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South Island's Best Road Trips

21 September 2023

As summer is fast approaching, partaking in a quintessential South Island road trip over the coming months is starting to feel within our grasp. Imagine that uniquely warm feeling of the sun on your face as you drive down the scenic coastline, blasting all of your favourite tunes. 

With just a little bit of planning, you can make this summer one to remember. Where would you like to stop? Whether your bucket list includes eating seafood in Kaikoura, visiting wineries in Blenheim, or exploring a castle, we have collated a list of the must-see sights in the South Island. Find out where all the best spots are to plan the ultimate South Island road trip!

How long does it take to drive around the South Island?

If you want to make the full trip from the top of the South Island right down to the bottom, this is 840km of driving to cover. In ideal conditions with no delays, it should take you up to 14 hours to get from the ferry at Picton all the way to the deep south at Bluff.

Of course, in practice, it will take you much longer than that to make the journey as there are plenty of unmissable sights and holidays spots along the way! Plan to take at least a week to make your trip, as there are heaps of things to see and do on your way down south. You could easily spend a couple of months making sure that you leave no stone unturned in the South Island. 

Unmissable South Island Road Trip Spots


Queenstown is an extremely popular place to visit! You can see why it's such a popular holiday destination with fantastic skiing options across the Remarkables or at Coronet Peak. 

If you're heading there on a summer road trip, there's still plenty of exciting activities to do in Queenstown. From visiting the sparkling opalescent waters of Lake Wakatipu to traversing one of the many local cycle trails, you're sure to have a blast! For the hardcore adrenaline junkies, you could complete a bungee jump or even sky dive out of a plane.


While you may have heard of Christchurch because of the earthquakes the city has experienced, this city is full of delights for its visitors! As it is over 10 years since the quakes, Christchurch has had plenty of time to rebuild. Recent additions include the Margaret Mahy Playground, which contains fun and adventure for adults and kids alike.

You can't miss a gondola ride up the Port Hills to get the best view of the city or a trip to the museum to marvel at ancient relics. 

West Coast

Ever wished you could experience the Ice Age just for the day? Heading over to the West Coast of the South Island offers you this opportunity! Visit the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers to see ice for miles around. Take a walk along the stunning river valley to reach the foot of the Franz Josef glacier and admire the ice formations developed over centuries.


Dunedin is a city filled with unique and memorable heritage buildings, including its very own castle. Modelled after the city of Edinburgh in Scotland, Dunedin is reminiscent of the homeland of some of our ancestors while maintaining its own unique identity.

As it is a student town during the year, Dunedin often empties out around November as students finish their exams. If you choose to visit during the summer months, you'll be able to enjoy exploring the city at a leisurely pace, without all of the usual crowds.

South Island Road Trip Itineraries

Dunedin to Invercargill

Distance: 240km

How Long to Allow: 3+ Days

Best place to stop: The Catlins 

The Catlins is one of the locals' best-kept secrets in the South Island. You're not likely to come across this rugged and untamed region of New Zealand unless you happen to be travelling between Invercargill and Dunedin.

To visit the Catlins, you could start from either Dunedin or Invercargill. Alternatively, make it part of a longer trip, including Queenstown as well by taking the Southern Scenic Route. 

Other Must-Visit Spots: Cathedral Caves, Curio Bay and McLean Falls.

The Cathedral Caves are an unmissable sight in the Catlins. It costs around $10 to visit them, but the entry fee is well worth it to see these magnificent passages formed by the sea.

If you're hoping to catch a glimpse of some dolphins, you must stop at Curio and Porpoise bays, located near Invercargill along the coast. You may also be able to spot some seals, sea lions, and yellow-eyed penguins in the same area. 

When you need to stretch your legs after all of that driving, the McLean Falls track is the ideal trek for you. It's a short walk at just 2.1km return. Allow around 40 minutes to make the journey to and from these stunning waterfalls. 

Christchurch to Greymouth

Distance: 241km

How Long to Allow: 2+ Days

Best Place to Stop: Arthur's Pass

Take the scenic journey over the Southern Alps via Arthur's Pass to get from Christchurch to Greymouth. This road climbs upwards nearly 900 metres, and be prepared for a winding journey - not ideal for those who get carsick! However, the gorgeous scenery along the way is well worth the trip.

Arthur's Pass Village is the ideal place to stop overnight if you want to take your time on this short drive. 

Highlights: Castle Hill and Devil's Punchbowl

One place you'll have to stop as you make your way across Arthur's Pass is at the unique limestone rocks of Castle Hill. It's just a 10-minute walk to make it to these formations that are popular with rock climbers.

Another place you won't want to bypass is Devil's Punchbowl. This waterfall stands at 131 metres tall and is the ideal place to go for a walk and take some excellent photos. It's just a 2km strolls to the viewing platform and back, and you won't regret taking the chance to see the remarkable view.

Christchurch to Blenheim

Distance: 309km

How Long to Allow: 3+ Days

Best Place to Stop: Kaikoura

One reason the Christchurch to Blenheim road trip is so popular is that you can go through the seaside town of Kaikoura along the way. Kaikoura is known for its whale watching; head out on a boat to catch a glimpse of the magnificent beasts under the sea, and if you're lucky, you might see the fluke slap the water as a whale jumps and drives back down. 

Kaikoura is also a popular road trip stop because of the seal colony residing the Peninsula Walkway close to the town. As you drive in or out of Kaikoura (depending on where you're coming from), you will often be able to spot seals sunning themselves on the rocks. There are plenty of places along here to stop and take some snaps of the seals. 

Highlights: Cathedral Cliffs and Wineries. 

If you're driving from Christchurch, the first stop you'll want to make is at the Cathedral Cliffs. These cliffs at Gore Bay are siltstone pillars, and these are a must-see on any South Island road trip.

Once you get close to Blenheim, you'll notice the rows and rows of vines lining the road into town. There are numerous wineries in the area, so take your pick of places to stop in at and let your passengers do a wine tasting! There are also plenty of wine tours running in this region, so park up your vehicle and get someone else to drive you around while you try everything the area has to offer. 

Need a new vehicle or caravan for your South Island adventure?

If you are ready to take off on an epic South Island road trip but can't afford to buy a new vehicle or caravan upfront, Stadium Finance has got your back! We offer vehicle and caravan loans at competitive interest rates to people all over New Zealand. 

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