Are you currently planning a trip to New Zealand? This New Zealand South Island Itinerary is your go-to guide with lots of tips and tricks on visiting this magical country.
New Zealand top the lists of my favourite countries in the world, and it’s a favourite among tourists too… it’s a country to opposites, calm relaxed bays, alongside bungy jumping into a canyon and weather that varies from hour to hour. Make sure you add a holiday to New Zealand to your bucket list now…
For our trip to New Zealand we decided to use the Kiwi Experience bus tour group during September and October 2014. We used the bus to get around New Zealand for the five weeks we were in New Zealand. It sounded great, had a cheeky personality and the deals they had on were really great. They have a variety of packages ranging from simply seeing just the north or South Island or you can grab a package which includes everything there is to see in New Zealand.
We went for the Super Funky package. One because it was on sale at the time of booking, but also because it included all the main stop offs, including Bay of Islands and Milford Sound but didn’t go to the Deep South, which we weren’t that interested in.
With its sweeping landscapes, adrenalin activities, and wilderness experiences New Zealand has got to be one of the best countries in the world. If you want to find read more about my recommended places to visit in New Zealand, I’ve popped a post together. I’ve finally got around to updating some of my posts from my trip to New Zealand last year. So I’ve pulled together my guide to spending two weeks in New Zealand, including my Sputh and North Island Itinerary.
Many don’t know what New Zealand is in fact split in to two separate islands, the North Island and the South Island. Here is my New Zealand Itinerary….
I travelled New Zealand in October and because of the seasonal changes, we experienced two different sides to New Zealand, as we were down south near Queenstown at the end of ski season and winter, and then made our way up north towards Auckland and the Bay of Islands where the weather got much better and we experienced sunshine and beach days. As I hit October cities and tourist spots became busier as many made their way to New Zealand for summer season.
So, here is a run-down of my New Zealand South Island Itinerary as we headed south and the West coast of the South Island. In most places we stayed just one night, but some places like Auckland and Wellington we stayed two because of the bus route and we stayed four days in Rotorua. We also stayed three nights in Nelson, where the bus doesn’t stop as I had family there. We started in Auckland and ended in Queenstown. And the trip took three weeks!
Top 10 Things to do in New Zealand
- Bungy Jump in Taupo
- Sailing in the Bay of Islands
- Hell’s Gate
- Discover Maori Culture at the Tamaki Cultural Experience
- A Winery Tour in Nelson
- Whangarei Falls
- White Water Rafting on the Tongariro River
- Hot Thermal Springs in Rotorua
- Auckland’s Sky Walk
New Zealand South Island Itinerary
How to get to New Zealand
We started our journey to New Zealand on Monday and arrived in our destination on Thursday. Now if that isn’t a long journey, I don’t know what is?!Our journey to the other side of the world consisted of our first flight from London Heathrow to Dubai, UAE which took around six and a half hours. We then spent three hours in Dubai before boarding our flight to Bangkok which again took around seven hours. Once landed in Bangkok we then realised we had an EIGHT hour layover till our next flight! And it wasn’t even the nice airport in Bangkok it was the crap one with no commercial food outlets or shopping. So, we just sat there for eight long hours…. Once it rolled around, we jumped on our third flight to Sydney, which took eleven hours… No words needed. It took forever! Literally. Once landed in Sydney we had a very quick turnaround to get back on the same plane and head on over to Christchurch, New Zealand. We then had an ultra-long stop, with a night in Christchurch before we boarded our fifth and final flight for six weeks to Queenstown!
Most airlines fly into Auckland International Airport in the north of the country. There are also international arrivals to Queenstown, Dunedin and Christchurch (in the South Island) and Wellington and Rotorua in the North Island.
New Zealand South Island Itinerary
Where to stay in New Zealand
There are many New Zealand accommodation options when travelling to the country, and they suit every traveller’s preferences and needs. The standard of accommodation in New Zealand is generally high compared to other countries, with an array of luxury lodges, backpacking hostels, homestays, motels, bed and breakfasts, New Zealand hotels and even back-to-nature camping.
The selection of accommodation in New Zealand is varied and diverse. When I visited New Zealand a few years ago I was backpacking so my budget was limited meaning we had to opted for the cheapest accommodation New Zealand had to offer hostels. This isn’t so bad though, with New Zealand hostels offering some of the best hostels I’ve stayed in around the world. I stayed primarily with Nomad Hostels, Base Backpackers and Sir Cedrics, but there are other options too. However, if you’ve got a little more budget to work with, you can also get Auckland accommodation deals all year round.
