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New Zealand South Island Attractions You Must See On Your Road Trip

By 16 August 2016 April 5th, 2021 14 Comments

Kia Ora! Together with 3 other comrades, we took on New Zealand’s South island on a campervan. If you’re new to the word campervan, a campervan is a self-contained vehicle where you drive, cook, eat, sleep, and sometimes poop (if you really must) in the vehicle. Self-contained vehicles are allowed to park in campsites with even the most basic amenities (i.e. only a dump hole that acts as a toilet).

We rented a campervan for 10 days in May 2016 for NZ$500, including insurance. If you break the cost down, that’s $50 a day, and each person only pays $12.50 for the rental per day. This excludes petrol charges, of course, but I don’t think you can find a better deal elsewhere, considering we eat, sleep and move around the South in this vehicle.

You can get the detailed cost breakdown of our New Zealand trip in this post: Detailed Breakdown of My New Zealand Budget Trip; $2600 for 20 days!

Roads in New Zealand are really easy to drive. Take it from me. I’ve only gotten my driving license a month before hitting the roads in New Zealand, so when I say it’s easy, it really is.

bicycle cycling otago central rail trail clyde, new zealand

Cycling on Otago Central Rail Trail

The most challenging rides might be the winding ones en route to Queenstown (above), or whilst driving through snow. Otherwise, most of the roads are straight with mild bends. More on driving in New Zealand in another post.

It had been extremely challenging to plan our road trip around the South, as it involved multiple destinations and plenty of research. There was so much to do and see in the South that the only limiting factor was time and weather.

You almost cannot travel around New Zealand’s South without your own vehicle, because bus companies don’t go to all the picturesque locations. While everyone’s travelling pace and priorities might differ, there are certain attractions in the South you simply cannot leave without witnessing, for the sights are simply stunning.

New Zealand Road trip map on Google Maps

New Zealand Road trip map on Google Maps

Pictured above is an overview of the entire route which we took in 10 full days. If you’re planning an itinerary in the South, you can follow our South Island New Zealand itinerary here. We’ve been there, and done all the background work. Now we bring to you 19 of the best, unmissable spots of the South.

And so our adventure begins…

New Zealand South Island Itinerary

We went in a North to South route within the South Island, beginning our journey at Christchurch. After we picked up our car, we dove straight to a supermarket to stock up on food supplies, and raced to beat the dark by heading straight to Castle Hill.

1. Castle Hill/ Arthur’s Pass

Our main intention to come here was to climb. With hundreds of boulders splayed across hectares and hectares of land, the boulder choices were endless!

Only… we didn’t climb much because our fingers weren’t acclimatised to the cold and we were rather amateur at outdoor bouldering.

Watching the pros do it!

2. Lake Pearson

lake pearson, new zealand

This wasn’t an essential sight to catch, but since we camped here (with and in our campervan) overnight, we were greeted by a magnificent view of the still waters over Lake Pearson.

3. Franz Josef Glacier

Glacier Terminal Face, New Zealand | Bel Around The World

A town that is somewhat similar to Fox. We did our glacier hike at Fox Glacier, but went for the terminal face walk (a walk along the base of the glacier and is free) at Franz Josef. More information on how to access the terminal face walk in See New Zealand’s Glacier For Free!

4. Fox Glacier

fox glacier, new zealand

One of the greatest highlights was hiking this glacier that had us awestruck! My post, Hiking on Ice at Fox Glacier, New Zealand, regales my entire adventure flying and hiking atop this magnificent glacier.

5. Lake Matheson

lake matheson, fox glacier, new zealand

Lake Matheson, Fox Glacier

I lived in Fox Glacier for a good 4 months and had plenty of opportunities to visit this highly popular photo spot. Pretty pleased with the effect I finally got after multiple visits to it.

This one was taken at sunrise.

TIP: Go at sunrise or sunset for the best views and still waters. Day time usually brings about light wind and ripples (not to mention ducks) in the water, so you wouldn’t be able to get a perfect reflection shot.

6. Lake Paringa (Viewpoint)

lake paringa, new zealand

7. Knight’s Point (Viewpoint)

knight's point, new zealand

8. Ship’s Creek (Viewpoint)

ship's creek, new zealand

9. Haast Pass/ Blue Pools


A short 15-20 minute hike will get you this view over a suspension bridge. The colours change according to the weather and the amount of light that reflects into this water, so again, weather-permitting!

