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South Island Budget Road Trip Ideas

South Island on a budget

The South Island of New Zealand is home to some of the most scenic visuals in the world, including impressive snow-capped mountains and glaciers, and impeccable national parks. So what’s the best way to see it all on a budget, factoring in accommodation and activities? Let’s have a look.

Money Saving Tips

  • Take the scenic route: Filled with stunning scenery, a South Island road trip is the best way to check out nature at its finest. The great thing about this? Nature is free. Explore to your heart's content and save money at the same time.
  • Rent an economy car: Rent an economy car that is not only cheaper in price but also fuel efficient. Figure out your daily budget for a car and see how many days you can afford.
  • Get insurance: Yes, it's an upfront cost, but the price to fix your vehicle if anything happens will be a lot more.
  • Swap activities for exploring: Places such as Queenstown / Tāhuna are known for their array of activities including bungee jumping, jet boating, skiing, and white water rafting, however, these can be expensive. We recommend picking one or two you really want to try, then swap the rest for exploring nature instead.
  • Food and drinks: When in Christchurch / Ōtautahi, stock up on essentials. Some places on your road trip including Mount Cook / Aoraki and the Fiordlands don't have many cheap places to eat, so ensure you bring your own food. You can cook at campsites, parks, and rest stops along the way.

Recommended South Island Road Trip Itinerary

Day One: Explore the Stunning City of Christchurch / Ōtautahi

Christchurch City at sunset


  • Christchurch Farmers Market
  • Brighton Pier
  • Botanic Gardens
  • Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
  • Riccarton House and Bush

Where to stay:

  • Camping: North South Holiday Park and South Brighton Motor Camp
  • Hostel: YHA Christchurch Backpackers and Around the World Backpackers

Day Two: Experience Lake Takapō’s Purple Lupin Flowers and Hot Springs

Purple lupin flowers at Tekapo Lake


  • Takapō Springs
  • Purple Lupin Flowers
  • Lake Takapō
  • Star gazing
  • Nature

Where to stay:

  • Camping: Lake Tekapo Motels and Holiday Park and Freedom Camping on Hayman Road
  • Hostel: Tailor Made Tekapo Backpackers Hostel

Day Three: Discover Mount Cook / Aoraki, and the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers

Mount Cook


  • Lake Pūkaki — aqua lake
  • Glaciers
  • Peter's Lookout
  • Hooker Valley track
  • Franz Josef Glacier

Where to stay:

  • Camping: Glentanner Holiday Park Mount Cook, White Horse Hill Campsite, and Mount Cook National Park
  • Hostel: YHA Aoraki Mount Cook Backpackers and Fox Glacier Inn & Pod Hostel

Day Four: Stop In at the Remarkables, Lake Hayes, and the Holyford Walking Track

Mountain cityscape and lake of Queenstown


  • Bob’s Cove
  • The Remarkables
  • Holyford Walking Track
  • Skippers Canyon
  • Lake Hayes

Where to stay:

  • Camping: Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park
  • Hostel: Nomads Queenstown Hostel, YHA Queenstown Lakefront, and Tahuna Pod Hostel

Day Five: Explore the Stunning Fiordland National Park

mountain glacier at Milford Sound


  • Milford Sound
  • The Chasm
  • Glow worm cave in Te Anau
  • Mount Aspiring National Park
  • Lake Te Anau

Where to stay:

  • Camping: Gunns Camp, Walker Creek Campsite, Brod Bay Campsite
  • Hostel: YHA Te Anau Backpackers and Milford Sounds Lodge

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