New Zealand South Island: Scenic Locations to Visit by Car
In New Zealand, the roads are good and the traffic is light. This makes driving easy and fun, and with a car, bike or campervan, visitors can see all the great sights on South Island.
With cool alpine lakes, beautiful mountain views, rolling farmland, awesome fjords and fewer people, the South Island is a great place for the ultimate scenic experience holiday.
Check out our top easy to drive scenic routes on the South Island of New Zealand.
1. Queenstown to Milford Sound
Queenstown is on the shores of a beautiful lake that offers jet boating, bungee jumping, sky diving, skiing in the winter and horse trekking as well as river rafting throughout the year. This is the place to go for an adrenaline rush. Mt. Aspiring National Park is just a short drive from the city and has many walking trails through the forest. Beginning in Queenstown and following the shore of Lake Wakatipu, travellers get fantastic views of the mountains aptly named The Remarkables. The road goes past several locations of Middle Earth and places where visitors can pan for gold.
The loop from Christchurch to Kaikoura, the Waipara vineyards and Hanmer Springs and back to Christchurch is 451 kilometres. The largest city on South Island, Christchurch is only after Auckland in size. Called the Garden City because the city is full of trees and with Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens, it has a city park larger than Central Park in New York. There are some fantastic museums and galleries in the city including the Christchurch Art Gallery, Canterbury Museum with natural history and Maori sections and Ferrymead Heritage Park, which is a recreated Edwardian township and a museum.
Kaikoura is a small town that is famous for its crayfish dishes. It is on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and bordered by high mountains. In some places, the mountains emerge straight from the sea. It is a feeding ground for whales, seals and dolphin and visitors can kayak with the mammals and even swim with dolphins and seals. On the way to Hanmer Springs visitors enjoy the wine tasting at the many vineyards and pick up some fresh olive oil. Hanmer Springs has hot pools and places for massage as well as excellent restaurants.
4. Lake Te Anau
This is the biggest lake in the South Island and the right place to begin a journey into Fiordland National Park. The lake disappears into the Murchison Mountains, but first visitors should see the shops and restaurants on the lake. Milford Road is the best way to reach Milford Sound. It is 119 kilometres long and gradually the mountains become steeper and steeper.
5. Fiordland National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage site, this park is possibly the most spectacular natural wonder in New Zealand. The mountains jut right from the sea and there are high waterfalls that cascade directly into the dark water. The park has over 1,000 waterfalls of all sizes. This area has not changed for thousands of years.
Visitors can cruise the sound on a boat or take a kayak and follow the dolphins. There are many trails for hiking, which is one of the best ways to enjoy and be overwhelmed by the scenery. A helicopter tour is another way to see the sights, and some people think it’s the best way. There are 14 fiords that were created 100,000 years ago. The Maori believed the fiords were carved from the mountains by a giant stonemason.