Motorhome trip around the South Island of New Zealand in 14 days
Starting point: Auckland City - Ending point: Auckland City
Total travelling miles: about 4,500 km (plus 2 x 3 hour Cook Strait ferry’s and 1 x 6 hour railway journey)
Day 1: Starting point: Auckland - Ending point: Wellington, - Travelling miles: 650–700 km
Major towns and points of interest: Hamilton, Taupo, Huka falls, Mount Ruapehu, Palmerston North, Wellington
To get to the South Island from Auckland, an 8 hour driving day is required. With a day spent mostly on the road, there are plenty of places to stop for breakfast and lunch, and with New Zealand’s Capital as the final destination, there’s plenty to do. We were on the road before 6am which insured that the business morning traffic was avoided and it also gave us plenty of time for breaks along the long trip down the North Island.
Out first stop is Hamilton, just a couple of hours out of Auckland and time for breakfast. River Kitchen Café (www.theriverkitchen.co.nz) at 237 Victoria Street provided us with that much needed coffee and great food to boot. We can recommend the toasted sough dough with mushrooms & fried halloumi, ricotta cakes with caramelised apple & crème fraiche and many savory and sweet items from the cabinet.
Taking state highway 1, the next stop is Taupo, just 2 hours from Hamilton and we were already half way through the driving day. Stretch your legs by visiting New Zealand’s largest lake, Lake Taupo or you can venture 10 minutes North to one of New Zealand’s most visited natural attractions, Huka Falls, located in the Wairakei Tourist Park.
If you’re lucky enough to have a beautiful NZ day, then look out on your drive from Taupo, for the North Islands largest peak, Mount Ruapehu.
Lunch can be in any of the little towns along the way. If you feel like some retail therapy then stop in Otaki for some bargains, it’s full of outlet shops, including Icebreaker (203 Main Highway, Otaki – www.icebreaker.com), one of NZ’s leading merino wool clothing stores.
Final destination, Wellington, and driving through the city there’s no reason not to stop for dinner or continue on towards Wellington airport and Seatoun onto the lovely little Worser Bay where you can free camp for the next couple of nights. Find yourself a nice level car space and relax for the evening. If you feel like a bit of a walk after the long day in the van, then head around the Bay and find the most popular New Zealand takeaway: Fish and Chips. Eaten on the beach with the sunset, this is what being in New Zealand is all about.
Day 2: Stating point: Wellington - Ending point: Wellington - Travelling miles: 0
Major towns and points of interest: Te Papa museum, Cuba Street, Beehive (Parliament building), Cable car, Lambton Quay
In the morning, walk a few meters from the van and catch the bus right into central city to Courtenay Place, which is known for its nightlife and restaurants. At the Eastern end of Courtenay Place is the Embassy Theatre where all three Lord of the Rings movies premiered.
Walk up to 27 College Street, Te Aro 6011, to Caffe L’affare for breakfast – good coffee, and full breakfast range will keep you going for the rest of the day. Right across the road is Moore Wilson where you can get a few snacks and supplies for your road trip.
After breakfast there’s plenty to do in Wellington, including…
Heading to Lambton Quay and visit Kirkcaldie and Stains www.kirkcaldies.co.nz, this large department store has been going since 1863.
If you need tea for your journey, then visit T Leaf, Midland Park, Ground floor, 157 Lambton Quay, www.tleaft.co.nz – the Kawakawa, lemongrass and ginger is delicious.
The Wellington cable car is a lovely addition to the day and takes you up to the Wellington Botanic Gardens with views out over the city and harbour. www.wellingtoncablecar.co.nz.
There are plenty of retail shops along Lambton Quay but a must is the more eccentric Cuba Street, full of cafes, op-shops, boutiques, art galleries and music shops.
On Cuba Street there is Scopa – www.scopa.co.nz, a great place to stop for lunch, the last time we visited we could get a large margarita pizza for $8. We noticed a young man on the table beside us put the chilli oil (which is offered on every table and is also available to purchase) all over his pizza, it’s a must if you like it with a bit of kick and we liked it so much we ended up buying a bottle of the chilli oil to take with us on our travels (it’s great splashed over any pasta dish).
