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  • Writer's pictureRach Stewart

SOUTH ISLAND NEW ZEALAND 7 DAY ROAD TRIP ITINERARY

South Isalnd 7 Day Road Trip Itinerary for Photographers

THE TOP PHOTO SPOTS FROM CHRISTCHURCH TO QUEENSTOWN


Embarking on a road trip through the heart of New Zealand's South Island is an absolute must do for anyone visiting New Zealand, whether you are here for the photography, hiking, tourist vibes, food and wine, or you just want to see the best sights this epic landscape can offer.



The South Island of New Zealand is like stepping into a stage set of epic proportions ... a canvas painted with nature's most incredible mountains, rivers, waterfalls, wide open plains and the amazing coastlines of the Tasman and Pacific Oceans. From the vibrant urban landscapes of Christchurch to the majestic peaks and tranquil lakes surrounding Queenstown, this South Island Road Trip Itinerary is full of incredible sights with jaw dropping scenery at every turn.



As a landscape photographer, I have travelled this route countless times (literally I can't count how many times) and every trip brings me new adventures and the most beautiful photos. Traversing this South Island Road Trip Itinerary is about capturing moments that will stay with you for a lifetime, and if you're a landscape photographer fill your portfolio with some of the best landscapes New Zealand has to offer.


For ease of use and the full map and itinerary download my New Zealand Map and Guide, plus have access to over 390 epic New Zealand photo locations, activities and places to stay.


NZ Guide and Travel Map

 

CONTENTS



 

SOUTH ISLAND 7 DAY PHOTO ROAD TRIP ITINERARY OVERVIEW


Join me as I take you through one of my favourite parts of the South Island on this 7 Day Photo Road Trip designed for those who are self driving a campervan or car.



We will start in Christchurch and head to Canterbury Lakes, make our way to beautiful Tekapo, hang out for a couple of days in the amazing Aoraki Mount Cook, explore the Mackenzie Country, and vibe in Wanaka and Queenstown.


As mentioned above this is one of the absolute best routes to see some beautiful scenes and this guide in particular is designed for photographers who are self driving either in a car or campervan on a budget.


South Island Road Trip Itinerary
Travelling by campervan is one of the best ways to see New Zealand

If you like this blog and want to make it easier to follow and get to all these spots consider purchasing my New Zealand Guide and Map app where you can use it straight from your phone and google maps.


Lets go!

 

SELF DRIVING ROAD TRIP FROM CHRISTCHURCH TO QUEENSTOWN SOUTH ISLAND NEW ZEALAND


One of the best ways to see the South Island of New Zealand especially for photography is to hire a campervan / motorhome and make use of the amazing freedom camping locations available throughout your journey. This option is most definitely my favourite way to see New Zealand and it also works out the cheapest! Travelling in a campervan allows you a lot more freedom and the ability to change your plans easily.


South Island Road Trip Itinerary Campervan Rentals

Another option is to rent a car and then stay in motels and other accommodation options whilst you make your way around the South Island. When it comes to photography this can be a bit of a hinderance if you are chasing the weather and need to change plans etc, but otherwise it is also a great way to see the country.


Personally I always recommend the campervan / motorhome option as it enables you to able to wake up either at your photo location or just a short drive away with all the freedom camping/ DOC camp/ camp sites available to you.


CAMPERVAN RENTALS IN NEW ZEALAND


I can personally recommend the following New Zealand Campervan Rental companies having used them myself:



For regular car rentals in New Zealand I can personally recommend Omega Car Rentals, Apex Car Rentals and Budget Car Rentals.


 

SOUTH ISLAND WEATHER AND SEASONS



The South Island of New Zealand boasts a diverse and dynamic climate, and it really depends on where you are going that will decide the type of weather you may encounter. The weather in the South Island can change dramatically from one region to another with our diverse landscapes ranging from the rugged peaks of the Southern Alps to the pristine northern coastlines, the wild and wet rainforests on the west coast and the colder temps as you head to the bottom of the south.



In general, the South Island experiences a temperate maritime climate, characterised by relatively mild temperatures year-round. However, due to its geographical diversity, weather conditions can vary greatly within short distances. The west coast is renowned for its lush rainforests and frequent rainfall, particularly in areas like Fiordland and the West Coast region. Conversely, the east coast tends to be drier and sunnier, with regions like Marlborough and Central Otago enjoying long, hot summers.



Spring and autumn often bring vivid bursts of color as the landscape transitions between seasons, providing any landscape photographer with an abundance of opportunities to capture the South Island's incredible scenery on offer.


