the ultimate New Zealand South Island Road Trip

South Island Road Trip (join us!)

This would be the dream New Zealand route if we had more time…but we don’t.  So help us plan the ultimate 3-week road trip from July 18 – Aug 8.

Do we drive like maniacs and try to see it all (impossible)? Or should we slow down, pick a few cherry spots and dive in deep?

Or better yet, show us how it’s done (kiwi style)!  If you live on the South Island and want to show us something we could never find (or do) on our own, shoot us a message: [email protected]  The wilder, the better!


South Island Road Trip on Roadtrippers

We’ll keep updating the map as our plans change (based on your suggestions).  And we’ll make sure to post some behind-the-scenes and real-time updates on Patreon and Instagram.



We’re long-time fans of Roadtrippers.  It’s been our go-to road trip app for discovering weird roadside attractions (hello Cano’s Castle) and wild places to camp (Trona Pinnacles).  The free version is fantastic and packed with all the essential features.  But, we have the Plus account because it’s better for an extended trip (like this one).  Plus unlocks features like live traffic, notes for each stop, collaborating with friends, and offline maps (handy during the trip).


Hello there! I honestly don’t know what to say, so I am going to tell you a bunch of random facts instead. I'm a fish eating vegetarian who hates spiders and loves snakes. I almost never took vacations growing up. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking (still do). I misspell about every other word I write and still struggle with grammar. I love splurging on a good high tea (which is really hard to find these days). And whatever you do, don’t tell me I can’t do something, because then I'll HAVE to do it!

Comments (35)

  • Glen McConnell

    One more little known sailing history item – When Captain Cook 1st arrived off the coast of NZ it was at Fiordland. He battled for days to avoid being blown onto the cliffs during a gale nor-wester. When he finally managed to beat offshore he whipped around the bottom of the South Island & up the east coast to where Christchurch now is. When he arrived the days of Nor-West conditions had dumped massive rainfall in the alps resulting in flooding of the Canterbury plains (which didn’t have stop banks retaining it’s major rivers as it does now). Consequently the normally very accurate cartography of Cook showed Banks Peninsular (named after the ships botanist, Joseph Banks) as “Banks Island”. He actually sent crew in a ships boat and they sailed around the inland side of it not realizing that in dryer conditions it was normally streams & marshes in that area.
    As you have timed your arrival to coincide with the heaviest rainfall since European records started we are actually quite close to returning to the situation Cook encountered!

  • Glen McConnell

    Hi guys. Hope you are keeping warm, dry, & safe in these hectic conditions.
    As experienced travelers you no doubt have all the links to weather & travel info, but just in case, here’s some links to keep an eye on:

    One big tip – the Southern Alps that run down the center of the South Island act as a pretty decent block to any wet weather coming from the east (if you are on the west side, & vice-versa. If you can reschedule your trip to work around weather changes it’ll pay dividends.
    e.g. A Nor-West downpour on the West coast generally results in a hot dry day on the eastern side.

    Happy travels!

  • Ruth

    Adding to the great list here with the suggestion that you should definitely try to get to Milford. Very much worth the extra drive. I highly recommend that you book your boat tour with Southern Discoveries with the underwater observatory tour option. None of the other boats offer this and its pretty incredible seeing what lives under the water.

  • Graeme & jean MacKay

    Hi Guys nice to see you coming down to the deep south, we live in Invercargill and have followed and enjoyed your channel for quite sometime now. As you will find the south Island is a bit different to the north. The trip from Dunedin to Balclutha and then down round the Catlins to Invercargill is very spectacular for which you will find out. Heading north after that you guys won.t be disappointed.
    If you get stuck or need some help while down don’t hesitate to email us would be nice to met you guys. Safe Travels

  • Sarah Ewing

    Have a fantastic time visiting the most beautiful country – some tips for around Ōtepoti Dunedin. The highway from Oamaru stop at Karitane beautiful beach and walk round headland, you can freedom camp at Warrington Beach (20 mins drive from City Centre) at the weekends Arc Brewery is open with a food truck, close by is Orokonui Ecosanctuary, predator-free area with lots of birdlife and NZ tallest tree. From there you can take the back road to Port Chalmers – fish and chips at Careys Bay Hotel – visit Aramoana Beach (very likely to see sealions). You can take the harbour road into Dunedin City – street art, laneways, heritage buildings, Olveston House and some great museums/art galleries. Wildlife is all over the Otago Peninsula – Blue Penguins, Royal Nothern albatross colony (only mainland place in the world where they land) more seals/sealions – and if your lucky you might spot a yellow eyed (hoiho) rarest on the peninsula and a visit to Larnach Castle gives fantastic views over the peninsula There is heaps for hiking trails that you can explore. South of the city is the Catlins and there are some amazing coastal campgrounds. Great apps – Campermate & NZRankers . Have a wonderful trip

