Approaching the South Island, Malborough Sound, South Island, New Zealand

South Island itinerary

Planning a trip can be exciting and daunting. When we planned our South Island trip we first had to decide what we wanted to do in each place and then how long to stay…or did we plan the other way round? Either way we loved our South Island trip and felt like we made the most of every minute.

Day 1 – 5. Starting in Kaiteriteri- 5 nights

  1. First day was recoup and recover time after 2 days driving from Auckland so you may not need this day ( depending on where you drove from ) but it was nice to spend some time relaxing on the stunning beach in Kaiteriteri.
  2. We spent one day walking in Abel Tasman National Park. We wanted to kayak but the kids were too young for the kayak rental company so we caught the water taxi to Anchorage and explored the tracks and beaches in the area including Cleopatra’s Pool.
  3. We also were delighted to find an awesome mountain bike park that we could easily ride to from the campground where we were staying. Plenty of tracks for adults and kids to ride together. Walked around beach and cliff track.
  4. Drove over to Takaka the next day to walk the Grove Scenic Reserve and up to Rawhiti Caves.  In the afternoon more mountain bike riding (we found a lovely local childminder so we could ride without the kids this time ) The “Jaws” track is amazing, hard up but awesome down.

In between our adventures we made the most of the long evenings and sat on the beach relaxing.

Day 5 – 7. Westport ( 2 nights, 1 full day )

  1. We arrived in Westport about 5pm after a day of chores in Motueka and a stunning drive through the Buller Gorge. Quickly set up the camper and headed out to Cape Foulwind to see the seal colony. It didn’t disappoint – it was a foul wind and there were lots of seals.
  2. The next day we spent doing some of the most amazing walks I think I did in the South Island but then I do say that about a lot of the walks. Headed north of Westport to Mokihinui to soak up some West Coast beach vibes and check out a 100 year old shipwreck. Then on to the Chasm Creek and Charming Creek Walkways. Both stunning and the scenery is so rugged. Then up to the Denniston Plateau for a peek into what a coal mining town would have been like….tough people, hard work.

Day 7. Westport to Franz Josef

  1. Stopped in at Punakaiki and Shantytown on the way to Franz Josef. Try to visit Punakaiki at high tide to see the full effect of the waves and blowholes but its still spectacular anytime.

Day 7 -9. Franz Josef ( 2 nights, 1 full day )

  1. Rode our mountain bikes from the campground in Franz Josef to the start of the Franz Josef Glacier walk. The walk up the glacier valley to the snout is amazing and gives a great sense of nature’s power. Considered doing another tourist activity but they are pretty expensive here so we relaxed for the afternoon.

Day 9. Franz Josef to Queenstown.

  1. One of our longest drives. Crossed the Southern Alps at Haast pass then stopped at Puzzling World in Wanaka which was lots of fun.

Day 9 – 13. Queenstown (4 nights)

  1. Spent the morning doing chores and got out for an adult mountain bike ride at Wilsons Bay. Wasn’t the best riding but I think we had high expectations after Kaiteriteri.
  2. Did a 24km bike ride with the kids alongside the Kawerau river and down to the Bungy bridge. Crossing the Shotover and Arrow river bridges along the way was very spectacular. Arranged a shuttle bus pick up to get us back to Queenstown.
  3. Boat trip across the lake to Mt Nichol sheep station. The farm tour was great for the kids to see all the farm animals but the promised barbeque lunch was a bit average.

Day 13. Queenstown to Glen Tanner, Mount Cook

13.Nice drive north through the mountains crossing Lindis pass and stopped at Omarama for lunch on a riverbank. We arrived at Glen Tanner about 4pm. Its about a 20min drive up to Mt Cook Village and we walked the Hooker Valley Track that evening, lucky it stays light late down here.

Day 14. Glen Tanner to Geraldine

14. Another long drive but the scenery is amazing all the time so the time passes easily. Stopped at Tekapo for lunch, went up Mt John for an even bigger view of the stunning high country scenery.

Day 16. Geraldine to Hanmer Springs ( 4 nights )

  1. Decided to take the inland Highway 77 through to Rangiora rather than traverse the endless Canterbury plains. Culverden for an icecream (the biggest we have had) then arrived Hanmer about 4pm and explored the Hanmer Springs area. Went for a swim in the river to cool down.
  2. Mountain biked with the kids in the morning and then hot springs/pools in the afternoon. Bought a 2 day family pass.
  3. Walked up Dog Stream forest track to a cool waterfall, then back to the hot springs/pools again.
  4. Found a childminder in the campground for the kids and got out for an adult mountain bike ride. Relaxed for the afternoon

Day 19. Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura ( Unfortunately this area has been hit by an earthquake so you would need to check roads before you travel )

19. Took the inland highway to Kaikoura. Whale watching in the afternoon. The whales were amazing and the massive pod of dolphins was an added bonus.

Head for home ; (

Top tips

We camped in our camper trailer and I didn’t estimate how long it would take to move on each day and prepare food as nothing happens quickly when you are camping. I loved the experience of camping but some days I did wish we could just unplug and move on like the camper vans did. So if you aren’t camping like us you may find you can move faster.

You really don’t need to spend a lot of money on activities in the South Island. What we didn’t budget for was flat tyres, one on our car and two on the camper!

We mountain biked a lot and went for many walks to enjoy the natural surroundings. If that’s not your thing then you will of course have more time than us.

We were very lucky with the weather but it can be wet. If you are camping it might pay to slap some waterproofing on your tent like we did with the camper trailer.

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