7-Day South Island Autumn Itinerary
See the extraordinary south island in a week with an itinerary that’s focused on beautiful autumn scenery. You’ll journey from the east coast to the west, then back again via magnificent mountain passes. Take your time exploring, because there’s a lot to see on the way and on our New Zealand south island itinerary.
Christchurch is magnificent in autumn because it’s planted with trees that go through the full spectrum of colour changes. Also, the weather is usually very settled with sunny days and comfortably cool nights.
Things to do in Christchurch:
- Enjoy a stroll through Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens, where you can see spectacular autumn colours against a backdrop of the Avon River. Punting (boating) is another way to experience the scenery. An experienced punter dressed in traditional Edwardian attire will propel you gently along the river while you admire the city and its gardens.
- Visit historic Mona Vale. Dating from 1900, this estate has a charming restaurant and an extensive garden of mature trees, lawns and flowerbeds. You can tour the homestead, enjoy a meal, then wander the fabulous grounds.
- Have a cool time at the International Antarctic Centre. You'll journey through modern-day Antarctica, ride on all-terrain Hagglund vehicle, experience a magical simulated 4D Antarctic cruise and hang out with little blue penguins.
Autumn brings amazing colours to the forests in and around Hanmer Springs, an alpine spa village north of Christchurch. This town has been welcoming travellers since 1883 when the first bathing pools were opened.
Things to do in Hanmer Springs:
- On the way to Hanmer Springs, stop for lunch in the Waipara Valley wine region. There are several winery restaurants here, as well as cellar doors that offer tastings of local pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris.
- Enjoy a relaxing soak in naturally-heated hot water at Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa. There are public pools, some with water slides, or you can book a private pool, massage or facial treatment.
- Choose from a selection of forest walks to discover cypress, fir, cedar and redwood trees, as well as parkland, streams and wetlands.
The west coast town of Greymouth has a long gold mining history, some great heritage buildings and awesome seascapes. It also has a thriving local food scene, including Monteith’s brewpub with its excellent tapas menu.
Things to do in and around Greymouth:
- Stop at Maruia Hot Springs in Lewis Pass for a scenic soaking experience. You’ll bathe in hot mineral water that flows straight from the ground.
- Before you reach Greymouth, do the Brunner Mine walk – a 2km loop track that takes less than one hour. You’ll discover historic coke ovens, an old brick factory and other relics from the past.
- Shop for pounamu (New Zealand jade) and local art in Greymouth’s galleries.
In Westland Tai Poutini National Park, part of a World Heritage Area, the mighty Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers tumble down from the Southern Alps almost to the sea. You’ll stay tonight in Franz Josef, a friendly tourist town with a good selection of hotels and restaurants.
Things to do in Franz Josef:
- Do the easy Lake Matheson walk, where views of the Southern Alps are reflected in the still waters of the lake. Great for photography!
- Meet New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi, at the West Coast Wildlife Centre, an interactive experience that brings nature, conservation and wildlife under one roof. As well as a forest walk, you get a behind-the-scenes look at the kiwi hatching and incubation programme.
- Unwind at the Glacier Hot Pools complex, which is surrounded by rainforest.
Wanaka is picture-perfect in autumn. You can still feel the heat of late summer, but the sky is a deeper shade of blue. Around the lakes and along the roadside, trees are transitioning through all the autumn colours. The evenings are still light enough for a stroll before dinner. Later on, when the twilight has faded away, the night sky is extraordinary.
Things to do in and around Wanaka:
- On your way to Wanaka, take a break from driving and do the Blue Pools Walk. The path leads through the native forest to a spectacular swing bridge that crosses the Makarora River. From here you can follow the boardwalk to a viewing platform over the legendary Blue Pools.
- Drive up the Cardrona Valley to one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand – the historic Cardrona Hotel. Have lunch or dinner at the restaurant and try their craft beer on tap.
The spectacular autumnal colours of Lake Wanaka gave the Festival of Colour its name. This biennial celebration of the arts encompasses six exciting days and nights of outstanding performances and inspiring exhibitions set against the backdrop of the Southern Alps on the shores of beautiful Lake Wanaka.
There are two driving routes that will get you to Queenstown – through the Crown Range Road, a high-altitude drive with huge views, or alternatively, you can take the route that runs beside the Clutha River, which is also very scenic.
The alpine resort of Queenstown is exciting, sophisticated and fantastically beautiful – especially in autumn. It’s the place to source almost any kind of alpine adventure, but you’ll also find plenty of opportunities for relaxation and renewal.
Things to do in and around Queenstown:
- Autumn is a great time to visit Queenstown and experience food and wine. To help you experience our wines for yourself, many Queenstown wineries have cellar door tasting, and several have excellent winery restaurants on site, so you can drop in for a taste, a chat to the staff or a delicious meal with a glass of your favourite variety.
- Stroll around Arrowtown, where the autumn colours are complemented by quaint historic buildings. Near the end of April, the Akarua Arrowtown Autumn Festival is on with a whole week of live music, vintage cars, craft workshops, gold panning and much more.
- Relax with a soak at Onsen Hot Pools near Arthur’s Point. Enjoy the tranquillity and privacy of your own cedar-enclosed spa room overlooking the spectacular Shotover River.
Lindis Pass is beautiful. The tussock-clad hills are bleached gold in autumn; you might even see a dusting of snow. After the pass, you’ll come to Omarama, a town recognisable for its huge merino sheep statue.
There’s no mistaking Lake Tekapo – the water’s opaque turquoise colour is truly astonishing. This natural phenomenon is caused by fine, glacier-ground rock particles held in suspension.
Things to do in Lake Tekapo:
- Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd, which was built as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie country. From here you’ll see an amazing view of the Southern Alps, as well as the golden spear-like poplars and bright yellow willow trees fringing the lakeside.
- Don’t miss stargazing at the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, which has been designated the largest International Dark Sky Reserve in the world.
- Visit Tekapo Springs and relax in the hot pools, while enjoying the stunning views of the lake. The crystal clear water is sourced from the surrounding alpine springs and heated with recyclable energy.
The scenic route to Christchurch leads you down through the high country and through a series of pretty country towns to the coast.
Return your hire car and catch a flight to Auckland in time to connect with your return flight to Singapore.