2 Weeks in New Zealand South Island: Sample Itineraries

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2 Weeks in New Zealand South Island

2 Weeks in New Zealand: South Island

One of our Kiwi friends told us, “Don’t make the mistake of skipping the South Island, which many do when they come to New Zealand. You haven’t really seen New Zealand until you’ve explored it.”

We took our friend’s advice and spent almost three weeks touring around this beautiful island. After having now travelled extensively around both islands, not only do I 100% agree with her but I have to argue that the South may even be more stunning than the North. With ice capped mountain ranges, pristine glacier lakes, jaw-dropping fjords and an incredible array of   wildlife living just off its jagged coastline, it really is one of the best travel spots in the world.

In this post, part of our ongoing itinerary series, we give you TWO fantastic sample itineraries for 2 Weeks in New Zealand South Island, both of which guarantee you a fabulous time.

These itineraries are designed to be done while self-driving through the country as this is the absolute best way to see and experience the magnificence of this tiny island nation.

Of course, these sample itineraries are just a guide and you depending on what type of traveller you are, you can modify these to suit your own style.

Looking for FREE things to do in New Zealand? Check out our awesome lists of the best free things in both the North and South Islands.

New Zealand

As I mentioned in our last post, 2 Weeks in New Zealand – North Island, I loved travelling around this country. During certain times it felt like I was driving through Western Canada while at others it seemed like I was actually in Middle Earth where I’d couldn’t help but half expect to see Gandalf riding past me on his white horse.

If you want to geek out with us, check out our post on the Lord of the Rings locations all over New Zealand.

We hope you enjoy these sample itineraries for 2 Weeks in New Zealand!

Let’s begin with itinerary one which takes you through the northern part of the island. Itinerary two will take you through the South and if you’re feeling adventurous you can always combine these two in order to suit your travel needs.

2 Week Itineraries

Itinerary One: The North – Christchurch, Kaikoura, Nelson, Abel Tasman National Park, Takaka, Punakaiki, Arthur’s Pass & Castle Hill

Days 1-2: Christchurch

  • Spend your first few days exploring the South Island’s largest city which was famously devastated by massive earthquakes from 2010 to 2012.
  • We highly recommend exploring the downtown’s Re:Start Shipping Container Mall which offers awesome dining and shopping built within colourful shipping containers.
  • Check out the unconventional architecture of the Cardboard Cathedral
  • If you visit during rugby season (which we highly recommend!), check out an All Blacks game in Christchurch’s AMI Stadium.

Where we stayed: We had a blast couchsurfing in Christchurch. Check out our post on Couchsurfing for more info!

2 weeks in New Zealand South Island Christchurch

Day 3-4: Kaikoura

  • Set out early from Christchurch along the beautiful coastline to Kaikoura, about 3 hours north. Enjoy the stunning coastline before stopping at Oahu Stream Waterfall (free). Walk up the pathway across the street where you’ll immediately be greeted by playful seals playing in the tiny creek. Follow the trail to the waterfall (10 minutes) where you’ll witness dozens of seals joyfully splashing around the pond underneath a gorgeous waterfall!
  • We highly recommend booking yourself into the morning trip for Whale Watching. During the trip you’ll should see multiple sperm whales, the smallest dolphins in the world (Hectors) and loads of seals and bird life in the area. Expect to pay approximately $145 pp NZD for the experience; well worth it!

Day 5-6: Nelson

  • Use Nelson as a base to finish up planning and preparing for your upcoming treks inside Abel Tasman National Park.
  • Spend an afternoon or morning enjoying the beautiful calm sea by heading out on a kayaking, jet boating or stand up paddle boarding adventure.

Where we stayed: Palace Guesthouse – $25 CAD pp (Private room, shared bath)

2 weeks in New Zealand South Island Sheep

Day 7-9: Abel Tasman National Park

  • Dive head first into one of the most beautiful National Park’s in the country, by taking a few of the many different day hikes or set out with your backpack and supplies on a multi-day hike where you can completely immerse yourself in nature and unplug from the world.
  • Check out these sites to help you plan where you will trek: New Zealand Government Website or Newzealand.com 

2 weeks in New Zealand South Island Abel Tasman

Day 10-11: Takaka (Golden Valley)

  • Head to New Zealand’s “hippie” spot Takaka where you can stay in an old commune and learn about the lifestyle philosophy.
  • Head into town where you can enjoy world-class coffee and then shop to your heart’s content for unique handicrafts and other goods made by the Golden Valley’s residents.

Where we stayed: Rainbow Valley Community

2 weeks in New Zealand South Island Takaka

Days 12-13: Punakaiki

  • Enjoy the 4 hour drive from Takaka to Punakaiki, where you’ll be treated to some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world.
  • Before sunset (or at sunrise), check out one of New Zealand’s spectacular natural formations, the “Pancake Rocks” at Punakaiki. Crafted over thousands of years by wind and waves, these rocks appear to be made up of hundreds of individual pancakes stacked one on top of the other.

