Creating a 7 day itinerary in the South Island, New Zealand is no easy task, and that's because this gorgeous place has so much to offer, it's often difficult to pick just a few highlights. A 7 day itinerary in the South Island is perfect if you are interested in exploring a land full of natural beauty. It will feel remote, peaceful and absolutely splendid. It will give you the chance to walk on the most picturesque trail, encounter the most exciting wildlife and learn about the unique Maori culture.
This is a self-driving 7 day itinerary on the South Island.
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7 day itinerary South Island New Zealand
This is our 7 day itinerary in the South Island which is wild and full of natural spectacles. As many already know, Milford Sound is perhaps New Zealand's most incredible attraction. With its tall fjords, lush rainforests and an array of wildlife, Milford Sound is a must on any South Island itinerary. Its remote locations make it difficult for tourists to get to it, which is precisely why Milford Sound manages to preserve its beauty and serenity. In our Southern version of the 7 day itinerary, we will cross the South Island to its Western side, explore glow in the dark worlds, marvel at turquoise gorges and admire the most tranquil places on Earth. The itinerary will start and finish in Christchurch, but not before enjoying a night stargazing in the most incredible dark sky reserve in the world.
Day 1 - Christchurch to Hokitika
Drive Time: 3 hours and 20 minutes
Distance: 238 km
Practical Information: Fuel in Christchurch before you start your journey.
Start the day as early as possible and get ready for a drive of a lifetime. Fuel up the car, grab your luggage and take the SH73 towards Hokitika. The journey will take you through amazing landscapes which will soon transform from flatlands into incredible peaks. On your way, you will go through Arthur's Pass National Park. Arthur Pass is a small township located in New Zealand Alps. You can stop at the Punchbowl Road, just after the township and take a 15-minute walk to the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall.
Where to sleep in Hokitika
Bella Vista Hokitika
We stayed in Bella Vista Hokitika and we absolutely loved it. It was walking distance from the centre and the showers must have been the most incredible ever. The water pressure was amazing and the beds were very comfortable. There were plenty of parking spots, laundry facilities and the overall property was very clean. Very friendly staff too which is always a nice bonus.
Where to eat in Hokitika
Fat Pipi Pizza
I know, I know, it sounds like an unfortunate name, but I promise, the pizza is actually really good.
Address: 89 Revell St, Hokitika 7810, New Zealand
We recommend Aurora if you wish to have a sit-down breakfast and great coffee.
Address: 19 Tancred St, Hokitika 7810, New Zealand
If you just wish to have coffee on the go, we strongly recommend the coffee from Stella. We had our take away coffee in the morning and loved the texture of the cappuccino.
Address: 84 Revell St, Hokitika 7810, New Zealand
New World Supermarket
There is a New World Supermarket right in Hokitika. This is a great option for those interested in a 7 day itinerary in the South Island on a budget. You can grab ingredients for a picnic, then you can head to the waterfront where there are benches. Admire the waves and eat alfresco.
Address: 116 Revell St, Hokitika 7810, New Zealand
What to do in Hokitika
I recommend visiting the Hokitika Gorge sometimes in the afternoon. We visited the Gorge during March after 5:30 pm. The path to the gorge was empty which meant we could enjoy this objective for ourselves and not worry about crowds. In fact, it was so silent and remote, we loved it. This gorge is outstanding, the path which leads to it is like a walk through a fairytale, and the swing bridge is incredible. At the end, we got to see the gorge in all its turquoise splendour. For this gorge alone, I would recommend going to Hokitika.
Hokitika Glow in The Dark Dell
The Hokitika Glow in the Dark Dell is located just a few minutes drive away from the Bella Vista Hotel. There is a small refuge for cars just in front of the dell. Needless to say that you should visit the Dell after it gets dark. We visited at 9 pm to ensure we get to see it in all its splendour. A few minutes walk will reveal an alien world full of glow in the dark worms. Please don't photograph with flash and don't use flashlights. You will be able to see the path without. Keep your voice down and encourage others around you to respect all the rules as well.
You can read more about Hokitika here.
Day 2 - Hokitika - Wanaka
Drive Time: 5 hours and 20 minutes
Distance: 419 km
Practical Information: Fuel in Hokitika before you start your journey
This drive is going to be quite long, but I promise, it will be totally worth it. Take the SH 6 and stick to it until you get to your destination. On your way, you will pass the Franz Josef Glacier. The township has various restaurants and souvenir shops. Along the road, just before crossing from the West Coast to Otago, you can stop to admire the Fantail Falls. Another 10-minute drive from the Fantails, you can stop at the Blue Pools, which are just a short walk from the main road.