10. Lake Hawea (Viewpoint)

Hawea Lake, New Zealand

This big blue body rests between Blue Pools and Wanaka. It’s a spectacular sight to behold. Then again, almost everywhere in New Zealand is!

11. Lake Wanaka/ That Wanaka Tree


Rach captures some of the most breathtaking pictures of New Zealand. With over 48k followers on Instagram, it’s proof enough that her feed will inspire New Zealand wanderlust.

12. Roy’s Peak

If you’re looking for an easy hike, this is NOT for you. But if you’d do anything for a million-dollar shot and great views (especially at sunrise!), then give this a shot.

Total distance: 11km
Duration: 5-6 hours return
Directions: The track starts at the Roys Peak Track carpark, 6 km from Wanaka town

Also note that you cannot camp on this trek.

13. Queenstown

I was so thrilled as I drove in to Queenstown. First, it was the subtle change in the scenery. The leaves seem to have more colour here than anywhere else in the South in May. I swear I was not imagining this. As I drove into the heart of the town, there seemed to be more shops, more people, more life. Shops close past 10pm here, unlike smaller towns in the South that close by 6pm. Only then did it dawned on me what we had been missing while being on the road – civilization.

Granted, Queenstown is probably the most expensive town in the whole of South New Zealand, because it is where most of the tourist attractions can be found.

But this is also the place to get your adrenaline fuelled, and your adventure bucket list checked off. Skydiving, jet boating, bungee jumping, paragliding, horse riding… Just look at the 23 things you can do in summer in Queenstown! I was jumping on the inside at the prospect of trying them out!

But first, you’ve got to get your hands greasy with their famous Fergburger.

Give their bakery a shot too. It reminded me so much of typical French bakeries, that in every bite I took out of my croissant, I was oozing with glee.

14. Te Anau/ Milford Sound

milford sound waterfall

We booked a cruise tour with Jucy. There are plenty of tour operators online or in Queenstown. Do note that some operators do not operate in winter.

To be honest, I wasn’t too impressed with the Milford Sound tour. It felt too touristy. So on my second trip back to Te Anau with my parents, I’d worked with David Cary, who specialises in small group tours that showcases the beauty of Te Anau – yes, there is more to see than Milford Sound.

In fact, David has shown me how the journey to Te Anau was, in its entirety, much more dazzling than the fiord itself. We managed to get up close to a glacier and touch it without having to take a helicopter up, I could stand in the middle of the road to snap as many pictures as I want, and the best part?

Not only was he prompt at arriving at our accommodation to pick us up, David went above and beyond in his service. It was such a long drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau and back – yet this former tobacco-turned-beef farmer was chatting endlessly about birds and politics of New Zealand.

When asked about his decision to start this business in Te Anau, he described how endearing being away from everyone else that is Te Anau is, and that’s how he has set up home here.

If you enjoy photography, there’s no better place than New Zealand to start. With David guiding and showing you the best secret spots, you’ll be in good hands!

Just look at this field of lupins (that is my current wallpaper) he brought us to:

new zealand lupins Bel Around The World

15. Mirror Lake

16. Lindis Pass/ Mount Cook/ Hooker Valley

Hiking Hooker Valley, Mount Cook, New Zealand

En route while hiking on the Hooker Valley trail. Visiting New Zealand in winter does have its own set of scenery to marvel at!

This video sums up our hike on Hooker Valley when we were in Mount Cook.

17. Lake Pukaki

lake pukaki

If I haven’t mentioned already, it rains A LOT in New Zealand. While we went in May (the beginning of winter), summer in New Zealand would still require you to dress warm, especially when night falls. Because we went close to winter, it rained exceptionally much, and they were relentless. The only good hours were in the morning, before the sky would loom for the rest of the day. Sunrise is at 7.30am, and sunset begins at 4.30pm.

As such, we weren’t able to capture as much as we had hoped. I should make another trip to New Zealand, shouldn’t I? :/

18. Lake Tekapo/ Church of the Good Shepherd


Lake Tekapo is the site of New Zealand’s premier scientific astronomy observatory, Mt John Observatory. The observatory site was chosen in 1963 for the clarity and darkness of the night sky. In other words, the skies are almost totally free from light pollution, making it one of the best stargazing sites on Earth.

This is a must-visit on every New Zealand itinerary.

When we reached Tekapo, it fell on a cloudy night (chances of getting a clear night sky in winter is slim!), so we got a shot of the Church of Good Shepherd in the daylight instead!

