10-Day Road Trip around New Zealand's South Island

Day 1

Our New Zealand South Island campervan adventure begins! We had an overnight flight from Melbourne to Christchurch so we arrived tired. We picked up our campervan and headed out for adventures. We purchased a DOC (Department of Conservation) campervan pass for $40 NZD which gives us free camping at certain sites for 7 consecutive days. SCORE! We drove about two and a half hours from the airport to our campsite. Any further we felt would be dangerous because of fatigue. 

After checking in, we decided we needed to stay awake until at least 20:00 so we were on a normal sleep schedule for the next day. We immediately made coffee on our stove in the rear of the campervan knowing caffeine would be essential. Next, we decided to get our blood pumping and go on an hour hike to see a waterfall.

After the falls we came back, took showers and cooked dinner. With our bellies full, it was going to be harder to stay awake for a few more hours. We decided to watch a movie involving extra-terrestrials (always keeps us awake). Finally, 20:00 hit so we rolled down the shades and swan dived into a wonderful deep sleep. Day one was a success. 

Day 2

We woke up refreshed and drove towards Mt. Cook. On the way we stopped several times to take photos around Lake Tekapo, a stunning turquoise glacier fed lake. We arrived at our campsite, parked, geared up and headed out for our 3-hour return hike on the Hooker Valley Track. 

On the journey we crossed over multiple suspension bridges with stunning views of rivers. One bridge even gave you a great view of the Mueller glacier and lake. Along the way, it started to get very cold, rainy and windy. Fortunately, we are prepared for weather like this! 

Finally, we reached Mt. Cook. Wow! It was well worth the small hike there. On Mt. Cook is the Mt. Cook glacier and at the base is the glacier lake with large chunks of ice floating about. 

After returning to our camper, we cooked dinner and watched the stars come out. It was amazing to get to see the milky way! We were too busy being in awe to take any photos of that! 😜 Happy day!

Day 3

Today we woke up to heavy rain in Hooker Valley so we checked our weather apps and found that Cromwell, New Zealand's wine country, was the only region of NZ that was supposed to have beautiful weather, so of course we headed that way because who doesn't love wine?

As we headed towards the grapes we stopped in Lindis Valley for a quick hike. The landscape was so beautiful! The mountains looked like they were covered in basil seeds and flanked us on all sides. 

When we made it to Cromwell we drove around through wine covered hills and found a great winery to do a tasting. This part of New Zealand is known for its world-class Pino Noirs so of course we had to try them. However, because of the sunny summery warm weather, we felt a white would be best! 

After relaxing for a few hours with a bottle of Pinot Gris we made our way towards our Queenstown campsite. When we arrived it was raining heavily, which made for a fun dinner cooking experience! With dinner done, we curled up with a cocktail and watched a movie. Perfection!

Day 4

Today was a beautiful day. The weather was sunny with a high in the low 70s, Brad's idea of summer! Since the sun was smiling, we felt it was perfect for an all-day hike. 

We made it to Roys Peak just after eating lunch on the banks of Lake Wanaka. We started the first half of our 16km journey up the mountain and quickly found out the incline was steeper than we thought. Fortunately, the weather was perfect and the views, while hiking, went from great to amazing so more frequent stops were a must for more fabulous photos!

After 4-hours challenging ourselves on this uphill battle, we finally made it to the top! It was the first time either of us had been at the top of a mountain and could see nothing but other mountain tops all around us. We were on top of the world and we had it all to ourselves. 

Pushing through the pain, we let gravity take hold of us as we made our decent. The downhill journey only took us 2-hours. When we made it to the bottom we opened the back of the campervan and cooked a large, well deserved, dinner consisting of rice and spicy chicken curry. We had left over tortillas from last night's tacos, so we improvised and used them as naan. Yum! 

Day 5

Today was the day for Milford Sound! We woke up and made the five-hour drive to see it. Along the way, we made multiple stops for photo opportunities. 

Some of the coolest pictures we took were just random moments of Kevin yelling, "Pull over, I have to take this picture" as Brad swerved to the shoulder. A really neat detour was the mirror lakes. There was a slight breeze in the air, so it wasn't still like glass, but the view was nothing to complain about. Only a little ways away and we would be to Milford Sound!

When we arrived, Milford Sound was very misty and visibility was super low. Fortunately, we had plenty of time to walk around and explore. We ended up cooking some spicy chilly for dinner and waited for the sun to go down. 

