New Zealand’s South Island, believe it or not, is even more beautiful than the North Island. I explored New Zealand’s South Island with Haka Tours during a 16 day amplified New Zealand Tour. In this post, you’ll get a taste of what you will experience on this awesome tour. Please note that this itinerary may change slightly year to year. And, if a tour isn’t your thing, you can rent a car or campervan and complete this New Zealand South Island itinerary 10 days on your own!

Disclosure: I only recommend products and services that I would recommend to a friend. Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn compensation if you click through and make a purchase.

Girl on a bridge at Lake Tekapo

What Will You See: New Zealand South Island Itinerary 10 days

This New Zealand South Island itinerary 10 days focuses on mainly outdoor attractions and spends barely any time in big cities. People visit New Zealand for the natural beauty, and this itinerary hits all of the must-sees as well as focuses on some local spots thrown in for good measure! You’ll read about some magical suggested experiences, as well as get some basic knowledge of what to do in each place you visit. 

Getting to the South Island

If you are coming from exploring New Zealand’s North Island, you can take a ferry or flight to Kaikoura.

Flights are fairly priced at about $50-$100 US dollars for a round trip ticket from Wellington to Kaikoura with Air New Zealand. 

If you have a car, you’ll need to use the Cook Strait Ferry. You will arrive in Picton and then can drive to Kaikoura. 

On the other hand, if you are NOT coming from the North Island, you will most likely fly into Christchurch. If you fly into Christchurch and are completing the tour on your own, my recommendation is to add Kaikoura on to the end of your tour so you are not doubling back but rather making a nice big loop.

New Zealand South Island Itinerary 10 days Map

The Amplified Tour with Haka will include Kaikoura and end in Christchurch. If you just select the South Island Tour from Haka, your tour will begin and end in Christchurch and will exclude Kaikoura. 

Wanaka tree

Renting a Car or Camper

You can rent a car in every major city in New Zealand when you first arrive. And transferring the car between islands is also possible with the Cook Strait Ferry.  So don’t stress! Check out these options for renting a car or campervan in New Zealand.

Expedia Car Rental 

Kayak Car Rental 

Campervan Rentals


Wicked Campers

Remember, You can drive for up to 1 year in New Zealand with a drivers license from your own country or an International Drivers license. You must be at least 21 years old to rent a car in New Zealand. 

If you’re also visiting the North Island, check out my 7 Day Tour of New Zealand’s North Island. 

Glacier Valley Hike in Franz Josef

New Zealand South Island Itinerary 10 days

Day 0-1: Wellington to Kaikoura 

Day 2: Kaikoura-Christchurch

Day 3: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Day 4: Lake Tekapo to Queenstown 

Day 5: Queenstown

Day 6: Queenstown to Wanaka

Day 7: Wanaka

Day 8: Wanaka to Franz Josef

Day 9: Franz Josef

Day 10: Franz Josef to Christchurch

Day 0-1: Wellington to Kaikoura 


Kaikoura is a beach town that is quite small, but excellent for dolphin and whale watching. You are almost certain to see whales and dolphins on these tours. Check out Whale Watch Kaikoura or Must Do New Zealand for incredible, once in a lifetime experiences.

Tip: The water around Kaikoura is very rough. If you get seasick easily, take medicine before you go out on your tour. There are a couple of pharmacies right in town where you can grab some medication. 


Tip: Make sure you book your whale or dolphin viewing ahead of time, especially if you visit New Zealand during the summer. Early morning tours are going to be less crowded. Wintertime is also less popular, but still, plan ahead. If you go with Haka Tours they will handle the tours and tickets for you!

If you have a bit more time in Kaikoura, check out Ohau Stream. This is where seal pups come to have fun. The journey up from the ocean to this waterfall and stream, to play with each other. It is the cutest thing.

Kaikoura seal pups

You can also take a walk along Kaikoura beaches, stop in the cute shops, and grab a bite to eat. 

Where to stay in Kaikoura

Kaikoura is a quaint town. If you’re traveling with Haka, all the accommodation is set up for you. On the other hand, if you’re on your own, try staying as close to the beach as possible, as this is where all of the activities, shops, and restaurants are. 

Check out booking for the best hotel deals in Kaikoura!

Day 2: Kaikoura-Christchurch

Christchurch trolley

In 2011, a major earthquake devastated Christchurch. The bustling city evaporated. The earthquake destroyed homes, demolished buildings, and caused people to flee their houses and communities. Today, Christchurch is experiencing a major rebirth, but the signs of the earthquake are still very much evident.

