Check out our New Zealand Top 10 list, including all our favorite road trip stops throughout the South Island and Wellington. We’ve hand-picked our favorite spots, activities, and must-see locations to help you plan your own kiwi adventure itinerary.
For our post on what to do in Queenstown, we picked a few of our favorite spots for our last few days in country, including the Cow Restaurant, the esplanade, walking downtown Queenstown, and the Ben Lomond Scenic Reserve just outside of town.
Our favorite of all Queenstown restaurants is the Cow, a small, dimly lit “pizza and spaghetti house” tucked away in one of the alleys of central Queenstown. Fresh baked bread, delicious dishes, and a warm and inviting location make this one of Queenstown’s best out-of-the-way restaurants.
The Moeraki Boulders are a must-see stop on the coastal route between Dunedin and Christchurch or a drive from Dunedin to Queenstown. If you’re staying close by, it’s worth visiting the Moeraki Boulders and the town of Moeraki as a destination all its own, and there’s plenty to do along this stretch of the South Island’s East Coast.
Any South Island road trip should include a stop in Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula. You’ll find a variety of activities that rivals Christchurch and Wellington. The peninsula juts out into the Pacific, home to yellow-eyed penguin colonies and albatross, enormous sea-going birds that fly to the tip of South America and back to nest.
Wellington has something for everyone. The city boasts numerous green spaces like the sprawling botanical gardens at the top of the famous cable car route and the hiking paths near Matairangi and the Mount Victoria Lookout. Miles of shoreline include sandy beaches, piers, and self-guided tours near downtown. Trendy restaurants serve up fresh takes on classic dishes. Public art fills the streets and the broad, walled canvases of downtown buildings.
We set aside day seven of our 14-Day New Zealand Itinerary for the scenic drive through Nelson wine country to Picton and the ferry docks and the ferry ride to Wellington. There is a lot to do along the Northernmost stretch of the South Island, and you could easily add an extra night or two in wine country at an AirBnB or other local accommodations. Blenheim and Nelson and the region are rapidly developing the region’s vineyards, and the growth is obvious; new vineyards connect the more established estates all along route 6, almost until the hills leading into Picton.
If you’re thinking of either a long day hike or a longer, overnight trek, add Abel Tasman National Park to your list of stops on your two week trip. We’ve hiked the Milford Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and many shorter treks throughout the South Island. The scenic views, secluded beaches, and dense native bush of Abel Tasman make this one of our favorite areas to hike and camp (and we have a lot of favorites in New Zealand!).
We planned day four as a driving day to cover about 1/3 of the length of the South Island, from Hokitika all the way to Motueka, on the South Island’s North Shore between the Abel Tasman National Park and the wine-growing region of Nelson, Picton, and Blenheim. If you have a little more time, you could easily break this into two segments and stay in Reefton, the first town in New Zealand and all of the Southern Hemisphere to receive electricity. You can easily cover the distance with a few fun stops in less than a full day.
Hokitika is known for its greenstone shops and other tourist attractions. Originally a gold mining town in the 1860s, Hokitika was once one of the most populous New Zealand cities. Even though the original industries have faded, it has become a popular tourist destination along the West Coast, and we recommend spending at least half a day checking out the historical downtown area and gray sand beaches.