19. Christchurch

Night sky Birdlings Flat Christchurch

Just when we thought we’d be leaving New Zealand without witnessing a Milky Way, let alone the Southern Lights, we caught the Milky Way in the unlikeliest place – at Christchurch!

We left Christchurch town at 12 midnight and drove an hour out of town to Birdlings Flat just for this capture. It certainly was well worth the drive and the cold. Birdlings Flat appeared to be a deserted flat land when we went in the dark, bordering creepy. The only light that illuminated us came from the moon. There and then, we were one with nature.

We were based in Christchurch for 5 days before flying off to Melbourne, and while it is not the most happening town (most of New Zealand’s shops close by 5, anyway), we managed to fit some day trips out of Christchurch. More on that next time!

20. Nelson

vineyard cycle, Great Taste Trail Nelson, New Zealand

And if you ever are in the northern tip of the South island, Tasman’s Great Taste Trail is a good trail to cycle and get the best of the region’s wineries!

Planning for a road trip in New Zealand can be a headache and extremely time-consuming. But trust me, it’ll all be worth it in the end when you road trip goes ahead without glitches.

You’re welcome to shoot me a message if you have any queries that I haven’t covered in detail!

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Isabel Leong

Isabel Leong

An explorer at heart, the world is Isabel's playground. She enjoys seizing every moment exploring every hideout and doing the unimaginable, like bungee jumping in Phuket and couchsurfing in Europe. If she had wings, she’d definitely be soaring right now. Also a fitness trainer, if she’s not at the gym, you can find her doing yoga or rock climbing! Read more about her on belaroundtheworld.com/about.


  • Awesome to read this. I’m actually from Christchurch so I love hearing about other people’s experiences around the South Island. Christchurch still has a lot of recovery happening post-earthquake. Been 5 years but progress is so slow. Next time you’ll need to explore more of Banks Peninsula, also head up to Nelson and do the Abel Tasman National Park – and if you really want to go the extra mile, cross over to little old Stewart Island at the bottom of the country!

    • Isabel Leong says:

      Hi Juliette! I’ve been to Christchurch – stayed there for more than 4 days! The post-earthquake recovery is still very real and evident in this town. Thank you for your recommendation! I’m considering doing a working holiday there… But there are so many things to consider and so I haven’t made up my mind! :/

  • Isabel Leong says:

    Thanks Lauren! It really is! Let me know if you do. I can share my itinerary with you! 🙂

  • Jessica says:

    The glaciers are really stunning! This is a great way to get around. I’m always afraid to drive when abroad, though. :/

    • Isabel Leong says:

      It is! Can’t find it in every country so we figured we had to check this off in NZ! I hear you – we were very worried about driving in NZ initially too! I have an upcoming post addressing concerns about driving in NZ. Feel free to subscribe to the blog to be notified when it’s published Jess! 🙂

  • Elaine McKellips says:

    These photos are beautiful!! New Zealand is on my list. Loved this post!
    xx, E

  • Michelle says:

    I did a similar trip back in 2010, driving a campervan across the South Island with friends. It was completely and totally breathtaking, as your post shows. I am curious about one thing: how did you pick Instagrammers to feature here? And why? I guess this is sort of a blogging about blogging question so feel free to email respond to michelle@mishvoinmotion.com


    • Isabel Leong says:

      I was just scrolling through my favourite Instagrammers and figured those photos they took were too pretty not to share and found them very apt for this post! But I also sought permission from them to share it. Hope that answers your question!

  • Kirsten says:

    I stopped at a lot of the same places as you when I went around the South Island but we got a few travel delays that cut a few things out! Those blue pools look amazing!


  • Lianne says:

    Awesome blog post, and amazing pictures! Just one thing… you said that it’s always cold in NZ and you’d need to dress warm even in the summer – this definitely isn’t true for all of New Zealand! In the north island it gets very warm in the summer, and nights are very hot too! But you’re mostly right about the South Island, it’s definitely a bit colder down there 🙂

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  • Vishal Mehta says:

    Hi Isabel. Read many of your posts on New Zealand. Amazing work and seems like you had a great time with many adventures. What excursions / day trips did you do from Christchurch? Did you make it to Kaikoura – is it worth the time/drive to whale watch there?

  • Johnny says:

    I am thinking going alone to Southern New Zealand this coming January 2019. I don’t drive. Can you recommend me the cheapest package tour starting from Christ Church around the scenic place for
    14 days. I heard some Chinese tour operator can offer a cheaper package.

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