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South Island Loop

Circle the island in 3 weeks

This itinerary loops the South Island (Te Waipounamu) in 3 weeks – if you’ve less time, start in Christchurch or Queenstown with a one-way car rental, pick your South Island hotspots, and return the car in Queenstown or Christchurch. Both cities have airports with international and domestic flights, plus loads of rental cars. One-way rentals are common requests.

There are three ways to go - the east coast, the west coast or through the middle via Mt Cook Village.

Jetty Viewpoint Reflektion Am Lake Matheson

To add some context to this itinerary, a lot of people drive the 482km between Christchurch and Queenstown in a single day.

Days 1-9: Christchurch to Queenstown via the east coast & Milford Sound

Drive south from Christchurch on SH1, visiting Oamaru and Moeraki Boulders on the way to Dunedin. There’s top wildlife watching out on Otago Peninsula.

If you can find a few extra days, visiting Stewart Island/Rakiura on the way from Dunedin to Te Anau comes highly recommended.

If not, head west to Te Anau and explore Fiordland, making sure to drive out to Milford Sound.

Drive through to the alpine resort of Queenstown, where you’ll want to spend a few days, at least.

Shorten the trip back to Christchurch.

Drive from Queenstown to Christchurch in 2-3 days via Mt Cook Village & Lake Tekapo.

Days 10-13: Queenstown to Greymouth

Cross from Queenstown to Wanaka, then head up to the West Coast on SH73 over the Haast Pass. Hotspots on the way to Greymouth are the twin Glacier Country towns of Fox Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier and Hokitika.

Shorten the trip back to Christchurch

From Greymouth, it’s actually only a 241km, 3hr drive on SH73 over Arthur’s Pass back to Christchurch.

Days 14-18: Greymouth to Nelson/Blenheim

Stop at Pancake Rocks before heading up to Nelson and Marlborough for a few days. Lots of wineries around here, plus the magnificent Marlborough Sounds and Abel Tasman NP. You could easily spend a week around here.

Days 19-21: back via Kaikoura to Christchurch

Drive back to Christchurch via Kaikoura where you’ll want to go seal and whale-watching.

Abel Tasman National Park

6okm or dayhike & kayak this coastal track

Fox Glacier

Walk on a glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

Guided heli-hikes on the glacier

Marlborough Wine

NZ's largest wine-producing region

Milford Sound (Piopiotahi)

Make sure to take a cruise on the fiord!

Moeraki Boulders

Perfectly rounded boulders on the beach

Paparoa NP & 'Pancake Rocks'

Layered rocks & blowholes at Punakaiki

Text © Craig McLachlan

Images by craig, Thomas