EPIC Road Trip Around New Zealand's South Island - Two Week Itinerary and Tips!

May 28, 2018

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!

 

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!

 

 

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

 

 

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 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!

 

 

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

 

 

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!

 

 

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!

 

 

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 - big, beautiful and busy in the summer time 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!

 

 

Day 4 - Hokitika (via Greymouth) - $$

 

Waking up besides a lake feels pretty good doesn’t it?! Well, enjoy it, cook some breakfast and make a coffee. There honestly 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 time! 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.

 

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)

 

 

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

 

Things get exciting again 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!

 

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)

 

 

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:

 

Fox Glacier Lodge - $40 for two people

 

Fox Glacier Top 10 Holiday Park - $45 for two people

 

 

Day 7 - Haast (via Bruce Bay & Lake Peringa & Lake Moeraki) - $$$

 

First things first, you’ll want a full tank of fuel for this drive, as you could say that the petrol stations are few and far between… As in, none for close to 200km. It’s going to be great though and maybe even your favourite of all the drives so far! Wave goodbye to Mount Fox on your left and let the journey show you more of the amazing Southern Alps, whilst getting a glimpse of the ocean to the west. Before you know it, you’ll pass by Bruce Bay, which is probably your first sight of golden sands so far.

 

Bruce Bay isn’t the only place that you can stop at on the way… Lake Peringa and Lake Moeraki are beautiful and peaceful (apart from the sandflies)! Knight’s Point offers incredible views down the coastline and Ships Creek Beach is a coastal paradise! The rest of the drive to Haast takes you through full of protected and internationally recognised, unique and diverse natural beauty, as well as some of the world’s rarest wildlife! All that’s left to do is finish making your way to the small village of Haast and wait for another amazing day tomorrow!

 

 

Things To Do:

 

Knight’s Point & Ships Creek Beach (if you haven’t already).

 

Enjoy the 45 minute drive (one-way) down to Jacksons Bay.

 

Where To Stay:

 

Haast Lodge - $40 for two people

 

Haast River Holiday Park - $44 for two people

 

 

Day 7 - Wanaka (via Haast Pass & Lake Hawea) - $$$$

 

This journey should take about 2 hours but, trust us, it’s going to take a lot longer with the amount you’ll be stopping to take in all of the scenery! With the Haast River to your left and the Southern Alps standing tall above you, you’ll be following Highway 6 in land. An abundance of amazing places always seem to be just around the corner, like Roaring Billy Waterfall that allows you to literally walk out onto the dried up, glacial riverbed if the conditions are right. Likewise, Lake Wanaka just seems to pop out from around the corner and leaves you speechless! First, you realise how unfathomably large it is and, then, as if if can’t get any more scenic, Lake Hawea tops it off before you actually arrive at the town of Wanaka!

 

 

Things To Do:

 

Stroll around the lake & enjoy sights such as #ThatWanakaTree, Waterfall Creek or Glendhu Bay.

 

Climb Roy’s Peak or Isthmus Peak - difficult 6 hour walks up to the best views of the town, lake and surrounding mountain ranges.

 

Visit Mount Aspiring National Park - the 1 hour drive on unsealed roads might be enough of an adventure for most, with incredible mountain views the whole way. Guided treks up Mount Aspiring are an option too.

 

Where To Stay:

 

Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park - $45 for two people

 

Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park

 

Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park

 

Glendhu Bay Motor Camp

 

 

Day 8 - Queenstown (via The Crown Range) - $$$$$

 

The drives just keep getting better and better, and this is one that you won’t forget! The Crown Range is New Zealand’s highest (sealed road) mountain pass, yet the surrounding peaks still dwarf anyone that attempts to drive it. Thanks to the sand-coloured hillsides, it’s like you’re pod-racing on Tattooine from Star Wars! As the road takes you higher and higher, the adrenaline really starts to kick in and then you reach the Crown Range Lookout… Your jaw drops and your eyes widen. Now you’re experiencing the worst vertigo of your life as you try to take in the panoramic scene in front of you, from the top of the snow covered mountains to the seemingly bottomless valley below, and all the way out to Lake Wakatipu. There’s just some winding roads to go before you reach Queenstown - the adventure capital of New Zealand and an adrenaline junky’s dream!

