New Zealand’s South Island is simply one of the most stunning places on Earth. The North Island is home to beautiful beaches and the country’s two most cosmopolitan cities, but the South Island’s untouched, wild beauty and diversity of terrains sets it apart. While there’s enough in New Zealand to keep visitors enthralled for months, seeing the South Island in as little as two weeks is certainly possible. Here’s how to do it.
Day 1 and 2: Marlborough
How about a glass of wine to help you adjust to what is a dramatic time change from most points of origins? After crossing the Cook Strait to Picton on the South Island via the Bluebridge Ferry, you can spend a couple of days exploring the Marlborough wine region. This northern section of the South Island is home to a number of world class wineries, including Cloudy Bay, Fromm Winery and Nautilus Estate. Wine tours of the region depart directly from Picton as well.
Day 3 and 4: Abel Tasman National Park
From Marlborough, head northwest to Abel Tasman National Park, which takes two days to fully explore. One of the most beautiful destinations in all of New Zealand, the park offers excellent day hikes, kayaking and plenty of beachfront camping. During your visit, make sure to try a burger at Fat Tui, located just outside the park. Yes, the burgers come with beetroot — and yes, they are delicious.
Day 5: Franz Josef Glacier
Head southwest to Franz Joseph, home to a massive glacier located just beyond the tiny town. Weather permitting, a helicopter trip to the glacier is a must-do, and if you’re looking for a truly memorable experience, walking and climbing tours of the glacier are also available. Once you return to town, stop by the West Coast Wildlife Centre to see a bounty of kiwis, the country’s national symbol.
Day 6 and 7: Wanaka
Continue heading south to Wanaka, a quieter alternative to neighbouring Queenstown. If you’re looking for outdoor activities, hiking to nearby Roys Peak or paddling around Lake Wanaka are both great options. Wanaka is also home to a wide range of great bars and restaurants, along with the famous Cinema Paradiso, which traded its theatre seats for couches and offers delicious meals before, during and after screenings.
Day 8 and 9: Queenstown
Just south of Wanaka is Queenstown, the South Island’s most popular tourist destination and one of the most scenic towns in the world. Queenstown offers many activities, including mountain biking, bungee jumping and some of the best hikes in the country. After an afternoon spent working up a sweat, enjoy a few local beers at Atlas Beer Cafe, located right on Lake Wakatipu.
Day 10: Milford Sound
Take a day trip south to Milford Sound, one of the South Island’s most stunning natural attractions. Located deep within Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound’s array of waterfalls and epic cliffs will leave you feeling transported to another planet. While the park offers many hiking trails, a cruise through Milford Sound itself is the best way to experience it.
Day 11: Mt. Cook
Depart Queenstown for Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain and the famous training grounds for Sir Edmund Hillary, the first Westerner to summit Mt. Everest. Mt. Cook also offers a wide range of hiking trails, helicopter trips and plane rides for those less interested in climbing the mountain itself.
Day 12: Christchurch
Christchurch is the South Island’s largest city, and the community continues to rebuild and reinvent itself after enduring a series of catastrophic earthquakes in 2011. Make sure to stop by Christchurch’s cardboard cathedral, which was constructed entirely out of reusable materials.
Day 13: Kaikoura
During your return trip to Wellington, stop in the seaside town of Kaikoura for lunch at Cooper’s Catch, the hands-down, best spot in town for fish and chips. Kaikoura is also famous for whale watching and the large seal community that lives on its beaches year round.