New Zealand Trip Part 2: South Island in a Camper Van
New Zealand Trip Part 2. I talk about our 8 days in the South Island.
Day 1: Rotorua → Christchurch → Lake Tekapo
On our first day,
We fell in love with our camper van immediately. Every inch of the van was used so smartly. It was much better configured and equipped than the Happy Campers van that we rented during our Iceland trip.
We picked up some groceries and hopped on the State Highway 1 towards Lake Tekapo Holiday Park. I didn’t know about this at the time, but a “holiday park” is a campground that offers motels and lots for camper vans, RVs, and tents. It took us about 3 hours to get from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo.
By the time we reached the campground I was mentally exhausted from driving on the opposite side of the road. Why can’t all countries just stick to the right side, for frig’s sake!? New Zealand’s roads were no joke either; they were full of winding and narrow roads.
The campground was great. It had fantastic facilities and easy access to the lake. I slammed some well-deserved Kingfisher beers and called it a day.
Day 2: Lake Tekapo → Wanaka
The next day we started off with an early hike up Mount John. Its entrance happened to be a minute drive from the campsite. It was possible to drive to the top of Mount John, but we figured we could use the exercise.
The hike took about an hour and was pretty steep at times, but the views from the top made it worthwhile. It was so cool to see the clouds rolling on top of the mountains and the blueness of Lake Tekapo.
After the hike we started driving towards Wanaka. On the way we pulled over at a scenic site where you could walk right up to Lake Pukaki. The water here was also beautifully blue. In the far back we could see the snowcapped Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain.
Afterwards we made a small detour to check out Peter’s Lookout. There, we were able to get a closer look at Mount Cook.
We then drove another 2 hours to the town of Wanaka. We finished the day at Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park.
Day 3: Wanaka → Te Anau
We started Day 3 by checking out Wanaka’s town centre. It was full of cute cafés and shops, and we thought it was a charming little town.
Once we were fuelled up on coffee we took a short drive to the infamous “That Wanaka Tree”. It was a lonely tree in the lake that made for a cool photo-op.
We then started making our one hour drive towards Queenstown. We passed by the Cardrona Hotel, a historical hotel that was established way back in 1863. I loved how old-school it looked.
The rest of the drive from Wanaka to Queenstown was horrible. We drove up countless mountains (which our poor camper van struggled with) and down many hairpin turns. It was raining pretty heavily too, making for crappy driving conditions.
We eventually made it to Queenstown but we didn’t stay for long due to the bad weather. We stopped by for a quick lunch and made our 2-hour drive towards Te Anau.
We eventually made it to the small town of Te Anau where we set up camp at Te Anau Holiday Park. After dinner, we walked over to the
Day 4: Hiking in Te Anau
The next morning we met up Bard, a friend of Kylea’s dad. Bard was a guide for hiking trails and was extremely knowledgeable about New Zealand’s wildlife. He was also one of the coolest people we’d ever met, and we hit it off right away. We even happened to be wearing matching shorts!
We drove over to Kepler Track to hike with Bard. The entirety of Kepler Track is a 60km loop and typically takes 3-4 days (we only did about 3km of the loop that day).
During the hike Bard taught us many facts about the trees and birds there. We also got to know each other quite a lot, sharing old anecdotes and talking about differences in Kiwi, Canadian, and Japanese culture. It was a fun and informative hike.
We hiked to the Moturau Hut where we got a nice view of Lake Manapouri. We had a quick lunch there and trekked back to where we started.
Day 5: Doubtful Sound Boat Cruise
On Day 5 we went on a boat cruise in Doubtful Sound run by Go Orange. The cruise started from the nearby town of Manapouri, which was about a 20-minute drive from Te Anau.
The excursion started off with a 1-hour boat ride from Manapouri to West Arm, followed by a 45-minute bus ride to Wilmot Pass. From there we hopped on another boat to cruise in to the beautiful fiords of Doubtful Sound.
The cruise was about 3 hours and we saw some amazing views. The clouds rolling through the mountains and the waterfalls from the rain earlier in the day made for some epic scenery.
Fun fact: they were going to film a Jurassic Park movie in Doubtful Sound (the second one, I believe) but decided against it when they realized how freaking often it rained there. As a matter of fact, it was raining when we were there too.
There was a cool moment when a pair of albatrosses started following our boat. If you’ve never seen one before they look like massive, pissed off seagulls. Their wingspan can be up to 3 metres!
With the trips to and from Doubtful Sound and the cruise itself, the whole excursion lasted about 7 hours. By the end we were insanely tired. We made our way to Kingston (about a 1.5-hour drive from Manapouri) and set up camp there for the night.
Day 6: Queenstown
The next morning we made a short 45-minute drive from Kingston to Queenstown. We were both nervous as hell as we had signed up to do the Nevis Swing that day. Check out the video below to see how friggin’ insane this swing is.
We made our way to the pickup area for the Nevis Swing, only to find out that it’d been cancelled due to strong winds. I felt an intense and odd combination of disappointment and relief. It would have been cool to boast to everyone that we’d done one of the biggest swings in the world, but at the same time I was relieved that I didn’t have to do it 😅.
Now that we had a lot more time on our hands, we walked around Queenstown for some shopping and sightseeing. We took a gondola up the nearby Bob’s Peak where we got a nice view of the town from high up. We also did a luge run which was quite fun as well.
For the rest of the day we walked around the town, picking up coffee and wines along the way. It was nice to not drive so much and to be able to enjoy the town.
Day 7: Queenstown → Oamaru
On Day 7 we started making our way back to Christchurch. Instead of driving straight from Queenstown to Christchurch (which would have taken 6 hours), we decided to stay in Oamaru for a night.
On the way, we stopped by a lookout at Shag Point.
We parked our van and walked towards the coast… and lo and behold we saw dozens of sea lions! I wish we could have gotten closer but there were a ton of signs warning us against doing so. Apparently they can be pretty dangerous when threatened.
From Shag Point, we made a short drive to Moeraki to have lunch at a restaurant called Fleur’s Place. We both splurged on a nice fish meal; I had a fried tarakihi with a tasty curry sauce.
We then made our way to Oamaru where we were hammered with more rain. We decided to take shelter in the campground’s common room until the rain died down.
Later in the day when the rain had stopped, we walked around the nearby dock and commercial area. There was a cool moment when a shag landed super close to us. I saw a ton of cool, unique birds in New Zealand, and this was one of them.
Day 8: Oamaru → Christchurch
On our last day, we drove 3.5 hours from Oamaru to Christchurch, where we met up with
Words could not describe how amazing it felt to sleep in an actual bed and to have access to a washroom without having to walk outside. Living in a camper van was fun as heck, but it was good to return to a more regular lifestyle.
I wish we could have spent a bit more time in Christchurch as it looked like a cool city. I’ll be sure to revisit when I go back to New Zealand.
To summarize, our 8-day, ~1400km road trip in South Island looked a little like this:
It was a wicked road trip and we saw some pretty epic things along the way. The only things that weren’t so good were the weather (we got a lot of rain) and the amount of tourists. We were there during peak vacation season so there were a lot of people everywhere unlike when we were in Iceland.
In hindsight, we wished we had just dropped the car off in Queenstown and flown back to Christchurch from there. It would have allowed us to explore more of the west coast. Oh well – this just means we’ll have to go back sometime!
In Part 3 we travel further up the North Island. Stay tuned!