NZ South Island Road Trip Itinerary | Wine + Wildlife

Boulders Cantabury

Its kind of terrible that I am only just posing this blog post as the trip I took was last November but I have been meaning to do it for long long so am feeling happy to be getting it out here finally – My NZ South Island campervan Itinerary

In November I took two weeks to travel around New Zealand’s South Island in a very short 2 week time period with my family. It was nothing short of amazing and I loved it, but I am now very understanding of the importance in a schedule, especially with a New Zealand South Island Trip where this is SO much to see!

Having such a short space of time makes it difficult because you have to make A  LOT of choices (I am awful at choices!). It is impossible to see everything in that time and and you have to pick what is most exciting for you. So, this is why I thought it would be useful share my itinerary here, because for anyone making choices, it always helps to have a few tips and insights.

nz south island

We hired our camper from Jucy and I would highly recommend them. I know some people don’t rate them due to their service, but they are by far the cheapest company in NZ and for us it was a successful trip, smooth and easy and we loved our van (despite the garish colours). There were four of us, my mum, me and my two bros all packed into the Jucy Condo (crazy, i know!) and although it was cramped it worked out fine. For the price, they were amazing.

Inside tip: If you are going with Jucy, don’t bother with camp chairs/table, you won’t need them as there are picnic tables everywhere.

So, in terms of what we saw, our trip was extremely varied and I can recommend pretty much everything we did. A big focus of ours was on wildlife as my borthers are both biolgists but we also went for the highlights with some wine thrown in there too! Sadly we missed Fjordland but the weather was too snowy on the day we were close by, but like I said you cant do everything! However if Milford Sound had been possible it would have been part of this itinerary too.

Anyway, cutting to the cashe, here is our NZ campervan south island itinerary with a Wildlife and Wine focus.

Queenstown to Wellington – 2 Week Campervan Itinerary

Day 1 – Queenstown!

In Queenstown we just got our bearings, members from the group who had travelled from England caught up on their jet lag and we went for Pizza at Cow. We spent the next day picking up the Jucy van and slept overnight at Moke Lake which was is a beautiful quiet doc campsite and was unexpectedly very snowy!

Moke Lake Camping

Day 2 – The Caitlins

We then drove down to The Caitlins via Invercargill, which is a thrilling drive south of Queenstown before becoming mostly farmland. But the Caitlins was one of my personal highlights of the trip. So wild and rugged and with not many people about. We stayed in a campsite at Curio bay which was amazing and we were lucky to spot a Yellow Eyed Penguin on the beach at night.



Day 3 – Dunedin / The Otago Peninsular

The next day we spent driving up through more of the Caitlins, spotting sea lions, seals and other birds and drove onto the Otago Peninsular. The drive and the destination were absolutely beautiful. We were intending to watch the Little Blue Penguins come in at The Royal Albartoss Centre on the Peninsular but due to the extreme weather we weren’t able to, but still spotted lots of Albatross and other sea birds. We free camped on the roadside this night.

Otage Peninsular

Day 4 – Lake Tekapo

So the next day we carried on to Lake Tekapo which is again a stunning drive and we spent the day hiking the trails and looking at the views as well as chilling at the hot pools. Here we free camped overlooking the vistas with no one else around. Simply amazing. Probably the most spectacular camping spot of the trip. Don’t be fooled into always checking into a campsite, if your van is self contained you can stay anywhere!

Lake Tekapo

Day 5 – Mount Cook

Just around the lake from Tekapo is Mount Cook so we headed on to spend the day and checking out the amazing tallest mountain in New Zealand. This was a wonderful place to walk and it is definitely worth seeing is the stunning Tasman Glacier which is sadly retreating quickly due to climate change.

We stayed in another great free camping spot close to Mount Cook, in Twizel, where there was a beautiful duck pond and peace and quiet.

road to mount cook

Tasman Glacier

Day 6 – Wanaka

Right back into it and on to Wanaka! We stayed at the Lakeside Caravan Park here because we kind of needed a shower at this point and also because of the amazing views. We swam in the freezing cold lake here and checked out super lovely Rippon winery which had the most spectacular view! Also worth a visit is the local Rhyme and Reason Brewery which it might be worth driving or getting a taxi to as it is a little out of the town.

