphins.
Christchurch is also close to the Mt Hutt ski fields, which are very popular in the winter months.
There are also several wineries close to Christchurch and a strong cafe culture, with lots of restaurants featuring local cuisine.
Day 3 - 5th November - Christchurch to Aoraki/Mt Cook village
Today you head south through the Canterbury Plains to the stunning Aoraki/Mt Cook region (around 4 hours drive).
Around an hour before Mt Cook you will pass through Lake Tekapo village, which is where you will stay later in your trip.
A little further on from Tekapo, Lake Pukaki comes into view, and the road hugs the shores as you head to Mt Cook village. On a sunny day, the water has a brilliant blue colour, and with the Southern Alps in the background, it's a photographer's paradise.
In the distance, Mt Cook rises to around 4,000 metres and is New Zealand's highest peak.
Mt Cook village services the region and has a limited range of facilities.
Handy tip: There is no petrol station in Mt Cook village other than a self-serv pump. So we always make sure that we top up the tank at Tekapo village.
Where to stay
There's a shortage of B & Bs in the area, so we've included a selection of alternatives.
In Mt Cook village there's a range of accommodation from camp sites to the upmarket Hermitage hotel.
Around 20 kilometres before Mt Cook village, the Glentanner Park Centre caters for smaller groups and may be another option.
Day 4 - 6th November - explore Mt Cook region
Things to do
The World Heritage listed area is stunningly beautiful, and you can experience it in a number of ways including hikes, heli flights, and glacier landings.
Another point of interest is the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. Sir Edmund is arguably New Zealand's most famous person, and holds legend status in New Zealand.
In 1953, Sir Edmund and Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, were the first documented people to reach the summit of Mt Everest.
The alpine centre includes a 3D movie theatre, planetarium and museum, which documents the history of alpine exploration.
On our last visit to Mt Cook we spent several hours in the alpine centre, enthralled by the displays and the stories that they told.
Another thrilling option in Mt Cook is a scenic helicopter flight and snow landing. These are expensive, but offer memorable views as you fly over snow capped mountains, glaciers, and river valleys, before landing on a snow field.
There are numerous walks in the area, like the Hooker Valley Track. There’s five or six short walks (under 2 hours) that begin near the village, like the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View Walk. Remember to charge your phone or camera as you will need it.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) operate the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park visitor centre, which is located within the village. It has a wealth of information on things to do and see in the park, and also provides a booking service for activities within the park. You can learn more here.
In the warmer months, Glacier Explorers run a cruise on the terminal lake of the Tasman Glacier, where they take you up close to huge icebergs. It's a unique experience.
Keep an eye out for the cheeky native parrot, the Kea. These gregarious birds are really entertaining to watch, but beware, as they love to chew on cameras, backpacks, or anything else they can get their beaks onto.
Day 5 - 7th November - Mt Cook village to Wanaka
Today you head to the beautiful lakeside town of Wanaka (around two and a half hours drive).
The drive takes you through the Lindis Pass, with the towering Southern Alps as your companion.
Wanaka sits on the shores of Lake Wanaka, and is home to a couple of prominent ski fields (Cardrona and Treble Cone).
We love Wanaka as it's a little less hectic than Queenstown, but just as scenic.
Where to stay
There's a good range of accommodation in Wanaka.
However B & Bs are scarce for a group your size.
A good option might be the Moorings. They have a range of room types, including apartments, and they are a two minute walk to the pubs, restaurants and shops. Apartments are a good option because they are usually self contained with full cooking and washing facilities.
We've stayed at the Moorings three or four times over the years and can recommend them.
You can search a range of other Wanaka accommodation options here.
Days 6 & 7 - 8th & 9th November - explore Wanaka
Things to do
Wanaka is regarded as a prime trout and salmon fishing area. Take a walk onto the small jetty in front of the main street, and have a look in the lake. Everytime we've been there, we've spotted large trout swimming below.
An interesting option is Hook Lake to Plate where you can hire your gear, fish for salmon, then they will cook your catch for you. They charge a weight based fee for preparing your meal.
If you would rather just hire your gear, Southern Wild will look after you, including your fishing licence.
We can't wait to see your pictures. Good luck.
