THE ONLY NEW ZEALAND SOUTH ISLAND ITINERARY YOU NEED

THE ONLY NEW ZEALAND SOUTH ISLAND ITINERARY YOU NEED

NEW ZEALAND – SOUTH ISLAND ITINERARY

This is our full New Zealand South Island itinerary from Christchurch to the ferry in Picton and all the beautiful scenes, stunning roads and speechless spaces in between. During our 5 week New Zealand Road Trip, we spent 3 weeks in the South Island and 2 weeks in the North Island. 

In New Zealand, a South Island road trip is the perfect way to see just how stunning this island is with our stops including the usual highlights such as Milford Sound, Arthur’s Pass and Franz Josef Glacier but also a few stops off the beaten track such as the steampunk town of Oamaru, Tasman Glacier National Park and seeing penguins in the wild in Timaru.

We will warn, this post is long but it covers everything you need to know including driving times between destinations, the best places to stay during your South Island road trip and includes a map of our route. So pour yourself a cuppa and get taking notes.

Road Looking Towards Mountain With Blues Skies In New Zealand

BEFORE YOUR NEW ZEALAND SOUTH ISLAND ROAD TRIP BEGINS

Campervan Hire

We hired wee Cathy from Traveller’s Autobarn, they were affordable and had amazing customer service, we can’t recommend them enough. Wanna know how we got the cheapest deal and how much our campervan hire cost? We put together the ultimate guide to New Zealand in a campervan which not only includes a full budget breakdown but routes, travel hacks, cooking tips and more!

Camping On South Island New Zealand

Read this post for our top camping grounds in the South Island of New Zealand, it features all costs, handy tips and a free downloadable cheat sheet with all the campsites we stayed at during our New Zealand South Island road trip.

Apps You Must Download

Read our best apps for backpackers post for the apps that saved us time, money and stress during not only our New Zealand trip but all trips.

New Zealand South Island Itinerary – Driving Route

NEW ZEALAND ACCOMMODATION – SOUTH ISLAND

If you were overwhelmed by the campervan hire in New Zealand (we very nearly were) and choose to stay in hotels or hostels during your South Island Road trip instead we can offer a few tips.

1. Firstly if you are looking for an Airbnb then you can click here for £25.00 off your first Airbnb booking.

Colourful Houses With £25 Off Your Next Airbnb

2. We also use Booking.com and then alter the listing to show the “Price – Lowest First” then check ratings. Anything 7 and above should be good!

3. We did not plan our New Zealand South Island itinerary in advance and instead made it up as we went based on weather, campsites available etc. This would’ve been impossible without a mobile WiFi dongle, allowing us to have internet to find campsites, accommodation and activities.

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4. Always check parking is available at your accommodation as like most things in NZ, parking isn’t cheap.

Couple Driving A Campervan In New Zealand

DAY 1: ARRIVAL IN CHRISTCHURCH FROM FIJI

After our crazy time backpacking Fiji due to Cyclone Gita we arrived in Christchurch ready to sleep!  We had booked a cabin at North South Holiday Park on the outskirts of Christchurch as they offered an airport shuttle service and it was nearby to pick up our campervan the following morning.

Campsite: North South Holiday Park – Christchurch

We literally arrived at North South Holiday Park and went straight to sleep, however the cabin was comfortable, facilities were clean, there was Wi-Fi available although slow (welcome to New Zealand), and although we didn’t have time to use it there was also a pool. We paid for NZ$72.00 for a double cabin for the night.

DAY 2: PICKUP CAMPERVAN AND CHRISTCHURCH VISIT

It was a short uber ride from the holiday park to pick up Cathy the campervan from Travellers Autobarn. The staff were just as excited as us, explained how everything worked and gave us a few pointers and maps. Use this link to save money on your first Uber.

Parking In Christchurch

We then headed into Christchurch. We parked at the Botanical Gardens (There are two large public car parks – one at the Riccarton Avenue entrance and one at the Armagh Street entrance). It is free to park for up to 180 minutes which we felt was enough time for a wander round Christchurch.

Christchurch Botanical Gardens

We thoroughly enjoyed the Botanical gardens and photographing the famous Peacock fountain as well as the Canterbury Museum across the road which is free to enter. We found the quirky Fred and Myrtle’s Paua Shell House in the Canterbury museum so interesting and had no idea just how famous it was until we told others about our New Zealand South Island itinerary.

