How to see the best of the South Island in just 5 days

Heading to New Zealand and hoping to visit the best the South Island has to offer?  Maybe you’re short on time, but big on adventure?  Let us help you with this killer 5-day South Island itinerary.

Honestly, you should make time to cover all the stunning sights the South Island has to offer if you can.  From Nelson at the very top, to Bluff at the very bottom you won’t be disappointed by what this unique destination has to offer.  But if you’re pressed for time, here’s our suggestion for an action-packed five days in the South Island.

5 day South Island itinerary – Christchurch to Queenstown via Glacier Country

Day 1 - Christchurch International Airport may well be the place you enter New Zealand, so take some time to explore this newly expanding city before heading north to the spa town of Hanmer Springs.  Spend a night at Hanmer soaking in the forest scenery and the relaxing hot springs.  A great way to ditch the jetlag.

Day 2 - Head West!  Just a three and a half hour drive and you’ll be on the other side of the island, in historic Hokitika.  Here you’ll get your first taste of the wild West Coast, as well as taking in the sights of this town full of gold-mining history.

Day 3 - Time to hit glacier country, a must do for any visit to the South Island.  Nestled amongst the stunning landscape of Westland Te Poutini National Park you’ll find New Zealand’s third and fourth largest glaciers.  These are the Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier, respectively. Both the township of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier offer accommodation, great pubs, food and easy access for viewing the glaciers. 

But if you really want to make the most of your time here, if you really want to make sure you go big (before you go home), you’ve got to book yourself onto a heli hike with Franz Josef Glacier Guides

Heli-hiking with Franz Josef Glacier Guides – the coolest way to trek a glacier

Helicopter access is the best way to explore the stunning icy landscapes of the glacier, as well as appreciating its staggering size and beauty.  And combining glacier trekking with a helicopter flights means you’ll be heading home with a damn good story to tell your friends.  Franz Josef Glacier Guides offer a range of options for heli-hike trips onto the glacier, all hiking gear is provided. 

Stay a while in Franz Josef.  All heli-hike trips with Franz Josef Glacier Guides include complimentary access to Glacier Hot Pools.  Trust us, you will never want to leave!

Day 4 – If you can bear to leave the glaciers, hot pools and rainforests, then pack your bags for beautiful Wanaka.  Quieter and quainter than its noisy cousin, Queenstown, Wanaka won’t disappoint.  There are loads of activities to do, or you may be happy enough to sit on the lakefront taking in the amazing view.  Your journey from Glacier Country to Wanaka will take you through Haast, and the Haast Pass, which is guaranteed to make you feel tiny as you pass beneath the dense Westland rainforest.

Day 5 - Time to hit the big smoke; Queenstown.  You will never be bored in Queenstown.   There is a non-stop line up of adventure activities, scenic trips, restaurants, bars and stunning lake and mountain views.  No visit to Queenstown is complete without getting in a jet boat. Check out Shotover Jet and Dart River Safaris for jet boating thrills. Explore the gold mining history of Arrowtown and the jaw-dropping scenery of Glenorchy.

Added extra bonus:  We highly recommend adding in some extra days to experience the real NZ with a Hollyford Track guided walk, one of the greatest guided walks in New Zealand.

A great round up of everything New Zealand has to offer can be found on the Tourism New Zealand website.  We’ll see you in the South.

South Island 5 day itinerary