As a couple, my husband and I always want to return to New Zealand. We took a New Zealand road trip on our honeymoon ten years ago and decided to have an anniversary trip and revisit some of the places we loved then and discover a few more. This is a busy New Zealand South Island 2 week itinerary we did in spring.
New Zealand South Island 2 Week Itinerary
In this itinerary, I will detail our New Zealand South Island road trip. It contains some of the best things to do in New Zealand South Island, even though the weather wasn’t always great. Another road trip we took was on the North Island.
I recommend renting a car in New Zealand, and I have also listed some New Zealand South Island tours. For more practical information on road trips, I have recommendations on Australia road trips and a list of road trip essentials. We do did several day hikes.
The only place we visited on a separate trip is Akaroa but it could have fitted in a two-week itinerary as it is so close to Christchurch.
Most of the hotels mentioned are places we stayed at and the experiences and tours mentioned we paid for ourselves.
On previous trips to New Zealand, we also used AirBnb for accommodation.
With so much to pack into a two-week itinerary, we didn’t want to spend too much time in Christchurch, although it was a very convenient airport to fly into, and cheaper than Queenstown. The city has changed a fair bit in the last ten years, following the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 but we only had one afternoon to dedicate to it.
We also picked up our car rental in Christchurch through RentalCars.com
I didn’t find too many attractions in Christchurch so we drove out of the airport and headed straight to the Gondola. It’s one of the fun things to do in Christchurch. I must say that the views were of interest and what nicer way to start the journey?
The 862m cable car journey is an easy one and from the top, you get lovely views of Christchurch, the Banks Peninsula (Akaroa) and Lyttelton. Of course, there is a cafe and a souvenir shop at the top, and you can take a 30-min walk to Cavendish Bluff Lookout.
Find out more information and current prices on the Christchurch Gondola.
Drive to Lyttelton
From the gondola, we drove to Lyttelton, a small but active commercial harbour facing the Banks Peninsula. The town and the harbour were badly damaged during the earthquakes but it’s a pleasant drive and the place retains its old-fashioned and bohemian character.
We drove to Godley Park, around the coast for more coastal views and met our first NZ sheep… It was a very pretty drive, quite reminiscent of the Banks Peninsula.
Accommodation in Christchurch
Whenever I research Christchurch hotels, I find accommodation to be expensive and fairly standard. Since we had no reason to stay in the city and our only visit was going to be the Gondola, I looked for accommodation in Sumner Beach.
There are several beaches in Christchurch but this one met several criteria for us: a good location, relaxed vibe and reasonably priced accommodation
We stayed at Le Petit Hotel, in the beach suburb of Sumner. It’s a charming Bed & Breakfast, managed by a French lady and decorated in French country style. The rooms are cosy and well-appointed and we had a French breakfast with croissants the next morning.
For dinner, we walked to the Beach Bar, which served delicious seafood in generous portions.
The beach was a little windy that day but we were ready for our adventure…
I’m sure there are other things to see in Christchurch but I couldn’t wait to head out on our anniversary adventure!
The Banks Peninsula
We discovered the Banks Peninsula by accident, on our 2010 honeymoon. We were looking for things to do near Christchurch after our 2 weeks in New Zealand and it was an easy drive.
The Banks Peninsula was formed by two giant volcano eruptions and is a gorgeous scenery of harbours and bays. Discovered by Captain Cook, who mistook it for an island, it was named after the expedition’s botanist, Sir Joseph Banks.
The drive from Akaroa to Christchurch only takes about an hour.
In the 1840s, French whaling expeditions discovered the peninsula’s sheltered harbour and decided to settle there. Today, the historic town of Akaroa still bears the remnants of the French settlement, with French street names and a cemetery.
A drive along Summit Road is an absolute highlight when visiting the Banks Peninsula. It follows the rim of one of the craters, offering views over the different bays and villages.
The waters of Akaroa are home to wildlife: penguins, orcas, seals and the smallest breed of dolphins called Hector’s dolphins. If you have time, why not take a cruise? Find out more information and current tour prices.
Several restaurants and cafés keep the French tradition alive in Akaroa. We tested The Little Bistro on our honeymoon and it’s still there. More recently, we had a casual meal at The Brasserie Kitchen & Bar.
