Voyage in Style

10 Days Campervan Road Trip in South New Zealand

10 Days Campervan Road Trip in South New Zealand

Dominated by diverse landscapes, New Zealand is a place of breathtaking natural beauty. Known for its magnificent mountains, icy-blue glacier lakes, wild coastline and viby cities, this destination is a dream for many. New Zealand is composed of 2 islands, the North Island and the South Island and they could not be more different. In the north you will find the capital city, Auckland, tropical climate with warm, ocean waters and long pristine beaches, quiet towns as well as beautiful rural areas. Most of the Maori heritage is concentrated on this island, so if this is what you are after: the north island is your destination. The South Island is more wild: majestic mountains, lush rainforest and captivating fiords. Both places are interesting and worth a visit. However, if you have just 10-14 days we highly advise you to discover the South Island. It’s remarkable and truly unique. Below, you will find an exemplary 10 days campervan road trip itinerary through New Zealand. It covers most of the South Island highlights and guarantees adventure of a lifetime.

Note : This itinerary is very intense. Prepare for several hours a day behind the wheel of your campervan and new locations each day. We think that ideally to do this campervan road trip of south New Zealand you need 14 days. Adding 4 more days will allow you to slow down and really take in the beauty of the South Island.

Day 1

Fly in the morning to Christchurch. It’s the biggest city of the South Island. The international airport welcomes flights from all over the world.

TIP : Ask your campervan rental company to pick you up from the airport. They usually offer this service for free.

After learning everything about your van and making sure it’s fully equipped and in good conditions, head to Countdown- the NZ supermarket chain. Get all the groceries you’ll need for a few days.

Afterwards, the campervan adventure begins: head to the first stop of your 10 days road trip itinerary in South New Zealand: Lake Tekapo.

TIP : Instead of taking highway 1, drive north of Christchurch and take the route 72 instead. It will add 1 h to your journey, but the road will pass next to beautiful views and nature.

Lake Tekapo

The first stop of you journey is the turquoise Lake Tekapo. Pass the small church, turn right and walk 100 m along the lake. You will leave the crowds behind and be able to enjoy this scenery all by yourself.

TIP : December to January is lupin season in NZ. The edge of the lake will be covered in colourful flowers.

Camp at Lake Pukaki

After spending an afternoon at the Lake Tekapo, drive 30 min further to another blue wonder: the Lake Pukaki. There is a big campsite in front of the lake. Stay here for the night. It is one of the most beautiful campsites along your NZ 10 days itinerary.

Day 2

Wake up early. Enjoy the sunrise and morning colors above the astonishing blue waters. Pack up and set for your next destination: Mount Cook!

Note : Make sure to fill your gas & fresh water tank, and empty your waste water (in an appropriate waste station). There aren’t any station in Mt. Cook.

Enjoy the ride as the view get better and better. Stop for the most amazing shots. Remember: it’s about the journey, not the destination, especially during a campervan road trip in New Zealand!

Arrive at the Mt. Cook campsite and chose a spot allowing you to see the views. After lunch head for an iconic hike: The Hookey Valley.

Read : Visit & Hike Mount Cook National Park

TIP : Make sure to fill in the form at the camp booth. If you do not have the DOC pass, leave the payment for the campsite here. Remember that even if you have the DOC pass you still must fill in the form and place it behind your windshield.

Day 3

Wake up with the sun and the sound of birds. After breakfast drive to the shelter located just 5 min away. Here you can use the hot shower (have 2 $ coins with you).

Driving back take a detour to Tasman Lake and Glacier. It is a place not to be missed. The lake is enormous (even if its a shred of what it once was) and views stunning.

Get ready for a long 3h drive ahead. You will be heading to Arrowtown, a beautiful old mining town that seems to be stuck in time.

TIP : Stop for lunch at this cute, unmarked spot along the road of Omarama.

After strolling the streets of Arrowtown, get back in the van and drive another hour to your DOC campsite for the night.

Note : There aren’t many free or lowcost campsites around Queenstown. You could choose to stay at one of the more expensive Holiday Parks in the city instead.

Day 4

The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy is one of the most picturesque in the world. Take your time driving and enjoy the views. In Glenorchy, visit the famous Glenorchy Wharf Shed.

Read : Visit Glenorchy & Queenstown – the Most Famous Movie Set Destination

On the way back to Queenstown, stop for a 1h hike to Bob’s Cove. Did you know that this place was the set for a Lord of the Rings’ scene?

TIP : Pack a bikini! Yes, a swimwear. The deep emerald lake might be chilly, but it will be a pleasant refreshment after 2 days of not showering 😉

After the hike drive back to Queenstown, park the van and go for a stroll. Queenstown is one of the most beautiful little towns in NZ. Walk along the lake and have lunch at one of the many cool restaurants.

TIP : You can give a try to the famous Fergburger. Prepare yourself for gigantic queue though.

