There are a number of ways to get to the South Island however the most popular one is catching a flight to either Christchurch or Queenstown airports. Depending on where in New Zealand you're traveling from, it's generally cheaper to fly into Christchurch than it is to fly into Queenstown. This is due to the fact that Queenstown is a more popular destination, especially during ski season.
Another way to travel to the South Island includes catching a ferry from Wellington on the North Island to Picton on the South Island, where you can also take your vehicle.
Flying to the South Island
As previously mentioned, the main airports to fly into are located in Christchurch and Queenstown, however, you can also fly into Dunedin. Each airport offers a vast number of flights both in and out of the destination throughout the day. Flights into Christchurch are often cheaper because it is centrally located and not as popular as Queenstown. Dunedin also offers quite cheap flights from a number of airlines.
Car rental companies are located at each of the three airports in their international arrivals area and offer extremely good rates on rentals depending on what car you want and how long you need it for.
Taking a ferry to the South Island
If you're keen to travel across to the South Island by ferry then catching a ride on the 'Interislander' isn't a bad way to do it. Featuring a fleet of three ferries, the Kaitaki, Arahura, and Aratere, the ships sail between Wellington and Picton (located at the tip of the South Island) several times a day. The ships themselves are considered quite glamourous and offer impeccable views of New Zealand's mountain ranges as you journey across the Cook Strait.
Ticket prices are divided into three tiers, one for infants (they travel for free), children, and adults but can differ depending on the season you're traveling in (peak or normal season). Prices start at $35 for children and $60 for adults. You can also bring your vehicle with you on the ferry and those tickets are more expensive depending on what kind of vehicle you have.
Road conditions on the South Island
Once you've disembarked from the ferry you can continue on your South Island road trip. Making your way around by car is possibly the best way to see everything the South Island has to offer from Lake Tekapo to Queenstown.
The road conditions, in terms of the weather, on the South Island depends on what time of the year you're traveling in. If you're traveling during the Spring and Summer months it's unlikely you'll see any snow or ice on the roads or highways between destinations. Freak snowstorms and unexpected weather conditions can happen though so it's best to keep up to date with forecasts. However, if you're traveling during Winter or Autumn you can expect the roads to be slippery in the morning due to frosts overnight.
Typically it only takes around half an hour for roads to thaw but be mindful of roads that are quite shaded (and without sun) as they'll most likely still be icy. More importantly, leave plenty of time to travel between destinations as you might have to drive slower due to wet or snowy conditions.
Our South Island Tours