For a real Kiwi experience, stay in a holiday house (‘bach’ in local slang), or a farm stay. And stay tuned, because I will be writing another post next week about the best hotels in New Zealand.
READ MORE: WHERE TO STAY IN NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand South Island Itinerary
How much will I need for two weeks in New Zealand?
As an approx.:
- Hostel accommodation is usually between NZD $20-$30 a night
- Then you’ll need a minimum of NZD $10 to $25 a day for food and beverage
- And then the activity options are almost endless.
- So, say around: NZ $40 and then activities on top
- So, make sure you have some money to travel around with, as the activities are endless. Sky diving is the most expensive, but you can save money by doing free activities on offer around the towns.
Here are a few tips to ensure you have enough money to experience amazing New Zealand:
- Cook you own meals or cook with a group when staying in a hostel kitchen
- Sometimes hostels will offer a cooked meal in the evening so take advantage
- Take advantage of all the free activities on offer!
- Ask drivers of buses and locals where the best places to eat are and the best!
- When you do buy food make sure you get it from big supermarkets rather than the smaller stores
- Put a limit on the alcohol spends whilst you are out in the pubs and bars
- Keep an eye on your money and budget for each day and you should be fine. I have heard a variety of spends you’ll need for a month, but they vary generally from around $900 to $1600. However, obviously this depends on how much you do activity wise and what activities you do but you are sure to find some cheap alternatives!
I will come back to this blog in October when I leave New Zealand and see how it compared!
New Zealand South Island Itinerary
How to get around in New Zealand
I travelled with the bus tour company Kiwi Experience on my journey around New Zealand on their Super Funky bus pass. Kiwi Experience have a variety of passes for all kinds of budgets ranging from $100 to $1900. Kiwi Experience are a great way to see New Zealand without the added pressure of making the journey yourself. See http://www.kiwiexperience.com for more information.
New Zealand South Island Itinerary
New Zealand Itinerary: South Island
Our first port of call in New Zealand was Queenstown, located in the south of the South Island. The Alpine ski town is a beautiful place with small cobbled streets and an incredible lake outside your door. The Skyline Gondola offered us amazing views of Queensland from above. My time there took in two days up at The Remarkables, a mountain range boasting some of the best beginner ski slopes you can find, a trip to Milford Sound with Kiwi Experience and a walk round the wonderful Queenstown Gardens.
Nelson (3 nights)
The Kiwi Experience bus doesn’t stop here, but we just jumped on and off again by talking to head office. It was easy enough to do and we had no problems! Nelson is a lovely little city situated around three hours away from Picton. It is surrounded by the sea so there’s an abundance of beaches, water sports and activities. The area is also famous for its wine so be sure to visit a vineyard! I don’t know why the bus doesn’t stop here, it should!
Stay: We stayed at friends but there’s a YHA in town.
Kaiteriteri is the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park and a beautiful stretch of coast across a huge bay, with Nelson on the other side. Because we had spent four days in Nelson we had only scheduled one night for here and what we saw was amazing! The views are gorgeous with beautiful beaches hidden all over the place. We had one morning only and sat on the beach near the hostel to relax after our busy schedule. Just remember to take sandfly repellent.
Where we stayed: Kaiteri Lodge
A cute little west coast town located just off the beach. The scenery around this area is beautiful and even though the town doesn’t provide much, it is a good place to relax and go surfing or paddle boarding. I did paddle boarding down a river and it was great fun!! Westport is a typical small west coast town and home to a great hostel named Bazils. We merely overnighted here with Kiwi but you probably wouldn’t need to if you were on a tight schedule.
Where we stayed: Bazils
Franz Josef (2 nights)
We stayed in Franz Josef at Sir Cedrics and despite its tiny size you could spend longer here. With heli-hikes to the ice glacier daily (weather dependant though) and plenty of walking to do, it would be easy to find things to do over a few days in the summer. The town is tiny, and I mean tiny but it is still a lovely town. You can find lively bars or quiet hostels along with hot pools and spas along the only two roads there. We stayed on the back road and also visited the Glacier Spa Pools.