Both are great fun for all ages.
There are lots of great short walks in the area including the Waterfall Creek Track, Beacon Point Walk, and the track to see the iconic Wanaka Willow growing out of the lake (Roy's Bay 59 Wanaka Mt Aspiring Rd).
The Department of Conservation have a really good brochure detailing the regions short walks. You can see it here.
You can also hire a bike (including ebikes), hire a kayak, have a round of golf, or if you are feeling adventurous, take a scenic flight.
Wanaka has a good range of places to eat, and we always look for somewhere on the lakefront. A nice meal and a beer or wine, looking over the lake, is a great way to end the day. We've always enjoyed Speight's Ale House. Good food, a wide selection of drinks, and great views (and there's another one in Queenstown).
Day 8 - 10th November - drive to Queenstown via the Crown Range
Today you take the short drive over the mesmerising Crown Range road to Queenstown. Its about an hours drive over what is New Zealand's highest road.
Be sure to stop at the lookouts for some photos.
Along the way, stop off at the historic Cardrona Hotel for breakfast or lunch. Established in 1863, it's one of only two buildings left over from the gold rush days. If the weather is good, they have a lovely outdoor area with tables and chairs, and on our last visit, the meals were very good. Breakfast is served from 8am till 10.30am, and lunch from 11.00am.
Places to stay
There are literally hundreds of places to stay in Queenstown with everything from hostels to five star homes and apartments.But because of it's popularity, prices can be expensive.
I've had difficulty finding B & Bs that can cater for your group at that time of year, so perhaps an apartment may be better.
I'm always cautious recommending accommodation in Queenstown, because location is so important.
Queenstown is very hilly, and parking close to the town centre is scarce, and what is available is pay as you go.
So we recommend staying close to the center of town.
There are lots of apartments in the Frankton Rd and Fernhill areas, but you will need to get the car out as it's a bit of a walk to town from both.
Our favorite is Pepper's Beacon, which is lakefront, and two minutes level walk to the town center. They have a range of apartments in varying sizes, and the lake view apartments are beautiful.
You can read reviews for the Beacon and check availability here.
Another one to look at are St James apartments. Highly rated and a few hundred metres from the town centre.
For all other Queenstown accommodation click here.
Tip - we highly recommend booking your Queenstown accommodation as soon as possible. Queenstown is so popular that many options are booked out months in advance.
Days 9 (11th November) & 10 (12th November) - explore Queenstown
Things to do
Queenstown is one of the highlights of your New Zealand itinerary.
Located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, and surrounded by 2,000 metre high mountains, Queenstown is surely one of the most spectacular resort towns in the world.
In winter, the town buzzes with tourists attracted to the region's ski fields.
But it is much more than just a winter destination. Jetboat rides, rafting, hang gliding, and bungy jumping are all available in Queenstown, and although Queenstown is known as the "Adventure Capital" of New Zealand, it is also a place where you can choose to do nothing other than take in the amazing scenery.
Here's a few recommendations for things to do (from mild to wild):
* cruise on Lake Wakatipu on the historic steamship, the TSS
Earnslaw. You can also option a lunch or buffet dinner at Walter Peak Station, a great experience. There's an onboard cafe - good coffee and muffins! You can actually watch the crew stoking the engines on board, and there's also a small museum detailing the history of the TSS Earnslaw
* ride the Skyline Gondola to Bob's Peak (unbelievable views). There's a cafe, restaurant, gift shop, star gazing, and a luge ride (I'm guessing that your teenagers will love the luge). We booked a window seat dinner at Stratosfare restaurant and had a wonderful buffet dinner as we watched night fall on Queenstown, hundreds of metres below us
* visit the historic village of Arrowtown (around 20 minutes drive). They have a great museum, a small but eclectic group of shops, and some beautiful walks. You can even try your hand at gold panning
* explore the Queenstown markets and pick up some trinkets. Some of the local artwork is beautiful and there were three or four artists with stalls on our last visit in November.
