South Island Discovery – 16 days

South Island New Zealand map

From Christchurch you’ll follow the coast to Oamaru, where you can see the amazing Moeraki Boulders. And then on to Dunedin and the drive South to Lake Te Anau and the spectacular Milford Sound. Have fun in Queenstown and Wanaka before heading to the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. Stop at the Pancake Rocks and then head to the beaches, wine and art of Nelson and Blenheim. The final legs brings you back via Kaikoura where you can get up and close to whales and dolphins.

Day 1

Spend the day in Christchurch

Christchurch is traditionally New Zealand’s most English city – imagined, laid out, planned and even settled by decree over in England. It was built around its Christ Church Cathedral and Four Avenues, furnished with the University of Canterbury and Christ’s College, peopled by the first four ships, and fitted out with Neo Gothic architecture and glorious English gardens; a bit of old England in the South Pacific.   Of course, now, it is as Kiwi as anywhere in New Zealand, and a vibrant, international place with its own flair and style. So, plan to spend the day enjoying this everchanging locale.

Christchurch is the South Island’s largest city, known for its beautiful public gardens, old world charm and architecture, and its quaint and very walkable city centre. Much of this changed in the 2011 earthquakes when so much of the city was lost. However, the city is rising to the challenges, quite literally, and it is now home to funky and unique pop up malls, dozens of new buildings, high street, designer and boutique shops, a world class art gallery and museum, and restaurants galore.

Many of its heritage buildings have been restored, the beautiful Botanic Gardens remain, and the trams have returned to its streets (and offer dinner-on-board tours of the city at certain times). Take a punt down the Avon River, check out the new civic areas along the river, enjoy the unique facades of New Regent Street, or go for a run at Hagley Park. Make sure you check out the transitional cardboard cathedral in the city centre, and the Margaret Mahy playground, designed with the help of the children of New Zealand to be the biggest and best play space in the country.

Outside of the city, Orana Wildlife Park hosts New Zealand’s only gorilla encounter, and you may find a kiwi or two of the feathered kind both here and at Willowbank Nature Reserve, where you can also take in a Maori Cultural performance. For a bit of history, head out to Ferrymead, a purpose built 19th century village, where you can experience what colonial life was like for early inhabitants. Once there, spend some time at the shore at Sumner and Redcliffs and enjoy some fish and chips on the beach.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
North South
530 Sawyers Arms Rd,Christchurch Holiday Park
www.northsouth.co.nz
Waimakariri River West
Harrs Rd,
Kaiapoi
NZMCA Weedons Park
286 Jones Road,
Weedons
Christchurch South
boat sailing in lake - christchurch

Day 2

Christchurch to Dunedin (5h)

The road south has plenty to break up the trip. Ashburton offers visitors an aviation museum, beautiful public parks and gardens, a vintage railway, and great restaurants and cafes.

The road then cuts though Timaru. Stop here for a break, an excellent lunch, a visit to craft brewery or a wander through the Botanic Gardens. For some local culture, visit the Te Ana Rock Art Centre, to see local Maori tribe, Ngai Tahu’s rock art.

Oamaru boasts some of New Zealand’s best 19th century limestone architecture including the Opera House, Forrester Gallery and Victorian Precinct. Riverstone Kitchen and The Whitestone Cheese Factory are just two places to stop for a bite, and there are wine tours to join and a whiskey factory as well. More recently, Oamaru has become something of a Steampunk headquarters and these futuristic fans of Victoriana can often be seen wandering about town in full costume. There are many bike tracks and bike rentals in town, and more penguins at the Blue Penguin Colony, one of the best eco-tourism attractions around.

The Moeraki Boulders, on the beach by Moeraki, are one of New Zealand’s natural wonders; it looks as though giants once used giant rocks as playthings and left them strewn around the beach. There are also seal and penguin colonies along the way, especially at Moeraki Lighthouse, and many pristine beaches.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
Dunedin Holiday Park
41 Victoria Rd, Dunedin
www.dunedinholidaypark.co.nz
Puddle Alley,
Mosgiel
Woodhaugh Park
7 Woodhaugh St, Woodhaugh,
Dunedin
Castle - Dunedin

Day 3

Spend the day in Dunedin

Dunedin is a university town, and full of interesting restaurants, pubs, and a laid-back feel amongst the grandeur of beautiful buildings. It is famous for being an early gold mining town and its historic riches are still evident in the wealth of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. The town founders filled their streets with impressive civic and commercial buildings, which still take pride of place today alongside more modern museums, galleries and entertainment venues.

