6 Days Itinerary for South New Zealand

NEW ZEALAND SOUTH ISLAND 6-DAYS ITINERARY BY A SOLO FEMALE TRAVELLER

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Travel Writing Contest

The following itinerary is written by a finalist of our writing contest, Xue Er.

Introduction

When one thinks about travelling in New Zealand with a limitation of time, the first question is often “North or South Island?”. As a firm believer of nature’s therapy away from the hurried footsteps of the city, I decided to explore the South Island of New Zealand, famed for its vast wilderness and breath-taking scenery.

As a city girl, I find myself intrigued and inspired by our inert strength and sheer will power that we are capable of, even outside the comfort and convenience of a city.

With that, I planned a 6-days self-drive itinerary across the South Island, starting from Christchurch and ending in Queenstown.

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

The entire journey from Christchurch to Queenstown could be made under 7 hours, but it is the quaint towns and afternoon cappuccinos on the way that make the fondest memories.

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Day 1: Christchurch

I landed at Christchurch International Airport and got my car from thrifty. There are many car rental companies in New Zealand and it is advisable for you to make the arrangements online prior to your arrival so that you are assured that you will have a car. You should apply for an international driving licence prior to arrival.


Driving in New Zealand is largely similar to Singapore, on the left side of the road (right-hand drive), however, one point to note is that there are awful lots of roundabouts and exits outside the airport, so don’t panic. As some roads are remote and mountainous, it is also strongly recommended to rent a GPS as well as it still is the most reliable source to ensure that you have a safe and smooth journey.

Orana Wildlife Park

This 80-hectare open-range zoo is about 15 minutes’ drive from Christchurch airport and can get you pretty up close to some of the most exotic animals like the lions and white rhinos.
The park is easy to navigate on foot and is suitable for all types of travellers including families with young children.

Opening Hours: 10am to 5pm daily (Last admission 4pm, closed on Christmas Day)
Cost: Adult $34.50, Children $9.50

Address: 793 McLeans Island Rd, Christchurch
Recommended time spend here: 2-3 hours
Website: http://www.oranawildlifepark.co.nz/

Cathedral Square

If you are into historical buildings, head over to Cathedral Square in the heart of Christchurch city. Part of the cathedral was destroyed during the 2011 earthquake and was still under restoration during my trip there recently, but the magnificence of the historical values behind this structure and the current ruins is still worth to take a brisk stroll around it.

Opening Hours: NIL
Cost: NIL
Address: Christchurch Central, Christchurch 8011
Recommended time spend here: 30min to 1 hour

New Regent Street

This is a nice quaint street a few minutes’ drive from the Cathedral Square, filled with restaurants, bars and coffee houses, it’s vibes are very similar to that of Arab Street in Singapore. The pastel colour architecture landscape adds vibrancy and heritage to Christchurch city and makes it a nice stop for meals or coffee.

However, a point to note is that most shops are only opened during the lunch and dinner hours, especially on weekdays. You will need to park at the nearby paid carpark and make your way down the street on foot.

Opening hours: 12-2pm and 6-10pm
Address: New Regent Street, Christchurch Central
Recommended time spend here: 1 hour

Jucy Snooze

My first night was spent at Jucy Snooze, an efficient, clean and functional capsule hotel just 10 minutes’ walk to Christchurch Airport. It is a street away from a small town where you can find Macdonald’s, some restaurants and a supermarket. There are shared cooking facilities and communal spaces with free wifi access in Jucy Snooze.

Cr: Jucyworld

Resembling a spa, there are plenty of clean bath facilities and toilets, this is crucial as there is no need to wait in queues for toilet or bathroom uses like some hostels. You will just have to bring your own towels, bath bag and toothbrush!

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

Jucy Snooze Capsule Pod

For a female solo traveller, I love the concept of a capsule pod as it is very budget friendly (approximately S$30 per night), is clean and functional and also provides privacy. Each pod
has its own charger points, blanket and a blind if you want privacy. For Jucy Snooze, each pod is also assigned with a small locker where you can put your valuables in. Point to note is
to always bring your own ear plugs and eye mask and you will be guaranteed a good night’s sleep. Coming from Singapore, it seems that capsule concepts are still frowned upon by many, but I do think this is a great concept of convenience, budget and privacy. You can choose an all-female room.

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

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Day 2 Destination: Geraldine

Christchurch – Darfield
Driving Distance: 48km
Driving time: 45min

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

Starting from Christchurch, I took the inland State Highway (SH) 76, transferring to SH 73 and subsequently to SH 77 for scenic farmland plains where you will catch glimpses of cattle,
sheep and even deer on the way.

