Low-cost Milford Sound travel itinerary
Travel from north to south and east to west in this Milford Sound backpacker itinerary. The stunning beauty of the South Island can be admired and appreciated by anyone, on any budget. Many of the South Island’s natural attractions are free to view and easily accessed. To keep travel costs to a minimum catch a bus between destinations and stay overnight in backpacker hostels.
Two must-do activities included in this itinerary are the Aoraki / Mount Cook day tour and the Milford Sound day tour. These can cost a lot of money, however, they’re included in InterCity’s FlexiPass bus pass, which means you’ll only have to pay for extra costs such as meals or a scenic cruise.
Picton – Nelson – Greymouth – Franz Josef Glacier – Greymouth – Christchurch – Mt Cook – Queenstown – Milford Sound day tour
Day 1: Picton – Nelson
Begin your low-cost trip of the South Island in the picturesque town of Picton. The Interislander ferry arrives here and buses from Picton to Nelson depart shortly after the ferry arrives.
Alternatively, you can extend and customise this itinerary by enjoying the Queen Charlotte Track, Picton’s major local attraction. The 70km track provides breath taking views of coastal scenery, lush native bush and sheltered golden bays. You can reach the start of this walking track, Meretoto, by water or road. As it can take up to five days to complete, accommodation is available along the track and a water taxi service can transport your luggage to the next stop.
Nelson is one of New Zealand’s sunniest cities. Stay the night here in one of the many hostels and spend some time exploring this coastal city. A popular activity is kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park, where crystal clear waters provide calm conditions for kayaking novices. Paddle around sheltered coves and up to secluded beaches, discovering their hidden beauty. If you’re lucky, you could see all sorts of marine wildlife such as fur seals, sea birds, dolphins and penguins.
Other activities you can enjoy in Nelson include cycling Tasman’s Great Taste Trail or visiting the local arts and crafts stores and art galleries. Home to over 300 artists, Nelson is brimming with art galleries and studios where you can find unique local art, sculptures, jewelry and souvenirs.
Day 2: Nelson – Greymouth
Today you’ll make the journey from Nelson to Greymouth, the largest town in the West Coast region. The drive to Greymouth along the Coast Road is absolutely incredible. The winding road is surrounded by rugged West Coast beach and the dense forest of the Paparoa National Park. A popular place to stop along this route is at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, where water bursts through holes in layered limestone rocks, putting on a spectacular show during high tides.
Greymouth has a lot to offer visitors from nature based activities to cultural experiences. Take the scenic, two-hour Point Elizabeth Walk to see old goldmining sites, or visit Shantytown Heritage Park to get an insight into how life was in the 1860s gold rush era.
Stay the night in Greymouth and catch the bus to Franz Josef the following afternoon.
Day 3: Greymouth – Franz Josef
Spend the morning exploring more of Greymouth’s attractions as the bus to Franz Josef usually departs in the afternoon. The three and a half hour bus trip to Franz Josef provides more opportunities to sit back, relax and admire the rugged beauty of New Zealand’s west coast. Lush forestland, waterfalls and the crashing waves of the Tasman Sea follow you on this dramatic journey towards the Glacier Country.
Take part in a guided tour of the Franz Josef Glacier to make contact with the magnificent glacier itself. Alternatively, you can independently hike to a choice of lookout points to gain better views of this fascinating frozen river. Following this adventure, unwind in the tranquility of the Glacier Hot Pools, it’s the perfect way to warm up!
Spend the night in the Franz Josef backpackers before returning to Greymouth for the most scenic train ride in the South Island, if not the whole world.
Day 4: Franz Josef – Greymouth – Christchurch
The bus journey back to Greymouth is scheduled to arrive in time to meet the TranzAlpine train to Christchurch. This world class train ride showcases the contrasting landscapes of the central South Island from the west to the east. The panoramic windows and outdoor viewing platform allows for incredible views and wonderful photo opportunities.
Leaving Greymouth, climb through thick native forest and enjoy unsurpassed views of the Waimakariri River and the magnificent Southern Alps. Traverse the chiselled alpine landscape and be met with a distinctly different view on the eastern side. The dry, flat farmlands of the Canterbury Plains will take you through to the garden city of Christchurch.
Arriving in Christchurch in the evening, check into some affordable accommodation for the night.
Day 5: Christchurch – Aoraki / Mount Cook
Venture south on a sightseeing tour to see the majestic Aoraki / Mount Cook up close. New Zealand’s tallest and most majestic mountain is located in the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, an area of unparalleled beauty which is classified as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Although this is a sightseeing tour, you still have the flexibility to pursue your own activities. There’s plenty to do including short bush walks or overnight hikes, cruising around Tasman Glacier’s terminal lake or stargazing in one of the darkest skies in New Zealand.
Spend the night in the YHA Mount Cook backpackers. The bus stop is conveniently located right outside which makes it easy to travel to Queenstown the following afternoon.
Day 6: Aoraki / Mount Cook – Queenstown
Affectionately known as the ‘adventure capital’ of the world, Queenstown is a popular year-round tourist destination. But don’t let that nickname fool you, Queenstown provides activities to suit people of all interests and abilities, not just thrill seekers! From world-renowned day spas to breathtaking mountain hikes, from fine dining experiences to speed jet boating, Queenstown has it all and more! The bus journey from Aoraki / Mount Cook to Queenstown usually arrives in the evening which doesn’t leave much time to explore this diverse city. Stay two nights in Queenstown and finish up with a Milford Sound day tour on your final day to cap off this low-cost adventure of the South Island.
Day 7: Queenstown to Milford Sound
Relax on board a sightseeing tour to Milford Sound and absorb the breathtaking landscapes and stunning scenery as you journey deep into the wilderness. You’ll traverse mountain ranges and glacier-carved valleys, enjoying thrilling views of gushing waterfalls, sparkling crystal-clear lakes and thick dense forestland.