Road trip: New Zealand South Island
Updated: Nov 25, 2019
New Zealand is heaven. New Zealand is paradise. This amazing country holds my heart, and will always mean something completely special to me. As so many others, that has visited this paradise for travellers and adventure seekers, I’ve fallen completely in love. There’s a reason this country is number 1 on my list of Top 10 Travel Destinations. Everyone – yes, EVERYONE – should travel to New Zealand at least once! Do yourself the favour!
Planning on going? Here’s how I travelled the South Island in a camper van, together with one of my good friends. You’ll also get tips, tricks, and what you have to see!
I would like to apologise for the bad photos in this post, but we unfortunately lost all of our photos from the trip. The only photos we have left are the ones we uploaded to our social media during the trip.
In total, we drove around 1307 km. New Zealand doesn’t have a lot of roads, which made us think it was impossible to get lost. We still sometimes took some small detours, which weren’t always on purpose. But hey, that part of the charm of a roadtrip right?
Our route on the South Island of New Zealand
Okay, first. I can’t mention New Zealand without mentioning Queenstown, a small town at the edge of Lake Wakatipu. This is the definition of heaven for me. This little beautiful lake town has it all. No matter how long time you spent here, it will not be enough, I promise.
We landed here from Sydney, and just seeing the town from the air made me cry. I will never feel this kind of connection to any other place. So when I go to Queenstown, I always cry. Cry for being home, cry for the feeling of really belonging.
The beautiful view of Queenstown from Queenstown Hill
From the airport, we picked up our campervan, which we rented from Jucy Rentals. If you’ve ever travelled Australia and New Zealand, you know this rental company. Their green and purple vehicles are everywhere. So we picked up a “Chaser” Campervan, and drove off to Queenstown, where we slept on a camping ground in the city.
Queenstown is a paradise for adrenaline junkies. Here you can do all extreme sports that you could possibly dream of. I’ve skydived here a couple of times, and it’s the perfect settings. I’ve skydived both with Skydive Paradise and Nzone Skydive, and I can really recommend both companies. Super fun and super professional!
Skydiving over Lake Wanaka will never be boring
Amongst other funny things you can do in Queenstown is: rappelling, river rafting, canyoning, bungee jump, down hill motor biking, jet boating, and ski and snowboard during winter season. And many other things! There’s something for everybody!
If the adrenaline stuff isn’t really your cup of tea, you can also eat your way through this fantastic town. Queenstown is home to the world’s best burger – Ferg Burger! My mouth is watering, just from thinking about it… When we drove from Queenstown, I even ran down in the morning to get a last Ferg Burger to go!
As if this isn’t enough, Queenstown also have Cookie Time – a small store, that makes the most amazing cookies. Furthermore, by the lake, you’ll find delicious ice cream as well, in the store called Patagonia. Thank god Queenstown offers so many sport activities, because you have to burn of the calories of all this delicious food!
The “beach” in Queenstown – breathtaking view of Lake Wanaka
Needless to say, you can really spent a lot of time in Queenstown. So if you’re planning on going, don’t just stay for a couple of weeks, it won’t be enough! But make sure that you’ve saved a lot, because all these fun adrenaline adventures ain’t cheap!
Located a bit further north, lies Wanaka, next to Lake Wanaka. If you’re looking for the ultimate thrill, like us, this is the place to take flight lessons! With Learn to Fly NZ, you can take either individual classes or take your pilot license. They’re super nice and super skilled, and I can promise you it’ll be the most crazy thing you’ve ever done! I’ve skydived quite a lot, but learning to pilot a plane is by far the most crazy and scary thing I’ve done! Petar was so fearless, and it was honestly his idea. He talked me into it, even though I actually was too scared to do it. But I did it, and now I have even more cool stories to tell!
Yes, this is me. Piloting a plane! How cool is that?
You’ve might have heard of this place. It has been called “The Eighth Wonder of the World”. Milford Sound is located by the Northern coast of New Zealand, and was carved by glaciers during the ice ages. It’s simply breathtaking, and the nature here seems out of this world. It’s a part of the Fiordland National Park, and offers scenic views, beautiful mountains, and stunning waterfalls.
It often rains in Milford Sound, but it just adds to the beauty, since it makes the many waterfalls multiply. The best way to see it all, is to get on one of the many tour boats. We were really lucky, and were able to get on a boat as soon as we arrived. It was a bit cold, wet and wavy. New Zealand is home to the roughest seas in the world, and even in the small fiords, you can feel the big waves coming in. But it was so worth it, as it was truly magical.
Beautiful (cloudy) Milford Sound
When we came back, it started to get dark, and we discovered that the only hotel there, was fully booked. And in the majority of New Zealand it’s illegal to camp in the nature. So we had to drive and try to find a place to sleep, and get some food. We were in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the rough nature of New Zealand.
We were starving, and it seemed quite hopeless to find anything, since we were many kilometers from the nearest town. All of a sudden, we found a small and quirky shop. Thankfully they sold a bit of everything, so we managed to buy some cup noodles and crackers.