The Otago Peninsula is a wonder, and worth heading out to, to visit its albatross colony and its excellent visitors’ centre, as well as refuges for penguins, and its fur seal colonies.

Dunedin has a rich and proud Scottish heritage, and the name itself comes from the Scottish Gaelic for Edinburgh. Its founders’ love of the old country is evident in the architecture, the Robbie Burns statue in the main square, even a bit of the accent you can catch in the city’s old timers. One of its early wealthier citizens built a Scottish sort of home for his family, Larnach Castle, which is well worth a visit. For those interested in older homes, visit the historic homestead of Olveston. The city also has a great collection of boutique fashion stores, along with excellent cafes and restaurants. Take a boat tour around the harbour, or just park by one of the beaches to watch the surfers take on the waves.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
Dunedin Holiday Park
41 Victoria Rd, Dunedin
www.dunedinholidaypark.co.nz
Puddle Alley,
Mosgiel
Woodhaugh Park
7 Woodhaugh St, Woodhaugh,
Dunedin
Birds - Dunedin

Day 4

Dunedin to Invercargill (2.5h) (Stewart Island)

Drive south to Lake Waihola, and stop for a picnic by the lake before heading through Milton, a quaint historic town. Soon after, you will be in the Catlins. The area is known for the sea life that lives off its wild shores. Take out the binoculars to try to spot sealions, seals, dolphins, penguins, and seabirds. Nearby is the petrified forest. In Invercargill, try the local seafood, especially its Bluff Oysters in season, and consider a trip out to the rugged shores of New Zealand’s third island, Stewart Island/Rakiura. Ferry trips and flights are available. This is the best place in New Zealand to get away from it all, literally and figuratively, and one of the best places to spot kiwi in the wild.

Stewart Island has a fascinating history and an important future as a conservation area. There is accommodation in Oban, the town, if you’d prefer to leave the caravan behind. Much of the area is conservation land, and tours are available to learn more about the ecology of the area and ongoing preservation.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
Otatara Beach Road Motor Camp
375 Dunns Rd, Invercargill
www.beachroadholidaypark.co.nz
Seaward Downs Scenic Reserve
Tramway Rd West,
Seaward Downs
POP
Whitehouse Hotel
39 Wallacetown – Lorneville Hwy
Invercargill
bird - Stewart Island

Day 5

(Stewart Island) InvercargillTe Anau (2h)

Travel from Stewart Island back to the mainland, and on to Te Anau. Consider taking the route that goes via Riverton, one of the South Island’s oldest settlements, and visit spectacular Lake Manapouri before you arrive in Te Anau, on the shores of the lake of the same name.  Fiordland National Park, New Zealand’s largest national park, (due to the twists and turns of its bays and inlets) can be accessed here, including the start of the Milford Track. Visit the Te Anau Gloworm Caves or take one of the many tours on the lake.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park
77 Manapouri-Te Anau Hwy, Te Anau
www.teanauholidaypark.co.nz
Hillside Manapouri Road Bridge
Hillside Manapouri Rd,
Manapouri
No closer option than
NZMCA Alpine Park
15 Alpine Dr,
Te Anau
Lush green land by the side of lake

Day 6

Te Anau to Milford Sound (2h)

This far-flung part of the country offers views of the High Country, where settlers conquered the rugged scenery in the early days. Rivers full of trout meander through the countryside and you will be spoiled for choice of picnic spots.

The road to Milford is one of New Zealand’s most scenic and it is worth coming this far south just to be a part of it. Stop for photos and try to spot the “Disappearing Mountain”, near the Mirror Lakes. You’ll see Mitre Peak on a clear day after venturing through the Homer Tunnel.