We umed and ahhed about doing a skydive but decided we needed more time to decide and moved on, (phew)

Rippon winery wanaka

Day 7 – Hass Pass West Coast

The next day we went west and drove up through Fjordland and on through The Hass Pass to the beginning of the Copeland Track two day tramp. On the way we stopped off at Munro Beach to try and spot the Fjordland Crested Penguin and we were lucky to see them but got attacked by sandflies on the beach! That night we free camped by the road side close to at the start of the Copeland Track.

Munro Beach

Day 8 + 9  – Copeland Track (Fjordland)

We spent two days doing this famous hike as it was recommended to us by several people. Its a good 7 hour, 18km walk through the forest to Welcome Flats Hut and not one to be taken lightly. The hut is well maintained with live in care-takers which is something I hadn’t experienced in a DOC back country hut before. The highlight for many people of this track is the hot pools at the end.  I have to admit though, they look beautiful but are a little sludgy to sit in! The way out is the same as the way in but somehow we managed to smash it out and were back at the van by midday and on towards Arthurs Pass.

We stayed overnight at a beautiful free campsite in Arthurs Pass national park and spent time swimming in the freezing cold streams and meeting the cheeky Kea!

Welcome Flats Hut

Copeland Track

Day 10 – Canterbury

The road to Kaikoura at the time we travelled was extremely difficult due to the earthquakes of 2016 so we had to take the inland road which is very windy and complicated. So we spent a good amount of time on this day getting to Kaikoura but we really wanted to visit so we went for it. We did get a chance to stop off at the amazing Castle Hill Basin Limestone boulders, which are totally amazing.

We had a great wine filled stop over in the amazing Waipara wine region. Black Esate wines is a must for those interested in organic wine growing and its a beautiful restaurant and tasting room. We stayed at the Top 10 Holiday park in Kaikoura so we could have showers and a bit of luxury and after several days of free camping and no shower, it definitely was like luxury.

Black Estate Winery

Boulders CantaburyDay 11 – Kaikoura

We got up super early to do the famous Whale Watch Kaikoura which was really really wonderful and we spotted a giant sperm whale, which was am absolutely magical moment.  We followed this with watching the seal colony on the rocks and then heading off to swim with the wild Dusky Dolphins through Dolphin Encouter Kaikoura. All of this was nothing short of amazing and I would 100% recommend, especially for wildlife fans.

Whale Watch Kaikours

Day 12 – to Wellington

We stayed our last night free camping in Lewis Pass, as due to the road closures we had to travel back accross to the west and to Picton via Lewis Pass rather than taking the 2 hour road north. This was not ideal but we managed to spend some time at wineries in Malbourough, with a particular highlight being organic sustainable award wining winery Johanneshof.

Wellington from interislander

Day 13 + 14 Wellington

And finally we made it back to my home town Wellington. Spent time showing the family round, going to Te Papa and to Garage Project as well as having dinner at Loretta and generally mooching around! For ideas if you are going to Wellington, check out my posts: 18 Free Things to do in Wellington on a gloomy day or 17 Free Things to do in Wellington on a sunny day.

There you have it! I hope you found some inspo, or made your mind up about things you didnt want to do even! Please feel free to drop my any questions below about any of these places. I would love to hear from you as always!

One tip: I would say that to travel NZ South Island, instead of starting in Queenstown as we did, a good way to do it would be to start in Christchurch, go to Kaikoura and then travel south in a sort of loop back up the west coast and then across to Wellington. But hind sight is a fine thing and the Kaikoura road is open now, so it probably is just as easy the way I have written out above. Happy Travelling!

Arthurs Pass

Camping Twizel

Wanaka Tree

Thanks for reading and come back soon!

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Josie x