New Zealand, South Island Trip Planning

Milford Sound

New Zealand Itinerary

I hadn’t realized planning a trip to New Zealand would be as complicated as it ended up becoming. When you first start googling places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand (NZ), you are inundated with the variety of different things to do. From planning an adventure holiday; or viewing wildlife and natural scenery; or visiting wine regions – the options for a NZ getaway are endless. The one thing I realised was that if we wanted to see and do all the things that we had placed on our NZ bucket list then we were going to need to hire a car. Driving around the country was the only way we were going to be able to tick off all the items on our NZ bucket list.  I did come across some tour companies and buses that can drive you from one location to another. This wasn’t ideal for us as we wanted to have the freedom to travel at our own pace.

There are a bunch of tour companies that can take you around NZ. You can choose to join a group tour on a coach or organise a smaller group tour. There is also the possibility of hiring a private tour guide to take you around the country. The options are endless, just google NZ tours and a range of options will be displayed.

After speaking to some friends who had recently returned from their NZ south island adventure we realized staying in the one place – Queenstown and then doing day trips everywhere just wasn’t going to work for us. B and I are both just too lazy to get up at the crack of dawn everyday whilst on holiday.  Some other friends had done the campervan tour of New Zealand and had recommended Wanaka as a good place to base ourselves whilst exploring the south island. However, looking at the cool opportunity to visit the Tekapo dark sky reserve we knew that we definitely wanted to go there, which was still 3 hours away from Wanaka. Hence we decided that the best option was a slow meander through the south island. We knew the campervan thing just wasn’t us and yeah ok, lets face it I was terrified of driving a big van on narrow, winding on lane mountain roads!

In the end we came up with a list of things we absolutely wanted to see and do on the South Island:

  1. Visit the dark sky reserve in Lake Tekapo
  2. Visit Mount Cook
  3. Visit Fox or Franz glacier – sadly this had to be culled from our itinerary due to limited time
  4. Visit Wanaka and the Central Otago wine region
  5. Visit Glenorchy to explore Lord of the Rings film locations – another one that had to be culled from the trip
  6. Visit Milford Sound

If we had more time, heading to Kaikoura also sounded really cool to do some whale watching. Picton was also a town that was mentioned by a couple of friends for its beautifully scenery.  Unfortunately we were unable to visit the Marlborough or Hawkes Bay region in the north of the South Island for wineries as we didn’t have enough time.

The trip that we have ended up planning consists of the following itinerary:

Arrive in Christchurch and travel to Lake Tekapo on that day – this is going to be a killer 3 hour drive after a red eye flight…but hopefully once we arrive in this beautiful part of the world it will all make up for it! We plan on staying in Lake Tekapo for 3 nights and will drive to Mount Cook National Park for a day trip to complete the Hooker Valley trail. We have also booked a stargazing tour with Earth and Sky to visit the Mount John Observatory and view the Southern Hemisphere night sky from the dark sky reserve around Tekapo.

From Lake Tekapo, we plan to drive to Wanaka and spend 3 nights lazing about near the lake and visiting vineyards! We have also organised to do a hike to the Rob Roy Glacier. After reading quite a few reviews it appears that this hike is totally doable on our own and we won’t need to book a tour to take us. However we have organised for a tour company to drop us off and pick us up at the start of the hike as the drive to the start of the hike can be a little hairy at times. It crosses 7 fords and passes through private farming property, as a result we have decided not to risk the insurance on our hire car.

After this we are going to have the longest drive of our trip from Wanaka to Milford Sound. This is an almost 6 hour trip by car! Initially the plan was to stay in Te Anua for three nights however some close friends who have done the Milford Track put a stop to that fairly quickly! They recommended that we stay at Milford Sound especially considering we have the time to stay there (3 nights). They said although Te anau is pretty, Milford Sound is much better and we can really immerse ourselves in nature by staying here. Now the problem to staying at Milford Sounds is that there is only one place that provides accommodation in Milford Sound – The Milford Sound Lodge. The Lodge has private chalets, dorm beds and power campsites. As we were cutting it fine with our trip planning, we were only able to get accommodation in the dorm rooms.

From Milford Sound we will drive back to Queenstown and spend one night there as our flight to Auckland departs the following day. I’ll keep you posted with details of the actual trip once we finish it! 🙂

An alpine tarn on key summit, Fiordland