South Island Roadtrip

jana meerman milford sound 2

After having lived and worked in Kaikoura for 3 1/2 months, we set off on a month-long roadtrip around the South Island to explore new destinations and revisit some of my favourites in the wintertime. Winter is - surprisingly - a wonderful time to travel around New Zealand. Yes, the days are shorter and the weather is much cooler, but you get to avoid the massive tourist crowds, oftentimes having places all to yourself. Further, the snow-capped mountains provide a stunning backdrop to the already incredible views and allow for exciting winter adventures.

TIP: Before you go, download the Rankers Camping app to source out every single campsite in New Zealand, from the free to the expensive, all reviewed by travelers. This isn't a sponsored tip, it's just awesome.

Here's my itinerary that hits all the good spots:

Christchurch

I recommend beginning your adventure in Christchurch. Many international flights arrive here, or you can easily get a domestic flight down from Auckland.

In Christchurch, the most important thing is to get your car (buy or rent) as well as stock up on supplies you'll need for your roadtrip:

FOOD: Pak'n Save is the cheapest bulk food store in New Zealand. Some places around the South Island will have grocery stores but oftentimes they are small and more expensive - or in places such as Mount Cook or Franz Josef, non-existent! Stock up on things like dry goods (pasta, rice, oats) and canned foods to keep you going.

CAMPING GEAR: In wintertime, it will be too cold to pitch a tent, however, sleeping in the car is easy and fun! Ensure you have plenty of blankets, a mattress and a hot water bottle to keep you toasty. You'll also want basic cooking supplies such as a stove, pot, pan, cutlery and dishes.

Accommodation: Coes Ford Campsite, FREE! (YES toilets // NO kitchen/cooking area, wifi, outlets, laundry, showers) // Jailhouse Accommodation, a super cool hostel in an old converted jail - you'll sleep in real cells from $28 per person (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area, wifi, outlets, laundry, showers)

Things to do: 

  • visit the new Central Library
  • hike or ride up the Christchurch Gondola
  • explore the botanic gardens
  • spend an afternoon browsing the beautiful shops at the Tannery

Rakaia Gorge

Distance from Christchurch: 1h 10m

Accommodation: Rakaia Gorge Campground, $10 per person (YES toilets // NO kitchen/cooking area, wifi, outlets, laundry, showers)

Things to do: 

  • go for a walk along the riverfront
  • hike the Rakaia Gorge Walkway with panoramic views of the Gorge and Mount Hutt Ski Field
jana meerman rakaia gorge new zealand (1)
jana meerman rakaia gorge new zealand (1)

Mount Sunday

Distance from Rakaia Gorge: 1h 15m

Accommodation: Mount Potts Lodge, camping $28 per car (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area, showers // NO wifi, outlets, laundry)

Things to do: 

  • drive through Hakatere Conservation Park
  • hike up to Mount Sunday where they filmed Edoras from Lord of the Rings
  • hang out with the farm animals
  • enjoy the silence
  • go star-gazing under the incredible night sky void of all light polution
jana meerman mount sunday new zealand (1)

Hakatere Conservation Park

jana meerman mount sunday new zealand (1)

View of Mount Sunday

jana meerman mount sunday new zealand (1)

Road to Mount Sunday

jana meerman mount sunday new zealand (1)

Mount Potts Lodge

Lake Tekapo

Distance from Mount Sunday: 2h 45m

Accommodation: YHA Lake Tekapo - a hostel, not a camp site, but seriously, it only just opened in Apr 2019 and when you see the lake view from the 2-storey windows, you'll thank me for this recommendation! (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area, wifi, outlets, laundry, showers)

Things to do: 

  • go for a walk along the lake
  • visit the most photographed church in New Zealand, Church of the Good Shepherd
  • hike up to the summit of Mount John
jana meerman lake tekapo new zealand (1)

Lake Tekapo

jana meerman mount john lake tekapo

Mount John Summit

jana meerman lake tekapo new zealand (1)

Church of the Good Shepherd

jana meerman lake tekapo new zealand (1)