Where to stay in Wanaka
Wanaka Luxury Apartments
If you are after a gorgeous apartment with a fireplace, a spa bath and a kitchenette, then this is definitely the place for you. You can get a one bedroom apartment or if you travel in a group, you can get a three bedroom apartment and split the cost. This is a fantastic place and I really can't recommend it enough. It's minutes away from the lake, right in front of Roys Bay.
Where to eat in Wanaka
Wanaka Gourmet Kitchen
I'm sure you will be exhausted about so many hours of driving so nothing beats some epic food and wine. Wanaka Gourmet Kitchen is the best for large portions which are sure to be value for money.
Address: 123 Ardmore St, Wanaka 9305, New Zealand
This is great if you are a vegetarian or you are interested in healthy and fresh. They also serve good and strong coffee, so I'd say go for it!
Address: 105 Ardmore St, Wanaka 9305, New Zealand
This cute cafe opens at 7:30 AM which makes it great for breakfast or take away coffee for the road. I strongly recommend them for your morning meal before your next adventure towards Queenstown!
Address: 99 Ardmore St, Wanaka 9305, New Zealand
What to do in Wanaka
Lake Wanaka is the fourth largest lake in New Zealand. If you plan on visiting during the winter, Lake Wanaka transforms into a winter wonderland. It looks spectacular and its surrounding peaks become all white and gorgeous. Have a walk around the lake and relax. Visiting the shops around Wanaka and take it easy. It's been a long and rewarding drive.
Day 3 - Wanaka - Queenstown
Drive Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Distance: 68 km
Practical Information: You will be crossing the Crown Range Road
In my opinion, the drive from Wanaka to Queenstown has to be one of the most spectacular in New Zealand. The Crown Range Road is incredible and offers some of the most breathtaking vistas I've ever seen. To drive here you need to be an experienced driver who is comfortable with engine breaks and hairpin curves. The road is narrow and there are turns you need to take with 15 miles per hour. The views are outstanding and the drive itself is a real joy is you are a car enthusiast.
Where to stay in Queenstown
33 Lomond Lodge Motel & Apartments
We stayed at the 33 Lomond Lodge Motel & Apartments and enjoyed our apartment. The property is just 5 minutes from the Lake and only 10 minutes away from the centre of Queenstown. It's also just walking distance to the Gondola. We very much loved our views of the mountain range and the overall comfort. We would stay here again and we would strongly recommend them to anyone wishing to visit Queenstown. The property has parking spaces just in front of the entrance.
Where to eat in Queenstown
You know I'm going to recommend Fergburger. It's a great place, but it usually has a long queue, so prepare for a 20-minute wait. It's totally worth it though, as they do killer burgers. Great for lunch!
Address: 42 Shotover St, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand
We arrived in Queenstown just in time for our anniversary so we really wanted a special date night. Since we both love fish and wine, we thought it will be awesome to combine the two and visit Fishbone. We very much loved the food. Would recommend this place.
Address: 7 Beach St, Queenstown Town Centre 9300, New Zealand
For breakfast, we recommend Fergbaker. We enjoyed the pastry and enjoyed the coffee, although I must say, we wish the coffee would have more texture.
Address: 40 Shotover St, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand
What to do in Queenstown
There are so many cool things to do in Queenstown. It is, after all, the adrenaline capital of the world. As we encourage everyone to enjoy a bit of soft adventure travel, we want to suggest our favourite experience in Queenstown: a ride with the Skyline Gondola and a buffet dinner at the Stratosfare Restaurant with a view. We very much loved our dining experience as it is an all you can eat type of experience. The wines are not included but you do get water at your table, of course. There is a variety of seafood and plenty of meat-based dishes as well as colourful desserts. You can click on the soft adventures we recommend below!
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Day 4 - Queenstown - Milford Sound - Te Anau
Drive Time: 3 hours and 45 minutes in the morning and 1 hour and 45 minutes in the afternoon
Distance: 287 km in the morning & 118 km in the afternoon
Practical Information: Fuel in Queenstown before you leave and fuel in Te Anau as well
IMPORTANT: There are no petrol stations between Te Anau and Milford Sound! Plan accordingly. Don't forget to pack lunch and snacks with you. There are very limited food options in Milford Sound with really high prices and not amazing quality.
Today is the day when you can finally get to see the most incredible attraction in New Zealand: Milford Sound. I can't express how beautiful this place is. So remote and wonderful. Prepare to stop quite a bit along the way, as there are myriad natural attractions all along. One of the most interesting places, in my opinion, was the Mirror Lake. If the weather is nice and there is no wind, the Mirror Lake looks truly incredible.
