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Ultimate 3-Week Campervan Itinerary for New Zealand’s South Island

A white campervan parked at a golden grassy campsite at Moke Lake Campground, with a glimpes of the lake and towering snow-capped mountains in the background.

3 weeks is an epic amount of time for a campervan itinerary around New Zealand’s South Island.

With 21 days to road trip around the South Island, you can see such diverse and incredible scenery—including gorgeous golden-sand beaches, crackling glaciers, snow-capped mountains, crystalline rivers, and super-blue alpine lakes. 

You’ll also get a chance to spot some of New Zealand’s wildlife, including NZ fur seals and penguins! 

But it can be pretty overwhelming to know where or how to start planning such a big trip.

Let me help you with that!

I live on the South Island and am an avid camper, hiker and road-tripper. 

In this guide, I’m sharing my ultimate 3 week South Island itinerary, specifically designed for campervan travellers who love hiking and other outdoor pursuits. Oh, and good local food, wine, and craft beer spots, too—because this is a holiday after all, isn’t it?!

This guide contains a TON of insider tips—in addition to covering the most popular sights on the South Island, I’ve also included many of my favourite “hidden gems.” If you want to see all of the top spots but also like getting off the beaten track, then this is the guide for you.

So without further ado, here’s how to spend 3 weeks in a campervan on the South Island!

*Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links to trusted partners. If you make a purchase through an affiliate link, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I really appreciate your support!

Map of 3 week South Island road trip in a campervan

Note: this is just an overview of your route. In the itinerary below, I’ve included specific driving routes via Google Maps for each day of driving (including suggested stops).

Where to hire (rent) a campervan for your South Island road trip

Three campervans parked in a row on the North Island, New Zealand.

  • Jucy: I’m a big fan of Jucy campervans. They have a range of campervan styles that can sleep between 1-4 people. You’ll spot these campervans all across the South Island—they’re one of the most popular campervan companies in the country!

  • Spaceships: These Toyota Estima (minivan) campervans are perfect for a couple or solo traveller. Because they’re compact, they are much easier to drive than a huge van. They also often have the best prices out of any other vans you’ll find.

  • Motorhome Republic: This comparison website is super helpful for finding the best deals on campervans in New Zealand, along with ratings from fellow travellers. They have a huge range of campervans from reputable campervan companies across NZ, including Britz, Maui and Mighty.

Note: if you plan to stay at a lot of freedom campsites, you’ll need to hire a self-contained campervan. All of the campervan companies mentioned above will clearly show which of their vans are self-contained or not. 

However, you don’t really need a self-contained van to follow this itinerary; most of the campgrounds I’ve recommended are either DOC campsites or holiday parks rather than freedom campsites. 

Ultimate 3-week South Island campervan itinerary

Day 1: Christchurch

Pastel blue, yellow, and green shopfronts along New Regent Street in Christchurch, with green signage for Story restaurant and pink signage for a cockatail bar called "gin gin."
New Regent Street in Christchurch

🚐 Driving time: 0 hours (wait until Day 2 to pick up your van)

Start your road trip in Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city. You’ll find the best selection of campervan rentals in Christchurch, so it’s the ideal place to begin your trip.

That being said, I’m going to assume that you’re flying in from far away—if that’s the case, please spend a night in Christchurch before picking up your campervan! 

Believe me, it’ll be safer for you and everyone else on the road if you let yourself rest for a night before hopping behind the wheel. Pick up your van on Day 2 of this itinerary.

Christchurch is a great place to wear off jetlag. Hop in an Uber or Super Shuttle to get to the city centre, then spend the rest of the day exploring Christchurch by foot. If you’ve landed early in the day, ask your hotel to hold on to your luggage before it’s check-in time.

The Christchurch city centre is flat and easily walkable. 

Check out the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Arts Centre, Avon River, Riverside Market, Margaret Mahy Playground (seriously, even adults should see it) and the incredible Turanga Library

Enjoy brunch at one of Christchurch’s cafes, and have dinner and drinks at Smash Palace or Little High Eatery, an upscale food court with a fun vibe. 

If you don’t feel like walking that much today, you can also catch the hop-on, hop-off tram, which stops at all of the main attractions in Christchurch.

Then it’ll be time to get some sleep so you’ll be all rested up for your road trip!

A green Christchurch tram, filled with passengers, crossing the road in front of the Christchurch Art Gallery.

🛏 Where to stay in Christchurch

Stay near the city centre to have the easiest access to Christchurch’s attractions. 

Alternatively, you could stay near the airport if you’d prefer to be close to your campervan hire depot to pick up your van the next day.

Where to stay in the city: Breakfree on Cashel (budget) or the Crowne Plaza (higher end)

Where to stay by the airport: LyLo (budget) or Commodore Airport Hotel (higher end)

Day 2: Kaikoura

Snow-capped mountains behind the ocean in Kaikoura, New Zealand.

🚐 Driving time: 2 hours 20 minutes (179 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park

Today, you’ll pick up your campervan and hit the road! 

Take an Uber to your campervan hire depot (or if you’re staying by the Christchurch airport, some campervan companies offer shuttles from the airport). 

Give yourself more time than you’d think to get your campervan all sorted. Your hire company will usually need to go over quite a few things with you about how to operate the van, and it can take a while. 

Once you’ve got your campervan in order, make your way north to Kaikoura, a haven for marine life including whales, dolphins, and seals.

After arriving in Kaikoura, go for a walk on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, where you’ll usually get to see heaps of NZ fur seals basking by the sea. Start at the Point Kean carpark, then walk along the clifftops before looping back to your van along the coastline. Just watch out for seals—you shouldn’t get close to them, and they’re sometimes camouflaged in the rocks!

End the day with takeaway fish & chips from Cooper’s Catch. Or if you’re planning to cook in your campervan, there’s a good New World supermarket in Kaikoura.

A New Zealand fur seal sitting in the grass along the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway.
Spot seals along the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway 👀

⛺️ Camping in Kaikoura

  • Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park: this clean, tidy holiday park has great facilities in a spacious setting, and it’s a short walk from here to town.

Day 3: Marlborough Sounds

A view over the blue waters of Marlborough Sounds from the Cullen Point Lookout, located on Queen Charlotte Drive between Picton and Nelson.
Views from the Cullen Point Lookout in the Marlborough Sounds

🚐 Driving time: 2 hours 30 minutes (176 km) | Google Maps

⛺️Where to camp: Momorangi Bay DOC Campsite or Smith’s Farm Holiday Park

If you’re keen to do a whale-watching tour in Kaikoura, book one for this morning. Whale-watching conditions tend to be more settled in the early hours of the day, and this is also when the majority of tours are available.

Then head up the coast to the Marlborough region, known for its abundance of vineyards producing sauvignon blanc grapes, and its stunning coastal landscapes along the Marlborough Sounds.

