As a landscape photographer, I felt both extremely excited and slightly nervous about spending two weeks in New Zealand. With so many wonderful locations, the country has been on my list of places to go for a while. But how do you possibly fit everything in just 14 days? After spending what must’ve been hours reading, researching and going through every detail, the itinerary below is what I came up with. It’s packed and intense and may not be for everyone, but it also features some of the most photogenic places in the South Island. That’s the itinerary I myself used and although not perfect, for me it worked out pretty well.
How is this itinerary different from others out there?
If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably seen some of the other New Zealand itineraries out there. So, how is this one different? Well, as I said before, I’ve personally used this itinerary, so I stand by it 100%. Everything in it is totally doable because I have done it. Secondly, it’s
This New Zealand itinerary only covers South Island. In my opinion, two weeks simply isn’t long enough to visit both the North and South islands. Yes, there are itineraries for that and you might be tempted to try and squeeze everything in. However, this will result in a very rushed journey with little time to explore anything other than the most popular places. New Zealand may appear small on the map, but it’s a large country. For two weeks, I say stick with one island. Believe me, you won’t regret it.
Finally, no itinerary is perfect. Always think about what makes the most sense for your particular needs. Feel free to change certain sections or even take the best bits from different itineraries to make it work for you. That’s perfectly fine. It definitely pays off to invest a bit of effort into planning, especially if you only have two weeks to work with.
The Two Weeks South Island I
Below is a map of the itinerary for a quick overview. We start in Christchurch and continue north to Kaikoura and then Takaka and Wharariki Beach. From there, we cruise along the west coast making stops at Hokitika and the famous New Zealand glaciers before turning back inland towards Wanaka. After a short detour to Mount Cook, we visit the Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound. Finally, we explore Queenstown, our departure destination.
The entire 2 weeks itinerary therefore looks as follows:
- Day 1: Arrival to Christchurch + Kaikoura
- Day 2: Kaikoura To Takaka
- Day 3: Takaka and Wharariki Beach
- Day 4: From Takaka to Hokitika
- Day 5: Hokitika and Franz Joseph Glacier
- Day 6: Fox Glacier
- Day 7: Wanaka
- Days 8-9: Mount Cook National Park
- Day 10: Wanaka
- Day 11: Milford Sound
- Days 12-13: Queenstown
- Day 14: Departure
Starting in Christchurch and ending in Queenstown, this is not a circular itinerary. The reason for this is that I wanted to minimize the time spent in the same places. These days, most airlines allow planning a multi-leg journey so it shouldn’t be a big problem. However, you can easily change the itinerary to both start and end in Christchurch if you wish. It can even work with Queenstown as the arrival and departure point, but you’ll have to do some more thinking.
Day 1: Arrival to Christchurch + Kaikoura
After arriving in Christchurch, grab the rental car and let’s hit the road! Christchurch may be the largest city in the South Island, but we’re not going to New Zealand for cityscapes. Instead, we’re heading north towards Kaikoura. It’s a lovely coastal town and an amazing place to spend the first night in New Zealand.
Day 2: Kaikoura to Takaka
Wake up early for an incredible ocean sunrise in Kaikoura, then hit the road again. We’re heading to Takaka, so get ready for a long 5-6 hour drive. It may sound horrifying, but there are lots of interesting locations along the way, so it makes for an excellent day trip. Two beautiful coastal roads, a mountain pass, and a quick visit to one of Marlborough wineries are just some of the highlights.
Day 3: Takaka and Wharariki Beach
After a long drive the day before, we can finally rest a bit. Spend the morning casually exploring the Grove Scenic Reserve or one of many other beautiful spots around Takaka. In the afternoon head over to the Wharariki Beach where huge cliffs, ocean waves and the feeling of solitude and remoteness create an experience like no other. Wharariki Beach is the main reason we drove so far north, but it’s totally worth it. It’s my favorite spot in New Zealand and a must-see for any landscape photographer. It’s incredible. Get there early and make sure to stay until sunset.
