16 Day Road Trip – South Island New Zealand

We completed the most amazing 1,579 kilometre road trip through New Zealand’s stunning South Island. Taking in iconic sites as we drove from Christchurch through Arthurs Pass, down the west coast past Fox Glacier to beautiful Queenstown. Heading further on to Te Anau and Milford Sound, before heading back up to Lake Hawea and Wanaka, through Central Otago and back to Christchurch.
We’d like to share the journey with you, including all the costs to complete the trip which we hope may inspire you to follow our route or some of it taking in some of the most outstanding natural beauty, iconic sites and scenery New Zealand’s South Island has to offer. Please note we took the trip in 2023, so please consider this when looking at our costings as they may well have increased since then, but it should give you a guide at least.

Breakdown Of The Total Cost For The New Zealand South Island Road Trip

Return Flights (We flew from Sydney to Christchurch for £350 and returned Christchurch to Melbourne for £480): £830

Car Hire: £325

Accommodation: £870

Petrol: £250

Sightseeing Tickets: £225

Food: £400

Total Cost: £2900 (£2070 Without Flights)

Trip Dates: 22nd February 2023 to 10th March 2023

Please Note: We have not included travel insurance in the total cost (as we have a worldwide policy because we will be travelling to other countries). Quotes for travel insurance our individual, you can find many companies offering reasonable rates online.

A few general tips about our New Zealand South Island trip costs:

Flights: These were booked with Air New Zealand who provided a comfortable Flight both ways. We flew from Sydney, Australia as we had been visiting before our trip to New Zealand, we flew back to Melbourne in Australia as the was our next destination to explore!

Car Hire: We booked this really early when Car Rentals were offering up to 25% discounts. Great thing we found was that upgrading to fully comprehensive and extra driver was just £69. Worry free car hire as they call it. Keep your eye out for the bargains as car hire in New Zealand can be pricey!
Accommodation: Book as early as possible and always on free cancellation. We couldn’t find better prices than Booking.com and nearly all rooms could be booked and cancelled for free, giving us the opportunity to swap accommodation if a better deal comes up nearer the time, which it did on one occasion. Sign up with them and after booking with them for a while you will gain genius status with regular offers of up to 15% discounts, free breakfast, room upgrades and cool stuff like that! We researched our accommodation well, wanting the best prices but with good reviews on cleanliness, comfort and either an en-suite or our own room with shared bathroom and kitchen! All our accommodation was brilliant and we’ll list and review them individually further in this blog.
Petrol: We estimated we would spend £250 on fuel and this was pretty much spot on.
Sightseeing Tickets: We only had one sightseeing trip we really wanted to do and that was a boat trip on Milford Sound. But when we got to Queenstown a cruise and BBQ buffer was recommended by a friend who said it was brilliant (especially the food). I have to say that it was amazing food and worth every penny. It was an extravagance on our budget but faultless and the food was absolutely incredible. We would so recommended it if your budget stretches that far and you love food!
Food: This definitely deserves a mention as everyone will have different ideas about a food budget. We can only tell you about our needs. Our total food budget for the trip was £400, that’s roughly £25 per day. Now, in New Zealand you wouldn’t get an evening meal in a bar for less than our daily budget. Here’s how and why we only spent this much.
How we spent this amount: We purchased a fold up cool bag, bought most of our food from supermarkets on route and kept food cold with an ice block we purchased. We also made sure we only booked accommodation that had a fridge and microwave on site or in the room. We only ate out once and that was a takeaway at Ferberger in Queenstown, the rest of the time we made use of motel microwaves or made up our own picnic meals and ate overlooking the lakes and mountains. This certainly isn’t for everyone, but we have travelled like this before, through Thailand and the USA, making our limited funds go further while always eating healthy (Julie saw to that). We can honestly say that we never felt hungry during the 16 days and we even managed to have at least 10 takeaway coffees within our budget! We did have quite a few microwaved potatoes, salads, tinned tuna and sardines, bread, fruit, cereal and yoghurt, we did ok!
Why we spent this amount: Simple really, to save money – which you get to spend on other things. As a result of the saving, we were able to pay for 3 nights accommodation in Melbourne! From where I am presently writing this blog. It’s the only part of our budget where we could actually save money and our view is that if we have to go without a few treats of big meals in restaurants to allow us to see another city then its well worth it! It won’t be everyone’s view and some people couldn’t manage it, but we are more than happy to give you advice or share our tips on this in greater detail. Just get in touch.