From here, it’s worth taking the time for a cruise on the Milford Sounds; a once in a lifetime experience. There are day cruises, but you won’t regret taking the time for an overnight jaunt amongst the fjords and waterfalls. There is just no place like these Sounds and you will want to make the most of the opportunity to experience as much of it as you can.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
Gunn’s Camp
801 Lower Hollyford Rd, Fiordland National Park, Te Anau
www.gunnscamp.org.nz
Hillside Manapouri Road Bridge
Hillside Manapouri Rd,
Manapouri
No closer option than
NZMCA Alpine Park
15 Alpine Dr,
Te Anau
People enjoying Waterfall in Milford

Day 7

Milford Sound to Queenstown (4h)

It’s quite a backtracking and roundabout trip to Queenstown, but the beauty of the lake will keep you entertained as you wind your way north.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park
4 Cemetery Rd, Queenstown
www.holidaypark.net.nz
Shotover River
Shotover Delta Rd,
Queenstown
POP
Glenorchy Hotel and Backpackers Ltd
42 Mull St
Glenorchy
Airplane view of queenstown

Day 8

Spend the day in Queenstown

The alpine resort of Queenstown is unlike anywhere else in New Zealand, as its tourist numbers in high seasons will attest. However, in your luxury accommodation on wheels, the town is yours to explore without the bother of advance bookings. Tourists young and old flock to Queenstown to soak in its atmosphere, literally soak in luxury spas, partake of its many award-winning restaurants and cafes, and shop at upmarket boutiques. It’s also the place to be if adventure tourism is your thing: bungy jumping, jet boating, river rafting, river surfing, horse trekking, skiing, snowboarding, sky diving…all are available here, and all are provided to the highest standards. Some quieter adventures also await, from high tea at the end of Lake Wakatipu after a leisurely ride on the SS Earnslaw, to world class golf, to wine tastings – Queenstown has got you covered.  There are also numerous Lord of the Rings locations here. Source a guidebook to help you find them.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park
4 Cemetery Rd, Queenstown
www.holidaypark.net.nz
Shotover River
Shotover Delta Rd,
Queenstown
POP
Glenorchy Hotel and Backpackers Ltd
42 Mull St
Glenorchy
Bungy Jumping in Queenstown

Day 9

QueenstownWanaka (1.25h)

Be sure to divert to Arrowtown on your way to Wanaka. This small settlement is a contradiction of sorts, with humble old mining cottages hugging tree-lined roads which lead to a quaint town centre that boasts luxury spas, designer shops and gourmet restaurants. Visit the historic mining huts along the river, sample local fudges, ice creams, and confections and stop in at a local winery before continuing onto Wanaka. The shortest route to Wanaka is over the Crown Range Road, a challenging drive, but the views are amazing. A more moderate driving route runs beside the Shotover River, Lake Dunstan, and the Clutha River.

Wanaka can provide you with an appealing mix of fine living, family fun, and adventure. It has a high concentration of cafes, restaurants, and interesting shops. There are some unique attractions, like the 3D maze and the ‘warbird’ air show, which is held every two years. Wanaka’s lake is the main attraction in the warmer months, and is a boatie’s delight, in the winter, the local cafes and restaurants cater to the skiing set. You’re sure to find a warm welcome in town at any time of year.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park
263 Studholme Rd North, Wanaka
www.wanakakiwiholidaypark.nz
Wanaka Cardrona Rd
Cardrona Valley Rd,
Cardrona
Rotary Glen NZMCA Park
Partride Road,
Cromwell
Family picnic by the side of beach

Day 10

Wanaka to Fox Glacier (3.5h) to Franz Josef (.75h)

Enjoy the views along the shores of Lake Hawea as you head north, and stop for lunch at Makarora before hitting the Haast pass. The scenery here changes dramatically as you enter the rainforest. The settlement of Haast is a town with a touch of the wild west, and another good place to stretch the legs and have a look around. Just north of Haast is Lake Moeraki, a peaceful forest lake with good fishing. From here, a 40-minute walk takes you to the penguin colony at Monro Beach.

Then, drive on to Fox Glacier. Fox Glacier, at 13km long, is fed by four alpine glaciers and makes its way downward 2,600m on its way toward the coast. It is unusual in that it ends in rainforest, nearly at sea level, unlike most glaciers, which prefer to stay at higher altitudes. There are numerous walking tracks at different grades of difficulty, as well as professional tours, on foot and by helicopter, available for visitors.

Franz Josef Glacier is just a short 45-minute drive north. You can walk to the terminal of the glacier in about 10 minutes; alternatively arrange a heli-hike to get on top of the glacier and explore its ice caves. Franz Josef township has a good range of eating establishments, as well as hot pools filled with heated glacial water.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
Rainforest Holiday Park
46 Cron St, Franz Josef
www.rainforestholidaypark.co.nz
Forks-Okarito Road Rest Area
Forks-Okarito Rd,
Okarito
Franz Josef NZMCA Park
Douglas Dr,
Franz Josef
Glacier

Day 11

Franz Josef to Greymouth  (2.5h)

From Franz Josef, make your way up the rugged West Coast, through the old gold mining settlement of Hokitika. Stop here for supplies, a wander through town, and the highly recommended short and easy walk into the Hokitika Gorge for photo opportunities of this beautiful forest and the bright blue waters of the river.  Nearby at West Coast Treetops Walk, you can wander through the forest canopy on purpose-built boardwalks. In Greymouth, visit Shantytown for your own gold mining experience, walk the beautiful Pt Elizabeth
Walkway by the coast or try some cave rafting.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
Greymouth Kiwi Holiday Park
318 Main South Rd, Greymouth
www.greymouthkiwi.co.nz
Jellyman Park Beachfront Area
Hill Quay,
Greymouth
NZMCA Southside Park
80B Ruatapu Rd
SH6
Hokitika
Green mountains by the side of water - amazing view

Day 12

Greymouth  to Marahau (4.5h)

Before leaving the coast, make the time to head out to Punakaiki, otherwise known as The Pancake Rocks. These unusual rock formations on the beach are stunning, and the visitors’ centre and walkway are especially well done. Head north toward Buller Gorge and through  Westport with its handsome period architecture, reminiscent of the gold mining era. Check out the gold mining museum, which is an excellent example of its type and will give visitors a real feel for the life of a miner.

Take the road north to Marahau, which skirts the edges of three National Parks. There are plenty of picnic, walking, and photo opportunities along the way. Marahau is the starting blocks for many visitors to the Abel Tasman, one of the most scenic and enjoyable Great Walks in New Zealand. Send some time here enjoying the beaches, take a water taxi out exploring, or have lunch and an afternoon walk.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
Marahau Beach Camp
Franklin St, Waterfront, Marahau
www.abeltasmancentre.co.nz
Uruwhenua Reserve
Cnr SH60 & East Takaka Rd,Takaka
Port Tarakohe NZMCA Park
Abel Tasman Dr, Port
Tarakohe,
Takaka
Boat sailing through clear water on beach

Day 13

Marahau to Nelson (1.5h)

On your way to Nelson, stop at Kaiteriteri, with its gorgeous white sand beaches and very popular camp ground. Nelson prides itself on having the most sunshine hours in all of New Zealand, and this must make for happy, artsy, alternative people, which you’ll find plenty of in this community. Nelson has an almost subtropical feel compared to the rest of the South Island, with its pretty white sand beaches, palm trees, and brightly coloured buildings. The streets of Nelson are full of cafes, interesting art and craft shops, restaurants, a large number of galleries and historic attractions. It is also home to many a fine brewery to while away an afternoon in. Beyond town are beautiful forests and beaches to visit and get a taste of the splendour of this corner of the country.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
Nelson City TOP 10 Holiday Park
230 Vanguard St, Nelson
nelsoncitytop10.co.nz
Collins Memorial Reserve
Cnr of SH1 & Freeths Rd, Koromiko
www.marlborough.govt.nz
POP
The Honest Lawyer Country Pub and Hotel
1 Point Road
Monaco Nelson
beach side

Day 14

Nelson to Blenheim  (1.75h)

Stop at Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve for a day walk or picnic. Blenheim is in the middle of world famous wine country, and there are scores of vineyards and wineries to stop in for lunch and a sample of local wines, notably the Sauvignon Blancs. Alternatively, rent some bikes and meander through the vines. LOTR fans, and aviation enthusiasts, should visit Omaka and its war plane museum, owned by Sir Peter Jackson, director of the LOTR trilogy. It’s full of props from the movies as well as an impressive collection of planes.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
Blenheim TOP 10 Holiday Park
78 Grove Rd, Mayfield, Blenheim
www.blenheimtop10.co.nz
Taylor Dam Reserve
Taylor Pass Rd,
Blenheim
POP
Blenheim Bowling Club
65E Weld St,
Blenheim
Couple riding bicycle

Day 15

Blenheim to Kaikoura (2.5h)

Enjoy the trip south through the breath-taking Awatere Valley and on along the vistas of the Pacific Coast.

Kaikoura translates into English as a good place to eat kai (crayfish) koura and indeed it is! Don’t miss the chance to sample some of the freshest shellfish and crustaceans around. Venture onto the coastal walkway and you could see sperm whales, dusky dolphins, fur seals and albatross play in the waters off shore. Alternatively, join them in their own environment and take one of the many oceanic tours on offer. Kaikoura experienced major earthquakes in 2016, which disrupted their roads and some attractions. Check http://www.journeys.nzta.govt.nz/traffic/regions/11  for live updates to be sure your road trip will be a safe and enjoyable one.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
Peketa Beach Holiday Park
665 Main South Rd/SH1, Kaikoura
www.kaikourapeketabeach.co.nz
Cribb Creek
Inland Kaikoura Rd, Kaikoura
www.kaikoura.govt.nz
NZMCA Park
Kaikoura Trotting Club
South Bay Pde,
Kaikoura
Whale Kaikoura

Day 16

Kaikoura to Christchurch (2.5h) and Akaroa (1.5h)

Along this southern road, there are numerous vineyards in the Waipara area where you can stop and stretch your legs, taste some local vino, and have a long lunch. Enjoy the views along the coastline and take a moment to pull over for scenery and a few photo opportunities. Just before Christchurch are many towns with long stretches of quiet surf beaches.

Back in Christchurch, head for the places you didn’t have time for on the first day here, or consider a day or overnight trip out to Akaroa on Banks Peninsula (1.5h). Akaroa has a surprisingly French history (The French tried to colonise New Zealand, but were a little bit too late. The first settlers sent over to claim the place stayed, and their French traditions, and street names, have remained). In Akaroa, start the day with a traditional croissant and coffee at one of the French-inspired delis or bakeries before taking in the spectacular harbour or swimming with dolphins with one of the touring companies.

The main street of town, which winds along the beach, has dozens of interesting boutiques, cafes, restaurants, galleries, and attractions and was recently voted favourite port by the cruise ships which now dock here almost year-round. A Must Do is to head up the hill to The Giant’s House where terraced gardens with sculptures and mosaics are a creative feast and wonderful experience. This really is unique, and a not to be missed, excursion. Plan to take lots of photos!

Further over the hill are lovely little out of the way bays and inlets. If you can manage the caravan over the slightly hair raising hills and turns, you’ll find perfect camping spots. Find your way to the Okains Bay museum, to see one of the best collections of Maori art and artefacts in New Zealand, presented in a humble but respectful environment. The main road back to Christchurch, Highway 75, will take you through Little River, a charming town with a small art gallery and cafes.

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
North South
530 Sawyers Arms Rd,Christchurch Holiday Park
www.northsouth.co.nz
Waimakariri River West
Harrs Rd,
Kaiapoi
NZMCA Weedons Park
286 Jones Road,
Weedons
Christchurch South

Recommended accommodation options include:

Campground Option
Free Parking Option
NZMCA Option
North South
Akaroa TOP 10 Holiday Park
96 Morgans Rd, Akaroa
www.akaroa-holidaypark.co.nz
Akaroa Boat Ramp
1 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa
Graeme’s POP
4 Kotlowski Rd, Takamatua, Akaroa
road with trees on both sides