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South Island of New Zealand

This motorhome trip will take you through the highlights and attractions of the South Island of New Zealand. First, you will travel from Christchurch to the north, through the wine-growing region of Marlborough, and then, along the beautiful coastline. You will switch from the Pacific coast to the west coast, admire the Tasman Sea, and pass a number of natural attractions from glaciers to the lakes of the Southern Alps. From there, you will traverse the South Island to Dunedin and drive back up the east coast to Christchurch.

Your route

from / to Christchurch
  • from / to Christchurch
  • 14 days / 2,750 km
  • Best time to travel: October to April (or even all year round)

Arrival in Christchurch and collection of the camper

The tour starts in the largest city of the South Island and the country’s third largest city, right after the North Island cities of Auckland and the capital, Wellington, namely in Christchurch. Its population amounts to 340,000 people. Christchurch is known as “Garden City.” You will understand the reason for such a nickname during a walk through the city with its well-kept parks and botanical gardens. Visitors have to be aware that an earthquake took place here in February 2011. The city is still in the process of reconstruction. Therefore, you can admire the inhabitants’ creativity that filled the resulting gaps. Unfortunately, one of the main attractions suffered during the earthquake: the Christchurch Cathedral with the Cathedral Square located right in front of it. Art museums and galleries will bring the visitors closer to New Zealand’s history.

Highlights & Tips

Gondola ride on the Avon Rive
A great and friendly old-fashioned way to enjoy Christchurch is to take a gondola ride on the Avon River. You will be able to marvel at ornate iron bridges and lush greenery.

Spectacular views
Christchurch offers a more spectacular gondola ride: by taking the Christchurch Gondola Cableway. The ride will take you to a vantage point located on the rim of an extinct volcano that offers a panorama of the city, the Pacific Ocean, and the New Zealand’s Southern Alps.

Christchurch – Kaikoura

Suggested route: Christchurch – Waipara – Kaikoura

Stage distance: approx. 180 km

From Christchurch, you will travel north on the State Highway #1 in the direction of Kaikoura, a former whaling port – the previous specialisation of the town is visible even today. Kaikoura is located on the homonymous Kaikoura Peninsula, which is relatively small. Today, the city no longer specialises in whale hunting. However, it is possible to spot whales, along with seals and dolphins, by participating in a boat trip. Generally, the town is well-known for its gentle ecotourism. It will be a great experience for those who love food, especially for seafood fans. In fact, the name of the town comprises of two parts in the Maori language – kai = food/meal and k?ura = crayfish. You can find here the best crayfish (rock lobster) in New Zealand, which is owing to the presence of a continental shelf and low water flow conditions.

Highlights & Tips

Whales from up close
Those who would like to see whales in the open sea can do exactly that in Kaikoura. Whale Watch Kaikoura offers you a tour that includes whale watching.

Kaikoura – Blenheim

Suggested route: Kaikoura – Lake Grassmere – Blenheim

Stage distance: approx. 130 km

From Kaikoura, you will take the State Highway #1 towards Blenheim, through Lake Grassmere, a lagoon known for salt extraction. Blenheim also has its unique nickname, the “Sunshine Capital.” The nickname comes from the fact that the city receives the largest amount of sunshine throughout the year. Wineries, fruit and vegetable gardens, and sheep pastures are typical for New Zealand. They determine the overall appearance of this climatically favoured land. Therefore, visitors and travellers can enjoy the attractive gastronomic offer. What is more, they can try out excellent white wines, like Sauvignon Blanc, from the region of Marlborough, which has perfect climate and territory for wine growing.

Highlights & Tips

Diving into the colonial past
The open-air museum, the Brayshaw Museum Park, in Blenheim offers a short journey through time into the period of the pioneers. The reconstructed pioneer village will allow you to have a glimpse of the early days of the European colonisation activities in New Zealand.

Blenheim – Marahau

Suggested route: Blenheim – Nelson – Marahau

Stage distance: approx. 180 km

From the Pacific coast, you will drive towards the other side of the South Island and travel along the Tasman Sea. The shortest, yet most scenic route, leads to Nelson, a city popular with German immigrants and creative people. In the surrounding area, there are many long sandy beaches, lush bush forests, and mountain ranges, which dominate the scenery. During a stopover, you can visit various galleries and studios – which will lure you with interesting souvenirs. Finally, you will reach Marahau. It is a small town dedicated to tourists and, at the same time, a gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. Here, there are various excursions available. You can also simply visit one of the beaches.

Highlights & Tips

Information and accommodation
The Abel Tasman Centre provides information and accommodation possibilities.

Experience the South Island from the seaside
Apart from hiking and participating in car trips, Tasman Bay and Golden Bay can also be explored during a boat tour. Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi is a place to visit if you are interested in this type of pastime activity.

Marahau – Greymouth

Suggested route: Marahau – Westport – Greymouth

Stage distance: approx. 330 km

On the way to Greymouth, driving along the coast of the Tasman Sea, you will not take the slightly shorter direct route, but, instead, continue through Westport and then, drive directly along the coast to the Paparoa National Park. This route passes one of the most popular natural attractions in New Zealand, namely the Pancake Rocks. In addition to the “petrified” pancakes, the Paparoa National Park offers impressive gorges and caves.