One memorial in Christchurch that exemplified the horror of the earthquake was the 185 Empty Chairs. Right by the road, right where the town church used to stand, are dozens of white chairs. Each chair belongs to a person who was killed in the 2011 earthquake.

185 chair memorial

To stand there and see dining room chairs, office chairs, even a wheelchair and a baby carriage, puts the loss of life into perspective. It served as a moment to reflect, and to be thankful for all that I have.

But, there are signs of rebirth in the city of Christchurch.

Cardboard Church, NZ

Stop by and see the cardboard church, a church completely made out of cardboard and flexible enough to withstand earthquakes many times over. 

Check out the Christchurch Cathedral, which is still in the process of being renovated, but is still quite beautiful. 

Christchurch Cathedral

My favorite example of rebirth was the “container city” or “Re: Start”.

ReStart Christchurch, NZ

Because so many shops were destroyed in the earthquake, container city was a temporary solution to the problem. Made out of old shipping containers, this mall is colorful and quirky, and has some great food, coffee, and souvenirs. As of 2018, Container City is now disbanded, with the shops scattered throughout the city of Christchurch. 

Shops in Christchurch

But, fear not, there are still plenty of good eats and shopping in Christchurch. Check out the Riverside market for tons of fresh food. Or, wander in the hip neighborhood of Merivale for a wonderful assortment of different restaurants and bars. The Inner City also has some great food selections. For some good shopping try Riccarton Sunday Market, The Colombo, or the Tannery. 

One of my favorite attractions was Christchurch’s Botanic gardens. The gardens are peaceful, and quite beautiful. Even during the wintertime, there is still lots to look at. 

Gardens in Christchurch

Right next to the Botanic Gardens is The Canterbury Museum. It’s free and it is quite entertaining.

Where to stay in Christchurch

If you’re on a budget, don’t have a lot of time, and want to be close to the action, stay in the Inner City. You will be able to walk everywhere and see several major attractions.

Memorial in Christchurch

Merivale offers a bit more of a laid back vibe and has an assortment of great restaurants and bars. 

Day 3: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is perhaps the most beautiful place in New Zealand. It was one of those places that you try and contain in a photograph. But, like all magical places, a photograph doesn’t do Lake Tekapo justice.

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is home to the Church of the Good Shepherd. Arguably the most famous church in New Zealand. On a clear night, with the right conditions, you can see the milky way and the Southern Lights right above this church.

Church of the Good Shepard NZ

The night we were there, the Milky Way was crystal clear, a spattering of clouds and bright stardust split across the inky sky. My camera couldn’t quite capture the lights, but standing underneath them was good enough for me.

The photos were taken in the early evening to capture the warm gold tones of Lake Tekapo. The lake holds the reflections of the mountains, and the sun soaks the scene in a golden brilliance. When visiting, make sure you arrive in time for sunset.

Lake Tekapo

And make sure you have at least a couple of hours to walk around the lake to appreciate it from every single angle.

Disappointed that I could not get pictures of the Milky Way at night, I decided to wake up and hope to catch some more beautiful colors during sunrise.

Lake Tekapo

The sky wasn’t very vibrant, but seeing the lake in the purple morning light was a treat. The ground was covered in frost, I was shivering, but it was quiet. And it was peaceful. And the air was crisp and clear, it made you feel alive. 

Lake Tekapo

Another plus of waking up early was no crowds. In the afternoon there are tons of people trying to snap photos. The morning is much more peaceful. 

Lake Tekapo

Also, don’t forget a trip to the Tekapo Springs. The prices are $30 for a day pass for adults, $25 for a student, and $18 for a child. You can also elect to get a 2-day pass. There are hot pools for you to enjoy as well as the Aqua Play Area with cooler pools. Since we visited in winter, we stuck to the hot pools!

Tekapo Springs

Where to Stay in Lake Tekapo

Stay lakefront-within walking distance to the lake and Tekapo Springs. There is not much of a town just a few tourist shops and a couple of restaurants. Check booking for all available options. 

Day 4-5: Lake Tekapo to Queenstown 

Queenstown: The adventure capital of the world! 

In 1998, the bungee was invented, right here, outside of Queenstown, NZ. It is called The Kawarau Bridge Bungy, and it is where I did my first, and last bungee. 

The Kawarau Bridge Bungy

I chose to bungee here because this was the place of the original Bungy. The length of the bungee is 43 meters, overlooking a beautiful river surrounded by cliff faces. 

It is quite an intimidating thing to do in New Zealand. 