2 weeks in New Zealand South Island Pancake Rocks

Day 14: Drive to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass and Castle Hill

  • Wake up bright and early and start your journey back to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass. While overlooking the panoramic views high above Arthur’s Pass, watch out for the New Zealand’s most famous parrot, the Kea.
  • Stop at Castle Hill, which is a mountainside filled with massive boulders that seem almost out-of-place because of their enormity. The Dalai Lama once called this site one of the most spiritual places on earth, an it’s still one of the most evocative and beautiful places we’ve visited.
  • Before arriving back in Christchurch make sure to stop in the tiny little town of Sheffield and visit the Sheffield Pie Shop, it’s legendary for a reason, we came back twice!

2 weeks in New Zealand South Island Castle Hill

Itinerary Two: The South – Christchurch, Oamaru, Dunedin, Otago Peninsula, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Franz Josef Glacier

Days 1-2: Christchurch

    • Spend your first few days exploring the South Island’s largest city which was famously devastated by massive earthquakes from 2010 to 2012.
    • We highly recommend exploring the downtown’s Re:Start Shipping Container Mall which offers awesome dining and shopping built within colourful shipping containers.
    • Check out the unconventional architecture of the Cardboard Cathedral
    • If you visit during rugby season (which we highly recommend!), check out an All Blacks game in Christchurch’s AMI Stadium.

Where we stayed: We had a blast couchsurfing in Christchurch. Check out our post on Couchsurfing for more info!

2 weeks in New Zealand South Island Christchurch 2

Days 3-4: Oamaru

  • One of the best hidden gems in the South Island, Oamaru offers art, culture, history and up close encounters with many types of penguins.
  • Spend an hour or so checking out one of the coolest spots in New Zealand, Steampunk HQ.
  • Spend a few hours walking around the historic district of downtown which transports you back in time with turn of the century architecture, museums and locals tinkering with old bicycles and gadgets.
  • Just before sunset head up to the “lookout” where you can watch yellow-eyed penguins come to shore.
  • As the sun sets, head to the Blue Penguin Colony where you take a seat ($28 NZD pp – no photography) to watch dozens of blue penguins come back to their nests.
  • Another option is to stay at the Harbour Campground and during the evening watch the blue penguins coming to nest inside the campground!

Where we stayed: Harbour Campground – $25 CAD (Parking spot, hot shower)

2 weeks in New Zealand South Island Steampunk

Days 4-6: Dunedin and Otago Peninsula

  • On the drive down to Dunedin, make sure to stop and checkout the Moreaki spherical boulders which are shrouded in legend and mystery.
  • Spend a few hours wandering around the University town of Dunedin, check out Baldwin Street, the steepest residential street in the world.
  • Spend the next couple of days exploring the stunning Otago Peninsula. Check out the Albatross colony, the Arch at Tunnel Beach and Sandfly Bay where you’ll have the opportunity to get up close and personal with seal lions and penguins in their natural habitats.

2 weeks in New Zealand South Island Otago Peninsula

Days 7-9: Milford Sound – Fjordlands

  • The drive from Te Anau to Milford sound is the most beautiful highway I have ever driven in the world. The combination of mountains hugging the road on either side and waterfalls cascading all around you make this an otherworldly experience.
  • We ran into terrible weather so our boat tour was cancelled but the drive alone into the Fjordlands and the view from the docking area was spectacular. We know we’ll be back!
  • During busy season make sure to book your tour in advance.

milford-sound

Photo credit: www.newzealand.com

Days 10-11: Queenstown

  • Check out New Zealand’s premier adventure capital where you can skydive, bungee jump, mountain bike and experience heaps of other crazy adventure sports.
  • Enjoy a few drinks and a nice meal in one of downtown’s many cool restaurants and bars.

2 weeks in New Zealand South Island Queenstown

Days 12-13: Franz Josef Glacier

  • Get your camera ready…the drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier is one of the most stunning in the world; soak in the dramatic mountain passes and glacier lakes in Mount Aspiring National Park.
  • Pre-book one of the many different treks/tours at Franz Josef Glacier and enjoy the awesome experience trekking New Zealand’s most famous glacier.

franz-josef

Photo credit: www.newzealand.com

Days 14: Drive to Christchurch or back to Queenstown

  • Drive back to Queenstown or take the scenic route back to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass where you may meet the Kea, New Zealand’s most famous parrot.
  • Make sure to stop to stop at Castle Hill which was named as one of the most spiritual places on earth by the Dalai Lama.
  • Make sure to grab a pie from the pie shop in Sheffield before arriving back into Christchurch. You’ll thank us later!

Sheffield Pie Shop

We spent close to three months in New Zealand travelling from the northernmost point to the southern most point. It was a dream come true!

When people ask me where I think I could live other than Canada my first responses is always New Zealand because it feels so familiar yet foreign at the same time. As an outdoorsy guy, its paradise. So many places to trek, mountain bike, kayak and fully immerse yourself in nature, away from it all!

I hope these sample itineraries for 2 weeks in New Zealand South Island have helped you plan out your NZ adventure. If you have any questions for us feel free to leave a comment below as we’re happy to help in any way we can.

Make sure to check out our lists of best FREE things to do in both the North Island and South Island of New Zealand.

We thank you in advance for liking and/or sharing this post if you enjoyed it.

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Cheers,

Ross & Alyse

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Ross

Lover of travel, photography, nature, movies, and nachos. If you love Star Wars and Lord of the Rings we'll probably become best friends.
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