Book a Self-Drive Tour of New Zealand's South Island

Here’s What to Expect When You Book a Self-Drive Tour of New Zealand

Here’s your roadmap to the wanderlust-inducing mysteries of the South Island!

Driving around a bustling metropolitan can get old so fast. If you find yourself tired of driving around the same roads and seeing the same buildings, might we suggest a self-drive tour of New Zealand and taking a breath of fresh air in South Island? This island is home to the world’s most stunning landscapes and heart-racing activities while providing exciting, in-depth opportunities to learn about their culture and history.

Wide roads and natural wonders unique to the place makes South Island a perfect destination for self-driving tourists. It leaves your road trip itinerary manageable while also letting you dictate its pace. The towns you pass will offer hospitality, cosy accommodations, delicious food, and travel experiences that you will treasure for the rest of your life. 

On top of this, South Island has the largest landmass out of all the islands in New Zealand. Its mountains, forests, and lakes can be staggering to explore on your own. Here’s how you can experience the invigorating adventures that South Island holds for every inquisitive traveller. 

A self-drive tour that highlights both the journey and the destination

Due to how massive South Island is, self-driving tours are popular options to enjoy its top tourist spots. This ten-day tour package from Chan Brothers gives a detailed roadmap of what to look forward to when touring the island. This comprehensive itinerary assures that you get to enjoy your trip to the fullest, from hospitable lodgings to breathtaking attractions, all while learning about the island’s deep history and culture. It can also save you time, allowing you to indulge in South Island’s beauty and wonder.

Also read: The Greatest Escape: 3 Steps for Planning the Best Cross-Country Road Trip

Every turn of the road is a scenic view of the NZ mainland, making South Island your perfect self-driving tour. Fortunately, renting a car is easy too. Just make sure to book a car rental on the day of your arrival at Christchurch Airport so you can hit the road as soon as you land.

Riding down Rakaia River and Mt. Hutt

From here, we depart for Methven, but it is an absolute must that you stop by the river town of Rakaia.

Salmon Fishing in Rakaia

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Located at the southern riverbank of Rakaia River, it is known as a fly fishing spot that teems with plump salmon year-round.

Close by is Rakaia Gorge, a prime jetboating destination for those wanting a rugged expedition.

Riding a Hot Air Balloon Over Canterbury Plains

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You might also consider riding on a hot air balloon to witness a majestic view of Canterbury Plains.

Ski Slopes on Mt Hutt

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On the way to Methven, you will surely pass by Mt. Hutt, which turns into a haven for snow sports enthusiasts come June. The mountain base facility is a great parking spot for your car should you want to try out skiing. This mountain is known throughout the world for its vast slopes and soft snow. You can apply for a pass for their ski lifts and if you’re interested, qualified instructors are there to teach skiing lessons. Don’t worry about bringing skiing gear because they have that covered as well. You’ll be shredding snow in no time.

Opuke Hot Springs

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Skiing truly gives an indescribable thrill but it can cause significant burnout to the body. Luckily, you can swing by Ōpuke Thermal Pools & Spa to help recover from the strain. Whether you want to rejuvenate in solitude with their Tranquillity Pools or spend time with your kids through the winding rivers of the Discovery Pools, this beautiful hot spring will help you re-energise for the rest of your trip.

Also read: 10 Fantastic Reasons Why You Should Visit New Zealand

Peace and solitude in The Church of the Good Shepherd

The Church of the Good Shepherd

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After that exhilarating introduction to South Island comes the peaceful drive to The Church of the Good Shepherd. This historical structure is surrounded by nature’s grandeur, beautifully framing the Southern Alps from its windows, beside the clear waters of Lake Tekapo. Its fields are flourishing with elegant lupine flowers and the view? Simply unforgettable. For the time and space to reflect, this humble respite welcomes you.

Lake Tekapo

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Speaking of reflection, the clear Lake Tekapo will always give anyone’s reflection when you glance at its turquoise waters. These waters come from the tip of the Southern Alps, giving the lake constant low temperatures. Make sure to take a photo here before leaving for Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park. Take your time to rest here and recover energy for your self-drive tour.

Taking on the breathtaking terrain of Aoraki Mt. Cook

Aoraki Mt Cook

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Aoraki Mt. Cook boasts the highest peak in New Zealand; and at its foot rests the thriving village of the same name. Instead of concrete from the metro, the South Alps act as skyscrapers with snow as far as the eye can see. We suggest rolling down your windows for Aoraki Mt. Cook’s fresh cool mountain air. Fortunately, this mountain is big enough to accommodate hikers of any experience. Even if it’s your first time, locals are ready to guide you through hiking trails that will let you learn more about this multifaceted mountain.

