Are you planning a road trip to New Zealand’s South Island?

Then it’s time to start thinking about where you want to go and what you want to see!

To help you make these decisions, we’ve come up with the ultimate 7 day itinerary in the South Island starting from Christchurch and ending in Dunedin.

Check out this itinerary for a week-long New Zealand South Island road trip.

Rent a Car in Christchurch

Day 1 – Christchurch Wildlife

International Antarctic Centre

Start your trip off with a bang by enjoying some of Christchurch’s iconic wildlife.

The first stop is the International Antarctic Centre.

The International Antarctic Centre is open every single day of the year and is conveniently located right next to the Christchurch Airport.

Upon arrival, you will be immersed in the incredible flora and fauna of the Antarctic.

There is an Antarctic storm room, an all-terrain vehicle tour, and you can even meet real penguins and huskies.

There are also some amazing exhibits on historic Arctic explorers, as well as a 4D big screen ice show.

  • Address: 38 Orchard Road, Harewood, Christchurch 8052, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: Daily 9am-5:30pm

Official site

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

Next up is the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch.

This animal attraction is popular among families, couples, and solo travellers alike.

You will get up close and personal with some of the cutest, most exotic animals in the country.

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is dedicated to animal conservation and educating its visitors on these incredible creatures.

The reserve is split up into three different sections: the farmland, New Zealand, and zoo/exotic section.

Animals you can see include an alpaca, a donkey, a miniature horse, eels, ferrets, swans, capybaras, and lemurs.

Also, don’t miss the kiwi viewing that happens daily!

  • Address: 60 Hussey Road, Northwood, Christchurch 8051, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: Daily 9:30am-7pm

Official site

Day 2 – Christchurch Scenery

Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Day two of your road trip is all about Christchurch’s breathtaking scenery.

That is why your first stop should be none other than the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

One of the most visited botanical gardens in New Zealand, these pristine gardens offer something different in every season.

In spring, you can expect daffodils and roses, while in autumn, there are some stunning leaf displays.

Beyond the beautiful flowers themselves, there are plenty of other reasons to visit the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

Here, you can see the New Zealand World Peace Bell, visit the Magnetic Observatory and Memorial Rotunda, or even take an art class in the gardens.

  • Address: City Centre Rolleston Avenue, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch 8013, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: Daily 7am-9pm

Official site

Christchurch Gondola

The best way to enjoy all of Christchurch’s natural beauty is by taking a ride on the Christchurch Gondola.

This fun attraction is located at the base of Heathcote Valley.

From there, it takes you up, up, and away, climbing the slopes of Mount Cavendish.

There is a lookout point at the top where you can marvel at the surrounding Port Hills and lakes.

On a clear day, you can even see as far as the Canterbury Plains and Lyttleton Harbour from the summit.

To learn more about Christchurch, jump on the Time Tunnel Experience which is a fun ride taking you through the history of the city.

You will also have the option of taking the gondola back to the base of Heathcote Valley, or hike down Mt. Cavendish.

  • Address: 10 Bridle Path Road, Heathcote Valley, Christchurch 8022, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: Daily 10am-5pm

Day 3 – Tekapo

Day three has you heading south from Christchurch all the way to Tekapo, home of the beautiful Lake Tekapo.

  • Distance from Christchurch: 228 km (141.7 mi) via SH1 and State Hwy 79
  • Duration: 3 hours drive

Tekapo Springs

Beauty and relaxation await at Tekapo Springs.

This natural hot springs attraction is one of the most rejuvenating on the South Island.

Here, you will be able to fully unwind amongst the stunning alpine environment.

It is located at the base of Mount John and there are views of Lake Tekapo and the mountains from the pools.

This spa meets recreation area has something for everyone.

Heated pools, spa treatments, star gazing, a 150-metre waterslide, an inflatable playground, water park, and a cafe and bar can all be found here.

  • Address: 6 Lakeside Drive, Lake Tekapo 7945, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: 10am-9pm

Official site

Dark Sky Project

Tekapo’s Dark Sky Project is all about sky conservation.

If you want to see the stars like you’ve never seen them before, this is a must.

They provide visitors with the option of several star gazing experiences that take place at their numerous observatories and bases.

The Summit Experience is their most popular tour, which is a mountaintop astronomical experience at UC Mt. John Observatory.

However, there are other tour options that take visitors to their own Dark Sky Project Base.

There are even twilight stargazing experiences for those who want an earlier night.

  • Address: 1 Motuariki Lane, Lake Tekapo 7999, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: 9am-10:30pm

Official site

Day 4 – Wanaka

After you’ve enjoyed the beauty of Lake Tekapo, it’s time to continue your journey south to the alpine town of Wanaka.

  • Distance from Tekapo: 200 km (124.3 mi) via State Hwy 8
  • Duration: 2 hours 23 minutes drive

Puzzling World Wanaka

Let loose at the Puzzling World of Wanaka.

This Wanaka tourist attraction is guaranteed fun for all ages.

The site is a mix of bizarre buildings, illusion rooms, and the famous Great Maze.

Each game is specially designed to challenge you and your perceptions of reality.

In addition to the above, the Puzzling World of Wanaka also has a large puzzle centre and cafe.

Lastly, there is even a 3D maze that is not for the faint hearted.

The maze typically takes between 30 and 60 minutes to complete.

  • Address: 188 Wanaka-Luggate Highway, Wanaka 9382, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: Daily 8:30am-5:30pm

Official site

National Transport & Toy Museum

The National Transport & Toy Museum is another must-see on your tour of the South Island.

This Wanaka attraction houses one of the largest private collection of retro toys and cars in the world.

Beyond your typical cars, the museum also has aircrafts, trucks, motorcycles, military vehicles, and even tractors.

