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South Island Travel Tips

New Zealand has a special place in my heart. Not only because the scenery is spectacular, the food delicious and the people delightful. Moreover because Mr Jetlag & I honeymooned there 10 years ago. Since having Jetlag & Mayhem we have returned twice. The first time was a fantastic North Island adventure, driving from Wellington to Auckland. The second visit was earlier this year, when we decided to cover off all the places we didn’t get to on our honeymoon. So if you’re reading this expecting the ‘Classic South Island Greatest Hits’ then you may want to add more to your itinerary. But if like us, you are a Fonz (aka ‘Friend of New Zealand) and keep looking for excuses to return, you will love this trip!  We went for 7 nights and managed to see mountains, lakes, dolphins, albatross, beach, city and even a chocolate factory. The South Island sure knows how to put on a good show….

south island lake

Our route

Christchurch → Lake Tekapo → Aoraki / Mount Cook → Oamaru → Dunedin → Akaroa

As you can see, we covered a lot of ground in a short space of time. My kids are quite used to be going on the go as we roadtrip every year but you might want to pace it out more if you have more time.  Here are my top tips following our South Island adventure, feel free to add your own in the comments below!

Itinerary Planning

  • I knew I wanted to cover off all the places we hadn’t seen on our honeymoon e.g. Dunedin and Mount Cook. We were also lucky enough to have friends flying down to visit us for the last few nights and decided that Akaora would be an ideal destination. I used a mix of guidebooks, Tripadvisor forums and the NZ Tourist Site. I was also very lucky to have a lot of help from the Visit Dunedin PR.
  • A few folk on the Tripadvisor forums stressed the importance of how dangerous it is to drive on the NZ mountain roads following a longhaul flight and so I made sure our first night was in Christchurch.

Advance Preparation

  • As we are UK passport holders, we didn’t require a visa for New Zealand but check your own status here
  • I booked our flights through Daryl at Jebsen Holidays.  As Cathay prices were extortionate, he routed us to Christchurch via Singapore. Which was fine save for the broken inflight entertainment on the 9 hr return flight (more on that later)
  • I bought an annual travel insurance policy through FWD Insurance in HK as it appeared to be the best value at the time
  • Whilst New Zealand is a hugely popular place for campervan rentals, we knew that wasn’t the right option for us. We like the luxury of escaping to a proper bed each night and also having space to relax with a sofa, TV etc.
    Mr Jetlag booked our hire car (4 wheel drive) through EZI Car Rental as it was the cheapest. We also had a result as there were no queues at the EZI rental desk on arrival, unlike Avis and Budget.  To save money we brought our own child booster seats but we did rent a sat nav which I do recommend, although the South Island is relatively easy to navigate.


  • We stayed in a mix of farmstay, motel and holiday rental, all booked in advance. I was impressed with all of our accomodation (that’s what spending hours reading reviews gets you!)

General New Zealand Tips

  • Be prepared for four seasons in one day! We traveled during the summer month of February and the climate varied from hot and sunny to cold, wet and windy. Bring a backpack for use during the day where you can stuff all your family’s layers in!
  • We found food and drink quite pricey, even in the supermarkets. That said the food quality, especially the fresh produce is amazing so enjoy as much as you can. Don’t get me started on the delicious coffee!
  • Driving is relatively easy, especially for us Brits as you drive on the left. Be mindful of the speed and allocate extra time on mountain roads, especially if you get stuck behind campervans. We were also pulled over by police as someone had complained about our ‘aggressive over taking’ so perhaps better to relax and enjoy the journey.
  • Book accommodation and trips in advance, especially over busy periods. We were traveling over Chinese New Year which is a popular time for large groups of Chinese tourists and I noticed that in a few spots such as Mount Cook, that there were few motel/hotel vacancies.
  • Check what’s on in advance and opening times for attractions. We got straight off the plane at Christchurch and headed to the weekly farmer’s market which was a fantastic spot for a picnic lunch.
  • Take your time and enjoy the magnificent views. For little ones who aren’t interested in a hike, check out what scenic drives are available.

More South Island New Zealand Travel Tips

South Island Itinerary & Trip Recommendations

The Do’s and Don’ts Of A New Zealand Roadtrip

South Island Campervan Itinerary

  • Leah Yoder


    Helpful tips! Doing New Zealand with our kids is on our list for down the road- I’ll be sure to bookmark your blog! And, I’ve often felt the same way about the campervan rentals. Not for me- Lol.

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