After lunch the Te Papa museum is essential, www.tepapa.govt.nz and shows NZ culture, free exhibitions plus paid monthly additions as well – the gift shop is filled with all NZ made jewellery, clothes, books and art.
You must remember to book the ferry for tomorrow’s journey – there are many Internet cafes around, mostly on the second floor on many buildings. Interislander,www.interislander.co.nz, we choose to take the very early morning ferry, 2.25am and this gets you to the South Island with plenty of time to start exploring the South Island.
Stay awake or catch a few winks, but if you do fall asleep, make sure the alarm is set!
Day 3: Stating point: Wellington - Ending Point: Hanmer Springs - Travelling miles: 300 km + 3 hours on Interislander ferry
Major towns and points of interest: Blenheim, Kaikoura Coast, Seal Colony, Hanmer Springs
A very early morning and to the ferry terminal by 1.30am, the ride across Cook Strait is calm (most of the time) and you arrive in Picton while it’s still dark, about 5.30am. Parked up for a few hours and caught up on some needed sleep.
Breakfast in Blenheim, and Figaro’s café on Scott Street, www.figaroscafe.co.nz, has a good range to choose from – their Vegetarian bagel with avocado, mushroom, spinach and fresh tomato chutney is maybe not a traditional breakfast but is dam tasty.
A beautiful trip down the scenic coastal highway of the Kaikoura Coast, watch out for the beach side Nins bin Lobster caravan. You’re in Kaikoura which literally means in Maori “eat crayfish/lobster”, so why not stop off and have some delicious fresh crayfish – the prices are written on each tail and you can get them cooked with garlic butter, fresh with a sauce or natural, anyway you choose it’ll be fresh, sweet and superb. After lunch, stop at any of the little rest stops along the coast and look out for the fur seal colonies on the rocks, the little pubs are so cute.
End the day at Hanmer Springs Thermal pools and spa, www.hanmersprings.co.nz, it’s about $18 per person for a single entry. The campsite is just around the corner, Pine Holiday Park, www.pinesholidaypark.co.nz, powered sites which are spacious and surrounded by native gardens.
Day 4: Stating point: Hanmer Springs - Ending Point: Temuka - Travelling miles: 320 km
Major towns and points of interest: Rangiora, Christchurch, Oxford, Methven, Ashburton, Temuka
No rush this morning and a lie-in is needed, checkout is 10am. Just remember to empty both grey-water and black-water waste and fill up on fresh water.
There are a few fruit and vegetables shops along the way to Oxford and we stopped at the organic one, it was filled with lovely produce – why not try Jerusalem artichokes, yellow or red/white striped beetroot, fennel or the lovely Manuka honey.
Stop off at Oxford and have lunch at Seagars, www.joseagar.com, 78 Main Street, Oxford, a cottage café with large servings of homely food and right next door there’s a kitchen shop full of gadgets and Jo Seagar’s recipe books.
Beautiful countryside, Methven has Mt Hutt and Ashburton plenty of art galleries and shops.
Finally destination is Temuka and we free camped in the car park of Buzan Square. We cooked dinner in the van with the organic vegetables picked up early in the day.
Day 5: Stating point: Temuka - Ending Point: Oamaru - Travelling miles: 100 km
Major towns and points of interest: Temuka pottery, Timaru, Oamaru, Whitestone cheese, Janet Frame house, Blue penguin colony
Temuka pottery and café, www.temukapottery.co.nz, situated in the historic Mendelson Barn (112 Vine Street), have breakfast and browse the unique NZ pottery.
Travel down to Riverstone Kitchen, www.riverstonekitchen.co.nz, just 10 minutes out from Oamaru. They are closed Tuesday and Wednesday but if your passing by any other day you can stay for lunch and pick up a few things to stock up the van. It has views of the Southern Alps and the food is some of the best you’ll find in NZ – it is one of our favorite places to visit and we can recommend everything. Stock up on homemade baking to last a few days – if it’s lucky to last that long.
Retail therapy is available next door at the Riverstone Country Homeware store, and there is something for everything as they stock anything and everything.
Travel a short distance to “Victorian” Oamaru and visit the best cheese NZ produces, Whitestone cheese, www.whitestonecheese.co.nz, have a few tastings and fill the small fridge in the van with factory sale cheeses.
