First thing you need to know about travelling in New Zealand, the weather is very unpredictable. So I would recommend you to travel around south island with a caravan/motorhome/campervan instead of a normal car and not booking any accommodations far way in advance. This will help you to have a more flexibility of travel and weather wise. Of course, you need to allow yourself to have at least a 1.5 weeks or more time gap to enjoy the beauty of New Zealand.
Here to share you all the itinerary I have during my roadtrip in South Island in New Zealand (in a group of 9 people). We are lucky because the weather in South Island during our schedule are pretty amazing. The time we went is from 23 August to 6 September. Is the ending of the winter but still it is still cold with wind and at night, and still do expecting snows, daylight is until 6pm.
Day 1 – Day 3 – Christchurch
Arrive in two different groups, so settling down in Christchurch to rest before we start the long journey. We stayed in an airbnb motel in Bealey Avenue for 3 nights. We only rented 1 normal car (while I borrowed the 2nd vehicle from my friend) via JUCY NZ then from the 3rd day onwards, we rented two campervan from the same company for 13 days.
Christchurch has faced a seriously and sad earthquake back in 2011 so don’t be surprise to see the city is still under constructing but it is still a beautiful city to me. There is a lot of food choices and lots of FREE museum and art gallery, yes FREE.
Day 4 – Christchurch – Fairlie – Tekapo
Journey from Christchurch to Fairlie is around 2.30 Hours (185KM) and from Fairlie to the famous heaven Lake Tekapo is around 1 hour (60KM).
Stopping by Fairlie is the most famous itinerary among travelers because they serve you the best pie you can ever find in New Zealand. It is amazingly tasty. Recommended pie will be the Salmon or the pork pie. Price ranging from around S$6 to S$9. It is a great stop while heading your way to Tekapo.
The Good Shepherd is the most voted destination in Tekapo and is also many photographers chosen destination for an amazing milky way / stars / aurora shooting area in New Zealand during the night and clear skies. Don’t be shocked to see there are so many tourist hanging around just to take a few good shoots, it will be quite challenging if you want to take a photo of it without any other people around.
We spent 1 night in Tekapo staying at a campsite near Tekapo with great amazing view. We found this spot through CAMPERMATE , make sure you download them in your smart phone it makes your journey in NZ so much easy. There is no counter office to pay for the campsite (JUCY’s camper is mostly a self-contained vehicle which allows you to camp mostly everywhere if you have valid a Self- Contained sticker) but there is a honesty box at the entrance where you write it down and pay it or maybe you can choose not to pay and leave early in the morning.
Other activities recommended: Mt John Observatory & Astro Cafe. Or you can just stroll around Tekapo to enjoy the view and peace.
Day 5 : Tekapo – Alpine Salmon – Mt Cook
Journey from Tekapo to Alpine Salmon is around 1 hour (60KM), from Alpine Salmon to Mt Cook is around 1 hour (60KM). Don’t forget the Peter’s Lookout near Mt Cook too!
The great stop in between Tekapo and Mt cook will be the Alpine Salmon. If you are a Salmon person, this is the place where you get the best taste and fresh salmon in NZ with a great stunning view (when there is no cloud).
Driving in south island, there is a lot of lookout point, so don’t miss it. Just make sure you stop at the safe spot if you want to get a few shots. Trust me, scenery on the road is very beautiful.
There are a lot of trekking trail to choose from in Mt Cook, but we based on the weather situation, as the day we arrive it was sunny (but windy) and the next day forecast is going to rain, so we decided to just pick one to do. We did the easy trek : Hooker Valley Trail, 3 hours return. Other track you may refer to: Mt Cook National Park
We spent a night in Mt Cook Campsite (with powersite) – Glentanner Holiday Park Mt Cook. Price is expensive for one night but due to windy night (S$25), we will need a powersite to keep us warm in our campervan. (Very good experience). If you don’t want to pay for such expensive campsite, then White Horse Hill Campsite will be your choice, it also goes by honesty box and this campsite is located just right outside the starting trekking trail of Kea Point Walk and Hooker Valley Track.
Day 6 : Mt Cook – Oamaru
Journey from Mt Cook towards Oamaru, the city of penguin is around 3 hours (212KM). Oamaru is my top listed little cute town in South Island. This town is so peaceful and quiet. There is nothing much to do but it does give you a feeling of wanting to just stay and chill and enjoy everything there.
You can easily spot wild blue penguin (the world smallest penguin) in Oamaru during the evening time till late night. Just be respectful to them, not flashing them with lights and try to approach them from far, calm, steady and quiet. Or else you are freaking them out and they will go hiding. It take a long time for them to be calm. Don’t be shocked to hear a lot of penguin’s sound during the night. As around 5/6PM, that is the time where they head back up to the shore back to their nest for the night.