This is the route we took with accommodation in Springfield, Greymouth, Fox Glacier, Queenstown, Te Anau, Lake Hawea and Christchurch.

16 Day New Zealand Road Trip Route Map
On route visiting Arthurs Pass, Hokitika, Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, Mount Cook, Lake Matheson, The Blue Pools, Lake Wanaka, Queenstown and the Remarkables, Te Anau, Milford Sound, Lake Hawea and Lake Tekapo.

DAY 1 - Christchurch Airport to Springfield

We arrived at Christchurch Airport at 3.30pm after a three and a half hour flight from Sydney with Air New Zealand costing £350 one way for 2 tickets.

Tip: Make sure you have access to a pen on the plane as you need to fill out an arrival card and be prepared for a 1 to 2 hour queue to get through security on arrival!

We collected the hire car costing £325 for 16 days and headed off to our first nights accommodation at Springfield, 45 minutes from Christchurch Airport (Take Highway 73).

1 night stay at Smylies Accommodation priced at £51 for the night (we had a studio apartment)

Review: Comfortable Bed, Nice and Clean, Kitchenette, Free Parking, Free Wifi

DAY 2 - Springfield to Greymouth

Left Springfield and continued our drive across Highway 73, passing through Arthurs pass. Unfortunately the weather was cloudy for our drive across from East to West but I think the views would have been great on a clear day.
Arrived in Greymouth at 4.00pm. Greymouth is a fishing town with a small selection of shops and restaurants and a large supermarket. Mc Donalds and KFC also available.
1 night stay at Noah’s Ark Backpackers priced at £38 for the night (We had a private double room with a shared bathroom. (Communal kitchen and lounge areas)

Review: Comfortable Bed, Nice and Clean, Communal shower facilities OK, Free Parking, Free Good Wifi, Communal kitchen was very well stocked with cooking equipment and utensils. Lots of seating areas and the lounge had TV. Highly recommended for the price.

DAY 3 - Greymouth to Fox Glacier

We left Greymouth at 9.30am and headed south on Highway 6 towards our next accommodation at Fox Glacier. We planned to stop at Franz Josef on the way and walk up to view the Glacier.
The drive to Franz Josef took us just over 2 and a half hours with a stop at Hokitika on route. The car park for Franz Josef Glacier is very large and even at 12 noon we easily got parked. The main view point was about a 20 minute walk for us. When we got there we read that the view point is shorter as the path had been washed away further towards the glacier. There was another hike that took you much closer to the glacier following the other side of the river. It was a bit spontaneous but we decided to give it ago. The first 45 minutes of the walk was fairly strenuous with a couple of really cool suspension bridges to cross. It then got pretty difficult and in our view is only really suitable for experienced hikers. The view of the Glacier is pretty good from the view point, but personally I was more impressed by Fox Glacier.
We headed back to Franz Josef for a coffee and watched the helicopters buzzing around taking tourists up to the summit.
From Franz Josef it was about a half hour drive to Fox Glacier and our accommodation.
2 nights stay at Mount View Cook Motel priced at £148 for the 2 nights (We had an Executive Studio)

Review: Comfortable Bed, Nice and Clean, Very nice modern bathroom with walk in shower, Kitchenette perfect for cooking a chilli, Free Parking, Free Good Wifi. Good location for Fox Glacier and the Mirror Lake. Highly recommended.

Fox Glacier New Zealand
Fox Glacier!

