The South Island What To Do And Where To Stay
We flew to Auckland From Perth with Virgin to catch up with friends before flying on to Christchurch with Air NZ. We decided to stay at the Crown Plaza because of its central location. This hotel has been completely rebuilt since the earthquake and is in the perfect when you want explore this beautiful city on foot or by tram. Although there is still a great deal of work to be done to repair it the city after the horrific earthquake that devastated the CBD and surrounds. The C1 Espresso Cafe in Christchurch is worth a visit. If you enjoy something a little different and you have children they will love this. Your food comes delivered to you via a tube and the restrooms are behind a secret sliding book shelf.
Following some research, a Campervan seemed like the best way to discover the South Island, so we went with Wilderness NZ. I had never driven anything more substantial than our 4WD, but these vehicles were easy to operate, and the service was exceptional. If you are ever considering a campervan adventure, you won’t be disappointed. These literally had everything you would need, including bathrooms, gas heating, cooking facilities and wireless internet. As this is a really popular way to see NZ there a lots of other companies available to suit every budget.
Our First stop was the majestic Lake Tekapo; this was a breathtaking location with a hint of snow, capped on the mountains and an easy three-hour drive from Christchurch.
Staying at Lake Tekapo Holiday Park meant we were right on the lake and close to the hot springs, local supermarket and The Church of The Good Shepherd. Three days was perfect here, as there were lots of photo opportunities and activities to fill our days. Be prepared to deal with a constant influx of tourists at the main attractions, though. Fantastic stargazing experiences are available by booking at the local tourist centre. Depending on the time of year you may also see lots of the lupins popping up which look stunning.
Looking at the Campable app, we selected our next destination, Mt Cook. Here we stayed at Glentanner this is really isolated, but the views were phenomenal, and sunset here produced some incredible pinks and purples. The lake and mountain backdrops are just breathtaking. The Campable app allows motorhome travellers and campers to stay on private property, so you can have the most authentic travel experience possible. They have suggestions for sites that include vineyards, working farms, freedom camping locations and regular campgrounds. It allows you to plan your trip in advance or as you travel and you can book instantly and pay online. It made planning our journey seamless, and it was so easy to use.
Wanaka was somewhere I immediately fell in love with it reminded me of everything the New Zealand winter is all about. Fresh air, snow, incredible food and warm hospitality by an open fire. We stayed close to town here and within walking distance of the famous Wanaka Tree. It is actually quite spectacular even if it is always surrounded by people taking selfies. I decided to take a flight from the Wanaka airport with Southern Alps Air to see Milford Sound. Unfortunately, the cloud was too low, so we couldn’t land as planned, but it was amazing to see the landscape from the air.
After a few days in Wanaka, we proceeded to Arrowtown. This place was literally like stepping back in time. A quirky little mining town with a lot of history and charm. With over seventy historical buildings right in the heart of the city to shop in and admire. Nestled below the Southern Alps which surround the Arrow River where you can pan for gold at the local cafe, and explore the old mining huts while reading about the rich history during the gold rush. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was also filmed in and around here.
With only a short drive on to Queenstown from here, it was good to stay a night and break up the journey. While enjoying everything, this beautiful town has to offer. Queenstown was always something everyone raved about. It is well set-up for tourists, and the skyline gondola ride is the best way to view the city. Then you come down on the luge to let out that inner child. A perfect place to watch the sunset. Finn my son just wanted to see snow, so we took a bus up to Coronet Peak for the last week of the snow season, and that didn’t disappoint. I have missed the snow; it was always a regular family activity in the wintertime.
Glenorchy was somewhere I decided to go last minute, it just looked too beautiful to pass by. We stayed for two days here at Camp Glenorchy; this is a sustainable eco-retreat, and it was divine. It’s the perfect place for astrophotography, and the landscape is simply stunning. I bumped into several photographers at midnight, making the most of the precise conditions here. I could have happily stayed here for a week.
I had these beautiful riverways I wanted to shoot with the drone. Unfortunately, the wind was too strong, and after constant wind warnings, I admitted defeat and just enjoyed the landscape while watching Finn play in the river.
From here we headed to Te Anau which was a three-hour drive from Glenorchy. We stayed here at a local holiday park so we could ferry over to the glow worm caves. A beautiful experience and the landscape is spectacular. Making this an excellent way to see some of what Fiordland has to offer. As our final stop before heading back to Christchurch, this was the perfect way to round- up the trip.
From Te Anau, we travelled up back up to Lake Pukaki. The water here has the most magical blue it literally sparkles and offers a freedom camping site with toilet facilities. This was also the location selected for the movie The Hobbit. Staying right by the lake meant we woke up to an incredible sunrise, but also a severe change in the weather. As this area was really exposed to the wind, we packed up all our things and got back on the road.
Lake Tekapo seemed like the best choice for the last few days of our campervan adventures. It proved to be an excellent decision as it literally snowed the entire time from morning to night. After twenty days on the road we returned our campervan and after a seamless return process. We had our ride already ready to take us back to our hotel for a welcome respite.
The following day we ventured to Willowbank Wildlife Park, which I can highly recommend if you want an authentic kiwi wildlife experience. Feeding the eels on the river is quite the laugh, but they eat meat, so you need to be prepared. We gathered a little crowd of fascinated kids. I will definitely be back and hopefully soon, to see how my photography has developed since this adventure.
NOTE ON DRONE USE - New Zealand has stringent privacy laws, so you have to seek permission before flying on any private property. It was far more restricted than I anticipated. They have no-fly zones everywhere. Keep this in mind if you are visiting to ensure you understand the differences in drone laws. The Airshare app provides all restricted flight zones, and they recommend that you register your planned drone flight online each time.
There is also a constant flow of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to be aware of. Please also be mindful of traditional lands. Maori are very protective of specific areas, and it is profoundly disrespectful to fly over cultural land.