Finally, I am back with part two of my 2-3 month road trip itinerary for New Zealand! And we’re starting off in Picton, north of the South Island where you get dropped off by the Interislander ferry. As I mentioned in my previous post, having a car is essential to fully enjoy New Zealand and this is even more significant in the South Island. Some areas are extremely remote, I can remember driving for hours without seeing a single soul. Just remember to look up where the next petrol station is and you’ll be fine!
2-3 MONTH ROAD TRIP ITINERARY FOR NEW ZEALAND – PART TWO
So you’ve just gotten off the ferry and you’re wondering what Picton has to offer? Well, I chose not to stop here long and I recommend you do the same. There is so much to see in the South Island that you want to prioritise. Instead head to Nelson via the Queen Charlotte Drive, find an an i-Site and have a look into what there is to do in Abel Tasman National Park. It’s the first stop on my South Island itinerary and unless you’re planning on doing the whole Coastal Track (which takes three to five days) you might want to book a water taxi in advance. That way you can do part of the track, which is what I did. You can also look into hiring kayaks and driving up to the northern most point of the South Island, Farewell Spit.
ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK – 3 DAYS
Once you have everything booked for Abel Tasman you can head straight there and begin your South Island adventures. This will be your first taste of the stunning scenery this part of the country has to offer. You’ll probably be stopping in Marahau as it’s the beginning/end of the Coast Track and is where most water taxis leave from. I booked one to Torrent Bay which also included a stop at Split Apple Rock and the seal colony. From Torrent Bay I walked back to Marahau which takes roughly 6 hours with detours. Over the next few days you can explore the area with kayaks and drive up to Wharariki Beach, which is pictured above, and Farewell Spit. There are lots of camping sites and a hostel around Takaka which you can use as a base.
PUNAKAIKI ROCKS – 1/2 A DAY
After Abel Tasman head south to Punakaiki Rocks or Pancake rocks. They are sea eroded limestone rocks that are layered up like stacks of pancakes. There are lots of little walkways around the rocks and also some caves to explore just before the rocks car park. The beaches here are also beautiful and a great place to stop for lunch.
HOKITIKA GORGE – 1/2 A DAY
You could head straight to Hokitika Gorge after Punakaiki if you are short on time. If not, enjoy the coast road, stopping whenever possible to explore the beaches and marvel at the views. The coastline looks a lot like Jurassic Park! Hokitika Gorge is slightly inland but well worth the detour with amazing glacial waters and a suspension bridge to view the water from.
FRANZ JOSEF & FOX GLACIER – 3 DAYS
Time to choose your glacier! Now I recommend you do some more research for this stop on the itinerary. Do you want to do a glacier walk or view the glaciers from a helicopter? Or would you rather hike to the base of one. If so Franz Josef is very easy to get to by foot but depending on the day you could be asked to view it from quite far back. If you have time, a horse trek here is another great activity as are the glacier hot pools. Franz Josef is a slightly bigger town so I recommend staying here and using it as a base to explore from.
HASST PASS – 1 DAY
After you have tired yourself out at the Glaciers, it is time to head further south. The drive to Wanaka via the Haast Pass is a beautifully scenic one. Make sure to fill up your car before starting the journey as there are no petrol stations through the mountains. On your way stop off at the Blue Pools. It is a 1hr return track and very pretty as you can see from the picture above.
WANAKA – 4 DAYS
Wanaka is the gateway to the Southern Alps and an amazing place to stop and hike! Or if you’re visiting at the right time of year you can ski instead. Roy’s Peak Track is one of the most popular hikes in the area at 5-7 hours return. The views are beautiful but it’s busy. Isthmus Peak is a great alternative with very similar views and length. You also have to check out Lake Wanaka and the famous Lone Tree for great pictures. If you love hiking 4 days is a great length of time to spend here. If you’re not as keen and need a break from the constant driving, head to Queenstown a little earlier to relax!
QUEENSTOWN – 5 DAYS
My favourite city in the South Island and also known as the adventure capital of the world, there is so much to do in Queenstown and a must in any road trip itinerary for New Zealand. I stayed in Black Sheep Backpackers and loved it. While here be sure to have a Ferg Burger and book yourself a cruise for Milford Sound which is the next stop on the itinerary. I did the cheapest Go Orange Milford cruise and it was actually great. Queenstown Hill is an easy hike to do in the city. It was snowing when I went up there which is strange because the day before I managed to get sun burnt in Queenstown Gardens! That’s NZ weather for you.
MILFORD SOUND & TE ANAU – 2 DAYS
Another must do in any road trip itinerary for New Zealand. There are so many cruises to choose from when it comes to Milford Sound. Find one that suits your budget and enjoy. As I said, I went for the cheapest possible and still had an amazing time. You can drive to Milford which is what I did as I wanted to explore the area a bit more and do a few hikes. You can also arrange to be collected from Queenstown for your cruise if you have less time. However, this way you miss out on Te Anau which is worth a stop for the glow worm caves and hikes around the different Sounds. It is a very beautiful part of the country but the Fiordland National Park isn’t the simplest to explore. Doubtful Sound is another beautiful option and less travelled than Milford.
MORE TIME – BLUFF, THE CATLINS, DUNEDIN & MOERAKI BOULDERS – 6 DAYS
If you have closer to three months in New Zealand then I would recommend heading further south after leaving Milford Sound. There is so much to explore in these areas and you can even get to Stuart Island, which is NZ’s third little island and a great place to try and spot kiwi’s. Bluff is the southern most point on the south island so if you want to do north of the North and south of the South then this is a must! There isn’t a lot going on in Invercagill, Dunedin is much nicer. Plus you can easily get to the Moeraki Boulders from there and they are spectacular.
LESS TIME – STRAIGHT TO MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK – 3 DAYS
If you don’t have time to do the Southlands then head straight to Mount Cook National Park from Milford Sound. It’s a long drive, around 6 hours so you might want to stop off again in Queenstown along the way. I recommend staying in Twizel as Mount Cook Village is super expensive. Then you can venture in when you want to explore. Hooker Valley Track is potentially my favourite day hike in New Zealand. You’ll see views of Mueller Glacier, Hooker Lake and Aoraki, aka Mount Cook. Kea Point Track is another good one and shorter than Hooker Valley.
LAKE TEKAPO – 1 DAY
Time to stargaze next to Lake Tekapo, an International Dark Sky Reserve. You really only need to spend a night here to experience the best of the area but there are also some lovely walks around the lake if you have time.
CHRISTCHURCH – 4 DAYS
You’re all most at the end of your NZ road trip and undoubtedly will be pretty knackered! So I say give yourself plenty of time in Christchurch to chill out. But of course there’s a lot to see here too. Castle Hill is a must, especially for Lord Of The Rings fans and keen climbers! You can also take a drive up Arthur’s Pass, it’s a beautiful road and there are lot’s of hikes along the way to stop off at. Banks Peninsula is a beautiful place to drive around too, head for the little town of Akaroa for the best views of the ancient volcano and bay.
KAIKORA – 1 DAY
From Christchurch you can organise a day trip to Kaikora. Either drive there yourself or get picked up by a transfer. Remember to pre-book a whale watching tour but make sure it’s a refundable one because there’s a chance you won’t see any whales or the weather might not be good enough to go out. The walk from Kaikora to the seal colony is lovely too if you have time.