New Zealand is a magical place to visit. It’s one of our favorite places to travel and we understand the hype about this country. We can’t get enough of the pristine outdoor beauty, many hiking activities, breathtaking crystal blue waters, friendly people, and plenty of picturesque places to take photos. You can spend months in New Zealand and will not run out of things to do.
If you have one week, take a road trip to explore New Zealand’s South Island. We’re here to show you how to make the best out of your one week itinerary for New Zealand South Island below.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t see everything in our limited time. We went on many hiking excursions, rode a cruise along Milford Sound, saw the famous #ThatWanakaTree, and explored the outdoors. At least this New Zealand 1 week guide will help provide some travel inspiration for your future visit to New Zealand.
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New Zealand South Island Road Trip Details
What can you see in 7 days in New Zealand’s South Island?! Our main focus was hiking and spending as much time outdoors. If you need ideas on where to hike in New Zealand, consider these 16 recommended hikes in North Island and South Island.
New Zealand Visa or NZeTA
Before you arrive in New Zealand, check if you need to apply for a visa. If you’re in a visa-exempt country, such as the U.S., you’ll need to apply for a NZeTA (New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority) prior to entering New Zealand. This is a new travel rule as of October 2019. The NZeTA is valid for multiple visits for up to two years. It’s a small fee of $9 NZD ($5.70 USD) if you use their app or $12 NZD ($7.60 USD) if you apply online. Click here to read more and apply for the NZeTA.
New Zealand’s One Week Road Trip Route and Itinerary
We took this trip in February which is during the summertime (October – April). The trip started in Christchurch and ended in Queenstown. We opted to do a one-way drive from Christchurch to Queenstown to cut down on driving time and maximize activity time.
The breakdown of our New Zealand 1 week itinerary is below. Click on the links below to jump to the section:
- Day 1: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo/Twizel
- Day 2: Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park to Wanaka
- Days 3-4: Wanaka
- Day 5: Wanaka to Cardrona/Te Anau
- Day 6: Fiordland National Park/Milford Sound
- Day 7: Te Anau to Queenstown/Departure
Feel free to adjust the number of days in each city depending on your interest. It helps to be flexible with your schedule.
Rental Cars in New Zealand
One of the popular ways to travel around New Zealand is in a camper van. We considered renting a camper van and sleep inside the van for the week. However, the cost of the van was much higher (sometimes even double the cost) versus renting a smaller car and staying over at hotels/Airbnbs.
There are a lot of rental cars available in New Zealand. You have the name-brand rental car companies such as Hertz and Avis, or the smaller rental car companies.
Since we had a positive experience with our rental car through Go Rentals last time, we decided to use them again.
Read more about our rental car experience in New Zealand’s North Island on our last trip.
Our rental car was a 2-year-old four-door automatic hatchback Corolla GLX. We recommend Go Rentals as they have cheaper prices compared to global companies like Hertz. The cars are in good working condition and they have good customer service.
- Rental Car Cost: $292 NZD + $ 200 one-way fee (from Christchurch to Queenstown)
- Total (after 15% discount): $492 NZD / $361.50 USD
Our flight to Christchurch arrived past midnight. We called Sudima Christchurch Airport hotel via the complimentary phone service in the Arrival section. The hotel picked us up in their shuttle. It was a 2-minute drive from the airport. We inspected the car and off we went.
Helpful Tips for Renting Car in New Zealand
- Sign up for Go Rentals’ email list and/or check out their Facebook page for discounts. We received 15% off of our total via a Facebook promotion.
- Reserve the car 1-2 months in advance as inventory sells out during the summertime. As the rental date gets closer, Go Rentals rental cars will need to have full payment prior to arrival.
- Don’t forget that New Zealand has the driver on the right-hand side!
- Filling up gas was quite interesting. People trust each other so you fill up your car gas first and then pay for it inside the gas station convenience store afterward.