And my experience was quite funny. The girl who bungyed right before me froze. She started shaking and crying and refused to jump after the countdown. The guys working the bungee asked her if she still wanted to jump, and she nodded. “We’re going to help you then,” they said, she nodded again, still sobbing, and they pushed her off, as she screamed. 

Well, I thought, I can’t jump like that.

The platform was scary, of course. Your toes dangle over the edge, and there is nothing but a river down below. The guys counted down, three, two, one, and I dove off the board like I was on a high dive.

The Kawarau Bridge Bungy

The free fall was exhilarating. I loved it.

Kawarau Bungy offers photos and video of your jump. But when I looked at the photos of me jumping, I looked sick the entire time, my clothes were falling off, and there were no good shots. The only cool part was the start, so I passed on the photos and video.

The Kawarau Bridge Bungy

After the excitement of the bungee…

It was off to Queenstown. You won’t have much time in Queenstown if you decide to bungee. But whatever you do, don’t miss the Luge!

The Luge

When you first get into Queenstown, do the Luge. The Luge is similar to go-carts. Except, you’re racing down a mountain. The views were pretty breathtaking though.

Check out Skyline Queenstown. For $61 for an adult and $43 NZ for a child, you will get an amazing gondola ride to the top, and 2 Luge rides. More luge rides are available at intervals of $2. There is a cafe at the top if you get hungry after all of that adrenaline!

Other than the Luge, Queenstown was a bustling city with lots of shops, and good restaurants. And, if you walked just a bit out of town, you could see some beautiful mountain views from Lake Wakatipu

 Lake Wakatipu.

If you have a bit more time in Queenstown, check out these 20 must-see attractions!

Where to Stay In Queenstown

You will want to stay in the downtown area. There is an assortment of upscale hotels and budget hostels that will work for any budget. 

Day 6: Queenstown/Milford Sound to Wanaka

Most people use Queenstown as a starting point to visit Milford Sound. If you’re doing this itinerary on your own, consider taking a Milford Sound Day trip with Viator from Queenstown. Here is a list of other tours that operate in and around Queenstown. 

Milford Sound

Milford Sound was one of the main reasons that I wanted to visit New Zealand. It looked like someplace out of an alien world. Gigantic mountains erupting from the water, out of nowhere, to form spectacular mountains was beyond my belief.

To see Milford Sound, we had to take a day trip from Queenstown. The bus we took was freezing, and our driver refused to turn on the heat because it would fog up the windows, “and then we will crash’” he informed us. At our first rest stop, I bought a hat and gloves, to wear on the bus. This is fairly common, so dress warmly for the day trip if you visit during wintertime!

The journey was long, and I was drugged up on some awesome motion sickness pills and sitting in the very front, because I heard that the trip to Milford is quite nauseating. And, some of my group members, who decided to sit in the back of the bus ended up very sick from the twisty journey.

Your bus driver will stop and let you get a few pictures of the scenery on the way to Milford Sound.

Finally, we made it to Milford Sound, where we would jump on a boat for a three-hour tour. Any Gilligan’s Island fans out there? Unfortunately for us, the tour did last only three hours. I would have been happy to stay in this place a little bit longer.

Milford Sound

Even though the water was a bit choppy, and the skies were gray and whitewashed everything out a little bit, Milford Sound was still pretty amazing. As the boat maneuvered through channels, I just stood on the deck, admiring these mountains on either side of me. And there was even a waterfall to boot!

Milford Sound Waterfall

Although Milford Sound was almost a wonder of the world, I still was slightly disappointed. Maybe because it was so cold and rainy and gray. 

Milford Sound

Day 7: Wanaka

Of course, visit the Wanaka tree. But Wanaka is so much more than that little tree in the middle of Wanaka Lake. Spend some more time by the lake, either by taking a stroll or renting kayaks. You can also take a boat tour!

Wanaka has some of the best hiking in New Zealand. The most popular hike in the area is Roys Peak. Besides the tree, Roys Peak is probably the most Instagrammed spot in Wanaka. You’ll deal with lots of crowds so make sure you do the hike early in the morning! Other cool hikes include Rob Roy Glacier Track, Liverpool Hut, Cascade Saddle, and Rocky Mountain Track. 

Wanaka Tree

If you’re visiting Wanaka during wintertime, there is a lot of great skiing and snowboarding, try Treble Cone ski resort, or Cardrona Alpine Resort. 

Magical Experience: For a magical experience I recommend taking a scenic flight over Wanaka. You will fly over the most beautiful mountain scenery. 

