New Zealand’s South Island is home to the most breathtaking sceneries which are literally straight out of fantasy films.
The region is famed for the multitude of sightseeing opportunities and amazing natural landmarks.
Check out this 5-day New Zealand South Island tour itinerary from Christchurch so you’ll have an idea of the exciting experiences that await you in South Island.
5-Day New Zealand South Island Itinerary Summary
- Day 1 – Christchurch to Queenstown
- Day 2 – Milford Sound
- Day 3 – Explore Queenstown
- Day 4 – Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
- Day 5 – Journey on TranzAlpine Express
Day 1 – Christchurch to Queenstown
Your journey starts in Christchurch, heading towards Queenstown by coach which will most probably be listed as one of the loveliest road trips you’ll ever experience.
The way to South Island will be dotted with unforgettable views of majestic snow-capped mountains, vast spreads of vegetation, national parks, and immense lakes – which are all just waiting to be explored by adventurous souls just like you!
On day 1, you’ll come across some of the following popular attractions.
The Southern Alps is the highest mountain range in Australasia – and where you can enjoy the most spectacular views imaginable.
Its highest peaks are perpetually covered in ice and snow, providing your South Island tour with an idyllic, postcard-perfect background.
Hundreds of glaciers wind their way down the slopes and melt into rivers with a mesmerizing shade of blue-green.
The scene is made even beautiful by the lush greenery of Fiordland, and the Mackenzie Basin’s sprawling grasslands.
Lake Tekapo’s beauty will take your breath away – both during the daytime and at night.
Be amazed at the tranquil lake’s enchanting milky-turquoise hue, which comes from the suspension of ultra-fine rock-flour (from the glaciers) on the water.
At night, the magic intensifies as the area is transformed into an ideal stargazing spot as part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve.
Explore the area by foot and commune with nature while surrounded by the most stunning natural wonders.
Lake Pukaki & Mt Cook
Gaze at the riveting blue waters of the area’s largest lake – Lake Pukaki – which sets a perfect frame to the tallest peak in New Zealand, Mt Cook or Aoraki.
The shimmering blue lake and the majestic peaks will give you the best photographed memories of this South Island adventure, with views that have formed unforgettable backdrops that were used in the films, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.
Enjoy the scenery and take stunning photos from several lookout points strategically located to give you unobstructed views.
Take an invigorating hike or bike ride along the lake’s perimeter to discover the area’s wonders – be sure to check out the picturesque Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail!
Located between the towns of Cromwell and Queenstown, the Kawarau River flows through the Kawarau Gorge which starts near the huge rock outcrop called Nevis Bluff and the wine-growing area of Gibbston.
This area is historically significant for its role during the Otago Gold Rush during the 1860s.
On the river bank, you can still see well-preserved cottages as they were used by the miners. Get the chance to experience how it feels like to pan for gold at the Goldfields Mining Center.
Check off a few items from your extreme sports bucket list and do bungee-jumping from the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge or go for riverboarding and kayaking.
Hotel for three Nights – Heartland Hotel Queenstown
Your South Island adventure will be made even more memorable with a 3-night stay at the Heartland Hotel Queenstown.
The well-appointed hotel facilities and chalets are all designed to give you world-class, Swiss-style accommodation while being surrounded by the most magnificent views.
Enjoy breakfast and dinner at the Hillside Brasserie while gazing at the majestic mountains and Lake Wakatipu.
Plan a leisurely day of shopping or a more exhilarating adventure from the comfort of one of the top Queenstown accommodations.
Day 2 – Milford Sound
Take a trip to New Zealand’s most magnificent natural wonder, Milford Sound.
It proudly showcases breathtaking natural features such as awe-inspiring mountain peaks, magnificent forested cliffs, and dramatic waterfalls that rush down from heights that reach upwards of 1,000 meters.
The fjord has been carved by glaciers from the ice ages and is breathtaking regardless of the time of the year you wish to visit.
Discover why Milford Sound has been considered as New Zealand’s most popular tourist attraction, and why Rudyard Kipling called it “the eighth wonder of the world”.
Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown
Surrounded by tall mountains, the lightning bolt-shaped Lake Wakatipu fills a valley which has been carved by glaciers from the ice ages.