* visit the Queenstown underwater observatory and feed the fish and eels. Some of them are huge and it's fun to watch as they compete with the diving ducks for food. A great low-cost activity
* have a game of disc golf in the Queenstown Gardens
* visit Alpine Aqualand. There's a variety of pools and slides
* have a drink at the Minus 5 Ice-Bar. Suitable for all ages, it's a unique experience. Lots of ice sculptures and drinks in sub-zero conditions (don't worry, they supply jackets, boots and gloves)
* hire a segway or a bike and explore the town
* visit one of the many local wineries
* fish for salmon, rainbow and brown trout in the lake and local streams. There are several charter companies in town like Queenstown Fishing . You can also hire your equipment and your boat from Water Sport World
* have a game of golf at one of the five courses within 30 minutes drive (Millbrook, Jack's Point, Arrowtown, Kelvin Heights, The Hills)
* follow the lake to the village of Glenorchy (about 45 minutes drive). Stunning scenery.
* see the some famous film locations on a Lord of the Rings tour
* bungy! Queenstown is the bungy capital, and has several options. We've jumped from the original site at the old Kawarau Bridge. Not for everyone, but what a thrill. If you don't want to jump, you can go out to the observation deck and watch other "brave" souls. It's a good laugh. There's also a zipline ride
* head out to Cromwell (about 45 minutes drive) to the Highlands Motorsport Park. You can drive go carts, V8 race cars, take a lap in a supercar with a pro driver, and lots more
* go whitewater rafting
* explore the region's world class trails on a mountain biking adventure
* your teenagers might like the virtual reality experience
* head underwater on Hydro Attack
Here's some more information on things to see and do in Queenstown.
Places to eat in Queenstown
There's over 100 pubs, bars and restaurants in Queenstown, and there is something to satisfy all tastes.
A few of our favourites are Pog Mahone's Irish Pub (the Irish Stew is amazing), the Pub on Wharf (nothing over NZD$20), Winnie's Pizza, Stratosfare, & Walter Peak Station buffet (via the TSS Earnslaw).
For something upmarket, the Botswana Butchery is apparently very good, although we haven't been there.
The kids will probably want to try the legendary Fergburger. But be prepared to wait in line for a while.
Day 11 - 13th November - drive to Te Anau
Today you head to the lovely lakeside town of Te Anau (around 2 hours drive).
The first part of your drive hugs the shores of Lake Wakatipu for around 30 kilometres, before heading inland through rolling pastures.
Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland National Park, a World Heritage area, and home to two of New Zealand's best known attractions, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound.
Te Anau has a permanent population of around 3,000 and has a good range of services and accommodation.
Where to stay
There's several B & Bs in Te Anau. We don't have any personal experience with any of them, but they all appear to be highly rated. At the time of writing, only Shakespear House and Te Anau Lodge had availability for six guests.
We've stayed at the Lakeside Motel and Apartments and they were very good. Their 2 bedroom apartments might be a good solution for you.
There's a good selection of lodges, hostels and motels available at the moment but as we head into spring, these will quickly book out as the region becomes busier.
You can view a full range of accommodation in the area here.
Day 12 - 14th November - explore Fiordland with a tour to Milford or Doubtful Sounds
Things to do
The choice here is to visit either Milford, or Doubtful Sound.
Both have their own unique character.
Milford is perhaps more spectacular, particularly after rain, with dozens of thundering waterfalls and snow capped peaks that disappear into the clouds. Milford Sound is around 1.5 hours drive each way from Te Anau, and the drive there is part of the adventure. We went in November 2022 and the scenery was stunning, particularly as we approached the Homer Tunnel. On exiting the tunnel it's like a scene from Jurassic Park and is really pretty special. You can drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau yourself, or use one of the tour companies that offer a pick up/drop off service from Te Anau. We used Great Sights for our tour and it was fantastic. The only downside was that they don't have access to the Underwater Observatory. You need to book a tour with Southern Discoveries for a cruise and access to the observatory. In our opinion, if this is the only time you will visit Milford Sound, choose the Southern Discoveries tour. Depending on the tour you choose, you may also stop at some scenic spots on the way to Milford Sound, like the Mirror Lakes.
Tip - if you drive yourself, free parking is available at Deep Basin, but it's about 20-30 minutes walk from the tour boats. Paid parking close to the departure point is around $25 for five hours.
To get an idea of available tours, click here.