  • Glen McConnell

    Some little known NZ sailing history facts that you might like to drop into your commentaries:

    French sailor Jean de Surville arrived at the same time as Captain Cook on his ship, John the Baptist, passing within 20 miles of Cook off Hokianga without seeing each other, & not making landfall until 12/12/1769. He came here for supplies rather than exploring.

    Sealers & Whalers came next – in 1792 the 1st group were dropped off in Dusky Sound & built a boat which they named “Providence” (you will be close to Dusky Sound at one point in your travels). In fact what happened in those days was a ship would drop off a bunch of sealers or trappers then sail off for a year or so. The trappers never knew if that ship was coming back as they were regularly wrecked in these unchartered waters. So, as a precaution, & because the mountains behind them were impassable, they built a boat themselves in case they had to sail to safety (in this case “safety” was going to be Australia). Fortunately for them the ship did eventually return. Unfortunately for “Providence” that meant she was left in a stream to rot away.

  • Glen McConnell

    Hi Jason & Nikki
    Glen & Jaz McConnell here. Long time viewers, 1st time callers 😉
    Glen (writing, sometime sailor & occasional traveler) actually lived & worked in the Texas panhandle a few years back so knows your vibe fairly well.
    We live in Christchurch & road-trip NZ regularly so know all the places on your SI map. Some excellent choices there!
    You’ll be a few day’s into it by now & may have had weather interruptions. Sing out if you need assistance anywhere as we are very well networked across the SI, plus I have a Landrover Discovery that might get you a few places you’d otherwise not reach in the current conditions. (email for my cell number)
    Looking at the suggestions by others I’d agree that Fox/Franz glacier flights are a must (one or the other) & you can reach Mt Cook from there (the road is closed by slips now so a flight is the only way in).
    Doubtful sound is great. Straight out of “Jurassic Park”, which was filmed in the area. On the other hand an overnight cruise & Kayak in Milford is breathtaking, & the road in is worth the effort. There’s a reason why the busses there have glass roofs!
    The trip to Stewart Island is a highlight. if at all possible do include it. You may never get further south in your life!
    If timing allows, try to catch an All Black game while here, There are 2 in the SI while you are here. You might like to mention that the only 2 times Rugby was in the Olympics the USA team won the Gold. NZ never even competed (which may explain the US gold a bit better 😉
    Queenstown is a great little party town, but Arrowtown is a historic site not to be missed. Def do the Nevis Bungee & Swing. It’s the experience of a lifetime.
    Sometimes the scenery is the best part of the trip & 2 places this will be evident are the Nthrn Kaikoura Coast road, & the road between Hokitia & Fox Glacier.
    You’ll want to do timelapse of the night sky from Tekapo area (one of the clearest sky areas on earth), & a sunrise over Lake Matheson or Okarito Lagoon. Just wow!
    Yes do Akaroa if possible. You can actually swim with the wee Hectors which are super playful, but the water temp may put you off that one.
    Christchurch itself is a funny one. It was famous for being more English than England, but the world record (2.4g) quake that hit us in 2011 means that we are instead now the newest & most modern city in the world (benefits of having a highly insured city get hit by a major disaster)
    Our best feature right now is probably the downhill mountain bike park which uses chairlifts to get to the top.
    The Brighton Pier makes a great sunrise pic.
    The Crater Rim walkway & road give stunning views out over the plains to the Alps, up the coast all the way to Kaikoura (or on a clear day right up to Wellington), plus into the harbor (crater) on the other side.
    A tram ride around the city is worthwhile & if you are here on the right evening they even have a “murder mystery” theater event on the tram.
    Overall tho Christchurch is generally considered a rest day by tour coaches, Your timelines suggest a hit & run approach might be best for this area.
    If you want to do a sail let me know as I can probably set something up, especially from Lyttleton.
    Contact me for more details & names of people who you can call in on for accom or events etc.
    As you are driving past Ashburton you may want to consider this: They are great friends of ours so I can probably arrange some extra events & discounts.
    Otherwise have an absolute blast here in the mainland, & keep warm 🙂