The Janet Frame house, www.janetframe.org.nz, 56 Eden Street, is open from November to April, 2pm till 4pm and Janet Frame (1924-2004) is one of NZ’s most famous writers (Angel at my table, a film based on three of Janet’s memoirs, "To the Is-land", "An Angel at My Table" and "The Envoy from Mirror City" and has won many awards in NZ and overseas). The lovely Ralph Sherwood, who was very enthusiastic about the house and Janet, will give you a guided tour. There is also a Janet Frame trail, a 90 minute walk around central Oamaru featuring sites of interest to Janet as well as places that feature in her books.
The Oamaru TOP 10 Holiday Park, www.top10.co.nz/parks/oamaru/, is the campsite for the night, dinner is bread picked up from Riverstone Kitchen and Whitestone cheese earlier in the day. But don’t get too comfortable as seeing the Oamaru blue penguin colony is essential, it’s just a few minutes from central Oamaru on the Waitaki coast beach and you see these wonderful creatures in their natural environment and, often, from up close. Daily night tours are available.
Day 6: Stating point: Oamaru - Ending Point: Dunedin - Travelling miles: 120 km
Major towns and points of interest: Oamaru architecture, Harbour Street, Loan and Merc, Penny-farthings, Moeraki boulders, Fleurs place – restaurant and caravan, Dunedin
We were lucky enough to be here on a Saturday so there were lots of Saturday markets that had popped up all over town – we picked up a few bargains. Visit the old part of town to the Historic Precinct and Harbour Street has lots to offer, plenty of unique NZ antiques, art and galleries. At the end of the Street you can have a go at riding a penny-farthing or have morning tea at Loan and Merc, www.loanandmerc.co.nz. There’s so much to see and do, the morning will fly by.
Travel out of Oamaru, just 30 minutes to Moeraki beach and find the mysterious Moeraki boulders, perfectly round and molded by the sea. Then 10 minutes around the coast to Moeraki and its fish for lunch, Fleurs place, www.fleursplace.com, is the place you’ll find fresh fish straight out of the Moeraki Bay daily. Rick Stein thinks this place has the best seafood in the world – and you can’t argue with that!
We decided to go to her little caravan just outside the restaurant, and we got a huge blue cod fish wrap with tartare sauce, which was superb.
Final destination, Dunedin, you can park up down near the railway station and walk your way around the city. Dunedin Holiday Park is the campsite tonight, www.dunedinholidaypark.co.nz.
Day 7: Stating point: Dunedin - Ending Point: Fortrose - Travelling miles: 6 hours railway journey + 200km
Major towns and points of interest: Taieri Gorge railway, Fortrose
Early start and to the Dunedin railway station, free daily parking on the weekend and the train leaves at 9.30am. The Taieri Gorge railway journey to Middlemarch, www.taieri.co.nz, is a 6 hour full trip journey with 1 hour in Middlemarch for lunch and a look around. Middlemarch is the start of the Otago Central Rail Trail – a 150 km long former railway track which has been redeveloped for the recreational use of walkers, cyclists and horse riders. You’re back to Dunedin by 3.30pm, the journey will cost you $91 per person and we thought this was a bit expensive for what you get, there are plenty of other railway journeys in the South Island that are better value.
Once back in Dunedin, it’s just a couple of hours down to the free camping spot at Fortrose (near the Tokanui golf course), right on the water, stepping out of the van onto the sandy beach and watching the sunset. It’s a very busy free camping spot so claim your space as soon as you arrive.
Day 8: Stating point: Fortrose - Ending Point: Arrowtown - Travelling miles: 420 km
Major towns and points of interest: Invercargill, Riverton/Aparima, Te Anau, Queenstown
Travel to Invercargill for breakfast and have a look around the town, Esk Street is the main shopping street. It’s only about 20 minutes South from Invercargill to get to Bluff, which is the southernmost town in the South Island. The drive North to Queenstown is stunning and there are several lakes of beauty surrounding Queenstown.
A must for dinner is Ferg Burger, www.fergburger.com, 42 Shotover Street, Queenstown Town Centre, they do the best burgers in NZ. Head along to the shores and eat overlooking the lake.