Where we stayed: Sir Cedrics
This is basically a small Queenstown, set against Lake Wanaka with beautiful views of the surrounding area. The town is small, but in winter it is a great ski destination for any budding skier or snowboarder. We didn’t see much of this town due to Kiwi bus and time restrictions but it seemed lovely and quaint. We also visited Puzzle World which is apparently one of their main attractions minus the skiing. If I came back I’d definitely spend a week here skiing in winter.
Where we stayed: Base Wanaka
After another day on the bus and yet another early start we arrived at the Lazy Shag in Kaikoura. The hostel was really nice and the rooms were all of good size and cleanliness. Some of the bus then headed off to do a Dolphin Encounter tour, while we headed off to do a Whale Watch tour. However, bad news, they were both cancelled. Our tour was cancelled due to the whales not being in the area, and even the helicopter couldn’t find the whales up to 10 miles out. And the dolphin tour was cancelled due to a similar problem with the dolphins but also because the boat broke down. Overall, a complete fail! However we have decided we may come back on our way back up that way towards the end of our New Zealand section if we are adamant the whales are back!
As we approached our final destination nearly two weeks later, I felt extremely content and pleasantly surprised at this amazing country. I found throughout my trip New Zealand managed to shock me with amazing views and incredible activities. I also went zip-lining in the rain and stayed at the great hostel Sir Cedrics! To celebrate the end of such an amazing month I grabbed a Fergburger and went and sat by the lake taking in the impressive landscape surround Queenstown.
READ MORE: How to spend 5 days in Queenstown
New Zealand South Island Itinerary
10 Activities to do in New Zealand
Most people that travel to New Zealand aren’t after the beaches and sun. Let’s be honest they are after the nature and the beauty of the country, but also the adrenaline! Whether that activity is skydiving 15,000ft, hiking, luging or even white water rafting you are sure to find an abundance of activities for any type of adrenaline.
Bungy Jump in Taupo
Created in New Zealand, the bungy jump is a favourite amongst travellers to the country. The best places to do it is above the Waikato River. For centuries the people of Vanuatu have been leaping from tall towers with vine ropes attached to their ankles, but in the 1980′s commercial bungy jumping was developed by a group of Kiwi’s and the rest is history… So, fancy a 47 meters high jump above the inviting waters of the Waikato River below? This is THE place to jump!
Sailing in the Bay of Islands
Located in the north island, the Bay of Islands is close to the northern tip of the country and is known for its world class sailing and a collection of over 140 islands. The Bay of Islands is known in New Zealand as being the paradise region where you can visit little beaches, eat ice cream, sunbathe, see dolphins and go cruising around the islands. A lot of people say in summer it is like heaven of earth! It is a subtropical micro-region known for its stunning beauty and history and its paradise for those that love beaches and water activities. The area encompasses 144 islands between Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula and includes the boutique of towns of Opua, Paihia, Russell and Kerikeri. With a coastline sporting four villages, including the charming town of Russell. When I was there last spring it was still quite cold, so we didn’t much, but we did take a boat trip around the islands and stopped off on one island for a picnic. We also saw dolphins following the boat around the island.
The Hell’s Gate experience includes a walking tour which you can do yourself by following the map or join a guided tour. The walk is a 2.5km natural geothermal walk past boiling mud, hot water pools in excess of 100 degrees centigrade, Kakahi Falls, the largest hot waterfall in the southern hemisphere, a mud volcano, sulphur fumaroles and a sulphur lake where you can touch the silky hot water and geothermal mud. Each mud bath contains in excess of 80 kgs of geothermal muds found in the local area of Rotorua. Before I dipped into the pool, I was told to carefully smooth the mud over my skin in order to benefit from the mud whilst I was in the pool. So obviously I started smearing it up my arms and over my face, quite literally everywhere, as I was eager to see if this stuff did anything. The mud was quite sloppy, and I felt like I had jumped into a pool of s**t, but it smelt quite nice and relaxed me. There is something odd about sitting in a pool of mud covered from head to toe, but it really is quite relaxing!
Annoyingly as I could have sat there all day, you are only allowed to stay in the mud bath for 20 minutes, and then must rinse off the mud in the cold shower next to the mud pool. The difference is certainly an experience in itself however I was told the cold shower helps to restore blood circulation to normal, before you go on to relax in the sulphur filled pools.