Christchurch Earthquake Memorial

Although completely unplanned, we arrived on the anniversary of the Christchurch 2011 earthquake. We felt a definite sorrowful atmosphere during our visit and couldn’t imagine the devastation it caused and the heartbreak of so many families as we visited the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial. Although it was the 7th anniversary since the earthquake, repairs and construction works are still ongoing in Christchurch.

Quake City is an exhibit which includes some of the objects that have defined the Canterbury earthquakes including the spire from Christchurch Cathedral and the clocks from the railway station which is now demolished.

Campsite: South Brighton Holiday Park – Christchurch

As it was our first official night of our New Zealand South Island itinerary we chose a campsite near Christchurch until we felt more confident to venture further afield. South Brighton Holiday Park had great laundry and kitchen facilities. The cost was NZ$36.00 and you received 1GB of free Wi-Fi.

DAY 3: CHRISTCHURCH – AKAROA – TIMARU

The drive from Christchurch to Akaroa should take around 1 hour 20 minutes however we stopped to photograph so many nice lakes we wondered if we’d ever make it to Akaroa before dark. Akaroa is a small French town on the east of the South Island, situated on the spectacular Banks Peninsula in the heart of an ancient volcano.

We wandered along the harbour, where there are numerous cruises and water activities to explore the volcanic landscape and enchanting wildlife of Akaroa. Hector dolphins are unique to the waters of the South Island of New Zealand, with Akaroa Harbour and Banks Peninsula one of the best places to view these fascinating creatures!

Pier Looking Out Into The Lake With Mountains In The Background - Akaroa New Zealand

The Giant’s House

If you have time to spare in your New Zealand South Island itinerary, we recommend the steep 5 minute walk from the harbour up the hill to the Giant’s House. It is an eclectic mix of mosaic and sculpture created by artist Josie Martin which will be like no other gallery and garden you’ve ever visited! If you have money to spare and your New Zealand South Island road trip isn’t on a budget then you can even sleepover in the Giant’s House – prices start at NZ$400 per night!

Colourful Gate Outside The Giants House In Akaroa New Zealand

Timaru Penguins

After our morning in Akaroa we drove to Timaru for our first experience cooking in a campervan and to see the famous little penguins in the evening. Although they are said to be common, Timaru was the only place in our entire New Zealand South Island itinerary that we saw penguins in the wild and the volunteer was one of the kindest people we’ve met on our travels.

Not only does he spend his Friday & Saturday nights informing the public about the little fellas, he also set up a website with the best info on when to see penguins in Timaru depending on the season. We visited around 10pm and only saw a handful around this time but others said they even saw penguins waddling in Caroline Bay where we parked up for the night!

Campsite: Caroline Bay – Timaru

This was a free campsite and was essentially a car park with public toilets nearby. However, we chose it at it was a short walk to the Timaru penguins viewing point and beautiful Caroline Bay beach.

DAY 4: TIMARU – LAKE TEKAPO – TASMAN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK – LAKE PUKAKI

The Timaru penguin volunteer suggested we avoid the coast and instead cut inland visiting the stunning Lake Tekapo and Tasman Glacier National Park. On reflection, we are so grateful for this suggestion and sad to hear many skip this route in favour of sticking to the coast as this day was one of our highlights from our New Zealand South Island itinerary.

Lake Tekapo

Timaru to Lake Tekapo took around 1 hour 20 minutes, we then we stopped for the most scenic picnic we’ve ever had by the lake. Although we tried to capture just how amazing the view was in our cooking in a campervan video, you will have to see it to believe it!

Looking Out The Back Of A Campervan Towards Lake Tekapo New Zealand

Tasman Glacier National Park

Following the volunteer’s suggestion, we then drove from Lake Tekapo to Tasman Glacier National Park (Tasman Lake) which again was around 1 hour and 20 minutes. A short and very windy 30 minute hike later we were met by the most incredible views of Tasman Glacier. At one stage you would have also been able to visit the Blue Lakes at Tasman Glacier however, during our visit they were more of a dirty green.

