New Zealand, South Island - The Ultimate Road trip Guide
INTRO: Our very spontaneous decision to travel to new zealand
Already follow me on instagram? Well you would know a little bit about our very recent spontaneous decision to travel to New Zealand, hire a camper van and explore the South Island’s most epic spots just short of 8 days. Why so spontaneous you may ask? Well a couple of days prior, I woke up with this intense and bizarre desire to fly to New Zealand almost immediately; and for no apparent reason really. New Zealand wasn’t even high on my travel radar recently, but for some reason my intuition was screaming at me to go. After all it was the best time of year to visit in my opinion. Summers just beginning, lupins are fully blooming, weather is warm yet mountain tops are still snow capped. An epic combination really! So I decided to go online, search for flights, and to my surprise found tickets half the price for the dates we were looking at! Okay okay, if that wasn’t a sign I don’t know what is! So I took the risk, booked the flights and am now sitting here writing this after one of the best weeks of my life, holding back the tears as we board our flight home and away from one of the most beautiful and surreal places we have ever visited. If this blog post doesn’t make you book your flights to NZ almost immediately, than I’m not sure what will.
I am writing this post in hopes to inspire all of my readers to add this incredible country to your travel list, and/or even help you plan your next trip so that it is as just as or even more so epic than ours!
You guys asked for it! This Guide will include:
Important tips you need to know before traveling to NZ
Costs of our trip
Hiring and traveling in a Camper
Itinerary and complete map of our journey
Complete Packing list
Responsible Travel Guide
14 important things to know before booking a trip to New Zealand
Traveling through the summer time (December - February) is more expensive and a lot busier than winter. Camper hire is double the price in summer.
Traveling in a camper van is the best way to explore the island. I HIGHLY recommend this, as you really can immerse yourself in nature your entire trip. Its an incredible way to see the island.
Book your camper van in advance as they book out fast!
Freedom camping is accessible in many areas as long as you are a self contained vehicle. Click here for all important information you need to know about freedom camping.
Download the CamperMate app to help assist you in finding the best camp spots whether it be paid campsites or freedom camp spots. We found this app extremely useful I highly recommend! Download here.
Peak Lupin season is between November and December months and are best seen around Lake Tekapo and Pukaki.
There are plenty of Hot Springs to visit around the South Island that require booking in advance. We missed out on visiting any as they were all booked out.
Customs can be strict and will check over your documents & declaration forms very thoroughly. We had our bags scanned through customs entering NZ even though we hadn’t declared anything.
Pack for all seasons, even if it is summer. Days can get cold and rainy. We experienced 3 cold and rainy days.
It is the land of the sandflies so don’t forget bug spray!!
Wear sunscreen! The sun is really harsh and will burn you easily. My face got burnt a couple of times just being out in the sun for 30 minutes without sunscreen.
SIM cards are easy to purchase. There are phone stores in the airport after baggage collection. We bought a SIM card with Vodafone.
Fergburger is worth the trip to NZ alone! Honestly best burger I have ever had! Order online and pick up to save yourself lining up for an hour.
New Tourist Tax will be implemented this year (2019). $NZ35 for all tourists entering the country (Australians exempt). You can read more about this here.
cost breakdown of our trip over 7 days (all in AUD)
Camper hire - $1840 (camper) + $440 (stress free insurance package) + $92.53 (Queenstown Surchage) + $147.96 (Diesel km surcharge)
Flights - $556.5 AUD PP return flight from Brisbane
Groceries - $290 (did a big shop at Countdown in Queenstown and small shops at smaller supermarkets whilst on the road)
Eating out - $220 (we weren’t budgeting so you could definitely eat cheaper!)
Tours - $124.33 (Milford Sound Tour)
Petrol - $308.35 (2000km)
Campsites - $170.84 (we stayed 4 nights at campsites to charge equipment)
SIM card - $56.12 PP
TOTAL COST OF TRIP FOR 2 PEOPLE = $4757
TOTAL COST PER PERSON = $2378.5
Please note: we weren’t on a budget and booked very last minute so our trip was fairly expensive.
Tips to make your trip more affordable
Book in advance or out of peak summer season
Save money by cooking meals in a camper instead of eating out. Do your grocery shopping
in a main city at before embarking on your journey
Freedom camp most nights (make sure to follow the freedom camping guidelines)
hiring and traveling in a camper van: everything you need to know
hiring our camper
We hired our camper through an online company called Discovery Motorhomes where we were provided a fully self contained 2 berth Maui Ultima camper with a toilet and shower. I can recommend this company as we had zero issues! There are plenty of options when booking campers just do some research and call around for quotes.
Other trustworthy hire companies to enquire within:
COSTS TO CONSIDER
Camper van insurance. The roads in NZ are quite narrow and windy so insurance is recommended. Most camper companies will give you a few different insurance options i.e. standard insurance (high excess held on your credit card), or an all inclusive stress free package which allows you to have zero excess which is usually an added fee. (See costs section)
Young drivers fee
Cost of Fuel
RUC - Road User Recovery fee (see below)
Campground costs (CamperMate app is useful in detailing location and costs of campsites)
Ferry Crossing if you are traveling to North Island
other important information
If you fly into Queenstown you will have to pay a location fee of $92.53 AUD when picking up your camper
Some camper companies charge a Road User Charge Recovery Fee for diesel vehicles. The car company we booked (Maui) Charged $NZ6.84 per 100km http://www.maui-rentals.com/nz/en/diesel-tax-recovery-popup
Make sure you just double check with the company you are booking through for their policy.