DAY 4 - Full Day in Fox Glacier

We had a full day at Fox Glacier, we had read that the best time to see Lake Matheson Mirror lake was early in the morning, so we headed there for 9am. It was only a five minute drove from our accommodation. Lake Matheson has a visitors centre and café, the lake walk is a circular path and its definitely worth getting there early as the light is best. We were really lucky with the weather as the lake was pretty still and we got some pretty decent photos.
Tip: Getting to the Mirror Lake early in the morning is well worth it and the coffee after the walk is highly recommended at the café.
The added bonus at Lake Matheson is the café. Really good coffee and a brilliant view to go with it. The café does food too, we couldn’t afford it but plenty of tourists were tucking in to some good looking breakfasts at about 25 NZD a head. Not bad prices for the location!
Lake Matheson!
We headed to Fox Glacier for the afternoon walk up to the view point. Plenty of free parking at the start of the walk, the walk itself was an easy one with a nice path. It took us about an hour to walk up to the view point.
On the way back to the accommodation we headed further along the road passing our motel and further on passed the entrance to Lake Matheson continuing for about another half a mile, the road comes to an end and if you turn right along a gravel road after about 200 metres you come to a view point for what I think were some of the best views of Fox Glacier. The Glacier is further away but you get a great view of the length of the Glacier. The drive back along the road to the accommodation also gave us more great views of the Glacier. This particular view point doesn’t seen to be mentioned in many online articles but I really think its well worth a look, but you really need a fairly clear day to see it at its best.

DAY 4 - Fox Glacier to Queenstown

We left Fox Glacier at 9.30am on Highway 6 on route to Queenstown. Its a pretty long 4 and a half hour drive but the scenery as you get nearer to Lakes Wanaka and Hawea are quite spectacular. On the way we stopped at Ships Creek and saw a pod of Hector’s Dolphins (one of the worlds smallest species of Dolphin).
Tip: Its well worth lathering up with insect repellent as the sand flies can be really bad on this part of the west coast. They really were, as I was bitten a number of times that day without realising it and only started to notice the itches that evening (Itchy for a week too).
After numerous stops to view waterfalls as the road meanders along Haast River and a stop at the Blue Pools, we reached the top end of Lake Wanaka. The views were breath taking and even more so as we drove down past Lake Hawea. We continued the drive down to Queenstown passed Cardrona (there is an old hotel there which is a popular photo stop. Look out for the Bra Fence in the village too, it started in 1998/99 and now has 100’s and 100’s of bras on it. There is a collection box on site with the proceeds going to the Breast Cancer Foundation. A very worthy cause.er.
We arrived at our accommodation on the outskirts of Queenstown at 6.45pm
3 nights stay at Blue Skies Guest Accommodation priced at £221 for the 3 nights (We had a Studio)
Review: We Would Rate This As Excellent, Really Comfortable Bed, Lovely and Clean, Very nice modern bathroom with shower. Kitchenette with microwave and fridge, Fresh Bread, milk & Cereals left for us. Daily Housekeeping, Free Parking, Free Good Wifi. TV with Netflix. Good location for Queenstown (10 minute drive or catch a bus at the end of the road). Lovely owner. Really Highly recommended.
Top Of Basket Of Dreams, Queenstown!

DAY 6 - Full Day in Queenstown

We had heard that parking in Queenstown can be a bit of a nightmare, so we opted for taking the bus in to town. Its a 30 minute bus ride in to town and there are great views of the lake on the way.
Tip: If taking the bus they only take cash on board. Consider purchasing a Bee Card if your staying for a few days. The rides are cheaper and you can top up the card and simply tap on and off the buses. The Bee Card is also accepted in a few other parts of New Zealand such as Dunedin. You can buy the card on the bus and load the card with a few dollars on the bus to. You just need to pay cash for the card and the top ups. You can also pick up Bee Cards as some shops around Queenstown.

We spent the morning exploring Queenstown, walking through the park and round by the lake watching the pretty cool Hydro Attack Shark Boat Rides and Jet Boat Rides, stopped for coffee and watched the Skydivers giving tourists the ride of their lives.

In the afternoon we treated ourselves and had pre-booked a boat trip on the TSS Earnslaw with a Gourmet BBQ lunch at Walter Peak. Its a pretty cool trip as the Earnslaw is an old coal fired steamship, the only one steamship operating in the southern hemisphere. You can take a look in the engine room and see the coal being shovelled into the boilers and all the engines and pumps working. There are superb views of the lake and surrounding mountains as you make your away across the lake to Walter Peak. A friendly welcome awaits you by the staff as we made our way up to the restaurant and what was one of the best BBQ lunches I’ve ever had. A superb range of high quality starters, followed by beautifully cooked thick slices of beef, belly pork and crackling, local sausage, roast chicken accompanied by roast potatoes, an assortment of vegetable dishes and sauces and dressings of all kinds. A variety of incredible deserts including individual sticky toffee puddings, sorbets, cakes and luxury moose. If you still have room there are local cheeses, biscuits and chutneys. Table water is provided and you can buy alcohol at a reasonable price.
Review: Absolutely Excellent. The food was by far the highlight of the trip and I’d go again just for the food. Lovely boat to have a trip on the lake. Chargeable Bar on board, also serving soft drinks. Plenty of space to wander round and look at the engine room. Superb BBQ lunch in a beautiful location down the lake. Bonus of a sheep sheering and sheep dog demonstration after lunch. Really highly recommend the trip.
The TSS Earnslaw, Queenstown
The TSS Earnslaw, Lake Wakatipo, Queenstown!