  • Jaime

    Lake Matherson in fox glacier, and second going into some of the beaches on the way down to haast (Monroe’s, Bruce bay you might even find a little greenstone on the beach). If the cray pot is open out in Jackson bay (near haast) that’s worth a check out. Enjoy the south ☺️❤️

  • Angela C

    In no particular order: Gentle Annies campsite (just before you head up to Karamea), Aoraki / Mount Cook and a night in Hooker Valley Hut (sneaky turn off and incredible views!), Barkers @ Geraldine if you need a kai (food) stop, Dancing Sands distillery in Takaka, Te Waikoropupu Springs and The Riuwaka Resurgence (both near Takaka), day trip of Abel Tasman (boat in, walk a few hours, boat out), Emerson’s Brewery (Dunedin), Pelorus Mail Boat for beautiful views of the sounds, Hook Wanaka (catch your own salmon), Whitestone Cheese (Oamaru), Three Creeks Vintage Store (Burkes Pass).
    There is so much to see and do, I hope you guys have time to take it all in!

  • Bryn Thomas

    Hey there, I’ll keep my input brief.
    I’m from Queenstown. Make sure you do the drive to Glenorchy, guarantee wow moment, much better on a nice day. Pay a visit to Arrowtown. Visit Cardrona pub. Dinner in Queenstown at the Flame, grab a world famous burger at Ferg’s Burger. Jump on the Shotover Jet. If your into thrills. Nevis bungee or swing, or the first bungee in the world, AJ Hackets Kawaru Bridge. Outside Queenstown musts – Mount Cook, Lake Tekapo and Milford Sound. I’ll leave other people to comment for mid to top of South Island. Oh and Hanmer Springs that’s mid. Haha brief, did I say that! Not possible, too many good things. Have fun, your going to love it.

  • Nate Holland

    Here are a couple more stops I would recommend: Punakaiki on the west coast between Westport and Greymouth, the Speights brewery in Dunedin, and the Antarctic center in Christchurch.

  • Steph G

    I can’t wait to follow along. We did three weeks on the South Island:

    I wish we would have spent a little more time on the West Coast and Abel Tasman, but you’ll have fun no matter where you visit.

  • Fritz
    Fantastic inland boat museum at St Arnaud

  • Hildrun Verges


    We did new zealand in 2018, and took about 3 weeks on the south island.
    I know you are starting today but maybe you can use our tour as additional inspiration.

    We also did the north island, in total we hat 38 days (planed was more but our daughter broke her leg)

    Best regards


  • Stu

    The drive from Kaikōura to the glaciers looks to be a long one. I would break it up by stoping at Hokitika, (Hokitika gorge is pretty on a nice day).

    Akaroa to Karemea is a long drive, I would stop in Westport and bound that dead end road. Up and back.

    The Wild West coast is an awesome drive, between Greymouth and Westport. If you can get a great sunrise at lake Mathieson at Fox glacier that is awesome. Just remember you are traverseing a few mountain passes in winter. You may want to think carefully about Arthur’s pass.

    My main advice, is travel a bit less distance, allow a bit more time. Helpful hints for motor campers in here.

  • Dean Fielding

    Stop in Blenheim, do a wine tour with us.
    Contact us, Marlborough Wine Tours.
    We will give you an experience you’ll enjoy even though you are beer drinkers.

  • Craig

    Head up on the Franz Josef Glacier by doing the Glacier Heli Hike with Franz Josef Glacier Guides – ( Go with Romina for the guide). You will love it.

  • Lauren

    Kayak Milford sound if their are any outfits taking ppl out in winter. It’s one of my top life experiences hands down. Waterfalls, seals, jellies, wind, waves, and a feeling of peace like nothing else. Any of the great walks are amazing, but given the winter, I’d recommend the north ones….Tasman Bay hostel in the NW used to have an insanely good chocolate pudding they served every night at 7pm 🙂

    • Lauren

      There are any outfits*

  • Nicky

    Suggestion for when you are at the top of the South at Harwoods hole- Kaiteriteri. If you get a sunny day it is just magic there. It’s a golden sand beach with many short lookout walks including Kaka pah, walk to Little Kaiteriteri and the Whithells walk (starts at the back of the beach campground at the base of the hill).
    Kaiteriteri recreation reserve campground is a great place to stay.
    Have a fantastic trip 😀

  • Alana

    If you have time, try and go on a cruise on Akaroa Harbour to see the hectors dolphins (smallest in the world) – there is a company that has ‘spotter dogs’ who can hear the dolphins so you get two hits of cuteness in one!