You will spend this afternoon in the van, moving more south towards your next exciting adventure of this campervan road trip in New Zealand. Set on the road to one of the nature wonders: Milford Sound.

TIP : Don’t be discouraged if it rains. Milford Sound in fact is the most impressive during or after a heavy rain and the cruises depart in any weather.

Refuel and get anything you might need in Te Anau. There is no gas station after. Spend the night either at DOC Deer Flat campsite or campsite in the Milford Sound (if you can reserve a long time in advance).

Day 5

Drive to Milford Sound and hop on your cruise boat. Enjoy 2h of out-of-this-world scenery. On the way back stop for 10-15 min at the impressive Chasm.

Read : Cruise Milford Sound – Guide to the Natural World Wonder & Surroundings

Do not drive all the way back yet. Pack up some sandwiches and snacks and set for a 3h return hike to Lake Marian. It’s one that we missed and truly regret!

Hop back in the van and drive 2.5h to Kingston Lake Camp where you will spend the night. Park with the back facing the water for the most incredible morning views.

Day 6

Today you will discover Wanaka. The drive there should take approximately 1.5h and will pass next to some incredible views. Stop at all the viewpoints!

Pass by the famous Wanaka Tree. And please let us know why it’s so special 🤷🏼‍♀️

In the afternoon, do the relaxing 1h hike to top of Mt. Iron. It’s a circuit trail that will be a nice warm up before tomorrow’s challenge.

You’ll have a 40 min drive to your campsite, but we promise it will be worth it- even if it’s off the way. Kidds Bush Campsite was Hamilton’s favourite campsite in NZ. And one of the most spectacular views we have ever seen.

TIP : If you have a small or medium size van and there is place, try to get the last possible parking spot near the lake all the way on the left. You will have a unobstructed view on a fantastic panorama in the morning.

Day 7

You want to wake up early and have a energetic breakfast. Drive back to Wanaka all the way to the Roys Peak car park. Pack water (take Grayl with you) and snacks. 6h return hike to Roys Peak is a real challenge. But one of the most rewarding experiences in NZ.

Read : Hike Roy’s Peak in Wanaka – New Zealand

Drive to Cameron Flat campsite where you will spend the night.

Note : Reservation at this campsite is required. However, you can stay here without prior reservation if there is free space.

Day 8

Wake up early. After breakfast head to the incredible Blue Pools. Try to make it before 10am to beat the crowds.

On the way make a quick stop at the Thunder Creek Falls. The waterfalls are located just 2 min walking from car park and are really impressive.

Drive towards Haast and then all the way along the coast to the Franz Josef Glacier. Stay the night in one of the campsites in the city.

TIP : Make gas in Haast. Everything around Franz Josef Glacier is very expensive.

Day 9

In the morning set for the 1.5h easy walk to the glacier. We have to admit that the walk itself even if pleasant was the least impressive hike we did in NZ. Unfortunately, due to the global warming, the glacier retracted a lot in the past 10 years.

Read : An Honest Review of Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand – Is it really worth a visit?

If your budget allows you to do so, book a helicopter tour over the glacier. It was our Christmas gift from Martyna’s parents, but due to the weather, the flights that day were cancelled. Maybe you’ll have more luck.

In the afternoon drive to Hokitika Gorge, stunning gorge with the bluest waters.

This area is not so impressive in terms of views, therefor if you still have some daylight left, drive further and find a nice camp for the night along the way.

Day 10

Drive towards Arthur’s Pass. On the way stop at Temple Basin. You can choose to do either easy 15min hike or a longer 1h one.

After lunch hike to Devils Punchbowl Waterfall.

Note : You will probably see people walking right next to the falls. To do so you will have to jump over the wooden fence. Take precautions as the path is slippery!

Spend the night at campsite by Lake Person. Your last night in NZ!

Day 11

Wake up early and drive back to Christchurch to return your campervan for the end of your New Zealand road trip. Count some extra time as the views along the road are breathtaking. But you’ve probably understood that it’s anywhere on the South Island like that 🥰

Additional days

If you can add few extra days to your itinerary, spend 2 nights in Mount Cook and hike the Hooker Valley at sunrise. Stay longer in Queenstown and visit the Onsen Hot Pools for luxury SPA experience or maybe try skydiving. Additionally, an extra night in Milford Sound will allow you to explore the area a bit more.

Practical info

Visa

Most visitors and transit passengers can travel to New Zealand without a visa. You must however obtain an NZeTA (New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority) before your travel.

Applying for NZeTA is very easy and processing is fast. The easiest way it to download the NZeTA app on your phone and proceed with the instructions there. You will need a credit card at the end to issue a payment of 44 NZD (that includes processing fee and International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy fee). The maximum wait time for NZeTA is up to 72h, but can take as little as few minutes.

Note : In fact, Hamilton as a holder of French passport received his NZeTA roughly 2 minutes after applying. For Martyna, as she has a Polish passport it took over 2 days. Make sure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months!