Mount Aspiring National Park Aerial South Island Road Trip Itinerary
Snow capped peaks during winter in the South Island

However, my favourite season to travel the South Island would have to be winter. The mountains are covered in snow, the light is beautiful, the sunrise is later and the sunset is earlier, the air is crisp and the whole place just looks like a magical winter wonderland.


NZ Prints and Canvas

 

CAMERA GEAR FOR YOUR ROAD TRIP


Camera

Spare batteries (I would say at least 4-5)

ND Filters

Tripod

Wide Angle (eg. 16-35mm lens)

Mid Range (eg. 24-70mm lens) and/or

Zoom Lens (eg. 70-200mm lens or similar)


 

MY TOP PHOTO SPOTS FOR YOUR SOUTH ISLAND ROAD TRIP ITINERARY


Access the full map and this itinerary on my New Zealand Guide and Map app which includes photo tips, google map locations and everything you need to know right from your phone.


NZ Guide and Travel Map

 

DAY 1


CHRISTCHURCH TO HAKATERE CONSERVATION RESERVE


If you've arrived at Christchurch Airport either internationally or domestically, pick up your rental vehicle, head to the supermarket to stock up on supplies and then hit the road to Hakatere Conservation Park and the Ashburton Lakes.


Driving time: 3 hours


LAKE HERON PHOTO SPOT



Take in the sunset at Lake Heron and you can also stay for astrophotography especially in the winter time with the milkyway rising fairly early in the evening behind the mountain range. With the sun setting behind your position looking towards the mountains you will get some beautiful alpine glow on the peaks.


Accommodation: Freedom camp for the night at Lake Camp


 

DAY 2


HAKATERE CONSERVATION RESERVE TO TEKAPO


Driving time: 3 hours 24 min

Distance: Mount Sunday to Lake Tekapo - 186km


LAKE CAMP PHOTO SPOT



Start the day right next to your camper at Lake Camp with beautiful reflections of Mount Potts and the surrounding mountains.



LAKE CLEARWATER


You can also pop over to Lake Clearwater which is right next door and capture a similar scene.


Lake Clearwater South Island Road Trip Itinerary
Lake Clearwater during the mid afternoon

MOUNT SUNDAY


Mount Sunday Hakatere Conservation Reserve South Island Road Trip Itinerary
The Road to Mount Sunday Hakatere Conservation Park

Head down the Hakatere Potts Road and Lord of the Rings Country to Mount Sunday (16km - 1 hour). Enjoy the incredible views along the road of the Hakatere Conservation Park and also take the short walk out to Mount Sunday and then hit the road to Tekapo.


Mount Potts Hakatere Conservation Park
View of Mount Potts from the road out to Mount Sunday Hakatere Conservation Park
Mount Sunday Track Hakatere Conservation Park South Island Road Trip Itinerary
The view from the Mount Sunday Track Hakatere Conservation Park

CHURCH OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD LAKE TEKAPO PHOTO SPOT


The Church of the Good Shepherd Lake Tekapo South Island Road Trip Itinerary
The Church of the Good Shepherd Lake Tekapo taken during winter at sunset

It's famous and can be a little crowded but if you haven't visited the Church of the Good Shepherd then its a must do and is particularly beautiful at sunset.



The Church is another great spot for astrophotography during autumn and winter when the milkyway rises in the evening and lines up with the Church.


Accommodation: Powered or non powered site at Lakes Edge Holiday Park


NZ Fine Art Prints and Canvas

 

DAY 3


LAKE TEKAPO TO AORAKI MOUNT COOK


Driving time: 3 hours 24 min

Distance: Mount Sunday to Lake Tekapo - 186km


LAKE TEKAPO PHOTO SPOTS


GRAND TRAVERSE SUNRISE FLIGHT AIR SAFARIS


A sunrise flight with Air Safaris Tekapo is an incredible way to get up close with Mount Cook and also explore the Godley Valley all the way out to the West Coast.




River braid views down the Godley Valley Tekapo
River braid views down the Godley Valley Tekapo taken from the Grand Traverse scenic flight

CHURCH OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD VIEW


A slightly different view of the Church of the Good Shepherd from just across the footbridge near the carpark on the opposite side of the Church.



MOUNT JOHN TEKAPO


Head up the Mount John Road in the car/camper or take the walking track for an elevated view over Lake Tekapo, Lake Alexandrina and the surrounding landscape.


Mount John Summit Lake Tekapo South Island Road Trip Itinerary
View from the summit of Mount John overlooking Lake Tekapo

Lake Alexandrina Mount John Summit Lake Tekapo
Looking out over Lake Alexandrina from the Mount John Summit Lake Tekapo

LAKE ALEXANDRINA


Lake Alexandrina is a small lake near Mount John on the outskirts of Tekapo. There are some jetties that are perfectly lined up with the mountains and make for a beautiful landscape shot especially at sunrise and sunset.