Stops on the drive from Kaikoura to Marlborough

A Blenheim vineyard with rows of leafy grape vines and mountains in the backdrop.
One of the many gorgeous vineyards around Blenheim.
  • Ohau Point Seal Colony: this is one of the best places to see NZ fur seals, and it’s just off the main highway.

  • Kekerengu Store: stop here for a mid-drive coffee
  • Blenheim wineries: have lunch at a winery around Blenheim—Saint Clair is a good place for a locally-sourced platter and wine tasting. Obviously don’t indulge too much if you’re the driver, though! You could also pick up a bottle to take with you to your campground.
  • Queen Charlotte Drive: After lunch, head towards Picton before cutting west along the Marlborough Sounds via the Queen Charlotte Drive. Stop at the Governor’s Bay track for a gorgeous, short coastal walk with amazing views over the sounds.

⛺️ Camping in the Marlborough Sounds

I’m giving two options here, because they’re both awesome!

  • Momorangi Bay DOC Campsite: this scenic camping site is located right on the shores of the picturesque Queen Charlotte Sound. They even have hot showers at this spot (bring $1 coins), which is quite the treat for a DOC campground! There’s a short glow worm walk from this campsite, too.
  • Smith’s Farm Holiday Park: spend the evening feeding the friendly farm animals, and after dark, make your way along their bush walk to a beautiful waterfall surrounded by glow worms.

Day 4: Abel Tasman National Park

Anchorage Bay Beach in Abel Tasman National Park

🚐 Driving time: 3 hours 30 minutes (191 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: The Barn or Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve

Make your way to Abel Tasman National Park, known for its world-class coastal hiking trail, golden-sand beaches, and jungly forest setting.

The drive between the Marlborough Sounds and Abel Tasman is packed with scenic and fun stops. So, take your time to just enjoy the journey today, and fill your day with sightseeing.

Stops between the Marlborough Sounds and Abel Tasman National Park

An overlook of Cable Bay near Nelson, with rocky grass in the front of the picture and a turquoise-blue bay backed by a green mountain in the middle of the frame.
A view of Cable Bay from the Cable Bay Walkway
  • Pelorus Bridge: This scenic spot was filming site for the Hobbit movies. If it’s a nice day, you’ll want to go for a swim in the river here! (There is also a great DOC campsite here—just FYI).
  • Cable Bay: this is a slight detour, but it’s one of the best beaches around Nelson. There’s also a hiking trail here—the Cable Bay Walkway—which you can climb for about 15-20 minutes to see panoramic views over the area.
  • Nelson: this is the largest “city” you’ll encounter for the next week of your trip. The city centre is lovely, with lots of places to grab lunch. Burger Culture is really good. If you’re lucky enough to be in town on a Saturday, make sure to visit the Nelson Farmer’s Market.
  • Tahunanui Beach: a great spot for a picnic or just a beach walk to stretch your legs. If you have kids with you, they will absolutely love this stop—right by the beach you’ll find a playground, a “fun park” with bumper cars and trampolines, and a wildlife preserve.
  • Groceries: You’ll likely want to do a grocery top-up around Nelson. The Pak n Save in Richmond has everything you’ll need. If you get excited about local food like I do, stop in Appleby at the Junction Shop for local cheeses, and grab fresh produce at Connings Food Market next door.
  • Rabbit Island and Mapua: Rabbit Island has a gorgeous beach backed by pine trees, and Mapua is a lovely wee village with cute boutique shops and one of the best breweries around: Golden Bear Brewing.
  • Hop Federation Tap Room: A must-visit for craft beer lovers. Try some samples and then grab takeaway cans to have at your campground.

⛺️ Camping in Abel Tasman National Park

A passenger bridge in Marahau leading to the start of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, with the Barn Cabins and Campground in the distance in the upper right corner of the frame, and a tidal ocean to the left.
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track starts right from the Barn Cabins & Camp!

Again, I’m giving you two options because it really depends on your preferences! One option is in Marahau, and the other is in Kaiteriteri. Either location offers water taxi services and kayaking tours almost right at your doorstep.

  • The Barn Cabins and Camp: Located in Marahau, this is one of the best campsites on the South Island. It’s located right at the start of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track and has a fun, friendly atmosphere with great lounge areas and communal outdoor fire pits. This is my favourite campground near Abel Tasman National Park.

  • Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve: some people might prefer camping at Kaiteriteri, where you’ll find sandy beaches instead of the tidal beach flats at Marahau. This is a big, busy development, but its beachfront location makes it worth camping here.

Day 5: Abel Tasman National Park

A sandy beach cove with emerald-blue water fringed in forest along the walk from Anchorage Bay to Marahau on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track.
One of the many gorgeous beaches along the walk from Anchorage Bay to Marahau.

🚐 Driving time: 0 hours

⛺️ Where to camp: The Barn or Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve (same as last night; keep your van parked up!)

Spend today hiking or kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park!

The full Abel Tasman Coast Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and the whole thing takes 3-5 days and a lot of planning. 

However, you can do a great day walk on this track without needing to do the entire trek!

My favourite day walk on this side of the Abel Tasman Coast Track is the walk from Anchorage Bay to Marahau. It coasts along the ocean on a beautiful trail surrounded by native forest, with lots of little beaches to picnic or swim at.

This walk involves catching a one-way water taxi from Marahau to Anchorage Bay, then walking back to Marahau along the Abel Tasman Track. The walking time is around 3.5-4 hours without stops, but believe me—you’ll want to stop a lot! The beaches along this track were made for swimming.

I like this option because first of all, the scenery is amazing but secondly, you can walk the track at your own pace since you took a water taxi at the start. Then you simply end up at your campsite at the Barn, and the day has been spent well!

To book a water taxi, look at Marahau Water Taxis or Aquataxi. Both are great and you can’t really go wrong.

Alternatively, book a kayak trip in Abel Tasman National Park. There are options for self-guided kayak hires, or for guided tours with an expert. Check out Abel Tasman kayaks for more details.

Day 6: Golden Bay

The famous rock archway at Wharariki Beach in Golden Bay, with a pinky sunset in the background and reflections of the rocks in the wet sand at low tide.
Wharariki Beach at sunset

🚐 Driving time: 2 hours 30 minutes (136 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: Wharariki Beach Holiday Park

Ahh, Golden Bay—this remote region at the top western corner of the South Island is one of my favourite places in New Zealand. It’s often missed by international visitors, but trust me, it’s incredible!

After leaving Abel Tasman National Park, you’ll drive up the twisty, winding Takaka Hill to reach Golden Bay. 

Your destination today is Wharariki Beach, a remote and wild beach with gorgeous rock arches, sea caves to explore—and sometimes, baby seal pups. 

Before driving up Takaka Hill, stop at the Fraser’s Orchard produce stall (they have the best fruit; if you visit in autumn, make sure to get some of their nashi pears). After stocking up on produce, stop at the Riwaka Resurgence for a 10-minute forest walk to see a beautiful freshwater spring that pours out of a cave.