Accommodations in New Zealand
We spent most nights at Airbnbs and one night at the Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park & Motels in Twizel.
If you don’t feel comfortable with using Airbnbs, each of the cities has hotels available. We booked the accommodations at least 1-2 months in advance and enjoyed each of our places.
Where You’ll Visit in One Week in New Zealand
We would have loved to explore Christchurch more in-depth if we had more time. Two days in Christchurch is a perfect amount of time to explore.
For this trip, it was more of a stopover before starting the road trip.
Our Air New Zealand flight arrived past midnight to Christchurch. If you have hiking boots or food, you’ll be asked to stay in a separate line for another set of inspection after Customs and picking up luggage. It took us an hour to go through the second inspection and we were exhausted!
Luckily our Airbnb was about a 15 to 20-minute drive from our rental car pick-up. Our Airbnb in Christchurch was okay for a few hours of sleep. We were too tired to really think much about the place.
After getting some rest, it was time for our drive to Lake Tekapo. Consider stopping by the supermarket, Countdown Christchurch, nearby the airport to stock up on water, food, and snacks. You never know what is going to happen on the road!
Address: 530/546A Memorial Ave, Christchurch Airport, Christchurch
Christchurch to Lake Tekapo Distance: 224km / 139 miles
Drive Time: 3 hours
Must See in Lake Tekapo
- Stop along the coast during your drive to Lake Tekapo.
We knew that New Zealand had amazing water. Yet, the water along the way to Lake Tekapo was breathtaking! No picture will do it justice as it is a stunning turquoise green.
- Take photos of Lake Tekapo.
Once you arrive in Lake Tekapo, spend some time taking photos next to the lake. In addition, there is a walking path to go around the lake.
- Visit the iconic Church of The Good Shepherd.
This small church is lovely during the daytime and picturesque along the lake. It can be challenging to take photos of the outside due to the tourists so come early in the morning. Although we didn’t stay in the evening, you can easily take the nighttime photos of the stars and the church or go stargazing in the area.
Address: Pioneer Dr, Lake Tekapo (Follow the signs from the road to the Church of The Good Shepherd)
Lake Tekapo to Twizel Distance: 62.5km / 39 miles
Drive Time: 50 minutes
Must See in Twizel
- Stop by and take photos of Lake Pukaki.
You’ll see Lake Pukaki on the drive from Lake Tekapo to Twizel. The crystal blue water is just as impressive as Lake Tekapo.
- Visit the downtown area for good eats and relaxation.
The downtown area has a handful of restaurants, ATM machines, and grocery stores to restock on supplies. A visitor center is also available for more information.
We noticed that the food in downtown was on the pricier side. During our visit, there were cheaper eats (food trucks) off of Mackenzie Drive and the golf course. We had delicious wood fire pizza made from a portable oven brought to the site. Next to the pizza stand was a food truck that served burgers and fries.
- Picnic or take a walk around Lake Ruataniwha.
Even though we stayed at the Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park & Motels, anyone can stop by to walk around Lake Ruataniwha. The waters are calm where you can also go boating or swimming.
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is a beautiful place to embrace the outdoors. There are several hiking trails to consider and even take a helicopter-hike glacier tour!
Twizel to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park Distance: 64.3km / 40 miles
Drive Time: 50 minutes
Must See in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
- Stop by the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park Visitor Center.
The Visitor Center is the hub for general information. Feel free to ask the friendly park rangers for information about your visit, recommendations for things to do, and learn about the current weather conditions. You can also explore the two-story building to read about the history of the park. Bathrooms are available here.
Address: 1 Larch Grove, Aoraki Mount Cook Village, New Zealand
Opening Hours: Summer peak season (October – April) 8:30 am – 5:00 pm,
Winter off-peak season (May – September) 8:30 am – 4:30 pm
- Hike Hooker Valley Track.
