With two weeks on the South Island of New Zealand, a well-organized itinerary can take you to scenic fjords, epic glaciers, dramatic mountains, and all the bungee jumping you can stomach. Since it’s a relatively small island, you can easily travel throughout and visit all the major points of interest in about two weeks. Part of the magic of New Zealand is that you can be on a beach one day and on a glacier the next!
Here’s what you’ll find in this thorough guide to planning a two-week itinerary in the South Island of New Zealand.
About My Two Week New Zealand South Island Itinerary
This two-week itinerary through the South Island of New Zealand works perfectly if you follow it on its own. But you can also tag it onto a journey through the North Island (for an ultimate and comprehensive New Zealand adventure).
If you’re traveling over both the North and South Islands, you can easily tag this onto my North Island itinerary. Just follow this itinerary as written below! If you’re flying directly into Christchurch and only traveling in the South Island, I recommend driving to the first destination in this itinerary (Abel Tasman National Park) from Christchurch, stopping at Kaikoura for a night or two along the way for whale watching.
This itinerary is based around using the Stray hop-on/hop-off bus pass, but you can definitely self-drive the same route. Note that this post isn’t sponsored by Stray, but I am a happy customer!
How the Stray hop-on/hop-off bus pass works
You buy the pass online for the route and coverage you want for your trip. There are many passes available, but we opted for the Maximus pass which covers both the North and South Islands comprehensively.
Since it’s a hop-on/hop-off pass, you can choose to follow the standard route and stay the minimum number of nights in each place, or you can spend more time. You can even skip some places entirely by connecting to the next bus via public buses (but why would you want to do that?).
The bus pass includes all your transportation, your driver/guide, and stops along the way for scenic viewpoints and small hikes. You also have at least one night guaranteed dorm accommodation at each stop (own expense), but you can definitely book your own too. The drivers can also book your activities for you at a discounted rate.
Day-by-Day Two Week New Zealand South Island Itinerary
Below are my personally tested itinerary and recommendations for things to do in two weeks on the South Island of New Zealand.
If you have more time, I highly recommend expanding your trip to spend more time specifically in Wanaka, Mount Cook, and Fiordland National Park. If you have at least two more weeks, I advise adding my two week North Island New Zealand itinerary to your plans as well!
Nights 1-2: Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park is a great place to spend a few days. Depending on how long you choose to stay near the national park, you can explore the landscape in a number of ways. I recommend at least 2 nights so that you have a full day to enjoy the park. The two main towns are Anchorage and Marahau. Either one is a great option for staying near the national park.
Things to do in Abel Tasman National Park
- Wine tasting through Marlborough – If you’ve arrived in the South Island via the ferry from Wellington to Picton, the drive to Abel Tasman National Park will take you through the picturesque Marlborough wine region. Stop for a tasting at one of the vineyards before continuing on to Marahau or Anchorage.
- Sea kayaking – If the weather is favorable, a kayaking trip to explore islands and beaches around Abel Tasman is many people’s favorite way to see the national park. Half-day kayak trips start at $180 NZD, but discounts are available for Stray passengers.
- Sailing – If you want to explore beaches and islands, but kayaking isn’t your thing, you can also hire a sailboat through Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures. Sailing trips start at $98 NZD per person but expect to pay $150 for full-day options.
- Hike the Abel Tasman Coast Track – For the more budget-minded, you can hike part of the Abel Tasman Coast Track between Anchorage and Marahau by walking to the other and back again (approximately 6 hours, and 24 km). I recommend cutting the trip in half and taking a water taxi ($37 NZD on the Abel Tasman AquaTaxi) for the first leg and walking back to the town you’re staying in (cutting it down to about 12km and 3 hours walking). If you take the water taxi, you’ll also get to see Split Apple Rock, the second-most photographed rock in the southern hemisphere (Ayers Rock/Uluru is the first) as well as a colony of New Zealand fur seals.
Night 3: Westport
Westport doesn’t offer a ton on its own, but it’s good to break up the drive from Abel Tasman to Franz Josef Glacier further south.