LAKE TEKAPO FORESHORE


The Lake Tekapo foreshore is beautiful for photography especially during the lupin / spring season.



Lake Tekapo Lupins South Island Road Trip Itinerary
The Lake Tekapo foreshore during lupin season (Nov-Dec) at sunrise

Be sure to check out my Guide to Lake Tekapo blog for more info on photo spots and things to do.


Guide to Lake Tekapo Photo Spots

AORAKI MOUNT COOK PHOTO SPOT


THE HOOKER VALLEY TRACK AND HOOKER LAKE


The Hooker Valley Track leads you through the towering mountains and glacial valleys in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park on well formed track, culminating in the pristine and magical reflections of Hooker Lake, which is often filled with icebergs and blue glacial water. This is an easy well graded track that takes around 3 hours return, 10km.


The Hooker Valley Track Boardwalk Mount Cook
The Hooker Valley Track Boardwalk Mount Cook



Accommodation: Freedom camp at White Horse Hill Campground


 

DAY 4


AORAKI MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK PHOTO SPOTS


Spend another day and night in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.


TASMAN GLACIER LAKE


Sunrise at Tasman lake South Island Road Trip Itinerary
Sunrise at Tasman lake during winter (July)

Start the day with a sunrise at Tasman Lake as this is the best time to see it. You will need to be there around 30 minutes before sunrise if you want to catch colourful skies (if you're lucky!), so plan on starting the hike in about 30 minutes before that. Take the track to your right when you come to the fork (Tasman River).


On the way out capture the amazing mountains along the Tasman Lake Road and towards Mount Sefton.


TASMAN VALLEY ROAD SHOT



MOUNT SEFTON ROAD SHOT


Mount Sefton roadside pullover


Mount Sefton from the Mount Cook Road South Island Road Trip Itinerary
Looking towards Mount Sefton from the Mount Cook Road

NZ Guide and Travel Map

MOUNT COOK ROAD SHOTS


When you drive the Mount Cook Road be sure to check out these Mount Cook Road Shot photo spots.




PETERS LOOKOUT CARPARK







SEALY TARNS & MUELLER HUT HIKE


The Sealy Tarns are two small alpine lakes which sit flat on the Sealy Range in Mount Cook National Park. With a climb up to 1300 metres and over 2,200 stairs, it is most definitely worth the hard slog. If you want to carry on past the tarns and climb another 600 metres you will arrive at Mueller Hut, one of New Zealand's most popular tramping huts. Please note: during winter months there are heavy avalanche warnings associated with this track .. always check first.




Check out my South Island Day Hikes blog for more info on the Sealy Tarns track.


MOUNT COOK SKI PLANES FLIGHT


If you can stretch the budget at all I would highly recommend taking a scenic flight above Mount Cook National Park and Southern Alps with Mount Cook Ski Planes & Heli as it really is an experience of a life time.




LAKE PUKAKI


At the head of Lake Pukaki there are some beautiful locations for reflection photography which are especially stunning during the winter season, and at sunrise and sunset.





Check out my Must See Photo Spots in Mount Cook blog for more info.


Top 5 Photo Spots in Mount Cook New Zealand

Accommodation: Freedom camp at White Horse Hill Campground


 

DAY 5


AORAKI MOUNT COOK TO WANAKA


Driving time: 2 hours 37 min

Distance: Aoraki Mount Cook to Wanaka - 207km


Head down the Mount Cook Road for sunrise and then it's time to leave Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and move towards Wanaka passing through Twizel on the way.



TWIZEL AND MACKENZIE PHOTO SPOTS


LAKE POAKA TWIZEL


Lake Poaka on the way to Twizel is a beautiful reflection lake that is particularly stunning during winter in the early to mid morning.



LAKE RUATANIWHA TWIZEL


Another truly stunning lake in Twizel is Lake Ruataniwha. There are a couple of spots you can take photos from, near the Lake Ruataniwha Camp Ground and the roadside pull over near the Salmon Farm.




WAIREPO ARM TWIZEL


Wairepo Arm is another magical spot for reflections and is particularly beautiful during the Autumn season with the trees changing colour with bright oranges and yellows.



LAKE PUKAKI CANALS (LUPIN SEASON)


During the New Zealand Spring and Lupins season, the Lake Pukaki Canal will often have lupins growing along its banks.



LINDIS PASS PHOTO SPOTS


As you travel through the Lindis Pass on the way to Wanaka the Lindis Pass is a truly unique part of the South Island New Zealand and it is definitely worth a stop to break the drive and get some fresh air (and epic photos).