Definitely check out Hooker Valley Track for a 10km / 6.2 miles round trip hike. The hike starts from the White Horse Hill Campground car park or you can have a longer walk starting from the Visitor Center (about 8 miles). The route itself easy as it is well-maintained and no inclines. You’ll love the snowcapped mountains, glaciers, beautiful wildflowers, and the chance to walk across three suspension bridges.
Hooker Lake is the endpoint for a short break or picnic. Our visit was overcast, so the lake was greyish and didn’t have any glaciers. The background of Aoraki/Mount Cook is lovely.
- Hike Mueller Hut Track and stay overnight at the hut.
Mueller Hut Hike was on the top of our list to do. The allure was the challenging 10.4km / 6.5 miles round trip hike and staying overnight at the red hut to see the sunrise/sunset. Reservations are necessary from mid-November to April. We reserved our spots 2 months in advance.
Unfortunately on the day of arrival, the park rangers notified us of the high winds and pending storm the next day. They strongly encouraged us to not do the hike due to the dangers, so we canceled. We’ll try again on our return visit.
Wanaka is one of our favorite cities in New Zealand. It’s a small town that embraces the outdoors and has a vibrant downtown area.
Must See in Wanaka
- Visit Puzzling World.
You’ll see this funky building with crooked houses and a Leaning Tower of Wanaka clock tower off Highway 84 when heading towards downtown Wanaka. Puzzling World a fun place to play with puzzles, go in the Great Maze, visit the Illusion Room, and even take fun photos outside of the building. If you take photos outside, there are signs with suggestions for how to pose at each photo opportunity, such as ways to up the leaning tower. Check out the bathrooms as there are Roman style toilets in the waiting area. The visit to the bathroom is worth a photo.
Address: 188 Wanaka-Luggate Hwy (Hwy 84), Wanaka 9382
Opening Hours: Summer peak season (October – April) 8:30am to 6pm / Winter off-season (May – September) 8:30am to 5:30pm / Christmas Day: 10am to 3pm
Admission fee for the Great Maze (Adults $18 NZD / Children $14); Illusion Room (Adults $18 / Children $14); Combo (Adults $22.50 / Children $16)
- Walk along Lake Wanaka and see the Wanaka Tree.
It’s the famous willow tree in Lake Wanaka. Your trip to Wanaka is incomplete without seeing this tree. The area is crowded as everyone wants to take the perfect shot for Instagram. With ample coastline, you can frame it without seeing the crowds. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #ThatWanakaTree for your social media accounts.
To get here, you can walk along the lake from the downtown area. If you have a car, there is a parking lot along the Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road.
- Go hiking!
Wanaka has plenty of hiking opportunities with amazing views of the city and Lake Wanaka. Some of our recommended hiking trails are:
Mount Iron Track is an easy 4.5 km / 2.8 miles hike that has a nice view of Wanaka and Lake Wanaka. Read more about our experience here.
Roys Peak Track is one of the best trails that we’ve taken. It’s a tough hike that is 16km / 9.9 miles long. It’s a steep trail with beautiful views of Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring, other mountains. You may even see sheep on the mountain munching on the grass. Check out more about the Roys Peak Track.
Rocky Mountain Summit Track is a moderate 7 km / 4.3 miles hike. You’ll reach the summit at 775 meters / 2543 feet with views of Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring, and other mountains. Click to read more about our experience.
- Explore the downtown area and eat at Red Star Burger Bar for delicious burgers.
There are plenty of restaurants and bars to satisfy your taste buds. One of our recommended places to eat is Red Star Burger Bar. They have over two dozen gourmet burgers from beef, venison, lamb, fish, and vegetarian options. All of the options are delicious, especially the vegetarian burgers. Plus, they have fun names for each burger such as the Shania, a lentil burger, and Hot Mac, a beef, cheese, and jalapeno burger. The sweet potato fries are also a delicious side item. Burgers are between $12-$17 NZD.
