This 7 day South Island itinerary takes you to these prime hotspots.
Mt Cook, which lies in New Zealand's Southern Alps, is New Zealand's highest peak at 3,754 metres.
The World Heritage listed Mt Cook National Park contains over 140 peaks that reach more than 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) in height. 27 of these reach over 3,000 metres. The region also contains 72 named glaciers, including Tasman Glacier and Hooker Glacier.
It's one of our all time favorite South Island locations.
Queenstown, which lies on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, is often referred
to as New Zealand's "Adventure Capital", and for good reason. Here you
can bungy, white water raft, jetboat, para sail, hang glide, and much
more. There seems to be a never ending supply of Queenstown activities.
But Queenstown is not just a place of white knuckle action. The area is visually stunning, and is surrounded by the Remarkables mountain range, which towers to over 2,000 metres in places.
If you want a relaxing break, then Queenstown can accommodate you with a wide range of easy paced activities.
Queenstown has, more than any other New Zealand location, something to suit everyone, and will be one of the most remembered places on your New Zealand itinerary.
Milford Sound is New Zealand's number one attraction and draws visitors from around the world. Milford's sheer cliffs, plunging waterfalls and deep dark waters offer some of the most beautiful scenery on earth, and the journey there from Queenstown is one of the finest drives in the world.
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 in Christchurch, the Garden City
Day 2 - Christchurch to Aoraki Mt Cook
Day 3 - Mt Cook to Queenstown
Days 4 and 5 - Explore Queenstown / Milford Sound
Day 6 - Queenstown to Christchurch
Day 7 - Christchurch to home
Day 1 Christchurch
Today you arrive in Christchurch the Garden City.
Don't forget to book your rental car or camper van
We can handle all of your rental car needs. With access to all of the main brands and market leading rates, we can supply the ideal vehicle for your New Zealand adventure.
To search our huge range and to check availability just click here.
Where to stay in Christchurch
If possible, we recommend accommodation close to the airport, particularly if your flight is arriving at night.
The closest motel to the airport is the popular Sudima, which is only a 5 minute walk from the terminal.
One of our regulars is the Airport Gateway Motor Lodge, which is around 15 minutes drive from the airport, and is clean, spacious, and has a great restaurant for breakfast.
Pavilions, situated on Papanui Road, is nice and close to restaurants and pubs, and is only a 15 minute walk to the city center.
But if you are looking to spoil yourself, give the historic Heritage a try. It's located in the city center, and we love the massive doors, thick walls and high ceilings.
A few suggestions if you have time in Christchurch
Christchurch is the South Island's largest city, with a population of 370,000, and is the gateway to the Southern Alps.
Although your time here is limited, a visit to the International Antarctic Center (located at the entrance to the International airport) or to the seaside french influenced village of Akaroa (around an hours drive from Christchurch) are well worth it if time allows.
Akaroa is a beautiful spot and is one of the few places in New Zealand where you can swim with the dolphins. If you have the chance, this is a truly amazing thrill.
You can view a range of Christchurch activities HERE.
Day 2 Majestic Mt Cook
Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you South West to Mt Cook (around 4 hours drive).
Heading out of Christchurch on State Highway (SH) 8, you cross the
patchwork of the Canterbury Plains, and the huge moveable irrigation
devices that dot the paddocks. Looking across the plains, the Southern
Alps loom in the background, and if you come from a country where there
is no snow, it's jaw droppingly beautiful.
South of Christchurch after passing through the town of Ashburton you turn inland onto SH79 and through the pretty little town of Geraldine, and on to Fairlie, where you switch to SH8.
The country side around here is typical New Zealand - rolling hills and lush green paddocks.
Around a half hour drive from Fairlie, the landscape seems to change dramatically. From green pastures, the paddocks take on a more alpine appearance - browner and lots of tussock grasses.
And then, as you crest a hill, Lake Tekapo appears.
The first time I saw it I could not believe that the color was real.
Particularly on a sunny day, the turquoise hue is almost indescribable. And around November, the multi colored Lupins come out in bloom, creating a picture postcard wonderland.
Lake Tekapo is a good place to take a break, fill up the fuel tank, and get some pictures of the lake, and of one of NZ's most photographed attractions, the Church of the Good Shepherd.
And if time permits, drop into the Tekapo Springs hot pool complex for a relaxing soak. They have three landscaped pools ranging from 36-40 degrees Celsius, and are open daily from 10am to 9pm.
Back on the road, you continue South, and after about a half hour, another equally gorgeous lake appears on your right. This time it's Lake Pukaki. There is a large carpark where you can stop to take pictures.
A little further down SH8 you turn right onto SH80 for the 45 minute drive into Mt Cook village. For most of the drive in, Lake Pukaki hugs the road and this has to one of the most scenic drives in the world.
Where to stay in Mt Cook Village
There are several accommodation options in Mt Cook village, including a YHA, a lodge and two motels.
However in busy times, bookings can be tricky, so we always book in advance.
The Hermitage hotel complex is large with a good range of room options.We stayed in the tower and the views were unbelievable.
You can search for Mt Cook accommodation here.
Enjoy your time here - there's lots to do
There is so much to do in and around the village.
There are lots of walks (be sure to check weather conditions before setting out), heli flights, heli skiing, fly fishing, horse treks, and just sitting back and relaxing, taking in the views.
Heli flights are
expensive, but the views that they provide of Mt Cook and nearby
glaciers are simply stunning. And if you can do one that includes a snow
landing, even better.
The Mount Cook Mountains High Helicopter Flight is a good example of what's available.
The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center, located within the Hermitage complex, houses a 3D movie theater, a planetarium, and a museum detailing the region's history. On our last visit we spent a couple of hours there before relaxing in the bar at the Hermitage, watching the ever changing face of Mt Cook through the huge picture windows.