Don't forget to stop at the Boyd Creek Falls and Eglinton Valley. Along the way, there is a viewpoint for Lake Gunn which looks simply stunning. Pop's View lookout, Gertrude Valley Lookout and The Chasm Viewing Bridge are just a few other stopping points where you can rest your legs, stretch and admire your surroundings. Once you arrive at Milford Sound, you can have a coffee at the Milford Peak Lodge, or just go for a short hike in the area. It is, of course, recommended that you book your cruise in advance and head over to the small port.
Where to Stay
There aren't many accommodation options in Milford Sound and that's why we recommend driving back to Te Anau for more options. You can go for the Milford Sound Lodge but note that any private accommodation starts from $400 and the place is usually fully booked several months in advance.
Explorer Motel & Apartments
A very nice option just under a 2-hour drive from Milford Sound is the Explorer Motel located in Te Anau. We actually strongly advise that you drive back to Te Anau from Milford Sound because you will be able to find more accommodation and restaurant options, as well as you will have the chance to admire the gorgeous Lake Te Anau. The Lake looks truly stunning in the evening, especially on a calm day. We recommend Explorer Motel because it's super comfortable and it offers value for money. We loved its location, just 5 minutes away from restaurants and a few minutes from the lakefront.
Where to Eat
I'm sure after exploring the beautiful Milford Sound and driving the whole day you will want to relax with a nice drink and an epic food. We recommend Redcliff Cafe because it has a lovely, cosy ambience. The place has a beautiful beer garden and a cute little porch. The food is good and the staff are polite. Would recommend.
Address: 12 Mokonui St, Te Anau, Fiordland 9600, New Zealand
Ristorante Pizzeria Paradiso
If carbs are what you are after, head to this great Pizza place. The place is a little bit more expensive than the average restaurants in Te Anau, but the meals are very good here. For dessert, order a gelato and relax with a nice drink.
Address: 1 Milford Cres, Te Anau 9600, New Zealand
Sandfly Cafe Te Anau
For mornings, head over to Sandfly Cafe and order a big breakfast and a large cup of coffee. they also do coffee on the go if you don't wish to sit down for your morning meal.
Address: 9 The Ln, Te Anau 9600, New Zealand
What to Do
Because Milford Sound is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I strongly suggest booking a cruise in advance. We book ours three months in advance and we couldn't be happier with the choice. The staff took pictures of us and told us stories about the area. We also got to see amazing wildlife, including super cute fur seals! They were truly adorable.
Day 5 - Te Anau - Aoraki Village
Drive Time: 5 hours
Distance: 422 km
Practical Information: Fuel in Te Anau before you leave, then fuel up again in Twizel.
IMPORTANT: Stop in Twizel at the Four Square supermarket before you get to Aoraki Court village. Make sure you buy enough food for a couple of days. Eateries are limited and expensive in Aoraki.
This drive will start a bit slow, but it will really pick up once you pass Twizel. As soon as you reach Lake Pukaki, you will drive alongside the lake with breathtaking views. Needless to say that at some point, the gorgeous Mount Cook peak will reveal itself and you will literally drive towards it all the way. This is one of the most amazing vistas ever. In fact, I'm sure you've searched for New Zealand mountain pictures before and you saw that epic empty highway leading towards the mountains. Well, this is it! You will drive on that very empty and incredible road. Just to reiterate, the Aoraki Court Village is remote, so please make sure you buy plenty of food to last for a couple of days. Plus, don't forget to pack some protein bars with you for the walks and hikes in the mountains.
Where to stay in Aoraki Village
Aoraki Court Motel
We strongly recommend the Aoraki Court Motel which happened to be our favourite accommodation in the whole of New Zealand. It's remote, clean, with its own kitchen and a comfortable bed. It offers incredible views of the mountains so I'm not too sure what's not to love.
What to do in Aoraki
As you've been driving the whole day, I'd say that you should take a short walk around.
Governors Bush Walk
It's an easy 1-hour return loop track.
Bowen Bush Walk
It's a 10 minute super easy loop track.
Kea Point Track
This is a 2-hour return track from the village. The walk offers incredible views of the Mount Sefton, The Footstool, Hooker Valley and Aoraki / Mount Cook.
Blue Lakes And Tasman Glacier View
It's a 40-minute return walk. You can enjoy great views of the Tasman Glacier which is the longest glacier in New Zealand.
Tasman Glacier Lake
An easy one hour return walk. The walk starts at the Blue Lakes car park and it continues towards the Tasman Glacier terminal lake.
