new zealand

New Zealand South Island: A 10 Day Road Trip

Whilst living in the UK, we always spent the school holidays catching flights to Europe as it was so close by. Now that we’re living in Australia, catching a flight to New Zealand takes the same amount of time and costs the same amount as our previous travels to Europe. As we had never previously visited, on the first Friday evening of the school holidays we caught a flight to Christchurch.

I have always wanted to go to New Zealand for the following reasons;

  1. There are more sheep than people. 
  2. Lord of the Rings was filmed there. 
  3. The scenery is stunning. 
  4. Did I mention the sheep?

Having done a little research (by this I mean I instagram searched #newzealand) I discovered the beautiful Milford Sound near the bottom of the South Island. A few google searches later told me that 10 days isn’t enough time to travel around both islands and so we decided to take a road trip around the South Island, flying in and out of Christchurch.

Our itinerary looked like this:

Day 1: Arrive in Christchurch around 6am.  Stay in Christchurch.

Day 2: Drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo.

Day 3: Drive from Tekapo to Queenstown.

Day 4: Stay in Queenstown.

Day 5: Drive to Manapouri.

Day 6: Stay in Manapouri (taking a day trip to Milford Sound).

Day 7: Drive to Wanaka.

Day 8: Drive from Wanaka to Franz Josef Glacier.

Day 9: Drive from Franz Josef Glacier to Hokitika.

Day 10: Drive from Hokitika back to Christchurch before getting a flight home the next morning.

Our itinerary was pretty successful for the time of year that we visited. It was extremely cold and we got a lot of rain towards the end of the few days so I don’t think that we needed to spend any more time in any of the locations. However, if we went back in summer (January 2020, we’re looking at you!) we would love to spend more time in some places, particularly Manapouri and Wanaka. You could easily spend a week in Wanaka with all the activities that are on offer but many aren’t available in the winter months. Similarly, our hiking plans were cancelled most days due to torrential rain and avalanche risks, so we’d love to go back and explore some of the mountain tops one summer.

New Zealand is a great place to road trip for the following reasons:

  • There is usually only one road from one town to another. Mobile data isn’t really necessary and google maps would literally tell you to keep ‘go straight’ for 100km on the same road. It’s almost impossible to get lost!
  • There is tonnes of accommodation available from free camping if you’re in a van or lots of really great and reasonably priced airBnbs if you’re looking for somewhere warmer.
  • Most drives are only a few hours and the drives are rarely along motorways or freeways so there is always plenty to see.

And this isn’t even mentioning all the great things in each different location. There is incredible scenery around every corner and so many different and unique things to do in each location.

In Christchurch we loved wandering through Christchurch Art Gallery. There are some really cool modern exhibitions, alongside some of the older works. There are also some great vegan eats in the city and we loved having coffee and cake over at Raw Sugar Cafe. Town Tonic also has some of the best coffee I’ve had and a great vegan menu. To end our day we chilled out at Sumner beach and watched this beautiful sunset.

There isn’t loads of stuff to do at Lake Tekapo but it’s just so bloody beautiful. The lakeshore is great to walk along and the Church of the Good Shepherd makes a great sunset photograph. Definitely a must-see, if only for a day or drive through.

The place that’s always on everyone’s lips whenever the South Island is mentioned is beautiful Queenstown. We would never be able to get through the multitude of activities available in the short amount of time that we were there, but I think we chose pretty well. I bungee jumped from Kawaru Bridge on the edge of Queenstown and it was by far one of the highlights of my trip. If I could bottle up that feeling when you’re free falling through the air, I definitely would! We also climbed Queenstown Hill and the view from the summit is spectacular, plus there’s no better way to escape the hustle and bustle of Queenstown than by climbing above it! If you’re looking for something to eat, we found the most delicious little Italian restaurant, complete with a whole vegan menu, called Farelli’s Trattoria by the harbour and it did not disappoint.

Our next stop, Manapouri, was the most rural of all our locations. We stayed in a tiny little hut without electricity and a real log fire (Conor even cut the wood!). The owners were delightful and I could have stayed for a month! From here, we hired bicycles and had a great cycle alongside the lake path. Even on the road down to the lake, we didn’t see a single car! Great for beginner cyclists like myself. There are 3 places to eat in Manapouri and we visited the little pub in the old white church. The woman is super kind and playing pool whilst eating hot food is a great way to dry off after a rainy day cycle.

From Manapouri we took the much anticipated day trip to Milford Sound. We were told that the Milford Track (the road leading from Te Anau to Milford Sound) is one of the highlights with lots of places to stop. We drove to Milford Sound under cover of darkness so we were able to enjoy these views on the return leg of the journey. However, the best part of Milford Sound is being out on the water itself. We booked a Jucy cruise for 9am as it was the cheapest and we figured that it wouldn’t be too busy. When we arrived the sound was submerged in thick fog and it was around 1C so we weren’t sure how much we’d be able to see but it was still a breathtaking, magical experience. The seals swimming alongside the boats were an added bonus!

Our next drive was a little longer and we drove from Manapouri, through Queenstown and up to Wanaka. Our original plan had been to climb Roy’s Peak but as there was an avalanche warning, we quickly realised that this wasn’t the best idea! Still, Wanaka was beautiful and we spent time relaxing by the lake shore and photographing that Wanaka tree. We also ate some of the most delicious food at Big Fig. There a lots of bowls of delicious slow cooked dishes and salads and you can fill your plate with whatever you wish. The only negative is that after eating here you’ll be wishing there was one in your home city!

From Wanaka we drove to Franz Josef Glacier. We arrived in the afternoon and only caught a sneaky peak of the glacier from a distance, planing on getting closer the next day. What we didn’t know was that the next day it would bring torrential rain and we’d be completing the wettest hike of our lives and the view of the glacier at the end would actually just be a view of mist! Fortunately our rainy day hike was near the end of our trip because my shoes didn’t dry for a week. It sounds horrific but in reality, we spent most of the walk in fits of laughter and the cups of coffee we had at the end were some of the best of our lives! The highlight of Franz Josef has to be the incredible hot pools, we spent Saturday evening relaxing in the warm waters under the stars. Definitely a must visit.

Our final stop was Hokitika. Upon arrival, in more terrible weather, it looked like a pretty gloomy little town. The beach however is spectacular and in typical Emma and Conor style, we didn’t let the rain stop us and enjoyed some fancy beers on the beach despite feeling like we were in the middle of a hurricane. The real highlight of Hokitika though is the glow worms! In Te Anau, you need to take a pricey cruise to see these beautiful creatures but in Hokitika there’s just a little path off the main road that leads you to these beautiful creatures! Seeing them was simply magical and one of my favourite parts of our trip.

From Hokitika we made the trip through the mountains and back to Christchurch where we dropped the car off and caught a flight home the next morning. We absolutely loved exploring New Zealand and can’t wait until we get the opportunity to return… preferably in the warmer months so we can do some more outdoor activities!

I’d love to hear anybody else’s experiences of road tripping around New Zealand for next time so please let me know of any must sees or great tips that I’ve missed!


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