7 Day Winter Road Trip: The South Island Winter Wonderland! | Apollo NZ
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7 Day Winter Road Trip: The South Island Winter Wonderland


Visit the South Island’s best - glaciers, dark sky reserve and alpine spa towns - as you travel along the most amazing road trip routes of the south.

For a lot of people, New Zealand is a bucket list destination, and this 7-day winter itinerary will highlight why. Aotearoa’s South Island is home to some wonderful areas of natural beauty. We have included over 60 highlights, stops and viewpoints for you to enjoy so you can pack it all in for an action-packed holiday or pick and choose what sites you visit as you set your own pace.

This route can easily be tacked onto a ski trip featuring some of our world-famous ski fields like Mt Hutt, Cardona, Coronet Peak, Treble Cone and The Remarkables, or as a standalone trip.

Let’s get into it!


Day 1: Queenstown

Travel time: 0

Distance: 0km

Where do we start? Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand and one of the world's top destination towns. With several world-class ski fields on its doorstep, amazing alpine views, and lakes not to mention some amazing thrill seeker activities, Queenstown is an amazing place to start your South Island road trip. 

For those looking for a relaxing day, we recommend doing the scenic drive to Glenorchy before making a stop at the Kiwi Bird Life Park where you can meet some of New Zealand's favorite friends up close. 

If you want to make your day one a day to remember, you can take on two of the world’s premier adventure activities that were pioneered in New Zealand. First up is the iconic Shotover Jet. This provides you with a world class jetboat experience as you weave in and out of canyons at breathtaking speed while your pilot pulls 360 degree “jet spins” to keep you on the edge of your seat. 

Next up is the world's first ever bungee jump at AJ Hackets at Kawarau gorge where you plummet straight down so close to the river below that you can reach out and touch it!   

Travel back through the stunning Gibbston valley, home to some amazing cellar door experiences and New Zealand’s largest wine cave  in one of New Zealand’s most famous wine regions. 

After a day of exploring, welcome back to the hustle and bustle of Queenstown. Enjoy dinner at the top of the gondola, taking in the stunning views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.   



  • Kiwi Bird Life Park
  • Scenic drive to Glenorchy
  • Queenstown Gondola and Stratosfare restaurant
  • Shotover Jet
  • Kawarau AJ Hacket Bungy Jump
  • Gibbston Valley and cellar door experiences
  • New Zealand’s largest wine cave

Where to stay: Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park is located just 15 minutes from Coronet Peak and 15 minutes from the Queenstown CBD, making it perfectly placed to enjoy your time in Queenstown.

Apollo hint: Ferg Burger is a national icon and one that cannot be missed while in Queenstown. Queues can be long so make sure you’re not in a rush for lunch. Devil Burger provides an equally good burger, often without the lines.

Image: Tourism New Zealand


Day 2: Queenstown – Milford Sounds (day trip)

Time travel: 7hrs 42mins

Distance: 574km

A day trip to Milford Sounds is a long day – but it is absolutely one to include. There is a bit of a trek to the Sounds but the scenic views along the way will make up for it. Once there, you have a range of activities to choose from whether you get rain or shine.

Jump on the water for a boat cruise and soak in the crystal-clear water and tumbling waterfalls.

Image: Tourism New Zealand


Day 3: Queenstown - Lake Tekapo

Time travel: 3hrs 7mins

Distance: 256km

Time to head to the home of the lupins – Lake Tekapo. Stop for a bite to eat at the Fairlie bakehouse along the way, one of New Zealand’s best bakeries and home to the famous kiwi pie! Then, take a stroll along the scenic lake front enjoying the incredible views on offer of the Lake, the alps and the world famous “church of the good shepherd” before enjoying a soak in the fabulous lake side thermal pools of Tekapo Springs.

Tekapo is a fabulous winter destination with a range of activities on offer including Ice Skating and Snow Tubing, a favorite for families.

You can enjoy the dark sky reserve on your own or take one of the awesome tours that are available from the Tekapo township for some incredible views of the Milkyway and Magellan clouds and if you're lucky, of the aurora australis, or “Southern Lights”, mother nature's most famous light show.

You can simply sit outside and enjoy the amazing views at your leisure or pick from the numerous star gazing tour options available. The Silver River tour is a popular, dedicated star gazing tour done in an area away from the bright lights of Tekapo on the 25,000 acres of farmland they have access to. Silver river also does astrophotography tours where they can teach you all about photographing the night sky in the heart of a dark sky reserve.