Data service

We highly recommend getting a SIM card right after arrival. There are 2 main providers in New Zealand: Vodafone and Spark. Theoretically they have the same reach, practically Spark works much better.

TIP : Get the Sim card at the arrival duty free- you will save 6 NZD just by doing it.

South Island has many dark spots where you will not have any service. It can last even a few days. The dark zone covers the Milford Sound and The Frank Josef Glacier, and many other areas. Best service is of course in towns you will pass along the way. But maybe this campervan road trip in the south island of New Zealand is a good opportunity to disconnect and enjoy pure air and nature !

Currency/ATM

We advise you to withdraw around 100 NDZ from the ATM at the airport. You can use your credit card pretty much anywhere in the South Island. The only exception are campgrounds where you will need to leave cash. Some rangers have the Eftos machines but if there’s no service, it won’t be possible to pay with it.

Campgrounds

Free camping in New Zealand is forbidden. This means you cannot just pull on the side of the road for the night, you always need to find a campsite. There are many stunning campgrounds around the South Island.

We highly recommend you to get the DOC Campsite passes for campervan. For 7 consecutive days you will be able to stay at DOC camps for this price:

  • $30 for a Single pass (one adult)
  • $60 for a Double pass (two adults)
  • $90 for a Family pass (two adults and up to two children/youths)

Instead of 7 NZD per person paid at the camp. You can easily apply for the pass online here or ask your campervan rental company to get it for you.

You can choose between free campgrounds, privately owned low cost campgrounds, DOC campgrounds or Holiday Parks. The last are most expensive with prices starting at 25 NZD per person per night. However, those are the sites where you can connect your van to power plugs.

CamperMate App

CamperMate App will be your best friend during this road trip. It is a necessity for anyone traveling to New Zealand. The app contains a map with all the amenities one might need along a road trip: campgrounds, gas stations, supermarkets, toilets or showers. The app works in offline mode as well (you need to download it before) and is extremely useful.

Driving in New Zealand

Remember that you need to have International Driving Permit in addition to your driving license to rent a van or a car in New Zealand. All the roads are in great conditions and very pleasant to drive. There isn’t much traffic either- and we visited during the busiest time- over Christmas. Remember that in New Zealand you drive on the left side of the road!

Roads in New Zealand

As we mentioned before- the roads in New Zealand are very good. However, there are only few main roads. Due to harsh weather conditions the roads might get closed. It happens that during heavy rain, the bridges in Haast and Whataroa on the West Coast, get flooded, cutting the exit points on both sides. People who are in the middle are simply trapped on the West Coast.

We were warned about it by owners of the campervan we rented. They urged us to watch the weather and in case of a heavy rainfall avoid going to The Fox or Franz Josef Glaciers. They said that just 2 weeks before they had to send a mini plane to get 2 tourists trapped over there. 😳

Read : Everything About Renting a CamperVan in New Zealand

Same thing happens often in Milford Sound. At the moment of writing, the access and exit point to Milford Sound are blocked due to heavy rainfall and over 400 people are stuck. It’s not the worst place you can be blocked at tho, with this natural beauty around 😉

Note : This information doesn’t intend to scare you. We simply think you should know what might happen and be prepared. Use Windy app to track the weather during your trip. We found it very useful, especially in New Zealand.

Best time to visit

New Zealand’s seasons are reversed in comparison to Europe. Which means that the best weather- Spring and Summer lasts from September to February. During those months you can expect more sunny days and higher temperatures. We traveled in December and had mostly sunny days. On average the temperatures varied from around 8°C to 20°C.

Note : Better weather also means the peak season. The prices can go up comparing to other months.

Same day

However, the weather can change unexpectedly – as cold fronts or tropical cyclones quickly blow in. Be prepared for sudden changes in weather and temperature if you’re going hiking or doing other outdoor activities. You can even find snow in the mountain areas in the middle of summer.

30 min after

What to take

For those traveling to New Zealand for the first time, preparing for this trip can seem difficult. Especially if it’s your first time traveling in a campervan. We decided to create a whole article to help you pack the right things for the adventure of a lifetime.

The Food

Food in New Zealand is very good. Most of the products are grown and made locally. The quality of fruits, veggies, meats or fish is amazing. If you’ll opt for a road trip in New Zealand, you will most likely shop in supermarkets and prepare your meals in the campervan. The biggest supermarkets are Countdown and New World. The prices aren’t that high. Food for 2 people for 1 week (breakfast, lunch and dinner) would cost around 200 NZD (110EUR)

You can of course choose to eat out while staying in towns. There are many amazing restaurants in New Zealand with great dishes. However be prepared to spend at least 100-120 NZD (55-70EUR) for dinner in a nice restaurant for two people.

Accomodations

Of course we highly advise you to travel and sleep in your campervan. It’s a unique of adventure and experience. If you choose to stay in hotels and Airbnb’s we suggest you to book them in advance. There are limited places in towns like Queenstown or Wanaka. In low season you can find a double room for 100-120 NZD a night, in high season the same places will cost double.

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