There’s an endless amount of things to see and do in New Zealand’s South Island – and taking to the open road is the best way to discover it all. When you hire a campervan, you’ll have total freedom to travel at your own pace and our experts will help you tailor-make the perfect itinerary. You’ll pick up and return your campervan in Christchurch, but everything in-between is up to you.
You could go whale-watching in Kaikoura, enjoy wine-tasting in Marlborough, hike across Franz Josef Glacier, sail on the glass-clear waters of Milford Sound, and admire a million stars by Lake Tekapo. Wherever your South Island itinerary takes you, it’s sure to be an adventure.
If you want to extend your holiday and explore the North Island too, you can always return your campervan in Auckland instead. We can arrange tickets for the Interislander Ferry, so you can travel seamlessly between both islands without changing vehicles. We suggest the below as an itinerary, but please speak to our travel specialists if you’d like to make any changes – we can help you plan every detail.
Your New Zealand South Island itinerary begins in Christchurch, one of New Zealand’s most exciting cities, where urban regeneration and heritage sit side-by-side. Full of vibrant street art, green spaces, a world-class food scene and innovative architecture, it’s the perfect spot to spend your first night on the South Island. For a fun way to see the city, jump aboard the beautifully resorted Christchurch tram. You can hop on and off as you please, visiting the city’s key attractions like the Botanic Gardens, The Terrace & Riverside Market, and New Regent Street.
Overnight: Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square
On day two, you’ll collect your fully-equipped campervan and head north to the coastal town of Kaikoura, which is famous for its whale-watching. It’s best to spend at least one night here, so you can get out on an early morning whale-watching cruise. Kaikoura is also a great place to swim with beautiful dusky dolphins, but even taking a stroll along the rugged headland will give you glimpses of seals and numerous seabirds – the wildlife here is fantastic. While you’re in Kaikoura, make sure you try some of NZ’s best crayfish. Head to the casual – but world-famous – Kaikoura Seafood BBQ for all sorts of delicious bites, including crayfish, garlic scallops, fresh mussels and whitebait fritters.
Next it’s on to Marlborough. Arguably New Zealand’s most famous wine region, this place is known the world over for its delicious sauvignon blanc. With more than 30 cellar doors to discover, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try some of the local produce. Why not join a guided tour of the wineries, or hire bikes to explore the valleys and vines?
You can take advantage of the Maui Winery Haven while you’re here, too. Exclusive to Maui campervan customers, this place allows you to camp overnight in a vineyard – and you’ll receive a delicious food and wine hamper to enjoy among the vines. You’ll be able to stay at Gibson Bridge Winery, a boutique family-owned vineyard in Renwick.
Hit the road and drive to Abel Tasman National Park. Known for its pristine beaches, lush native forest and diverse wildlife, this peaceful spot is a nature-lover’s dream. The beachfront towns of Marahau and Kaiteriteri are perfectly positioned for exploring the highlights of the Abel Tasman National Park. You can’t drive your campervan into the park itself, but it’s easily reached – simply hop in a water-taxi, or join a sailing tour or guided kayaking trip. If you’d prefer to explore on foot, the Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The entire walk takes between three and five days but, if you haven’t got the time, just take a water-taxi to Anchorage and then walk the 12 kilometres back Marahau at your leisure. There are plenty of options for swimming and beach time along the way.
New Zealand’s west coast is rugged and wild. With everything from rainforests to glaciers, this is one of the best coastal drives in the world. Head to Punakaiki to see Pancake Rocks – resembling stacked pancakes, this 30-million-year-old limestone formation is a natural phenomenon not to be missed. The cool town of Hokitika is another gem on the west coast. Here, you’ll find jade carving studios, glow worm caves and Hokitika Gorge, where the water is so impossibly turquoise it has to be seen to be believed.
This part of the South Island also has two of the most accessible glaciers in the world, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. One item for your bucket list is a guided heli-hike – you’ll fly up to the glacier in a helicopter, and then go on a guided hike through the icy caves and tunnels. The weather can be unpredictable, though, so we’d recommend spending a night in the area. This will increase your chances of getting out on a heli-hike, if the weather isn’t great on the day you arrive.
Nestled on a picturesque lake and surrounded by views of the stunning the Southern Alps, Wanaka is a buzzing little town with a big focus on outdoor adventures. Thrill-seekers can go skydiving, canyoning, climbing and jet-boating, and there are hundreds of kilometres of biking and hiking trails. The lake is ideal for swimming, kayaking and fishing. And don’t miss your opportunity to take a photo of “That Wanaka Tree” – the crooked willow tree which grows out of the lake has become a major tourist attraction in its own right. Wanaka is also a self confessed foodie town, with a huge variety of lakefront cafés and bars, a popular farmers market and a host of fine dining restaurants.
Next up, it’s Queenstown. Hailed as New Zealand’s adventure capital, this lakefront town is famous for its exhilarating activities. Skydiving, bungee-jumping, white-water rafting, jet-boating, zip-lining – you name it, Queenstown has it. But if adrenaline-pumping activities aren’t quite your style, why not opt for a more leisurely sailing trip on Lake Wakitipu? The TSS Earnslaw is a century-old steamship and one of the best ways to see Queenstown’s surrounding landscape. Or, for a different view of Queenstown, take to the skies in a helicopter and admire the vast lake and snow-capped mountains below. Your pilot will also be able to point out several filming locations from The Lord of the Rings.
Queenstown also makes a great base for exploring Fiordland National Park. This stunning spot is home to the dramatic Milford Sound and equally beautiful Doubtful Sound. You can take a day trip from Queenstown – which involves a scenic cruise and return coaches – or if you want to see Fiordland in style, or are simply short on time, book a scenic flight for the most unbelievable views.
Lake Tekapo is a show-stopping location to spend the last night of your New Zealand campervan holiday. The milky turquoise lake is stunning by day – but, come nightfall, be sure to turn your eyes to the heavens. Lake Tekapo is within the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve – one of only 13 International Dark Sky Reserves in the world – so the night skies here are truly magical. You’ll be able to see millions of stars and, between April and September, you might even see the Southern Lights, Aurora Australis. For a unique introduction to astronomy, don’t miss Tekapo Stargazing at Tekapo Springs – it’s the only hot pool star-gazing experience in New Zealand.
As you campervan adventure comes to an end, it’s time to drop off your vehicle at the depot near Christchurch Airport. Christchurch is well-connected with flights to New Zealand’s North Island, as well as Australia, Fiji and the Cook Islands – so your adventure can continue elsewhere, if you wish
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