With just over 13,000 inhabitants, Greymouth is considered to be the largest city on the west coast of the South Island. This is not surprising, as the west coast is hardly inhabited. The city owes its development, at least into a small town, to the prospectors who established a settlement here in the 19th century. Today, the city is still connected with fishing, forestry, and, of course, tourism, which is its primary source of income, apart from mining. In addition to gold, the place is also well-known for a green stone called jade, which is often transformed into different types of carved works that might become unique local souvenirs.

Highlights & Tips

Pancakes, anyone?
After the visit to the Pancake Rocks, you can pay one more to Pancake Rocks Café, as a stopover before the remaining journey to Greymouth.

Greymouth – Fox Glacier

Suggested route: Greymouth – Hokitika – Franz Josef Glacier – Fox Glacier

Stage distance: approx. 200 km

From Greymouth, you will travel to Hokitika by following the only possible route that goes south in the direction of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Mount Cook is the highest point of the mountain range. It is 3,724 metres high. Other 16 peaks have a height of about 3.000 metres. Another New Zealand’s attraction is the Franc Josef Glacier, which can be reached from the town of the same name. It can be easily approached on foot. By following the Fox Glacier Highway, you can reach the second large glacier, the Fox Glacier. In its near vicinity, you will also find some places for campers.

Highlights & Tips

Ice age for half a day
For those who are ambitious, it is possible to book an impressive guided half-day walk to the Franz Josef Glacier. These are organised by Franz Josef Glacier Guides.

Fox Glacier – Wanaka

Suggested route: Fox Glacier – Wanaka

Stage distance: approx. 310 km

The next stage is a slightly longer route to Lake Wanaka located near a village of the same name. The crystal clear Lake Wanaka is a paradise for water sports of all kinds. The spectacular scenery around the lake invites the tourists to participate in various outdoor activities. Additionally, Wanaka offers all the amenities of an Alpine resort.

Highlights & Tips

Outdoor fun without end
The area around Lake Wanaka offers a variety of options for outdoor activities. You can visit the i-SITE Visitors Centre for more information on the local attractions in Wanaka.

Wanaka – Te Anau

Suggested route: Wanaka – Queenstown – Te Anau

Stage distance: approx. 225 km

The trip continues through the impressive mountain landscape of the South Island. You will pass through Queenstown, popular for adrenaline sports and jet boats blazing through the narrow canyons. Then, you will travel towards Lake Wakatipu. Initially, you will travel south and then, west towards Te Anau. This small town with its homonymous Lake Te Anau is s gateway to the Fjordland National Park, which is crisscrossed with popular hiking trails. Te Anau is also a base for a wide range of organised outdoor activities, including fishing, excursions into the wilderness of the park, hunting, kayaking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

Highlights & Tips

Trip to the Milford Sound
The Milford Sound, where the Fjordland goes steeply down into the Tasman Sea, is another natural highlight of the South Island. You are now 120 km from Te Anau. There is 240 km of driving back and forth ahead of you. You can also book a bus tour to the Milford Sound – and enjoy the passing scenery of the fjord along the way. Such cruises are offered by, for example, Jucy Cruise.

Te Anau – Dunedin

Suggested route: Te Anau – Gore – Dunedin

Stage distance: approx. 290 km

Today, you will cross the southern part of the South Island, following a longer route, and drive towards Dunedin. It is the second largest city of the South Island and also the capital of the region of Otago. It has a population of around 120,000. The name Dunedin comes from the Scottish Gaelic “Dùn Èideann” and stands for the “fortress on the slope of a hill” or English Edinburgh. By looking at this city, established in the past by the Scottish settlers, you will immediately see the meaning of its name. The Scottish tradition is maintained even today. You can experience it by visiting any of the existing pubs.

There are various architectural attractions in Dunedin, such as St Paul’s Cathedral, the University of Otego, which is the oldest university in New Zealand, and the imposing Town Hall. In addition to the Scottish atmosphere of the city, there exists also a more modern and youthful face of the city – owing to the presence of 22,000 students.

Highlights & Tips

Pay attention to correct pronunciation
We guarantee you that you will pronounce it wrong on your first attempt. In order to hear the correct pronunciation of Dunedin, it is best to ask one of the locals.

Excursion on a train
The Taieri Gorge Railway uses the old section of Otago Central Railway – it runs towards Middlemarch. It will be an ideal opportunity for an excursion off the main road. The railway line runs through the Gorge of the Taieri River with many tunnels and viaducts.

Dunedin – Oamaru

Suggested route: Dunedin – Palmerston – Oamaru

Stage distance: approx. 110 km

From Dunedin, you will drive for approximately 110 km in a relaxed manner, parallel to the Pacific coast, to Oamaru. The historic old town will welcome you with a well-preserved ensemble of Victorian buildings. Many representative edifices were constructed from the light Oamaru limestone, which was quarried in the region. The Victorian quarter and the scenic waterfront are under protection. Enjoy the urban British flair during a city walk and stroll through the public garden, a landscaped park from the colonial era.

Highlights & Tips

Penguins - in the city!
In addition to its Victorian architecture, Dunedin is known for numerous natural attractions. In the port area, there is a colony of numerous little penguins known as the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. It can be easily spotted from the beach. You can observe the animals at dusk, when they are returning to their nests, and early in the morning, when they are leaving.

Oamaru – Christchurch

Suggested route: Oamaru – Timaru – Ashburton – Christchurch

Stage distance: approx. 250 km

After this slightly longer last stage, you will reach the starting point of the trip, namely Christchurch. Prepare your sightseeing plan beforehand so that there is plenty of time to see Christchurch and return the campers.

Top holiday areas: New Zealand