  • Grab a pie at Fairlie bakehouse
  • Soak in the hot pools
  • Church of the good shepherd
  • Sheep dog monument
  • Star gazing and Astronomy tours in Tekapo with Silver River
  • Hot pools and activities and Tekapo Springs

Where to stay: Camp at Lake Tekapo Holiday Park nestled at the top of the lake within easy walking distance of the town center, the lake edge and the Tekapo springs hot pools.

Apollo hint: Looking to relax? Try the “soak in the stars” option from Tekapo springs where they combine a star gazing tour with late night, exclusive entry to the springs. This is an especially great option for couples.

Image: Tourism New Zealand


Day 4: Lake Tekapo - Aoraki Mt Cook National Park – Wanaka

Travel time: 3hrs 37mins

Distance: 308km

Wake up to the first rays of the sun shining off the lake before heading south to Lake Pukaki, the largest of the North-south running lakes in the region. Here you can see amazing vistas of Mt cook along with the monument to the king of the alps, the Himalayan tahr, first released here at the start of the 20th century. Being in the heart of high-country salmon country, you can purchase fresh salmon from the many alpine salmon farms that call the high-country canals home.

Now sit back and enjoy one of the most scenic roads in New Zealand – SH80, better known as the Mt Cook Road. This road meanders its way around Lake Pukaki towards the colossal Mt Cook where the road provides you with an iconic road trip photo.

Welcome to the hiking capital of New Zealand at Mt Cook National Park! Head through to Mt Cook village first for a visit to the Sir Edmund Hillary monument and pop in for a bite at the hermitage. After, head off to the Hooker Valley track where you can enjoy one of the best family friendly short walks anywhere in the world or the even more accessible Blue and Tasman lakes walks.

When you’re ready, jump in the van to head to Wanaka. Wanaka lies at the top of its namesake lake and is one of New Zealand’s top resort towns.



  • Scenic viewpoint of Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook
  • Himalayan tahr statue
  • High country Salmon
  • Scenic Mt Cook Road drive
  • Mt Cook Village and Sir Edmund Hillary Monument
  • Hooker Valley Track
  • Blue and Tasman lakes walk

Where to stay: Glendu Bay Motor Camp is an idyllic campsite nestled right on the edge of the beautiful Lake Wanaka. It is conveniently located next to the Roy's Peak track head along with the access road to Treble Cone (30 minutes) and only a short drive (1 Hour) to the Cardrona resort.

Apollo hint: Take plenty of water and start the trek to Roy's Peak early. Hike to the conditions and to your own comfort levels as this track does go above 1,000 meters and you will be in an alpine environment.

Image: Tourism New Zealand


Day 5: Wanaka – Haast – Franz Josef

Travel time: 4hrs

Distance: 287km

Spend the morning relaxing on the waterfront at Wanaka's cafes and restaurants or perhaps you want to beat the rush and knock off the Roy's Peak track, home to one of New Zealand’s best views. Trust us, your Instagram won’t know what hit it! If you want an easier but still beautiful walk, we recommend the Mount Iron track.

Before you head out, you have to stop at one of the most photographed trees in the world. The tree is gorgeous, the backdrop fabulous and the entire area is breathtaking. It provides a great place for a rest day, relaxing on the shores of one of New Zealand’s most beautiful lakes.

Then you’ll hit the road to drive through the lovely Haast Pass as you enter the wild West Coast.

It is important to note that there is A LOT to see over the next few days on the West Coast. We have put together a list of highlights and stops that, while busy, is certainly achievable. As always, treat it as a guide and travel at your own pace that is comfortable for you.

Your first stop will be Mt Aspiring National Park at the Blue Pools track, a lovely short walk alongside the Makarora river through a beech and podocarp forest.

Continue on to explore the wild and untamed Haast/ Te Wahipounamu Wilderness Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Area. With its plethora of amazing beaches, dune systems, wetlands, lakes and coastal marvels all set to the backdrop of the mighty Southern Alps, it’s no wonder it holds its UNESCO status.

Visit Jacksons Bay, one of the only two known nurseries in South Westland for Hectors dolphin females (cows) and their calf's and a place with some lovely scenic short walks. Explore the short walks north of Haast where you can stop off at ship creek to see the start of this amazing coastline and try your luck at the seabirds viewing tower there before searching out the elusive yellow eyed penguins at Monro Beach.

As you travel along the glacier highway, you will be struck by the sheer scale of what mother nature has built and be struck by the fact that you can look at sheets of ice while standing in a rainforest wearing shorts and flipflops! Welcome to Fox Glacier! There are many awesome helicopter tours to explore the glaciers, or you can do the short chalet track viewpoint for great views of Fox glacier, or you can do the longer valley walk.

Relax in the Franz Josef glacier hot pools before heading out to spot some glow worms before enjoying a good night's sleep – you've earned it!



