Although many tour operators offer excellent land tours of the country, New Zealand's small size (about the size of the British Isles, Colorado, or Japan) and English-speaking population also make independent travel a good option. My friend Julie and I rented a small car at the Auckland Airport and did an independent driving vacation of New Zealand, spending five days on the North Island and nine days on the South Island. Rather than backtracking to Auckland, we dropped the car off in Queenstown at no extra cost and flew back to Auckland. Although New Zealand drivers have their steering on the right and drive on the left side of the road, it wasn't as difficult as we expected, since the amount of traffic on these lightly-populated islands is much less than we have at home. The people of New Zealand were uniformly friendly and helpful, adding to the pleasure of our holiday. We visited New Zealand the first two weeks of November, which was a good choice since that time of year does not have as many tourists. Traveling in this shoulder season also meant we never had a problem finding a place to spend the night. The spring weather was also warmer and drier than we expected.
This article covers the nine days we spent on the South Island. My friend and I agreed we could have easily spent a month. We did not see all the highlights of the South Island, but did drive over 1,600 miles, compared to the 900+ we drove on the North Island. I guess I'll have to return to see the places we missed!
The pages of this article show some of the marvelous things to do and see on the South Island of New Zealand.
New Zealand - South Island Driving Tour
- Introduction and Overview
- Marlborough Wine Country and Hiking in Abel Tasman National Park
- West Coast - Paparoa National Park and the Pancake Rocks
- Arthur's Pass Across the Southern Alps
- Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, and Mount John Observatory
- Oamaru - White Limestone and Blue Penguins
- Moeraki Boulders Scenic Reserve
- Yellow-Eyed Penguins at the Katiki Point Lighthouse near Moeraki
- Dunedin - Home of Gorgeous Railway Station and World's Steepest Street
- Otago Peninsula near Dunedin
- Te Anau - Helicopter Ride Over Doubtful Sound
- Te Anau to Milford Sound - One of the World's Great Drives
- Queenstown - Adventure Capital of New Zealand
- Queenstown, Clyde, and Glenorchy - Last Day on the South Island of New Zealand