Travel Itinerary: 3 Weeks in New Zealand – South Island

A Beginner’s Guide for when you’ve got only three weeks to explore New Zealand.

Last week, I’ve introduced a travel itinerary for when you’ve only got 3 weeks to explore New Zealand’s North and South Island. While I’ve suggested a possible route and things to do on the North Island last week, today I’ll give you suggestions on what to do and how to travel the South Island.

On the Inter Islander Ferry

What to do in New Zealand when you’ve got only three weeks: South Island

Just by looking at any map of New Zealand you can easily spot that the South Island is larger than the North Island. If you’re unaware of it by now, you should know that most of New Zealand breath-taking and unique natural wonders are situated on the South Island too. In other words, there is so much to explore in a short time. If you’ve figured out what you want to see and realize that most of it is on the South Island, you can always reduce the time you’d spend on the North Island.

Now, why am I telling you all this? There are several routes you could take when exploring the South Island. Of course you just could pick your top destinations randomly and call it your route. This freedom is one of the reasons why I love organizing all of my trips myself. If you’re unsure what the South Island has to offer, let me propose two routes to you: east coast vs. west coast


Route No. 1: East Coast

Picton: 1 Day
When taking the inter-island ferry from Wellington, you’ll arrive in Picton. While Picton is a beautiful tiny harbour town, a day or even half a day should suffice.

Kaikoura: 1-2 Days
The number one reason why people go to Kaikoura is, without a doubt, whale watching. Here are four companies offering whale watching activities. Generally, Kaikoura and its surrounding area has many outdoor activities to offer. Did you know that you could also swim with Seals in Kaikoura? Here are two companies for you to get more info on that.

Christchurch: 2 Days
Christchurch is a city that will always have a special place in my heart. I was lucky enough to visit Christchurch before the severe earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 that destroyed a great part of Christchurch beyond repair and cost the lives of many. While there is still a lot that might not be re-built yet, I’d still recommend everyone to at least go there for two days. One of my favourite travel vloggers, called Psycho Traveller, travelled to Christchurch and created an interesting video of what the city is like nowadays and what you might be able to do.

Christchurch city center in 2009

Dunedin: 2 Days
From Christchurch, you could then travel south to Dunedin. Dunedin is sometimes also called “the Edinburgh of the South” because of its history and architecture. In addition to visiting Dunedin’s breath-taking Railways Station, you could hike Baldwin street, the steepest street in the world!

Queenstown: 4-5 Days
The final stop on this route is the world capital of extreme sports, Queenstown. There is so much to choose from in regards to action sports that I won’t be able to list it here. A good start for you might be the tourism homepage of Queenstown. The other reason why Queenstown is so popular are the various day trips to places like Milford Sound or Mount Cook. I think one could spend three entire weeks just in Queenstown and still haven’t seen everything. From there you could either fly directly home, or back to Auckland for a day or two and then home.

An alternative route to explore New Zealand’s South Island is by touring the West Coast.

Mount Sunday

Route No. 2: West Coast

Picton: 1 Day
Once again, the journey would start at Picton.

Punakaiki: 1-2 Days
The next stop along the West Coast, I’d personally take would be at Punakaiki because I’ve already been to Nelson. While Nelson is a beautiful city and worth a visit if you have more than three weeks in New Zealand, there are so many beautiful places on the South Island that I’d skip Nelson if you have only three weeks. Now, back to Punakaiki. The reason why I chose this destination are the so called Pancake Rocks nearby.

Franz Josef: 2-3 Days
Heading south, the next stop would be in Franz Josef in order to see or even climb the Franz Josef Glacier. Since the Franz Josef Glacier is so close to the Fox Glacier, you could try and visit both.

Queenstown: 4-5 Days
As mentioned above, Queenstown has a lot to offer, including day trips to Milford Sound, so go and check out a local tourist info and see what you can and want to do.


Of course there is so much more you could do on the South Island and there are so many other ways you could explore all these destinations. You don’t have to just travel the East Coast or just the West Coast. This is, as mentioned before, just a starting point for you to create your own travel itinerary.

I hope this was helpful and insightful. If you’ve been to any of these places and have things to add or other recommendations then please help your fellow travellers and leave a comment down below!


3 thoughts on “Travel Itinerary: 3 Weeks in New Zealand – South Island

  1. Arthur’s Pass, Mount Cook and the Abel Tasman National Park are also absolute must-dos on the South Island for me. Three weeks definitely isn’t long enough – New Zealand just has so much to offer! A great post though and a good starting point for anyone planning their travels around NZ 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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