Charging sockets in camper vans only work when plugged into power (which we did not know until arriving) so purchase car charges for your devices.
what is freedom camping?
Freedom Camping is the act of camping with your camper for free in designated areas. There are many freedom camping spots all over the South Island and are listed within the CamperMate app.
Rules of freedom camping
Majority of freedom camping locations only allow vehicles that are fully self contained and have a certified sticker on their vehicle.
To be self contained your vehicle must have a toilet, fresh water storage, waste water storage and a rubbish bin with a lid.
Make sure you check if you can camp in an area or not. Follow sign posted camping rules. https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-stay/stay-at-a-campsite/freedom-camping/prohibited-conservation-areas/
Don’t waste or leave rubbish behind. Carry in, carry out, leave no waste.
Don’t dumb camper waste in a non designated area.
There are many DOC camping sites that offer cheaper & even sometimes free camping. Find DOC campsites here.
More information on Rules of freedom camping here:
our complete mapped itinerary
Our journey started and ended at A (Queenstown). Follow the letters A, B, C, D etc for the order of all of our stops. Click the link below for more information on our mapped journey.
b. lake tekapo/day 1
Upon arriving to Queenstown, picking up our camper, and buying our food for the week, we had 6 hours of sunlight left & decided to drive straight to Lake Tekapo to shoot the Lupin fields. Visiting and shooting the lupin fields was a huge reason why we decided to visit NZ this time of year. Driving from Queenstown to Lake Tekapo takes about 3 hours with no stops. Of course we made a few pitstops along the way as the scenery is unbelievably breathtaking! As we were making our way to Lake tekapo we spotted an incredibly flourishing field of Lupins and had to stop. Im not really sure where to start with describing the serenity and peacefulness I felt standing there. With only the sound of the birds chirping, the wind blowing and the occasional passing car, safe to say I was in my happy place. Location given in the caption.
Arriving at Lake Tekapo I half expected there to be hundreds of lupins spread right across the shore of the lake; instead the reality being only one small section of flowers still in bloom. Lupins begin blooming at Lake Tekapo around mid November and only last for a month or so before dying and heading further South, so keep this in mind! Luckily the spot we found was still unbelievably beautiful, so we spent the next hour shooting and trying to capture how mesmerising this field of flowers was to our eyes. FUNNY FACT: I was highly allergic to the flowers and spent the entire night and next day with watery eyes and constant urges to sneeze. So don’t forget to take an antihistamine if you have allergies!
Once we felt we had captured everything at Tekapo we decided to catch the last of the sun at another field we had spotted 10 minutes down the road. This field was something extraordinary! With the backdrop of a snow capped mountain, the flowers were blooming as far as the eye could see. I remember just repeatedly saying “WOW this is amazing!!” There are many lupin fields to stop and capture along the drive from Queenstown to Tekapo, but these fields were possibly our favourites! Locations shared in the photo captions.
That night we found a free camp spot along Lake Pukaki where we awoke to lake and mountain views. Lake pukaki has many free camping locations which you can find on CamperMate.
c. lake pukaki/day 2
Lake Pukaki was my favourite lake in all of the South. You will pass Lake Pukaki on your way to Lake Tekapo and without a doubt, will want to stop right there in your tracks and gaze at how beautiful it is. It has to be one of the most insane and unforgiving views i’ve ever laid my eyes on. As it was another hot and sunny day we parked up at the visitor centre (which we believed had the best views of the lake and Mt Cook) and took a dip in the icy crystal clear waters of the lake. Taking a dip in Lake Pukaki is definitely on my high to do list when visiting NZ. Although it will chill you to the bone, the water colour and clarity would have you taking a dip any day at any time.
Dont forget to try the fresh sashimi here!! For $10 you can buy 12 pieces of the freshest salmon sashimi your mouth has ever been graced with. YUMMM!
d. aoraki mount cook national park/day 2
Mount cook is the tremendous snow capped mountain you can see in the above & below images. It is located 50km from Lake Pukaki Visitor centre and is easily accessed via the most undeniably scenic road you will ever journey down. On our way to hike the famous Hooker Valley Trail, we made a few pit stops to capture the phenomenal beauty of the mountain.
