The 8 Best Scenic Routes in the South Island, New Zealand

Scenic routes in the south island

What are the Best Scenic Routes in the South Island?

There’s a reason why NZ is on the global map as a must-see for lovers of adventure and travel. 

Whether you’re backpacking through New Zealand, renting a caravan, or ride-sharing with friends, there are many breathtaking sights along NZ scenic routes.

Here’s a list of scenic routes you should explore around South Island.

1. Te Anau- Milford Sound (Milford Road)

This is one of the most famous road trips around New Zealand. The Journey starts at Te Anau and takes a 118 Km trip of fun-filled adventure through Fiordland National Park.

Enjoy scenic views of Lake Marian, Mirror Lakes, and Eglinton Valley.

Once you get to Milford Sound, experience some breathtaking underwater views from the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory.

milford route

🚗 Te Anau to Milford Sound Road Trip:

  • 🌳 Start in Te Anau, gateway to Fiordland National Park.
  • 🏞️ 118 km drive through stunning landscapes.
  • 🏞️ Highlights: Lake Marian, Mirror Lakes, Eglinton Valley.
  • 🌊 Arrive at Milford Sound, the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
  • 🐟 Explore the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory for underwater views.

🗺️ Travel Tips:

  • 🌦️ Check weather conditions.
  • 📸 Plan stops for breathtaking photos.
  • 🚐 Consider guided tours for insights.

2. Queenstown to Glenorchy

The scenic Journey from Queenstown to Glenorchy is short and filled with breathtaking views of undiscovered areas of the Southern Alps. The route will carry you along Lake Wakatipu, the gateway to Paradise.

If you have time, venture into Paradise and enjoy the sunsets at Mt. Aspiring National Park or watch the water run along the Dart River.

Glenorchy scenic route

🚗 Queenstown to Glenorchy Adventure:

  • 🏞️ Begin in Queenstown, the adventure capital.
  • 🏔️ Drive 45 km to Glenorchy along Lake Wakatipu.
  • 📸 Scenic stops: Bennetts Bluff, Bob’s Cove, and Twelve Mile Delta.
  • 🛶 Explore Dart River and nearby hiking trails.
  • 🎬 Famous for scenes from “The Lord of the Rings.”

🗺️ Travel Tips:

  • 🌄 Golden hours for photography.
  • 🍽️ Check out Glenorchy’s local cafés.
  • 🚐 Consider a cruise on Lake Wakatipu for a unique perspective.

3. Greymouth to Westport

The west coast of South Island is home to some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.

Once you take this route, experience the dark green subtropical rainforest, beautiful sunsets at the beach, rugged mountains, and meandering rivers. 

Greymouth scenic route

🚗 Greymouth to Westport Coastal Drive:

  • 🌊 Start in Greymouth, a seaside town on the West Coast.
  • 🏞️ Enjoy a 100 km drive along the rugged coastline to Westport.
  • 🏞️ Highlights: Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, Truman Track.
  • 🏞️ Explore Paparoa National Park for diverse landscapes.
  • 🚢 Consider a seal colony visit at Cape Foulwind near Westport.

🗺️ Travel Tips:

  • 📅 Check tide times for the best Pancake Rocks experience.
  • 🍽️ Sample local seafood in Westport.
  • 🏞️ Hike the coastal trails for stunning views.

4. Nelson to Kaikoura

If you’re interested in learning more about the most extensive wine-growing region in New Zealand, this is the route to take.

You will pass through Marlborough and, if you like, time your Journey to coincide with lunchtime.

You will get to sample delicious, locally produced wine from one of the 40 wineries in the region. O

nce you pass through Marlborough, you can enjoy some views of the awe-inspiring coastlines that make up the South Island and the Kaikoura Coast.

Nelson scenic route

🚗 Nelson to Kaikoura Coastal Drive:

  • 🍇 Begin in Nelson, a sunny city surrounded by vineyards.
  • 🏞️ Embark on a scenic 400 km drive along the East Coast to Kaikoura.
  • 🍷 Explore the Marlborough wine region en route.
  • 🦐 Kaikoura is renowned for whale watching and seafood.
  • 🏔️ Majestic views of the Seaward Kaikoura Range.

🗺️ Travel Tips:

  • 🌅 Sunrise over the Pacific is breathtaking.
  • 🦑 Indulge in fresh crayfish and seafood delicacies in Kaikoura.
  • 🐋 Book a whale-watching tour for an unforgettable experience.

5. Dunedin to Te Anau

The route to Te Anau from Dunedin will transport you through farming scenery. 

You will enjoy views of the winding coastline and discover hidden waterfalls and the weather-beaten coast.

Ensure you take a drive to Kaka Point and enjoy the scenery of the majestic surf and rugged cliffs.

If you want to enjoy some natural beauty, take a detour through Invercargill to Colac Bay and view more scenery at Manapouri.