    Queen Charlotte Track is beautiful, but I’d probably rate the Abel Tasman a bit higher (and there are lots of opportunities for day walks out that way, both have amazing scenery but Abel Tasman has the golden sand beaches and amazing coastal views (and you won’t have to contend with mountain bikers on this one)

    ‘Nins Bin’ is the place to stop in Kaikoura for seafood (so I’m told – it’s on my list for later in August when we head through) and on your way across the Lewis Pass Maruia Springs is an amazing spot to stop for a refresher (outdoor hot pool complex under the mountains). Just north of Greymouth is Punakaiki which has some awesome rock formations on the coast that are worth a look if you are heading past anyway.

    We were a bit disappointed by the walk to Franz Joseph Glacier when we did it a few years back – you have been to Alaska and have been so up close and personal with glaciers that you’ll likely be disappointed by how far away you are from the ice, and how much you can even see. I know there are opportunities to helicopter and land on the glacier, but you can’t just walk up to it anymore. Still a nice place to stop though, and there are some cute little hot tubs in the bush there too (Waiho hot tubs). A bit further down the road is Monro Beach (near Lake Paringa) – we did a walk here down to the beach and saw Fiordland Crested Penguins hopping out of the surf, nice walk and a nice beach (if the weather isn’t blowing a gale!).

    Milford sound is fab, but if you wanted a slightly less touristy option I’d look into Doubtful Sound. The cruises all leave from Te Anau (so it’s not a massive drive to get there) and you can do a day trip that takes you over Lake Manapouri, then over the pass into Doubtful Sound and cruises for the day. You can also do overnight cruises which are fabulous but pricey. The drive to Milford is apparently amazing but you will likely spend most of your day driving there and back and hardly any time on the water, whereas Doubtful Sound means that you’ll spend most of the day cruising and looking for wildlife and scenery.

    Lake Pukaki is beautiful, and there was a little resort on the side of the lake that did stargazing (we basically had a private viewing with a glass of whiskey and it was amazing). The whole Mackenzie area is a dark sky reserve so get some stargazing in while you are there as it is just spectacular.

    While you are in Queenstown get on a hop on beer tour – you need to book but you’ll end up at 3 or 4 breweries around the Queenstown area and it was fab! – if not – try and get to Altitude, Canyon and Searchlight Brewing 🙂 and for wineries Akarua is my fav – great tastings and platters outside on a nice day.

    Honestly, you’ll find awesome things to do wherever you go, just remember that roads take longer to navigate than you might expect (so don’t try and cram too much driving into one day) and things in small towns aren’t open too late (so if you arrive too late you’ll struggle to feed yourself or find accommodation!)

    • Guy Tichborne

      The dolphin cruise in Akaroa is great. Also the museum has some great stuff on Frank Worsley Captain of the Endurance during Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. He was a local boy. Then come to the Harbar for a sundowner or two!

  • Ben Parker

    Queenstown, ride up to the mountain top for sure. Shotover River Jet Boats. The Routeburn Track is definitely a real backpacking trip. 2 nights on the hike, but you stay in huts so don’t need tents. Then bus ride on to Milford Sound. Take a cruise there. We did a boat ride on Lake Manapouri to see the underground hydro=electric plant. Franz Josef another must, but the glacier may be disappointing now due to climate change. Spend some time wandering in Christchurch.

  • Fraser Brown

    Nice to see your coming past Dunedin. I must say you picked the 2 best things to do in Dunedin. I am only a little bias as I live on Baldwin Street, and volunteers for DOC at Sandfly Bay. Btw sandfly (lot of sand flying in the wind) not Sand Fly the insect. Some other thing that will be worth while checking out while you are in the area. The Fishwife fresh off the boat crayfish right next door to Moeraki Boulders . Ocho Chocolate Factory sustainable sourced cocoa beans from the pacific. Larnach castle the southern most castle in the world. and then not in Dunedin but still worth visiting Hokitika Gorge really beautiful part of New Zealand. Also happen to get the most rainfall in the country at 7.6m (yes meters) a year, so take a jacket. If you want a local to take you down Sandfly bay hit me up. I have a special knack for spotting Yellow eyed Penguins the rarest penguins in the world

  • Sara Mitchell

    Welcome to the Mainland of New Zealand.

