Travelling New Zealand’s incredible South Island is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, there is literally nothing else in the world like its wild, rugged and picturesque terrain.

The real beauty of the South Island lies in its untouched, almost inaccessible and remote landscape. This beauty is apparent in the heart-stopping views, the lush flora and wild fauna, the ridiculous roadways, and a natural charm that surpasses any mere words of description.

You’ll have to go there yourself to truly understand what we mean, and so we’ve put together the perfect guide for your South Island campervan road trip. Because there’s simply no other way to see the South Island than surrendering to the freedom that is campervanning.

In this guide, you’ll learn about:

  •             Top tips to follow before you start your South Island adventure
  •             All the staples you need to bring — plus our list of 5 must-have ‘extras’
  •             Our pick of the 5 best campgrounds to stay at during your South Island trip
  •             The best national parks you simply cannot miss
  •             Truly breathtaking views on South Island you should plan to catch
  •             The most scenic routes to add to your South Island adventure itinerary
  •             Road Trip Itinerary: Christchurch to Kaikoura
  •             Road Trip Itinerary: South Island, from Westland Tai Poutini National Park to Lake Tekapo

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Top Tips Before You Start Your South Island Adventure

Your South Island adventure depends on how well you understand the journey ahead of you.

Putting the generic stuff to one side (like ‘make sure to have enough money for fuel’ or ‘plan most of your itinerary/routes beforehand’), here are seven important tips unique to making your South Island trek a whopping success. And to making a safe return, to boot.

Choose the right campervan in NZ

What’s the ‘right’ campervan? Well, it’s not really a ‘one-size-fits-all’ type of situation. The right campervan for you will depend on a variety of things, such as:

  •             the size of your party,
  •             the nature of your travels,
  •             whether you intend to go free camping or if you’ll be mostly keeping to holiday parks,
  •             your comfort levels when driving on the roads,
  •             whether you plan to cook a lot,
  •             how much space you’ll need
  •             whether you’ll have a roadside assistance program
  •             what you’re planning to pack
  •             if you’ll be doing your own biking or kayaking activities

…and more.

Whether you’re buying or renting your campervan, you want to take a look at what’s included. For example, is insurance covered? Are there cooking utensils and cutlery provided? Are bedding and towels included? Does the model have a GPS? Does the van include USB outlets for charging? 

Consider if you’ll need a self-contained vehicle

It’s very simple: ‘self-contained‘ vehicles have toilets while non-self-contained vans do not. If you have the former, you’re welcome to park anywhere and go ‘free camping’. Pick a spot, set up camp and do your business inside.

There are laws against freedom camping without a proper vehicle, however, and a hefty fine if you fail to adhere. Many places around New Zealand, such as Wanaka or Queenstown, are now protected under this major law.

Plan to have basic roadside assistance and maintenance skills

It’s a good idea to take a safety skills or survival course before you embark on your multi-week road trip. There’s nothing particularly treacherous on South Island, but you should consider these risks when going free camping anywhere in the world.

And, deciding on which vehicle or campervan you’ll be travelling with, familiarise yourself with basics like changing a tire and jump-starting the battery — or opt into a roadside assistance program. If you rent with Travellers Autobarn, for example, this program is built right into your rental.

 

What do I need to bring?

Your ‘list’ of things to bring should include staples and, of course, any creature comforts you can’t live without. An essentials list, for example, might look something like this:

  •             Sleeping bags
  •             Hiking shoes
  •             Gloves, socks, weather-appropriate clothing
  •             Any extra cooking implements
  •             Coolers
  •             Adapters and power bars
  •             Flashlights or hats/helmets with LEDs
  •             Sheets
  •             First Aid Kit
  •             Snack bars for hiking
  •             A camping water-purifier/cleaner

Depending on which models of campervans you rent, certain essentials will come with the vehicle. Traveller Autobarn’s HiTop model, for example, includes pillows, bedding, a gas stove, a sink, kitchenette, cutlery, utensils, cleaning equipment, dishes and more.