Things to do in Westport
- Cape Foulwind – This is a fantastic stop to break up the drive between Abel Tasma and Westport. Take the half hour walk along the coastal cliffs. Don’t forget to look down! You might get lucky enough to observe a New Zealand fur seal colony.
- West Coast Brewery – Even if you’ve done brewery tours in the past, this one is worth it! The tour is fun and engaging. It includes tastings of their most popular beers and a hotdog and chips at the end ($30 NZD).
Nights 4-5: Franz Josef Glacier
From Westport continue the trip south to what will surely be a highlight of your New Zealand South Island itinerary. Franz Josef Glacier is a major bucket list item for many travelers, and there are seemingly endless ways to enjoy both the glacial views and the town below it. But we’re not there yet!
Things to do between Westport and Franz Josef
- Pancake Rocks in Paparoa National Park – Take a short walk to see this odd wonder of geology. The rocks look like what they are called. (Have you noticed yet how literal the names of places are in New Zealand!?).
- Pancake Rocks Cafe – Grab a stack of pancakes at the café across the street. Tip – ask for the backpacker’s pancakes to get a stack of 3 for $10 NZD.
Things to do in Franz Josef
- Heli-hike Franz Josef Glacier – This is the ultimate glacier tour. You will get to ride in a helicopter onto the glacier itself. Once there, you will hike on the ice for about three hours wearing crampons. Then, a helicopter will bring you back to town. It is truly epic, and worth the $450 NZD price tag.
- Skydive – Another big-ticket activity, you have a few skydiving options in Franz Josef. You can jump over Franz Josef Glacier, or Fox Glacier, which some people say is even more beautiful. Jumps start from $450 NZD.
- Hike to the Tatare Tunnels – Visiting the Tatare Tunnels is a great free activity in the Franz Josef area. The Tatare Tunnels hike (3 hours return) brings you to a manmade tunnel that is now home to glowworms. If you won’t have the opportunity to see them in greater abundance in Waitomo on the North Island, this is a decent alternative. It’s not nearly as magical, but you will at least have a chance to see a few. Note that the tunnel is often wet inside, so waterproof hiking shoes are recommended. Even then, your feet may get wet!
- Callery Gorge hike – The Callery Gorge trail (2 hours return) starts at the same trailhead as the Tatare Tunnels hike. The path meanders through a lush green rainforest that has an almost whimsical, fairy tale quality to it. Eventually, you arrive at a small but beautiful waterfall and a picturesque hanging bridge over a glacial stream. You can easily complete both the Tatare Tunnels and Callery Gorge hikes together in less than 5 hours.
- Glacier Valley Walk – This is the most popular short hike for glacier views in Franz Josef. This trail starts 3.5km outside of town, but you can take a shuttle for about $16 NZD round trip. The walk through the valley takes about an hour and a half return. The trail is easy and relatively flat. You’ll pass by waterfalls on the steep cliffs before arriving at the closest permissible view you can see of the glacier face.
- Alex Knob trail – For the more energetic, the Alex Knob trail (8 hours return) will take you up to a viewpoint above the glacier, where you can look down on it from an excellent viewing platform.
- Other hikes – Many more hikes are also available. Just look for the Franz Josef Glacier paper map at any of the hotels or stores in town for more details.
Note: You should spend at least 2 nights in Franz Josef, but I recommend more if you have time in your itinerary. This is especially important if you plan to skydive, take a helicopter tour, or do the heli-hike on the glacier. The weather here is very fickle. You’ll have a better chance of doing your desired activities if you give yourself wiggle room for weather-related cancellations.
Nights 6-7: Wanaka
Wanaka is a trekker’s paradise. If you have more than 2 nights to spare, I highly recommend spending more time. Unfortunately, we only spent one night here. I wish we had spent more and taken advantage of the hikes in the area!
Things to do Between Franz Josef and Wanaka
- Fox Glacier – You will be able to see views of Fox Glacier from the highway. Stop for a few photos!
- Lake Matheson – This lake is known for its mirror-perfect reflections. Spend about an hour here walking along the boardwalks.
- Mount Aspiring National Park – There are many scenic stopping points along the way. Take a photo break whenever you want and enjoy the views. I promise you will be inspired by the mountainous landscape and stunningly turquoise lakes.
