Kristy hiking Hooker Valley Track, New Zealand

12 Day Itinerary for New Zealand’s South Island

12-day itinerary for New Zealand's South Island

In April, we headed to New Zealand’s South Island with my cousin, Walter, and his wife, Melanie, for 12 days! It was actually their third time to the South Island so they already had some favorite stops in mind, as well as some new places they wanted to visit. Usually, I’m the one that does most of the travel planning so it was so nice to have someone plan the majority of the trip! And we like to do a lot of similar things (hiking, wine, good food) so it really worked well.

In this post, we wanted to give a brief overview of our 12-day itinerary for New Zealand’s South Island. In some of our following posts, we’ll go into more detail about some of our favorite locations.

Our New Zealand Itinerary At-a-Glance:

Day 1 – New Zealand’s South Island: Nelson

Kristy in the Queens Garden, Nelson, New Zealand
Queen’s Gardens
  • Arrive Auckland & transfer to plane to Nelson
  • Wander Queen’s Gardens
  • Lunch at Jay’s Dumpling Cafe
  • Wander through Nelson downtown
  • Visit Pic’s Peanut Butter World
  • Walk through the Miyazu Japanese Garden
  • Pick up Walter & Melanie at Nelson airport
  • To-go dinner and wine on the deck at rental home

Day 2 – New Zealand’s South Island: Cable Bay & Marlborough

Bladen: our pick for Marlborough winery to visit!
  • The Junction and Connings Food Market to pick up local charcuterie for dinner
  • Tōtara Walk at Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve
  • Lunch at Mills Bay in Havelock (Greenshell Mussell Capital of the World)
  • Wine Tasting at Bladen Wines, Nautilus Estate, and Forrest in Marlborough
  • Cable Bay Viewpoint
  • Charcuterie and wine dinner at rental home

Day 3 – New Zealand’s South Island: Abel Tasman National Park

On the beach in Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand's South Island
On the beach in Abel Tasman National Park
  • Breakfast and coffee at Hooked Restaurant near water taxi
  • Take Marahau Water Taxi to Anchorage at 9:00 am
  • Hike Abel Tasman Track from Anchorage Bay to Marahau – 13 km (8 miles) one way
  • Wine and snacks on the patio at Gravity Cellars

Day 4 – New Zealand’s South Island: Lake Tekapo

Pedestrian bridge at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Pedestrian bridge in Lake Tekapo
  • Depart Nelson airport at 8:10 am and arrive Christchurch at 9:05 am
  • Pick up Omega rental and begin drive to Lake Tekapo
  • Admire the view at Rakaia Gorge
  • Pies for lunch at Fairlie Bakehouse
  • Walk the edge of Lake Tekapo and photograph the bridge
  • Pick up dinner from The Better Batter and Monster Kitchen food trucks
  • Walk up Cowan’s Hill to the bench for stargazing

Day 5 – New Zealand’s South Island: Hooker Valley

Hiking the Hooker Valley Track, New Zealand
Hiking the Hooker Valley Track
  • Early morning drive to Mt Cook to hike the Hooker Valley Track
  • Drive to Tasman Glacier Viewpoint (10-15 minute walk up the stairs to the top)
  • Lunch at Hermitage Hotel
  • Stop at Alpine Salmon in Lake Ohau to pick up dinner

Day 6 – New Zealand’s South Island: Gibbston Valley

View of Kawarau Suspension Bridge, New Zealand
View of Kawarau Suspension Bridge
  • Drive to Gibbston Valley
  • Lindis pass viewpoint
  • Photograph the Wānaka Tree
  • Lunch at Kai Whaka Pai in Wanaka
  • Cocktail break at Cardrona Distillery
  • See the Cardrona bra fence
  • Watch the bungee jumpers at Kawarau Suspension Bridge
  • Wine tasting at Kinross (included with your room reservation)
  • Dinner at Gibbston Valley Winery

Day 7 – New Zealand’s South Island: Gibbston Valley

Feeding the Goats in Gibbston Valley, New Zealand
Feeding the goats at Arrowbelle
  • Breakfast at Vudu Cafe
  • Feed the goats at Arrowbelle
  • Wander the shops in Arrowtown
  • Wine tasting at Nockie’s Palette at Stoneridge Estate
  • Wine and small bites at Mt Rosa Wines
  • Hot tea & beer at Church Cellar Door & Cafe
  • Before-dinner cocktail at Penny Black in Cromwell
  • Dinner at The Stoaker Room – Cromwell

Day 8 – New Zealand’s South Island: Drive to Milford Sound

Kayaking on the Milford Sound, New Zealand
Kayaking in Harrison Cove
  • Morning walk around Queenstown
  • Drive approx. four hours to Milford Sound with stops along the way
  • Coffee and snack in Te Anau & walk through the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre
  • Mirror Lakes walk
  • Eglinton Valley photo opp (mountains featured in LOTR movies)
  • Walk the Milford Sound Lookout Track for view of Sound and large waterfall
  • Board the Milford Mariner for overnight cruise
  • Kayak on the Milford Sound in Harrison Cove
  • Dinner & games on the boat

Day 9 – New Zealand’s South Island: Milford Sound to Queenstown

Perky's floating bar, Queenstown, New Zealand
Perky’s floating bar and Queenstown waterfront
  • Early start for sunrise and waterfall viewing
  • Sail to Tasman Sea for views
  • Disembark around 9:00 am
  • Hike Lake Marian Track to the waterfalls  
  • Lunch at Sandfly Cafe
  • Wander Queenstown
  • Cocktail on Perky’s Floating Bar
  • Hang with the ducks along the waterfront
  • Tasting dinner at The Nest

Day 10 – New Zealand’s South Island: Queenstown to Auckland

Originally, our trip was only planned for the South Island but Air New Zealand changed our itinerary and added a day-long layover in Auckland. So, while it doesn’t really fit the “South Island itinerary,” I’ve added it here just to give you an idea of what we squeezed in.

Snapper "wings" at Dr Rudi's Brewing, Auckland, New Zealand
Snapper “wings” at Dr Rudi’s
  • Morning walk through the Queenstown Gardens
  • Flight from Queenstown to Auckland at noon
  • Uber to Fable Auckland, MGallery for check-in
  • Walk the Viaduct Harbor
  • Beer and snack at Dr. Rudi’s Rooftop Brewing
  • Drink and snack at Parasol & Swing Company
  • Round of putt-putt at Holey Moley Golf Club
  • Before-dinner drink at Headquarters
  • Dinner at Hello Beasty

Day 11 – New Zealand’s South Island: Auckland

Hanging on a tree branch in Albert Park, Auckland, New Zealand
Exploring Albert Park
  • Morning walk through Albert Park
  • SkyBar at noon for charcuterie, cocktail, and sweet treat
  • High tea at Cooke’s Restaurant in Fable Auckland Hotel
  • Head to the airport for flight back to the U.S.

And that’s how we spent our 12 days in New Zealand’s South Island! Soon we’ll be providing some more in-depth posts on some of our favorite activities. And it’s probably no surprise that will certainly be hard to narrow down!

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12 days in New Zealand South Island

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