Round trip New Zealand: The ideal travel itinerary through the South Island from 3 to 4 weeks

New Zealand, the country best known for its rugged nature and endless landscapes with a wide variety of wildlife. Think kiwis, seals and endless unique wildlife. For movie buffs, this is where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was shot. Not for nothing has this country probably been on your bucket list to visit for years, just as it has been for us. With this roundtrip, we share with you everything you need to know to discover the South Island for yourself and which highlights are definitely not to be missed! This article is the starting point for your ideal travel itinerary for 3 to 4 weeks through New Zealand’s South Island.

Best travel time to tour the South Island

The seasons in New Zealand are reversed from those of Belgium and the Netherlands. That is, when it is summer with us, it is winter in New Zealand. Therefore, the best travel time to explore this amazing country is between early November and late March. In this, the months of December, January and February are the high season. If you go in November as we did, you have the advantage that it is still quiet. This makes traveling a little cheaper, but the weather is a little more unpredictable and it can still be really cold.

In high season, it is summer in New Zealand, which increases the chances of good weather. This ensures that you will also have to share the land with more men. However, don’t let the unpredictable weather stop you. Even the locals indicated that this was the weather becoming increasingly volatile during all months. And believe us, New Zealand is beautiful whether it rains or not.

Everything you need to know for your South Island tour

Are you packing your bags already? Nicely done! But how do you get to the other side of the world? We recommend that you start looking for flights early. This can be done for example through Skyscanner or Google Flights, because airline tickets can easily reach € 2000 (return) last minute. From Zaventem or Schiphol Airport, with one or two stopovers, you can get to New Zealand in about 26 hours. For your tour of the South Island, land in Christchurch and begin your adventure there.

In addition, to enter New Zealand, you need an electronic visa or NZeTA . You can easily apply for this online via this website or via the NZETA app. The cost is about €35 per person. It is best to do this one or two weeks in advance, but normally your visa will be granted within 72 hours. This visa allows you to stay in New Zealand as a tourist for up to 9 months and is valid for two years.

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Read our 10 tips for your trip to New Zealand that are useful for your trip to this beautiful country.

Where to stay and how to get around in New Zealand

The most popular way to travel around New Zealand is by campervan. That’s what we did, too. Nothing like having the ultimate freedom to go wherever you want. And you have everything you need with you at all times. There are several organizations where you can go to rent an RV for your tour . For this, Jucy and Travelbarn may be the most well-known.

We booked our trip to New Zealand through Kilroy. They were excellent in helping us choose a suitable RV for our trip and also helped us book our airline tickets. Are you planning to travel around New Zealand for longer? Then again, you can always buy an RV locally and resell it at the end of your trip. We do recommend that you don’t wait until high season then, because chances are that the best RVs will already be gone.

Once you have an RV you can hit the road! New Zealand has hundreds of campsites, so there is something for everyone. It is notable, however, that the number of free campsites in New Zealand has decreased dramatically and there are stricter controls on wild camping. Expect to pay an average of NZD 7 to 15 per person per night for basic camping. For a more luxurious campsite sit around NZD 25-30 per person. The best way to look up campsites is to use apps such as Campermate or Rankers.

A second option for getting around New Zealand is to rent a car. This often works out cheaper than a campervan and you’ll also be a lot faster on New Zealand roads, but you’ll have to budget extra for your accommodations. Then be sure to secure them early, because some areas of New Zealand such as Mount Cook National Park have a limited supply of accommodations.

TRAVEL TIP! Remember that they drive on the left in New Zealand and you need an international driver’s license.

Ideal 3- to 4-week itinerary for a South Island tour

Plane tickets booked? Camper or car arranged? Visa has been approved? Great, then it’s time to explore the South Island! This round trip begins and ends in Christchurch, but we also give the option to continue your trip to the North Island. Of course, you can modify and shorten or extend this route as you wish.

Day 1 – 2: Christchurch

After your long flight, you’ll land in Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. To minimize your jet lag, book a hotel for your first night for a good night’s sleep. You can explore Christchurch in the evening and have something nice to eat. The second day you will pick up your motorhome or car and can do your shopping in Christchurch before starting your adventure!