Akaroa is a picturesque little town, with nicely painted houses, so it’s worth a wander. If you decide to stay overnight, I can suggest the Akaroa Village Inn. Find out more information and current prices.
Top tip: Use Akaroa as your base for Christchurch
The adventure started with a drive through Arthur’s Pass via the Great Alpine Hwy. After the Canterbury plain, the road climbs quite steeply into the mountains and begins a succession of valleys.
The road is good, but it can get quite busy with trucks and camper vans. This is one of the only roads crossing the country from Christchurch to Greymouth.
The weather was pretty grey that day, and gradually became rainier as we crossed Arthur’s Pass. We missed some beautiful views but on a sunny day, there are some nice walks to do.
Otira Stagecoach Hotel
Arthur’s Pass Village has some accommodation, mostly relevant to hikers visiting the national park. We stopped at the Otira Stagecoach Hotel, built in 1865 to service the mining communities. Nothing much has changed since then, the hotel has a collection of carriages and vehicles sitting in the yard, and some rather interesting bathrooms…
The south island weather got progressively worse on our Christchurch to Greymouth drive.
We arrived in Greymouth, the biggest town on the West Coast. By that time, it was raining firmly and Greymouth presented an industrial and mining feel.
We visited the beach under incredible rain and got properly drenched. Northern breakwater (Shipwreck Point) and the Southern breakwater viewing platform have good views of the coast, in clear weather.
Rain has to be one of the best Greymouth attractions, but I’m speaking from an Australian point of view!
There are a few walks to do around Greymouth but the only thing to do in that weather was the Monteiths Brewery.
The food is quite good and you can taste all their beers and ciders. Whilst not a lot of the actual beer manufacturing is done here, there are tours of the brewery.
The food scene in Greymouth is a little limited but SevenPenny is a great little café with delicious breakfast options
There are quite a few Greymouth motels and they seem to book up quickly. As the main town of the West Coast, it’s a popular town to stay in. We stayed two nights in Greymouth, in two different places because most of the accommodation in Greymouth was already taken.
This place seems very standard but the bed was incredibly comfortable. A spacious bathroom and heating was everything we needed on this very wet day.
Like most motels in New Zealand, Scenicland also had a common laundry. Find out more information and current rates.
We stayed the second night at Coleraine. This motel is a little more upmarket and equally comfortable, and we had a slightly smaller room.
Find out more information and current rates.
Drive the West Coast
West Coast New Zealand is a great place for a road trip. The coastal road has some stunning viewpoints and the scenery is a mix of sheep paddocks, rocky beaches and impenetrable forests.
Our destination that day was Cape Foulwind, to do the coastal walk. The weather improved and the drive was beautiful. The road is quite easy to drive and it’s an hour and a half from Greymouth to Cape Foulwind.
North of Greymouth is Paparoa National Park and its dramatic cliffs. Turn left at Punakaiki to visit Dolomite Point and Pancake Rocks. Stylobedding is a layering-weathering process which carves the limestone of the coast in what looks likes piles of thick pancakes.
Pancake Rocks is one of the most photogenic places to visit on the West Coast.
The pathway runs through thick coastal scrub to the coast and the pancakes. It’s quite a sight, with the beautiful coast in the background. If you are there at high tide, water surges through caverns and blowholes in spectacular fashion!
The walk is quite easy on the boardwalk, although there are some steps through the rocks. Expect to spend up to 40 min there, allowing enough time for photos.
Punakaiki is quite touristy and buses will roll in periodically. Make sure you include it as part of your West Coast holidays.
Top tip turn up early to avoid the crowds
Initially named Rocky Point, Cape Foulwind is a promontory overlooking the Tasman Sea. The new name was given by Captain Cook after his ship was blown far off the coast in 1770. Cape Foulwind walkway is a pleasant, easy grade track. The beautiful coast makes it one of the best walks in New Zealand.
This was a good introduction to New Zealand walks. The weather changed a fair bit while we were there, and this is what you should expect in this part of the world.
There is a seal colony visible from the trail.
Top tip Have a picnic on the beach before heading back.
We drove back to Greymouth, with a few more stops for photos, and we still had time to spare. The drive from Greymouth to Hokitika is only 36 km.
Hokitika was a lovely surprise. After the fairly industrial feel of Greymouth, Hokitika is a charming little beach town with a nice beach. If you run out of things to do in Greymouth, it’s a good option.