When it comes to toys, you can expect to see everything from porcelain dolls and teddy bears to battery operated toys and money boxes.

There is also an indoor and outdoor playground for children to enjoy, which is great for families.

Finally, the museum shop has light snacks, as well as thousands of models and gifts available for purchase.

  • Address: 891 Wanaka-Luggate Highway, RD 2, Wanaka 9382, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: Daily 8:30am-5pm

Official site

Wanaka Lavender Farm

For a beautiful (not to mention Instagrammable) pitstop, look no further than the Wanaka Lavender Farm.

This gorgeous farm will make you feel as though you’ve stepped into the fields of Provence.

Bright purple rows of lavender lead the way as you wander around this South Island attraction.

The farm spans 15 acres, and in addition to lavender, it also has an animal farm and display gardens.

Play a garden game, have a cup of herbal tea, meet the friendly animals, and even try lavender ice cream.

This is a great spot to relax in the afternoon and take photos.

  • Address: 36 Morris Road, Wanaka 9382, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: Daily 9am-5pm

Official site

Day 5 – Queenstown Nature

After leaving Wanaka, it’s time to head south to the adventure capital of New Zealand: Queenstown.

  • Distance from Wanaka: 67.2 km (41.8 mi) via Cadrona Valley Rd and Crown Range Rd
  • Duration: 1 hour 6 minutes drive

Skyline Queenstown

Your first must-see attraction in Queenstown is none other than the Skyline Queenstown.

This is the best way to get your lay of the land and take in the area’s stunning natural beauty.

Skyline Queenstown is a gondola/chair lift that will transport you 450 metres in the air.

Fun fact: the Skyline Queenstown is the Southern Hemisphere’s steepest cable car.

Beyond the incredible scenery, there is plenty to enjoy at the summit.

From lunch or dinner overlooking the lake to an adventurous luge ride down to the bottom, there is plenty of fun to be had.

  • Address: Brecon Street, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: Daily 9am-9pm

Official site

Kiwi Birdlife Park

No trip to Queenstown would be complete without a visit to the Kiwi Birdlife Park.

After all, this may be your one chance to see a native kiwi bird!

The Kiwi Birdlife Park is a conservation site dedicated to preserving the country’s beautiful native birds, like the kiwi.

Kiwi encounters, conservation shows, and audio guided tours are available daily.

Kiwi Birdlife Park is the ideal stop for families where they can see wild animals up close, see their natural habitat and find out how we can protect them.

Animals you can expect to see include the kea (a New Zealand falcon), the yellow crown, and the red crown.

  • Address: Upper Brecon Street, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: Daily 9am-5pm

Official site

Day 6 – Queenstown Adventure

Shotover Jet Queenstown

Get your adrenaline pumping on the Shotover Jet Queenstown.

This fast-paced attraction will have you whipping around the area’s pristine rivers.

There are different tour options available, but each one will take you through the magnificent Shotover Canyons.

Over the course of the ride, you will speed over water as shallow as 10cm and experience 360 degree spins.

The boat can travel up to 90 kilometres an hour, so this attraction is truly for adrenaline junkies.

At one point, you’ll even be riding the rapids of the Shotover River.

  • Address: 3 Arthurs Point Road, Arthurs Point 9371, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: Daily 8am-6pm

Official site

AJ Hackett Bungy

Bungy jumping in New Zealand is probably the best place in the world you can do it.

And more specifically, Queenstown is where it should be as AJ Hackett is the man who popularized this extreme sport.

At AJ Hackett Bungy in Queenstown, you will be diving off The Ledge.

It’s a freestyle bungy jump with insane views that will have you jumping from 47 metres above the ground.

Photos and videos will be available to capture every moment of this life changing experience.

A short gondola ride will take you to the top and AJ Hackett Bungy is open daily.

  • Address: Brecon Street, Queenstown 9300, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: Daily 10am-4pm

Official site

Day 7 – Dunedin

Finish off your South Island road trip adventure with a stop in the historic city of Dunedin.

  • Distance from Christchurch: 279 km (173.3 mi) via State Hwy 8
  • Duration: 3 hour 34 minutes drive

Larnach Castle

When you arrive in Dunedin, you have to visit Lanarch Castle.

It was built in 1871, which makes this one of New Zealand’s most famous heritage sites.

Lanarch Castle sits right on the breathtaking Otago Peninsula, close to the small village of Pukehiki.

The house was built by New Zealand entrepreneur and politician William Larnach.

Today, it remains as one of the most impressive and sizeable properties in the country.

Tours of Lanarch Castle are available daily, and be sure to walk around the estate’s beautiful gardens.

There are a number of viewing points to see the beautiful rolling hills of Otago Peninsula.

  • Address: 145 Camp Road, Dunedin 9077, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: Daily 9am-5pm

Official site

Dunedin Railways

The last stop on your 7-day South Island road trip is Dunedin Railways.

Dunedin Railways offers world class train trips to visitors.

Their short itineraries are some of the best in the country, taking you to stunning, off the beaten path locations.

Trips include the Taieri Gorge Railway, a trip into some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery.

Meanwhile, The Seasider will take you to the country’s Pacific Ocean and Blueskin Bay.

On board these luxury trains, visitors will have access to window seats to see the natural scenery of Dunedin’s surroundings.

Food and snacks are available for purchase during the train trip.

  • Address: 22 Anzac Avenue, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand
  • Opening Hours: Daily 8am-8pm

Official site

We hope this list has inspired you on your upcoming trip to New Zealand South Island.

From bungy jumping in Queenstown to exploring the beautiful Botanic Gardens of Christchurch, there is so much to enjoy on a South Island road trip.

You can also continue your itinerary from Dunedin as there’s plenty more places to explore in New Zealand’s South Island.

Rent a Car in Dunedin