Once you’ve made your way over Takaka Hill, you’ll be in Golden Bay!

There is so much to do in Golden Bay, but you’ll have more time to explore it tomorrow. Today, I suggest that you stop in Takaka for a grocery top-up, then head towards Wharariki Beach. 

Have lunch and a housemade craft beer or cider at the iconic Mussel Inn before making the final stretch of today’s drive.

Just before reaching Wharariki Beach, park at the start of the Cape Farewell Lookout track and walk through farmland for about 5 minutes until you reach the lookout, which has stunning views over Cape Farewell. There are lots of tracks in this area if you’d prefer a longer walk, too.  

Then it’s time to check into your campground and explore Wharariki Beach! This incredible beach might look familiar—it’s famous for being one of the desktop wallpapers for Windows 10 users. 

Things to know about Wharariki Beach

A closeup of two seal pups facing each other at Wharariki Beach in Golden Bay.
The seal pups at Wharariki Beach 🥺 (this photo was taken from a distance with my zoom lens)

Getting to Wharariki Beach (and the holiday park) does require driving for about 6km on unsealed (gravel) road. However, I’ve never had any issues with the road even in a 2WD vehicle.

From the Wharariki Beach Holiday Park, it’s a 5-minute walk to the start of the Wharariki Beach track. The walk to Wharariki Beach takes about 20-30 minutes one-way, and takes you over beautiful sheep-dotted farmland before climbing up a sand dune to then emerge at Wharariki Beach.

Spend the rest of the day exploring the many caves and rock formations at Wharariki Beach. And if you are lucky enough to visit between February through April, you might get a chance to see baby seal pups frolicking in the tide pools! If you do see seal pups, please give them a lot of space and never approach or touch them. 

Wharariki Beach is best to visit around low tide, and it can often be extremely windy here, so do come prepared. 

⛺️ Camping near Wharariki Beach

Camp at the Wharariki Beach Holiday Park, where you can park up your van and then simply walk over to the start of the Wharariki Beach Track! It could not be more convenient.

Now, you might see that this campground gets mixed reviews online. But I’ve camped here multiple times throughout the years, and it’s been totally fine. The facilities are basic and the camp staff can seem gruff, but the location is absolutely incredible. Plan on having no cell service, and bring in all of your food etc with you, as there are no shops out this way. 

The location is why I think it’s well-worth camping here—it means you can access Wharariki Beach at sunset, which not many people get to do!

Day 7: Golden Bay

The clear blue waters of Pupu Springs in Golden Bay, with a see-through patch of water showing underwater plant life.
Pupu Springs is a must-see in Golden Bay

🚐 Driving time: 1 hour 50 minutes (93 km) | Google Maps

⛺️Where to camp: Pohara Beach Top 10 or Totaranui DOC Campsite

Wake up at the Wharariki Beach Holiday Park, and if you can’t get enough of Wharariki Beach, go visit one more time!

Then spend today exploring the walks and beaches around Golden Bay.

Do the short walks at Te Waikoropupu (“Pupu”) Springs, the Grove, and Wainui Falls.

Have some lunch in Takaka—I love the Wholemeal Cafe for a hearty, healthy meal (I dream about their quiche).

Another great activity is kayaking at Tata Beach. You can hire kayaks from Golden Bay Kayaks right at the beach. This is one of my favourite places to go kayaking in New Zealand—the water is super-clear and extremely blue, and you might get to spot stingrays and seals. 

Two white Oru kayaks sitting on a golden-sand beach at Tata Beach in Golden Bay.
Kayaking near Tata Beach (these are our beloved Oru kayaks, but you can rent kayaks here, too!)

⛺️ Camping in Golden Bay

Spend tonight camping by the beach at the Pohara Beach Top 10 Holiday Park

Or if you don’t mind driving down a winding, narrow, unsealed road, the Totaranui DOC Campground is an epic place to camp, and you can do a short walk on the Abel Tasman track right from the campground.

Day 8: Nelson Lakes National Park

A seagull soaring over Lake Rotoiti at Nelson Lakes National Park on New Zealand's South Island.
Peaceful, pristine Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park

🚐 Driving time: 2 hours 45 minutes (181 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: Kerr Bay DOC Campsite

Drive back over the Takaka Hill and stop in Motueka for brunch at the fantastic Toad Hall cafe.

Motueka is also a good place to stock up on groceries for the upcoming leg of your trip, as supermarket options are limited for the next couple of days. 

You’ll drive past hop farms and apple orchards and will pass Upper Moutere, a small village known for its thriving artisan community. The lovely Neudorf Vineyards is also nearby.

Continue driving until you reach St Arnaud in Nelson Lakes National Park.

Spend the afternoon checking out the famous jetty on Lake Rotoiti (look for eels lurking below!) and go for a walk or hike.

The Mount Robert Circuit is one of the most underrated day hikes on the South Island if you ask me, but it’s quite strenuous and also takes around 4 hours to complete, so it’s not for everyone.

If you’d prefer an easier walk, try the Loop Track, which combines the Bellbird and Honeydew Tracks and takes you through gorgeous beech forest filled with birdsong.

Views over Lake Rotoiti and St Arnaud from the Mount Robert Circuit in Nelson Lakes National Park.
Views from the Mt Robert Circuit

⛺️ Camping in Nelson Lakes National Park

Camp at the Kerr Bay DOC Campsite, located just steps away from Lake Rotoiti in a peaceful, beech tree-fringed setting.

They even have powered campsites, token-operated hot showers, and laundry facilities available here! It’s a great DOC campsite. Do bring insect repellent, though, as the sandflies can be fierce.

Day 9: Punakaiki

The Punakaiki Pancake Rocks on a sunny day, with the blue ocean and jungly mountains in the background.

🚐 Driving time: 2 hours 45 minutes (200 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: Punakaiki Beach Camp

You’ll head from the mountains back to the coast today, but this time, it’s going to be the wild West Coast!

Once you reach Murchison, the road follows the beautiful Buller River before reaching the coastline just above Charleston.

This stretch of coastline is well and truly one of the most beautiful coastal drives in New Zealand. 

With the wild Tasman Sea to your right and native rainforest on your left, it’s honestly a bit hard to keep your eyes on the road here (but please do, k?!). 

Arrive in Punakaiki, check in to your campsite, and begin exploring the area!

Things to do in Punakaiki

Kayakers on the tannin-stained Porarari River in Punakaiki.
The Pororari River
  • Punakaiki Pancake Rocks: these rock formations resemble stacks of pancakes, and there are blow holes and gorgeous views along this walk, too. Visit the pancake rocks at high tide for the best chance of seeing the blow holes in action.

  • Truman Track: walk for 15 minutes through a jungly rainforest to reach Truman Beach, where a thin waterfall drops onto the sand. Truman Beach is best visited at low tide.