If you visit between early September and late May, Glacier Explorers run boat tours on the glacial lake at the base of the Tasman Glacier.
This is one of those tours that you will never forget.
Visit the Visitor Center
The Aoraki Mt Cook National Park Visitor Center, situated in the heart of the village, is a great source of information.
They have stacks of information about the regions walks and activities and they also have a retail shop where you can buy a memento of your trip.
You can also book a range of activities through the center.
To finish your day, we can recommend the buffet in the Alpine Restaurant at the Hermitage. On our last visit we were able to choose from a huge range of hot and cold food, including New Zealand produce such as salmon, mussels, lamb and beef. We were glad that we chose a window seat and got there early enough to watch the day fading over Mt Cook. Spectacular stuff.
Enjoy your time in Mt Cook.
Days 3, 4 & 5 Queenstown, Adventure Capital
Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you to Queenstown (3.5 hours drive).
Accommodation in Queenstown - Handy Tip
Your accommodation options in Queenstown are endless. There is a huge variety to suit all budgets, from hostel, to hotels, motels, apartments, and luxury lodges. If budget allows, a lake view room is recommended.
But be aware that Queenstown is very hilly, and parking in the township is often hard to find, and is mostly pay to use.
Because of this we recommend accommodation close to the town center so you can leave the car and walk to the shops, pubs and restaurants.
We usually stay at Pepper's Beacon (be sure to book a lake view room). It's a three minute level walk to town, and the apartments are spacious and the views are to die for. We also love having our own kitchen and laundry.
We've also stayed at Garden Court and it's also close to the town center (although there is a hill to walk up when coming back from town).
If you are looking for a backpacker lodge, Haka Lodge is very highly rated.
Time To Explore
Today you are free to explore Queenstown, New Zealand's most popular destination.
Queenstown is one of those rare places where you can be as "mild" or as "wild" as you choose.
Adrenalin junkies love Queenstown, and with things like jet boat rides, white water rafting, bungy jumping, para sailing, moutain biking and some of the best skiing in the Southern Hemisphere, it's no wonder that it attracts people from around the world, keen to sample this awesome spot.
But Queenstown also caters to those who seek a more sedate, relaxed holiday. Perhaps a winery tour or a cruise on Lake Wakatipu? How about a trip to Bob's Peak on the Skyline Gondola for a meal and some of the best views in New Zealand? Scenic drives to Glenorchy, Kingston and Arrowtown, hikes, and scenic helicopter flights and Lord of the Rings tours are all guaranteed to waft you off into a more tranquil state.
And for the golfers, Queenstown is home to several first class courses including Jacks Point, The Hills, Millbrook, and Kelvin Heights.
Search our huge range of Queenstown activities
With so much to see and do it's always difficult to decide what to do and what to leave till next visit.
Fortunately you can search through our available tours, read customer reviews, and make your bookings right here.
Magical Milford Sound - put a full day aside for this one!
But there is one thing that you must do whilst in the region, and which should be part of any New Zealand itinerary, and that's a trip to Milford Sound.
Milford Sound is a World Heritage area, and has been famously described as the "Eighth Wonder of the World". It is New Zealand's number one tourist destination, and with good reason.
Handy Tip - Getting There
The trip into Milford is one of the highlights, as you pass rugged rivers, waterfalls, snow capped peaks, and travel through the Homer Tunnel.
But the trip to Milford takes around 4 hours each way from Queenstown, which makes for a very long day if you decide to drive yourself.
In our opinion it is much better to take an organized bus tour and cruise , and let somebody else worry about the driving.
And it also gives you the chance to sit back, relax, listen to the commentary, and take in the scenery.
Milford Sound - The Experience
Nothing quite prepares you for Milford Sound.
Towering peaks rise almost vertically to over 2,000 meters from the cold dark waters. Waterfalls cascade elegantly from the peaks, and snow covers the higher peaks for most of the year.
We found ourselves constantly craning our necks, watching the cliffs disappearing into the clouds!
Of course Milford Sound is home to a wide range of marine wildlife including dolphins, seals, orca, and penguins. On our last trip, our boat captain took us out to the mouth of the sound where we watched dolphins playing. We also spotted a couple of penguins!
We then re-entered the sound and approached one of the large waterfalls, only for the captain to gently place the bow of the boat under the waterfall!
Our trips there have always been memorable (for all the right reasons) and that's why we recommend it so highly.
Milford Sound will be one of the highlights of your trip, and we believe, will be remembered as the favorite of all your Queenstown activities.
Search for your ideal Milford Sound tour here
There are numerous tours from Queenstown to Milford Sound, including coach, plane, and helicopter tours.
We strongly recommend that you read customer reviews before booking your tour. Look for tours with multiple highly rated reviews.
Here is a direct link to our Milford Sound tours page - click here.
Day 6 Christchurch
Today you drive back to Christchurch (about 6 hours drive).
To break the trip, stop at the beautiful lake side village of Lake Tekapo, which is around half way between Queenstown and Christchurch.
On a sunny day, the turquoise lake is absolutely amazing, and the colour is almost impossible to describe.
The Southern Alps in the background provide you with some of the best photo opportunities in New Zealand.
And while you are there, visit the Church of the Good Shepherd, surely one of the most photographed spots in New Zealand.
Lake Tekapo has a small range of cafes, restaurants and gift shops and is a good place to top up the fuel tank and take a break.
Day 7 Home
Unfortunately all goods things must end. Today you fly home.
We hope that you have enjoyed this 7 day New Zealand itinerary, and that you return one day to see more of New Zealand.
To find out more about the Queenstown and Fiordland regions shown in your New Zealand itinerary click here.