Access to Doubtful Sound is from the village of Manapouri, around 20 kilometres away.
At Manapori you board a boat which takes you across the lake. There you board a tour bus which transports you across Willmot Pass to your tour boat at Deep Cove on Doubtful Sound.
It's a bit of an adventure to get there, but it's well worth it.
Doubtful Sound is a mystical, serene experience.
Deep dark waters, towering peaks, and the chance to see a variety of wildlife like dolphins, seals, and penguins.
For many, Doubtful Sound is a better experience than Milford. We are undecided and love both.
Perhaps have a read of some reviews before you make your decision.
You can see one of the more popular tours here.
If time permits, visit the glowworm caves at Te Anau. The tours are run by Realnz and take you across Lake Te Anau before disembarking and entering the caves. Once inside you board a small boat to enter the glowworm caves where hundreds of glowworms shine in the dark. A very popular tour. At the time of writing it was around NZD$99 for adults and around NZD$40 for teenagers up to 15.
There's lots of walks in the area including three of New Zealand's Great Walks, the Milford Track, Kepler Track and the Routeburn Track. There's also lots of shorter walks and the DOC Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre in Te Anau has a wealth of information available.
Other things to do include scenic flights, jetboating, winery tours, fishing expeditions, kayaking, horse treks and lots more.
* Fiordland is perhaps the busiest tourist area in New Zealand. For this reason tours often book out months in advance, particularly as the weather warms up.
We highly recommend booking your chosen tours as soon as you have your itinerary settled.
* Unless you are very lucky, it will rain at some point during your visit to Fiordland. But don't be discouraged. The Sounds are at their best when the waterfalls are running. Just be sure to pack some wet weather gear like a spray jacket and beanie, and some insect spray in case the sand flies are around. It all adds to the experience.
Day 13 - 15th November - drive to Tekapo village
This is your longest drive at around 5 hours.
Where to stay
Tekapo village has a good range of accommodation, with everything from hostels to resorts and apartments.
For your dates, there are no suitable B & Bs available.
I was wondering if a holiday house might suit you? Garden Cottage is within walking distance to the village centre, has good reviews, and the price is reasonable compared to other similar properties.
For something a little more modern, Pepper's Bluewater Resort might be worth a look.
If it's available, this guest house could suit. It's a reasonable price and has had good reviews.
Here's a link to the Booking .com Tekapo page.
Day 14 - 16th November - explore Tekapo
Things to do
Lake Tekapo is a small resort village located on the shores of one of the most amazing lakes you will ever see. Sediment from nearby glaciers is washed into Lake Tekapo, giving it an unbelievable turquoise color.
The snow capped Southern Alps and Mt Cook seem to hover over the lake.
The Church of the Good Shepherd, perhaps one of the most photographed attractions in New Zealand, sits proudly lakeside.
From November to January the lakeside comes alive as the lupins bloom, so hopefully they will be out during your visit.
Whilst in Tekapo, take a relaxing dip at the Tekapo Springs hot pool complex. In the winter months the complex houses an ice rink and a snow tubing area. This could be the perfect way to wind down after your drive from Te Anau.
At night, go stargazing at the Mt John Observatory. Tekapo's clear night skies provide perfect conditions for viewing distant galaxies. The region has official "Dark Sky Reserve" status and is the world's largest Dark Sky Reserve.
At nearby Twizel, High Country Salmon offer a "Catch A Fish Experience" where you can fish for one of their glacial salmon. Ranging from 2 to 4kg, they charge you NZD$32 per kilogram of salmon caught. They supply the gear. They also have an on-site cafe and shop where you can purchase fresh salmon.
Day 15 - 17th November - drive from Tekapo to Christchurch
Today you head back to Christchurch (around three hours drive), and check in to your chosen accommodation (see Day 1 for suggestions).
Perhaps use the afternoon to catch up on something you may have missed when you arrive?
If you decide to stay near the airport, at somewhere like the Novotel or the Sudima, you could drop your car off this afternoon. That might save you some time before your flight tomorrow.
Unfortunately all good things must end, or so they say.
We hope that we can welcome you back to see more of New Zealand in the future.
Dave & New Zealand Travel Showcase
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