Most visitors to New Zealand are familiar with the famous snow-capped mountains of Queenstown and the impressive fiords in Fiordland National Park, however there is much more to discover on the South Island. Along the remote south coast, you’ll discover the beautiful waterfalls of the Catlins region, while in the west, you’ll see unique beaches like nowhere else in the world.
For a unique experience of the South Island, check out this awesome seven-day itinerary.
Make your way from Christchurch to the Southern Alps along one of the most scenic highways in the country. En route to Arthur’s Pass, you’ll travel across tall viaducts and through tunnels carved into the cliffs.
One of the best stops along the route is Castle Hill. Located just off State Highway 73, these unusual limestone rock formations are easily spotted in the distance. The area is one of great cultural importance and is an easy walk from the nearby carpark.
Start your second day in the small seaside town of Hokitika. There is plenty here for visitors to see, including the rocky local beach and the beautiful Hokitika Gorge. As you make your way down the West Coast, check out the black-sand beaches.
There are also plenty of stops along the way, but you’ll want to dedicate a bit of time to see the two glaciers, Fox and Franz Josef. Many visitors choose to see the glaciers by helicopter, but if you’d rather walk, you can get fairly close to them on foot.
The road to Mount Aspiring National Park is long and winding, but it will take you through some incredible scenery. One of the first stops you’ll come to is Roaring Billy Falls, which is a great spot for getting up close to the dreamlike forest and awe-inspiring mountains.
Along the route from the West Coast to Wanaka, you’ll pass both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. From the road, you’ll have plenty of impressive vantage points. End your day in Wanaka, where you can enjoy relaxing by the lake and the famous Lake Wanaka Tree.
Leave Wanaka and head south over the impressive Crown Range Road. Make sure to stop by the photogenic village of Cardrona, a village surrounded by some of New Zealand’s top-rated ski slopes.
Bypass Queenstown and follow the signs to Invercargill. The largest city on the south coast offers plenty for visitors to see and do. Once you’ve explored the historic town centre, head south to Bluff for one of the best views of the coastline.
You’ll easily escape the crowds in the Catlins, but the scenery will have you questioning why the area is not bustling with visitors. A region filled with waterfalls, forests, and remote coastline, there is a lot to explore. Stop in for refreshments at Fortrose before continuing along to Curio Bay. Here, you’ll see penguins and the famous Petrified Forest.
One of the most impressive sights in the Catlins is Nugget Point; a winding, narrow road will take you to the start of the walkway. No doubt you’ll be battling the elements as you make your way to the lighthouse, but it’s worth it for the view of the rocky coastline.
You could easily spend days exploring the city of Dunedin. From the city’s central Octagon, you’ll be able to walk to the iconic train station. The station has an impressive facade that has earned it worldwide recognition. With your rental car, you’ll also be able to visit other city sights, including Tunnel Beach and the world’s steepest street.
The trip from Dunedin to Christchurch will take you through some historical towns, but your first stop should be the Moeraki Boulders. Another place worth stopping off at is the town of Oamaru, home to waterfront heritage buildings and unique stores. Plus, in both Oamaru and neighbouring Timaru, you’ll be able to see penguins at certain times of the day along the beaches.
Read about other popular road trip routes in New Zealand.