I’m sharing my ultimate New Zealand Travel Guide and day by day itinerary with you for the South Island, so you can plan the most epic adventure holiday.
If you thought the North Island was beautiful, you’re in for a real treat in the South! The scenes here are next level!
New Zealand Travel Guide: Day by day itinerary
- Day 1 – Abel Tasman National Park
- Day 2– Nelson Lakes National Park
- Day 3– Franz Josef Glacier
- Day 4 – Wanaka
- Day 5 – Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
- Day 6 – Queenstown
- Day 7 – Milford Sound
Day 1 – Abel Tasman National Park
This might be New Zealand’s smallest National Park, but there is still plenty to see and do here. It’s most well known for the 60km Coast Track. Explore the beautiful secluded beaches, impressive rock formations, incredible peacock colour scenery and the abundance of wildlife in Abel Tasman.
Day 2 – Nelson Lakes National Park
Here is where you can take the famous picture-perfect shot on the Lake Rotoiti jetty. Don’t be fooled by the enchanting blue colours of the lake and sunny sky – as I jumped off the jetty and my toes hit the surface of the water, I quickly learnt how bitterly cold it was! It’s still a definite must-do though!
You can also enjoy a gentle stroll around the glacial lakes, or if you’re keen on a more advanced hike there are plenty of trails to choose from around the stunning alpine landscapes.
Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park
As you continue the drive down New Zealand’s South Island, prepare yourself for some ridiculous driving scenery. We must have parked up a dozen times just to stop and take in the surreal views of the mountains and crystal clear waters. If you are driving past Arthur’s Pass, then I recommend you stop to climb to Devil’s Punch Bowl Falls – the best waterfall in Arthur’s Pass and a good excuse to stretch your legs after a long drive.
Day 3 – Franz Josef Glacier
This is such a unique experience for the true adrenaline junkies! Franz Josef Glacier is one of the steepest glaciers in New Zealand, with the most incredible glacier features which are always evolving, including the ice caves, tunnels, seracs and crevasses.
You can choose from a helicopter ride over the rugged terrain, a guided hike over the awe-inspiring glacier scenery, experience the sport of ice-climbing, walk along the mighty Waiho River bed on the Glacier Valley Walk, or for the ultimate glacier adventure join the overnight alpine camping expedition.
Day 4 – Wanaka
Wanaka is a place I’m absolutely gutted that we didn’t get to visit, due to being short on time. Make sure you factor in Wanaka to your New Zealand itinerary, specifically the famous Blue Pools and Roys Peak.
The Blue Pools track and Young Link Track wind through the beautiful beech forests and over a swing bridge to the pristine waters of Makarora River’s Blue Pools.
Roys Peak is a popular, albeit challenging, day hike in the stunning Wanaka region. Enjoy the spectacular views of the surrounding peaks and Lake Wanaka as you climb to the summit.
Day 5 – Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Aoraki, or Mount Cook as it’s more commonly known, is another jaw-dropping location and is New Zealand’s highest mountain, at 3,724 meters above sea level. Aoraki is the traditional Maori name for the national park.
As expected, there are many walking trails you can choose from, but I recommend the 3-hour Hooker Valley hike. This trail takes you over 3 swing bridges, past the alpine streams and glaciers and if you listen carefully, you can hear the avalanches in the near distance. If you’re fortunate enough to have clear weather forecasted then start this hike just before sunrise. I’ve heard the views of the morning sun rays peeking over the southern alps is just incredible.
Make sure to stay at least one night in Mount Cook, because the stars are like nothing you have ever seen before!
Again, we must have pulled over a hundred times on the drive up to Mount Cook, to take in the epic views and snap some more photos. Be sure to stop at Lake Pukaki, St. Peter’s Lookout (near Lake Pukaki) and also, keep an eye out for the gorgeous purple lupins dotted all around the Mackenzie region.
Day 6 – Queenstown
There is SO much to do in Queenstown, so many activities, culture, sightseeing, bars, restaurants, nightlife, outdoor adventures… you could easily have a holiday just in Queenstown.
We spent about 4 days here in the end because we stayed over New Year’s Eve, went to an epic festival (Rhythm & Alps) and met up with some friends too.
In a nutshell, make sure you go to Fergburger – Queenstown’s famous burger restaurant with the best burgers you’ve ever tasted – the queue speaks for itself, and it’s definitely worth the wait! Embrace your inner child and go luging, take on the worlds most thrilling bungee jump, swing or zip line if you’re brave enough, or perhaps just relax in the tranquil Onsen Retreat Spa Pools.
Day 7 – Milford Sound
Milford Sound is one of the most popular places on the South Island. It’s been deemed The 8th Wonder of the World, I can definitely see why!
If there is just one thing you do during your visit, let it be exploring the fiords via kayak. We booked with Rosco’s Milford Kayak’s and the whole experience was amazing and beautifully overwhelming. For 3-hours, we paddled on the dark glacial waters, kayaked under a thundering waterfall and spotted a baby seal enjoying a midday swim in the sun. Our Rosco guide was hilarious and so knowledgable, telling us all about the fiord’s history, geography and rare wildlife that lives there.
Kayaking Milford Sound was my favourite experience from the whole trip and one I will never forget!
After exploring Milford Sound, we ventured back to Queenstown, to Queenstown Airport where we reluctantly began our return journey home.
New Zealand… you still have my heart. I hope to visit again very soon!
If you haven’t been yet, then all I can say is you need to start planning your dreamy New Zealand holiday today! Let’s be honest, there is not too much planning for you to do now… This New Zealand Travel Guide covers it all! But trust me when I say, you need to see its beauty first hand to truly understand what a magnificent country it is.