It’s a great place to shop for greenstone, or even carve your own. Some of the galleries have some really good quality jewellery and other locally made objects.
A good option for accommodation in Hokitika is the Bella Vista Motel. Find out more information and current rates.
This is a popular spot to watch the sun go down.
This old boat is a great photo prop at the end of the day.
Hokitika is one of the few places where you can see glow worms for free. There is a dell on the side of the road just outside of town. As it’s not a cave, you have to wait for total darkness to fall in order to see anything.
Top tip as West Coast accommodation can be hard to find, consider staying in Hokitika instead of Greymouth.
There aren’t many restaurant options in Hokitika so we went to Fat Pipi Pizza, for a tasty and reasonable meal.
We actually visited this on our drive south from Greymouth to Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. Only 36km from Hokitika, it’s a very scenic drive through rural countryside and fields.
The Hokitika Gorge is carved by glacial movement and the turquoise blue is created by glacial “flour” ground over the bottom of the river.
The colour wasn’t super bright on our visit but it’s a nice walk across the swing bridge. The gorge is only 15 min from the carpark so this visit won’t take too long.
Drive to the Glaciers
The drive from Hokitika to Franz Josef is only two hours and we didn’t find it too busy. The road meanders through glacial valleys and waterfalls, it’s quite a nice drive. Greymouth to Fox Glacier is about 200 km on the West Coast of New Zealand.
The road is quite easy, except for Mount Hercules, where the road rises quite steeply and down again.
This road was a nice addition to our New Zealand road trip itinerary.
Franz Josef is a fairly sizeable township dedicated to the Franz Josef Glacier. It’s a common starting point for helicopter rides and hikes around the glacier.
When researching this trip, I found that the accommodation in Franz Josef is generally more expensive than Fox Glacier but where you stay may be commanded by your itinerary and your South Island tours.
We booked a helicopter flight to view both Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier, which is one of the best West Coast attractions. The flight was departing from Franz Josef, unfortunately, it was delayed due to bad weather and the later flight was due to depart from Fox Glacier.
We went through the security briefing and even though the flight was altogether cancelled, also due to bad weather, I was pretty impressed with the company and have no hesitation in recommending them.
Find out more information and current rates with Glacier Helicopters.
This was to be a highlight of our New Zealand South Island tour but the visibility was too poor to be worth it…
Franz Josef Glacier Walk
Other things to do in Franz Josef include the glacier walk. This walk is a fairly easy grade and takes about 3 hours return. Most of the walk is on the flat glacier bed and the ground is all rocky. Solid footwear is highly recommended for this walk.
The nevé has receded quite a lot in the last ten years and is only accessible by helicopter but you can see the glacier in the distance.
The drive from Franz Josef to Fox Glacier is quite dramatic. Fox Glacier is a smaller township with similar activities and we were booked to stay there.
Also known as “Mirror Lake”, Lake Matheson is a short drive from Fox Glacier and is one of the South Island points of interest. It’s also on my list of the most stunning New Zealand lakes. We took the loop circuit, which goes around the lake in an hour and a half.
The slight wind meant that the surface of the lake wasn’t still enough to be a mirror, but it’s a very nice walk.
Our flight was cancelled due to poor weather but we were booked for a flight and glacier landing with Glacier Helicopters.
Accommodation in Fox Glacier
We stayed at the Bella Vista Motel, which is conveniently located in the centre of town. The room was small but comfortable and the motel had good wifi.
The bathroom was also quite small but I liked the small recycling bin, a clever touch! Find out more information and current rates.
After the walk around Lake Matheson and still slightly disappointed by the cancellation of our helicopter flight, we had a drink at The White Pub Café & Bar.
Dinner was at The Last Kitchen. The recipes are quite simple but you can’t go wrong using New Zealand’s fresh produce and meat!
Drive to Wanaka
The drive from Fox Glacier to Wanaka via Haast Pass is quite diverse, passing through fields, waterfalls, glacial valleys and a very pretty section along the New Zealand coast, just before Haast.
If you don’t have time for Hokitika Gorge, don’t despair! The Blue Pools are even more spectacular.
It’s quite popular, and parking can be difficult to find. Also, there are no toilets on site, the closest are a few kilometres away.