Once driving out of Christchurch city, there aren’t many vehicles on the roads. New Zealand is generally a law-abiding country and is rather strict on speed limits, hence do keep to the speed limits. I generally drove at 70km/h to enjoy the scenery.

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This leg of the journey is generally straight with flat terrains, with many small towns in between for gas and coffee stops. Just look out for the big shop signs by the road side. Many of the restaurants or coffee houses have nice outdoor patios. Feel free to stretch your legs and enjoy the fresh air.

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Peel Forest

Driving Distance: 117km
Driving Time: 1h 30min

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Continue down SH 77 and the Inland Scenic Route (road signs are well displayed) and make a slight detour to Peel Forest. This forest is rather enchanting and once you are in the forest, you can drive endlessly along the windy forest roads.

Unless you are an avid mountain hiker, you would probably enjoy yourself and cover more distance in the comfort of the car. You may want to get out of the car for some photo taking, but do remember to only stop your car safely off the roads without blocking any traffic.

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

Peel forest is a mysterious forest that seems to be shrouded with fog throughout.

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Geraldine Town

Driving Distance: 21km
Driving Time: 20min

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Geraldine Town is an artistic town where you can explore the many shops featuring handicrafts, jewellery and art. It is a small but colourful town and I enjoyed myself having a late lunch, exploring the quaint shops and getting inspired by the many art studios and galleries.

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I think New Zealand serves one of the best Cappuccinos. Here I bought some fresh produce from the local supermarket for dinner and headed to the Airbnb I booked for the night in the nearby Orari.

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The beautiful backyard of the Airbnb I stayed in with its own barbeque pit, you just have to ask the friendly owner! It was a nice barbeque dinner for one, with beer that night, as I watched the sunset.

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Day 3 Destination: Lake Tekapo

Driving Distance: 46km
Driving Time: 40min

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After an early farm-style breakfast prepared by the friendly host, I set off for Fairlie on SH 79 to visit the highly anticipated alpacas at Gem Alpacas Farm.

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

Gem Alpacas Farm Stick on SH 79 and you will see the big farm sign before long!

This farm is truly a lovely place that spreads over large plains with many alpacas, llamas and sheep that you can interact with and come up close and personal with (without fence).

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These gentle animals are not only fluffy cute, they are also highly warm and intelligent (The sheep butted me from behind though).

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

The guide that brought me around was easy-going and knowledgeable, you just have to ask!

Do take note of the tour timings as that is the only chance you can access the actual paddocks.

Tour Hours:
Winter – 1st June to 30 Sept depart at 11am, 1pm and 3pm daily
Summer – 1st Oct to 31st May depart at 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm & 4 pm
Cost: $25
Recommended Time Spent Here: 1h 30min
Address: 18 Nixons Road, Fairlie
Website: https://www.gemalpacas.nz/home.html

The Garage Gallery

Continue driving on road (there’s only one road) you will see an art gallery literally in a garage, where local works are displayed and available for sale. New Zealanders are generally easy going and nice, and they don’t mind you even if you are just browsing.

Opening Hours: Unspecified
Cost: NIL (unless you buy something you love)
Recommended Time Spent Here: 30min to 1h
Address: 785 Fairlie-Tekapo Road
Website: http://garagegallery.co.nz/contact.html

Lake Tekapo

Driving Distance: 43km
Driving Time: 30min

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

Being one of the most famous views of New Zealand, Lake Tekapo is indeed breath-taking, albeit touristy. You will find bus loads of tourists at the main lake area.

Nevertheless, the lake is enormous and there will be a quiet spot or photo spot for everyone. From Fairlie to Lake Tekapo, you will be driving up-slope on a mountain (SH 8) at some points where you can prepare to see ice-capped mountains afar.

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

Nonetheless, the roads are wide and terrain is still relatively easy to manoeuvre. Mount John Observatory This famed observatory stands on one of the mountainous peaks near Lake Tekapo. As the world’s largest dark sky reserve in the Southern Hemisphere, free from light and air pollutants, many come to New Zealand to be awed by the stargazing experience. You can do so at Mount John Observatory by joining one of the night tours.

Tour Hours: Dependent on sunset timings
Cost: check tour packages
Recommended Time Spent Here: 1h 30min
Address: Tekapo 7999, New Zealand
Website: https://www.earthandsky.co.nz/night-tours/mt-john-observatory-tour

You can drive up to Mount John during the day as well to admire the serene landscape and blue lakes. A word of caution though, the roads up to Mount John is extremely steep and narrow, with some parts narrowing to a tight squeeze and the access road can get pretty congested. There is definitely some adrenaline rush here as you make your way down the winding elevation. Not advisable for new drivers, manual cars and if you are driving a huge Caravan (although I did see some huge RVs making their ways up and down).

