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How Campervanning New Zealand Became One Of The Best Trips I’ve Ever Done

How Campervanning New Zealand Became One Of The Best Trips I’ve Ever Done

campervan new zealand road trip

I used to be judgemental about campervans. Every time I saw those branded wheels-for-hire plastered with quotes like “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” tootling around, I’d shudder. Why would anyone endorse this driving advertisement? Sure, #vanlife looks fun, but really…? A road trip in a campervan?


Recently, though, I did some tootling of my own. My boyfriend and I decided to take a campervan around New Zealand, exploring the South Island for a week. Yep, we paid the same amount that we normally spend on rent in Sydney to road trip and sleep in a bright purple and green campervan brandished with the phrase “Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I drive by again…?” And guess what? It was awesome.


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Now, like any half-decent convert, I’m spreading the word about the wonders of driving a campervan through New Zealand (novel, I know). I’m even confident (read: arrogant) enough to insist that I have the insights to make your trip through the South Island even better. Let’s get cracking.

Day 1: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Starting from Christchurch, we decided to loop around the middle of the South Island clockwise. This meant we would hit all of the major spots we were keen on visiting before getting back to Christchurch just in time for our flight home. The list—Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Franz Josef, and Abel Tasman—was ambitious, but still within the realms of possibility, we reckoned.

First up was Lake Tekapo, about a three-hour drive (220kms) from Christchurch. In the heart of the Aoraki Mackenzie region, Lake Tekapo is known for its dazzling night sky; the area being one of only 11 International Dark Sky Reserves. This, together with the lake’s turquoise blue water and striking views of snow-capped mountains, made it an obvious choice for an overnighter. I recommend staying at the Lake Tekapo Motel Holiday Park. Hot showers, a good kitchen, laundry and free BBQs are all part of the deal here. Your standard non-powered site will set you back NZ$50 (AU$47), while a powered site with lake views comes to NZ$60 (AU$56).


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If you fancy playing astronomer, book in for a Tekapo Star Gazing experience which includes a dip in the blissful hot pools.

Day 2: Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook


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We set off on our road trip of an hour or so (96 kms) from Lake Tekapo to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, where we were greeted by what felt like every other tourist in New Zealand. Keen for the views of NZ’s tallest mountain, we started on the Hooker Valley track—a nice, easy option for hikers.

Would I have walked Hooker Valley if I had my time again? Probably not. The scenery is beautiful—the track is all rope-swing bridges and rugged mountains over tussock grass fields – but the footfall takes away from the majesty of it all. If you are going to walk the track, rock up early. Any time after 10 am and I’d swerve it.

Later: Arrowtown


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It’s a road trip of another three hours (242 kms) to get from Mount Cook National Park to Arrowtown, a charming, old gold mining village just north of Queenstown. The main drag looks like it’s out of a Wild West film.

We arrived with just enough time to check out the shops (a touch touristy, but that’s to be expected) and have dinner at Asian fusion joint, Fan-Tan. This place is arguably one of Arrowtown’s cooler dining spots, and the prices aren’t outrageous either.

Days 3 to 5: Queenstown

There are about a million things to do in the adventure capital and after dropping a cool NZ$65 (AU$61) per night for our site at the Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park, we set about doing them. We booked our activities with Go Orange – they offer discounts and deals if you book a few big-ticket items together. Our day trip to Milford Sound included coach travel and a two-hour cruise. It was short and sweet, ideal for those who want to see Milford but don’t have a lot of time. The Shotover River White Water Rafting was epic, too.


Just about everyone’s got Fergburger marked down as a culinary highlight in Queenstown, and I agree: they make a mean burger. Locals skip long queues by ordering burgers on the phone, and picking them up later.

Day 6: Queenstown to Franz Josef

We left Queenstown in our trusty campervan early to road trip the five-hour (353 kms) drive to rugged Franz Josef, via a quick pitstop at Lake Wanaka. In our haste, we forgot to check out the Wanaka tree! In any case, I’ve heard it’s very nice and worth having a look at (but not climbing on).

We arrived in Franz Josef that afternoon and took ourselves straight to the Glacier Hot Pools for some R&R. We couldn’t justify forking out NZ$98 (AU$92) for 45 minutes in a private pool, so we bought two adult passes—NZ$28 (AU$26) per person—to the Main Pool instead.

Day 7: Franz Josef to Christchurch


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After some soul searching, we came to the conclusion that Abel Tasman would be too tricky to get to given our timeframe. Instead, we spent our last day hiking Robert’s Point Track, a four- to five-hour trail in Franz Josef. This one’s not for first timers. The ascent is tricky and can be dangerous if you don’t stick to the designated path. Experienced hikers here, though, will enjoy some of the best views of the Franz Josef Glacier, and traverse some mighty high bridges along the way too.


We headed back to Christchurch and dropped off the campervan. Despite my reservations, I’ll admit, I was sad to say goodbye.

(Lead image: Jucy / Facebook)

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