South Island Adventure
Take your time as you make your way around the South Island, taking in the amazing scenery along the way by following this seven-day Milford Sound travel itinerary. This adventure includes two days of unforgettable sightseeing at Aoraki/Mount Cook and Milford Sound. Highlights also include exploring Queenstown, relaxing aboard the TranzAlpine railway journey, and wrapping up your trip soaking in the hot springs or enjoying the ski fields in Hanmer Springs.
Got an extra day? Or want to extend your trip to the North Island? Travel from the garden city to the sunny wine region of Marlborough and catch the Interislander ferry from Picton to explore Te Ika-a-Māui.
Day One: Christchurch -> Aoraki/Mount Cook -> Queenstown
Travel time: approx. 8.5 hours
Your Te Waipounamu adventure starts in Christchurch, where the South Island’s main international airport is located.
Travel south to Queenstown in the early morning, making the special trip to Aoraki/Mount Cook during the day. Along the way, you can stop at both Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki to appreciate the unique light-blue colour of the water and the exceptional beauty of the Southern Alps in the background. Enjoy the scenic landscape of the Mackenzie Country region as you travel closer to Mount Cook.
Once you arrive at Aoraki/Mount Cook, pay a visit to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. Learn about the extraordinary life of this famous New Zealand explorer, and take part in one of the various guided walks. You can also take a scenic helicopter flight and glacier landing flight to make the most of the breathtaking views of the Southern Alps, Mount Cook and the countryside. The drive to Queenstown from Aoraki/Mount Cook is three hours and fifteen minutes, so leaving mid-afternoon will allow plenty of time to make your way to Queenstown.
Day Two Milford Sound, Return from Queenstown
Travel time: approx. 8 hours
Today you’ll make the epic journey to Milford Sound. Whilst you can drive there yourself, why not make the most of this magnificent journey and book a sightseeing tour. You can spend more time relaxing and admiring the stunning view, rather than navigating the mountainous highways.
Day Three: Queenstown -> Wānaka
Travel time: approx. 1 hour
After a busy two days of sightseeing, take some time out to enjoy Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world! Bungy jumping, river jet boating and canyon swinging are just some of the adrenaline-pumping things you can do in Queenstown. Alternatively, if you want to relax and unwind, Queenstown has several short and easy walks or bike trails starting in the centre of town. In the afternoon make the one-hour trip to Wanaka over the stunning Crown Range, stopping for lunch at the iconic Cardrona Hotel.
World famous for the beauty of Lake Wānaka, there’s much more to the township of Wānaka than just the lake. Here, you could try skiing, jet boating and horse trekking, or pay a visit to Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World to spend the afternoon getting lost in a giant maze and enjoying mind-boggling illusions.
Day Four: Wānaka -> Fox Glacier -> Franz Josef
Travel time: approx. 4 hours
Today, travel through the dense forestland of the Mount Aspiring World Heritage National Park to the spectacular glaciers on the West Coast. Descending down from the Southern Alps, the Fox and Franz Josef Glacier’s are easily accessed by foot. Fox Glacier is about a three and half hour drive from Wānaka so indulge in a hearty breakfast and pack some snacks and drinks before leaving here early morning. The drive is most enjoyable, as you go through the forests of Mount Aspiring National Park and up the Haast Highway along the rugged west coast coastline.
Glacier hiking and ice climbing are two hands-on ways to experience both Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. There are many local glacier guiding companies that can take you on this fascinating expedition. A visit to the Matheson Café and Art Gallery is a nice way to relax after a day of exploring where you may find some souvenirs or local artwork to take away with you. There’s a great choice of accommodation in the Glacier Country with many options to suit all tastes, stay here for the night before continuing on to Greymouth the following day.