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Day 4 Destination: Mount Cook

Driving Distance: 105km
Driving Time: 1h 15min

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I took a slight detour and made my way along SH 80 and SH8 to make a brief breakfast stop by Lake Pukaki. This lake is equally, if not more magnificent and away from the tourist crowds.

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

You can’t actually see any live salmon here, but there is a nice information centre by the lake that illustrates the alpine and its salmon rearing qualities and processes. Items sold here are fresh salmon sashimi, packaged smoked salmon and fresh caviar! It is not a cheap breakfast, but the experience eating out by the lake is priceless.

Opening Hours: 9am to 5pm
Cost: (box of sashimi) $12 NZD – (salmon fillet) $80 NZD
Recommended Time Spent Here: 1h
Address: State Highway 8, between Tekapo and Twizel
Website: https://alpinesalmon.co.nz/

Lake Pukaki

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

The drive along Lake Pukaki offers a seemingly never-ending view of the blue lake. The view changes dramatically as I entered the mountains.

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Temperature drops here too and there was slight rain. Nevertheless, the view is stunning as ever.

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

Old Mountaineers Café

Located in the centre of Aoraki Mount Cook Village, at the base of Mount Cook, this café is rich in historic character and offers stunning views of Mount Cook. Staying in Aoraki Mount Cook Village is costly but it makes a good rest point for lunch or afternoon tea. Stationed here are also highly experienced guides offering glacier skiing, alps hiking and glacier kayaking, you will have to contact them and pre-book any arrangements.

Opening Hours: 10am to 730pm (Closed on Mondays)
Cost: Food from $15 onwards
Recommended Time Spent Here: 1h
Address: Aoraki Mount Cook Village, Mount Cook 32
Website: http://www.mtcook.com/restaurant?

Kea Point Walk

If you are limited on budget and can’t afford to take a helicopter guided tour to see the glaciers, you can consider one of the short treks in Aoraki Mount Cook. One of the treks I tried was Kea Point Walk. Parking at Whitehorse Hill campground, around trip on foot to the peak is about 1hr 30min. While it is not the most treacherous hikes, it is quite a steep climb up the stairs for someone who doesn’t hike often. Nevertheless, it is still suitable for fit elderly and children. The views of the Southern Alps and Mueller Glacier Lake is absolutely worth the panting!

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

The ice-caps and glacier on the far end are melted as I visited in October (Spring), but the howling wind was still enough to numb your face.

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Twizel Town

The night’s accommodation was a lodge, few kilometres from Twizel Town where you will find local restaurants and bars, and restock your supplies from the gas station and supermarket. Twizel is the nearest town from Aoraki Mount Cook. Omahau Downs is live-farm with some rooms for stay, each room comes with a cosy patio overlooking Mount Cook. This is a much cost friendly option compared to a mountain lodge stay at the base of Mount Cook.

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Day 5 Destination: Wanaka

Driving Distance: 144km
Driving Time: 1hr 45min

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High Country Salmon

A short drive from Twizel town on SH 8 is High Country Salmon farm. You can stop here for some salmon viewing and feeding experience. Salmon products are in abundance here, you can have fresh salmon sashimi for breakfast here! This farm is rather populous with tourists as it is one of the stops for tour buses en-route to Queenstown.

Opening hours: 8am to 6pm
Cost: $12 onwards
Recommended Time Spent Here: 1h
Address: 2602 Twizel-Omarama Road, Twizel
Website: http://www.highcountrysalmon.co.nz/

Lindis Pass

Leaving the lush green and blue behind, straight on SH 8, the landscape changes drastically as you enter Lindis Pass. Here you will see bare rocky mountains as you climb up-hill, there are many look out points along the pass and valley with some parking spaces.

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

A point to note is that this leg of journey is mountainous, often meandering through narrow passes, has many sharp bends, constantly climbing uphill and down slope. For the safety of all, you should only park at look out points (not at the road side, as sharp bends limit visibility).

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Other than keeping within or slightly below the speed limit (some bends should go as low as 15km/h), this leg is a scenic and enjoyable one. You can always swerve to a road shoulder or look out point for faster vehicles to pass.

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

Hoglund Art Glass – Central Otago

I chanced upon this as I drove along the highway. Following the signs, I came to a house. This is the famed Hoglund Art Glass gallery on a hilltop. This is the house, doubling up as a gallery of celebrated Swedish glass artist, of Marie Simberg-Hoglund and Ola Hoglund. Although it seems intimidating, feel free to ring the bell and enter the gallery with a myriad of glass art and paintings, the Hoglunds are very friendly. Here, items as small as glass jewellery to huge display ornaments are available for sales.