  • Roy's Peak
  • Mount Iron Track · “That Wanaka Tree”
  • Blue Pools
  • Haast and its wilderness area
  • Jacksons Bay
  • Ship creek
  • Knights Point Lookout
  • Monro Beach
  • Fox Glacier
  • Chalet track viewpoint
  • Fox Glacier Valley Walk
  • Franz Josef Hot Pools

Where to stay: Franz Josef Top 10 is the ideal place to stay while exploring the glacier highway, being so close to the many attractions around the Fox/Franz area and being walking distance from the hot pools!

Apollo Hint: Here is a hidden gem! After dark, take the terrace walk through the bush and keep your eyes out for New Zealand’s living stars – the glow worms! These are best found under or around fallen trees.

Image: Tourism New Zealand


Day 6: Franz Josef – Hokitika – Hamner Springs

Travel time: 5hrs 7mins

Distance: 390km

Arriving at the cultural capital of the West Coast, first up you have the lovely tree top walk through the canopy of the west coast rainforest, voted as New Zealand's most popular canopy walk.

Hokitika will greet you with places where you can make your own or purchase some pounamu (greenstone) jewelry, a great memento considering Te Wai Pounamu is the Māori name for the South Island which essentially means land of greenstone. Check out the unique architecture of this small but vibrant town. If you're looking to stretch your legs, the short walk at the hokitika gorge offers stunning views of the river and podocarp forest.

Today you start the famed Great Coast Road which begins when you pass through Greymouth, home to New Zealand’s Monteith's brewery – stock up on some supplies on your way through.

Then, make a stopover in Charleston, the blackwater rafting capital of New Zealand! This is the home of an epic 4-hour rafting expedition through an underground cave system. You can also do standard caving and forest tours or visit the Denniston historic mining sites and Charming Creek so there really is something for everyone in this cool little town.

Pop up to Cape Foulwind, home to an awesome, coastal scenic boardwalk where you can see New Zealand fur seals at Tauranga Bay before making a visit to the Buller Capital, Westport and a proud historic mining town – check out all the Westport history and attractions like the museum to find out more about this quirky town.

Finish up your time on the west coast with a scenic drive along the picturesque Buller gorge before you head for home or on to your next adventure. Spend a night in Hanmer Springs, an alpine spa town and the gateway to the Lewis Pass and the Alpine Pacific Touring Route making it an ideal place to relax on your final night, soaking in the memories at Hanmer Springs Thermal Reserve.



  • West Coast Tree Top Walk
  • Hokitika Gorge walk
  • Monteith’s Brewery
  • Charleston’s Blackwater rafting
  • Denniston historic mining sites
  • Charming Creek
  • Cape Foulwind and Tauranga Bay Seal Colony
  • Westport museum
  • Buller Gorge
  • Hanmer Springs Alpine Spa Town

Where to stay: The Hanmer Springs Top 10 Holiday Park is ideally located to give you easy access to all of the local attractions while staying in Hanmer Springs.

Apollo hint: Hanmer is home to a small boutique and basic ski field that can provide you one final burn on the slopes of New Zealand. It is small and staffed by volunteers, but it optimizes the “skiwi” attitude that has led to the awesome ski culture New Zealand has today.

Image: Tourism New Zealand


Day 7: Hanmer Springs – Christchurch

Travel time: 1hr 45mins

Distance: 129km Enjoy a final dip in the pools before doing the lovely “art in the forest” walk where you can see some fabulous carved artwork on a short forest trail just out of town.

It’s time to head home as you follow the Waiau river which takes you to the base camp for the adventure activities in region at Hanmer Attractions. They provide your one stop shop for adventure in Hanmer Springs. From jetboating to river rafting, to quad bike tours and bungy jumping, they have it all waiting for you try. The best part is they all run from one location making it easy to do multiple tours in a day.

On your way back home, keep an eye out for Frog rock as you make your way back to SH1 for a trip through the Waipara wine district and cellar doors to Christchurch and your drop off at the Christchurch Apollo Branch.



  • Final soak in the Hanmer Springs Thermal Reserve
  • Art in the forest walk
  • The many adventures offered by “Hanmer Attractions”. Including rafting, jetboating, clay target shooting, horse trekking and quad bike tours. They are Hanmer’s one stop shop for adventure
  • Frog rock

Apollo hint: You will pass through the small town of Waikari, home to the historic Weka Pass walkway Maori wall art. This 40-minute walk takes you to the limestone overhangs, under which you can find some awesome examples of Māori art.

Image: Tourism New Zealand


Plan your next adventure with Apollo 

Ready to experience the best of the South Island? Book your Apollo campervan hire online today and start planning an unforgettable road trip adventure! 


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