Couple Standing Overlooking Mount Cook In New Zealandrds Lake Tekapo New Zealand

Lake Pukaki

Not to worry however as our stopover on Day 4 of our New Zealand South Island itinerary offered the most incredible blue lake we have ever seen – Lake Pukaki. This was only a 35 minute drive from Tasman Glacier, and we arrived late afternoon however as it is free to camp here the best spots were already taken so we advise arriving early!

Campsite: Lake Pukaki Reserve – Lake Pukaki

As it’s free it is VERY busy and it was our first experience of a drop toilet. This means exactly that – no water, your “business” drops into a pit below. Terrifying on a first experience but believe us, by the end of this New Zealand South Island itinerary you will have forgotten what an ordinary toilet is like!

Please remember your camping etiquette when pitching up here, a giant motorhome parked right in front of our view and we witnessed a lot of poorly camped campervans with zero sense of personal space – the lake is 178 km² there’s enough view for everyone.

Looking Out Over Lake Pukaki New Zealand Towards Mountain Ranges

DAY 5: LAKE PUKAKI – OAMARU – MOERAKI

We continued our New Zealand South Island road trip by returning to the coast, driving from Lake Pukaki to Oamaru which took around 1 hour and 55 minutes.

Steampunk HQ

Oamaru is one of the quirkiest towns we have ever visited as it is known as the world capital of Steampunk. The steampunk sub-culture was created in the 1980s by Sci-fi enthusiasts who through costume, sculpture and art clash the Victorian era with the future.

No visit to Oamaru is complete without a visit to Steampunk HQ where you are surrounded by outlandish inventions and interactive artworks. This article explains in more detail how the ordinary farming town of Oamaru became the steampunk Mecca and even a Guinness World Record breaker for the largest steampunk gathering ever.

Blue Penguin Colony

If you are just as penguin mad as us, Oamaru is home to a Blue penguin colony which head to their nests in an old stone quarry near the waterfront each evening and for the price of NZ$45.00 you can have a premium seat to view the waddling action. We skipped this however as during our New Zealand South Island road trip we’d already seen the little fellas for free in Timaru!

Victorian Precinct

Wandering the Victorian precinct in Oamaru (around Harbour Street & Tyne Street) we found so many eclectic galleries (Grainstore Gallery) vintage boutiques and quirky coffee shops that we so wished we had longer to explore.  We did promise off the beaten track suggestions in this New Zealand South Island itinerary and Oamaru is a stop not to miss!

If you can, plan your visit here on a Sunday as it hosts the Oamaru farmer’s market which is a New Zealand South Island must see experience, however on a Monday is when most of these funky little shops and Café’s have a day off so bare this in mind!

Moeraki Boulders & Katiki Point

From Oamaru it was around a 30 minute drive to our stop for the evening – Moeraki. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the famous Moeraki boulders and then took the treacherous trek down to Katiki Point Lighthouse. If you have hired a campervan for your New Zealand South Island road trip, we do not recommend taking it down this road as it is a bumpy dirt track which many hire companies forbid.

We were a little naughty and did it anyway because Katiki Point is said to be home to a penguin colony however we saw only one penguin in the far away distance, although did see very cute seals so it was worth being wee rebels.

Campsite: Moeraki Boulders Kiwi Holiday Park – Hampden

We pitched up here as after 2 nights of free campsites, we needed electricity and to empty the waste water etc. It was within walking distance to the Moeraki boulders and was only NZ$32.00 for the night. We paid an extra NZ$10.00 for 2GB of Wi-Fi so we could plan the next part of our New Zealand South Island itinerary.

Money Saving Tip

Traveller’s Autobarn gave us a Kiwi Holiday park key ring which gave us 10% off any Kiwi Holiday Park. We recommend picking one up – every penny counts!

DAY 6: MOERAKI – DUNEDIN – OTAGO PENINSULA – KAITANGATA

Moeraki to Dunedin took around 1 hour and if you are Scottish like us, then you are in for a treat! Dunedin is the Celtic name for Edinburgh and the similarities are endless! By the end of the 1850s around 12,000 Scots had emigrated to Dunedin and now the town even has a Robert Burns statue in the city centre. We were tempted to busk and crack out a few Burns poems standing next to it for a dollar or two! Larnach Castle nearby, is also a treat for Scottish visitors as it is New Zealand’s only castle.

