Our New Zealand South Island Road Trip

If you missed it, read the North Island roundup here.

The South Island is known as the more rugged, more remote island of New Zealand. Our road trip here was considerably shorter in duration than the North Island, mainly due to sparse accommodation options (especially on the West Coast, which is sparsely settled) and higher prices during the peak of Kiwi holiday season. Nevertheless, we’ve made a large loop around the perimeter of the remote island and have seen many great sights.

Our South Island road trip


  • Duration: 9.5 weeks
  • Accommodation: 10 Airbnbs, 4 hostels, 2 holiday parks, 2 hotels, 2 Helpx work-stay exchanges
  • Distance: 4567 km driven (=2838 miles) (mapped route is 2526 km)
  • Number of distinct PAK’nSAVEs (grocery) visited: 10 (of 12 total on the island)
  • Hours spent watching The Chase (a trivia show): still too many to count

Route (relevant blog posts are linked!):

  1. Blenheim (5 days) – where we played with flowers in exchange for accommodation. Read more on #1 and #2 here.
  2. Nelson (7 days) – where we played with sheep and took a boat.

    View from the Kilkenny Lookout en route to Westport from Nelson
  3. Westport (3 days) – the start of our West Coast drive (#3-5), where Santa travels via tractor rather than sleigh.
  4. Greymouth (3 days)

    A one-way bridge also shared with one-way train tracks. Yikes.
  5. Franz Josef (3 days) – glaciers! And finally some snow-capped mountains as seen in in all those promotional photographs.
  6. Wanaka (3 days) – where we frolicked in lavender fields and did half a hike. Read more on #6-8 here.

    A misty day on the road to Milford Sound
  7. Te Anau/Milford Sound (3 days) – world famous fiords!

    Not every day can be sunny, but these clouds sure made Queenstown look a bit ominous.
  8. Cardrona/Queenstown (4 days) – no issues finding adventure (or ways to spend your money) here
  9. Invercargill (1 day) – the southern-most city in New Zealand, just so we could say we’ve seen it all. We stayed in an old hotel that hosted the Queen (of England) in the 50’s. More about #9-10 here.
  10. Dunedin (7 days) – perhaps Insia’s favorite New Zealand city, Dunedin was a stop that included penguins, chocolate, and beer.
  11. Ashburton (2 days) – just a quick stop between the drive been #10 and #12.
  12. Banks Peninsula (7 days) – a relaxing stay in the valley where we really settled into the slow-pace of Kiwi life. Read more about #12-14 here.

    The landscape out on Kaikoura Peninsula
  13. Kaikoura (3 days) – crayfish and views
  14. Christchurch (9 days) – a city with bad luck but plenty of ingenuity and spirit


This island definitely delivered on the promises of amazing landscapes and many, many sheep. However, controversially, we may favor the North Island a bit more for the variety in landscape – from the huge sand dunes of Northland to geothermal Rotorua to the snow-capped mountains of Tongariro National Park – with shorter drives and even more notable roadside views. Nevertheless, we’ve had some experiences that we’ll remember for a long time to come.


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