Where to Stay In Wanaka

Stay as close to the lake as you can! Not only will you have a great view, but you will also be close to lots of local eateries, restaurants, and bars. There is also a cool little movie theater called Cinema Paradiso where you can catch a movie. 

Day 8-9: Wanaka to Franz Josef

The number 1 thing to do in Frans Josef is a glacier hike. There are a variety of tour options that Franz Josef Glacier offers. Including a heli-hike, a glacier heli climb, and a scenic flight. 

Unfortunately, when I visited in the wintertime, there was a problem. As we were driving from Wanaka to Franz Josef, the gray skies opened up, and it poured. There was flooding on the roads, and waterfalls started to form. Driving in New Zealand is already scary, add waterfalls and pools to the road, and rain so heavy you can barely see out the window, and it’s downright terrifying.

waterfalls in NZ

I was thankful we made it to Franz Josef at all. Because of all of the rain, the glacier hike was canceled. Which is quite common. Conditions can be dangerous up on the glacier, and they don’t take any chances.

Franz Josef

If you can’t hike Franz Josef glacier, you can take a walk to see a sliver of it.

Franz Josef

If your glacier tour gets canceled consider hiking to see a part of the glacier on the Glacier Valley Walk. The walk is quite beautiful, with some amazing mountains to distract you from the fact that you are not on the actual glacier. I’m sure it’s nothing like getting to hike the actual thing, but sometimes there are circumstances beyond your control, and you have to make the most of it.

Franz Josef

There are a couple hikes around the same area including a small mirror lake right before the main hike.

Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake

Even though glacier hiking is popular, there is still plenty of other stuff to do in Franz Josef. Take some time and visit the Westcoast Wildlife Center, a place where you can see a real-life kiwi!

West coast wildlife center

Kiwi’s are nocturnal, so you’re not going to see any during the day. But this center, to educate, turns day into night so visitors can take a look at these cuties! No photography is allowed, and it is a bit expensive, but they do good work, and if you want to see a kiwi, it’s the perfect thing to do on a rainy day in Franz Josef.

Franz Josef town

Where to Stay in Franz Josef

Booking recommends staying in: Rainforest Retreat, Punga Grove, or The Terrace. My recommendation is to stay within 20 minutes walk of the Westcoast Wildlife Center. You’ll have access to a couple of cute cafes in this part of town. 

Day 10: Franz Josef to Christchurch

It was time to head back to Christchurch, and for the tour to be over. Haka tours will put you on a train back to Christchurch. If you have a car or camper I recommend driving so you can return your car to the same place you picked it up, saving you some major dollars. 

On your way back to Christchurch, no matter how you get there, make sure you stop at Hokitika. 


Even just a few hours in this little town will be worth it! Hokitika is well known for its jade. If you want some nice trinkets to bring home to your family, Hokitika is a great spot to buy gifts. 

Jade from New Zealand’s South Island is more expensive, but you can buy jade from a variety of other places for much cheaper. I’m not a huge fan of jade, so I decided to head to the beach.

Hokitika Beach

You can find jade on this beach, although I didn’t have any luck. But I did see this little guy, and picked up a few cool stones and shells!

Hokitika beach

The Haka Tours Amplified New Zealand tour ends with your tour guide putting you on the TransAlpine train back to Christchurch. The journey is fantastic, and it’s a great way to see some more beautiful countryside and hang out with your friends from the tour.

TransAlpine Train

My Experience with Haka Tours

I would, 100%, with no hesitation, highly recommend Haka Tours to anyone who is looking to visit New Zealand. Haka Tours takes care of everything for you: transportation, guide, lodging, and booking your choice of activities. Even if you don’t book a single activity, you’re still going to have an amazing vacation. There are a lot of complimentary attractions included in the tour price, and your guide will show you things that you would only ever see from a local.

Lake Tekapo

If you have any questions about my experience, feel free to leave a comment below, or if you have questions about the tour in general, check out Haka’s website. They have people there waiting to assist you and answer any questions that you have!

Final Thoughts On The Best New Zealand South Island Itinerary 10 days

Lake Tekapo

You could spend a lifetime in New Zealand and not experience all the beauty that this country has to offer. Hopefully with this 10-day itinerary, you can see all of the highlights of the South Island, as well as some places that you may not have heard of. Even though I recommend Haka Tours, this is still an amazing itinerary for you to see New Zealand’s South Island. I hope you find it just as beautiful and magical as I did. 

Disclosure: I only recommend products and services that I would recommend to a friend. Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn compensation if you click through and make a purchase.

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