Queenstown is a place for adventure and the Shotover jet is the ultimate jet boating experience and will get your heart racing.
A short drive to Arrowtown concludes the evening and the night is spent in a lovely newly build Arrowtown holiday park, www.arrowtownholidaypark.co.nz, surrounded by mountains.
Day 9: Stating point: Arrowtown - Ending Point: Lake Matheson - Travelling miles: 320km
Major towns and points of interest: Arrowtown, Cromwell, Wanaka, Haast, Blue pool and Haast pass walking tracks, South Westland Salmon farm
Breakfast at Provisions, www.provisions.co.nz, they are situated in one of the old miners' cottages at Buckingham St and are famous for their sticky buns and homemade jams and chutneys, including the roasted nectarine chutney and the roasted cherry chutney, which won the "Artisan Award" in Cuisine magazine last year. The cafe is open from 9am to about 5pm every day of the week.
Look around the shops in town and find plenty of NZ merino clothing, and sheepskins.
Travelling out of Arrowtown along State Highway 6 and there are plenty of wineries to stop at, we loved Peregrine wines, www.peregrinewines.co.nz.
Travel up towards Haast and there are plenty of short walks to do, both the Blue pools track and Haast
Pass track are a 30 minute walk return.
Knights Point Lookout near Haast is a great place to stop for photos of the gorgeous coastline.
If you love smoked salmon then the South Westland Salmon farm, on Haast Highway, Paringa River, is where you’ll find fresh and smoked farmed salmon, you can feed the fish and purchase the best dry smoked salmon there is.
Travel to Lake Matheson on the Westland National Park, www.lakematheson.com, and get some fabulous views and photos of the Southern Alps, the walking track takes you through ancient native rainforest and has three viewing platforms along the journey. The full walk off the lake takes between 1 – 1.5 hours but you can do a shorter walk by going to a jetty view point and back, approx. 30 – 40 minutes return. At the start and end of the track is the Matheson Café where you can enjoy good coffee and food and right next door is Reflectionz, where you can find unique NZ gifts and a gallery.
Just 10 minutes down the road you’ll find your free camp spot with some breathtaking views of the Southern Alps and if you’re as lucky as we were a beautiful pure pink cocktail sunset.
Peregrine wine, seed bread from Provisions and smoked salmon – Perfect!
Day 10: Stating point: Lake Matheson - Ending Point: Glenhope, Kawatiri-Murchison Highway - Travelling miles: 400km
Major towns and points of interest: Fox Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier, Ross Pottery, Hokitika, Greymouth, Murchison
In the morning, with a clear sky, the Southern Alps will appear and you can open up the back door and have breakfast with the mountains.
A short drive will take you to Fox Glacier and if you’re lucky the unguided track will be open. Guided tours are available and are best booked the day before. On the day we went, the Fox Glacier wasn’t open to the public due to weather conditions but we just travelled a short distance over to Franz Josef Glacier and were able to walk the track up to the glacier, it took us about 1-1.5 hours for a return trip and was worth it. If you want to get up close to the glacier, then a guided ice tour is the best option.
The afternoon is spent travelling up the Island, stopping at Ross for an ice cream and to view some of the local pottery and art. Free camping again tonight at a rest stop at Glenhope, just off the Kawatiri-Murchison Highway.
Day 11: Stating point: Glenhope, Kawatiri-Murchison Hwy - Ending Point: Collingwood - Travelling miles: 220km
Major towns and points of interest: Nelson, Smokehouse, Motueka, Takaka, Golden Bay
Travel up to Nelson and have breakfast at any of the café’s on offer and have a look at the many shops. We ended up having fish and chips for lunch on Nelson’s waterfront at Haven Fish and Chips, 268 Wakefield Quay and also got some fresh fish next door at Guyton's fresh fish market for dinner, why not try Stewart Island blue cod, fresh tuna steaks or Swordfish!
Heading out of Nelson you’ll come across many hops and fruit orchards, stop at one of the many fruit stalls and pick up some fresh apples and pears.
Travel through Motueka and at low tide look out for the roadside rock and pebble graffiti, spelling out names and messages on the sand flats.
