17-day road trip to South Island of New Zealand

ocean view near Kaikoura - 17-day road trip to South Island of New Zealand
In our blog post Humble happiness in New Zealand you can read all our findings talking to the locals. In this blog post, we share the best 17-day road trip to South Island of New Zealand. New Zealand’s spectacular South Island is on the bucket list of many people right around the world. ‘The most beautiful country we have ever been to!!’ That’s what so many people told us upfront. And we must admit, its beauty is not to be described in words … you have to see it with your own eyes.

We rented a campervan from TUI Campers for two weeks and had the best road trip ever. We only did the South Island as we are (always) short on time and it is said it is even more amazing than the North Island. And we were not disappointed for a second during our 17-day road trip to South Island of New Zealand.

Please know that we didn’t cover everything of New Zealand’s South Island. This is not possible in two weeks and so we still have some left for a next trip to the most beautiful part of the world.

We hope this road trip itinerary helps get you excited about a trip to one of the worlds most utterly beautiful regions. For all the free and paid camping spots, just download the Britz app. And we can advise you to book some places upfront, especially in the more remote areas like Milford Sounds and Abel Tasman.


Here’s our itinerary for the best 17-day road trip to South Island of New Zealand


Day 1 – Christchurch

The best place to fly to and to pick up your campervan is Christchurch. And it is also a nice city to explore for a few hours. Its so fascinating to see a city recover from an earthquake (2! recently). The container mall area is nice for food and shopping. An area with, as the name suggests, containers. Besides that, just take an afternoon to wander around the city, explore the Canterbury museum (it’s free!!!) to better understand the history and have a look at the beautiful botanic gardens.

Day 2 & 4 – Lake Tekapo

The first 50 km out of Christchurch isn’t special but the closer you get to Lake Tekapo the wider your mouth will go open wider.

lupines near lake tekapo - 17-day road trip to South Island of New Zealand

Lake Tekapo is a beautiful lake with a nice camping site on the shore. We did the 3-hour Mount John Summit track to the top and a nice walk around the lake.

lake tekapo - 17-day road trip to South Island of New Zealand

lake tekapo - 17-day road trip to South Island of New Zealand

There are many more hikes on this website, so just choose a hike that suits you. The special old church worth seeing.

Day 4 – Aoraki Mount Cook Village

The drive out to see New Zealand’s highest peak is quite possibly one of the best experiences we had in New Zealand. It offers uninterrupted views of Mount Cook as it winds along Lake Pukaki. The village itself is home to walks and to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre which offers a series of 2D, 3D and a Digital Dome Planetarium shows.

The Hooker Valley hike is our favorite hike in this area.

Hooker valey track - 17-day road trip to South Island of New Zealand

Mount Cook glacier lake - 17-day road trip to South Island of New Zealand

More tracks can be found on this website.

Day 5 – Dunedin

Our main reason to spend time in Dunedin was meeting a Dutch friend who lives here. However, it is a very nice town with some good food and amazing surroundings. Go out on the peninsula and just follow the roads. You’ll be amazed by the scenery, views, and people you’ll meet along the way. Dunedin town is a nice and vibrant student center with enough nice bars and restaurants to go nuts!

Day 6 & 7 – Milford sounds

Something you’ve not (at least we haven’t) seen before. Milford Sounds are the largest Fjords of New Zealand. Take a boat tour to get up close and experience the power of nature.  And the road towards the town is already mind-blowing, so allow your schedule for some stops!

Day 8 & 9 Queenstown en Wanaka

Nice town. Lots of watersports options.  The restaurant area around the lake is worth it, especially some shared dishes in the Public kitchen. Wanaka even cozier. We loved walking around this small town. We even challenged ourselves by going to the puzzling world! Definitely a game location for young and old.

Day 10 – Frans Jozef en Fox glaciers

The drive from Wanaka to Franz Josef is one of the South Island’s best, so give yourself plenty of time to make stops at waterfalls, lookouts, and the amazing Blue Pools. You’ll have plenty of time to explore a lot of Glacier Country’s highlights. The Fox Glacier is just a 30-minute walk from the parking and it is amazing!

Day 10 – Greymouth

A nice place for a stop-over, nothing more than that. They have an amazing free camping spot along the coastline.

Day 12, 13 & 14 – Abel Tasman

This is the most famous park of the South Island of New Zealand, and we understand why. We did a 2-day trip going kayaking and hiking in the park. We slept one night at the Old Macdonald Farm the night before, the camping area closest to the park. We strongly recommend renting a self-guided kayak and take the challenge to kayak all the way to the Bark Bay hut, about 4 to 5 hours. Don’t expect a fancy bed there, but a primary school camping experience with 7 beds next to each other. After four hours of kayaking, it’s all you need anyway. Next day hike to Awaroa hut and then arrange a pickup with a water taxi. This is the perfect way to see Abel Tasman! And trust us, you don’t what to miss this!! Our advice is to prepare yourself well by reading all information you need about hikes, huts, what to bring and how to survive here.

Day 15 – Nelson & Marlborough

Day 15 is another easy drive day with lots to see and experience along the way. In between Abel Tasman and Nelson you have Richmond, an area known for its excellent wineries and fresh fruits (especially cherries). Take a small detour and visit the Neudorf vineyard for a wine tasting and some lunch. Then continue and drive through the Marlborough Wine region for a sip of the great Forrest wines. Then continue driving south and enjoy the spectacular views along the Kaikoura coast.

Day 16 – Kaikoura

The seaside town of Kaikoura sits on a big wide open bay that is home to countless species of marine life and flanked with towering snow-capped mountains and rolling green hills. The bay is home to an array of marine life all year round. Your best chance of seeing them up close is on a cruise and there are cruises that run daily all year round. Sperm Whales live in the bay year-round and Kaikoura is one of only three places in the world where you can see them up close. A tour will also give you the chance to swim with the resident Dusky Dolphins.

Day 17 – Christchurch

Time to return your campervan and depending on your flight spend a few hours in Christchurch to shop, have some food and drinks and to reflect on your amazing holiday in New Zealand.

17-day road trip to South Island of New Zealand

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