  • Pororari River Track: one of the loveliest easy day walks on the South Island, this rainforest-lined track follows the tannin-stained Pororari River, which flows through a stunning limestone gorge. The walk takes about 1.5 hours and is truly a delight.
  • Punakaiki Cavern: explore this cavern and look for stalactites and glow worms.

⛺️ Camping in Punakaiki

Campervans parked up on grassy campsites at the Punakaiki Beach Camp, one of the best camping spots on the South Island.
The lovely Punakaiki Beach Camp

Camp at the Punakaiki Beach Camp, located right next to a stunning beach. 

The beaches around here are too wild for swimming, but make sure to wander from your campsite to the beach at sunset. Sunsets from here are spectacular!

Day 10: Franz Josef

A distant view of the snowy, mountainous Franz Josef Glacier from the walk to the Franz Josef Glacier viewpoint.

🚐 Driving time: 4 hours 15 minutes (300 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: Rainforest Retreat

Continue down the West Coast today to eventually reach Franz Josef, the largest town in Glacier Country.

Along the way, stop in Hokitika to see the famous driftwood sign at the beach, and get a sandwich from the epic Hokitika Sandwich Company

If you need a grocery top-up, Hokitika is a good place to do that (there’s only a small Four Square supermarket in Franz Josef, which is quite limited and expensive). I’d also refuel your petrol tank here.

Detour from Hokitika to the Hokitika Gorge, where you’ll find an easy walk that follows the turquoise blue waters of the Hokitika Gorge. 

The Hokitika Gorge is a stunner, but if it’s a cloudy or rainy day, you can skip this detour—the water doesn’t look very blue if the sun isn’t out. However, if you can visit on a sunny day, this place is a must-see.

Another worthy detour today is Okarito—try the Okarito Trig Walk, which gives you incredible views over mountains, lagoons, and beaches on a clear day.

The Okarito Lagoon is also an excellent place for kayaking, with abundant birdlife and views. Contact Okarito Kayaks to find out more.

From Okarito, it’s about a 30-minute drive to Franz Josef, the West Coast’s tourist hub. Franz Josef is most famous for its glacier, which is sadly receding. 

The best way to see the glacier is to take a helicopter tour, but they are expensive and not within everyone’s budget. If you want to see the glacier for free, walk along the Franz Josef Glacier walk, where you’ll be able to view the glacier from afar.

Another awesome walk in Franz Josef is the Callery Gorge walk, which leads to a view over the electric blue Callery River.

If you want a break from campervan cooking, have dinner at Alice May restaurant. And consider treating yourself to an evening soak in the wonderful Waiho hot tubs (although your campsite has a hot tub, too—see below!).

A view over a swingbridge and the electric blue water of the Hokitika Gorge, framed by greenery on the left side of the picture.
The Hokitika Gorge (the water is really that blue!)

⛺️Camping in Franz Josef

Camp at the Rainforest Retreat Holiday Park, located right in the town centre in a lush, forested setting. They have excellent facilities, including a sauna and hot tub onsite!

Day 11: Lake Hawea (or Wanaka)

A view of Lake Matheson on a calm day, reflecting the surrounding snow-capped mountains and trees in its glassy waters.
Lake Matheson is a must-see stop on today’s drive.

🚐 Driving time: 3 hours 50 minutes (265 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: Kidds Bush DOC Campsite or the Camp at Lake Hawea

So I’ve got to tell you that today’s drive is packed with epic stops, and Google Maps will get the driving times completely wrong. Give yourself all day to get from Franz Josef to Lake Hawea (or Wanaka)!

Stops between Franz Josef and Lake Hawea / Wanaka

The emerald-blue water of the Blue Pools along the Haast Pass Highway, with a swingbridge above the water.
The Blue Pools
  • Lake Matheson: the trailhead for Lake Matheson is located 10 minutes from the Fox Glacier township. This spot is a must-see. An easy walking trail circles this pristine lake, which reflects the surrounding mountains on a clear, calm day. Plan for around 1.5 hours for the walk. There’s also a great cafe at the start/end of the trail.

  • Monro Beach: if you like getting off the beaten track, this one’s for you. Walk on a trail through thick rainforest to reach Monro Beach, where you can sometimes spot tawaki (Fiordland crested penguins) from October through December. The walk itself is beautiful, as is the beach, but be warned that the sandflies are abundant here.

  • Ship Creek: stop here for a leg-stretch and your last view of the coast for a while.

  • Haast Pass waterfalls: Haast Pass is the mountain pass between the West Coast and Wanaka, and it’s packed with waterfalls. Stop at Roaring Billy Falls, Thunder Creek Falls, and Fantail Falls. All are quick stops involving short walks to see the falls.

  • Blue Pools: this 1-hour return walk is another must-do stop along today’s drive. Walk through beech forest and cross swing bridges to reach the Blue Pools, which are filled with pure glacier water and look so blue it feels unreal. (Note: the Blue Pools are closed at the time of writing this, but DOC is working to reopen the track).

⛺️ Camping near Lake Hawea

Camp at the peaceful Kidds Bush campsite on the shores of Lake Hawea. This is a DOC campsite and has basic facilities, but it’s wild and beautiful.

If you’d prefer a campsite with more amenities, head to the Camp on Lake Hawea, or continue on to Wanaka instead!

Day 12: Wanaka

Tyson from Weekend Path at the Roy's Peak viewpoint in Wanaka, located along the steep Roy's Peak hiking trail. Lake Wanaka can be seen in the background.
Views from the famous Roy’s Peak track.

🚐 Driving time:  45 minutes (42 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: Hampshire Holiday Park Wanaka or Glendhu Bay Holiday Park

Spend today hiking and enjoying the gorgeous lakeside town of Wanaka.

Pick one of Wanaka’s many hikes to do today! 

Isthmus Peak or Roy’s Peak are popular but tough walks.

For something more moderate, try the Rocky Mountain Track or Rob Roy Glacier Track (Rob Roy Glacier is my favourite, but it’s closed at the time of writing this. Let’s hope it opens up again soon).

If you’d prefer an easier, shorter trail, walk up Mount Iron. Or walk along the flat trail that follows Lake Wanaka from the main Wanaka Beach towards Glendhu Bay (simply walk as far as you like along this one before turning around). 

Honestly, you can’t really go wrong with whatever walk you choose to do. All of Wanaka’s trails are wonderful.

After walking/hiking, spend the rest of the day relaxing in Wanaka. Visit the Wanaka Lavender Farm, swim in the lake, pop into the cute shops, or sample some craft beer at one of Wanaka’s breweries (B.Effect, Ground Up, or Rhyme x Reason). Or play disc golf at one of Wanaka’s two scenic disc golf courses.

In the evening, have dinner at the Brownston Street food trucks (Burrito Craft is my go-to) and see a movie at the iconic Cinema Paradiso.