Along with these essentials, consider bringing the following:

  •             A quick-dry towel
  •             A Bluetooth speaker
  •             A swimsuit
  •             A sturdy but lightweight daypack

Now that you’re all packed up and ready to go, it’s time to hit the road. Where are you off to? We have your campgrounds, national parks, scenic drives and more.

5 Best Campgrounds to Stay at in the South Island

Whether you’re planning to go ‘glamping’ at a holiday park, or you’re planning to head entirely off the grid whenever the fancy strikes you, South Island is teeming with amazing campgrounds.

Moke Lake Campsite

Moke Lake Campsite

(Source: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/otago/places/queenstown-area/things-to-do/moke-lake-campsite/

The Moke Lake campsite is a popular spot for scenic treks, fishing, and swimming. You can also head on a horse riding adventure or simply set up camp and enjoy the view of the lake.

Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park

Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park

(Source: https://holidaypark.net.nz/

Like any great holiday park, the Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park boasts a wonderful blend of creature comforts and outdoor adventures. It’s a mere 500-metre walk from the shores of Wakatipu and there are plenty of activities on offer, including hiking, swimming, fishing and kayaking.

Lake Mahinapua

Lake Mahinapua

(Source: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/west-coast/places/mahinapua-scenic-reserve/

Camping at Lake Mahinapua, you’ll find that you can enjoy a variety of water sports in beautiful forest surroundings. You can go paddle-boating, kayaking, swimming and more!

Picnic Bay

Picnic Bay

(Source: http://www.bestofmagnetic.com/accommodation/158

Stop for a day or two at Picnic Bay campgrounds and you’ll be greeted by a sweeping beach, a tranquil breeze and a picturesque jetty. Enjoy swimming, boating, hiking to Hawkings Point, or a romantic beachside dinner!

Momorangi Bay

Momorangi Bay

(Source: https://www.cruiseguide.co.nz/queen-charlotte-sound/momorangi-bay

The beautiful, sheltered Momorangi Bay is a stunning locale. A family-friendly campground surrounded by several bush-covered hills, Momorangi Bay is an ideal place for swimming, boating, fishing and hiking. In the evenings, take a trip to the magical glow-worm grotto.

Located at the very left hand tip of the North Island, 6 hours north of Auckland. Known to have the best beach breaks on a sandy beach. This is an isolated and remote camp spot, so if you’re looking for tranquility and to get away from the crowds, then come and explore. North Cape in general makes for a great fishing trip and there are some stunning drives that will take your breath away on every bend.

Best National Parks to visit on your South Island Road Trip

The luxury of a campervan is the ability to go wherever your fancy strikes you, with the option to keep to a planned itinerary if you wish. If you’re hoping to hit up national parks in South Island, these five create a great circuit!

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park

There’s nothing quite like Abel Tasman National Park, with its golden beaches, hewn granite cliffs and world-famous coastal track. Plan for activities like hiking, kayaking, swimming and fishing.

Mount Aspiring National Park

Mount Aspiring National Park

The Great Coast Road
Does this sound familiar…sort of like Australia’s ‘Great Ocean Road’? Well, it is. This historic route does the West Coast shoreline full justice, giving you unforgettable views of the choppy Tasman Sea on one side and the dense, mysterious and alluring rainforest on the other side. Plan to hit Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks as well, you won’t be disappointed!

Mount Aspiring National Park is a wilderness unlike anything you’ve witnessed so far. With its high, spiralling mountains, gorgeous, deep-cut river valleys and varied wildlife, this national park is every hiker’s paradise.

Kahurangi National Park

Kahurangi National Park

(Source: http://www.earthseagallery.com/paintings/boulder-lake-kahurangi-national-park-e37ec2ee-3f97-495f-8b2e-b2252df6ed25

As the second largest national park in New Zealand, Kahurangi can get pretty remote. The name means ‘treasured possession’ in the Indigenous language, and. when you head in to experience its incredible shoreline, beautiful forests and fantastic activities (mountain biking, anyone?), you’ll see why.

