Why: This is heaven for an outdoors lover. If you like hiking, the outdoors, glaciers, beaches, in a compact region this is your place. New Zealand is simply one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Flight: Auckland will have a few more flights than Christchurch, however Christchurch is the main hub on the South Island. We got our flights in and out of Christchurch.
Rental Car: We rented a station wagon with New Zealand Rental Car. Renting a car is a must and car camping or sleeping in your vehicle makes total sense. Having your own transport is key, and I would reserve your car at least a month or two before your trip. We slept in the back of the rental car every night.
Your big decision will be the following 1: Rent a car or van you can sleep in. 2. Rent a car and take your camping things to “freedom camp” or camp in official campsites (Check out the DOC website for camping places). 3. Renting a car and staying in bed and breakfast places and small hotels. Since New Zealand is all about the outdoors we slept in our car and camped in some beautiful places. All of the hikes we did can be seen on my “International Hikes Trail Routes Page”.
Day 1: Fly into Christchurch. Check out some of the local markets. Take a walk through Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens and stop by the Cantebury Museum to learn about Kiwi history. In the afternoon go visit Sumner Beach. Stay in Canterbury House Christchurch for your last night in a hostel for a while.
Day 2: Drive out of Christchurch and make sure to sure to stop at beautiful Lake Tekapo. Hike around the perimeter of this bright blue lake. Make sure to check out the Church of the Good Shepard. Drive up to the Mount John Observatory Lookout above the lake. Next drive on to Lake Pulaki and get out to take some pics at this stunning lake. Head up to Tasman Lake to see the floating glaciers and phenomenal views on this short hike. Camp wherever you can find a spot near the start of the Hooker Valley Track or at the White Horse Hill Campsite if needed.
Day 3: Hike the spectacular Hooker Valley hike. This is one of the prettiest hikes you can imagine out to a large lake with lots of floating icebergs. If you love hiking, which I do, you could also go for the Sealy Tarns hike, which starts from the same spot. The full hike would be to Mueller Hut, however Sealy Tarns is a medium-length hike which is doable in an afternoon. Spend the night in the same spot.
Day 4: Drive down past Te Anau to The Divide. Here you will hike up to Key Summit, which has tremendous views on a slice of the Routeburn Track. Spend the night anywhere you can find a spot. There are also several DOC campsites on the way down towards Milford Sound.
Day 5: Drive down to Milford Sound stopping to take pictures of the gorgeous scenery along the way. and get a ferry to head out on the water. This is simply the best way to appreciate one of the most beautiful areas of the world. Hike along the coast of the Milford sound before or after your boat ride. Head back up from Milford Sound and “freedom camp” like we did or find a DOC website.
Day 6: It’s time for the best day hike in New Zealand. Check out my full article on the Gertrude Saddle hike. The Gertrude Saddle will take at least half a day. After the hike drive up towards Queenstown and freedom camp like we did, or if you are wanting a bed, stay in YHA Queenstown Central Hostel.
Day 7: Explore the adventure capital of New Zealand. We did the luge which was super fun. You can bungee jump, hike Ben Lomond, and ride the skyline and gondola to name a few. Get yourself some good food to break up the camping food you’ve been eating for the past week! Stay in the same hostel or head out of town towards Lake Wanaka to camp.
Day 8: Hike Roy’s Peak. There are many more epic views once you near the top of Roy’s Peak. This is another can’t miss hike that will take half a day. Head over to see the famous Wanaka Tree on your way over towards the West Coat of the South Island. Drive as far towards Fox Glacier as you can and freedom camp anywhere you can along the way.
Day 9: There are all sorts of bigger budget options like helicopter flights up to the glaciers at Fox and Franz Joseph Glacier. We decided to do local hikes which were very scenic and not nearly as pricey. We did the Fox Glacier Valley hike and the Franz Joseph Valley hike which get you up close to both the glaciers. We also hiked a scenic loop around Lake Matheson which provides great views from the backside of Mount Cook. Drive up towards Greymouth and Reefton and freedom camp.
Day 10: Drive up to Nelson Lakes National Park and hike Mount Robert. This is a nice half day hike with great views of the surrounding lakes. After hiking Mount Robert we wanted to seem some of the coast so we went up to Marlborough Sounds and drove the Queen Charlotte Drive from Picton to Havelock. The South Island is extremely varied and a couple hours takes you to another stunning region. We drove on until arriving at the start of the Abel Tasman Track and we camped at Old MacDonald’s Farm. This was the one place we paid for a campsite the entire trip!
Day 11: Head out in the morning to hike some of the Able Tasman Track. This is one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”. While our trip focused on over 15 incredible shorter day hikes, I could see the appeal of coming to New Zealand to experience a couple of the Great Walks. We trail ran about 6 miles out and 6 miles back of the Abel Tasman Track, which gave us a great feel for this beautiful coastal walk. Chill out in the afternoon at the beach and head down to Nelson to get some tasty food!
Day 12: Take a morning walk on the beach and then drive down to Avalanche Pass. In the afternoon hike up the easy trail to Devil’s Punchbowl Watefalls. Take a snack up and enjoy this beautiful waterfalls. Drive east towards Christchurch and find plenty of great places to freedom camp.
Day 13 Get up early. Make the short drive back up to Arthur’s Pass to hike Avalanche Peak. This is one of the classic summits in all of New Zealand. The terrain and views are fantastic on this hike. Near the summit you will probably see a kea or two. There are several of these mountain parrots which frequent the area. Check out the Arthur’s Pass Visitor’s Center. You could definitely stay at the same place as the night before, however we chose to drive down to Peel Forest to check out some of the big trees in this old growth forest.
Day 14: We did a couple short hikes in Peel Forest in the morning. In the afternoon we drove over to Christchurch to drop off the car and fly back home after an incredible 2 weeks on the South Island of New Zealand!