Jessica Ward

So you have decided to go to New Zealand? Firstly, great job, best decision ever. If this is your first time, planning a trip can be a little daunting, so I have put together an itinerary for you to follow if you are travelling around the South Island for 2-3 weeks. Depending on which city you fly into, Christchurch or Queenstown usually being the most popular, this plan can easily be done in reverse.

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Christchurch: 3 - 4 nights

Christchurch is transforming into an incredibly smart and vibrant community. Old shipping containers are being used as shops, cafes and bars and old slabs of buildings are being decorated with beautiful street art and murals. The city is also home to the beautiful botanical gardens, so I would recommend spending a day there.

Ballooning Canterbury offers hot air balloon rides over the picturesque Canterbury and it’s located only about 30 minutes outside of Christchurch. Take a ride at sunrise and it will become favourite memory.


Beautiful scenery in New Zealand can be found at every turn.

Akaroa is a lovely French style town about 1.5hrs from Christchurch and can easily be seen in a day. The area is surrounded by rolling hills and water and as you are driving down to the town, you will pass a restaurant on top of a hill which overlooks it all, this is a great place to stop for something to eat.

Kaikoura: 1- 2 nights

Going north and driving along the State Highway 1, you will reach Kaikoura in under 3 hours. The main drawcard for this quiet, seaside town are the sea life and the walk around the peninsula. I have done this walk both for sunset and sunrise and it is incredible and I highly recommend it.

sunset valley

Kaikoura is a stunning town not to be missed.

Abel Tasman National Park: 2 - 4 nights

Again, follow State Highway 1 and then State Highway 6.

If you are doing this trip in the warmer months, I recommend doing some or all of the Abel Tasman Walk. It can take a few days to complete but you definitely can just do some of the walk in one day and still have an incredible experience. There are also kayaks and boats to different parts of the beach.

ocean view

Abel Tasman National Park is an incredible wilderness reserve.

Hokitika Gorge: 1 night

Heading down south, this is about a 5 hour drive on SH 6 and SH 7 from Abel Tasman.

As this is a lot of driving for one day, so if needed, stop somewhere along the way for the night.

I suggest stopping here only if the weather is clear and sunny. Although it’s a beautiful walk, you will be disappointed if you arrive after some rain and find that the vibrant turquoise water that you were expecting has turned milky.

lake surrounded by trees

Hokitika Gorge is a draw card for many travellers.

Fox Glacier: 1 - 2 nights

2 hours south from Hokitika, following SH 6.

Fox Glacier is a great place to splurge a little bit and do a helihike on the glacier. It involves a helicopter ride and then walking around on the glacier. It’s so very worth it.

Wanaka: 2 – 3 nights

A 3 hour drive on SH 6.

Wanaka is similar to Queenstown but without as many tourists. Here you will find the Wanaka Tree, Roys Peak hike, Mount Aspiring National Park and Treble Cone (for winter sports). My favourite thing about Wanaka is Roys Peak and even though it’s an intense hike, the view from the top is worth the pain. The best time to go is in the afternoon so you can reach it for sunset. Be sure to being a lot of water, some food and also a torch as you will be descending in darkness.

If you have an extra few days, go and stay at Mount Cook! The drive around Lake Pukaki is spectacular and the trails around the glaciers and lakes are amazing!

mountain view

It's worth the hike to make it up Roys Peak.

Queenstown: 4 - 5 nights

About a 1 hour drive and you should take the Crown Range road. It’s pretty windy, so be careful of any snow but it’s a lot of fun with some great views.

lake view

There's nothing quite like Milford Sound. Make sure you give it a visit!

Queenstown is probably the most popular tourist town in the South Island and it’s the perfect place to relax, party or get in touch with nature. The main attractions are the Queenstown Gardens, Queenstown Hill and Skyline Queenstown. There also are a wide range of adventure sports like skydiving, bungee jumping, and the Shotover Jet. You should visit Arrowtown, which is only about 30 minutes away and also the vineyards around Lake Hayes.

From Queenstown, you can easily go on a day tour to Milford Sound. It’s about a 12 hour day and a natural beauty of the island. It can be extremely cold on the boat, so take really warm clothing and something waterproof.

Check out the video below as fellow travel blogger Dan gives a beautiful glimpse into Queenstown.

Obviously there are little attractions that you will find along the way but these are some major stopping points that I definitely think you should check out! If you do have extra time, take a drive down to the Catlin’s National Park which is down south. Most importantly have fun, drive carefully and take lots of stops along the way for some photos and impulse exploring!


Jessica Ward is a commercial travel photographer and writer based in Newcastle, Australia. She has spent many months exploring the world and is always eager to embark on overseas trips. Jessica documents all of her adventures on Instagram @jesswardphoto and on her website Jessica Ward Photography

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.

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