The walk to Blue Pools is 15 min through the forest. As the sky was cloudy, I expected the colours to be muted. But even in average weather, the colours were amazing and the water incredibly translucent…
We had a picnic by the river. It’s a pretty popular spot but well worth a visit.
After the mountains and waterfalls, you get to some beautiful New Zealand lakes. The first one is Lake Wanaka.
The weather improved a little as we progressed and we stopped at some of the lookouts.
After the wilderness of the West Coast and the relative isolation of the mountains, Wanaka felt like a big town. For a long time, it was considered a smaller version of Queenstown. There are many things to do in Wanaka and we had several Wanaka hikes in mind, so we stayed three nights.
Even though the focus of our stay was to do some Wanaka walks, we couldn’t stay away from the Insta-famous Wanaka tree. This tree grows in the water and can potentially strike quite a figure against the background of the lake and the mountains.
I went to see it several times during the course of our stay in Wanaka, at different times. Even then, I found it a little disappointing. For Wanaka attractions, getting the right combination of clear skies, calm water and snowy peaks is not easy.
Mount Aspiring National Park
Our first walk was to Mount Aspiring Hut. The starting point is a 55km drive outside of Wanaka, in a remote area close to Rob Roy Glacier.
The walk to the hut is 2,5 hours, through private farmland. The grade is quite easy but we had to cross several streams and realised quickly that getting water in our shoes was unavoidable.
This being spring, there were plenty of little lambs along the way. The weather wasn’t very good but at least it wasn’t raining. The Mount Aspiring Hut had toilets and water and we had our picnic there.
We loved this walk and I would count it amongst the best hikes in New Zealand.
One of New Zealand great walks, Roys Peak is famous for its stunning views over Lake Wanaka. This is a hard grade hike and you have to make sure you’re up to it. I found it really hard and had slightly overestimated my capabilities for a steep hike in the sunshine.
The climb is steep and took over 2,5 hours however, some people seemed to progress a lot quicker. I didn’t know hikes in Wanaka could be so hard!
The view from the top is very rewarding however, this is a very popular hike and there is a queue to take photos of the lake. Yet, people are disciplined and the process worked, small groups waiting to take their turn and helping each other with photos.
We didn’t go to the very top, it was a shorter but even steeper hike.
Top Tip Take an early start and watch the sunrise from the top!
As we were staying three nights, we looked at Wanaka apartments. We did our own cooking for three nights so we didn’t get to try any Wanaka restaurants.
The Distinction Wanaka has secure and spacious units with views of the mountains. With a lock-up garage and laundry facilities, it was a great choice and felt like a home away from home.
Find out more information and current rates.
Drive to Queenstown
We took the main road from Wanaka to Cromwell, which was a bit disappointing. Next time, I will take the road through Cardrona which is said to be much more spectacular.
Queenstown to Wanaka via Cardrona is about two hours drive.
On our drive from Wanaka to Queenstown, we stopped at Arrowtown, a charming goldfields-era town. It’s still quite busy and there are some nice restaurants and cafés.
The neatly painted old houses and churches make for a good photography subject and it was a good place to stop on our South Island road trip.
As a goldfields town, Arrowtown had a Chinese camp, where a few hand-built houses remain. Take a walk by the river.
It’s worth considering staying in Arrowtown, you can still take the many Queenstown tours.
Accommodation can be expensive but Shades of Arrowtown is a good option. Find out more information and current rates.
A trip to New Zealand is often a Queenstown adventure. This busy small town is still the undisputed leader of adventure travel on the South Island. Indeed, local travel agencies offer all sorts of tours and excursions. Queenstown city centre is incredibly busy and traffic is a bit of a nightmare.
The banks of the Lake Wakatipu are full of cafés and restaurants for various budgets.
With Arrowtown nearby, you don’t have to stay in Queenstown however, it is still the essential starting point to many activities. And there are many things to do in Queenstown!
There are many tours and things to do in Queenstown and I have selected the main ones.
If you’ve never experienced white water rafting, the Shotover Jet is great fun. This is a true adventure in the cold and wild waters of New Zealand. A mix of calm meandering waters and exciting rush of rapids, this is a great day trip in Queenstown.
We did this tour on our honeymoon and I thoroughly recommend it.