Views over Lake Wanaka and the town of Wanaka, surrounded by mountains, from the summit of the Mount Iron Track.
Looking down at Wanaka from Mount Iron.

⛺️ Camping in Wanaka

Hampshire Holiday Park is the most conveniently-located campground in Wanaka if you’d like to just park up and be able to walk into town.

If you don’t mind being farther out of town, the Glendhu Bay Holiday Park is gorgeous. It’s set right on Lake Wanaka and is also close to hiking trails like Roy’s Peak and Rocky Mountain.

Day 13: Queenstown

Views over Lake Wakatipu and the Queenstown Gardens from the top of the Skyline Gondola.

🚐 Driving time: 1 hour 14 minutes (75 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: Driftaway Campsite or Creeksyde Holiday Park

The drive today is a short one, but it’s a goodie!

You’ll drive over the steep, winding Crown Range Road, which connects Queenstown to Wanaka and is the highest main road in New Zealand.  

Stops Between Wanaka and Queenstown

The front of the historic Cardrona Hotel and pub, with a vintage car in front of the building and red writing that says "Cardrona Hotel."
  • Cardrona Hotel: this historic hotel and pub is the perfect subject for a cute photo-op. Their gardens are a good place to enjoy a coffee.

  • Crown Range Road Summit: stop here for views over the Gibbston Valley over to Arrowtown, Queenstown, and the Southern Alps. (this is actually a freedom campsite, too, but there are zero facilities here just FYI).

  • Arrowtown: detour to Arrowtown, a picturesque historic gold mining town. Visit the Chinese Settlement from the 1880’s (it’s free to visit), and go for a riverside stroll along the forested Arrow River Trail. Wander down Buckingham Street to peek into the cute shops and grab some lunch at either Slow Cuts or the Fork & Tap pub.

After Arrowtown, make your way to Queenstown, known as the “Adventure Capital of the World”!

Queenstown is a gorgeous town set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by mountains and packed with things to do.

Things to do in Queenstown

A red Shotover Jet boat in action on the Shotover River under the Edith Cavell Bridge.
The Shotover Jet in Queenstown
  • Walk through the beautiful Queenstown Gardens, and play a game of disc golf if you’re keen (you can hire discs from the ice skating rink or Small Planet Sports in town).

  • Walk or cycle on the Frankton Track to the sunny Frankton Arm. Pop into Altitude Brewery on the return back to town. Around the Basin is a good place to hire bikes.

  • Hike up Queenstown Hill for panoramic views over Queenstown.

  • Sample Queenstown’s craft beer scene. Beechtree, Atlas, and Smith’s are craft beer bars in town, or visit Altitude or Canyon breweries.

  • Eat some delicious food. Fergburger is on everyone’s “must-do” list (be prepared to wait in a line, though). Margo’s, Tanoshi, and Ramen Ramen are all great spots for dinner. For breakfast, try Fergbaker (for takeaway pastries), Bespoke Kitchen, the Boatshed, or Vudu.
  • Other popular activities include taking the gondola & riding the luge; cruising on Lake Wakatipu; jet boating; and doing adrenaline-rushing things like sky diving and bungy jumping.

Important note: Check the T’s & C’s for your campervan hire, as some companies prohibit you from driving their campervans over the Crown Range Road.

If that’s the case, you can drive from Wanaka to Cromwell, and then drive from Cromwell to Queenstown. This route takes about 30 minutes longer, but it’s also super scenic as it skirts along the Kawarau River and vineyard-rich Gibbston Valley.

⛺️ Camping in Queenstown

Campervans parked in front of Lake Wakatipu at the Driftaway Campground in Queenstown, New Zealand.
The Driftaway, Queenstown’s nicest camping ground.

The nicest campsite in Queenstown is the Driftaway Holiday Park, located a 10-minute drive from town along the sunny Frankton Arm.

Another excellent option is the Creeksyde Holiday Park. This campground is located right in town and is super convenient if you’d prefer to just park up and be able to walk everywhere.

Day 14: Queenstown & Glenorchy

The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy, winding along the shores of Lake Wakatipu with mountains in the backdrop.

🚐 Driving time: 1 hour 40 minutes (95 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: Moke Lake campsite

The 45km road from Queenstown to Glenorchy is one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand.

The road follows the shores of Lake Wakatipu and is surrounded by gorgeous mountain scenery. It’s truly stunning.

Before driving out to Glenorchy, make sure you’re topped up on any groceries and petrol, as there aren’t many facilities in Glenorchy. 

Stops on the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy

The historic red boat shed in Glenorchy with Lake Wakatipu and mountains in the backdrop.
  • Bob’s Cove: park at the Bob’s Cove carpark and walk through beech forest to reach Bob’s Cove, a gorgeous secluded beach and swimming spot. Walk up to Picnic Point for incredible views over Lake Wakatipu.
  • Mrs Woolley’s General Store: stop here for a hot pie and peruse the cute local gifts.

  • Glenorchy boat shed: take a photo of this iconic Glenorchy landmark, and enjoy the pretty waterfront at the Glenorchy wharf.
  • Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway: this peaceful, easy walk meanders along the Glenorchy Lagoon, which reflects the surrounding mountains when it’s calm and clear out. There’s great bird-watching here, and it’s also a lovely place to bring a picnic.

  • Routeburn Track day hike: Alternatively, if you’re keen for a longer hike, you can head straight from Queenstown to the start of the Routeburn Track to day hike on this epic Great Walk trail. Hike from the Routeburn Shelter to either Routeburn Flats (4 hours return) or Routeburn Falls (6 hours return). This is a big day of hiking, though, so you won’t have time for much else.
  • Moke Lake Loop Track: After exploring around Glenorchy, head back towards Queenstown and detour to Moke Lake, which is located 14km from Queenstown and is where you’ll camp for the night. Park up your campervan and do the gorgeous loop walk along Moke Lake, which starts and ends at the campground.

Where to camp near Glenorchy

A white campervan parked at a golden grassy campsite at Moke Lake Campground, with a glimpes of the lake and towering snow-capped mountains in the background.

As noted above, camp at the Moke Lake DOC Campsite tonight after exploring around Glenorchy. This is a basic but incredibly picturesque camping spot. Make sure to go outside and look up at night—the stargazing from this campsite is amazing on a clear night!

Alternatively, you could return to Queenstown and camp in the same spot you camped at the night before, or camp in another camping ground near Glenorchy.

Day 15: Te Anau

A golden-hour view at sunset over Lake Te Anau and the Marakura Wharf, with snow-dusted mountains in the backdrop.

🚐 Driving time: 2 hours 30 minutes (186 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: Te Anau Lakeview Holiday Park or Tasman Holiday Park Te Anau

You’ll leave the Queenstown area today to head south to Te Anau, the Gateway to Milford Sound.