 

WARNING: Check for closures and road conditions ahead of time to avoid disappointment. Carry snow chains in and either side of winter.

 

 

Things To Do:

 

Get a gondola up one of the surrounding mountains and get the luge or ziplines back down. Alternatively, just trek the Tiki Track for free (2 hour return walk).

 

Enjoy a scenic boat cruise around Lake Wakatipu (roughly $40), go river rafting (roughly $230) or try “canyon jets” (roughly $150).

 

Get the heart racing with skydiving (from $289) or bungy jumping (from $170).

 

Drive along the east side of the lake to Glenorchy, with views of the Richardson Mountains on the way and The Remarkables on the way back.

 

Where To Stay:

 

Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park - $55 for two people (low season)

 

Queenstown Holiday Park, Creeksyde - $55 for two people (low season)

 

Twelve Mile Delta Camping Ground - $13 per person (DOC)

 

Lake Face Creek Camping Ground, Glenorchy Road - FREE!

 

Glacier Burn Car Park, Glenorchy - FREE!

 

 

Day 9 - Te Anau (via Kingston & Mossburn) - $$$

 

With views of The Remarkables to your left, Lake Wakatipu to your right and Queenstown in your rearview mirror, head south on Highway 6. Enjoy the views while you can can because, after the town of Kingston, we found that the drive becomes fairly boring and uninteresting. Granted, the weather wasn’t so great for us and, on a good day, you might actually be able to see the Eyre Mountains on your right. From Mossburn, after exiting Highway 6 and beginning your journey west, there isn’t too far to go until you reach Te Anau and, thankfully, things get a bit more exciting thanks to West Dome and the Takitimu Mountains! Lake Te Anau is a gem of the Southlands, with views of Mount Luxmore, Mount Owen and Black Cone. And yet, things get even better tomorrow!

 

 

Things To Do:

 

Stroll around Lake Te Anau marvelling at the surrounding mountains.

 

Get a boat tour to the glow worm caves - around $100 per person.

 

Visit the bird sanctuary - FREE!

 

Where To Stay:

 

Te Anau Top 10 Holiday Park

 

Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Park

 

Te Anau Lakeview Holiday Park

 

 

Day 10 - Milford Sound (via Lake Gunn & Cleddau Valley) - $$$$$

 

The drive to Milford Sound is UNBEATABLE and the landscapes along the way are absolutely breathtaking! From Te Anau, the journey takes 2-3 hours, but you’re probably going to be stopping quite frequently! Heading north on Highway 94 takes you alongside Lake Te Anau, over Knob’s Flat and up to Lakes Gunn and Fergus. From there, it’s as alpine as it gets, with waterfalls dissecting mountain ranges and rivers cascading through creeks and snowy woodland. The Hollyford Valley before The Homer Tunnel and Cleddau Valley just the other side are like nothing you’ve seen before and then all that's left to do is to gaze and gawk at Milford Sound itself!

 

WARNING: Check for closures and road conditions ahead of time to avoid disappointment. Carry snow chains in and either side of winter.

 

 

Things To Do:

 

Stroll around the shores whilst taking in the spectacular sights and seeing what wildlife you can spot.

 

Book a boat cruise - prices from $45.

 

Enjoy a scenic flight - prices from $400.

 

See what’s beneath the surface of the water - go scuba diving (prices around $350) or check out The Underwater Observatory ($36 per person).

 

Where To Stay:

 

Milford Sound Lodge - $60 for two people

 

Lake Mackenzie Camping Ground - £13 per person (DOC)

 

Cascade Creek Camping Ground, Lake Gunn - $13 per person (DOC)

 

 

 

Tuesday - Day 11 - Dunedin (via Mossburn & Gore) - $$$

 

Honestly, this part of the road trip is optional… It’s overwhelmingly long (it took us over 7 hours!) and you’re going to be going back on a lot of the past couple of day’s driving. If you have more time, you should definitely go south at Te Anau, past Lake Manapouri and along the “Southern Scenic Route”, stopping at Slope Point and Nugget Point along the way! The alternative drive inland is a bit hit and miss when it comes to exciting scenery, but it certainly isn’t all bad. There’s the Hokonui Hills just before Gore and then some really enjoyable roads afterwards. Either way, the drive to Dunedin is well worth it, especially because you get to explore the Otago Peninsula! 