The lake has a lot to offer whether you go and visit during the summer or winter months.
Experience the adrenaline rush that comes with extreme water sports, made even more memorable as you are surrounded by majestic peaks and picturesque views.
For a more leisurely way to enjoy the scenery, go on a relaxing lake cruise and marvel at this natural wonder.
You can even go trout-fishing or swimming in the gorgeous waters of Lake Wakatipu!
Fiordland National Park
Part of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area, Fiordland National Park is the largest of New Zealand’s 14 national parks.
It encompasses the Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound – fjords that have been carved from glaciers dating back to the ice ages.
Be enthralled with the astounding scenery that includes snow-capped mountains, icy lakes, and lushly green forests.
This is where you can see Mitre Peak as it impressively towers over Milford Sound with a height of 1692 meters above sea level.
The park is also home to the endangered bird species of Takahe, which was once thought to be extinct.
Get the thrill of viewing black corals as they are visible at shallower depths in the national park, or discover world-class Great Walks tracks (Routeburn Track, Milford Track, and Kepler Track) surrounded by breathtaking scenery.
Milford Sound cruise
Go on a spectacular Milford Sound cruise to experience the enchanting beauty of this natural wonder, which has been carved by glaciers dating back to the ice ages.
As soon as you’re out on the water, you will feel the awesome power of nature as you are surrounded by majestic cliffs and snow-capped alpine peaks.
Watch the inky black water as your cruise glides on its surface and get a sneak peek into the astounding force that only Mother Nature can unleash.
Day 3 – Explore Queenstown
You’ll have a free day to choose what you want to do in Queenstown and there’s definitely no shortage of things to do.
Here are a few suggestions that many travellers consider a must do in the area.
Queenstown Skyline Gondola & Restaurant
Prepare for a sensational, one of a kind experience as you take in the stunning mountain and lake views of Queenstown – this time from way up high.
The Skyline Gondola will take you literally to new heights – with breathtaking views – onboard the Southern Hemisphere’s steepest cable car lift.
Gaze the tremendous beauty of Queenstown from a height of 450 meters above ground and proceed to the Stratosfere Restaurant and Bar where the most memorable lunch (four-course buffet) or dinner (six-course buffet) experience awaits you.
Enjoy your sumptuous feast while gazing at the natural beauty of Queenstown from an impressive height!
Te Anau Glow Worm Caves Tour
Go on a unique underground adventure in the Te Anau Glow Worm Caves.
Your enchanting experience begins with a cruise that will take you through Lake Te Anau to the Cavern House, where you will learn more about the glow worms’ life cycle, the caves’ history, and how they were developed and operated.
You will then proceed underground with the help of a professional, friendly guide who will lead the cave exploration.
See how the rushing water carves the rock formations, as it glides silently through the darkness towards the glow worm grotto.
The soft incandescence from thousands of glow worms lends a magical air to this unforgettable experience.
Kiwi Birdlife Park
This is your chance to see some of the most captivating local animals up close.
Located in central Queenstown, the 5-acre Kiwi Birdlife Park is home to over 20 species of native birds and reptiles, as showcased in nature exhibits.
Explore the wildlife park at your own pace, and watch the birds flying freely during wildlife presentations, or gaze at interesting creatures such as the cheeky kea, the Auckland green gecko, and a tuatara (a prehistoric reptile).
Don’t miss the chance to go inside custom-built nocturnal houses that let you view New Zealand’s national bird – the kiwi bird – in the most natural manner possible while getting more information about their behaviour and care from their keepers.
Day 4 – Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
On day 4 you’ll be driven to Westland National Park, towards the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers – both astoundingly beautiful rivers of ice and the world’s most accessible ones.
Franz Josef Glacier features a steeper incline compared to that of Fox’s, subjecting the glacier to constant movement.
This movement creates magnificent ice caves and crevasses for an unforgettable “blue ice” experience.
On the way to Westland National Park, you’ll pass by Lake Wanaka.
It is the fourth largest lake in New Zealand and is estimated to have a depth of 300 meters.
The town of Wanaka lies at the foot of the lake and features unique attractions as well as options for heart-pumping adventures.
The resort atmosphere of the lake makes it ideal for unforgettable experiences all year-round: you can go boating, fishing, and swimming during summer, or go skiing when winter comes.