Sign In Dunedin Stating The Bond Between Dunedin And Edinburgh Dated April 1941

Dunedin

We enjoyed visiting the Public Art Gallery (and using their free Wi-Fi), and discovered it was in fact the first public art gallery in New Zealand. We also recommend venturing up (or down) Baldwin Street – the steepest street in the world! At the top you can visit Signal Hill Lookout to admire the Otago Peninsula and the city in its full glory.

A trip to Dunedin would not be complete without taking a snap of the Railway Station which is New Zealand’s most photographed building.

Dunedin Railway Station - Beautiful Building In Dunedin New Zealand

Sandfly Bay

Before we drove to Kaitangata for our campsite, we stopped at Sandfly Bay for a very brisk walk as it was so windy we were scared we’d be whisked off the cliff. The windswept walk was worth it however, for the striking stormy views over the bay.

It was an hour’s drive from Dunedin to Kaitangata. To be honest, there was nothing to do in Kaitangata and last year it was even reported the government were offering payment to families to move there, the campsite was great however!

Campsite: Kaitangata Riverside Motor Camp & Cafe – Kaitangata

The campsite had the friendliest staff who handmade large pizzas for NZ$15.00 which were a delicious break from our campervan cooking. We paid NZ$30.00 for a powered site, hot showers and FLUSH toilets.

Top Tip

Request a spot nearest the reception as this had the best Wi-Fi (the owner recommended this and the Wi-Fi was the best we’d had so far in New Zealand).

DAY 7: KAITANGATA – THE CATLINS – FORTROSE

Just 40 minutes down the road from Kaitangata is The Catlins. The Catlins are a must for any New Zealand South Island itinerary and especially for nature lovers. The region is bustling with so much wildlife and rugged landscapes that it takes forever to drive anywhere as there are so many walks and trails to explore.

Nugget Point

If you are limited on time, our top recommendation for your New Zealand South Island road trip in The Catlins is Nugget Point. We witnessed so many seals here however Roaring Bay which is located between Kaka Point and Nugget Point (part of the same nature walk) is said to be home to many penguins too! Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any but it may have been due to the time of year.

From Nugget Point we then attempted to drive to Jack’s Blowhole (45 minute drive) however the weather took a turn for the worse so in true Loz & Daz fashion we stopped and had coffee and cake in the van instead.

Overlooking Rocks In The Ocean At Nugget Point In New Zealand

Purakaunui Falls

From Jack’s Blowhole it’s only a 20 minute drive to Purakaunui Falls Walk, where suitably filled with coffee and cake, we braved the rain and enjoyed the 20 minute nature walk to the beautiful waterfalls.

Waterfall Through Lush Green Trees Into A River In New Zealand

Slope Point

Enroute to our stop for the night, we visited Slope Point – the most Southern point of the South Island. We will warn, we had to walk through a field of sheep to get there and we were so grateful another couple were mad enough to brave the crazy windy weather as they were able to take our photo in the most southernly point in this New Zealand South Island itinerary.

After a brisk chat to the sheep and very windswept we jumped back in Cathy and headed 30 minutes down the road to Fortrose which offered one of the most stunning sunsets we have ever seen!

Couple Standing Next To Sign For Slope Point

Campsite: Fortrose Township A – Fortrose

During your New Zealand South Island road trip we cannot recommend staying here enough. It is literally a field in front of the most beautiful beach and is free to camp. Due to us faffing around speaking with sheep at Slope Point we didn’t arrive until nearer 7pm and we were lucky enough to get the last spot at the front although squeezed in at the very end. We recommend arriving around 4pm to secure the best views. It also had drop toilets, but who can complain when the view looked like this!

Beautiful Sunset Over The Ocean At Fortrose In New Zealand

DAY 8: FORTROSE – BLUFF – ORETI BEACH – OREPUKI

We’d heard a lot about the town of Bluff however after the 45 minute drive from Fortrose, the town itself was a bit of an anti-climax. If you’re into seafood, Bluff Oysters are apparently incredibly famous however they’re not our cup of tea.

Instead we hopped out for a quick photo at Stirling point (literally a sign post with a few signs) and a few photos of the colourful houses but apart from that, there was little to see and we’d even read the town of Bluff was not overly welcoming to campervans. Another reason Campermate is on our best apps for backpackers – the reviews are very honest and give you little tips like this from other travellers!