Discover Maori Culture at the Tamaki Cultural Experience
There are many cultural experiences around the world but this one is simply one of the best. They don’t do it for the money and instead pride themselves on their culture and want to educate people to the world both past and present to their wonderful culture. The Tamaki village experience is an incredible evening out with friends as they talk to you about their traditions, get you involved with the cooking and then serve you up an amazing buffet meal. They love to share their culture and the Tamaki Village experience is the BEST cultural experience I have had.
A Winery Tour in Nelson
Hawke’s Bay is the usual place for a winery tour but in recent years Nelson has also become a hit with tourists wanting to taste the Marlborough wine. It is one of New Zealand’s premier wine regions and there is an abundance of wineries in the area. If you feel adventurous why not hire bikes and visit a few in a day… just be careful about drink biking!
The 24 metre high Whangarei Falls is known as the most photogenic waterfall in all New Zealand. Because of its ease of access, picturesque bush setting, and guaranteed 365 days per year flow, it is a must see if you are in the Whangarei area. This spot makes for a good photo opportunity and a good rest stop if you’ve been on the road a while… Sit back and relax to the sound of the water hitting the rocks below.
I am an out and proud Lord of the Rings geek and I have watched the films too many times to count on my hands. I love the three films and the new Hobbit film franchise that’s been released over the past two years. And whilst I left Katie irritated as I quoted various quotes from the films it was a great day! This place was my favourite, throughout the whole trip I was looking forward to visiting Hobbiton and despite the weather we had such a fun day. You arrive on coach and get delivered to the Hobbiton village with your tour leader. They then lead you around the village, telling you where best to get photos and they also let you go into some of the hobbit holes. It is such a fun day out whether you are a LOTR fan or not!
Dotted across the flowing the hills were perfectly placed brightly coloured doors embedded into the hills, with small gates and shed like features. The circular doors and the little windows perfectly represented the LOTR films and outside each of the hobbit holes were items that represented the inhabitants of its hole. From wooden wheelbarrows to pegs and washing lines, the fronts of the houses were decorated with all things Hobbits.
White Water Rafting on the Tongariro River
If you’re after a real wilderness experience, then go White Water Rafting on The Tongariro River. It’s one of New Zealand’s most famous rivers. It is also pretty spectacular and in between conquering each rapid, you will be witness to ancient beech forests, rainbow trout swimming upstream, breath-taking gorges, limestone and volcanic cliffs, and water so clean and fresh you could drink it.
Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World is a world-unique attraction with the theme of puzzling eccentricity! We decided to visit this unique place to take some amazing photos of the crazy buildings and toilets, the Illusion Rooms and the Great Maze, the world’s first ‘modern-styled’ maze, which is a fascinating challenge for everyone. This remarkable attraction has entertained and amazed visitors for over 40 years and is apparently one of the most photographed places in all New Zealand. It’s located in the heart of the breath-taking Southern Lakes region of the South Island of New Zealand.
As you enter you are immediately struck by the Leaning Tower of Wanaka and the crazy architecture of the four eccentric Tumbling Towers. The tower was been pulled out of the ground and is balanced on one corner at an unbelievable 53 degrees! The Leaning Tower of Pisa only leans six degrees. So, they’ve already beat that record! The next exhibition is The Great Maze, which is full of 1.5km of passages so allow 30 minutes to one hour to get around the maze. It took me 34 minutes to get around the entire maze and reach each of the four coloured towers. However, there are apparently emergency doors for those with limited time, patience or energy!
Hot Thermal Springs in Rotorua
When you visit Rotorua really take your time and take advantage of the thermal experiences everywhere. The steam even appears in the pavements and there are geysers fields, mud pools, fumaroles and hot springs. This thermal activity makes itself known in every corner of the city and is the reason for the area’s famed sulphur scent. And one of the best thermal experiences you can have is at the world renowned Polynesian Spa, voted as a world top 10 spa – it is a wonderland of relaxation. Also head to Hells Gate for a real mud spa!
Auckland’s Sky Walk
Hit up the Auckland skyline with only a safety harness attaching you to the tower… This tourist attraction is a great for anyone visiting Auckland. The one meter wide platform with no handrails includes a walk around the 360 degrees of the tower and is suspended 192 meters above the ground…with nothing but air on either side of you. You will need some balls for this one. People also jump from the tower so if this doesn’t take your fancy and you go for Afternoon Tea instead be prepared to see a person’s face appear in front of you every 20 minutes.
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