Things to do on the drive from Queenstown to Te Anau

The winding Devils Staircase road between Queenstown and Milford Sound, which skirts along Lake Wakatipu.
  • Devil’s Staircase Lookout: stop at this lookout for a photo-op over Lake Wakatipu. Please take care with pulling in and out of the parking area, though, as it’ll be on the opposite side of the road.

  • Garston: This is a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of place, but stop in Garston for the public toilets, plus a great coffee cart (the Coffee Bomb) and the Garston Honey Shop (pick up some local wild thyme honey!).

Things to do in Te Anau

A dirt path trailling through a dense beech tree and fern forest along the Kepler Track section from the Control Gates to Brod Bay, one of the best day walks in Te Anau.
Dense beech tree & fern forest along the Kepler Track (this is from the day walk from the Control Gates to Brod Bay)
  • Day walk on the Kepler Track. I love the sections from Rainbow Reach to Shallow Bay, or from the Control Gates to Brod Bay. Both of these trail sections are lush with ferns and beech forest, with abundant birdsong to keep you company.
  • Hire a bike and cycle along Lake Te Anau on part of the Lake2Lake Trail. If you camp at the Tasman Holiday Park, they offer bike rentals. Or hire a bike from Outside Sports.

  • Glow worm caves: a popular paid activity in Te Anau is taking a cruise to see the glow worm caves.
  • Disc golf: Ivon Wilson park has an awesome disc golf course. Bring your own discs or purchase some from Outside Sports.

  • Te Anau Bird Sanctuary: free to visit, this bird sanctuary is an excellent place to see native New Zealand birds including takahe and kaka.
  • Marakura Wharf: this is a stunning place to watch a sunset over Lake Te Anau. There are also free BBQs and picnic tables in the reserve nearby.

  • Fiordland Cinema: Watch the inspiring 45-minute Ata Whenua – Shadowland film and enjoy a local wine or beer.

  • Restaurants in Te Anau: The best places to eat in Te Anau are Ditto (great bao buns), Redcliff Cafe for a special meal (book ahead), Miles Better for a pie, and Sandfly Cafe for breakfast.

⛺️ Camping in Te Anau

A wood barrel sauna amongst green foliage at the Te Anau Tasman Holiday Park
The awesome sauna at the Tasman Holiday Park in Te Anau

Camp at either the Lakeview Holiday Park or the Tasman Holiday Park.

Both campgrounds are awesome and I always have a hard time choosing. The Lakeview Holiday Park is more spacious, but the Tasman Holiday Park has a free sauna, hot tubs for hire, and bikes for hire.

Related read: the best Te Anau camping spots

Day 16: Te Anau (day trip to Milford Sound)

A view of Mitre Peak and Milford Sound from the Foreshore Walkway.

🚐 Driving time:  3 hours 45 minutes return (246 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: same place as last night, or a campsite on the Milford Road 

Plan on an early start today, because it’s going to be jam-packed. You’re heading to Milford Sound!

The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is arguably the most scenic road in New Zealand. 

Plan to leave before 8 am and make a couple of quick stops before reaching Milford Sound, where you can take a cruise or kayak tour. Then do a larger hike in the afternoon. 

This timing will help you beat the tour bus crowds.

Things to do between Te Anau and Milford Sound

Tyson from Weekend Path swimming in Lake Marian, one of the best hikes in the South Island along the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound.
Beautiful Lake Marian
  • Eglinton Valley: this is a quick stop for sweeping views over golden tussock fields surrounded by mountains.

  • Mirror Lakes: this 5-minute walk leads to small lakes that reflect the Earl Mountains on a calm, clear day.

  • Homer Tunnel: you’ll pretty much have to stop here, because the Homer Tunnel only allows one-way traffic and is monitored by traffic lights. It’s a gorgeous place to wait for a bit, though—the views are stunning, and keep your eyes peeled for kea, New Zealand’s cheeky alpine parrots! 
  • Cruise or kayak on Milford Sound: do a kayak tour with Rosco’s kayaks or book a cruise along Milford Sound. Pure Milford is my favourite cruise operator on Milford Sound.
  • Day hike: after visiting Milford Sound, do a day hike to either Key Summit or Lake Marian. 

⛺️Where to camp around Milford Sound

Head back to Te Anau and stay at the same campground you stayed at last night. I prefer camping in Te Anau because the sandflies are way less prolific than around Milford Sound. 

Or if you’d prefer to camp close to Milford Sound, stay at the Milford Lodge Rainforest Campervan Park, or the Cascade Creek DOC campsite. Just be prepared for lots and lots of sandflies.

Day 17: The Catlins (Curio Bay)

Porpoise Bay in the Catlins, with a golden-sand beach and turquoise bay, framed by a patch of yellow lupins in the foreground.
Porpoise Bay in the Catlins

🚐 Driving time: 3 hours 15 minutes (247 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: Curio Bay Campground

Today, you’ll head back to the coast—this time, it’s the wild, remote Catlins!

The Catlins are a bit off-the-beaten track, but this area is home to some of the South Island’s most beautiful beaches, waterfalls, and wildlife.

Top up your groceries in Te Anau (the Fresh Choice supermarket is pretty good), as there are no major shops in the Catlins. 

Today’s destination is Curio Bay, where you’ll get a chance to spot dolphins and penguins.

Stops on the drive from Te Anau to Curio Bay

A white lighthouse with a red door called the Waipapa Lighthouse in the Catlins Region of New Zealand.
  • Waipapa Lighthouse: this cute white and red lighthouse looks like something from a Wes Anderson film! The beach below the lighthouse is often home to fur seals, so keep your eyes peeled.

  • Slope Point: this is Southernmost point on the South Island and getting a photo in front  of the famous sign is a Catlins must-do! The walk to the point takes about 20 minutes. Wear a windbreaker, as it’s almost always windy here.

Things to do in Curio Bay

A yellow-eyed penguin waddling along the rock shelf at Curio Bay in the Catlins.
A yellow-eyed penguin at Curio Bay, waddling back from the sea to its nest 🐧
  • Spot Hector’s dolphins at Porpoise Bay. These tiny, rare dolphins are amazing to see, and this is one of the best places in the country to see them. I do have a secret to tell you, too: if you go swimming or surfing at Porpoise Bay, the dolphins may come up to swim near you! Please, please PLEASE be respectful, though, and never approach or touch dolphins or other wildlife.

  • Look for penguins at Curio Bay: this will be one of your best chances to spot a rare yellow-eyed penguin in NZ! There are two lookouts above Curio Bay where you can look for penguins from afar. Bring your binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens (don’t use a flash, though, as it can scare them).

    For the best chance of seeing a penguin here, be at the lookout in the evening before sunset, and be patient! Early morning is another good time to try your luck at spotting one.
  • View the petrified forest: Curio Bay is home to a rock shelf covered in a unique petrified forest, which you can explore at low tide. Access is from the Curio Bay lookout, which also has informative sign panels that’ll explain what to look for.
  • Walk through the Tumu Toka living forest: across the road from Curio Bay is a beautiful forest—thought to be a descendent from the petrified forest—where you’ll find an easy, peaceful short walking track through the trees.