Address: 26 Ardmore St, Queenstown-Lakes 9305, New Zealand
We were sad to leave Wanaka, however, it was time to head to Te Anau, a good rest spot before visiting Milford Sound. En route to Te Anau we also stopped by Cardrona by driving on the outskirts of Queenstown.
Wanaka to Cardrona: 24 km / 14.9 miles
Drive Time: 20 minutes
Must See in Cardrona
- See the famous Cardrona Valley Bra Fence.
Yes, we came here to see the long fence off of Cardrona Valley Road covered with bras. It’s a quick 5-10 minute visit at this random location. There is a pink sign which provides greater awareness for New Zealand’s Breast Cancer Foundation. A collection box is present for monetary donations to the foundation. Feel free to add your bra to the fence!
- Visit the Cardrona Hotel and relax.
It’s one of New Zealand’s oldest and historic hotel. Schedule a stay overnight or enjoy a meal at the restaurant.
Cardrona to Te Anau: 206 km / 128 miles
Drive Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes
Must See in Te Anau
- Stop by the Fiordland National Park Visitor Center before your visit to Milford Sound.
Everyone should stop by the Visitor Center before heading to Milford Sound area. Learn about the various hiking trails, things that you can do around the area, and ask any questions that you have. Read more about the Visitor Center.
Address: Lakefront Drive, Te Anau, 9600
Opening Hours: mid-October – April 8:00am to 5pm / May – mid-October 8:30am to 4:30pm weekdays; 8:30am to 4pm on weekends / Christmas Day: 8:30am to 11:30am
- Visit the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary.
Check out the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary if you’re nearby the Visitor Center. It’s a 15 minute walk from the visitor center along Lake Te Anau. The area is outdoors and you have the opportunity to see rare and rehabilitated birds. Most of the birds were in cages. Free to access but donations accepted. Free parking available. Feeding tours available with a donation.
Address: 181/209 Manapouri-Te Anau Hwy, Te Anau 9679
- Explore the quiet downtown area and enjoy meals at the nice restaurants.
Miles Better Pies is known for handmade pies with lamb, venison, veggies, and other fillings. Each mini pie is $6.50 NZD and fits in the size of your hands.
Address: Milford Rd, Te Anau 9600
Bao Now by Habit Foods is a food truck outside of the Fresh Garden supermarket. If you want Asian inspired steamed baos, then this place is for you. We were here every night during our stay in Te Anau. Everything is made fresh to order and the servers were very friendly. Plus, they were also open when it rained in the evening. The baos were delicious with the unique flavors and the soft steamed buns. The various fillings are:
Meat Options: Cheeky (beef cheek), Porky (pork belly), Feathered (buttermilk fried chicken), Bambi (wild fiordland venison), and Hoppy (confit hare leg)
Seafood Options: Ocean (fresh fish of the day), Krusty (fried soft soft crab)
Vegetarian Option: Vega (crispy tofu)
Salads and fries are also available.
We recommend the Krusty (soft shell crab) and Ocean (fresh fish) with a side of fries. Baos are $13 NZD each. Seating is available outside of the food truck area if you choose to dine in.
Address: 6 Milford Crescent, Te Anau, 9600
This is the day to explore Fiordland National Park and take a cruise along the Milford Sound. An option is to take an organized tour from Queenstown, but we opted to self-drive. We left Te Anau around 8:30am and took our time to explore places.
Remember that safety is important on the road. Here are Milford Road tips for drivers and a map of from Te Anau to Milford Highway. Don’t speed on Milford Road. Some parts of the road are narrow and have blind spots, so take your time with driving.
There are many stopping points along your drive to Milford Sound. Feel free to choose things that are interesting to you! Refer to the map listed above.
Te Anau to Fiordland National Park/Milford Sound Parking Lot: 117km / 72.7 miles
Drive Time: 1 hour 45 minutes – 3 hours, depending on stops made
Must See in Fiordland National Park/Milford Road
- Visit the Mirror Lakes and the Chasm.
