The best way to see New Zealand
A great road trip around the South Island in just two weeks.
Two weeks’ off work, return flights to New Zealand and a hired motorhome is all you need to tour the South Island. It sounds extremely disorganised, but the best way to enjoy an international road trip is to embrace the freedom of an unplanned itinerary.
Christchurch to Akaroa (one-hour drive)
Our trip started in Christchurch. We landed late in the afternoon, picked up our four-berth Beach Maui motorhome and set off toward our first stop at Akaroa, roughly one hour’s drive from the airport. The drive was not short of scenery and driving up a very long, windy road tested our motorhome driving skills. Loving every minute of the drive, we eventually reached the top of the mountain where we could see the charming township of Akaroa – the view was spectacular.
On our way to the Akaroa Top 10 Holiday Park we picked up some takeaway fish and chips and decided to spend the night settling into our new home for the next two weeks. We unpacked our suitcases, wrote a shopping list of all the things we needed and hadn’t thought of and then pulled out the map to pinpoint our next stop – Kaikoura.
Akaroa to Kaikoura (four-hour drive)
Kaikoura caught us by surprise, because when you are freezing cold the last thing you expect to see is a long beach with wild surf. The drive reminded me of the Captain Cook Highway between Cairns and Port Douglas, where the view is almost distracting.
This town is a great place to stop if you are on your way to the Marlborough region and is renowned for its marine life encounters being home to whales, fur seals and dolphins. There were plenty of craft beer bars, pubs, boutique stores and restaurants available too. Most of them had fire places inside so you could warm up and enjoy a meal. In the Maori language, ‘kai’ means food and ‘koura’ means crayfish, so make sure you try the local crayfish on the menu.
We spent the night at the Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park and when we woke up the mountains around us were capped in snow. It was the first time we had seen snow on the trip!
Kaikoura to Nelson (six-hour drive)
The next leg of our trip was big, so to prepare ourselves we filled the front of the motorhome with water bottles, lollies and spent the day in our track pants. The drive was inland, so we saw a lot of sheep, deer, cattle and llamas. Basically, anything inland on the South Island is farming so after a few hours we went a little crazy and we’re in need of a break.
After many breaks we made it to Nelson to discover the All Blacks were playing at the local stadium. The streets were filled with hundreds of rugby fans. It was a great way to get a taste of the local rugby culture, although the All Blacks were defeated by South Africa that night.
Not far from Nelson is the Abel Tasman National Park where you can go kayaking, see seals and dolphins and witness the Split Apple Rock, a huge granite boulder which is perfectly split in half. There are plenty of cruises available to book for a full day or half day trip from town.
Nelson to the West Coast (three-hour drive)
We were very keen to arrive at the West Coast because it was a sign that our long-distance trips were coming to and end and it was recommended as the most scenic drive to our trip.
We headed for Westport and on the way stopped at the Red Barn Café and Animal Park for a break. If you are travelling with kids, they will love it. We each bought a bag of animal food and walked through the Animal Park hand-feeding sheep, lambs, chickens, peacocks, pigs, goats and horses. Despite being chased by hungry chickens, it was a fun way to spend our break.
Along the West Coast we stopped at Westport, Greymouth and spent the night at Ross Beach. The next day we travelled further down the coast stopping at Franz Josef Glacier where we decided to spoil ourselves with a helicopter tour of the Fox Glaciers. A must-do for travellers – it was the highlight of our trip. We spent the night the local holiday park situated in the rainforest before heading to our second last destination – Lake Wanaka.
What can I say – Lake Wanaka is wonderful. It looks exactly like the post cards and it is booming with restaurants, bars, shops, hotels and access to ski fields. The closest ski field is Cardrona and every day you will see people around time in their ski gear. After talking to the locals, it is rumoured that Lake Wanaka will soon be the next Queenstown with so much new development happening in the region.
We arrived at Queenstown two days earlier than planned and decided to return the motorhome and book some accommodation at a local hotel. In Queenstown, we entertained ourselves with:
- Shotover Jet
- Skyline and Luge
- Three days’ snowboarding at The Remarkables
- Ferg Burger
- Onsen Hot Pools
We experienced a two-day snow storm where the entire town was covered in a metre of snow. It was the most magical thing to witness and the best way to end our fantastic road trip of the South Island.
Map of our trip