Opening hours: Daily, 10am to 5pm
Cost: Unless you buy something
Recommended Time Spent Here: 30min to 1hr
Address: 1767 Luggate-Cromwell Road Cromwell, Central Otago
Website: https://www.hoglundartglass.com/new-zealand/central-otago/

Goldfield’s Mining Center

Continuing en-route to Wanaka, you will find Goldfield’s Mining Centre, an historic gold-mine that brought the first settlers into Central Otago. This is a nice way to understand early history of New Zealand with a friendly guide to demonstrate gold-mining equipment and try your luck at gold-panning (I didn’t have any luck though)!

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

Opening hours: Daily 9am to 5pm
Cost: $25 for tour
Recommended Time Spent Here: 1h
Address: State Highway 6, Kawarau Gorge, Cromwell
Website: https://www.goldfieldsmining.co.nz/

If you do not want to spend this money, you can also explore the grounds on your own and check out the store and restaurant. When all else fails, you can chill at the garden with resident puppies, Stanley and Toto!

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

Lake Hawea

This lake is approximately 17 minutes’ drive from the main Wanaka town and is much quieter away from crowds. This lake borders Mount Aspiring National Park.
Check out Sailz Lake Hawea to enjoy fish and chips while gazing the lake.

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Day 6 Destination: Queenstown

Driving Distance: 68km
Driving Time: 1hr 5min

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Lake Wanaka

The early morning was spent at Lake Wanaka. This is a truly mesmerising lake with crystal clear water. Here you will find a town with plenty of food options, picnic grounds and small craft shops.

The suggestion will be to slow down, explore the town and have a picnic by the lake.

Wanaka Lavender Farm

7 minutes’ drive on SH 84 will bring you to Wanaka Lavender Farm. Although lavender is seasonal, you should still visit this farm even during off-peak seasons because of the products
and the resident alpacas!

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

Opening hours: Daily 9am to 5pm
Cost: see website for details
Recommended Time Spent Here: 1h 30min
Address: 36 Morris Road, Wanaka 9382
Website: https://www.wanakalavenderfarm.com/

Arrowtown

Arrowtown is a quaint town just outside Queenstown. The streets are lined with many residential houses and some nice restaurants for a nice pit stop for lunch and some shop exploring. There are a handful of souvenirs, craft shops and art galleries for a good two to three hours duration.

Queenstown

As marketed online, Queenstown is one of the most visited tourist spots in New Zealand and home for the adrenaline junkies. If you like adventure sports like river rafting and bungee jumping, you should be in Queenstown. Queenstown is definitely a more crowded, touristy and busy city than Christchurch. Here you have no problems finding all sorts of international cuisines and imported products. Against the picturesque backdrop of endless mountains, water and a range of sights, no wonder Queenstown is such a popular place, albeit too crowded for my comfort and has long queues everywhere, even to a very dirty park toilet.

Glenorchy

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

Glenorchy is a small town located 45 minutes’ drive from Queenstown. By itself Glenorchy is not particularly attractive, but with limited time in New Zealand and desperate to escape the hordes of people in Queenstown, the short but calming drive to Glenorchy makes this side trip worthwhile.

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

Clift side drive to Glenorchy

Although the drive from Glenorchy to Queenstown is short, but the terrain is rather challenging with sharp bends, singular lanes, often with jutting rocks above the roads. Word of caution is to proceed slowly especially when road narrows and look out for flashing lights when approaching a bend, indicating oncoming traffic.

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

In Glenorchy you can walk on out on the banks, that’s about as close as you can get to the ice-capped mountains. With that marks the end of my New Zealand journey. I took a flight from Queenstown back to Christchurch before heading back to Singapore. This is a good option if you are constrained by time, and at the same time, you will also get to fly pass some magnificent views which make the domestic ticket price worth every penny.

Cr: Xue Er (SingaporeGO!)

Final Thoughts

As a footnote, my solo drive trip in New Zealand is truly memorable, often leaving me with a sense of awe and blissfulness. Driving in New Zealand is safe as long as you abide by the rules and be alert of hazards like always. Roads in New Zealand are definitely clearly marked and in good conditions even in remote areas, hence don’t worry about getting lost. There are many big and small towns along the journey, you don’t have to worry much about supplies and gas. During my trip, I opted to stay in various farmstays, Airbnb and capsule hotels. People are generally warm, helpful and friendly, as long as you ask and keep an open mind, you too will enjoy a state of bliss and liberation during your travels.

Queenstown Scenic New Nature Zealand Landscape

The cost of this journey is approximately SGD $3000 inclusive of air tickets (~$1200), accommodations (~$700) and other expenses. Depending on the car rental service you choose, you can pick up and drop off the vehicle at different cities. For convenience I chose Thrifty as the pick-up and drop off is conveniently located inside the Airport terminals. Do remember to check and report any damages before and after the rental to avoid any disputes.

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