Day Five: Franz Josef -> Greymouth
Travel time: approx. 2.5 hours
Make your way to Hokitika this morning to visit the National Kiwi Centre. Located in the heart of Hokitika, this underground facility allows visitors to view our iconic kiwi in an environment just like their natural habitat. You’ll also see New Zealand’s oldest living dinosaur, the tuatara. You’ll have no trouble finding interesting things to do in Hokitika, you could visit the Treetop Walkway and Café or take part in one of the many Greenstone tours.
The half an hour drive to Greymouth provides more incredible views of the rugged west coast. Make sure you stop somewhere for a swim or just take a moment to breathe in the salty sea air. Greymouth is a town with a rich gold mining history. Visit Shantytown Heritage Park to learn more about the gold mining history and have fun while you do it! Gold panning, blackwater cave rafting and sea kayaking are just some of the things you could do in Greymouth. Spend the night here and look forward to travelling on the TranzAlpine railway to Christchurch tomorrow.
Day Six: Greymouth -> Christchurch
Travel time: approx. 4.5 hours
Leisurely explore the Greymouth coastline this morning, the locals calls this ‘beachcombing’, you could come across some pounamu and weirdly shaped driftwood. Take a walk along the Point Elizabeth Highway where you might see New Zealand fur seals lazily basking in the sun, keep an eye out for dolphins and penguins too!
Departing from Greymouth in the afternoon, the TranzAlpine train ride is a relaxing way to take in the breathtaking scenery of central South Island. Leaving the wildly beautiful West Coast behind, you’ll travel through the Southern Alps in all their glory, through Arthurs Pass and be met with a distinctly different view on the other side.
The dry, flat, farmlands of the Canterbury Plains, a beautiful sight, will take you through to the garden city of Christchurch. This four-and-a-half-hour journey is optimised by the panoramic side and sky view windows, providing fantastic unobstructed views of the scenery. There’s also an open-air viewing carriage providing the perfect space to capture some spectacular photographs.
Day Seven: Christchurch
Travel time: approx. 4 hours
Full of history this resilient city is re-building itself following the destructive 6.3 magnitude earthquake in February 2011. Take a sightseeing tour on an open top double decker bus around central Christchurch to learn more about the rebuild and how Christchurch is preserving some of its heritage buildings. You could then spend the afternoon learning how to surf at one of the rough east coast beaches or get the blood pumping and try canyoning where you’ll hike, swim, zip line and jump off cliffs into pools of fresh water, anyone can give this a go!
Depending on your travel plans, you can either fly back out of Christchurch or make your way to Hanmer Springs, a beautiful alpine village just 90 minutes out of Christchurch. Spend the afternoon relaxing in the world-renowned Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa, and treat yourself to a beauty or massage treatment. Or, if you’re here in winter, take to the slopes and go skiing at one of the nearby skifields.
Extra Day: Christchurch -> Blenheim -> Picton
Travel time: approx. 4.5 hours
Make the trip north to the port town of Picton on your final day of this South Island adventure. From Christchurch or Hanmer Springs, this will take four and a half hours – we recommend stopping in the charming coastal town of Kaikōura to refresh. This picturesque town is the perfect place for coastal walks and tucking into a plate of crayfish.
The one-and-a-half-hour drive from Kaikōura to Blenheim through the Canterbury Region follows the scenic state highway 1 along the eastern coast of the South Island. Arriving in Blenheim, the wine-growing capital of Marlborough, enjoy the wide variety of cafes, restaurants and wineries, all within driving distance of the town.
Picton is only half an hour from Blenheim, so when you’re ready to embark on a journey of the North Island, head to Picton to catch the Interislander ferry across the Cook Strait to Wellington.
No car? No problem!
This seven day Milford Sound itinerary is easily completed without the use of a car. InterCity have daily services departing from many cities in the South Island, while their TravelPass and FlexiPass bus passes offer flexible travel within a set budget. You can jump on and off wherever and whenever you please, and manage all your travel online. The TravelPass and FlexiPass range also include many sightseeing day tours around New Zealand, including Milford Sound and Aoraki/Mount Cook.