If you visit on a clear day and the waters of calm, you’ll see the reflections of Earl Mountains onto the Mirror Lakes. Unfortunately, we had some slight wind so we couldn’t see the reflections.
The Chasm is another great stopping point. It’s a short 5-minute walk to the chasm. You’ll see a huge waterfall and cavern that goes pretty deep. This is quite impressive to see in person.
- Hike up Key Summit Trail.
We couldn’t let another hiking opportunity pass! Check out this hiking opportunity along the Milford Sound Road. Park at the Divide and take the 8km / 5 mile hike. It’s a pretty hike where you’re under the forest, and then you’ll reach the Key Summit. You’ll see lovely views of the surrounding mountains and possibly glaciers on the mountains. There is also a 20 minute Nature Walk loop beyond the Summit.
- Visit the Milford Sound Swing.
Did you know that there is a swing in this area? It’s a new attraction that is a popular place for photographs and also sharing the experience with a loved one. Read more about the Milford Sound Swing, including how to get there.
- Kayak through Milford Sound.
For a unique experience, try kayaking through Milford Sound. It’s an adventurous way to see the fjord and also a great workout!
- Take a cruise to Milford Sound.
The popular way to view Milford Sound is via a cruise. There are cruises scheduled all day depending on your availability. You’ll have great views no matter which time of day you take the cruise.
The 2-hour cruise was one of the best experiences that we had. We took the tour with Mitre Peak Cruise in the late afternoon at 4:30pm. Reservations are recommended, but you can also check before departure time for availability. Our small boat had about 20 people. We saw seals, bottlenose dolphins, and went under a huge waterfall. Cost was $70 NZD / $49 USD per adult.
Helpful Tips For Your Drive to Milford Road
- Purchase food at Fresh Garden supermarket (Address: 5 Milford Cres, Te Anau 9600) and gasoline in Te Anau. There aren’t any options available after leaving Te Anau.
- No cell phone coverage in the area. It’s one way in and out along Milford Road, so you won’t get lost.
We had limited time in Queenstown due to our departure schedule. We would have loved the opportunity to see the town further but will save that for a return trip. When we return, we’ll explore Queenstown’s incredible hikes, take the Skyline Gondola, and go on other fun adventures. Check out these helpful tips when visiting Queenstown.
Queenstown is a bustling city with one main road leading to the main downtown area. Traffic is more congested compared to the quieter Wanaka and Te Anau. Also, the street parking in Queenstown is challenging and the roads are narrower.
Te Anau to Queenstown: 173 km / 107.5 miles
Drive Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Must See in Queenstown
- Shop in the downtown area and get some wool products.
If you need some last-minute souvenirs, then visit the numerous shops selling merino wool shirts and sweaters. Most of the wool is sourced right here in New Zealand so you’re supporting the local industry. We personally love wearing merino wool t-shirts and socks since they are comfortable and can be worn for a few days straight without it smelling. We wore merino socks every day on this trip!
- Eat at the famous Fergburger.
Fergburger is a famous burger place in Queenstown. Next door is a gelato store and bakery which are associated with the Ferg chain. The line to order is long (about 10-15 minutes). The line to wait for your order is also long (another 10-15 minutes). However, the burgers are a good size, delicious, and well worth the wait. The Big Al is the hefty burger with ¾ pounds of beef, bacon, cheese, and two eggs. We loved the Codfather (one of the best cod burger’s that I’ve had!) and Sweet Bambi (deer burger with brie cheese).
Address: 42 Shotover St, Queenstown 9300
We hope you liked the itinerary for one week in New Zealand’s South Island! You won’t be disappointed with the offerings and activities!
Have you been to New Zealand? What else should we add to the road trip itinerary? Let us know in the comments below.
Pin the post for your New Zealand Pinterest board!
Pin #1 photo credit: Noeau Kahele (top row), Lissy L’Amoreaux (bottom row) via Scopio Photos
Pin #3 photo credit: Dustin Cressey via Scopio Photos