If you are tired of crowded cities and don’t mind seeing more sheep than people and also love adventure, then New Zealand is the place for you. Here’s listing a perfect itinerary for a 7 to 10 day road trip to this beautiful island down under.
For a road trip, you need a car. You can hire one from the popular rental places like AVIS, Budget, Hertz etc. or if you really want to experience total wilderness, then hire a campervan or a motorhome. New Zealand is very campervan friendly and you will totally enjoy a campervan experience. There are lots of campervan rental companies like Juicy, Apollo etc. I suggest renting one with an inbuilt toilet and shower if budget permits. It actually proves to be cheaper compared to what you would spend on renting a car and hotels. Plus the freedom and flexibility is provides is really advantageous especially if you are a traveler who doesn’t like travelling with fixed plans and itineraries. Also, you can camp at some of the most beautiful places amidst nature, sometimes a river flowing nearby, sometimes surrounded by mountains, sometimes at a farm, sometimes right in front of the beach or a lake. No crowd around. Just you and the nature. It’s a wonderful feeling to be woken up by the sounds of nature, rather than banging doors, clinking utensils or crying babies. There are several apps available that will help you pick camping grounds along the way (free camps as well as paid ones), for e.g. wikicampsNZ.
Now let’s check out the places to visit. If you are flying in, the best place would be Christchurch as most of the international airlines do fly here. You can then do a round trip of the south island covering the best places this beautiful country has to offer.
Upon landing, you can either get the car/van straightaway or stay a night in the city, exploring places nearby. Considering you first destination is Franz Josef Glacier, the shortest (and only) way to reach here from Christchurch is via the Arthur’s pass. It’s a scenic drive. Now all drives in NZ are scenic so I won’t keep mentioning that. There is only one good restaurant along Arthur’s pass and you must eat here. It’s called The Bealey. It’s got a fabulous view and you can actually roll in the grass here. It serves vegetarian food as well.
Along the way, you must stop at Hokitika beach. Very strong waves, so make sure you do not enter the water under any circumstances. On the way, you must visit lake Mapuorika for some perfect reflection shots. I think there is some blue lake or emerald lake too along the way. It was quite an adventurous walk to the lake but the lake was muddy due to heavy rains. But the walk was good.
Next stop, Franz Josef Glacier. Stay here for the night.
If you are an adventure junkie, you must SkyDive here. Although everyone suggests that Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world, and no doubt it is. But Franz Josef is much more beautiful for the dive. It is a lot less commercialised and fewer people. Also, the view from the top is of the sea, mountains, southern alps, glaciers. It’s breathtaking. Do book your slot a day in advance and take the morning slot so that you have the rest of the day free to visit the glaciers. The Fox glacier is about half an hours drive from here and you can visit both in a day. The glaciers will need 1 hr walk one way. You will be too tired to drive anywhere else after the glacier walks so opt to stay nearby and start for Wanaka the next morning.
Wanaka has a beautiful Lake and you can do some water activities here like kayaking, banana boat ride etc. I spent 2 nights here. It was here that I fulfilled the dream of my life, flying a plane!!! It’s a 20 min flight where you get to actually fly the plane with the Trainer pilot beside you. You get to bring along a friend for free. You only pay for the class and the friend gets to sit in the backseat enjoying the ride while you fly. The thrill is something else. And the view is no doubt amazing. You need to book it in advance as it is usually full. Take the first available slot if possible. For 120 NZD, it was a steal, and a must do!
Then comes Queenstown, the centre of all adventures in NZ. Lots of activities to do here including the bungy jump, skydive, cliff swing etc. Go to the visitor centre and choose your activity. Spend 2 or more days here depending on what all you want to do.
Next is Milford sound, the home of beautiful fjords. Drive to Te Anau and stay there. Next day go to Milford sound and do a day cruise.Te Anau drive is not easy and takes a long time. So even if Google maps says 5 hrs it will take 8. So just plan the drive well.You will have to come back to Queenstown from there.
Near Queenstown there is a very pretty little town called Arrowtown. There are some walking trails here and some quaint little cafes to enjoy your meals. Queenstown is along a huge lake and the drive along the lake will take you to another pretty little town called Glenorchy. Some small trails to do here as well. The drive itself is very scenic.
Next stop should be at Mount Aoraki National Park. It has the highest peak of the southern alps and has lots of hiking trails. It has a nice planetarium and some sky gazing tours which you must book in advance because seats are limited. This place has a very dark sky due no light pollution. But the darkest possible skies are at Lake Tekapo which comes next. The Cowan’s observatory conducts sky gazing tours. I saw the milky way at this place, through the naked eye. Stunning!
You then drive back to Christchurch. The city is still in shambles post the earthquake and doesn’t have much to offer. I don’t like cities anyways.
I think I have covered the best parts of the south island of New Zealand as far as I could remember.
This was a pretty long write up but to summarize: Christchurch, Arthurs Pass, Franz Josef glacier, Fox Glacier, Wanaka , Te Anau, Milford sound, Queenstown, Mount Aoraki, Tekapo, Christchurch and fly home from here. The entire thing is a round trip except Te Anau and Milford Sound which is a detour. You can skip that if you are short of time. You will most definitely have to skip that if you trip is only for 7 days. If you want to do justice to this beautiful island, give it 12-15 days like I did, and explore it at leisure. I promise you, you will not regret it and would leave wanting to come back for more, like I did.