An Epic Road Trip Through New Zealand’s South Island

Mount Cook You Stunner

I often find my mind wandering to thoughts of gorgeous New Zealand and when I think about our summer in the South Island, I think about heart stopping views, expansive never ending vistas at every turn, towering snow capped mountains, aquamarine lakes, golden meadows underneath crystal clear blue skys, hikes, delicious piping hot pies, cheeses, wines and Kiwi good humor. I would return to New Zealand in a heart beat.

Hiking Mount Cook, New Zealand
Mount Cook
Mount Cook you stunner!
Mount Cook you stunner!

The South Island Itinerary:

Day 1-2 Arthur’s Pass: Brad has family in Christchurch, so we began our trip visiting them. It was wonderful to hear about their lives in NZ and to catch up. Then we headed to Arthur’s pass. This part of the South Island is where the fun truly begins for your road trip extravaganza.  One of the most amazing things about the South Island is that there are vast stretches of road where there are simply no people at all! You can get out of your car and wander. It’s gobsmacking!

Arthur's Pass NZ
Literally, not another soul around


Arthur's Pass, Hike
Getting some serious Isle of Skye vibes during our Arthur’s Pass hike!

Brie and Brad Arthur's Pass

Day 3-5 Mount Cook via Tekapo


Glittering Lake Tekapo, NZ
Turquoise Lake Tekapo

Hiking Mount Cook: The Hooker Valley track at Mount Hook is one of the most gorgeous hikes I have ever taken. Every bend uncovers a stunning alpine vista – snow capped mountains! Golden meadows! Rushing rivers and glacial lakes! And, considering it’s relatively flat and well maintained the entire way, this hike provides an unbelievable effort vs. rewards ratio. The hike took us about 3 1/2 hours past two swinging bridges, to the Hooker Glacier lake.

Hiking Mount Cook - South Island NZ
I mean….c’mon.


So many swinging bridges!


Mount Cook You Stunner
First glimpse of Mount Cook – insert angels singing

I get super motion sick, so had to time crossing these bridges when there weren’t many people plunking their way along, making the bridge swing. At one point I tried to “jog” lightly, to try and avoid the swinging motion. I do not recommend this tactic.

We stayed at Twizel, at a holiday park. Budget lodging is not easy to find in NZ, but holiday parks are a great option. We got an ensuite room and walked to Fishtail – the most delicious Indian place for dinner. We saw lots of family lounging at the picnic tables and using the grills. It looked fun.

Day 5-6 Wanaka

I loved Wanaka. Wanaka has a Lake Tahoe vibe going on – gorgeous, laid back, holiday feel. We began our days by grabbing flat whites at Patagonia Chocolates (why is coffee so good in NZ?!) and spent leisurely mornings strolling along the lakefront. An absolute must is hiking to Rippon Winery, the most gorgeous winery I have ever seen, for stellar Gamay Noirs, Sav Blancs, and drop dead gorgeous views. 

We hiked about an hour on a gentle winding path along the lake, the last third of the hike uphill to reach this gem.

Brie and Brad Rippon!
RIPPON WINERY!!! Whaaaat?!
Glorious views on all sides

After basking in the splendor of the sweeping views over the lake, we did some sunbathing on the lakeshore. We took our bottle and sat on the banks of Lake Wanaka, sipping our refreshing and fruity Gamay as the day turned to twilight.20190318_200920

Brad convinced me to go horse back riding in Otago, and while I was hesitant at first, it turned out to be great fun. In California when you go horseback riding as a beginner, maybe, maaaybe, you trot. In New Zealand, you RUN!


This was a gorgeous trip. The landscape was stunning, we saw tons of deer under the bright blue sky and the instructor topped off the trip with a drink at a rustic gold mining bar.

Day 7-8 Queenstown

The adventure capital of New Zealand is a total dazzler. We spent our time in Queenstown taking in the most spectacular views, picnicking lakeside, hiking, and indulging in the fresh seafood and Kiwi wine at the bustling harbor. We easily could have spent more time here.


We headed to Bob’s Cove for a picnic with fruit. creamy cheeses, and stunning views. We spent a leisurely afternoon enjoying the wine and fruit, sunbathing and going for refreshing swims.

Can’t beat Kiwi picnics! (This is our Gamay from Rippon Winery :D)
How’s this for a view?

Queenstown is 100% Lord of The Rings territory. I KNOW this is the Road to Gondor. Take your time driving the winding roads, jumping out for LOTRs photo ops.



In the evening, we headed down to the harbor for some divine New Zealand rosé, and unbeatable views. We also really liked lounging and sipping drinks on the docked boat turned bar Perky’s.

Queenstown harbor – NZ roses are my new favorite!

Note – I don’t have a picture of this, but I was sitting at the harbor watching the playful ducks and devouring my Fergburger, when I noticed some pretty large shapes undulating underwater and realized they were massive eels! I pointed them out to Brad. It was clear the ducks did NOT care for them either. About two minutes later other people began to notice them and we heard them gasping.

Milford Sound – If you have the time, check out Milford Sound. Take a picnic and cruise the NZ fjords. The cruise takes you past cascading waterfalls, rainbows glittering over deep green water, and lazy seals lounging on the rocks. We took a tour, the trip is 3 hours each way, so it is an investment, but a gorgeous experience if you have the time. Who knows when we will make it to Norway, so couldn’t resist the opportunity to cruise the fjords!




New Zealand Eats:

Pies, just non stop pies and cheese boards, and seafood and great, budget friendly wine. I especially enjoyed the rosé and gamays. New Zealand also has great Indian food. I especially loved the rich, creamy, butter chicken pies, and the savory breakfast pies. We enjoyed the lakeside restaurants in Wanaka for sunset and really liked Erik’s Food Truck for fish & chips in Queenstown. We loved taking our piping hot meal and savoring it while the sunset over Lake Wakatipu.

Farlie Bakehouse
Brad looking cool as AF. Aside: So. Many. Pies!
Indian Food Tuapo
To die for Indian food!
Fish and Chips Wanaka
Fish and Chips + Shrimp and Chips at Lake Wanaka

Where to stay: As New Zealand was part of our final hurrah, long way around, one month trip, returning from Germany (we also visited Bali and Australia), we tried to stay in budget friendly lodgings, which is possible to find in NZ if you really do your research. We stayed at an array of hotels and parks. Holiday Parks are also a great option in NZ.

Next up on the blog – Road Tripping NZ’s North Island – Hobbiton, here we come!