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New Zealand South Island in 17-20 Days, Itinerary

Hi all --

Trying to figure out exactly how many days we need in the South Island, and more specifically how many in each place we want to go to. We will have 17-20 days, and will be needing one person to fly home after 13, so we are trying to nail down a rough schedule so we can book at least our major flights in and out of New Zealand. Below are the places that we are hoping to see, in the order that we were suggested.

If anyone has any opinions on how many days you think we would need to do them all (driving a car, staying in bed and breakfasts/hotels), that would be much appreciated. Also any specifics on how many days per place would be great! We will be flying into Christchurch but then want to go straight from there to somewhere without stopping there. So from Christchurch:

  • Waipara - Wine Region (1 day, stay over?)
  • Drive Arthurs Pass to Franz Josef glacier (Stay overnight close to Franz Josef, do a tour of it the next day)
  • Queenstown (2 days)
  • Glenorchy to hike Routeburn Track (is it possible to just do one day of hiking part of it?) (1 day, maybe still stay in Queenstown)
  • Milford Sound & and Glowworms, stay in Te Anau (2 days)
  • Wanaka (1-2 days)
  • Mt. Cook/Lake Tepekao (1 day)
  • Back to Christchurch (one person leaves)
  • Fly to Nelson to do Abel Tasman park (3 days)

Right now counting those days up I think its only 15, so just trying to figure out where we should add days to, what is feasible, etc. Also are we missing anything? Thank you!

Posted by
2279 posts

My first thought is "what's the hurry getting out of Christchurch"? It's a pretty city in its own right, and a day trip out to the French themed village of Akaroa would be a pleasant excursion. The story of how there came to be a French village in the middle of a British colony is a fascinating one.
Not to disparage Waipara, but if you'll be staying near Abel Tasman NP anyway why not extend a day or two there and explore the nearby Marlborough wine region ... famous for its Sauvignon Blancs. Abel Tasman is terrific, and I'd suggest continuing up the coast from there towards Farewell Spit - an area most tourists never get to. Lots of neat hikes in that area.
We were pretty underwhelmed by the whole Arthur's Pass experience, quite frankly.
On the other hand both Te Anau and Queenstown are wonderful - so much to see and do. Go up to the Deer Park just above Queenstown - lots of Lord of the Rings film locations that you'll recognize from the movies and, as the name implies, there's a quaint little drive-thru animal park up there with an amazing variety of creatures large and small.
Glenorchy is pleasant enough but you really don't need to stay there to enjoy the local area hikes. The trailhead for one end of the Routeburn Track is just beyond the town, and you can hike as much or as little of it as you like for an out-and-back day hike. We walked as far as the first hut (4 or 5 miles as I recall) where the trail opens up into a very pretty little valley...good spot for a picnic lunch before backtracking, and it's fairly flat (ie before you start the climb into the mountains) so is not weather dependent in early Spring or late Fall. Do bring some heavy duty DEET insect repellent however. The black flies can be murder certain seasons of the year.
Time permitting you might consider a trip down to Dunedin and the Otago peninsula - pretty little college town and there are penguin colonies out on the peninsula that you can visit.
The South Island is gorgeous and you can't go wrong no matter where you go. Light traffic, pleasant driving, nice people.
Safe travels.