An easy 30-minute return which starts from the Hermitage Hotel.
Stargazing at night
Aoraki has been named a Dark Sky Reserve, which means that if you are lucky enough to catch a clear sky during your stay in Aoraki, you will be able to clearly see the Milky Way. In fact, it's so outstanding, that you won't believe your eyes when you see it. When we first arrived in Aoraki, we were lucky enough to catch a super clear sky which enabled us to marvel at the stars for several hours during the night. We drove away from the hotel (I'd say not even 5 minutes) and we found ourselves in complete silence, admiring the vast starry sky. We didn't have a telescope and still managed to see more than ever before in our lives. It really was one of the most spectacular moments I've ever experienced. There is something so humbling about looking up and seeing the vastness of our galaxy with the naked eye.
Day 6 - Aoraki Village
I think spending another day exploring the remoteness of New Zealand is paramount. Since my favourite place the Aoraki Village with its unique walks and silent paths, I can't help but recommend it to you. Wake up to a gorgeous mountain view, have a protein heavy breakfast and get ready for a full day of adventures. After all, New Zealand is all about having an epic time exploring the natural wonders it has to offer.
Hooker Valley Track
We recommend the Hooker Valley Track which is a four-hour return trail. It's easy to do, but make sure you prepare for the weather by wearing good shoes and waterproofs. It is one one of the most popular walks, but it is usually quiet either way. You will cross three swing bridges before getting to the Hooker Glacier, where I recommend having a picnic overlooking the gorgeous lake. You can enjoy incredible views of Mount Cook, Hooker Glacier and the Southern Alps.
Sealy Tarns Track
This is another 3-4 hour return trail which is medium to difficult. It is steep and stepped. It is also called "Stairway to Heaven" as it has 2200 steps which take you to the Sealy Tarns lake. You can admire the gorgeous Hooker Valley and the surrounding peaks. The tarns are the halfway point to Mueller Hut. You can read more about conquering the top of New Zealand here.
Make sure you pick the walks which are good for your fitness level. Before you start any track, don't forget to go to the visitor centre and write down your name and the time you started the track. This helps everyone keep track of visitors in case the weather conditions change dramatically. Always check with the staff for any potential issues and closures. Ask for the forecast and make sure you are fully equipped before going out on a hike. Avalanches can pose a serious threat, so double check with the staff for any issues during your visit, especially during the cold season.
Day 7 - Aoraki Village - Christchurch
Drive Time: 4 hours and 15 minutes
Distance: 332 km
Alas, it's time to leave the remote Aoraki behind and head over to Christchurch, the capital city of New Zealand South Island. This is your final destination where your 7 day itinerary in the South Island will come to an end. As you leave Aoraki, the mountains will soon transform into smaller hills, until they will become plains. Christchurch has plenty to offer. A lot of effort went into rebuilding the capital as a result of the devastating 2011 Earthquake. Many cafes and restaurants moved from the centre to the suburbs, transforming less popular areas into hipster hotspots.
Where to stay in Christchurch
Tuscana Motor Lodge
We absolutely love our stay at Tuscana Motor Lodge. We stayed here twice and enjoyed the place both times. It comes with free parking and a very large and comfortable bed. It has everything you need and more to enjoy a quiet and relaxing night.
Where to eat in Christchurch
Costas Taverna is a Greek restaurant with really tasty dishes, wonderful cocktails and incredibly good service. It is a little out of the way, so you might have to drive there, but it's worth it, I promise. We dined there twice, we loved it so much. The food was outstanding and the service was great.
Address: Shop 3, 478 Cranford St, Redwood, Christchurch 8051, New Zealand
What to do in Christchurch
Christchurch’s Botanical Gardens
As I'm sure you will be tired after your long drive, I can't find anything more relaxing than a lovely stroll through Christchurch's botanical garden. It's peaceful and quiet, and it features a rose garden which I very much loved.
Address: Rolleston Ave, Christchurch City Centre, Christchurch 8013, New Zealand
7 days itinerary in the South Island, New Zealand - Conclusion
We created this itinerary based on our personal experiences and the places we loved the most in New Zealand. We can't express how much we loved this country and how we would love to go back and visit again. To properly explore the South Island, you could spend months and still have trails and walks to do by the end of it. It's vast, peaceful lands are a magnet for tourists and we strongly believe that in order for New Zealand to be able to preserve its natural gems, we need to be responsible and respect the nature around us as much as possible.
We hope you found our 7-day itinerary in the South Island useful. Please leave a comment and let us know about your upcoming plans around New Zealand.