Lake Tekapo

Mount Cook

Distance from Lake Tekapo: 1h 15m

Accommodation: White Horse Hill Campsite, $13 per adult (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area // NO wifi, outlets, laundry, showers)

Things to do: 

  • enjoy the views of Mount Cook and the glaciers
  • hike the Hooker Valley Track
  • climb the stairs to the Tasman Glacier
  • check out Kea Point
jana meerman mount cook 2

Road to Mount Cook

jana meerman mount cook 2

Trail to Kea Point

jana meerman mount cook 2

Kea Point overlooking Mueller Glacier

jana meerman mount cook

Tasman Glacier

Otago Region

Distance from Mount Cook: 2h 45m

Accommodation: Herbert Forest Campground, $12.50 per adult (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area, outlets, laundry, showers // NO wifi)

Things to do along the way: 

  • Clay Cliffs near Omarama formed over a million years ago by glaciers ($5 entry)
  • Elephant Rocks near Duntroon where they filmed Aslan's Camp in Narnia
  • wander the Victorian District of Oamaru
jana meerman clay cliffs omarama new zealand 2

Clay Cliffs

jana meerman elephant rocks new zealand

Elephant Rocks

Dunedin

Distance from Oamaru: 1h 25m

Accommodation: Leith Valley Holiday Park, $40 per vehicle (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area, wifi, outlets, showers // NO laundry)

Things to do: 

  • see the famous Moeraki Boulders, balls of limestone deposits that fall off the cliffs above
  • spot the great cliffs of Purakaunui Bay from Canoe Beach, where Cair Paravel was filmed in Narnia
  • wander the beaches; my favourites were Tunnel Beach and St Clair Beach
  • visit the University of Otago for good coffee and nice libraries
jana meerman moeraki boulders c

Moeraki Boulders

jana meerman purakaunui bay c

Purakaunui Bay

The Catlins

Distance from Dunedin: 2h 20m

Accommodation: Hillview Camp Site, $10 per person (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area, wifi, outlets, showers // NO laundry)

Things to do: 

  • watch sunset at Nugget Point
  • see the three tiers at Purakaunui Falls
  • explore Cathedral Caves
  • visit the southernmost point of the South Island at Slope Point
jana meerman nugget point new zealand 1

Nugget Point Lighthouse

jana meerman nugget point new zealand 3

Nuggets at Nugget Point

jana meerman puraukanui falls the catlins

Purakaunui Falls

jana meerman nugget point new zealand 3

Sunset at Nugget Point

jana meerman nugget point new zealand 3

Nugget Point

jana meerman slope point new zealand

Slope Point

Fiordland National Park

Distance from the Catlins: 4h 15m

Accommodation: Milford Sound Lodge, $60 per vehicle - the only one in Milford Sound; alternatively, DOC campsites along Milford Highway are $13 per person (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area, paid wifi only, outlets, laundry, showers)

Things to do: 

jana meerman milford sound

Sunrise at Milford Sound

jana meerman lake marian milford sound 2

Lake Marian

jana meerman lake marian milford sound

Lake Marian

jana meerman milford sound

Milford Sound swing

Queenstown

Distance from Milford Sound: 3h 45m

Accommodation: Twelve Mile Delta Campsite, $15 per person (YES toilets // NO kitchen/cooking area, wifi, outlets, laundry, showers)

Things to do: 

  • wander through town; go for a night out if it takes your fancy!
  • enjoy the lake front at Lake Wakatipu
jana meerman queenstown

Glenorchy

Distance from Queenstown: 45m

Accommodation: Kinloch Lodge, $15 per person // Lake Sylvan, $13 per person (both of these sites: YES toilets // NO kitchen/cooking area, wifi, outlets, laundry, showers)

Things to do: 

  • enjoy the small town vibes of Glenorchy, a step back in time
  • do the Lake Sylvan walk
  • visit Earnslaw Burns in Paradise
jana meerman glenorchy new zealand (2) c

