The Southern Way network of scenic driving routes connects the Central Otago hubs of Queenstown and Wānaka with Fiordland and Murihiku Southland. Along with spectacular scenery, the region includes a World Heritage Area, rich history, vibrant culture and a wealth of exceptional produce, artisanal makers, and chefs. Warm Southern hospitality will mean you'll start your journey as  visitor and leave as whānau (family).

This 10-day Southern Way itinerary is your leisurely road trip guide to some of the most beautiful places the lower South Island has to offer. Take your time, uncover the magic of the southern region and get to know our people and place on a deeper level. 

Map showing main destinations along the Southern Way route in NZ's South Island

Days 1-4 – Queenstown

Queenstown offers a treasure trove of experiences for all interests, from adrenaline adventures in spectacular locations to hiking, biking, golfing, and an incomparable food and wine scene, all easily accessible from the buzzy, cosmopolitan hub.

Locals know you can stay a lifetime and never see all there is to be seen in this astonishing region. Its dramatic mountain ranges, glacial lakes, and wild rivers continuously inspire awe. So, stay a little longer, delve a little deeper, and breathe the fresh alpine air.

Here are a few handy guides to help you plan a memorable stay in Queenstown:

One of the (many) things that makes Queenstown special is that the locals are investing in community, restoring the environment, and working to become carbon zero by 2030.

You can be a part of this mission by getting around on foot, by bike, or $2 public bus and hiring an EV for your Southern Way road trip. There are EV charging points along the route, Plugshare has a full list of EV chargers for your South Island NZ Road Trip, and charging only takes between 15 minutes to an hour. Range is good in all new model EVs – you’ll have more than enough charge to cover all legs of this itinerary without recharging.

Queenstowns streets with mountains in the backgroundQueenstown

Day 5 – Queenstown to Te Anau

Head south on State Highway 6 on the Southern Scenic Route alongside Lake Whakatipu. The road winds beneath the Remarkables mountain range. Stop at the top of the Devil’s Staircase to soak up the jaw-dropping vista. At the southern tip of the lake, the little historic village of Kingston was once a major transport link between the Whakatipu gold fields and the port of Dunedin. Today, if you visit in the summer, you can travel back in time on the Kingston Flyer, a 19th-century steam train that runs between Kingston and Fairlight with views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Or stop for a few hours and stretch your legs with this guide to Kingston walks.

Continue southwest to Te Anau, the gateway to your base for Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park,  which has World Heritage Status as one of the planet’s greatest natural treasures. The township looks out over Lake Te Anau. Activities include the magical Glow Worm caves, horse trekking, jet boating, helicopter rides, biking and takahē feeding at the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary.

Couple walking along jetty at Te Anau LakefrontTe Anau, Southland. Image: Great South

Day 6 – Te Anau to Milford Sound (and back)

Head into Milford Sound Piopiotahi to explore the awe-inspiring natural splendour of Fiordland. There are many photographic stops and short walks on the scenic drive into Milford Sound so allow plenty of time.

Milford Sound is dominated by the towering bulk of Mitre Peak. Rainforest clings to the sheer cliffs that plummet into the deep, dark waters, and waterfalls cascade up to 1,000 metres into the sea. This atmospheric glacial fiord is home to seals, dolphins, penguins and rare black coral. Explore the Sound by kayak, a day cruise, or a hike. A guided diving experience or a visit to the underwater observatory gives another perspective. Check out our guide to things to see and do in Fiordland.

Milford Sound in summer from aboveMilford Sound

Day 7 – Te Anau to Invercargill

Leave Te Anau and head south towards the coast through picturesque Southland farmland. Tuatapere is the start of the Hump Ridge Track, which runs from the ocean to the mountains via forest and old viaducts. You’re also close to Lake Hauroko, the deepest lake in New Zealand. Drive the stunning southern coastline, through the seaside village of Riverton, where you can stop for coffee overlooking the beach, take a surf lesson or visit Te Hikoi Museum to discover Southland's history.

