Road Tripping The South Island Of New Zealand In A Wilderness Campervan

New Zealand - Image by Kat Nielsen

The South Island What To Do And Where To Stay

We flew to Auckland From Perth flying Virgin to catch up with friends before flying on to Christchurch. Staying at the Crown Plaza. This hotel has been completely rebuilt since the earthquake and is in the perfect location to explore this beautiful city. Although there is still so much work to be done to repair it. Be sure to check out the C1 Espresso Cafe while you are in Christchurch it is literally the most creative cafe I have been too, especially if you like being served your food a little differently and you have children they will love this.


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 bigger than our car but these vehicles are easy to drive and the service was amazing. 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.

Our First stop was the majestic Lake Tekapo this was a breathtaking location with a hint of snow, capped on the mountains and only 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. Be prepared to deal with a constant influx of tourists at the main attractions though. There are some fantastic star gazing experiences. Depending on the time of year you may also see lots of the lupins popping up which look stunning.

Road Tripping The South Island Of New Zealand

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 feel 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 constantly surrounded by people taking selfies.

Road Tripping The South Island Of New Zealand - Wanaka

I decided to take a flight from the Wanaka airport with Southern Alps Air as I wanted to see the Milford Sound unfortunately the cloud was really low so we couldn’t land as plained but it was amazing to see the landscape from the air. If you get a chance I would definitely recommend taking a flight the view is incredible and you can see some of the film locations for the lord of the rings and mission impossible.

After a few days in Wanaka, the next destination was Arrowtown. This place was literally like stepping back in time.  A quirky little mining town with a lot of history and charm. Definitely a worthwhile place to stop with some wonderful photo opportunities.

Road Tripping The South Island Of New Zealand

You can pan for gold here at the local cafe near the river and there is a rich history to explore 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 winter time.

Glenorochy 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 devine. 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 clear conditions here. I could have happily stayed here for a week.

Road Tripping The South Island Of New Zealand

I had these beautiful river ways I wanted to shoot with the drone but 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 Anauwhich 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. If you have children this is a fantastic experience and a beautiful way to see some of what Fiordland has to offer. This was the final stop before heading back to Christchurch to return the camper van.

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. We stayed right by the lake for the night and woke up to an incredible sunrise, but also a serious 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.

Road Tripping The South Island Of New Zealand With Wilderness

Lake Tekapo seemed like the best choice for the last few days of our campervan adventures. It proved to be a wonderful decision as it literally snowed the entire time from morning to night. After twenty days on the road we returned our campervan in Christchurch they organised our taxi and it was such a seamless return process.

Staying in a hotel before we flew out was a welcome respite. We checked out 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.

Road Tripping The South Island Of New Zealand

NOTE ON DRONE USE - New Zealand has really strict 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. I used the website Airshare to ensure I wasn’t flying in a restricted area they recommend that you register your flight online before flying 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 certain areas and it is deeply disrespectful to fly over cultural land.