We then drove on to hopefully find a place to sleep. And again, we were lucky! We found a small space in the woods, next to a beautiful lake, where it was legal to camp! So we parked the van at the edge of the water, boiled some water, and ate our (awful) dinner. Petar went for a swim in the cold water. It was a bit too cold for me, since we were travelling around in the early spring. Our campervan had a tv with DVD, so I forced Petar to watch Grease (he had never watched it before!), before going to bed.
The view from the back of our van. It was like waking up in a fairytale (I’m sorry for the terrible quality, I only had a snapchat photo from there)
Waking up to the foggy view of the lake next morning, was truly breathtaking. It had been a really really cold night, so we quickly packed and drove on. Our van had heating, but stupid 1 and 2 couldn’t figure out how to turn it on. We found out a couple of days later, and it made a huge difference. Buuuut, it was a bit too late, because I’d already gotten sick, haha!
Next stop on the list, was still within the stunning Fiordland National Park. We drove to Te Anau, where you have the chance of sailing out to some magical grottoes, where you can see Glow Worms! So of course, we had to do that!
We first got on a bigger both, which took us to the other side of Lake Te Anau. Here we had to walk up a small trail, that would take us to the grottoes. Just the landscape and nature on this side, looked completely magical and out of this world! At the top, we reached the small grottoes, where we would board some smaller boats. In here, there’s no light, and no mechanics. The boats are pulled through the grottoes with ropes, in the pitch black darkness. Because the darkness is essential for seeing the Glow Worms, it was unfortunately impossible to take any photos on this trip. But is was an incredible sight indeed. The roof of the grottoes were sprinkled with a million Glow Worms, just blinking and twinkling down at us. Truly magical.
They beauty in Fiordland National Park can’t be denied
Southern tip of the South Island
After returning from the Glow Worm trip, we quickly went to the supermarket in order to get food for survival. After this, we drove to the very south of the island. We randomly met some university friends from Petar’s university in Sydney, so we had a cup of coffee with them on the side of road, before all driving in different directions.
We had a night in Invercargill, which we spent on a camping ground, called The Bluff Camping Ground. It was beautifully located right next to the water on a little peninsular out of the city. But other than that, there were literally nothing Not much to tell from this place, except for it being quite cold.
The nature in New Zealand can be quite rough but it’s still soooo beautiful
Penguin watching in Dunedin
One big thing on our bucket list for this trip – see wild penguins! So we drove up from the south towards Dunedin, where they have wild penguins.
To be able to see any penguins, we had to get up quite early. At 3 AM! So fighting against falling asleep, we drove to the meeting point for the penguin watch. It was at the end of a peninsular, where we then would walk down the hills to the ocean. Here the wild penguins would come up from the water, to go sleep in their small caves. The penguins we saw was the race called Little Blue Penguins. They’re rather small, only around 30 cm tall. Actually they’re the smallest penguins in the world. But damn, they were cute! Penguins are awesome, end of discussion!
The cute Blue penguins coming og of the water
At the same place, as where we could see penguins, they also had an Albatross Center. So after freezing all of our limps off in order to see some wild penguins, we headed inside to explore. It was quite fun and really shows off the rough wildlife, that’s present on the south tip of New Zealand’s South Island.
The rough coast line by the Albatross Center
The beauty of a road trip is the freedom. On our way from Dunedin to Christchurch, we drove by a small town called Waimate. And they happened to have a wallaby farm! It was so adorable, they had around 50 wallabies, where we got the chance to walk around with them, and feed them. We spend a couple of hours there, and it was a nice little break from the long drive. Remember to stop and explore along your planned path.
The cute wallabies hopping around
We had planned on ending our road trip in Christchurch, where we would catch a flight back to Sydney. When we arrived in Christchurch, we had two days to explore the city. But we couldn’t find anything to explore. I’m not sure if we were there during a public holiday or something, but almost everything was closed! But luckily for us, Christchurch is home to the International Antarctic Center!
We ended up spending the entire day in the Antarctic Center, which was insanely cool and interesting! We got to enter a simulator, where we got the chance to experience a real Arctic storm! It was insane! The temperatures went from -10 degrees to -60 in less than 2 minutes, and the wind was blowing at hurricane speed! It was indeed super interesting to be able to experience this, and it just made me even more sure, that I want to travel to Antarctica. Might sound weird to some people, but it amazes me how rough and unspoiled the nature can be.
A little piece of Antarctica – it was an insane experience!
In order to save a bit of money, we gave the van back the day before our flight. Our flight was in the early morning, so we decided to sleep in the airport. Most airports has “sleeping rooms”, where you can either get a lounge chair, a fatboy, or even a small mattress if you’re lucky. So we slept in a fatboy and caught our early morning flight back to Sydney.
I cry when I arrive in New Zealand, and I cry when I leave it. New Zealand will always hold a big piece of my heart. Until next time, my love.