The breathtaking Wanaka region has been used as film locations, as is the case with The Hobbit trilogy, The Legend of S, and The Lord of the Rings.
Westland National Park
The Westland Tai Poutini National Park encompasses the West Coast’s remote beaches, all the way to the Southern Alps’ highest peaks.
While it is widely known for its glaciers – especially the Fox Glacier and the Franz Josef Glacier – the park is also home to picturesque lakes, lush forests, rugged beaches, and wetlands.
On the West Coast, you can also see the remains of old gold mining towns.
Your exploration of this national park will take you to the most magnificent views and perhaps spot some wildlife, including the chance to see rare bird species such as the Southern Crested Grebe, the White Heron, and the Okarito Brown Kiwi.
Fox Glacier is one of the world’s most accessible ice rivers; it is also the longest of the glaciers in the West Coast.
This stunning glacier is spread out over 13 kilometers, and is named after New Zealand’s Prime Minister Sir William Fox after his glacier visit in 1872.
You can easily access the terminal face with an invigorating walk from Weheka (Fox Glacier Village).
Walking through a remote part of the area will take you to the stunning Victoria Falls, fed by the melting waters of the Victoria Glacier.
The magnificence of the glacier can also be seen from high above onboard a helicopter.
Go ice climbing on the terminal face to see the glacier’s most fascinating features up close!
Franz Josef Glaciers
The 7000-year old Franz Josef Glacier, along with the Fox Glacier, is one of the most accessible ice rivers in the world.
The German explorer Julius von Haast named it after Austria’s Emperor Franz Joseph I.
You can reach this 12-kilometer long glacier from the town bearing the same name with a 1.5-hour walk, which will take you to within 750 meters of the terminal face.
This dynamic glacier has a temperate environment (similar to that of Fox Glacier), making it easier and more comfortable to explore the breathtaking scenery that starts from the top of the Southern Alps, all the way to a rainforest that is almost at sea level.
Hotel on Day 4 – Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier
Close to the edge of one of the world’s most accessible glaciers is the Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier – where you will stay for a night to bask in the glacier’s splendor.
You will be as close as you can get to the Westland World Heritage Park as you relax amidst majestic mountains, lush vegetation, and exceptional facilities including a remarkable restaurant.
After an exciting day filled with thrilling adventures in and around the Franz Josef Glacier, unwind by treating yourself to a relaxing massage at the hotel’s luxury spa.
Day 5 – Journey on TranzAlpine Express
The final day of your South Island tour will take you through the gold rush replica town of Shantytown, the gold mining heritage town of Greymouth, and ends with a trip to Christchurch via a scenic ride on the TranzAlpine Express.
Shantytown Heritage Park is a recreation of a gold-rush town located in the South Island’s West Coast Region.
This cultural attraction is composed of 30 faithfully-recreated historic buildings that are part of a gold mining town during the 19th-century.
Go back in time and get the chance to pan for your own gold, see how a traditional sawmill works, or ride on a vintage steam train as part of your Shantytown experience.
Explore the rest of the town, see how Chinese gold miners lived in the 19th century, and pose for a vintage photo shoot in a saloon for a unique keepsake of this adventure.
Considered as the heart of the New Zealand West Coast, Greymouth has a rich history of gold mining, which is showcased in exhibits at the History House Museum.
As you go exploring around the town, you will encounter galleries that specialize in New Zealand jade (called pounamu).
Sample the products of the famed Monteith’s – the leading craft beer company in the country with more than 150 years of brewing experience and go for an enlightening & enjoyable tasting tour.
Popular outdoor activities in Greymouth, include fly fishing, sea fishing, caving, and rafting.
Your South Island adventure concludes with a journey from Greymouth to Christchurch onboard the TranzAlpine Express.
As one of the 10 best train journeys in the world, this ride is a marvelous adventure in itself.
This passenger train runs in New Zealand’s South Island through 223 kilometers of track, which will take almost five hours to be completed.
The train ride will showcase never-ending, breathtaking vistas that include miles of a beech forest, the majestic Southern Alps, the edges of the Waimakariri River, and the Canterbury Plains.
There is no better way to end such an epic experience than with this remarkable scenic train ride.