⛺️ Where to camp in Curio Bay

A compact red campervan by Spaceships parked at the Curio Bay Camping Ground in the Catlins at an oceanfront campsite, with a picnic table and chairs set up next to it.

Camp at the Curio Bay Camping Ground. Seriously, do it. After parking up at your campsite, you can walk to Porpoise Bay and Curio Bay right from the campground. It is an epic location and one of the best campsites in the Catlins without a doubt.

Day 18: Moeraki

Large spherical boulders at Moeraki Boulders Beach along the drive from Christchurch to Dunedin.
Moeraki Boulders Beach

🚐 Driving time: 4  hours 54 minutes (301 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: Moeraki Village Holiday Park or Moeraki Boulders Holiday Park

The coastal scenery continues on today’s drive as you make your way through the Catlins to Dunedin and then north up the South Island’s east coast.

Stops on the drive from Curio Bay to Moeraki

The tiered Purakaunui Falls in the Catlins surrounded by green forest
Purakaunui Falls in the Catlins
  • McLean Falls: this is the best waterfall in the Catlins and is a must-see. Allow for around 45 minutes to get to and from the falls. The walking track here is beautiful, with dense native bush and abundant birdlife.
  • Florence Hill Lookout: Stop here for one of the best views in the Catlins.
  • Lost Gypsy Gallery: this quirky gallery is full of curiosities invented by the artist Blair Somerville. The bus has free admission, and the museum costs $10 which is well worth it. Kids are allowed in the bus if supervised, but aren’t allowed in the museum. There’s also a nice coffee cart here.
  • Purakaunui Falls: Another gorgeous waterfall in the Catlins, this one takes about 10 minutes to walk to via a lovely forest trail.
  • Nugget Point: home to the beautiful Tokata lighthouse and coastal lookout, Nugget Point is a Catlins attraction you can’t miss. The walk to the lighthouse takes about 20 minutes return, and you’ll usually get to spot seals and seabirds from the trail.
A view over the green headland at Nugget Point / Tokatā with little islands dotting the ocean in front of it.
Nugget Point
  • Dunedin: there is so much to do in this South Island city, but in this itinerary you won’t have much time here, as I’ve prioritised outdoor locations over cities. I recommend visiting Tunnel Beach for a walk, then stopping at Saint Clair for lunch. Esplanade is an awesome spot for a “treat yourself” lunch, or have a picnic at the beach!
  • Katiki Point: don’t miss Katiki Point, which is home to a lighthouse, beautiful coastal walk, and the chance to possibly spot seals and yellow-eyed penguins!
  • Moeraki Village: this cute village is home to an excellent seafood joint, the Fish Wife, where you can enjoy fish & chips or try crayfish while looking out at the sea.
  • Moeraki Boulders Beach: best to visit at low tide, the Moeraki Boulders Beach houses unique spherical rocks that emerge from the sand. They look like dinosaur eggs, or remnants of aliens, or I don’t even know what! You should just go see them. They’re neat.
Two yellow-eyed penguins nuzzling in grass in front of the ocean at Katiki Point on New Zealand's South Island.
Yellow-eyed penguins at Katiki Point near Moeraki 🥺 (this was taken from afar with my zoom lens)

⛺️ Where to camp in Moeraki

There are two great camping grounds near Moeraki—the Moeraki Village Holiday Park, and Moeraki Boulders Holiday Park.

Camp at the Moeraki Village Holiday Park if you want elevated ocean views and would like to walk to grab dinner in the village at Fishwife or the pub. 

And if you’d prefer to be right by the beach, camp at the Moeraki Boulders Holiday Park. From the campground, you can walk down the beach at low tide for 20-30 minutes to reach the boulders. The campsites here are a bit close together, but it’s nice being right by the beach.

Day 19: Mount Cook National Park

The road leading to Mount Cook National Park, with a peek of snow-covered Mount Cook in the background.

🚐 Driving time: 3 hours 50 minutes (278 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: White Horse Hill DOC Campsite

Cruise along the coast this morning before zipping back to the mountains for the final leg of your 3 week South Island campervan trip.

Mount Cook National Park is your destination today—and it’s an epic destination at that!

Stops between Moeraki and Mount Cook National Park

A walking path through the Omarama Clay Cliffs flanked by patches of purple and pink lupins and other greenery.
The Omarama Clay Cliffs during lupin season
  • Oamaru: stop by the Oamaru Victorian Precinct for a walk down the charming Harbour Street, home to historic buildings made of local limestone. Oamaru is also known as a “steampunk capital” and a popular activity is visiting the Steampunk Museum.

    You could also try your luck at spotting yellow-eyed penguins at Bushy Beach. And whatever you do, don’t miss a stop at the Whitestone Cheese Diner and Deli for some of the best South Island cheese rolls in existence.
  • Elephant Rocks: a quick detour from Duntroon leads to the Elephant Rocks, unique limestone formations that were used as a filming location for the Chronicles of Narnia.
  • Omarama Clay Cliffs: another neat geological attraction to explore today, the Omarama Clay Cliffs are pinnacle-like rock formations that are starkly beautiful. There’s an entrance fee of $5 per vehicle, so bring cash with you. 
  • High Country Salmon: stop here to pick up some salmon raised in glacial mountain water. They have a great selection of fresh salmon and smoked salmon in their onsite shop, or grab some salmon sushi or a salmon bagel from their cafe. I suggest picking up a couple of salmon fillets for tonight’s camp dinner!
  • Twizel: This is the last stop for both groceries and petrol before Mount Cook National Park. So, if you need a top-up of either, make sure to stop here.
  • NZ Alpine Lavender: If you’re doing this road trip during the summer months (December through February), stop by this scenic lavender farm for a wander through the lavender fields. They also sell lavender products and lavender ice cream. 
A wooden chair between rows of purple lavender at the NZ Alpine Lavender Farm near Mount Cook National Park.
The NZ Alpine Lavender Farm
  • Peter’s Lookout: Pull into the carpark for Peter’s Lookout to see one of the best views of the road to Mount Cook, Lake Pukaki, and—on a clear day—Mount Cook itself.
  • Mount Cook National Park: you’ve made it! Spend the evening on a short hike to either Kea Point or the Tasman Lakes Lookout, then make dinner at your campsite while enjoying epic views of the national park.

⛺️ Where to camp in Mount Cook National Park

Campervans parked at the White Horse Hill Campground in Mount Cook National Park. The campground is surrounded in greenery and has snow-covered mountains in the background.

White Horse Hill Campsite: one of the best DOC campsites in all of New Zealand, the White Horse Hill Campsite is a super scenic (albeit basically-equipped) place to park your campervan for the night.