TRAVEL TIP!: the best chain to do your shopping is at Pak’nSave. Here you can find really everything and there are often good promotions.

Day 2 – 4: Lake Tekapo

In about 3.5 hours you will drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo. But you certainly won’t mind this, because soon you will be treated to the beautiful landscapes for which New Zealand is so well known. Once you arrive at Lake Tekapo, you can marvel at the intense blue lake. Furthermore, you can also take a look at The Church of the Good Shepherd.

Enjoy your homemade breakfast in the morning before taking your first hike of the trip. The 3-hour Mount John hike takes you past Lake Tekapo to the top of Mount John for fantastic views of this lake. Afterwards, you can relax your muscles in the Tekapo hot springs. Do you have any energy left? Then be sure to get up at night, because the area around Lake Tekapo is one of the largest Dark Sky Reserves in the world. Thus, the ideal location for stargazing.

Day 4 – 7: Mount Cook National Park

Today you continue driving toward the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, which is a two-hour drive from Lake Tekapo. In doing so, you always have Lake Pukaki on your left. Be sure to stretch your legs at this lake before driving on toward the White Horse Hill campground. This is the only campsite on Mount Cook and, in our opinion, one of the most beautiful campsites in New Zealand. Some of New Zealand’s most beautiful hikes depart from this campground.

During days 5 and 6, you will have time to hike the Hooker Valley track and the Saely Tarns track. After your hike, enjoy an aperitif at the campsite with Mount Cook in your backyard, so to speak. Or hike to Mount Cook Village, a sleepy mountain village that includes the visitor center for more information.

On Day 7, get up very early to enjoy the unseen starry skies here as well. Drive toward Tasman Lake before dawn. Start the Tasmien Glacier track here early enough, which will take you to the edge of the lake in less than 20 minutes. Here you can enjoy a beautiful sunrise with the reflections of the mountains in the lake.

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Day 7 – 10: Dunedin & Otago Peninsula

Driving from the mountains to the sea in about three hours is something only New Zealand can do. The journey continues toward Dunedin, the second largest city on the South Island. Be sure to stop at the Moeraki Boulders and Shag Point along the way. At the latter, you can undoubtedly see seals enjoying the sun. In the afternoon, you can stroll around Dunedin. A fun tip here is to visit the world’s steepest street: Baldwin Street.

Stay overnight near Dunedin or drive on to the Otago Peninsula in the evening. Here you imagine yourself in a completely different landscape with the many meadows and cliffs. For wildlife, you’ve come to the right place too, as here you can encounter seals and sea lions, the giant albatross and the yellow-eyed penguin. Make your experience unforgettable by spending a night at Larnach Castle , New Zealand’s only castle.

Read everything you need to know about staying at Lanarch Castle here!

Day 10 – 11: Lake Te Anau

Today a longer driving day is scheduled. Before heading toward Lake Te Anau, you can take a short detour toward Nugget Point. Here you walk to a lighthouse with beautiful views of the sea in all directions. You step right into a postcard! Afterwards, continue your trek toward the largest lake on the South Island: Lake Te Anau, where you will arrive three hours later. If you have more time, you can extend your route by driving to Catlins National Park first and staying an extra night there.

We stayed at the Te Anau Lakeview Holiday Park. A great campground with all the amenities you need. And as the name says, a great view of the lake.

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Day 11 – 14: Fiordland National Park & Milford Sound

You wake up near Lake Te Anau, New Zealand’s second largest lake. This area is where some of the Great Walks, New Zealand’s most famous multi-day hikes such as the Keplertrack, depart. Walked out for a while? Then be sure to visit the Glowworm Caves on Lake Te Anau. Board a cruise and explore this natural wonder with your own eyes. In the evening, continue driving toward Fiordland National Park, which, as the name suggests, is known for its two great fjords: Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound.

The following days you will visit one (or both) of these fjords on a cruise. We did Milford Sound, one of the highlights of our trip. Furthermore, in the Fiordland National Park, you can again take beautiful walks. We recommend the Gertrude Saddle Track, Routeburn Track and Lake Marian track. Three unique hikes with the most amazing views!

