This travel guide would be useful for first-time visitors to the South Island of New Zealand. I’ve designed this to also help you maximise your time there if you have only 10 days to spare! This would be useful in helping you prioritise the iconic places or activities to spend your time at. There are also many other travel tips for you included to help enhance your experience then. So, read on to find out more!
The South Island of New Zealand, is by far, the prettiest country I’ve ever seen in Asia Pacific. Just 11 hours away from Singapore, going there for my working holiday just seemed to be the best decision I’ve ever made in my life thus far! After spending six months there, I’ve had the luxury to travel to the majority of places in South Island. Hence, I’m here to share my best recommendations for places to visit in this travel guide for the South Island. Every part of this island is unbelievably beautiful and no matter which location you decide to go to, I’m sure it’ll still give you a great time there.
10 to 15 days Itinerary in South Island, New Zealand
For this itinerary, you can arrive in either Christchurch or Queenstown, and spend around 10 to 15 days there. This is also designed with the assumption that you’ll be comfortable to drive around on your own. You can rent a 4WD (4-wheel drive), sedan or even a caravan! The route I recommend based on a round trip back to Christchurch would be as such:
Iconic Highlights of South Island, New Zealand
You’ll find the highlights of each place I’ve put up in the itinerary above in this section here.
1. Hike up an Avalanche at Arthur’s Pass
Arrive at Christchurch and drive two hours towards Arthur’s Pass. This place is serene and a perfect place for day hikes. I recommend doing the Avalanche Track, a full-day hike that takes you about 6 to 8 hours. As the name states, this is a mountain peak that experiences avalanches during winter. If you climb up to the peak on a clear day, you would be welcomed by endless panaromic views of the Southern Alps. I did this during autumn near to winter, and the snow-capped Southern Alps at the peak just felt so surreal.
However, do take note that this is an extremely steep and rocky journey to the 1833 m peak. The track also goes through a few types of terrains. You’ll start off on gravelled roads, then onto huge stone steps that goes through little trickles of mini waterfalls and streams. Then, you would approach a steep grassy track, before going through a trail of shavelled rocks covered in snow. The path will become tougher to navigate as it narrows. Be mentally prepared if you’re afraid of heights! I remember not finishing the last 100m to the peak because it does seem too dangerous and I wasn’t confident. Do also check the season when you’re there to ensure you put on proper footwear for your own safety.
If you just want something relaxing yet highly satisfying at Arthur’s Pass, try the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall Track. That’s a pretty friendly option for families with young children or even older folks! I did this with my parents then too and they’ve enjoyed it very much!
2. Take a Helicopter to the Top of the Glaciers
The South Island of New Zealand is home to a number of famous glaciers. Prepare for nearly a three hour drive down South from Arthur’s Pass to get here! You might be familiar with the Tasman Glacier at Mt Cook, Franz Josef Glacier and the Fox Glacier. These glaciers are famous because you can choose to hike there or even stay overnight on, with the company of skilled guides. It was an exhilarating moment when I stepped out of the helicopter and started stamping on ice. I couldn’t believe I was on top of a glacier until I saw the endless ice walls around me. Our guide also led us to a hiking trial that goes under a huge sheet of ice just for the fun of it!
I took a helicopter for the first time because of this too! To my surprise, the sudden change in pressure in the helicopter made my ears hurt so badly. Hence, do note to bring the right medication if you usually experience a headache when on an airplane as this will be much worse!
3. Jump out a Plane as you Skydive at Wanaka
Get up early today for the long scenic drive down from the glaciers towards Wanaka. Here you’ll go by scenic spots from The Neck, to Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. The drive is so beautiful that you would not even feel that it was 3.5 hours. Wanaka is a beautiful and quiet place, for which is famous for the lonely That Wanaka Tree. Despite that serenity, it is actually a place famous for skydiving too! You can choose to do this if you’ve yet to check this activity off your bucket list, just like I did! That panoramic view of the beautiful meandering Wanaka Lake from the top as you glide down from the plane is not to be missed!
Plan for at least two days here if you’re skydiving as this activity is really reliant on clear skies. It may even be cancelled on the day itself if the weather does not prove to be safe for jumping. This also applies to the Glaciers Heli-Hike too, when weather is especially erratic near the glaciers. Hence, do plan for alternative days if you don’t want to end up being disappointed!