After our disappointment in Fox Glacier, we booked this flight with an alpine landing. The weather was perfect! Find out more information and current rates.
Drive to the Remarkables and Coronet Peak
Driving to the ski fields is quite easy, at least when there is no snow. We drove 13 km of steep road to the Remarkables.
The drive to Coronet Peak was less steep but the weather didn’t make for good photos, unfortunately.
Sky diving has got to be one of the best things to do in Queenstown, it was a highlight of our honeymoon!
Find out more information and current rates.
Lake Wakatipu is one of the best Queenstown attractions, with its majestic blue and green hues.
Find out more information and current rates.
This is the ultimate adrenaline in Queenstown! Find out more information and current rates.
A little less intense than a bungy jump, this would be my pick! Find out more information and current rates.
We took the Queenstown Gondola in order to get a start on a hike. The start of the Gondola is in downtown Queenstown and there is a carpark nearby.
The views from the top are stunning, there is also a restaurant and souvenir shop. Find out more information and current rates.
Gondola and Luge
While you’re up there, why not race down on a luge. We didn’t get to experience but it sure looked like fun!
This is a combination of two great Queenstown activities, the views and the speed! Find out more information and current rates.
Ben Lomond Saddle
We another hike in Queenstown. Starting from the Gondola terminal, the walk to Ben Lomond Saddle takes about two hours. It’s a medium, steady climb, with beautiful views over Wakatipu Lake and the Alps.
It is possible to go all to the top of Ben Lomond, but it’s a lot steeper, so we stopped at the saddle.
This zip line is now in the top 10 things to do in Queenstown. Find out more information and current rates.
Figuring out where to stay in Queenstown proved a bit of a challenge. Queenstown motels are pretty standard and can be expensive. We stayed in downtown Queenstown before, on a ski trip but this time I chose a hotel by the lake, just 3 km out of town. It turned out to be our best hotel experience in New Zealand.
Sherwood Queenstown is an interesting place. The old motel has been renovated and transformed into a comfortable and hip place. The rooms are nicely decorated with recycled materials, including old army blankets.
Sherwood places great importance on sustainability and recycling. There is no television in the rooms and the fridge was off when we arrived. They also offer co-working spaces and yoga classes.
Sherwood grow and harvest their own food, and also use local produce. We had dinner at the restaurant and the food was superb, if a little expensive. Find out more information and current rates.
Drive to Glenorchy
One of the best Queenstown day trips is to visit Glenorchy at the end of Lake Wakatipu. The distance from Queenstown to Glenorchy is only 45 km and it’s a very scenic drive.
The road can be challenging however, there are some beautiful lookouts along the way.
There aren’t many things to do in Glenorchy, apart from the jetty, which is another Instagram spot. Still, it’s one of the iconic South Island destinations and you should definitely include the drive in your Queenstown sightseeing.
By the time we made it to Queenstown, we wanted to do more New Zealand hiking and there are some good Glenorchy walks. We had included a few walks in our New Zealand travel itinerary and Lake Rere was a perfect addition.
We looked at Glenorchy Accommodation but found that it was actually quite far from the beginning of the walk, so we stayed at Kinloch Lodge.
About 25 km from Glenorchy, Kinloch Lodge is an old historic hotel and has been operating since 1868. The rooms are small but comfortable and the common bathrooms are renovated.
Kinloch also has dorm rooms. We dined at the restaurant, which you need to book and order in advance. The food was really good, made with local ingredients.
Kinloch has a lot of charm and the historic hotel feels very authentic. Find out more information and current rates.
In order to get to the start of the Lake Rere walk, you need to drive 11 km beyond Kinloch, on a dirt road and cross some fords. It’s a nice drive along Lake Wakatipu, opposite Glenorchy. The start of the walk has toilets and water.
The walk is about 16 km, or 4 to 6 hours return. I would say the grade is medium. There is a steep section just after Elfin Bay and a descent to Lake Rere. The path is quite clearly marked although you have to be careful to end up in a cattle trail at the beginning.
The walk starts along the lake, then climbs through forests. The lake is quite pretty and there were plenty of yellow flowers everywhere.
In our two weeks in New Zealand, this was one of the best walks we did. It was so peaceful and isolated, we only came across two rangers but no other hikers.