We headed to Oreti Beach instead which is unique in that you can actually drive on it – unless you’re doing this New Zealand South Island road trip in a hired campervan so you take a walk on it instead.

From Oreti beach to Orepuki it was around a 1 hours’ drive.

Colourful Buildings - Pink And Yellow In Bluff New Zealand

Campsite: Orepuki Tavern And Campground – Orepuki

We paid NZ$15.00 for an unpowered site which sounds expensive however the credit was actually put towards a bar tab instead. This was enough for 2 pints and an ice lolly each. The tavern also had Wi-Fi and the staff were very friendly. Showers were NZ$2.00 each and were timed on a meter.

Travel Tip

On reflection, although it’s a long drive (4 hours) we would recommend going straight from Fortrose to Milford Sound and missing out Bluff & Orepuki. We only stopped so our days were more chilled, but if you are limited on time, skip Day 8’s plan and head from Day 7 to Day 9.

DAY 9: OREPUKI – TE ANAU – MILFORD SOUND

From Orepuki to Milford Sound took around 3 hours, we first stopped half way in by Te Anau to stretch our legs and take a photo or two. It is known as the gateway to the Fiordlands and probably the last place you will have phone signal for the next 2/3 days.

After 45 minutes back on the road we stopped again at the Mirror Lakes, which is a very easy yet rewarding walk.

The remaining drive to Milford Sound was one of the most beautiful roads in our entire New Zealand South Island itinerary and it was absolute bliss to be cut off from the world – just us, Cathy and the most beautiful surroundings we have ever seen. We loved it so much we dedicated a post to the day trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound.

Campsite: Milford Sound Lodge – Milford Sound

We decided to splurge for our accommodation here for 2 reasons:

  • It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to camp on the shores of Milford Sound
  • There is only one campsite so you literally have no option unless you want to have a very long drive before and after your Milford Sound Cruise

We purchased a special campervan package which included:

  • A powered campsite
  • An insanely good breakfast
  • Our Milford Sound Cruise (including lunch onboard)
  • All for a grand total of NZ$298.00 for 2 people.

However this has majorly gone up in price and now for the exact same package is NZ$418.00 for 2 people, but keep an eye out for promotional offers as we booked this towards the end of the peak season!

Our Te Anau to Milford Sound post covers in more detail why we would recommend this, alongside other Milford Sound tour options.

Clouds Over Milford Sound During Cruise Through Milford Sound

DAYS 10 TO 12: MILFORD SOUND – QUEENSTOWN

Following our epic cruise, we drove from Milford Sound to Queenstown which took around 3 hours and 40 minutes (be warned, you will stop A LOT to take photos!)

We had a friend who lived in Queenstown so spent some time with her (she introduced us to Yonder, the best brunch in Queenstown) and although referred to as the adrenaline capital of the world, we participated in zero activities and instead drank a lot of wine instead. Shocker.

Gibbston Valley outside Queenstown is home to numerous wineries that we couldn’t resist. We did choose a more challenging tour however and opted for a self-guided mountain bike tour (believe me, it got easier the more vineyards you visited). It was one of the highlights from our entire New Zealand South Island road trip. We used Around the Basin Tours, who would even pick up any bottles purchased to allow you to keep cycling. . . or pushing your bike round the trail.

Campsite: Queenstown Holiday Park & Motels Creeksyde – Queenstown

As we wanted to spend some time in Queenstown we stayed here for 3 nights. It was expensive, but it was a powered site in the centre of town with the funkiest toilets and showers we’ve ever seen! We also had a great, secluded spot with a picnic table next to us.

We also paid NZ$25.00 for unlimited Wi-Fi for the duration of our stay however, if you book an activity at reception they give you unlimited Wi-Fi for free.

DAY 13: QUEENSTOWN – WANAKA – LAKE HAWEA

After a couple of days in Queenstown we drove to Wanaka which took around 1 hour and 10 minutes. Out of all the places in our South Island itinerary, Wanaka is one of the places we could happily live permanently we loved it that much!

Wanaka

We had a very chilled day exploring the handful of shops, bars and had a picnic by beautiful Wanaka lake. It is here where you can photograph the famous Wanaka tree. (Search #thatwanakatree on Instagram, you’ll see what we mean!)