Paparoa National Park

Paparoa National Park

(Source: https://www.backpackerguide.nz/paparoa-national-park-guide-backpackers/

Vast coastal forests, jagged limestone cliffs and naturally cut canyons are not just a feast for the eyes but a rigorous workout for the body too. Plan to head to Paparoa National Park if you’re looking for an adventurous challenge, and lots of caving opportunities.

Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park

(Source:https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/fiordland/places/fiordland-national-park/

Author Rudyard Kipling once described Fiordland National Park as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. And with the famous Milford Sound hiking trail, Doubtful Sound dolphins, waterfalls, seals and penguins, you’ll quickly believe the same.

Most Breathtaking Views on your South Island Road Trip

Okay, shutterbug, it’s time to get out your telescopic lens for the perfect shot. Whether you’re an Instagram-enthusiast or you’re planning on winning some serious photography prizes this year, here are our picks for the most breathtaking views on South Island.

The Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve

The Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve

(Source: https://mackenzienz.com/scenic-highlights/dark-sky-reserve/

Sounds promising, doesn’t? The reserve is remote and rests far away from any interfering light pollution. Nestled within the reserve is the research centre dedicated to astronomy, Mount John Observatory. It is the spot in New Zealand to go stargazing, catch incredible shots of the galaxies and even the Aurora Australis, or ‘Southern Lights’.

Kaikoura

Kaikoura

(Source: https://www.christchurchnz.com/destinations/kaikoura/

Kaikoura is like something out of Star Wars. It features towering, looming mountains, with incredible scenic points as well as a sprawling and epic coastline. Besides views of its geography, you’ll be able to go whale-watching and dolphin-spotting as well!

Mt. Roy, Wanaka

Mt. Roy, Wanaka

(Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/destinations/nz/79317293/five-hikes-in-wanaka-that-arent-mt-roy

You’ve probably seen this spot on the screen before, but nothing beats actually witnessing it in person. Known as Roy’s Peak, this lookout point overlooks Wanaka, the Matukituki Valley and even provides an epic panorama of Mt Aspiring.

Punakaiki

Punakaiki

(Source: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/west-coast/places/paparoa-national-park/things-to-do/tracks/pancake-rocks-and-blowholes-walk/

Watch unstoppable waves crash against the craggy cliffs on the west coast of New Zealand when you visit Punakaiki. Wild and ancient, this is a view of a lifetime and you’re likely to get sprayed more than once, thanks to all the hidden blowholes.

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound

(Source: https://www.backpackingmatt.com/climbing-mitre-peak-new-zealand/

If this isn’t already on your ‘bucket list’, well, it shouldbe! With its incredible, misty waterfalls, the mysterious Mitre Peak, its silent, untouched lakes and amazing wildlife, it’s easy to see why.

Most Scenic Routes to Take in the South Island

Looking for tips on which drives will prove the most fruitful? While we’re big believers in letting the road take you where it will, these five get our vote for the most scenic routes on the South Island.

The Lindis Pass

The Lindis Pass

(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindis_Pass

Nestled between Mt Cook Village and Wanaka or Queenstown is the Lindis Pass crossing. This is a dramatic alpine pass, almost barren and certainly wild in a scrubby sort of way. In winter, thick snowfall makes you think of a breathtaking scene from Lord of the Rings. Plan to stop at the viewpoint located on the summit for a view of these vast, sloping hillsides.

Crown Range Road

Crown Range Road

(Source: https://www.newzealand.com/us/feature/the-crown-range/

Crown Range Road will reward you for your slow and steady efforts: The summit stands at sky-scraping 1121 metres and gives you some of New Zealand’s most iconic views of the valley below.

Haast Pass

Haast Pass

(Source: http://ultimatewanaka.com/news/franz-josef-wanaka-haast-pass/

Blanketed with dense, luscious green forests and beautiful scenery, the Haast Pass provides drivers with memorable views and diverse wildlife. But, if you choose to stop or go slowly, you’ll be twice rewarded: the whole region is packed with stunning hiking trails, waterfalls at every bend, guided walks like the Blue pools walk, and amazing water sports.