The Queenstown to Te Anau drive is about two hours, along the southern arm of Lake Wakatipu, which is very pretty. After that, the road is less interesting and it’s quite busy with camper vans.
We based ourselves in Te Anau for our Milford Sound day trip.
Te Anau Glowworm Caves
On the other side of Te Anau lake, there are caves where you can see glow worms. As you are in a cave, you don’t need to wait for darkness to see the Te Anau glow worms. Our cruise was cancelled due to the cave being flooded, unfortunately. Find out more information and current rates.
Te Anau Accommodation
Most of the Te Anau hotels are by the lake. We stayed at the Kingsgate Te Anau, a standard but comfortable hotel.
The best rooms are on the first floor and there is no elevator but the staff will help you with your luggage if required.
Generally, Te Anau motels and hotels are expensive and book up quickly, especially in high season so I recommend booking early. Find out more information and current rates.
Te Anau Restaurants
As we did our Milford Sound tour from Te Anau, we stayed two nights there and had time to visit several restaurants and cafés. We were nicely surprised by the quality of the food but noticed that restaurants get quite busy.
Our first meal was at La Toscana Pizzeria, for simple but well-made Italian food. The following night was our wedding anniversary and we only just managed to get a table at The Fat Duck.
For breakfast, we ate at the Sandfly Café.
The Milford Sound cruise was an absolute highlight of our New Zealand South Island itinerary. We were very lucky with the weather, we had a day of beautiful sunshine when it had rained non stop the previous week.
Te Anau to Milford Sound takes about two hours to drive. It’s a beautiful road however, it’s very busy with buses and campervans.
What is Milford Sound?
Milford Sound is a fiord, also known as Piopiotahi to the local Maori tribes. The sound runs 15 km inland from the Tasman Sea and your cruise will take you close to the rainforest. The sound receives a huge amount of rain and temporary waterfalls appear. With the wind, some of the rainfall never reaches the water below, which is why you get this impression of being in a raincloud…
There are also two permanent waterfalls in the sound: Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls.
The rainforest on the side of the fiord sometimes loses its grip due to accumulated rain, which causes tree avalanches.
The Best Milford Sound Cruise
We took a Milford Sound Nature Cruise with Southern Discoveries. There are several operators for a Milford Sound tour but we chose this one due to the smaller size of the boat. It was a wise choice.
There was plenty of room for people to move around, the back deck was sheltered and the crew was really friendly. They gave plenty of information on the sound, the local flora and fauna, and made the two and a half hour journey really fun and enjoyable.
We even got a taste of one of the Milford Sound waterfalls, and got absolutely drenched! Find out more information and current tour prices.
Milford Sound Accommodation
There isn’t a lot of accommodation available, which is why a Milford Sound day tour is often the only option.
The Milford Sound Lodge does have luxury chalets and dorm rooms, but you need to book far in advance, especially in spring and summer. Find out more information and current prices.
Milford Sound Parking
Something to bear in mind is that there isn’t a lot of free parking available in Milford Sound. And if you have to pay for parking, it’s expensive. We only just missed the last free parking spot and ended paying over $50 for just a few hours!
This combined with the fact that the Milford Sound road is a challenging drive, we thought that a Milford Sound cruise from Te Anau would have been just as good. Find out more information and current tour prices.
Milford Sound Scenic Flights
If you don’t want to stay in Te Anau and want to consider a Milford Sound tour from Queenstown, you need to bear in mind that it’s a four hour drive each way…
A good option is a scenic flight from Queenstown. You still get to enjoy a Milford Sound scenic cruise but with the amazing experience of flying over Mount Cook and Fiordland! Find out more information and current tour prices.
Drive to Twizel
The drive from Te Anau to Twizel is a long drive, almost 360 km and five hours drive. We stopped at Arrowtown again to miss the Queenstown busy traffic.
It was interesting to see how the centre of the South Island is much drier than the rest of the country we had seen so far. Most of the time, the road from Queenstown to Twizel is pretty mundane however the scenery is quite beautiful around the Lindis Pass.
Once you enter the MacKenzie region, the land is quite flat, and the New Zealand Alps appear in the distance. This seems to be perfect for hand gliding and the village of Omamara is dedicated to it.
We stopped briefly at the Pink Glider Café for a milkshake.