4. Bungy Jump out of a Bridge at Queenstown
Just one hour away from Wanaka lies Queenstown, the place known for its jam-packed adrenaline-filled activities! From Bungy Jumping, Paragliding, Cliff Swings, Skydiving, you name it, they have it! Hence, this place is not to be missed if you do have that hidden adrenaline junkie in you. I signd up for a AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge Bungy and Nevis Swing Combo package and did both on the same day. My heart almost thumped out of my ribcage that day because of how nervous I was. Plus, I do feel motion sickness from these activities, so it was worse. However, no regets and I hope you’ll let me know combo you went for too! If this is not enough to feed your adventurous soul, try out the Canyon Swing, where you’ll find crazy jump styles unique to this bungy.
On top of that, I love Queenstown becuse of the energy it possesses. It was such a contrast to other parts of the South Island because of how exciting the place was even after the sun went down. This town houses the legendary Fergburger that was iconic of this energy. It opens from 8.30am to 4.30am, and you can grab a burger at anytime of the day for breakfast, lunch or dinner! You can also grab a snack at the Ferg Bakery or dessert at the Ferg Ice Cream. The pistachio-flavoured ice cream definitely made it to the top of my list here, even though I am a major chocolate fan! Definitely a must-try when you’re here~
5. Ride a horse towards Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy
Glenorchy is about an hour’s drive from Queenstown. Being a great fan of Lord of The Rings, Glenorchy was a must-go for me. This was the filming location of Isengard, and it definitely did not disappoint! Since I was also feeling adventurous, I decided to get on the back of a horse and trot towards the beautiful Lake Glenorchy. The picture above did not do the scenery any justice at all! I was awed by the beauty of Mother Nature at that instant when the still lake gave a perfect reflection of the surounding peaks.
I paired this with a Glamping experience too. It was a great one as we caught a double rainbow, had ice cream in front of our tent and had a late night eat-out session in the cold dark with some lamps. It was so calm, and a perfect getaway from the busy city.
6. Cruise down the Magnificent Milford Sound
Drive down the next day for about 2.5 hours to get to Te Anau. From here, you can choose to go to either Milford Sound or the Doubtful Sound, or even both if you have the time! Milford Sound is regarded as the 8th Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling, an English journalist. It’s not a place to be missed with its mysterious-looking peaks, incredible rainforest and rich marine life. This place is also home to one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Milford Track, a 4D3N hike. If you plan to complete this track, make sure you book the huts really early to prevent disappointment!
If you don’t have the luxury of spending four days here at Milford, you can explore this beautiful fiord with other short hikes, kayaking or even cruising through it like I did. I took a cruise tour and had a great (though freezing) time cruising through the enormous valleys. On top of the strong waterfalls, we were lucky enough to see sealions too! If you want to experience the strength of the waterfall, just stand yourself at the edge of the cruise as there’s this part when the cruise would intentionally get under a strong waterfall for its adventurous passengers. You would get absolutely wet from head to toe from that for sure!
7. Take a Private Jet across Doubtful Sound
This was legit the best scenic flight I’ve ever taken. You’ve got to include this into your itinerary if you have the time. It is the deepest (421 metres) and second longest (40 kilometres) of the South Island’s fiords. Its name was inspired from Captain James Cook, who founded the entrance to Doubtful Sound on his first voyage to New Zealand in 1770 but did not enter because he doubted his ability to sail back out to sea once inside the sound. This is in such a huge contrast with the spacious Milford Sound. You can choose to explore the fiord either by kayaking or from a cruise (possibly even an overnight one!). There are also short hikes around Doutbful Sound that you can consider if you prefer to stay on the ground!
I took the option of a private jet and that picture above was the view we saw! I couldn’t take my eyes off the endless views of the snow-capped mountains. The beautiful valleys from above made the waters look dark and menacing, and no wonder the name “doubtful” came about.