The climb from Motueka is a bit steep but has superb views over Tasman Bay to Nelson and beyond and once over the top you’ll get lovely views of Golden Bay.
At Takaka, the main shopping area for Golden Bay, you can have coffee at The Wholemeal café, www.wholemealcafe.co.nz, and we also purchased some tea and some of their lovely salads to go with our fresh fish we got earlier in the day. If you love cider then we can recommend a lovely local Nelson one, Old Mout cider, www.oldmoutcider.com, their Boysencider is award winning and very refreshing, it is available from any Nelson supermarket.
A little further up and you come to Collingwood, a small town where you can camp for the night at Collingwood Motor Camp at William Street, Golden Bay. If you’re lucky you’ll get a site right on the water front where the water’s edge is within steps of the van. Dinner is the fresh seafood, salad and cider we picked up during the day.
Day 12: Stating point: Collingwood - Ending Point: Nelson - Travelling miles: 200km
Major towns and points of interest: Te Waikoropupu Springs, Takaka, Totaranui Bay, Mapua, Nelson
Just down from Collingwood is the Te Waikoropupu Springs, the area is a Maori taonga (treasure) and a waahi tapu (sacred place). The springs are Australasia’s largest and the world’s clearest fresh water. It’s just a 20-30 minute relaxing walk around the crystal clear springs. Breakfast in Takaka, and the Takaka Infusion has a range of European breads, many teas and vegetarian food on offer or head back to The Wholemeal Café.
We drove over to the Abel Tasman National park to the start of the Coast track, it’s a gravel road and a bit hairy at times but at the end there is the lovely Totaranui Bay where you can relax, have lunch and an afternoon swim. There is a campsite available if you want to stay, although no powered sites.
We choose to drive all the way back to Nelson, stopping on the way at Mapua, a small town which has lots to offer. Loads of collections of NZ jewellery, ceramics, paintings and sculpture or try the smoked fish at the Smokehouse, www.smokehouse.co.nz.
Back in Nelson we free-camped the night at the WOW car park, which is near the Nelson port.
Day 13: Stating point: Nelson - Ending Point: Wellington - Travelling miles: 130km + 3 hours Cook Strait ferry
Major towns and points of interest: WOW, Nelson Saturday Market, Mike Ward, Harlequin antique store, Höglund art glass gallery, Picton, Wellington
In the morning, you can have a look at the WOW museum, www.wowcars.co.nz, or spend the morning at the Saturday Nelson market at Montgomery Square car park 8am – 1pm, www.nelsonmarket.co.nz. There are so many wonderful Nelson made arts and crafts, produce, antiques, hot food stalls and live music.
Mike Ward’s is a highlight and so is his recycled copper and brass jewellery. Mike has won several World of Wearable Art awards including the Supreme award and if you don’t happen to be there on a Saturday then Mike has a shop called Mike Ward Jewels, at 244 Hardy Street. Right next door is a lovely Antique store, Harlequin, www.harlequin.co.nz.
Since we decided to leave for Wellington today we booked the ferry for 6.30 tonight, which should give us plenty of time to make it to Picton.
Another place to visit just 20 minutes from Nelson is the Höglund art glass gallery and studio, www.hoglundartglass.com, where you can purchase their hand-blown original glass pieces.
Just an hour to Picton from Nelson and we took the 6.30pm ferry over to Wellington, once there we travelled around to Worser Bay and free camped at our favourite spot in Wellington.
Day 14; Stating point: Wellington - Ending Point: Auckland - Travelling miles: 650–700 km
Major towns and points of interest: Wellington, Ohakune, Mt Ruapehu, Auckland
Leaving Wellington, a quick stop at Caffe L’affare for breakfast, then a day spent travelling back to Auckland. We travelled back a shorter route via highway 1, turning into highway 49 at the Waiouru Military Camp. Stopped at the Utopia Café in Ohakune for a lovely lunch, we enjoyed a lovely view of Mt Ruapehu that temped us to drive up the Mountain via the scenic Ohakune Mountain Road, some magnificent views. Then on to Auckland and the end of our trip…
All material on this web site is copyright. If you would like to purchase hi-resolution copies of the videos and photos please send me a request via the contacts page, thank you.