If you’ve only got time for a one week itinerary in the South Island of New Zealand, and want to maximise the diversity of what you experience, then this may just be the itinerary for you.
It’s designed to start and end in Christchurch, which has the most international flights. However, you could easily loop from Queenstown instead, if you prefer.
Christchurch – the largest city on the South Island – is known for the English influence that historically pervades the city. An earthquake hit the city hard in 2011. This changed the face of the central city, but the views from the Port Hills, both over the city and toward to Banks Peninsula, are as good as ever.
From Christchurch, an hour’s drive through the Canterbury Plains leads you to the steep ascent up Porter’s Pass. That will put you amidst scenic alpine terrain that continues over Arthur’s Pass, right through to the descent into the West Coast.
The West Coast is remarkably lush, and also lightly populated. Dense rainforests meet a wild and beautiful coastline. Travelling South, you’ll come to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, where dramatic slopes ascend right to the highest summit in the country, Mt Cook. On a clear day, be sure to stop by Lake Matheson for superb views to summit.
From the moist wilderness of the West Coast, ascend Haast Pass, crossing the divide of the Southern Alps to arrive at the beautiful lakeside towns of Wanaka and Queenstown.
Queenstown is one of the world’s major adventure tourism destinations. Here you’ll find a huge variety of activities and experiences, both locally and to the surrounding areas – including scenic flights to Milford Sound.
From Queenstown, the route back to Christchurch leads through vastly different terrain to what you’ve experienced on the west side of the Alps. The climate here is far drier, and whereas the West Coast is cloaked in mossy wilderness, your route now takes you through the stark beauty of places like Lindis Pass.
On this route, a detour alongside glacial Lake Pukaki brings to Mt Cook, where you can enjoy superb alpine views, as well as the sprawling Tasman Glacier.
Just down the road is the vibrant blue of Lake Tekapo.
From Tekapo, you’ll wind through the mountains until passing through Fairlie, from where its a couple of hours cruising across the Canterbury Plains to return to Christchurch.