Tree In The Ocean In Wanaka #thatwanakatree

It is also in Wanaka where you can hike Roy’s Peak which we really regret being too lazy to do as the views and photos look incredible!

From one beautiful lake to another – we drove from Wanaka to Lake Hawea (around 1 hour) for the night and enjoyed a couple of beers in the sunshine.

Campsite: Lake Hawea Hotel – Lake Hawea

We paid NZ$12.00 per person to camp here, which was a little expensive for an unpowered site but the views were so beautiful and the campsite so peacefully quiet that we didn’t think twice about paying that much.

They also offered bar meals for only NZ$12.00 and NZ$5.00 drink specials as well as Wi-Fi in some areas. Facilities were clean, showers & toilets were great and staff were very friendly.

Sign For Lake Hawea Overlooking Lake Hawea New Zealand

DAY 14: LAKE HAWEA – FOX GLACIER

Fox Glacier was the next destination on our South Island itinerary. From Lake Hawea it was a long drive (nearly 4 hours) however we stopped at two stunning locations on the way which even in pouring rain looked amazing!

You cannot miss out the Blue Pools and Thunder Falls from your South Island road trip. The joy of these stops (like so many others in New Zealand) was that we were the only ones there. There are so many incredibly beautiful stops that it’s very common to be the only visitors when you do jump out the van. . . or maybe it’s cause the Scots are the only ones brave enough to wander in the rain!

Campsite: Fox Glacier Lodge – Fox Glacier

Although it was NZ$40.00 to camp here, we needed a powered site and wanted to be nearby the glacier and Lake Matheson as we had a busy day planned the next day.

It turned out to be an absolute hidden gem as the campsite owner took us all on a free walk through the rainforest in the dark to find glow worms. We felt like we were in a Disney film as they twinkled around us! This wasn’t a one off – the campsite runs these glow worm walks for free every evening at 9pm.

DAY 15: LAKE MATHESON – FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER – HOKITIKA

Lake Matheson

We got up at sunrise and recommend you do too to photograph the stunning reflection of Mount Cook on Lake Matheson before the tourist busses arrive and the sun gets too high so the reflections don’t work as well. Our campsite was only 6km from Lake Matheson, another reason we’d recommend it! As beautiful as the location was, we had a huge argument at Lake Matheson as we were both starving (travelling as a couple ain’t always straightforward). To make peace, we went for brunch at The Landing in Franz Josef and it was AMAZING – definitely stop here for an unforgettable start to your day/fix a hangry boyfriend/fuel your glacier hike!

Lake Matheson Reflection On Lake In New Zealand

Franz Josef Glacier

Many people can’t decide between Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier however during our South Island road trip, Fox Glacier was closed due to damaged roads so that made the decision for us. Franz Josef Glacier is the smaller of the two and the walk will take you around an hour and a half. There were some impressive waterfalls on the walk, although we weren’t particularly blown away by the glacier itself as you can’t see much from the safety barriers, we’ve heard a helicopter tour is the best way to view the glacier in its full glory!

Hokitika

We then headed to Hokitika which was around 1 hour and 40 minutes’ drive. Hokitika is a sleepy, hippy town, worth squeezing into your South Island road trip as it’s home to the best sunsets in New Zealand.

Sign On Beach Made From Driftwood Reading Hokitika

Campsite: Woodstock Domain – Ruatapu

Our campsite was essentially a field called Woodstock Domain (we did warn Hokitika was hippy). It was NZ$5.00 per person which you popped into an honesty box next to a pavilion style building where the *flush* toilets were.

Highlight of this campsite was there was a peacock which roamed around – the second time we’d ever seen one in the wild, read more about the first time we saw one in our backpacking Hawaii post!

DAY 16: HOKITIKA – LYFORD VIA ARTHUR’S PASS

You will need your camera charged for day 16 of this New Zealand South Island itinerary as you are in for a feast of natural wonders! Today was a big day of driving as we cut from the West Coast back over to the East (around 4.5 hours of driving) but it was the most stunning drive of our entire lives and there were a couple of stops we really recommend!

Hokitika Gorge

A stop not to be missed as it’s only a 15 minute walk from the famous swing bridge to the striking blue waters below.

Hokitika Gorge, Water Running Between The Bridge Over The Gorge

Arthur’s Pass

You will then drive through the famous Arthur’s pass where the views will blow you away. We did have to sing to wee Cathy the campervan to persuade her up the steep hills at parts but it was a drive we will never forget.