The Hooker Valley Trail is a very popular and famous hike in the South Island and is one of the best ways to see the landscape of the national park. The track is easily accessed and reasonably flat the entire way making it suitable for all ages. Enjoy the awe inspiring surrounding landscapes as you hike the reasonably easy trail all the way to the glacier lake located at the very bottom of Mount Cook. The hike is a 10km round trip so don’t forget to wear suitable walking shoes, pack water and snacks and a jacket as the weather can turn quickly. Allow yourself 3-4 hours to complete the hike, factoring in the time to stop and take photos and enjoy a picnic lunch.
e. wanaka - blue pools track/day 3
As we sadly left another warm sunlit morning at Mount Cook, we made our way back down south to the unfortunately rainy Wanaka, with our first stop being the Blue Pools Walk. The Blue Pools track is located 1 hour drive from Wanaka along the incredibly scenic and breathtaking Haast Highway. The drive out there will have you feeling like you stepped into a Lord of the Rings set, and is almost as worthy as visiting the Blue Pools themselves.
The track is a 1.5km round trip, leading you through beautiful forest landscape & over two hanging foot bridges that cross over the crystal clear waters of the Makarora River. If you are brave enough, pack your bathers and take a dip in the icy emerald river for a once in a lifetime experience. WARNING: sandflies swarm this area so don’t forget to lather yourself in bug repellant!!!
f. roys peak/day 4
If you’re in Wanaka, Roys Peak is said to be a must! It is one of NZ’s most popular hikes due to the epic views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains, including Mt Aspiring. We started the hike at 6am with hopes to reach the top in 2 hours before the forecasted clouds came rolling in.
Unfortunately, as we finally reached the top, the weather completely turned for the worst. Thick rain clouds & ICY cold winds set in, leaving us with absolutely no view of the famous look out over Lake Wanaka. Fortunately for us (silver lining), the biggest & brightest rainbow I have ever seen appeared beaming over the valley in all its glory, making the hike worth it!
I recommend doing the hike early morning (try for sunrise) as the track can become really crowded and hot really quick. If its raining I recommend skipping the hike entirely and trying to time it around a sunny day.
DISCLOSURE: this hike is not for the weak! It is probably one of the most gruelling hikes i’ve ever walked so prepare yourself for an incredibly steep climb and some serious leg burn! It will take you around 5-6 hours to complete the 16km return hike. Wear walking shoes and pack warm clothes if its cloudy/rainy, water and snacks.
MORE INFO ON THE HIKE HERE
g. Milford sound
Listed the eighth natural wonder of the world, Milford Sound is New Zealand’s most spectacular natural attraction. It’s sheer beauty is honestly hard to put in words, as nothing can ever compare to seeing it in with your own eyes. Prepare to become completely speechless and blown away as you enter the Fjordland National park and immerse yourself into a landscape like no other. I won’t give away too much, just that it is 100% without a doubt worth the long drive. I admit, it is a mission to get to, but honestly impossible to forget.
what to know before you go
It is an extremely remote location with zero cell service.
It is a 4 hour drive from Queenstown
Closest town is Te Anau (1hr 40 minute drive)
There is parking located at Milford Sound that quickly fills up every morning
Only 1 campsite at the actual site of Milford Sound (books up quick)
www.bookme.com is a great site to book tours for great deals
Many options for day & night tours
Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the world receiving on average 182 days a year
Milford Sound is beautiful when its raining and when its shining
how to get there
Drive - Milford Sound is a 4 hour drive from Queenstown and can easily be accessed by car or camper.
Book a tour - Don’t have a car or camper? Tours to Milford Sound run from Queenstown & Te Anu (1.5 hr drive away) run daily.
Bus - Find a bus route here
where to stay
Milford Sound Lodge - The only accommodation offering camper sites and cabins at the actual site of Milford Sound itself. Make sure to book in advance as spaces fill up weeks in advance! Book Here.
Gunns Camp- The next closest camp (where we stayed) is a 40 min drive away offering camper sites and cabins. Campsite are unpowered. More info here.
Cascade Creek campsite - 45 minute drive from Milford Sound this campsite is a DOC campsite offering 120 unpowered sites suitable for camper vans. $13/pp per night and is first in first served. No showers on site. More info here.
Te Anau - Find accommodation in Te Anau. Tours can be arranged from there.
TOURS TO BOOK
We booked a 2 hour ‘scenic’ tour with Southern Discovery Tours, which we absolutely loved and allowed us to see and learn so much about the history of the landscape. We booked through www.bookme.com, an incredible website to book discounted tours through. Highly recommend!
Other tour options at Milford Sound to consider are:
Half day/2 hour Boat Cruise
Scenic Flight and Cruise
Full day Fjordland National Park Tour and Cruise
Hiking Guided tour
Top Rated Tour operators to book with
h - i. Glenorchy & arrow town
Our last stop on our road trip was the incredibly cute and cosy town of Glenorchy. This small tranquil town is surrounded by tall snow capped mountains and pristine rivers and lakes. One word to describe Glenorchy? ADORABLE! During your visit to Glenorchy be sure to visit the famous Glenorchy lake side hut and jetty for an iconic photo. A memorable part of this journey was the scenic road from Queenstown to Glenorchy. Be sure to have your camera ready!
Arrow town is another charming and quirky town close to Queenstown that is definitely worth a visit. This town is known for its historic buildings, and will have you feeling as though you are walking through a movie set built for an old Western film.
This little historic town completely comes to life in the fall where the hillsides light up in vibrant yellow and orange tones, drawing hundreds of tourists to the annual Autumn festival. Find more info here.