3 Self-Drive Itineraries Across New Zealand’s South Island

the crystal blue waters of lake tekapo surrounded by white and beige stones

2.31min read

Published 12 May 2014


Charge up your batteries, jump on-board a motor home and start your self-drive tour around New Zealand’s southern splendour. It’s beautiful, it’s breathtaking – it’s all the hype and more. Here’s our pick of three itineraries to help you make the most of your road trip through New Zealand’s scenic south.

 the beautiful path on the foot of the mountains in Queenstown
Wind through magnificent valleys in Queenstown

First Stop, Christchurch

Located in the middle of the South Island, and with an international airport at your service, Christchurch is your best starting point. Before you head off, take some time to explore Christchurch’s cosmopolitan heart. The heritage city’s revitalisation following the 2011 earthquakes has lent it a new creative, modern energy.

New Zealand views are so spectacular you’ll want to keep nature literally on your doorstep. Flight Centre can organise the hire of a motor home from Christchurch – models span basic sleepers to deluxe homes on wheels – and help you plan your drive.

Itinerary 1: French Delights, Alpine Walks & Thermal Springs

This itinerary is short and sweet so you’ll have ample time to appreciate the intoxicating surrounds. Start day one in Christchurch then visit the seaside port of Akaroa for a hint of French provincial. The markings of early French settlement are charming, so dedicate at least one day and night here – it’s worth the sojourn.

On day two, we head north to Arthur’s Pass. Located in the Southern Alps, this pass was once the route between east and west for Maori hunters. Today the two sides are characterised by riverbeds and beech forests eastside and gorged rivers and dense rainforest on the west.

Day three, head to Hanmer Springs. Soak in warm mineral waters and revive yourself in the ancient thermal springs. Stay overnight here and really unwind. Spend the next day bushwalking, jet boating, horse riding and more.

Explore the spiritual heart of New Zealand further up the road with a Maori tour in Kaikoura. You’ll be rewarded with ancestral stories, traditional art, craft and medicinal wisdom.

 a hanging bridge across a lake in the Fiordland National Park
Walk over water in Fiordland National Park

Itinerary 2: The Highest Of Peaks & Frozen Lands

Start in Christchurch, then head west towards New Zealand’s highest peak, Mount Cook. Refresh yourself along the way with one of New Zealand’s famous morning teas.

Mount Cook, also known as Aoraki, provides the full alpine experience with permanent snow caps and perfect peaks. You can trek, walk or, for those more daring, indulge in an air safari or heli-skiing. You’ll want to spend a few days exploring the frozen sights including the Tasman Glacier, sculpted during the last ice age.

After an active visit to Mount Cook, take it easy on your return leg. Pace yourself and enjoy more culinary treats and refreshments – New Zealand bakes a mean pie and produces a nice drop of wine to accompany.

 the crystal blue waters of lake tekapo surrounded by white and beige stones
Find your reflection in Lake Tekapo

Itinerary 3: Turquoise Lakes, Stellar Skies & Adventure Plus

After sightseeing in Christchurch, head south west. Once you take in the turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo, the hours on the road will melt away. Photo opportunities are plentiful with nature’s most vivid of colours on display. The picturesque Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo offers a beautiful view of Mount Cook.

Stay at one of the caravan parks or hotels that hug the lake shores to get some fresh night air, then as the sun sets get ready to explore the night at the world’s first Starlight Heritage Reserve. The clear skies and unusually dark nights are ripe for star gazing. Aquatic adventures await you the next day. Be it summer or winter – there’s always something on offer.

Next, head for the adventure capital of the world – Queenstown. This resort town is on adrenalin. Take your pick from skydiving, white-water rafting, canyon swinging and skiing. Queenstown is the gateway to New Zealand’s finest ski fields.

Afterwards, head south to Fiordland National Park. At Doubtful Sound you’ll find less crowds competing for the spectacular views – unless it’s raining, then Milford Sound with its 360-degree waterfalls cannot be missed.

Meander slowly back towards Christchurch and enjoy discovering more of your own holiday gems.


christchurch queenstown

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