Te Anau scenic route

🚗 Dunedin to Te Anau Highland Journey:

  • 🏰 Start in Dunedin, known for its Scottish heritage and historic architecture.
  • 🏞️ Embark on a 290 km drive through the picturesque Southern Scenic Route.
  • 🌿 Explore the Catlins, featuring lush forests and rugged coastlines.
  • 🏞️ Pause at Lake Manapouri and Lake Te Anau for serene alpine views.
  • 🚶‍♂️ Nearby hikes: Kepler Track and the enchanting Mirror Lakes.

🗺️ Travel Tips:

  • 🐧 Visit the Otago Peninsula for wildlife encounters, including penguins.
  • 🌄 Sunset at Lake Te Anau offers breathtaking reflections.
  • 📚 Learn about Fiordland’s history at the Te Anau Museum.

6. Twizel to Mount Cook

If you need an Instagram-worthy photo to brag about your holiday in South Island, NZ, the route to Mt. Cook from Twizel is the perfect muse.

You would be interested to know that Sir Edmund Hillary practiced on Mt. Cook before he conquered Everest.

The views are bound to leave your jaws on the floor, so ensure you take your time to take in the scenery and capture photos of your adventures along the road.

Plan your trip early enough to ensure you have enough time to stop along the road and enjoy the heavenly views along your Journey.

Mount Cook scenic route

🚗 Twizel to Mount Cook Alpine Drive:

  • 🏞️ Begin in Twizel, a gateway to the Mackenzie Basin.
  • 🏔️ Drive 64 km towards Mount Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand.
  • 🏞️ En route, marvel at the turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki.
  • 🏞️ Stop at the Peter’s Lookout for iconic Aoraki/Mount Cook views.
  • 🏔️ Explore the Mount Cook Village and Hooker Valley Track for stunning alpine landscapes.

🗺️ Travel Tips:

  • 🌄 Sunrise at Mount Cook unveils spectacular hues on the Southern Alps.
  • 🍽️ Dine with mountain views at the Hermitage Hotel.
  • 🚁 Consider a helicopter tour for a breathtaking aerial perspective.

7. Lindis Pass

Lindis Pass is a sight to behold, and the pathway connects Lakes Pukaki, Wanaka, Tekapo, Wakatipu, Wanaka, and Christchurch. 

The entire route is full of beautiful sceneries, but the unique part of this route is the Lundis Pass.

It will take only 2 hours of continuous driving to travel from Lake Pukaki to Lake Wanaka. However, the Journey will take longer if you frequently stop along the road to enjoy the beautiful scenery and views.

Lindin Pass scenic route

🚗 Lindis Pass Scenic Drive:

  • 🏔️ Navigate the Lindis Pass, a mountainous road linking Central Otago and Mackenzie Basin.
  • 🍂 Experience a kaleidoscope of landscapes with tussock-covered hills and valleys.
  • 🌄 Golden hues during sunrise and sunset enhance the pass’s natural beauty.
  • 📷 Perfect for photography enthusiasts, capturing the vast, open landscapes.
  • 🍃 Enjoy the tranquility of the Ahuriri Conservation Park surrounding the pass.

🗺️ Travel Tips:

  • 🚙 Drive with caution as the road winds through varying elevations.
  • 🍽️ Pack a picnic and savor it amidst the stunning scenery.
  • 🌌 Stargazing opportunities are excellent due to minimal light pollution.

8. Dunedin to Invercargill through the Catlins

If you want to enjoy the coastline’s amazing views, you can visit Purakaunui Falls on your Journey from Dunedin to Invercargill.

On the way, you can explore the beautiful landscapes of Catlins or wander off for a short hike up to the Nugget Point Lighthouse. From this point, you will surely take in breathtaking coastline views. 

Remember to watch the fur seals as they laze and play about in rock pools.

Catlins scenic route

🚗 Dunedin to Invercargill via the Catlins Coastal Route:

  • 🏞️ Depart from Dunedin and follow the meandering roads of the Southern Scenic Route.
  • 🌊 Explore the enchanting Catlins, known for lush rainforests, rugged coastlines, and wildlife.
  • 🐧 Encounter native wildlife at Nugget Point, home to a captivating lighthouse.
  • 🏞️ Marvel at the Purakaunui Falls, a cascading waterfall surrounded by native bush.
  • 🌊 Journey along the scenic Southern Coast, with opportunities for beach walks and wildlife spotting.

🗺️ Travel Tips:

  • 📷 Don’t miss the photo-worthy Cathedral Caves and their unique coastal formations.
  • 🍴 Savor local seafood at one of the charming cafés along the route.
  • 🚶‍♂️ Take short walks like the McLean Falls Track for a closer connection to nature.

Bottom Line

There are very few travel destinations in the world that can compare to the Paradise that is New Zealand, South Island. 

You only need patience, essential gear, and a reliable transport mode to explore the region.

Of course, you must capture memories of your trip to earn bragging points amongst your friends, so remember to tag your camera along and throw in an extra memory card. New Zealand’s South Island is a place of wondrous beauty. 

🗾 If you want to check more scenic routes, we have prepared another article for the Best Scenic Routes in the North Island, New Zealand

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