Bridge On Arthurs Pass New Zealand

Castle Boulders

We nearly drove past Castle Hill Boulders until Loz shouted “stop the van, those rocks are huge” and she wasn’t wrong. They were insane, although a very busy stop so we were only there briefly for a photo or 10.

Castle Boulders, Large Limestone Rocks In New Zealand

Springfield

We then stopped at Springfield only 25 minutes down the road as we were hungry and bursting to pee. Not just because you can take a photo inside a giant donut. Then we headed to Lyford for our campsite – our favourite from our entire New Zealand South Island Road trip!

Large Donut In Springfield With Man Looking Through The Hole

Campsite: Mount Lyford Lodge – Lyford

This was our favourite stay from our entire road trip as the staff were so friendly and the lodge itself was incredible (turns out, it was built by a Scotsman so maybe we’re biased). This was a powered site and cost us NZ$30.00. The showers were the best we’d had so far and staff were so friendly even offering us to chill in the bar and use the Wi-Fi even if we weren’t having a drink there.

There was also kitchen above the bar which was open to campsite guests to cook which was also great. We really wished we could’ve stayed longer but time was running out in our New Zealand South Island road trip!

Inside Mount Lyford Lodge, Wooden Beams Across The Ceiling

DAY 17: LYFORD – KAIKOURA – REEFTON – GREYMOUTH

The following morning it was only a 55 minute drive to Kaikoura. In the Maori language ‘kai’ means food, ‘koura’ means crayfish so this is heaven for seafood lovers as it is everywhere!

Kaikoura

Sperm whales, fur seals and dolphins live permanently in the waters of Kaikoura so most tourists take a whale watching trip here or you can even swim with dolphins. We also headed up to Kaikoura look out for incredible views before heading back in the van to Reefton.

You may be questioning why we were heading back to the West Coast, but this was to continue our tour of the West and so we’d be able to tick Arthur’s Pass off our bucket list.

Reefton

Another hidden gem from our South Island road trip that you would otherwise drive through if you didn’t know about it. Please stop for coffee and cake at The Broadway Tearooms And Bakery, it was the BEST cheesecake I’ve ever had! The town itself is literally a couple of streets but so quirky and interesting we took so many photos!

From Reefton we headed to Greymouth where we were staying for the night before continuing up the West Coast.

Campsite: Central Park Camping – Greymouth

The was essentially a car park behind a petrol station however the staff were so friendly and after phoning ahead to reserve a space they even put an official sign on our campsite to ensure no one parked there before we arrived. It was NZ$25.00 for a powered site, NZ$2.00 for a shower and the Wi-Fi was free and unlimited.

DAY 18: GREYMOUTH – GENTLE ANNIES

Pancake Rocks

From Greymouth we headed along one of the most beautiful roads in New Zealand to the pancake Rocks. Punakaiki’s pancake rocks and nearby blowholes are yet another amazing natural wonder that this New Zealand South Island road trip has to offer.

We were fortunate to time our visit at high tide so could witness the blow holes blast waves high into the sky. Truly mesmerising to witness.

Pancake Rocks In New Zealand

Denniston Dog – Westport

We’d worked up some serious appetite by the time we arrived in Westport so devoured a delicious meal at Denniston Dog. A funky little bar come restaurant that served local seafood as well as burgers etc.

We are now going to let you in on a little secret, a camping ground called Gentle Annies. It is genuinely heaven on earth and like no other campsite we have ever been to – around a 40 minute drive from Westport.

Burger And Chips On Wooden Board From Denniston Dog In Westport

Campsite: Gentle Annie Seaside Accommodation – Mokihinui

Not only do you get a homemade cookie on arrival if you book via the Campermate app, they also sell homemade pizza dough which you can bake in their huge stone pizza oven. Or chill in the comfortable sofas, enjoy a book by the fire or enjoy fresh barista coffee and home baked cakes like we did. It was an unforgettable stay and we really hope you make time for a visit during your South Island road trip!