Lindis Pass Lookout South Island Road Trip Itinerary
Looking back up at the Lindis Pass Lookout from the road

ROCKY MOUNTAIN WANAKA SUNSET


The Rocky Mountain track in Wanaka is one of the lesser known hikes in the area but well worth it for the alternative view over Wanaka. I did this hike in the late afternoon and it was beautiful with the light hitting the mountains. The hike takes approximately 3 hours return and covers 7km. I took the track to the right and returned the same way.


Rocky Mountain Track in Wanaka South Island Road Trip Itinerary
Views from the summit of Rocky Mountain in Wanaka during winter (July)

Rocky Mountain Track Wanaka
The view overlooking Lake Wanaka from the Rocky Mountain Track at golden hour sunset

Accommodation: Powered or non-powered site at Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park


NZ Guide and Travel Map

 

DAY 6


WANAKA TO QUEENSTOWN


Driving time: 2 hours 37 min

Distance: Aoraki Mount Cook to Wanaka - 207km


WANAKA TREE SUNRISE


Head to the famous Wanaka Tree for sunrise.



All the information you need about this beautiful little tree is in my Wanaka Tree Photography Guide.


Wanaka Tree Photo Blog

ROYS PEAK HIKE WANAKA


The Roys Peak Track has one of the best views in the entire South Island of New Zealand (in my option) and it is well worth the hike up the mountain to get there. The hike is 16km return and takes around 5-6 hours to complete.



Roys Peak Track Winter Wanaka South Island Road Trip Itinerary
Near the summit of Roys Peak overlooking Lake Wanaka during winter

Check out my Roys Peak Track Guide for all the information you need.


Roys Peak Track Guide

After the hike head to your accommodation in Queenstown.


Accommodation: Powered or non-powered site at Drift Away Queenstown


 

DAY 7


QUEENSTOWN PHOTO SPOTS


Spend the day and night in Queenstown


LAKE HAYES QUEENSTOWN


Lake Hayes is a beautiful little lake that can be found about 10 minutes out of Queenstown by car on the way to Arrowtown. The Bendemeer Bay jetty is the perfect spot for reflections at sunrise and sunset.



Sunrise at the Bendemeer Bay Lake Hayes Queenstown
Sunrise at the Bendemeer Bay Lake Hayes Jetty during Autumn (April)

MOUNT ASPIRING SCENIC FLIGHT


Take a sunrise flight over Mount Aspiring National Park with Glenorchy Air is hands down one of the best experiences you can have in Queenstown especially for photography. If you've got the time and money to do it I highly recommend it.




MOKE LAKE QUEENSTOWN


On the outskirts of Queenstown tucked away down a gravel road is one of Queenstown's best kept little photography secrets, Moke Lake. This spot is beautiful at both sunrise and sunset but is also just as pretty during the day. Do the Moke Lake loop track to see all the sights.



SHOTOVER RIVER GORGE


This is one of my absolute favourite Queenstown photography spots (especially in Autumn with changing tree colours) and another one that is relatively easy to get to. The Edith Cavell bridge on Arthurs Point Road is around 15 minutes from the city centre and there is public carparking available just past the bridge on your left.



GLENORCHY PHOTO SPOTS


Just 45 minutes from the centre of Queenstown and surrounded by the stunning Humboldt Mountain range is the quaint town of Glenorchy. Getting there is one of the highlights of visiting this small town as it has one of the most scenic roads New Zealand has to offer. Surrounded by towering mountains and driving along the foreshore of Lake Wakatipu, the trip out to Glenorchy is an absolute must do.


GLENORCHY LAGOON


The Glenorchy Lagoon has a beautiful walking track that follows the lagoon and there is platform area to take a rest and set up your camera for a shot of Mt Earnslaw reflecting in the water. It is stunning in the late afternoon with golden light.



GLENORCHY SISTER TREES


The Glenorchy Sister Trees are next to the Glenorchy Wharf on the right hand side and look stunning at sunrise.



GLENORCHY WHARF


The Glenorchy Wharf has become quite a famous photography location, but if you're up early and want to photograph it at its best, I suggest getting there before sunrise to grab a good spot and then wait until the sun rises to catch that beautiful golden light hitting the Humboldt Range.



Check out my Top 5 Queenstown Photo Spots blog for more info on these locations.


Top Five Queenstown Photo Spots

 

And that brings an end to your 7 Day Road Trip Itinerary from Christchurch to Queenstown, but that doesn't mean you have to stop here. Carry on out to Milford Sound, explore the West Coast, head further South and to the Catlins, there are so many more amazing places to see.


Get my New Zealand Map and Guide app for over 390 of New Zealand best photo spots, things to do, accommodation options and activities throughout the country,


NZ Guide and Travel Map


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