2019.5.21 - selfie, the rumps, near polz
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EPIC Road Trip Around New Zealand's South Island! 2 Week Itinerary, What To Do & Where To Visit!

Doing a road trip around New Zealand might just be the best way to explore the unspoilt landscapes, mind-blowing mountain ranges and coastal paradises. Having your very own camper van gives you the freedom to go at your own pace, stop wherever and whenever you want and even meet loads of new friends at all of the campsites! But, what if you can’t decide where to go in the first place? Well, that’s exactly why we’ve written this blog post with plenty of tips that might help you along the way, including where to go, what to do and all the best places to camp and stay!

Now, we are just focussing on the South Island here (with highlights like Milford Sound, the Glacier Highway and the Otago lakes) and have based it on a two week itinerary (the perfect amount of time if you don’t want to rush or squeeze everything in). You’re going to be speechless when you see some of the sights, whether it’s when you stop or right from the front seat of your vehicle!

Snowy Scenes At Fiordlands National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Hiring A Campervan In New Zealand

When it comes to car/campervan rentals in New Zealand, one of the most popular and affordable choices is a company called Jucy. The bright green and purple coloured campers can be seen on roads, in lay-bys and at campsites all over New Zealand. They have multiple pick up and drop off locations all over the North and South Islands, so you can start and finish your road trip wherever you want. What we love most about Jucy is the option to carbon offset - an additional cost that funds the planting of trees, which obviously has endless benefits! We chose one of their Condo camper vans and we were beyond impressed with it! It had everything we needed including a fitted kitchen, and was even quite comfortable. Having a self-contained camper van is a good idea because of the extra space and, although you can’t just camp anywhere you want, you do have a lot more options when it comes to camping for free. For a list of New Zealand’s camping grounds and freedom camping sites, check out www.rankers.co.nz/respect

Jucy Camper Van Near Lake Wanaka, South Island, New Zealand

What To Know About New Zealand Roads

If you’re used to driving on the left side of the road, then you really don’t have much to worry about. Just be aware of all signs and only pull over where and when it’s safe to do so. There isn’t any need for an international driving licence (just a licence written in English), and there isn’t any need for insurance (although it might be a good idea). Something worth doing before your trip is completing the AA’s Visiting Driver Training Programme, which will certainly help you get to grips with New Zealand’s roads and can be found at https://www.aa.co.nz/travel/rental-vehicles-and-transport/visitors-to-new-zealand/visiting-driver-training-programme/

Generally, the speed limit on the highways is 100 KPH and 50 KPH through towns. It’s because of these slower speed limits through towns, as well as the winding mountain roads, that the journeys in New Zealand can take a lot longer than you might expect… Plus, there’s all of the stopping you might be doing to take in all of the scenery! So, give yourself plenty of time!

Read our 5 Must Do Drives In New Zealand HERE!

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How Much Does It Cost?

For reference, this is a rough breakdown of how much a road trip of this kind could cost two people. If you’re wanting to do lots of exciting activities, such as helicopter flights, skydiving or boat cruises, then you can expect to spend much more. Otherwise, there are plenty of free/cheap activities you can do too, including some incredibly enjoyable walks and mountain treks! Bare in mind WiFi is an optional extra at some commercial holiday parks and freedom camping isn’t always allowed in a lot of places. DOC camping grounds are a fantastic, affordable option, that also supports the conservation of New Zealand’s nature and wildlife! You can even buy a DOC weekly camp ground pass beforehand to save even more!

Van hire - $1300

Petrol - $600-$700

Campsites & Wifi - $400-$600

Food & drink - $550-$700

Activities - $50-$300 PLUS

Miscellaneous (laundry, parking etc) - $30-$60

Near Fox Glacier, South Island, New Zealand

The Itinerary!

Day 1 - Christchurch - $$$$

Christchurch is a great place to start a road trip around New Zealand’s South Island, and the perfect place for all of the preparations you might need to make! You’ll probably want to take a day to acclimatise to the time zone too, so we recommend getting a hotel for the night before the road trip officially begins the following day! Getting from the airport into Christchurch is easy - bus 29 terminates at the main interchange and, at $8.50, it’s much cheaper than a taxi.

Christchurch itself is a pretty big city but, to us, it felt very quaint. Everyone was amazingly kind, welcoming and friendly, and there were plenty of places to stay and eat (C1 Espresso was our favourite). The devastation caused by the 2011 earthquake can certainly still be seen and felt around town, with the cathedral being a specific and important point of interest. Information boards, memorials and art installations can be found in this area. Old-timely, traditional-looking trams stand out against the impressive, modern architecture and really cool street art can be seen amongst the redevelopments.

Things To Do:

Get a guided tour around the city on a tram - $25

Stroll around Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens - FREE!

Visit Canterbury Museum & Christchurch Art Gallery - FREE!

Ride the Christchurch Cable Car - $28 (+$10 for return shuttle bus ride)

Trek the bridle path to Lyttleton - FREE!

Arthur's Pass, South Island, New Zealand

Day 2 - Arthur’s Pass (via Springfield & Castle Hill) - $

Taking Highway 73 out of Christchurch is a bit of a slow start to an otherwise epic road trip... After passing the town of Springfield, mountain peaks tower above you and powerful, glacial rivers guide the way. The views from the high mountain roads are breathtaking and the scenes down in the valleys are just stunning! Castle Hill seems to come out from nowhere and transports you to somewhere that's straight out of Lord Of The Rings! Then, there’s just a few narrow bridges and some amazing lakes in between you and Arthur’s Pass!

Things To Do:

Devil’s Punch Bowl Waterfall - an impressive and prominent waterfall that isn’t too far of a walk away. Can even be seen from the car park!

