I am just going to start out by telling you, you can’t do it all! And coming from me, that is saying something. New Zealand is filled to the brim with the most beautiful things but you need to make a game plan before you get there or else you will probably drive right past landmarks and not even know it!
I stayed on the south island for a little less than a week and we crammed in A LOT of stuff ( like an exhausting amount)
Was it enough time? No.
But it is a reasonable amount of time. I honestly think the only way to see everything is living there, and still I'm not sure.
If your idea of New Zealand is doing a hike everyday, you're not going to see as much… It really depends on what you would like to prioritize. Our mission was to see as much as we could, which brings me to the means of transportation.
Meet the Jucy camper! (It isn't easy on the eyes lol)
It is totally ridiculous but you won't be the only one on the road with one of these green babes.
If you're planning a New Zealand road trip you're going to be spending a LOT of time in your car so plan accordingly.
The plus side of renting this very green camper is that you are prepared for a nap whenever you need one, plenty of room for luggage and you're also still at a similar price point as renting a normal car.
Remember that you're on the left side of the road though, if you're already freaking out about that then maybe don't rent a giant green beast.
Or do, I am not going to tell you what to do.
Day 1: Fly into Queenstown
( yes, thats the view from the plane)
Don’t go to New Zealand with out going to Queenstown! Seriously, It is ridiculously beautiful. Once you settle in head up to the Queenstown Luge. Or if you're not into that just buy yourself a gondola ticket. It is a VERY steep gondola, but you won’t regret it.
Once you're up there you aren’t going to want to leave.
Hang out at the lodge or outside it and soak up one of the best views. Turquoise water, snowcapped mountains, hot chocolate, cake, I don't know how else I can talk you into it. (the cake was really good)
Also, don’t forget to bring your camera! I ,for some reason, left mine in the car and I am still regretting it. Thankfully my iPhone came through.
( seriously how did I not take my camera, ugh)
After spending a beautiful morning in Queenstown we headed out of town anticipating our next day activities.
Queenstown to Te-Anau is about 2 hours, if you don't keep stopping like me, but who are you kidding, you're going to want to stop.
This drive is absolutely gorgeous, and you will find that this is a common theme in NZ, so you might want to add an hour to all your drive times for stopping opportunities.
Here’s a few things you will see on your drive:
Like I said, you're totally going to be making stops!
Okay, once you make it to Te Anu! It is probably late, but thats fine. Stay the night and get ready for another road trip.
Day 2: Milford Sound
Get excited! This was my favorite day in NZ.
Te Anau is a beautiful lake side town, stick around for breakfast (not a lot of options, definitely catering to tourist types and the busses full of people, wake up early and beat them out of town) and then get on the road to Milford Sound.
(Side note, you are probably pronouncing “Te Anau” wrong so try not to embarrass yourself like I did. lol I am just trying to help you)
Don’t skip Milford Sound!!! I am serious, I researched a lot about New Zealand and after two weeks on both islands Milford Sound is still the highlight of this trip.
Plan ahead and book a boat tour in the Fiords.
Since we already had a green Jucy camper we went ahead and booked a boat tour with them as well.
Before you get to the Sound you can look forward to one of the best drives of your life. I know, I know, I keep saying that, but seriously.
Cross your fingers and hope that it rains the day before because that means the mountains will be covered in waterfalls. Seriously covered.
I didn’t get an extensive video, but I found one on youtube that shows what I am talking about. This whole drive is overwhelming, you're going to want to stop a lot, so plan your boat tour accordingly with plenty of time to drive slow ( like really slow it's a windy road) and make stops.
THIS IS REAL LIFE ^^
Trust me you will know this road when you see it, definitely get out of your car!
How many waterfalls are even in this photo?? They are everywhere.
(Also, side note, buy a waterproof jacket and rain boots, everywhere is wet/raining in this country)
Eventually you will make it to Milford Sound, if you’re really excited about getting photos then I would recommend getting there around sunrise. You have a better chance of getting the calm water that makes for the perfect reflection and of course you're lighting will be optimal.
Dress warm!! We were there for New Zealand’s winter, you're a little closer to Antarctica then you probably thought you ever would be and its COLD and again... everything is wet.
I mean everything, its slightly unsettling, but again, rain boots and waterproof jacket you'll be golden.
There are so many spots to take a photo that you will probably end up with hundreds just cause you can’t stop. This view is steps from the parking lot. Seriously.
You will walk around the water to the boat docks, and while this is a tourist destination you will realize that New Zealand’s tourist population is not extensive making all of these stops that much nicer. There is a great information center where you can check in and wait for you boat tour to arrive.
The boat starts out with a waterfall, surprise!
Honestly, by the time you leave NZ you're going to have at least 100 photos of just waterfalls, I don't know what you're going to do with all them but just keep taking them, haha.
Your first waterfall is, Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls. You can see this one from the land but you get an up close view from the boat. This waterfall runs all year long, like I mentioned, NZ is not lacking in water resources.
Depending on how much rain the area has been getting you will see lots more waterfalls but the one that stands out the most is Stirling Falls.
(lol, it makes this very large boat look like a toy.)
The reason this stands out is because the boat tour will literally take you into the waterfall.
This sounds like an exaggeration until they close all the doors to avoid the people inside from getting wet… If you're feeling adventurous, like me, ( I mean what other time are you going to be on a boat under a waterfall) stay outside and get drenched. Also fun is watching everyone else be as surprised as you that they take the boat into the waterfall, it is still blowing my mind to be honest. lol
The boat has hot tea and hot chocolate (and food) so you can warm up after.
The tour lasts about 2.5 hours and you will exit the sounds and stop by the Tasman sea for a little. You can actually see the water change colors, as the Sounds are a combination of fresh and salt water. You may even see some dolphins while you're there.
^ Tasman Sea
If you have more time to stay in the sounds you can book a kayak tour, which I am sure is awesome but we just didn't have the time.
Once our tour ended we packed back up and headed back up to Queenstown, which is about a 4 hour drive. Like I said, you're going to be driving a lot, but there is really no other options. You will be happy to see Queenstown again, go out and have a drink in the city. It is a little pricey, but such a fun town.
Day 3: Wanaka to Franz Josef
Is it only day 3?? already seen so much.
Say your final goodbye to Queenstown, try not to get emotional, I know it’s hard. Pack up and get on the road to Wanaka.
(you might actually be pronouncing this one right)
Speaking of the name does it sound familiar? You might have heard of the one little tree, affectionately known as “That Wanaka Tree”. Yes, you're stopping to see a famous tree. Just get out of the car even if you aren't a photo person this is fun, also, it’s probably breakfast or lunch time so get some food while you're there too.
And get yourself a Flat White! The Kiwis invented this recently trendy coffee so try one in the place it was cultivated.
Wanaka seemed to have a bunch of coffee shops so check one out.
Heres more about the Flat White if you love coffee like me:
Wanaka Lake is beautiful, so even though you're there to see the tree you’ll be happy you stopped for many reasons.
You will probably be able to find this tree easily, but if not, just ask someone they will happily point you in the right direction. (Did I mention that Kiwis are the nicest people)
That Wanaka Tree, yes it is alive! and underwater! how does this happen? Beats me, that just the magic of NZ. You can ask why its survived all this time but you would find any definitive answers, so again, that adds to the magic of this really beautiful photo op. Here’s a little more about “the tree”.
After Wanaka you have to make a really hard choice.. depending on how much time you have, of course. You can head to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers or to Mount Cook.
Here’s the thing, Mount Cook and Franz Josef don’t have a connecting road, so unless you have a surplus of time you probably won’t be able to do both. It was a hard choice but we ended up going with Franz Josef and the Mount Aspiring National Park route.
This whole day is full of beautiful scenery.
While you're driving through Mount Aspiring National Park you are going to be stopping a lot. You will see signs for waterfalls and small stops, take your time stop at as many as you want. One stop that you need to make sure you see is Blue Pools. This is such a great stop and if you aren't looking for it you might drive right past it.
If you have navigation in your car it will map you to it, there are signs also but again, they are easy to miss.
Blue pools is fantastic. The water is flowing down from a glacier which turns it the most amazing turquoise color. It is surreal.
Such a great spot, you will have a 15 minute walk to the actual pools which are surrounded by thick forest and then open up to a river and a bridge.
You definitely don’t want to miss this spot.
The rest of your drive will be accompanied with beautiful mountain ridges and bright blue rivers. Soak it in, I promise you wont be able to take you're eyes off the water.
Soon you will be in Glaicer County! Such a fun area, grab a beer and dinner in Fox or Franz Josef.
Day 4: Glacier County
Wake up at Sunrise! Walk outside and look up and watch the glaciers turn pink as the sun hits them, you won’t regret it. Also drink some coffee.
We booked a last minute Kayak trip in Glacier County, we had no idea what we were getting into.
We showed up and it looked something like a horror movie, the fog is completely settled on top of the lake to the point that you cannot see where you are paddling at all. We set off with a group of about 10 people.
Once the sun came up completely the fog lifted and you could eventually see the most perfect view of the southern Alps as well as Franz Josef Glaicer. The water reflects this landscape like a mirror, it is insane.
(hey! that's me!)
This Kayak trip turned out to be one of the coolest things we did.
Your kayak guide will teach you how to paddle effectively if it is your first time and also tells you more about the land and culture. Additionally your tour guide will have a camera on him and all the photos are available for free after your tour.
I would highly recommend this excursion.
The rest of your day will be a drive up the west coast of NZ.
Again, depending on your time constraints there are many places to stay along the coast, lots of fun towns including, Hokititka, Punikaki and Greymouth where we ended up staying
Day 5: Picton to Wellington
So while planning we tried to think of the best way to see as much as we could and still fly home affordably, that all routed around flying out of a big city.
Which means that Aukland and Wellington are you main options.
If you start from the bottom of the south and drive up north you can take a ferry from Picton (North tip of the South Island) (that is confusing) to Wellington. We drove from Graymouth to Nelson in the morning and spent a few hours in Nelson, a beautiful seaside town, perfect for some day time cocktails.
Also it starts getting warmer as you head back up north! Yay! If you have extra time you can book a fishing tour or boat tour, lots of options!
We loaded up the Jucy Camper and took a really luxury ferry ride ( not even joking, it was nice) over to Wellington. Said goodbye to the South Island, and my favorite Island. Make sure you don't leave your camera in the car cause there are some good views on your way out.
If you can only do one Island on your trip, I vote south, but now that you know what your options are, you can pick!
I will be writing the North Island soon, stay tuned.