8. Explore the Beautiful Mount Cook
There are an endless number of things you can do here at Mount Cook National Park! This place is a four hour drive from Te Anau to the Mt Cook area. From the many gorgeous hikes to going on scenic flights for a panoramic view of beautiful Mount Cook, the list is never-ending. You can even go stargazing on a clear day and if you’re lucky, the Milky Way might reveal itself then! I had an amazing yet freezing stargazing experience at Twizel, one of the Dark Sky Reserves. It essentially means an area completely free of light pollution and is an exceptional place for stargazing. Hence, be prepared to a feast for your eyes then!
I also did the Hooker Valley Track twice too, once during early autumn, and the other during early winter. The view during early winter swept me off my feet! Just look at that picture above, what more can I say about its beauty? This is a really easy and flat hike suitable for any fitness level and takes 3 hours to complete. This would easily fit into your schedule if you’re time-tight and have only one day to spare. Otherwise, there’s also other options such as the Sealy Tarns Track or the Kea Point Track that takes around two hours each and also gives you beautiful views of Mount Cook!
9. Catch the Southern Lights at Lake Tekapo
An hour away from Twizel lies Lake Tekapo. It is also known for being one of the best places to see the Southern Lights. It is best seen between April and September because of the clear nights and lack of light pollution as recognised from its International Dark Sky Reserve status too! You can plan for a fun stargazing night while enjoying a warm soak in the Tekapo springs. Otherwise, the Mount John Observatory will also be a great option for your best experience of the spectacular natural light dance.
Furthermore, you’ll also find the beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd perched right beside the Lake of Tekapo. If you get a chance to enter the cosy place of worship, make sure you take a look through the windows as that’s where the perfect frame of the Southern Alps beyond the lake sits!
10. Spend a Fun-Filled day Touring Christchurch City
Finally the end of the trip where you head back to Christchurch with a 2.5 hours drive. The rule of thumb in planning your trip in New Zealand is to always plan for buffer time. As road conditions in New Zealand can change very quickly, you may want to plan to arrive a day earlier in Christchurch for your flight home the next day. Hence, you may be thinking what you can you do in a city like Christchurch?
In my opinion, the best way to explore Christchurch if you are tight on time is to sign up for a City Tour! It is a compact tour that covers the iconic places of Christchurch such as the Botanic Gardens, Avon River, the Gondola and even the Trams! It is a really fun experience uncovering what you can find in this little city! I especially like the Tram as you can alight at any of the 17 stops to visit nearby attractions. I would recommend visiting the New Regent Street and the Transitional ‘Cardboard’ Cathedral if you can’t fit all attractions into your itinerary.
How to get to South Island, New Zealand?
1. Arrive by flight at Christchurch or Queenstown
In this South Island travel guide, you can start from either Christchurch or Quenstown. There are both direct and indirect flights from Singapore to Christchurch or Queenstown, although indirect flights are usually more affordable. It costs slightly less than S$1.4k for a return indirect flight, and if you couple it with a seasonal deal, you might even get it near S$1k. The flight takes around15 to 18 hours for an indirect flight, compared to around 10 hours for a direct flight.
2. Arrive at Wellington and travel down to the South Island
Flights to Wellington are generally cheaper than flights to Christchurch or Queenstown. If you’re on a budget, I would recommend flying to Wellington, then hop on a domestic flight to either Christchurch or Queenstown. The domestic flight would cost you less than S$100 if you’re lucky! There’s also the 3-hour ferry ride from Wellington to Picton via InterIslander, which I took my car on from the North to the South on. This would be a more practical option if you already own a vehicle and want to transport it across to the other island!
Getting around South Island, New Zealand
1. Driving on a Road trip
This travel guide is designed with the intention for you to explore the South Island by driving on your own. I would recommend driving in New Zealand if you’re confident and have a current driver’s licence to drive there. That’s because it’s really much easier to plan your itinerary to your own comfort without having to match it to timings of public transportation. Also, having a vehicle means you don’t have to pack and carry your belongings everyday as you shift locations.
The roads are generally good and easy to drive on with the light traffic volumes. Majority of the roads only have two lanes, so remember to give way if the car behind is going at a speed you’re uncomfortable at. Also always note to follow the speed limits! You won’t want to incur a hefty fine while on a fun and relaxing trip. Parking is also nearly free at every place except for cities like Queenstown and Christchurch.