Bridal Veil Waterfall - walk through an amazing mossy woodland to a lookout for the waterfall and a stellar view of the valley.

Avalanche Peak Trek (Scott’s Track) - opposite Devil’s Punchbowl on the opposite side of the main road is the start of this 6+ hour return trek. Climb up to the 1800m high summit and be rewarded with stellar panoramic views!

Avalanche Creek Waterfall (Millennium Walk) - three separate falls that are only a short walk from the Visitor Centre following the Avalanche Peak Track (a steeper alternative to Scott’s Track to Avalanche Peak) for a short while.

Where To Stay:

Avalanche Creek Camping Ground - $8 per person (DOC)

Greyness Camping Ground - FREE!

Otira Viaduct, Near Arthur's Pass, South Island, New Zealand

Day 3 - Moana & Lake Brunner (via Otira Viaduct & Jacksons) - $$

Heading further west from Arthur’s Pass, it’s not long before you reach Otira Viaduct, a masterpiece of human engineering and quite the awe-inspiring sight. After stopping and snapping some photos from the view point, it’s time to drive right over it and onwards to Jacksons. Here, the road breaks off from Highway 73 and heads in the direction of Greymouth via Moana. The mountains open up a bit here too, with long roads leading you through an alpine plaeteu surrounded by green hillsides. The town of Moana sits on Lake Brunner - beautiful, busy in the summertime thanks to all of the water sports and walking trails.

Things To Do:

Walk the Carew Falls Track around the lake - a 1 hour walk up the west side of the lake with Carew Waterfall waiting to be found on the way.

Climb Mount Te Kinga or Mount French - 8 hour returns walks with spectacular views from the top and on the way up!

Where To Stay:

Lake Brunner Motor Camp - $20 per person.

Iveagh Bay - FREE!

Mountains Near Franz Josef Glacier, South Island, New Zealand

Day 4 - Hokitika (via Greymouth) - $$

There's nothing better than waking up next to a lake, right?! Better yet, you can either take it slow - cook some breakfast and make a coffee - or get straight to some hiking in the area, as there isn’t much driving to be done today and it certainly isn’t going to be that strenuous of a drive. Woodland hugs both sides of the road up until Greymouth and there are occasional breaks in the trees that offer beautiful scenery. If you fancy a stop, Greymouth is home to a beach and even wild penguins in the summer! The remainder of the drive to Hokitika isn’t so interesting, but once you arrive, you’ll find plenty of exciting things to do!

Things To Do:

Walk along Hokitika Beach & wonder down to Sunset Point.

Stroll around Lake Kaniere & search for Dorothy Falls.

Climb Mount Brown or Mount Tuhua - 4 hour and 7 hour return walks respectively.

Head 33km down the road to Hokitika’s Blue Gorge - an incredible granite gorge with a milky blue river running through and a “swing bridge” suspended above. Backyard Travel Family have a great blog post all about Hokitika's Blue Gorge here!

Visit the Kowhitirangi Incident Memorial - a memorial for the victims of the Stanley Graham shootings located on the way to Hokita Gorge. Maybe not something to take the kids to?

Where To Stay:

252 Beachside Holiday Park

Shining Star Beachfront Accommodation

Hans Bay, Lake Kaniere Camping Ground - $8 per person (DOC)

Lake Mahinapua Camping Ground - $13 per person (DOC)

Read our Guide For More Eco Friendly Road Trips HERE!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!

Day 5 - Franz Josef Glacier (via Lake Ianthe & Lake Mapourika) - $$

Things get really exciting as you follow Highway 6 south. You’ll quickly find yourself driving through Jurassic Park style jungle, which continues well past the town of Ross. After reaching Lake Ianthe, there’s still a fair way to go until Franz Josef... Lake Ianthe and Lake Mapourika are both great places to picnic if the sun’s out and even camp if you wish, but you won’t be disappointed by what’s to come if you push on, with multiple milky-blue rivers and so much gorgeous greenery! Throughout the journey, the views of the Southern Alps are beyond words, and the views from Franz Josef are just as stunning!

Franz Josef Glacier, South Island, New Zealand

Things To Do:

Climb Sentinel Rock, Canavan’s Knob or Alex Knob - 20 minute, 1 hour or 8 hour return walks respectively for views of the glacier.

Trek the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk - a 2 hour return walk through the valley and up to a view point close to the glacier.

Water sports on Lake Mapourika - kayak and paddle board sessions with what seems like the whole of the Southern Alps as your backdrop. Prices from around $90.

Enjoy a scenic flight - helicopter and aeroplane flights to Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier and even Mount Cook. Prices range from $120 to $300+

Bath in the Hot Pools - perhaps the best thing to do after a long day of trekking! Prices from $28 per person.

Where To Stay:

Glacier Country Campervan Park - $35 for two people (winter rate)

Franz Josef Campervan Park - $35 for two people (winter rate)

Otto/McDonalds Camping Grounds, Lake Mapourika - $13 per person (DOC)

Views At Lake Matheson, South Island, New Zealand

Day 6 - Fox Glacier (via Lake Matheson) - $$$

We’ve already said that you need to allow extra time for your journeys in New Zealand, and that definitely applies to this drive! The twists and turns in the winding mountain roads might make it enjoyable to some, but not so much to others. Either way, it’s going to be worth it when you’re rewarded with the sight of the small, rural town in the valley, as well as the surrounding lakes and snowy peaks!

Things To Do:

Stroll around Lake Matheson - the best reflective views of Fox Glacier, Mount Tasman, Mount Cook and much more!

Trek the Fox Glacier Valley Walk - a 1 hour return walk through the valley and up to a view point close to the glacier.

Enjoy a scenic flight - helicopter and aeroplane flights to Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier and even Mount Cook. Prices range from $120 to $300+

Where To Stay: