South Island Campervan Adventure

Back to reality! We’re home in Devonport (and back to work) after a 13-day road trip exploring the South Island. Hoping to do full recaps of each destination in the coming weeks, but in the meantime here’s a preview of what we conquered – plus tips for friends planning similar journeys next year.

Dates: 26 Dec – 7 Jan

Total kilometers driven: 2,279

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Places Visited + highlights:

  • Hokitika Gorge
  • Franz Josef & Fox Glacier (Unfortunately rained out heli-hike, Lake Matheson walk, hike to base of Fox Glacier)
  • Blue Pools
  • Wanaka (Beach hangs, Roy’s Peak hike, hitching to Rob Roy Glacier Valley hike, intro to stone grill dining)
  • Te Anau / Doubtful Sound / Milford Sound (Kayak tour of Doubtful, boat cruise at Milford, alternative NYE)
  • Queenstown (Great food and drinks including Fergburger, hotel luxury, gondola ride, escape rooms)
  • Mount Cook (Hooker Valley Track hike)
  • Lake Tekapo (Hike to Mount John observatory, hike to hidden white bluffs, beautifully turquoise glacial lake)

Favorite Stop: Wanaka

Where We’d Skip (if we had to!): Franz Josef

What We’d Add: Gibbston Valley wineries (we cut them out to prioritise Mount Cook during good weather conditions)

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Overall, our trip was an absolutely amazing experience. We’re so grateful we were able to spend quality time in so many beautiful locations. We’d love to go back to some of these places, but the campervan mode of travel, specifically, will likely be once-in-a-lifetime. We got a bit unlucky with some instances (one headlight out, a badly installed toilet cartridge, a broken power cable that was next to impossible to replace, and a bit of a fender bender), but are happy we tried out the quintessential Kiwi way to travel. It was the trip of a lifetime!

Pros and cons of traveling via campervan:

Mobility:

  • Pro: I think the most stressful part of roadtrips is unpacking and repacking at each hotel. With the campervan, you can unpack all your clothes in the above shelving, and roam from locale to locale without stuffing things back in your bags each time.
  • Con: Since your vehicle is rather large, it’s challenging to cruise around town. Once you’ve parked at a campsite for the day, your best bet is to walk from there. Your contract will likely say you can’t drive unsealed (gravel) roads… and I’d really recommend abiding by that.

Freedom camping:

  • Pro: If you have a self-contained campervan (meaning a toilet/shower), you’re supposed to be able to camp nearly anywhere in NZ…unless there’s a sign that indicates otherwise.
  • Con: However, many of the parking lots at hot destinations specifically mandate “no overnight camping.” Since NZ is pretty remote with not many roads, I’m not quite sure where you’d actually be able to safely park overnight.

Cost:

  • Pro: Your rental car and accommodation are one in the same, so the price is easier to stomach.
  • Con: But no matter how you slice it, self-contained campervans are expensive. Plus, to park at holiday parks, you’re looking at up to an additional $50 NZD a night. While having a bathroom and running water in our van was certainly convenient, we ended up using many of the facilities of the Holiday Parks (they have BBQs, kitchens, showers, etc.). If you’re not planning to use the kitchen or shower within your van, you’d probably be fine with a sleepervan vs. the more expensive self-contained option. Then you wouldn’t feel as guilty splurging on a night in a lodge or hotel here and there.

Amenities:

  • Pro: You have your own space the entire trip, but it’s up to you to keep the tight space clean and organised.They supply all your cups, dishes, and basic linens. For longer trips, I’d recommend bringing an extra towel and sheet (plus sleeping bags), or plan to do laundry. They’ll likely charge you extra for an outdoor table and chairs that would be worth it if you’re expecting nice weather. Bring a GPS if you have one to avoid the $50 rental fee they charge.
  • Cons: We felt like we had plenty of space to sleep, but it was pretty difficult to convert the living space to the bed each night. We just left the bed in place after the first night, but that was our own choice. The “shower” is a nozzle in the room that contains the toilet. We didn’t use it once, opting for the Holiday Park shower facilities. Plus getting rid of your waste is manageable but not fun by any means. 🙂

Top tips:

  • Pay attention to reviews when choosing a campervan hire company. Go for a big, reputable company that has 24/7 customer service.
  • Bring CDs, a bluetooth speaker or radio converter. The van didn’t have an AUX hookup.
  • Along the same lines, bring a GPS (many places have no cell service) and a car phone charger.
  • GET THE FULL INSURANCE OPTION. Can’t insist on that enough.
  • Don’t attempt unsealed roads. Your insurance will become null if they can link your breach in contract to an incident on the back roads. It’s easy to rent a car (if you plan in advance) or hitch hike if you’re doing Rob Roy Glacier!
  • Empty your waste water and toilet waste more often than they advise… at least every other day.
  • Plan ahead for holiday park accommodation during peak season, but stay somewhat flexible. The weather is very unpredictable… I’d budget more than one day in rainy areas (esp. Milford, Franz Josef/Fox Glaciers) or even places where you need excellent visibility for the best experience (Mount Cook). In case you’re rained or fogged out one day, you can take a rain check the next morning before heading to your next destination.

 

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Hokitika Gorge
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Lake Matheson
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Roy’s Peak Hike (Wanaka)
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Roy’s Peak Hike (Wanaka)
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Rob Roy Glacier Valley (Wanaka)
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Doubtful Sound
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Queenstown
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Hooker Valley Track (Mt. Cook)
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Hooker Valley Track (Mt. Cook)
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Lake Tekapo

 

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