The Ultimate 3 Week South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Hello and welcome to the Ultimate 3 Week South Island, New Zealand Itinerary! I’m so excited you’re considering a three week (or longer) journey to the bottom of the world. The South Island was my home for five months in 2018, and where I think I’ll eventually end up living.

I love this island and know you will too. The itinerary is fast paced and we will circle the entire island, but feel free to slow things down and cut out a destination or two. If you’ve already checked out my Ultimate 2 Week South Island, New Zealand Itinerary, you’ll see a lot of repeat information.

You’ll also see, however, recommendations for some very off-the-beaten-path destinations. These are destinations that don’t get nearly as many visitors as Milford Sound or Wanaka, but still have charm and beauty. Off-the-beaten-path destinations like the Catlins and Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula are some of my favourite places.

So without further ado, let’s get moving!

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How to Get Around & Where to Stay

Getting Here

In this guide, we’re going to make a big loop around the island by starting and ending in Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island. Christchurch has frequent flights to and from Auckland, and there are even some direct flights to Australia.

Getting Around

Although it is possible to get by hitchhiking and using public transport, I wouldn’t recommend doing this. By renting a car or camper van you’ll have significantly more freedom to explore destinations off the main highways.


There are a quite a few options for accommodation in the South Island, depending on your budget and desired comfort level.

  • Camper Van: Portable and (potentially) very cozy, more expensive than renting a car and also a bit more expensive for gas. The easiest way to find one that meets your needs and budget is to use Camper Van Finder.
  • Car Camping: There are a lot of campsite around New Zealand that you can access with a car, all you need is a tent!
  • Hostels: Both cities and smaller towns have hostels, which are comfortable and range in price (typically between $25 and $40 NZD for a dorm bed). However, this isn’t the case in some of the really small destinations. I typically used Hostel World to find and compare options.
  • Airbnb: This was my favourite option, because my boyfriend and I loved meeting Kiwis and getting their recommendations. Plus it’s cheaper than a hostel if you have two people (rooms were as low as $35 NZD for a night, but we typically paid around $50 for the two of us).
  • Hotels: There are plenty of options for hotels, but we typically didn’t stay in them because they were the most expensive option and we liked to have our own kitchen. In the few cases we did stay in hotel, I found the most helpful.

3 Week South Island New Zealand Itinerary

In this itinerary, you will swim with dolphins and kayak with seals, go on day hikes and maybe even try out an overnight hike or two. You’ll visit all the main destinations and towns like Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown and Wanaka, but also relax in Akaroa and watch the sunrises on the east coast, take surf lessons and boat cruises.