DAYS 19 & 20: GENTLE ANNIES – ST ARNAUD – KAITERITERI (ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK)

Lake Rotoiti

As it’s coming to the end of our South Island itinerary, we had a few long drives ahead to squeeze in our final stops. We drove from Gentle Annies to St Arnaud where Lake Rotoiti is. Some people were swimming in the lake and we timed our stop well with the Kiwi Experience bus so had to wait a good half hour for a photo on the famous Lake Rotoiti Jetty – but it was an incredible view, nonetheless.

Couple Overlooking Lake Rotoiti In New Zealand - Famous Jetty Lake New Zealand

Kaiteriteri

It was then back in the van to Kaiteriteri – in total from Gentle Annies to here was around a 4.5 hour drive. This sounds like a long time but there is so much to see and photograph time goes passed crazy quick when roadtripping in New Zealand!

We had finally reached Abel Tasman National Park – to us the cherry on top of the South Island itinerary cake!

Abel Tasman National Park

You cannot complete your New Zealand South island itinerary without exploring the Abel Tasman National Park. Genuinely one of the most beautiful places we have ever been and exploring it by kayak was a hilarious yet unforgettable experience (you can read about that funny anecdote from our travel fails post). Our instructor even told us that it’s possible to view penguins and dolphins when kayaking but we were so focused on just not killing each other we didn’t have much time to wildlife watch.

Back Of Campervan Open With Table And Chairs Outside At Bethany Park Campsite In New Zealand

Campsite: Bethany Park – Kaiteriteri

We stayed here for 2 nights for a total of NZ$36.00 per night as the Abel Tasman National Park was just so beautiful. The campsite was within walking distance to the town and stunning beach. Wi-Fi was really quick (for New Zealand) but cost NZ$5.00 for 5GB and although showers were NZ$0.50 for 3 minutes they did have speakers in them so you could sing along free of charge.

Back Of Campervan Open With Table And Chairs Outside At Bethany Park Campsite In New Zealand

DAY 21: KAITERITERI – NELSON – BLENHEIM

We were sad to say bye to Kaiteriteri as we drove to Nelson which took around an hour. To be honest, Nelson was a sleepy town with not much to do. We wandered round the Queens gardens and Suter art gallery, then grabbed a coffee and headed to Blenheim which was a further 1.5 hours drive.

However, we (and likely you) may be glad of a more chilled day as the end of our New Zealand South island road trip is so close, enjoy the last few hours of relaxation before the North Island tour begins!

Colourful Street Art In Nelson

Campsite: Woodbourne Tavern – Woodbourne

This would be a perfect campsite if you had time to visit Blenheim’s famous vineyards as it was literally within walking distance.

It worked on a quirky system in that, if you purchased a drink at the bar, they let you park overnight for free! They also served the hugest meal portions which we thoroughly enjoyed and staff were so friendly. Only slight negative, you were limited to around 200MB of free Wi-Fi and if you needed to pee late at night, the bar was closed. This meant you had to walk to the nearby public toilets but the walk didn’t bother us at all as it’s less than 5 minutes.

DAY 22: BLENHEIM – PICTON

Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. We promise driving this New Zealand South island itinerary is far more fun than reading about it!

Before we headed to Picton for the ferry, we stopped in Blenheim for breakfast and it was INSANE. If you can, stop at Mrs Vercoes diner, it will not disappoint! From monstrous milkshakes to pancake stacks, it was one of our favourite foodie stops from our whole road trip. The waitress was so friendly and talkative, we could’ve stayed all day (though felt we’d gained two stone just from breakfast).

We were so stuffed from Blenheim we were relieved it was only a 22 minute drive to Picton. We chilled for the rest of the day at the funkiest camp site (it even had an outdoor pool) and looked back on what an epic South Island road trip we’d had.

Man Inside Mrs Vercoes American Diner In Blenheim

Campsite: Waikawa Bay Holiday Park.

We used our kiwi discount keyring again here, our stay was NZ$34.00 for a powered site with free 100MB of Wi-Fi. You could pay NZ$5.00 for 10GB of Wi-Fi also. There was a solar heated outdoor pool and the quirkiest sculptures dotted around the campsite. It was also within walking distance to Picton port.

DAY 23: FERRY FROM PICTON TO WELLINGTON

Now it’s time to board the ferry to New Zealand’s North Island.

Looking At Mountain From The Sea During Ferry From Picton To Wellington

For more photos of our adventure, please take a peek at our New Zealand gallery.

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