This two week itinerary of the South Island is a good balance for most people on their first trip to New Zealand.
If you only have two weeks but would prefer more nights in each stop, consider
Start in Christchurch, Queenstown or Dunedin
The way the route is laid out has you setting out from and returning to Christchurch, but there are also airports in Queenstown and Dunedin, so you could do the same route from those places if you preferred.
The South Island’s largest city
Christchurch is a great starting point for most people, having the second largest airport in New Zealand (after Auckland). It’s a nice place to explore, and it known for its English heritage, and you may gather a sense of that around the city centre and in Hagley Park.
Alpine Exploration in Arthur’s Pass
From Christchurch, you’ll cross the patchwork farmland of the Canterbury Plains, ascending to the alpine heights of Arthur’s Pass. Here you’ll find serious mountain scenery, with excellent hikes and waterfalls, as well as superb roadside views for those that want to keep exertions to a minimum. Stop by Castle Hill on the way, used as a film location in Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia.
Rainforest, glaciers and stunning mirror lakes
Once you cross over Arthur’s Pass, you’ll be in the region known as the West Coast. This is a lightly populated region, but one offering some of New Zealands’s finest scenery.
Dramatic, heavily rainforested mountains tower above the vibrant green of dairy farms right through to Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. Explore some of the beautiful lakes along the route, and enjoy superb coastline, including at Ship Creek and Knight’s Point.
Wineries and Adventure
Heading over Haast Pass, you’ll depart the West Coast to the much drier climate of the province of Otago. Here, in the vicinity of Wanaka and Queenstown, you’ll find that wineries abound, with many receiving visitors for tastings and meals.
Queenstown, of course, is the adventure capital of New Zealand – with a tonne of activities to experience and places to explore.
Breathtaking Milford Sound
After some time in Queenstown make the beautiful drive to Milford Sound – probably the most photographed place in New Zealand, where dramatic peaks rise sharply from the ocean fiord.
New Zealand’s Scottish City
Heading eastward across Southland and Otago will lead you to the port city of Dunedin. Here you’ll find one of the most characterful and historical cities in the country. Scottish heritage is proudly embraced by the locals. The city is also home to the University of Otago – the oldest in the country. A daytrip to the Otago Peninsula, where you’ll find the Royal Albatross Colony, is highly recommended.
Summit of the Alps
From Dunedin, return to the southern Alps, making your way to the highest mountain in New Zealand, Mt Cook. Continue to the vibrant glacial blue of Lake Tekapo and check out the charming lakeside Church of the Good Shepherd, before making the drive to Christchurch and the conclusion of this itinerary.