Road to Glenorchy

jana meerman glenorchy new zealand (2) c

Glenorchy

Wanaka

Distance from Glenorchy: 1h 45m

Accommodation: Wanaka Bakpaka Hostel, $30 per person (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area, wifi, outlets, laundry, showers) // Albert Town Campground, $10 per person (YES toilets // NO kitchen/cooking area, wifi, outlets, laundry, showers)

Things to do: 

  • stop at historic Arrowtown along the way, a step back in time!
  • enjoy Lake Wanaka and the most photographed tree in the world, #ThatWanakaTree
  • hike up Mount Iron
  • tackle the insta-famous Roy's Peak hike (check out my detailed guide here!)
jana meerman arrowtown new zealand

Arrowtown

jana meerman mount iron wanaka

Mount Iron

Mount Aspiring National Park

Distance from Wanaka: 1h

Accommodation: we did not spend the night here, but there are plenty of DOC campsites along the road

Things to do: 

  • see the Gates of Haast
  • walk to the instafamous Blue Pools
  • spot Fantail Falls
  • hear Thunder Creek Falls
jana meerman mount aspiring national park

Blue Pools Walk

jana meerman mount aspiring national park

Fantail Falls

jana meerman mount aspiring national park

Thunder Creek Falls

jana meerman mount aspiring national park

Blue Pools Walk

Franz Josef Glacier

Distance from Mount Aspiring: 3h

Accommodation: Gillepsie's Beach, $8 per person (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area // NO wifi, outlets, laundry, showers)

Things to do: 

  • hike to Tartare Tunnel to see glow worms
  • complete the Valley Walk

Hokitika

Distance from Franz Josef: 1h 45m

Accommodation: Links View Holiday Park, $17 per person (our favourite campsite on the whole trip!!)

Things to do: 

  • hike the Hokitika Gorge
  • spot glow worms in the Dell
  • see the driftwood sign at Hokitika Beach
jana meerman hokitika gorge 5

Hokitika Gorge

jana meerman hokitika beach

Hokitika Beach

Punakaiki

Distance from Hokitika: 1h 15m

Accommodation: Punakaiki Beach Camp, $18 per person (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area, wifi, outlets, laundry, showers)

Things to do: 

  • visit the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes
jana meerman punakaiki pancake rocks 2

Pancake Rocks

jana meerman punakaiki pancake rocks 2

Blowholes

Optional: Nelson Lakes National Park

Distance from Punakaiki: 2h 30m

Accommodation: Riverside Holiday Park Murchison, $12.50 per person (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area, wifi, outlets, laundry, showers) // Berlins Cafe and Bar, $12 per person (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area, wifi, outlets, free showers // NO laundry)

Things to do: 

  • see Lake Rotoroa and do a lakeside walk
  • hang out lakeside at Lake Rotoiti
  • go on an overnight hike - I wish we had had time to go to Blue Lake!
jana meerman nelson lakes national park

Lake Rotoroa

Arthur's Pass

Distance from Nelson Lakes: 3h 30m

Accommodation: Avalanche Creek Campsite, $8 per person (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area // NO wifi, outlets, showers, laundry)

Things to do: 

  • hike to Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall
  • enjoy the scenic drive and stop at viewpoints along the way
  • hike the Bealey Spur Track
  • go wandering through the incredible rocks at Castle Hill
jana meerman arthur's pass new zealand 12

Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall

jana meerman arthur's pass new zealand 12

Castle Hill

jana meerman arthur's pass new zealand 12

Castle Hill

jana meerman arthur's pass new zealand 12

Bealey Spur Track

Akaroa

Distance from Arthur's Pass: 3h

Accommodation: Duvauchelle Holiday Park, $18.50 per person (YES toilets, kitchen/cooking area, paid wifi, outlets, showers, laundry)

Things to do: 

  • enjoy the scenic road into the Akaroa peninsula
  • hike to Newton's Falls
  • wander the adorable waterfront French town of Akaroa
jana meerman newtons falls akaroa

Newton's Falls

jana meerman akaroa

Road to Akaroa

Follow:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.