At the end I will go through a day-by-day itinerary for anybody who stumbles upon this blog when planning their New Zealand south island roadtrip. I would have found such a list incredibly helpful when planning my journey, so I hope my hours upon hours of planning can benefit someone out there besides just Martin and I.
|Drive from Queenstown to Wanaka|
Day 2: Queenstown to Wanaka
Day 3: Wanaka to Franz Josef
Day 4: Hike on Fox Glacier
Day 5: Franz Josef to Punakaiki
Day 6: Punakaiki to Marlborough wine region
Day 7: Biking around wineries
Day 8: Marlborough region to Kaikoura
Day 9: Dolphin swimming and albatross watching tours
Day 10: Kaikoura to Christchurch
Day 11: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
Day 12: Lake Tekapo to Te Anau (via Queenstown)
Day 13: Doubtful Sound day tour
Day 14: Milford Sound day tour
Day 15: Return to Queenstown to fly home
I will make a few points/give sage advice:
Seconds before I booked our flights to Christchurch I thought to look at Queenstown instead. BOOM! Half price flights! Check them both before booking your flight. It essentially makes zero difference which one you fly into.
This itinerary didn't allow us to do Abel Tasman National Park or Mount Cook up close and personal. Both were just too far out of the way (roads are few and far between, remember) to justify. We did see Mount Cook from the Lake Tekapo area from a distance, so I don't feel like we missed out on that. Wine biking in the Marlborough region (near Blenheim/Renwick) was a huge priority of mine so Abel Tasman had to go. If I got to redo the trip I'd make room for it, though.
The most we drove in a day was 4.5 hours, usually much less. I aimed to not be driving every single day, nor have any days of hellacious driving. If you wanted to cover even more ground than we did, you could grit your teeth and do it.
As for things I'd change, Wanaka could easily have been chopped out in favour of a day at Abel Tasman. It was a very pretty area but this is New Zealand, it's all pretty! I stopped in Wanaka just to break up the drive between Queenstown and the glaciers, but I should have bit the bullet on one long day of driving.
We stayed in the city Franz Josef when we were in the glacier region. We should have stayed in the city of Fox Glacier because that's where we started our glacier hiking trip. If you're hiking on Franz Josef (via helicopter only, $$$$) stay there. If you're hiking on Fox Glacier (no helicopter needed, less $$) like we did then stay there instead. I could've saved us a half hour of driving on two different days had I known that Fox Glacier actually had accommodation options.
There is no need to stop for the night in Punakaiki. Stop to see the pancake rocks, absolutely, but there's no town to speak of and nothing outside the pancake rocks to see/do. Again this is an instance of stopping the night just to break up a long day of driving. Had I just planned a few long days of driving I could've budgeted enough time to see Abel Tasman. Just stop in Punakaiki to stretch your legs if you're in the area, it's definitely not a must-see.
We went clockwise around the island, and every single other traveler I talked to seemed to be going counterclockwise. I don't know why that is. Consider both directions before picking one, but first plot out what are your must-see's and must-do's. We were bound by our desire to bike in the Marlborough region and swim with dolphins in Kaikoura. The rest was just filler!
We backtracked to Queenstown before heading to the fiords, which we had to do since we were skipping the southern tip of the island (Invercargill/Bluff area). We skipped the whole south and southeast (Dunedin) part of the island, which I don't regret. There was no must-see or must-do's for us down there, so it didn't make the cut. You can't do it all in 2 weeks. If you have the time (and money!) I think you could do it properly in 3 weeks. I mean south island only...the north island is a whole other ball of wax (which I know nothing about).
I will end with where we ended our trip: the fiords. Martin thought it would be a good idea to "save the best for last", so we did that last. I think a lot of people do it first, if they fly into Queenstown, since they go in a counterclockwise direction. I wanted to do an overnight trip on one of the fiords, but 1. It would cut out our ability to see the other fiord and 2. It was obscenely expensive. If you can only do one fiord because of time or money, you're not going to be disappointed whichever one you choose.
Martin says he'd pick Doubtful Sound if he could only pick 1, I say Milford. Doubtful is more secluded so way, way, way more expensive. I found Milford to be much more striking (taller, more abrupt landmasses) even if it was far smaller and less maze-esque than Doubtful.
I don't know how people do day trips to the fiords from Queenstown (unless they're choppering in and out). What a looooong day that would be spent mostly on a bus rather than the fiord. If you can get yourself to Te Anau, do it. It'll make your day shorter and more enjoyable, so you can get right to the good stuff.