Self-Drive Tour through Aoraki Mt Cook

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Glencoe Walk offers manageable terrain perfect for the casual hiker; the hike duration isn’t too bad either. Plus, it’s near the village — the path begins behind Hermitage Hotel. Tōtara trees inhabit this path and lead to a breathtaking overview of the mountain, from its long glaciers, snow-capped hills, and mighty rivers.

Kea Point Walk

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Kea Point Trail is a path for those who wish to uncover the mysteries of the vast mountains. This path also starts near Hermitage Hotel and should take around 45 mins to complete. Kea Point Trail is another straightforward gravel path that takes you through a majestic valley that frames Mt. Sefton from the ground.

Hooker Valley Walk

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For the adventurous hiker, trekking Hooker Valley Trail is a rewarding experience. From end to end, it will take about two to three hours to clear this trail but the landscape is what makes visitors want to come back. There are small inclines and swing bridges to cross but nothing too hard to handle.

Big Sky Stargazing

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If you want to relax and maybe enjoy the climate without going too far, Hermitage Hotel offers an experience you might find interesting. If the weather permits, Big Sky Stargazing is a 1-hour tour of the stars by viewing the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserves through high-powered telescopes or just the bare eye. The experience is beyond belief, almost otherworldly, to see so many stars that aren’t obscured by imposing buildings and aggressive neon lights.

Also read: 10 Best Places to See Southern Lights — Tasmania, New Zealand & More!

Alpine Salmon in Aoraki Mt Cook

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Finally, get a taste of the world-famous Aoraki Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon before leaving for Queenstown. The consistently fresh quality of their salmon is a testament to how the mountain’s natural waters play a part in nourishing wildlife and locals. You can also have them cooked at camping sites near the end of the mountain trails.

Also read: 5 Best Hikes in New Zealand’s Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park

A breath of the wild and a taste of luxury in Queenstown

A four-hour drive away from Aoraki Mt. Cook is the city of Queenstown, where visitors can find themselves enjoying breaking beyond their limits, figuratively and literally. 

Queenstown Otago Miles Holden

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For some, it is a hub for activities that excite the senses by giving you a front seat in the face of danger.

Nevis Bungy Jump

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Ever wondered how Superman felt whenever he zips through the air at unbelievable speeds? Maybe trying out the Nevis Catapult will give you a pretty close perspective. This human catapult will shoot you 150m across Nevis Valley, followed by a rebound that you wouldn’t trade in the world for anything else.

Luge Riding in Queenstown

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Now here’s a self-driving attraction, in more ways than one. If you prefer your thrills close to the ground, Luge rides in Skyline Queenstown let you hop on specialised karts powered by gravity. Riding downhill with winding turns, dips, and tunnels is better than it sounds with these luge rides; we’re sure that you’ll want more than one go. Kids are also allowed to ride luge karts, making this adrenaline-inducing experience exceptional at any age.


Horseback Riding in Queenstown

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For an intimate experience with nature, there are several horseback trek trails with unforgettable landscapes special to Queenstown. There are easy river trails for beginners but if you’re willing to spend half a day, you could tour the sprawling fields from where The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed. It is as fantastical as it sounds.

Biking on a Queenstown Winery

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Queenstown wineries make for wonderful pitstops for your self-drive tour, too. Central Otago is highly-revered in the worldwide wine industry for being an exceptional terroir for grapes. Wine cellars are everywhere in Queenstown and they pride themselves in their exquisite fermentation processes, which have been passed down from one generation to the next. If you fancy becoming an overnight expert on wines to impress your friends, taking a lesson from their sommeliers isn’t a bad idea.

The Rees Lakeview Hotel

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You’ll likely stay in Queenstown for two to three days to explore and indulge. Fortunately, The Rees Hotel and Luxury Apartments can accommodate you as it gives you a taste of what to expect when enjoying Queenstown. This hotel is situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu with most of its suites generously featuring beautiful and sweeping lakefront views.

Mt Nicholas Station

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Cap off your stay in Queenstown by boarding a water taxi to Mt. Nicholas Farm, located on the other side of Lake Wakatipu. This family-run farm gives you a glimpse of the merino wool industry while enjoying the scenic marriage of clearwater lakes alongside imposing mountains. It is a relaxing space and a perfect summary of Queenstown’s beauty and tireless passion.

A showcase of creativity and fortitude in Wanaka

From Queenstown, we drive to yet another scenic route to Wanaka. Spend half a day here for two truly unique attractions. Prepare your patience and expect the unexpected in the mischievous Puzzling World and learn why That Wanaka Tree has become a symbol of inspiration for locals.

Puzzling World Tower

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Puzzling World is an eccentric park that will arouse the imagination at any and every chance it gets. It will play with your wits at every turn in The Great Maze and it will amuse you to no end with its numerous Illusion Rooms. Puzzling World provides more riddles and challenges in their cafe too for a more relaxed and leisurely pace. Be sure to relax after going through Puzzling World, though. You might doubt reality while driving!