Our next stop was Twizel, a small town often used for Mount Cook hiking. Twizel to Mount Cook is only 30 minutes drive and there is more accommodation there.
The town was created to support the building of a hydro scheme in the 1970s and there isn’t much there but it’s also handy for Lake Pukaki accommodation.
We stayed two nights in Twizel, in different hotels.
Mountain Chalets Motels
The Mountain Chalet Motels are pretty basic and the decor is dated, but the location was good, just off the main road and only a few minutes from the town centre.
Also, the room and bathroom were very clean. Find out more information and current prices.
The Lakes Motel
We stayed at the Lakes Motel the second night. The rooms have a spa bath and were a little more upmarket. This would be my pick of the two.
Find out more information and current prices.
We took our breakfast at the Musterers Hut Café. We also tested the Ministry of Works Bar & Eatery, which has some good burgers and pub food.
Only 20 mins from Twizel, Lake Pukaki is one of the most photogenic lakes we saw on our South Island itinerary.
The turquoise colour is created by the glacial flour at the bottom of the lake. On a sunny day, the colour is stunning.
We stopped at the lake for a few photos but if you have time, I recommend taking the road that runs along the lake, past the hydro scheme. It turns into a dirt road and it was quite dusty when we were there.
However, it was worth driving there in order to get closer to Mount Cook. The wildflowers were in full bloom…
Mount Cook or Mount Aoraki
The next day, we headed out to the Mount Cook National Park, which we had visited on our honeymoon. The weather was very different then… As we made our way to Mount Cook Village, the weather got progressively worse.
There are many things to do in Mount Cook but we wanted to go back and do one of the Mount Cook walks.
Hooker Valley Track
The Hooker Valley Track is a medium grade walk to a viewpoint where you can see the Tasman Glacier. There are also beautiful views of Mount Aoraki, the highest mountain in New Zealand at 2724m.
We started our walk in the rain and didn’t get to see the views. The wind was also very strong and people were getting almost blown off the boardwalk…
This is the wettest we’ve been in New Zealand and I wondered if it was worth the trouble halfway through. Yet, we didn’t want to give up… Rain is very much part of hiking in New Zealand…
By the end of it, we were too cold and wet to visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre.
Accommodation in Mount Cook is expensive, which is why Twizel is a good base. The Hermitage Hotel Mt Cook is an option but you need to book well ahead. Find out more information and current prices.
If you are planning to visit more Mount Cook trails, there are several day walks. If you want to do anything longer than a day, you need to be an experienced hiker.
We passed through Lake Tekapo on the last day of New Zealand two week itinerary. On our honeymoon, we actually stayed there, did some hiking and horse riding.
The drive from Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook is just over an hour so it’s a good place to stay if you want to visit the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.
We stayed at Lake Tekapo on our honeymoon but accommodation is expensive now. Nomads Rest is a reasonable option. Find out more information and current prices.
Mount John Observatory
The Aoraki Mackenzie area was declared an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2012, one of only 12 in the world. This is the ideal place to experience a stargazing tour.
We went there during the day and the views over Lake Tekapo are beautiful although the colour of the water is not as spectacular as Lake Pukaki. Nowadays you have to pay $8 to take the road up to Mount John and bulky vehicles are not allowed.
If you are there at night time, I highly recommend a Lake Tekapo stargazing tour, it’s both instructional and mesmerizing. The lack of light around the place means you can see the night sky like nowhere else… Find out more information and current prices.
Church of the Good Shepherd
This is an icon of Lake Tekapo and it’s very busy with tourists. The church is very charming and there is an attendant reminding everyone that it’s a place of worship and that photography is not allowed inside.
Still, we managed to get some good photos and the wildflowers were in bloom by the lake.
There wasn’t enough time for us to indulge in the hot pools but a single day pass is not that expensive. Find out more information and current prices.
Drive back to Christchurch
And that concluded our 2 weeks in New Zealand South Island… A very packed itinerary with lots of diversity and adventure! The drive from Lake Tekapo to Christchurch is pretty straightforward and we dropped off our Christchurch car rental back at the airport.
Of course, there are more places to visit in New Zealand South Island but we would have needed more time.
Driving in New Zealand
New Zealand Helicopter Tours
Do you have suggestions for other things to do in New Zealand South Island? I can’t wait to get back there and discover more! Please tell me in the comments below!
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