Day 4: From Takaka to Hokitika
Time to leave the vast and desolate north and return back to civilization. It’s another long drive to Hokitika, so leave early. Luckily, there’s plenty of scenic views and amazing little corners to explore along the way, so you won’t feel bored. Make a stop at the raging Pancake Rocks, visit the beautiful and secluded Coal Creek Falls, and take a stroll on the marvelous Motukiekie Beach before arriving in Hokitika for sunset.
Day 5: Hokitika and Franz Joseph Glacier
Spend the morning at the emerald-green Hokitika Gorge, then head over to Franz Joseph Glacier in the early afternoon. The glacier may have retreated drastically over the years, but it’s still a mighty sight and well worth a visit. The valley floor hike to glacier is as easy as it’s beautiful. Easily one of the best hikes I’ve done in New Zealand and an excellent place to get some good pictures. Alternatively, book a heli hike tour to view Franz Joseph from above and walk on the surface of the ice.
Day 6: Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier is only a short distance away and equally impressive. Much like with Franz Joseph Glacier, you can either discover it on foot or book a heli hike. In the afternoon, head over to Wanaka. It’s an enjoyable 3.5 hour drive through the Haast mountain pass with some splendid views along the route. I recommend planning the journey so as to be in Wanaka by sunset. Get down to the lake shore where the famous lonely tree is an excellent photography location during the golden hour.
Day 7: Wanaka
Wanaka is one of those places I wish I had more time to explore. Surrounded by the snow-covered peaks and featuring a plethora of incredible hikes, it’s a landscape photographer’s paradise. Filling a day here is super easy, yet also slightly frustrating (with so many options, how do I choose?). Roys Peak, Isthmus Peak,
Days 8-9: Mount Cook National Park
Where do I even start with Mount Cook National Park? Magnificent mountains – check. Otherworldly glacial lakes – of course. Incredible hikes – not a problem. Finest New Zealand nature – you bet! Mount Cook is a must-see for any mountain lover and has everything you might want for a great landscape photo. My personal favorite is a hike to Tasman Lake, but Hooker Valley Track is equally photogenic. Honestly, there’s no shortage of astonishing photo locations in Mount Cook. Head back to Wanaka at the end of the second day.
Day 10: Wanaka
Hold on, we’ve already been here, haven’t we? Correct, but back then we only spent a day, so this is another chance to visit some of the sights you might have missed. The reason I have structured the itinerary this way is to avoid a long drive from Mount Cook to Milford Sound, our next destination. If driving is not a problem, by all means, shift the schedule around to your liking. Just make sure you’re in Te Anau by the end of Day 10!
Day 11: Milford Sound
Milford Sound is a popular tourist destination, but no landscape photographer should skip it either. The road to Milford is an attraction in its own right. It is without a doubt one of the most scenic roads in South Island with over 100 kilometers of fabulous New Zealand landscapes, lots of places to stop and short side-hikes to explore. Surrounded by the towering mountain peaks and full of amazing waterfalls, Milford Sound is a pure wonder. There’s a lot to see and photograph, that’s why I recommend arriving beforehand and staying at Te Anau overnight for an early start. For further tips on how to make the most of your time in Milford Sound, take a look at this article.
Days 12-13: Queenstown
After a good night’s sleep in Te Anau, head over to Queenstown, our last destination. Queenstown is widely known as
Day 14: Departure
It’s our last day and time to say good-bye to New Zealand. If you survived this itinerary, you’ll no doubt have captured a bunch of amazing images and collected some bright memories. To me, it’s been an incredible journey full of unforgettable moments and I’m sure you’ll enjoy your own trip as much as I did mine.
I hope you found this itinerary useful. Whether you take it as a base for your personal adventure, or just borrow a couple of ideas, as long as it’s helpful, I’m happy. As always, feel free to reach out with any comments or questions or simply let me know what you thought. Let’s chat!