Things to do in Wanaka
- That Wanaka Tree – Famous because of Instagram, #thatwanakatree is a must-see for many people.
- Roy’s Peak Hike – We have heard this full-day hike is challenging but rewarding. I wish we had stayed long enough to do it. If you hike Roy’s Peak, please fuel my FOMO and write to me to let me know how it was!
- Mount Iron – This short but steep hike offers great panoramic views of the surrounding lakes and mountains. This is a fantastic option if you don’t have the time or desire to hike Roy’s Peak.
Night 8: Queenstown
If you are traveling on the Stray bus, you will end up in Queenstown twice – once for one night and a second time with the option to stay several nights. On the way to Queenstown from Wanaka, the bus will stop at AJ Hatchett’s original bungee jump off the Kawarau Bridge. This is the world’s first commercial bungee site.
If you are self-driving, you can choose to head straight to Fiordland National Park on one long day, or take an overnight in Queenstown.
Night 9: Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound
From Queenstown, head further south into Fiordland National Park, one of New Zealand’s most stunning regions.
Things to do in Fiordland National Park
- Milford Sound cruise – This is the most popular way to enjoy Fiordland National Park. The cruise (Real Journeys, $91 NZD) lasts about 2 hours. It takes you through the large fjord, where you can look for dolphins and admire the dramatic cliffs and waterfalls. The fjord can be enjoyed in any weather. On rainy days, you’ll see more waterfalls, and on sunny days, you’ll see a blue and green paradise.
- Overnight at historic Gunn’s Camp – With Stray, you can overnight in Fiordland National Park at historic Gunn’s Camp. This was the camp for the men who originally built the roads and infrastructure in this area. With no internet or cell reception, and generator electricity that cuts off at 10 pm, a stay here is like going back in time. You can also book a stay here without being on the Stray bus.
- Overnight cruise of Doubtful Sound – Doubtful Sound is smaller but more remote than Milford Sound. Overnight cruises start around $250 NZD. It’s hard to get to but popular with those who enjoy getting off the beaten path and have time to see more of the national park.
- Scenic flights – This is a popular option for those who want to visit as a day trip from Queenstown and get a view from above of the fiords. Flights start at about $400 NZD.
Night 10: Stewart Island
From Fiordland, the Stray bus then travels down to the very southernmost point of New Zealand’s South Island, the town of Bluff. Once in Bluff, travelers have the option of taking an exhilarating ferry ride ($79 NZD each way) to Stewart Island, New Zealand’s third largest island. Alternatively, you can opt to stay in Invercargill with the Stray bus. My recommendation if you are self-driving, though, is that if you aren’t planning to visit Stewart Island, you may want to skip this region and head back to Queenstown. Not sure if Stewart Island is worth the visit (it is)? Check out my guide on what to expect on this lesser-known island!
Things to do Between Fiordland and Steward Island
- Southland Museum – Stop at this small museum in Invercargill to see the endangered and fascinating tuatara. The animal is a cross between a lizard and a dinosaur (this species lived alongside them!) and has a third eye. They are well worth a visit!
Things to do in Stewart Island
- Look for nocturnal birds – In the evening, walk down to the ferry port where you arrived to try to spot blue penguins. Additionally, the rugby field is known as a reliable place to find kiwis late at night. For both, bring a red-light torch with you, as the white light hurts their eyes and frightens them.
- Visit Ulva Island – A true bird paradise, Ulva Island is where you have the best chance of spotting a kiwi during the day in the wild. To visit Ulva Island, you will take either a water taxi (starting at $30 NZD; flexible times) or ferry ($20 NZD return; set times). Note that this ferry departs from Golden Bay Wharf, not Halfmoon Bay where you arrived! It’s a quick 15-minute ride. When you arrive, put a $2 NZD coin in the honor box and grab a self-guided pamphlet. It has walking tours and pictures of the birds you will see, so you can identify and learn about wildlife. If you’re lucky (and quiet), you might even spot a day walking kiwi!
One night is sufficient to explore Stewart Island and Ulva Island, but if you have more time and want to space out your travel days, it’s a relaxing place to spend an extra night!