Glenorchy-Queenstown Road

Glenorchy-Queenstown Road

(Source: https://www.roamingdownunder.com/glenorchy-road

While the sweet hamlet of Glenorchy itself demands a visit, the nearby road is a whole other story. It’s 45 minutes of pure lookouts, providing panoramic views of Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables mountain range.

Does this sound familiar…sort of like Australia’s ‘Great Ocean Road’? Well, it is. This historic route does the West Coast shoreline full justice, giving you unforgettable views of the choppy Tasman Sea on one side and the dense, mysterious and alluring rainforest on the other side. Plan to hit Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks as well, you won’t be disappointed!

The Great Coast Road

Great Coast Road New Zealand

Does this sound familiar…sort of like Australia’s ‘Great Ocean Road’? Well, it is. This historic route does the West Coast shoreline full justice, giving you unforgettable views of the choppy Tasman Sea on one side and the dense, mysterious and alluring rainforest on the other side. Plan to hit Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks as well, you won’t be disappointed!

Road Trip Itinerary 1

Two weeks on South Island, from Christchurch to Kaikoura

  •             Day 1 — Christchurch: Visit the Botanic Gardens, Cathedral Square and Re: Start Mall
  •             Day 2 & 3  — Lake Tekapo/Mt Cook: Drive three hours from Christchurch and arrive at the perfectly positioned and picturesque Lake Tekapo, and check out Aoraki Mt Cook village
  •             Day 4 & 5 — Fiordland: Once here, make sure to check out Milford Sound via a cruise booking, which will take you past towering peaks and cascading waterfalls, and don’t forget to visit the Te Anau glow worm caves
  •             Day 6 & 7 — Queenstown: Here, you can try a range of adventure sports, including bungy jumping, the canyon swing, jet boating, and white water rafting, or head for a relaxing wine tasting session at The Winery
  •             Day 8 — Wanaka: Enjoy Lake Wanaka via a kayak, or a guided boat tour, or visit the walks at Mt. Aspiring National Park. Don’t forget to make time to explore Mt Roy!
  •             Day 9 & 10 — Franz Josef: Explore the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, then take a dip in the warm waters of Glacier Hot Pools
  •             Day 11 & 12 — Nelson/Abel Tasman: Plan a day trip to Abel National Park but you’ll only be able to access the park via walking, kayak or cruise
  •             Day 13 & 14 — Kaikoura: Check out the Peninsula Lookout for stunning views of the bay and mountains, then head to Point Kean for a close-up on a colony of friendly seals!

Road Trip Itinerary 2

One week on South Island, from Westland Tai Poutini National Park to Lake Tekapo

  •             Day 1 — Fox Glacier: Start at Fox Glacier and experience both this and the Franz Josef through a ‘Heli Service’ ride, which takes you on a tour of the glaciers from a helicopter. Next, head to the Fox Glacier Lookout
  •             Day 2 — Wanaka: If it’s summertime, go jet-boating, kayaking and swimming, but if it’s winter, plan to hit the slopes! You can also visit wineries or check out Via Ferrata, the world’s highest waterfall climb
  •             Day 3 — Queenstown: Take a gondola up in Queenstown for a stunning view, get out on the water for some light kayaking, hit up Ferburger for a hearty lunch, then relax at Onsen Hot Pools
  •             Day 4 — On the road to Te Anau: The road to Te Anau is unbelievably beautiful so plan to incorporate plenty of stops for photos into your drive time
  •             Day 5 — Milford Sound: Don’t miss the traditional way to take in this region’s beauty, the Milford Sound Cruise
  •             Day 6 — Mount Cook: Also known as Aoraki, this is the highest mountain range in the country so plan to do a lot of hiking. But make sure to dress in plenty of layers as the weather changes from one moment to the next!
  •             Day 7 — Lake Tekapo: Hike around Lake Tekapo and capture its beauty via any of the trails and walks around the area.

Whatever road trip you decide on, you won’t be disappointed. New Zealand has the ability to take your breath away at every single moment. Here the journey really is the destination.

If you’ve been thinking about visiting New Zealand, make sure to visit the South Island, one of the most breathtaking places on earth. Speak with one of our team at Travellers Autobarn to see what deals are available.

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