This is the only campground within Mount Cook National Park, and it’s a goodie. Park here and have walking access to epic trails including the Hooker Valley Track, Sealy Tarns Track, and Kea Point Track.

Day 20: Lake Tekapo

Purple and pink lupins growing along the shores of Lake Tekapo, with softly-shaded mountains in the backdrop.

🚐 Driving time: 1 hour 40 minutes (121 km) | Google Maps

⛺️ Where to camp: Lakes Edge Holiday Park

Before jumping back in your campervan today, spend the morning hiking on the incredible Hooker Valley Track. This is arguably the South Island’s best day walk, and takes between 2-3 hours to complete. 

After your hike, make your way to Lake Tekapo.

Note – if you need to catch an early flight out of Christchurch tomorrow morning, then adjust this itinerary and head straight to Christchurch instead of spending a night in Lake Tekapo. In that case, stop by Lake Tekapo for a leg-stretch on the drive to Christchurch.

Stops between Mount Cook National Park and Lake Tekapo

A zig-zagging boardwalk surrounded by meadows with Mount Cook in the background on the Hooker Valley hike in Mount Cook National Park, one of the best day walks on the South Island.
Hike the Hooker Valley Track before leaving Mount Cook National Park! It’s stunning.

  • Alpine Salmon Shop: Enjoy salmon sashimi outside on one of their picnic tables while gazing at epic views of Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook.
  • Pukaki Kettle Hole Track: This super-underrated walk takes just around an hour and gives you some of the best views ever of Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook (on a clear day). 
  • Pukaki Lookout: Make a quick stop at the carpark for the Pukaki Lookout for some great photo-ops.
  • Astro Cafe: just before reaching the town of Tekapo, detour up to the Mount John summit and enjoy coffee and cake at the Astro Cafe. From the cafe, you’ll get incredible views over turquoise-blue Lake Tekapo and its surrounding mountains. Note that there is a road user charge of $8 per vehicle to access the Mount John Summit (but it’s worth it!).

Once you arrive in Lake Tekapo, check in to the Lake Tekapo Holiday Park and wander into town along the lakeside path. 

From town, walk over the scenic bridge to see the famous Church of the Good Shepherd. If you’re visiting in late spring/early summer (end of November through mid-December), you’ll also be able to go lupin-spotting along the shores of Lake Tekapo.

There’s also a great disc golf course in Tekapo if you have discs with you.

Have a Japanese dinner at Kohan, or pick up fish & chips from Better Batter to enjoy by the lake.

Then spend the last night of your South Island campervan trip by relaxing in the Tekapo Springs hot pools. 

Before you retreat to your campervan for a good night of sleep, don’t forget to look up—Lake Tekapo is a stargazer’s paradise!

⛺️ Camping in Tekapo

A view through a purple, pink and yellow patch of lupins over the Lake's Edge Holiday Park in Lake Tekapo, with campervans parked at campsites overlooking the turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo.
The Lakes Edge Holiday Park

The Lakes Edge Holiday Park is only proper camping ground in Lake Tekapo, and it’s great. Located right along the shores of Lake Tekapo, this holiday park couldn’t be in a better spot. From the campground, it’s a 15-minute walk to town and less than a 10-minute walk to the Tekapo Springs hot pools.

Day 21: Christchurch

A sunset view from an airplane window with clouds and glowy lighting.
Head back to Christchurch today for your departure

🚐 Driving time:  3 hours (224 km) | Google Maps

✈️ Head to the Christchurch airport and depart.

Before checking out of your campground, spend some time this morning getting your campervan organised, tidied up, and cleared out of any rubbish and recycling. There is a dump station at the campground, too, so you can empty your grey water tank here.

Then make your way up to Christchurch for your departure.

Give yourself plenty of time to return your campervan and get to the airport.

There are a few quick stops to make along the way, though!

Stops between Lake Tekapo and Christchurch

Two pork and apple pies on plates on a wooden table at Fairlie Bakery on the drive between Christchurch and Lake Tekapo.
If you make one stop today, make it the Fairlie Bakehouse for a pie!
  • Fairlie Bakehouse: stop here for a legendary pie and hot coffee. Their pork belly and applesauce pie is next-level good, but they’re all really yum (and they have veggie options, too).
  • Geraldine: The Barker’s Foodstore is a great stop to pick up some NZ-made jams and chutneys—they make awesome souvenirs!
  • Rakaia: there is a good rest stop here with toilets and rubbish/recycling bins—it’s a handy last stop before reaching Christchurch.

You’ll usually need to return your campervan in a clean state, and fill up the tank with petrol before dropping it off. So do make sure to allocate time for that. Check your campervan company’s website for drop-off details, and they’ll usually also have a list of the closest petrol stations to their depot.

Best time of year for this road trip

A small patch of purple lupins growing above Lake Pukaki along the road to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.

The best months for a South Island campervan trip are October through April (spring, summer, and autumn).

Worth noting is that peak-season summer (end of December through mid-February) is an extremely busy time around New Zealand’s South Island. If you visit during these months, prepare for some crowds and also book some of your camping spots in advance (particularly in Abel Tasman, Queenstown, Te Anau, Mount Cook, and Tekapo).

If you like travelling with less crowds, visit in spring (October and November), early summer before Christmas (early-mid December), or late summer through autumn (mid-late February, March and April). 

Here are a few other seasonal things to consider.

> Want to see lupins around Lake Tekapo? Visit in late November/early December.

> Want to see baby seals at Wharariki Beach? Visit in February or March.

> Want to swim in the ocean, lakes, and rivers? Visit in summer, especially January and February.

Tips for your South Island campervan trip

  • Get some $1 and $2 coins to keep on hand for showers. Some campgrounds have free showers, while others are coin-operated.
  • Wear sunblock every day, even if it’s cloudy out. The sun is extremely strong in New Zealand and it’s not unusual to get a sunburn within 15 minutes of being outside without sun protection.
  • Also get some insect repellent for sandflies, and apply it before going outside in Abel Tasman, Nelson Lakes, all of the West Coast (Punakaiki, Hokitika, Franz Josef, Haast Pass) and Milford Sound. Sandflies can’t catch up to you when you’re walking, but they will attack when you’re standing still. Don’t forget to cover your ankles—they love an ankle.
  • Like disc golf? Then pack your discs, because there are lots of free disc golf courses along this route! 

  • A pair of binoculars and a zoom lens for your camera will both be handy for wildlife spotting.

Interested in more New Zealand itineraries?

Then check out my other NZ road trip itineraries!

> Christchurch to Queenstown road trip itinerary

> Picton to Queenstown road trip itinerary

> Auckland to Queenstown road trip itinerary

> 10-day North Island itinerary

Thanks for reading my 3-week South Island New Zealand campervan itinerary!

A green JUCY campervan parked in front of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown.

I truly hope it’s helped you plan your trip. 

If this guide has helped you at all, or if you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

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