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South Island Road Trips

Explore the range of touring routes to Wanaka

Driving on the South Island roads of New Zealand is a great experience, with relatively quiet roads and some of the most amazing scenery right outside the window.

Wanaka sits in the centre of the lower South Island and is on two of the three main South Island touring routes which pass such iconic places as Aoraki Mt CookFox and Franz Josef Glaciers and Milford and Doubtful Sounds.

Download the South Island Touring Routes map

South Island Touring Routes

Plan Your Trip

There are 3 main touring routes around the South Island but you can mix and match them or just add on our detours if you have a little bit of extra time.

  1. Top of the South Circuit – 1,000km
    Highlights: 
    Beaches, whale watching & native wildlife, vineyards of Marlborough, hot springs, alpine scenery and Abel Tasman National Park
    Included in this tour:
    Kaikoura, Blenheim, Nelson, Golden Bay, Punakaiki, Hanmer Springs, Christchurch and Akaroa if you have time.


  2. Ocean to Mountains Circuit - 1,230km
    Highlights: 
    Glaciers, mountains, wild beaches, lakes, native forests, vineyards, Mt Cook, Arthurs Pass & Mt Aspiring National Parks – UNESCO World Heritage Areas
    Included in this tour:
    Fox & Franz Josef Glaciers, Lake Matheson, Wanaka, Queenstown, Mt Cook, Tekapo, Christchurch and Akaroa if you have time.


  3. Southern Nature Circuit -  1,250km
    Highlights: 
    Mountains, fiords, native wildlife, deserted beaches, surf, vineyards, Fiordland National Park – UNESCO World Heritage Areas
    Included in this tour:
    Wanaka, Queenstown, Milford & Doubtful Sounds, Invercargill, Catlins Coast, Dunedin, Moeraki, Oamaru and Stewart Island if you have time.

If you have time, then it is possible to put these touring routes together and come up with a longer route around the South Island. But remember that the roads are quite different in New Zealand and driving between places will take you longer than you think. Try to travel no more than 200km a day as you will be stopping on a regular basis to take photos and enjoy the stunning scenery. Ideally, to do all 3 touring routes, you should allow a minimum of three weeks.

Even if you're an experienced driver, it's worth checking out our Driving in New Zealand page to find out more about what it's like to drive on New Zealand roads. 

And remember to always drive on the left-hand side.

Additional Highlights

Here's a few of the attractions and activities you can do on each of these touring routes - slow down, take your time and enjoy the trip!

Top of the South Circuit
Make sure you don’t miss:

- The hot springs at Hanmer Springs
- Whale watching at Kaikoura
- Wine tasting at the vineyards in Marlborough
- The Marlborough Sounds
- Walk or bike the Queen Charlotte Track
- Visit the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim
- The World of Wearable Art & Classic Cars Museum in Nelson
- Walk or kayak in Abel Tasman National Park
- Visit Farewell Spit, Wharariki Beach and Anchorage
- Seal colonies at Westport
- Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki
- Monteith’s Brewery at Greymouth
- Trans Alpine Train journey & Arthurs Pass viaduct
- The Antartic Centre & The Christchurch Art Gallery 
- Orana & Willowbank Wildlife Parks
- The Christchurch Adventure Park on the Port Hills
- The botanic gardens and punting on the Avon
- Akaroa, French village & swim with the dolphins

If you have time:
Visit Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula and explore this lovely little town and swim with the dolphins.

Ocean to Mountains Circuit
Make sure you don’t miss:

- Trans Alpine Train journey & Arthurs Pass viaduct
- Monteith’s Brewery at Greymouth
- The West Coast Wilderness Trial – MTB ride
- Tree Top Walk - Hokitika
- Hokitika and the history of pounamu (greenstone)
- Okarito lagoon - visit the white herons
- Mirror-clear Lake Matheson
- Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers – walk or fly
- Lake Paringa salmon farm
- Haast Pass scenic drive
- Wanaka – Roys Peak Track, #thatwanakatree, Rob Roy Glacier
- Scenic flight & Milford Sound cruise from Wanaka to save time
- The Crown Range Road - highest paved highway in New Zealand
- Cardrona Hotel - historic gold mining hotel
- The Cardrona Distillery
- Lake Hayes and Amisfield
- Arrowtown - quaint little town
- Bungy jumping - stop to watch or give it a go
- Wine tasting - Gibbston Valley vineyards
- Historic gold mining centre in the gorge
- Fresh fruit in season
- Cromwell - visit the old historic town centre
- Vineyards around Lake Dunstan
- Hoglund Glass showroom
- Archangel Vineyard - near Luggate
- Wanaka Airport attractions and activities
- Lindis Pass – photo opportunity
- Twizel Salmon Farm
- Mt Cook Village 
- Lake Pukaki with views of Aoraki Mt Cook
- Fairlie Bakery - famous for its pies
- Lake Tekapo - Mt John Observatory & Church of the Good Shepherd

If you have time:
Add on Milford or Doubtful Sounds or visit Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula and explore this lovely little town and swim with the dolphins.

Southern Nature Circuit 
Make sure you don’t miss:

- Wanaka – Roys Peak Track, #thatwanakatree, Rob Roy Glacier
- Scenic flight & Milford Sound cruise from Wanaka to save time
- The Crown Range Road - highest paved highway in New Zealand
- Cardrona Hotel - historic gold mining hotel
- The Cardrona Distillery
- Arrowtown - quaint little town
- Lake Hayes and Amisfield
- Bungy jumping - stop to watch or give it a go
- Wine tasting - Gibbston Valley vineyards
- Take a trip on the historic TSS Earnslaw
- Skyline Gondola and luge
- Drive down Lake Wakatipu around the Devils Staircase
- Te Anau township
- Lake Manapouri
- Homer Tunnel & the Milford Road drive
- Milford Sound & boat cruise
- Doubtful Sound overnight cruise
- Riverton and the southern beaches
- Burt Munro – AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame
- Transport World and a chance to drive a digger
- McLeans Falls
- Papatowai – the lost gypsy
- Curio Bay – see the dolphins & fossils
- Nugget Point lighthouse
- Cadbury’s World, Speights & Emerson Breweries in Dunedin
- Dunedin Farmers Market, street art and museums
- Otago Peninsula - castles and wildlife 
- Moeraki Boulders, Fleurs Place & nearby Riverstone Kitchen
- Oamaru – penguins, old town area, historic buildings and steam punk
- Ride part of the Alps to the Ocean cycle way in the Waitaki Valley
- Twizel Salmon Farm
- Lindis Pass – photo opportunity

If you have time:
Take a detour up to Mt Cook or cross the Foveaux Straight (by boat or plane) and explore Stewart Island and the amazing bird life before heading back to Wanaka and Queenstown.

 

If you would like help planning your travel itinerary or booking accommodation and activities then our i-SITE Visitor Centre can help you plan and organise your holiday.

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