DAY 7 - Full Day in Queenstown

We’d read about being able to buy tickets for the Queenstown Gondala that takes you up high above Queenstown. But this was a bit pricey for us, so we opted for the climb up Queenstown Hill to the Basket of Dreams, the views are OK but we saw a path that takes you high above that point and the views are incredible. It looked as if we were a little higher than the the top of the cable car station on the next mountain, so I think we had just as good views as the paid option. Its quite a hike but the views are so worth it.
Later that day as a reward for our efforts we went to Ferburger, a must do while in Queenstown. The queue was OK while we were their it only took us 5 minutes to place our order. We’d read the queues can be really long. We went for the “Mr Big Stuff” – 3/4lb of prime NZ beef, cheddar cheese, streaky bacon, bbq sauce, lettuce, tomato, red onion & aioli!
Review: Absolutely Simply put – “Sublime”. We tried to work out how we could afford to go again!
The Ferburger Purchase
The Ferburger Reveal

DAY 8 - Queenstown to Te Anau

We left our Queenstown at 9.30am for the two and a half hour drive to our next destination of Te Anau. On the way out of town we headed to Miles Better Pies for a mid morning treat (Mint and Lamb for me and Steak and Cheese for Julie).

Tip: For any of you that like a pie, here is our personal Review of Miles Better Pies v Ferbaker Pies. Miles Better Pies won, we found the filling much more meaty and the pastry better! Don’t take our word for it however! Ferbaker Pies are handy as they are located in Queenstown centre, Miles Better Pies are located a 10 minute drive to Frankton. (Well worth the drive though!
Our route took us down Highway 6 along the shores of Lake Wakatipu, we stopped at Coffee Bomb in Garston on the way.
Tip: We picked up some cheap fuel for the car in Mossburn in March 2023, the price was more than 20 cents a litre cheaper than Queenstown. Saved a few dollars on a full fill up. You can only pay by credit card as it a self service set up.
We arrived in Te Anau at around 3pm. Its a nice little town by the lake with plenty of restaurants a couple of supermarkets, petrol station and lots of accommodation options.
4 night stay at Parklands Motel priced at £210 in total (We had a standard studio – ground floor)
Review: Comfortable Bed, Nice and Clean, Free Parking, Free Good Wifi, Use of Communal Kitchen, Paid Laundry Room on Site. Very happy with the accommodation at the price we paid.

DAY 9 - Full Day in Te Anau

A full day exploring Te Anau. Lovely walk around the lake from Te Anau town centre, purchased some groceries from the local supermarket. Nice coffee shop overlooking the lake called “The Lakefront Cafe”. There’s also a Miles Better Pies in the town too!

DAY 10 - Full Day in Milford Sound

We’d pre-booked our boat trip on Milford Sound for today, so we made an early start for the 1 and half to 2 hour drive to Milford Sound. Some really stunning scenery as you get a bit closer to Milford.
Tip: As you arrive at Milford Sound there is a large car park just off Deep Water Basin Road offering free parking about and easy 20 minutes walk from the paid car parks which are located at the information centre / Cafe. This will save you the 20 dollars for 5 hours parking fee. That’s three “Miles Better Pies” in real money!

Our Milford Sound Cruise was booked for 3.30pm. We paid 109 NZD per person for the 2 hour trip (4th March 2023). We felt the later boats would be less busy due to the many day coach tours leaving Queenstown would be booked on earlier cruises. This was confirmed by the reception desk on arrival at Milford Sound as they also said that Milford is much quieter around 3pm as the bus tours depart on their way back to Queenstown and Te Anau.
We had beautiful weather for the trip and brilliant views of the surrounding mountains. Apparently the best time to see Milford Sound is in the rain and there are lots more waterfalls on show and its quite spectacular and a unique experience.