 

Things To Do:

 

Brave the narrow roads on the Otago Peninsula, visit Larnach Castle and enjoy a walk around Sandymount or Taiaroa Head.

 

Get a Monarch Wildlife Cruise (prices from $50 per person) or a wildlife tour with the Royal Albatross Centre (prices from $25 per person).

 

Walk along St Clair Beach or on the cliffs at Tunnel Beach - FREE!

 

Visit the Otago Museum or Dunedin Public Art Gallery - FREE!

 

Where To Stay:

 

Dunedin Holiday Park

 

Leith Valley Touring Park

 

Aaron Lodge Top 10 Holiday Park

 

Portobello Village Tourist Park

 

Carey’s Bay - FREE!

 

 

Wednesday - Day 12 - Lake Tekapo (via Moeraki & Burke’s Pass) - $$$

 

Today’s relatively long drive gets off to a really scenic start, with rolling hills and winding roads right out of Dunedin! Highway 1 takes you north up the east coast, stopping at Shag Point for access to a beautiful beach and Moeraki for photos with the colossal, iconic boulders. From there, there sadly isn’t much exciting scenery and it seems to continues this way well past Timaru. At this point, day turned to night for us, so we wouldn’t have seen much anyway... That is, until Burke’s Pass, where we saw the Dalgety Mountain Range silhouetted against the moon-lit sky! Driving after dark isn’t such a bad idea considering Highway 8 takes you into New Zealand's Dark Sky Reserve and, with views of Mount Dobson, Mount Roundhill and Mount Musgrave, Lake Tekapo is the perfect place to enjoy all of the stars!

 

Things To Do:

 

Stroll around the shores of Lake Tekapo and visit The Church Of The Good Shepherd.

 

Gaze up at the stars for free, or visit an observatory (tours from around $150 per person).

 

Climb up Mount John - 3 hour return walk for stunning views of Lake Tekapo.

 

Enjoy a scenic flight - prices from $150.

 

Where To Stay:

 

Lake Tekapo Holiday Park - $50 for two people.

 

Lake Pukaki - FREE! - 3 nearby freedom camping spots.

 

 

Thursday - Day 13 - Mount Cook (via Lake Pukaki) - $

 

Taking Highway 8 west leads you a short way to Lake Pukaki, another stunning lake with water as blue as a precious stone! Stop here for views of Mount Cook on a clear day, right from the shore of the lake. Highway 20 takes you from there to Mount Cook National Park, with Lake Pukaki to your right and the Ben Ohau Mountains to your left! And if you think that sounds amazing, just wait until the drive through the valley right before the national park, with Mount Blackmore to your right and, of course, Mount Cook in front! The views are so unbelievable that they seem like CGI! Waiting for you is one of the best campsites in New Zealand, and some of the most incredible walking tracks for you to enjoy!

 

Things To Do:

 

Do the Glencoe Walk (30 minute return) or Governors Bush Walk (1 hour return) and reach some of the area’s best look out points.

 

Enjoy a slightly longer trek up the Hooker Valley (for the best views of Mount Cook) or the Tasman Valley (for views of New Zealand’s longest glacier)!

 

Spend a couple of days doing the Ball Pass Crossing - a trek for the more advanced mountaineers that crosses the Mount Cook Range between the Hooker and Tasman Valleys.

 

Enjoy a scenic flight - prices start at ONLY $99!

 

Where To Stay:

 

White Horse Hill Camping Ground - $13 per person (DOC).

 

Lake Pukaki - FREE! - 3 nearby freedom camping spots.

 

 

Friday - Day 14 - Christchurch / North Island / Queenstown

 

Over 2000km later, and the road trip is coming to an end today. You may be returning to Christchurch or might even have extra time to head up the coast to Kaikoura, Nelson and then on to the North Island. That was the plan for our next road trip! If you want to head back to Queenstown like we did, then you’re in for a real treat with an unsurprisingly stunning journey thanks to Lindis Pass, Lake Dunstan and the Kawarau River!

 

 

 

 

The Route - 14 Days!

 

 

Alternative Route - 10 Days!

 

 

Alternative Route - 20 Days!

 

 

 

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