As the sun began to fall and the mist rise, the true beauty of the mouth of Milford Sound showed itself. With no one else around, we headed off road and walked right to the edge of the water and enjoyed the views all to ourselves

On the way to our campsite for the night we made a few more little stops while we still had light. Laying in our campervan looking through the moon roof at the stars again was a magical ending to this wonderful day.

Day 6

Today was a more relaxed day. We woke up to a little rain so we headed south to get away from it. Stopped for lunch along Lake Te Anau then went to the DOC (Department of Conservation) information center to see what new adventures we could find in Southland and Otago. 
We continued south east and took our time admiring how different New Zealand looks down south. 

We decided to call it an early day and head straight for our campsite. The campground was the most amazing yet. We were at Purakaunui Bay, steps from the beach with towering cliffs to one side and forest to the other. It was spectacular. 

After some food and wine, we relaxed and watched the sun go down. We were even lucky enough to see the amazing milky way again! Mother nature at its best!

Day 7

Our road trip today took us along The Catlins Heritage Trail and part of the Southern Scenic Route. 

We first journeyed to Waikawa Harbour for beautiful views while we chowed down on PB&J sandwiches. Next up was Curious Bay which was so incredible! It's a 180-million-year-old ancient fossil forest with petrified trees from the Jurassic era.

We hung out waking the shores for a few hours admiring them while listening to the huge ocean waves crash against the cliffs. 

We then made our way to slope point and did a quick 20-minute hike through a sheep farm to the southernmost point of New Zealand's south island. 

Continuing east, we made it to this lighthouse on Waipapa Point. Talk about a quintessential looking lighthouse. Hung out for a bit exploring the beaches nearby and saw a few sea lions hanging out on the beach! So, cool!

Our last few stops of the day were the 22-meter-high McLean Falls and the three-tiered Purakaunui Falls. We then headed back to our beach side campgrounds for the evening. Our New Zealand road trip has been so amazing so far!

Day 8

The pretties just keep on coming! Today we drove west and north along New Zealand's scenic coastline. Our first stop was and hour hike to Jack's Blowhole, a 55-meter-deep crevasse 200 meters from the ocean. It was a sea cavern that the ocean eroded to the point of it collapsing. 

Our next destination was Nugget Point. We came here to see Tokata Lighthouse but ended up falling in love with what laid beyond. These beautiful rock formations were giving us life! We love how they, so perfectly, trickle away into the vastness of the ocean. A real surprise and a fantastic treat. 

Next, we journeyed along the coast north, past Kaka Point and Dunedin City, to our campsite for the evening. This site was nestled in Trotters Gorge. Could not have asked for a better day.

Day 9

The Otaga Peninsula was our main goal today. We drove the winding roads along the beautiful coastline for almost an hour before heading a little inland and uphill to get to our hiking location. When we made it to Sandymount, we drank in the views overlooking part of the peninsula and knew this was going to be a pretty place for a hike. 

Our first stop on the hike was lookout point, the top of the hill. The view was obstructed by all the shrubs around so we didn't spend too long there. Next, we made our way down and hiked along the edge of the mountain overlooking Sandfly Bay. An ironic name, since sandflys have been biting at us for the past 10 days. Who knew flies bit! 

As we continued along the edge of the mountain we came around to Lovers Leap, a bridge like rock formation over the ocean. We were the only ones there so we took our time to enjoy the peace. 

After our hikes for the day, we decided to head back into Dunedin. The city is a small town with a few spots to see, like the train station and church, but other than that not too much. We walked around looking at the art galleries, gift shops and street art. We settled in for a craft beer at a local pub in the city center while we charged our laptop and watched the locals stroll by.  

Day 10

Today was the last day of our New Zealand South Island Road Trip before spending a few days in Christchurch then leaving. 

We woke up and started our 5-hour journey back to Christchurch. We figured we would make a few detours along the way to see random things that may have caught our attention but we quickly found out there was not much between Dunedin and Christchurch to see. We powered through the book we had been listening to and finished it as we made our way home. 

Reflecting on our journey around the South Island was a bittersweet moment. We loved all the beautiful things nature provided for us but we are excited to continue onward. Two more days in Christchurch then off to Sydney! Cheers! 

We are two en route for future road trips. Kia Ora