Campervan-ing Around New Zealand
While there are many ways to see this beautiful nation, renting a campervan is by far one of the best. We're here to tell you our itinerary which we found was a perfect amount of time and provides the framework to add your own must-dos.
For starters, we recommend going in the summer. You'll get more out of the driving experience while not having to worry about slick roads. As far as time, 2 weeks was perfect for us. Any amount less and you'll be sacrificing sights or even an island. Sydney to Christchurch (on the south island) was our first leg. You could also rearrange by flying into Auckland (north island) if that's cheaper. That's something that JetRhino can help you arrange. From Christchurch we rented our campervan through Britz rentals through a travel agent. We spent a couple hours in Christchurch and then we were off. A couple hours was plenty by the way. We were there to see the country not a city that at the time was also still feeling the effects of a major earthquake.
TIP: Many campervans are going to have manual transmissions. Be sure to confirm you're getting an automatic beforehand if that's what you need.
After leaving Christchurch, we headed straight to Hamner Springs for our first night. It's only a few hours drive through the mountains and is a great place to relax in some natural hot pools before continuing your journey. From Hamner, head for the west coast.
We were aiming for Westport but a landslide on the Great Coast Road caused a detour to Greymouth. If you like beer, Greymouth is home to the Montieth's Brewery where you can get a great tour and tasting. If you do make it to Westport, you can still wind your way down to Gremouth via Punakaiki along the Great Coast Road... widely regarded as one of the most beautiful drives in the world. On the way you'll get stunning vistas and the beautiful Pancake Rocks.
TIP: Keep an eye on stuff.co.nz for all news New Zealand and to keep apprised of the road situation throughout the country. This is especially important for the landslide prone coast road.
From Greymouth head down the coast for more stunning views and make a stop at the Fox and/or Franz Josef glaciers (especially before they're gone). There are plenty of things to do here including zoos, and helicopter rides and hikes on and over the glaciers and the Southern Alps.
Next up is Queenstown via Wanaka via Haast Pass and the blue pools. Between the coast and Queenstown you'll start to see more freedom camping zones. This means for those campervan drivers that you can camp wherever you want provided you're in the zone (which is always marked by road signs) and that you have a self-contained campervan that has it's own toilet.
Queenstown is so named because the original english settlers considered it fit for the queen. They're certainly not wrong. Crowned the adventure capital of the world, there's literally hundreds of adrenaline pumping activities to try. Some of our favourites included ziplining on the world's highest and steepest zipline, a helicopter ride to Milford Sound, and a giant swing into the shotover canyon. Be sure to ride the gondola to the top of Bob's Peak for the iconic views of the town and surround mountains. They also have a few Lord of the Rings tours out of Queenstown. Many of the film's shooting locations are located in this area.
TIP: We were told by several locals that the drive to Milford Sound can be treacherous. We considered (and still do) Milford Sound to be a must see so we opted for a ride with Heli Tours Queenstown instead. We got an exhilarating landing on the top of a mountain and bird's eye view of the magnificent fjords.
From Queenstown head to the east coast to check out the famous Nugget Point Lighthouse and the Moerakai Boulders before moving on to Lake Tekapo. The main thing you need to know about Lake Tekapo is it's beautiful, has the famous chapel you see in so many photos, has plenty of hikes, another hot springs, and if you time your trip correctly (make sure it's not going to be a full moon), has some of the darkest night skies in the world and is a great place to see the night starts and even the Southern Lights if you're lucky.
So, now that you've explored most of the South Island (9 days total), it's time to head back to Christchurch. We flew from there to Hamilton (which everyone says is the armpit of NZ) but it was a great home base to see Hobbiton and the magical glow worm caves in Waitomo.
We rented a car for this short section of our journey (4 days). If you have some extra time and/or a campervan you might consider New Zealand's Yellowstone in Rotorua, and beautiful Wellington. You can even catch the ferry from Wellington to the south island and see Marlborough... New Zealand's wine country.
TIP: Even though you can take a campervan on the ferry, we recommend making seperate reservations for each island as the one way fee between islands can be astronomical.
You'll end your trip in Auckland. Pretty much just another city, two things we really recommend here are the hike up the extinct volcano, Mt Eden, and a visit to one of the best zoos in the world.
At this point, we hope you've enjoyed your time and some of our tips. There's plenty more to see if you explore more of either island and great skiing if you come in the winter. Happy trails!!!