2. Utilising the Extensive Bus Networks
Don’t worry if you have no driver’s license though, you can still get around the South Island with their extensive bus networks. Although this option may be a bit more physically draining with the need to bring your luggages around, it is still quite doable. The Intercity bus is a great option as it stops at numerous points around the Island and is affordable too if you’re on a budget!
Best time to visit South Island, New Zealand
The best time to visit South Island, New Zeaand in my opinion is during Spring (September to November) or Autumn (March to May). The South just has this magical touch to it with those semi snow-capped mountains through the scenic drives in this period. This is also a time when you can see cherry blossoms and yellow daffodils at Hagley Park at Christchurch. What’s more, you can even participate in the annual Arrowtown Autumn Festival, where you’ll see beautiful autumn foliages. The best thing is you get to see these places without having to endure the bitter cold, and days are much longer during these periods too as compared to winter.
8 Items You Must Pack for South Island, New Zealand
Depending on the season you’re there at, you will experience a wide range of temperatures in a span of a day. Different places would also experience a different range of temperatures even during the same season. For example, Queenstown and Te Anau typically are colder than places like Mount Cook or Christchurch. Hence, I would recommend heavy layering of clothes and the following eight items you must pack for your trip:
- A Lightweight Down Jacket – This is perfect in keeping you warm while hiking. Pick a waterproof and windproof one if you have, otherwise, feel free to pack in another light poncho.
- Light Exercise Clothes – I would recommend packing in a few stretchable leggings and sports wear to help you through the various hikes and be comfortable during the long road trips. Depending on the season you’re there at, it can get really cold in the mornings and night if you’re there during autumn or winter.
- Long Johns/ Thermal Innerwear – Make sure you spam a bunch of these if you’re going there around autumn/ near-winter. It will be super useful when hiking.
- Hiking bag – Make sure you bring a comfortable hiking bag of at least 30 litres if you’re going for a full day hike or even a multi-day hike. Make sure you get one that fits your body structure and that it rests well on your shoulders. This will make your hike much easier!
- Strong Torchlight/ Headlight – Do get those specially for hiking so that you can hang around your neck or a headlight so your hands are free. This will help you to navigate around the tracks more easily as you never know when you need your free hands might come in handy.
- Wet Wipes or Hand Sanitisers – This will be especially useful before you tuck into your meals each day after hiking.
- Camera and Tripod – For all your memories of course! You’ll love all the photos you take during this whole trip because everything just looks so surreal and pretty. I’m suer you can already feel it from my photos above.
- Portable Charger – This, to me is an essential item for New Zealand. Road trips around New Zealand tend to take up one full day, and you would rely heavily on your devices for navigation. Unless you’re very certain your rental vehicle would have suitable charging ports, otherwise, make sure you prepare one for your mobile devices and cameras. This proved to be especially useful for me when we ended up glamping in Glenorchy. As it was a campsite, there were only charging ports at the common area. We ended up charging our devices with our portable chargers in the comfort of our tent instead of waiting for it to charge at the common area.
Budgeting for South Island, New Zealand
This budget is based off an itinerary for 10 days, and for which, activities are also included but optional for you. Hence, do plan your activities according to your budget and also the time you have there.
|Flight from Singapore to Christchurch
|Accommodation (per person based on a twin room using Airbnb mainly)
|– Glacier Heli-hike at Franz Josef
|– Skydiving at Wanaka (inclusive of an optional hand camera package)
|– Bungy Jumping at Queenstown + Nevis Swing
|– Horseback Riding at Glenorchy
|– Milford Sound Cruise
|– Private jet across Doubtful Sound
|– Christchurch City Tour
|Cash (for food, souvenirs etc.)
|500 to 800
|5,130 to 5,430
Visa requirements to New Zealand
You don’t need a visa to travel to New Zealand if you’re from one of these Visa Waiver countries. Singapore is fortunately included as one of these countries and with this, all you would need is:
- An NZeTA (Electronic Travel Authority) – Takes up to 72 hours for processing. It would cost you NZD $9 on the Immigration NZ free mobile app, or NZD $12 if completed online.
- You also pay an International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL) at the same time as your NZeTA. This would cost you NZD $35.
I’m finally at the end of my ultra-long travel guide at the South Island of New Zealand. Take note that this is not all to what the beautiful South Island has to offer. There are a ton of other itineraries his list is not exhaustive