Day 14 – 17: Queenstown

Today you will head to what may be the most fun city in the South Island: Queenstown, also called the adrenaline capital of the world. As the crow flies, this is close to Milford Sound, but it will soon take you another two or three hours to drive there. Once you arrive, you can explore this cozy town and grab a burger at Fergburger, which many say is the best burger in the world. Book your spot at the Queenstown Holiday Park Creeksyde campground, an ideal base. From here the next day you can take the gondola towards the Ben Lomond track. This tough 13.4-mile hike takes you toward the summit of Ben Lomond. Here you will be treated to amazing views of Queenstown and Lake Wakitipu.

Your second full day in Queenstown can be scheduled with one of the many possible activities why they call Queenstown adrenaline capital. Go skydiving, rafting or bungee jumping! Still not a fan of adrenaline activities, pick up the Mount Christon Loop track or enjoy a dinner cruise on Lake Wakatipu.

Here you can read about the best activities to do in Queenstown.

Day 17 – 18: Wanaka & Roys Peak

Hopefully by now your legs are a little trained from all that hiking, because today another great hike is scheduled. Drive in one hourt towards Wanaka where you can admire #thatwanakatree, New Zealand’s most famous tree. Then drive to the start of the Roys Peak track. This may well be the most challenging hike of the trip, but definitely don’t skip it! For 8 km you will climb up 1300 meters, but what you will see there will make up for everything. Enjoy the phenomenal views and then drive on to a nearby campsite to give your body a break and enjoy the nature all around.

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Day 18 – 20: Franz Josef & Fox Glacier

Time to wake up those stiff muscles and have a cup of coffee at the campground before continuing our drive along the west coast of the South Island for three hours. Over the next few days you will admire the country’ s two most famous glaciers: Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. Fox Glacier is first encountered on your route and can be admired from afar by hiking the South Side track. This is a short hike through the rainforest that takes you to a viewpoint on the glacier. Stay these days in the nearby village of Franz Joseph to do the Alex Knobb track the next day. This gives you a great view of Franz Josef Glacier. Or take a more adventurous approach and go for a skydive or a helihike on the glaciers!

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Day 20 – 21: Hokita Gorge & Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

Off to the sunnier North! Yes, you read that correctly. Whereas we Belgians associate the South with warmer places, below the equator this is reversed. Today you drive further down the west coast for four hours and make some short, but no less impressive stops. Go admire the beautiful Hokita Gorge with its turquoise waters. Also marvel at the fascinating rock formations of the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. Find a campsite nearby to break up the long route to Abel Tasman.

Day 21 – 24: Abel Tasman National park

Today you drive on to New Zealand’s smallest national park, which is also one of the sunniest places in the country. After a drive of just under four hours, you will arrive in the small village of Marahau, which is the entrance to the park. Park your home on four wheels at The Barn Campground to spend the next few days exploring the park. Get dropped off by the water cab and hike back to the campground via the Abel Tasman Great Walk. You can also kayak along the many golden sand beaches.

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Day 24 – 25: Christchurch

Your amazing tour of this amazing country is almost over. Today you will drive back to Christchurch in six hours to drop off your motorhome. You can still split this long day of driving by stopping in Nelson. Highly recommended is visiting Pic’s Peanut Butter World. Here you can take a free tour of the peanut butter factory and finish with tasty tastings. Or drive around past Marlborough with its renowned vineyards. At night, after three weeks, you sleep in a hotel room again to catch your flight the next day.

Onward travel to the North Island

Can’t get enough of this country and would like to continue your tour to the North Island? We certainly understand that, because that’s what we did too. Following this ideal 3-week itinerary, we traveled through the North Island for another 2 weeks, which certainly shouldn’t be understated. To continue your journey, drive on from Abel Tasman National Park to Picton in three hours. Here you can take the ferry to Wellington on the North Island. Do book your seat on this ferry early, as it can sometimes sell out months in advance!

Here you can already find the ideal itinerary through the North Island in two weeks.

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Do you have any questions about the above round trip through the South Island? Let us know in a comment below! Looking for more information about your next trip? Please do not hesitate to contact us or send an email to snoezelsontheroad@gmail.com

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