Review: Great Trip. Comfortable boat, not over crowded, plenty of viewing space, good commentary, friendly staff.
Stunning Milford Sound!

DAY 11 - Full Day in Te Anau

A relaxing day in Te Anau today as our road trip had been pretty full on so far. A chance to do a bit of washing, catch up on some emails and plan our next few days ahead.

DAY 12 - Te Anau to Lake Hawea

We left Te Anau at 9.30am for the drive back to Queenstown (just over 2 hours) and then on to Lake Hawea (about an hour and 20 minutes). We found some free parking quite easily in Queenstown and had our lunch overlooking the lake. On the way out of Queenstown we stocked up with groceries.
Tip: Head out of Queenstown a couple of miles to Frankton, you’ll find 2 large supermarkets, Countdown and Pack n Save. Countdown was only slightly more expensive than Pack n Save. you’ll find Miles Better Pies are located in Frankton too!

On the way out of Queenstown we visited the town of Arrowtown. A quaint little place with a look of an old gold mining town. We headed back up in to the mountains passing Cardrona and its historic hotel and restaurant. Look out for the Bra Fence too! Driving further we passed Wanaka and arrived at our accommodation in Lake Hawea around 6pm.

3 night stay at Hotel Lake Hawea priced at £111 in total (We had a double room with shared bathroom and kitchen)
Review: Comfortable Bed, Cleanliness reasonable, Free Parking, Free Wifi, Use of Communal Kitchen although a little basic. The bathrooms and toilet block were in a separate building outside of the hostel rooms (not advertised like this). We booked a room with shared bathroom as accommodation was pretty pricy in this area. We’ve stayed in much better and well equipped hostels. It was OK for a couple of nights or so, but we’d stay in Wanaka next time if we could afford to. Location was still great though, right on the lake.

DAY 13 - Full Day in Lake Hawea

An early start this morning to climb Mount Isthmus (1385m). Its the rival to the popular Roy’s Peak climb at Wanaka mentioned in most blogs. The Mount Isthmus climb is a tough one but with stunning views of both La Hawea and Wanaka from the top.

In the late afternoon we headed back to our accommodation and a swim in Lake Hawea.
The Top of Ithmus Peak - 1385m!

DAY 14 - Full Day in Lake Wanaka

Today we took a drive in to Wanaka and strolled along the promenade to the Instafamous “That Wanaka Tree” also known as The Wanaka Willow” and back along the main street stopping for coffee at one of the lake front cafe’s.
In the afternoon we took a scenic drive along the Lake passed Roy’s Peak and headed towards Mount Aspiring National Park. The scenery is stunning! We ended our day back in Wanaka with fish and chips on a bench over looking the lake. “Living the Dream!”
The Wanaka Willow!

DAY 15 - Lake Hawea to Christchurch

We left Wanaka early to take the scenic 5 and a half hour drive up to Christchurch, taking highway 8 up to Lake Tekapo and then over to highway 1 for the rest of the drive up to Christchurch.
Arrived at Christchurch early evening and checked in to our motel
2 night stay at 53 Southern Comfort Motel priced at £111 in total (We booked a Deluxe Suite)

Review: Comfortable Bed, Cleanliness Good, Free Parking, Free Wifi, Kitchen, Good Price. Good Location.

Christchurch Bridge of Remembrance!

DAY 16 - Full Day in Christchurch

Visit to the Botanical Gardens in Hagley Park, lunch at the Riverside Market, wander along the river bank and read about the history of Christchurch including the 2010 earthquake. Visited the Art Gallery.
Christchurch Botanical Gardens
Christchurch Botanical Gardens!

Trip Summary

Total Miles Driven: 1405

Total Cost of Trip: £2070 ($4060 NZD)

Trip Highlights: Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Queenstown, Te Anau, Milford Sound, Lake Wanaka, Lake Hawea, Christchurch

Trip Dates: 22nd February to 10th March 2023

Have a comment on this article?   Join us on Social Media and share your thoughts!

Disclosure: Some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we earn a commission if you make a purchase. Any income helps to keep this site free and helps us continue bringing you useful content, thank you for your support!