That Wanaka Tree

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One look at what most people call That Wanaka Tree and you could tell that it wants to share a story. The solitary tree seems to grow out of the water with the mysterious Southern Alps and valleys serving as its background. It has been the subject of tourist destruction for many years, both intentionally and unintentionally, but the fact that its resilience still draws many people today is poignant and impressive.

As your trip to Wanaka concludes, you can choose to drive to either one of the twin glaciers, Fox and Franz Josef. Apply for a Golden Chain Blue Pass for easy and convenient accommodations as you explore any of the glacial townships.

Above, inside, and around the twin glaciers

Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glaciers are some of the largest and most beautiful ice formations known on Earth. As you make the drive towards their townships, you may also stop by to get a view of the stunning lakes that surround their vicinity. Each of them possesses crystal clear waters that reflect the Southern Alps, almost priding itself as the perfect photo opportunity. This is what self-driving tours in South Island is all about!

Self-Drive Tour View in South Island

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Choose from either one of these townships and arrange a local heli-hike. The experience of exploring these ice formations is like nothing you will ever see. Do not miss the chance!

Fox Glacier

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The tour begins once you board the helicopter where you will be treated to a gorgeous eyeful as you hover over these ancient wonders. Upon landing, the guided tour on the ice glacier will take you through an entirely different world. Hiking the trails leading to high peaks of the glacier will reward you with a breathtaking view of the valleys, where you can seemingly reach out and grab onto the surrounding mountains. 

After that thrilling hike, you can rest for the night and travel to Hokitika.


Cultivate and empower your mana in Hokitika

Hokitika Coast

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Hokitika was founded on the west coast of South Island as far back as 1860. Among the Māori, jade made from Hokitika is highly sought after as they are believed to be strong materials for making durable pounamu. Gold is also believed to have been found as the area’s riches and was a site for prospectors once news broke out. 


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Pounamu are treasures that were traded among tribes and are popular as pendants. However, pounamu are not limited to tools and even weapons. Master jade carvers in Hokitika will happily lend their talents and services to tourists if they want to have a pounamu of their own carved. Have some made for your friends as souvenirs to strengthen mana reserves!

Use your newly restored mana as strength to drive to Greymouth in the afternoon for more activities before riding the TranzAlpine back to Christchurch.

Learning the historical riches of Greymouth

Greymouth is the largest town on the west coast of South Island. Being a gold mining town and a centre of jade trade as its origin of founding, it is naturally lively and filled with activities on every corner. Like Queenstown, the town also attracts adrenaline junkies as natural formations, lakes, and forests are ripe for exploration and adventure. It is a town filled with life and is also home to Monteith’s, a legendary beer brewery famous in the area. Make sure to try a swig!

Shantytown Heritage Town

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To learn about Greymouth’s extensive history, Shantytown Heritage Park has many attractions that immerse visitors in New Zealand’s formative years.


Paparoa Track

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For adventures on two wheels, the rugged and historic Paparoa Track can be accessed by helicopter and rewards bikers looking for a challenge. Paparoa Shuttles has a comprehensive list of services for tourists who would like to embark on this adventure.

Monteiths Brewery

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Cap your trip in Greymouth with a tour of Monteith’s, the well-loved brewery we mentioned a while back. Enjoy its wide range beers, from award-winning recipes to craft concoctions.

To conclude your trip in Greymouth, book your car to be returned at the train station and hop aboard the Tranz Alpine. 


A breathtaking train ride back home

Going back to Christchurch via TranzAlpine from Greymouth is a comforting reflection to conclude your self-drive tour of South Island. From the West Coast, the rail will cut through an incredible series of landscapes as you rest inside a warm carriage before reaching Christchurch, acting almost like a summary of your unforgettable journey. The trip will take from the afternoon until the early evening. 

Tranz Alpine

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Once you get off the train, you can explore or shop for souvenirs should time permit before boarding the plane home.

Those who’ve been to the South Island can attest to its natural beauty. Every route and turn is something new, and every stop can be quite extraordinary. One thing is for certain: With different experiences and adventures tailored for all walks — or, in this case, drives — of life, your self-drive tour to South Island will be unforgettable.

Brought to you by Tourism New Zealand. 

About Author

Aldous Vince Cabildo
Aldous Vince Cabildo

Ever since growing up, Aldous learned how to look at things from an historical perspective. So whenever the opportunity to travel arises, he makes sure to go to places that contain local stories and memories. From there, he takes in the lessons from the past and picks out what to learn, or should it interest him, what to unlearn. At any chance he gets, he also makes sure to try out local cuisine. When not charting his next destination, Aldous likes to explore worlds found in video games, hip-hop, film, and professional wrestling. He is a proud resident of Tondo.