Nights 11-13: Queenstown
From Stewart Island, you can take an afternoon ferry back to Bluff and from there head to Queenstown for a few nights. Known as the adventure capital of the world, any activity you can imagine, from the silly to the extreme, is on offer here. Adrenaline aside, Queenstown is also strikingly beautiful, set on a stunning lake surrounded by the aptly-named Remarkables mountain range.
Things to do in Queenstown
- Adrenaline activities – The most popular activities here are ZORBing (where you get into a clear inflatable ball and roll down a hill), bungee jumping, and skydiving.
- Skyline Gondola – This is an easy way to get amazing views over Queenstown. Plus, the ski-lift style ride up is a lot of fun in and of itself! At the top, you can drink, dine, bungee, and luge!
- Luging – This is a lot of silly fun. You basically sit on an elaborate sled with a wheel and cruise on down the mountain via a twisty paved course. The price for both the gondola ride and 6 luges is $63 NZD.
- Ben Lomand hike – This 8 hours return hike gets you to the highest views you can see over Queenstown. It’s a challenging hike, but those who’ve done it say amazing things. As for us, we luged instead (insert shrug emoji).
Night 14: Mount Cook
Mount Cook is a relatively short drive from Queenstown, and so you should arrive with plenty of time to do a quick hike on the same day. The lovely Mount Cook Lodge and Motel is a relaxing and beautiful place to stay the night, with easy access to nearby trails.
Things to do in Mount Cook
- Hooker Valley hike – This is the most popular hike in the area. It’s fairly easy and short, at just 2-3 hours return. On a clear day, you’ll have stunning views of Mount Cook during most of the hike, and you’ll arrive at a picturesque lake filled with icebergs before turning back around the way you came.
Nights 15-16: Christchurch
From Mount Cook, you’ll leave nature behind and head to interesting and quirky Christchurch.
Christchurch used to be the second largest in the country, but in 2011 a devastating earthquake hit the city. It was utterly ruined, and the rebuilding process is still going on today. From the makeshift cathedral held up with cardboard pipes, to the buildings still with shattered windows, to the empty streets void of the typical city pedestrian life, signs of the earthquake are everywhere.
A very walkable city, you can easily see all of the main sites on foot.
Things to do in Christchurch
- Christchurch Cathedral ruins – You can still see the ruins from the earthquake of the Christchurch Cathedral.
- Cardboard Cathedral – Supported by cardboard tubes, this unique cathedral is a temporary church while the original undergoes repairs.
- Christchurch Botanical Gardens – On a nice day, the botanical gardens are lovely to explore. You can easily spend over an hour exploring.
- Canterbury Museum – Next door to the botanical gardens, this museum is also free. Fun and quirky, it was probably my favorite thing we did in Christchurch. The museum covers a mash-up of everything New Zealand. From Antarctic explorations, geology, and culture, it goes into it all. There are kitschy halls dedicated to 19th-century daily life and an entire pseudo-house to pay homage to Fred and Myrtle, a couple who ran a seashell museum out of their house in the middle of the 20th century.
Tips for Following this Two Week New Zealand South Island Itinerary
- Don’t forget to check out my two week NORTH Island itinerary. It tags seamlessly to the front of this itinerary!
- Considering helihiking Franz Josef Glacier? Check out my guide on whether the helihike on Franz Josef Glacier is really worth it.
- New Zealand is an expensive country to travel in. Expect to pay higher than you might be used to do for less-than-nice hostel accommodations.
- The infrastructure in New Zealand is generally top-notch in populated areas. If you are self-driving to more rural areas, however, plan your route in advance. You don’t want to be lost without cell phone service or internet reception.
- To fuel up on your drives (or rides if on Stray!), I highly recommend meat pies and an L&P soda from petrol stations along the way! Food doesn’t get more New Zealand than this, especially when enjoyed during an epic road trip!
- If you are self-driving, use a campground app like Travellers Autobarn (on iOS and Android) to find dump stations, wifi, campgrounds, etc.
I’d love to hear what you think of this two week New Zealand South Island itinerary. Drop me a comment below or feel free to contact me.