The ULTIMATE One Week New Zealand Itinerary, Part 3: South Island Highlights

Welcome to part 3 of your ULTIMATE one week New Zealand trip. While one week is barely enough to scratch the surface of what New Zealand has to offer, but if this is your one and only dream trip and you want to hit as many of the major highlights as you can, then this is the itinerary for you! That said, this itinerary is not for travel amateurs, or those who wish for a leisurely tour through the country. What you will find here is an action-packed tour that will keep you moving almost every day, with full day trips on those rare occasions when you actually stay in one place for two nights. But if you’re up for the challenge, follow this guide and you will get to experience some of the most amazing sites in all of New Zealand (and you can sleep when you get back home, right?). Even in just one week there is so much to see and do in New Zealand that it wouldn’t all fit in one post, so I’ve split it into three parts. The previous two posts focused on the highlights of the North Island. This post focuses on the highlights of the South Island.

Itinerary Overview

Day 1: Auckland
Day 2: Waitomo Caves & Marokopa Falls
Day 3: Hobbiton & Lake Taupo
Day 4: Rotorua
Day 5: Travel to South Island
Day 6: Milford Sound
Day 7: Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula
Day 8: Final exploration and departure

This post will focus on days 5 to 8. On day 4 you spent your last night in the Rotorua area, so let’s dive right in!

Day 5: Travel to the South Island

This is a BIG travel day. In the morning you will want to leave Rotorua relatively early because you will have a 3-hour drive back up to Auckland to catch your flight to the South Island. Flights from Auckland to Dunedin are relatively inexpensive and quick (about 2 hours). Multiple airlines make this trip several times a day. We chose budget carrier Jetstar for our flight and had a great experience.

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Jetstar flight from Auckland to Dunedin.

You will want to make sure you land in Dunedin fairly early in the afternoon because when you arrive you have another 3-hour drive to your final destination. It is a lot of travel in one day, I know, but I warned you that this trip was not for amateurs. Spending this entire day traveling will allow you to get the bulk of the transit out of the way and make the most of your remaining days in New Zealand. Your final destination for the day is Te Anau, a small town just outside the massive Fiordland National Park, and a great base from which to explore the park and the area’s star attraction: Milford Sound.

Day 6: Tour Milford Sound

Milford Sound is one of the South Island’s most iconic sights, and its impressive Mitre Peak is one of the most photographed peaks in all of New Zealand. Since you spent a lot of time driving yesterday, I recommend you book a tour and let someone else do the driving today. Not only will this free you up to actually look out the window as you make your way through this amazing scenery, but you will hopefully also get a knowledgeable guide to inform you about the area. We booked the Fiordland Extraordinaire Tour with Fiordland Tours, and had an absolutely amazing day. This tour picks you up at your hotel in Te Anau at 8am and will bring you back at 6pm. The tour takes you along the scenic Milford Road, stopping at several of the 19 scenic lookouts and nature paths along the way. On this tour you will experience the forest, mountain peaks, cascading waterfalls, and likely even meet several playful Keas. Finally, you will reach Milford Sound and take a 2-hour boat cruise. Be sure to keep a lookout for seals and the elusive Fiordland penguin! This was an amazing day tour. Our guide was fantastic, and we were lucky enough to have him all to ourselves on this tour so we could go at our pace and stop where we wanted.

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Beautiful scenery at Eglinton Valley.
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Marian Cascade.
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A wily Kea camouflaged among the foliage. Can you find it?
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A rare blue duck spotted in Monkey Creek. You can drink the water here!
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Snow-capped peaks along the route to Milford Sound.
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Winter still has its hold here.
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A boat exiting Milford Sound with the famous Mitre Peak int he background.
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Touring Milford Sound.

During your tour of Milford Sound you are likely to encounter the mischievous Kea. The Kea is a species of parrot, and the only one to dwell in alpine regions. The Kea is an extremely inquisitive and intelligent bird, and is protected by the New Zealand government. As such, your meetings with these amazing birds are likely to get up close and personal, and be highly entertaining. By the way, Keas love to chew on rubber, and will do so no matter where they find it (like on my boot).

After your tour make the 3-hour drive back to Dunedin for the final leg of your journey.

Day 7: Explore Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula

On your final full day in New Zealand, split your time between the city and nature. Spend the morning exploring the quaint little city of Dunedin. Head into the center of town, meander around the streets, stop at a cafe, and then grab lunch at one of the many fine eateries in the area. Then, in the afternoon do a tour of the Otago Peninsula. For this I highly recommend Elm Wildlife Tours. We did their Encounter + Albatross tour and it was fantastic. On this tour you will spend the afternoon getting out into nature and seeing the Otago Peninsula’s wildlife up close. This wildlife includes New Zealand Fur Seals, Hooker’s sea lions, the royal albatross, and two species of penguin: the Yellow-eyed and the Blue. You will also encounter many other bird species along the way. The tour lasts approximately 5-6 hours and will take you to many areas, including a private conservation area inaccessible except on this tour. You will also visit the Royal Albatross Center where you can learn about these amazing birds and hopefully see a few at the only mainland breeding colony in the world.

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A private beach visited on the Elm Wildlife Tour.
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Striking landscape of the Otago Peninsula.
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The majestic Royal Albatross.
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A beach home to sea lions and yellow-eyed penguins.
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Yellow-eyed penguin.

Day 8: Final Exploration and Departure

If you have some time in the morning before your flight home, I highly recommend you make the 1-hour drive north to see the Moeraki boulders. These impressive stones seem to rise up out of the sea to line the beach. They began forming on the ancient sea floor around 60 million years ago! Spend some time walking among the massive boulders, and then pop into the restaurant at the entrance to the beach for a nice lunch with ocean views.

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Moeraki boulders emerging from the sea.
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A boulder split into pieces.

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This ends your whirlwind New Zealand tour. Hopefully you’ll have a chance to come back and experience more of the wonders that the Land of the Long White Cloud has to offer, but if not, this experience is sure to give you memories that will last a lifetime!

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The ULTIMATE One Week New Zealand Itinerary, Part 3_ South Island Highlights

 

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