    Make sure you visit the International Antarctic Centre 2 mins from the ChCh Internaional Airport and Lyttelton Harbour a little suburb on the hill side [very cute] through the tunnel.
    There is also our famous little town “Akaroa: on Bank Peninsula which is a beautiful drive over the hill about 80min drive from the city.

    One last comment your Videos are Fantastic SO interesting and so well presented.

    Thank you and Safe travel on the road.

  • Rich

    Having lived all over the South Island while working for DoC, you must visit Aoraki/Mt Cook Village, it is on a par with Fiordland for the most beautiful spot in NZ. The Hooker Valley track will blow you away with the photographic opportunities.

    • Chris Fudge

      I stayed on the South Island for an entire winter a number of years ago and I completely agree that Aoraki/Mt Cook Village is not to be missed!!! AND taking a scenic helicopter ride from the Aoraki Mount Cook Airport…landing on a glacier in a helicopter is pretty incredible

  • Paul - from Marsden Bay

    If your in a ‘campa van’ do Hamner Springs if you want as it’s beautiful and village like. But better still is Maruia Hot Springs. You get overnight camp site, a sauna and entry to the pools (which are fantastic) for one price.
    It’s on the Lewis Pass Rd

  • Vicki

    Try to get to Skippers Canyon which is very near Queenstown. It is an amazing half day trip along a road that appears on every 10 most dangerous roads in the world list. It usually comes in around no 5. Try Youtubing it! It is an old mining road that takes you to a very small town. Dont drive it yourself as it is the only road in NZ that isnt covered by insurance. It is also the site of the first Bungee jump bridge in NZ. A local guide will help you. Seriously the best place I have been in Queenstown and possibly the South Island.

    Arrowtown is also incredible for a look and photos. Very touristy but quaint and again in incredible scenery. Walk along the river to the Chinese Camp where Chinese miners lived 100 years ago…. OMG. Tiny tiny dugout holes in the ground that they lived in FOR YEARS!

    I love your channel. It got me through all our lockdowns (Auckland) Best of luck with your South Island tour. You will have a blast (and an icey one at that)

  • Stephen

    Hi Guys, welcome to the “Mainland” of New Zealand, and you will truly be totally amazed with your Road Trip here. I have been a South Island Motor-Home ( ex-Tour Coach converted into a home ) wandering Kiwi for the last 50 years, so can offer information that will help.
    I have been following your travels since your early days, so have a very good understanding of the things and places you may wish to see and do.

    I will send you an email from my help-a-visitor-email (which is >[email protected]< if anyone else wants some help) with some ideas.
    Essentially, a 21 day Road Trip will give a very good opportunity to see lots of things, as well as travel to them.
    I always suggest that a dawn drivetime start is best, as it gives lots of daytime to see and do things when you get there. Most travel times are very low with the Picton-Christchurch drivetime being around 4.5 hrs.
    It all comes down to making a list of the things you would like to see and do, and then working out the travelling to them.
    Just like on a yacht.

  • Chris

    From my own trips to NZ, I would recommend making a quick stop at Nugget Point Lighthouse. If you’re there at the right time, you might even see some Yellow Eye Penguins returning from the ocean.

  • Barbara Dobrée

    Head down to Stewart Island on the foot ferry from Invercargill. Book yourselves a B&B beforehand.

    Then arrange to go w a knowledgeable retired Parks Guide on the local water taxi to Ulva Island. He was the head guy on creating this footpath island where there are only original native animals & plants. No invasive species so the ground-living NZ birds are safe there.

    We even had a kiwi (the bird) come up to us on the trail to defend its territory. They are a rare bird in NZ now due to the stoats & other introduced bird killing animals. He will tell you lots of fascinating information about the plants & birds. It’s a day trip. One of my best memories of the S. Island. Go!

    • Barbara Dobrée

      Go to Bluff from Invercargill for the ferry dock.
      Stewart Island – Oban, has the best little local merino wool clothing shop. Every item I was interested in merino was in that one shop. No need to look anywhere else! Local owners.
      Going on the day trip to Ulva Island would be a “deep dive” into NZ nature w lots of walking.🤓❤️

  • Steve Riplinger

    You’ll want to stay in Queenstown, very interesting city

  • William Weaver

    I followed your trip In Alaska because I love Alaska. I’ve been there 8 times. When I went to New Zealand and saw Fiordland NP I said this is like Alaska.


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