10 Day Itinerary for the National Parks of South Island, New Zealand

Day Zero: Travel to Christchurch

Some awesome street art in Christchurch (c) ABR 2017

Manage to get to Christchurch, and let yourself rest. Be sure to note that if you are traveling from the US, you will lose a day when you fly to New Zealand.

If you’d like wi-fi throughout your trip, pick up PocWifi which is available at the Christchurch International Airport.

Pick up your rental car, and be ready to drive on the left side!

Depending on the time of the day and your energy level, you may consider dropping by the grocery store to pick up food for the rest of your trip.

STAY IN CHRISTCHURCH

Day One: Mt. Vernon and Recovery

The view from Sugarloaf (c) ABR 2017

Mt. Vernon is a great park for hiking (and bike-riding) just outside of Christchurch. There are some excellent views of the city to be had here, as well as the lakes on the other side of the mountains.

I did the Sugarloaf Loop when I visited, which took me a little less than a hour, but you may take longer or shorter depending on your hiking ability. The Sugarloaf Loop passes through some beautiful bushland, with plenty of birds, but also through grasslands offering you different views of the surrounding territory.

For those of you looking for longer hikes, there are many trails out in Mt. Vernon. Spend the day exploring and picnicking. Recover from the flights to New Zealand.

STAY IN CHRISTCHURCH

Day Two: Mt. Cook National Park

Mt. Cook (c) ABR 2017

Head out of Christchurch and up to Mt. Cook National Park; it is about a 4.5-hour drive.

If you haven’t road-tripped in New Zealand before, be aware that the roads are single lane in either direction, so expect to be patient.

Hooker Valley is a well-known and popular trail in Mt. Cook National Park, because it leads to the base of New Zealand’s highest mountain, with a beautiful view of a lake and several river crossings as well. Signs say that it is about a 3-hour trek, and while it is somewhat crowded, it is well worth it.

STAY IN TWIZEL
Twizel Holiday Park (Budget)

Day Three: Mt. Aspiring National Park

Thunder Creek Falls (c) ABR 2017

Drive over to the Makarora side of Mt. Aspiring National Park, this will take about 2.5 hours. If you want to stop by the visitor center, it is in Wanaka, which is only slightly out of the way.

Driving through the park will take some time, so budget a few hours. I drove into Thunder Creek Falls and then turned around and hiked on the way out. Thunder Creek doesn’t have much of a hike, but it is has a waterfall that’s worth seeing.

Some of the short hikes that I did that day included Haast Pass Viewpoint, which gave you a nice little workout, since the trail is fairly steep. Blue Pools is another short walk that I did while here; the trail is flat and well-maintained, so this is quite easy. There are also a couple trails that continue on past the pools if you’d like to tack on something longer.

In fact, there are many long trails in Mt. Aspiring, for those of you with the time and energy to look around. As with all trails, just be sure that you have enough water, food, and clothes for the journey and the conditions. Avoid hiking above the bushline if there is any chance of bad weather.

Wanaka is a great place to grab dinner! Protip: Eat by the lake for good views.

STAY IN WANAKA
Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park (Budget)

Day Four: Checking Out Queenstown

Mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park (c) ABR 2017

It takes about three hours to drive from Wanaka to Te Anau (your base camp for Fiordlands National Park and Milford Sound). Queenstown is along the way, amidst absolutely gorgeous mountains and at the edge of an alpine lake. Ben Lomond is one great (4+ hour hike from the town), but it would be worth walking around Queenstown a bit as well.

After spending a relaxing, lovely afternoon in Queenstown, finish off your drive to Te Anau and mentally prepare yourself for one of the most beautiful places in the world. Fiordlands!

STAY IN TE ANAU
Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park (Budget)

Day Five: Fiordlands National Park

Gertrude Valley in Fiordland National Park (c) ABR 2017

If you want to see Milford Sound via the water, plan ahead and book a tour for once you get down there. It is about a two-hour drive from Te Anau all the way to the sound. Be prepared to drive behind very slow buses, and I would suggest not trying to pass, the roads are very curvy and busy. This is one of the most beautiful drives of the trip though, so just enjoy the views. Stop at the Chasm on the way in.

If you see the Sound early in the morning, consider going on a walk on your way out of the park. I hiked Gertrude Valley (which is dangerous in avalanche season, so stop by the Visitor Center in Te Anau to get some up-to-date information on the trails before heading out). Whatever trail you end up choosing, Fiordland won’t disappoint. This had some of the best views I have ever seen in my life.

STAY IN TE ANAU
Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park (Budget)

Day Six: Stewart Island

Hiking on Stewart Is. (c) ABR 2017

Wake up early and make the two-hour drive down to Bluff, where you can catch the Stewart Island Experience ferry. I would suggest buying your tickets ahead of time for this, just so you know that there is space for you, and when to arrive.

The ferry is about an hour over to the island; check out the town and national park visitor centers when you land to pick out what you’d like doing. There are some GREAT day trails here, but be careful walking them. I almost broke my hand out there because of the stairs on the trails, which can be extremely slippery.

I ended up doing Golden Bay, Ryan’s Creek and some of the smaller trails around town. All of them were beautiful (sans slipping and hurting myself). But I would have liked to have planned ahead to do some of the longer trails out there.

Also, if you are interested in some backpacking there is a three-day Great Walk that you can do on Stewart Island. I wasn’t able to, but I heard some really great things about it.

STAY ON STEWART ISLAND
Stewart Island Backpackers (Budget)

Day Seven: Return to Christchurch or Stop Over in Dunedin

Catch the morning ferry off of Stewart Island, and get ready to head north again. It is a long but doable 7.5 hours straight up to Christchurch from Bluff. Dunedin is on the way, so if you aren’t into driving the narrow, slow roads of New Zealand for almost 8 hours, spend a night in Dunedin.

STAY IN CHRISTCHURCH OR DUNEDIN

Day Eight: Christchurch City Central

The fountain in Christchurch’s Botanical Garden (c) ABR 2017

Check out Christchurch’s botanical gardens and the free Canterbury Museum. Both are wonderful! If you’d like to see the city’s downtown, consider buying a tram or walking tour.

STAY IN CHRISTCHURCH

Day Nine: Head Out

Say see ya later to beautiful New Zealand!

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