Invercargill is the hub of Southland. It’s home to heritage buildings, an international garden of significance Queen’s Park, and Transport World, a treasure trove of over 300 classic vehicles, where you can even have a go at driving a digger.

Kaimoana, or seafood, is big in Southland, and every May the Bluff Oyster Festival takes over. Even if it’s not May, it’s worth the 20-minute drive to Bluff to eat at one of the restaurants that pride themselves on sea-to-plate. Delicacies include crayfish, Stewart Island salmon, paua (abalone) and blue cod. After dinner, drive to Oreti Beach to take in the stunning sunset views and breathtaking starry skies.

A lookout point over the ocean on the Hump Ridge Track at sunsetHump Ridge Track, Southland. Image: Liz Carlson

Day 8 – Invercargill to Cromwell

From Invercargill. head north on State Highway 1 to Gore. The Eastern Southland Gallery has a large collection of Ralph Hotere artworks. The Hokonui Pioneer Village and Museum displays colonial history and a collection of heritage buildings. Try your hand at fly fishing for brown trout, with local guides available to take you to the best spots. 

Continue north through Tapanui into Roxburgh and the Teviot Valley, renowned for its delicious summer stone fruit. Cherries, apricots, and peaches thrive in the sunny climate. In summer you’ll find roadside stalls selling freshly picked fruit, vegetables, coffee and real fruit ice cream. In December through to late February, some orchards offer pick-your-own, so stop and fill a carton with sweet Otago fruit.

Join the Central Otago Touring Route to head on to Cromwell and stroll through its attractive heritage precinct. Explore its array of cellar doors and winery restaurants, go back in time at the Goldfields Mining Centre or explore the area on two wheels on the many off-road trails.

Women walking through Cromwell's Heritage PrecinctCromwell Heritage Precinct

Day 9 – Cromwell to Arrowtown

Loop back west towards Queenstown. There are several Tohu Whenua on this section of the route, historic sites of special national significance. The Bannockburn Sluicings near Cromwell are a desolate landscape of cliffs and pinnacles created by water blasting during the 19th-century gold rush. You’ll see the remains of stone and earth houses, caves, and rock shelters where gold miners once lived. 

The road passes through the iconic Gibbston wine region, home to some of Central Otago’s oldest vineyards. Drop in for a tasting at Mt Rosa or Kinross along the way or stop off at Gibbston Valley Winery which released the region’s first commercial Pinot Noir in 1987.

As you leave Gibbston, you’ll pass another Tohu Whenua, the Kawarau Suspension Bridge, now home to the world’s first commercial bungy. Get a vicarious thrill from watching the intrepid bungy jumpers or take the 43m leap into the rocky gorge yourself.

After the Kawarau bridge, detour into the gold mining village of Arrowtown and explore the historic precinct by the Arrow River. Arrowtown’s charming tree-lined streets and lanes are packed with boutique shops, art galleries, cafes and restaurants.

Suspension bridge over river with green shrubbery on mountainsKawarau Suspension Bridge, Queenstown

Day 10 – Arrowtown to Glenorchy

Finish your South Island NZ Road Trip with a trip up the northwest arm of Lake Whakatipu to Glenorchy. This alpine village is the gateway to Te Wāhipounamu, the South West World Heritage Area, and the start of the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.

Glenorchy is a dream destination for keen hikers and outdoor adventurers because of the abundance of short walks, day hikes, and multi-day treks in the area. Other activities include funyaking, horse trekking, ziplining, fly fishing, and movie location tours (Glenorchy’s magnificent scenery appeared in films such as Narnia, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings).

Stay longer in Glenorchy to really get a feel for the place and do the many walks justice. Glenorchy has a range of eco retreats and lodges. If you’re simply planning a day trip consider going with a local guide, to get the most out of your visit. They’ll help you plan a day that suits your interests and enrich your experience with insights into local history, nature, and geology.

Friends sitting outside the Glenorchy Red ShedGlenorchy

Explore the rest of the Southern Way

If you’re in the South Island for longer than 10 days, find more inspiration to explore further afield along the Southern Way.