I hardly recommend any beer place, but this particular one, is amazingly good and cheap. You can get a half pint for just S$5 and the inner surroundings are so peaceful and it is just located at the campsite : SCOTTS BREWING CO Make sure you check them out when you are at Oamaru! NO REGRETS!
We spent a night at: Harbour Tourist Park, powersite: S$18 including a S$2 unlimited wifi where you can share up to 10 devices. Location is in the central, you can just park your car there and explore the city on foot. If you are lucky, you can just see the blue penguin at the campsite, and that happen to us.
Day 7: Oamaru – Moeraki – Dunedin
Journey from Oamaru to Moeraki is 40min (40KM), from Moeraki to Dunedin is 1 hour (80KM).
Tips on Moeraki: Be sure you check the time online on when is the low tide and high tide. Moeraki is best to see it when it has low tide.
Dunedin: Driving in Dunedin is a bit challenging as it is another city with lots of car and difficulties in finding a place to park especially if you are driving a caravan / campervan. The top destination is the Baldwin Street which is listed as the world most steepest street. If you want to see free wild seal in a close view, you may head up to Sandfly Beach.
Food: Try the food in Chopsticks 101 (is in the city), their food price are reasonable and super big portion. Share it among with your friends / families.
Accommodation: We spent a night outside of Dunedin, which is along the way to our next destination the next day. It is Free Campsite and is permitted to Self-contained vehicle only : Ocean View Reserve Carpark where only 5 spot is available, so make sure you arrive early to grab a spot.
Day 8 : Dunedin – Nugget Point – Invercargill
Journey from Dunedin to Nugget Point takes 2 hour (110KM), from Nugget Point to Invercargill takes 2.15 hours (160KM).
Nugget point trekking: 45 min return, easy.
Both nugget point and invercargill are also popular for an aurora hunting destination. Invercargill is a really small town , pretty much with nothing there. We choose to stop here to have a rest and also top up our groceries (Please top up your groceries and petrol before heading to Queenstown or Te Anau, as both this place are marked up in everything, tourist trap). Invercargill is famous for its starbucks because it is the world southeast starbucks in the world.
We spent a night at Central City Camping Park. Powersite: S$16.50 per person. Located right in the city, just park your car and explore Invercargill on foot. Recommend campsite for a cheap price and location.
A short return trip that can be made from Invercargill is Bluff. Which is just 20 mins drive away. Bluff is very favourite by aurora hunters too because it is located way south with low light pollution (probably zero light pollution).
Day 9 & 10 : Invercargill – Te Anau
Journey is around 3 hour (220KM). Te anau is a super small town and basically you can see the town within few hours. We spent 2 nights here because we book a tour with JUCY to Milford Sound. Milford sound can be done either from Te Anau or Queenstown. You can choose to self drive to milford sound, but it is not too safe and also on weather condition, so we chosen tour.
Tour package: Campsite pick up + lunch + tourguide + cruise : S$99 per pax
Accommodation Te Anau: Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park : S$20 per pax, per night, powersite. Location: Walkable to the central town.
Day 11 : Te Anau – Queenstown
Journey takes around 2.30 Hours (180KM). Queenstown the town of extreme! You name it you got it! All your fear experience and once in a life time experience dedicated to this small town.
From skydive to learning to fly to nevis swing to bungy to gondola to luge and so on. Probably the only town that you going to spent the most of your money here.
Accommodation: We choose to stay at Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park, powersite S$23, Location: Centralized, explore around via foot. Is challenging to try to find a cheap accommodation or free campsite when you come to Queenstown. Here is a link to share if you are seeking for a free campsite: Free Campsite
Food: Try fregburger for once as it is only available in Queenstown (but do try burger fuel which is easy to find in South Island and compare, i personally love burger fuel). They are famous for their pork and beef. Flame is the MUST GO restaurant for their pork rib. Make sure you try them at lunch time (12-3PM) for a lunch deal price. A plate of pork rib cost S$16.50 which can easily be share by 2 people (is huge!).
Day 12 : Queenstown – Wanaka – Fox Glacier
Journey from Queenstown to Wanaka is around 1.30 hour (70KM), Wanaka to Fox Glacier around 4 hour (270KM). Along the way to wanaka , there are two stops you can consider : Cardrona Bra Fence & Attley Road (Unique letter box). Remember to stock up your groceries too at Queenstown (pak n save or Countdown) before heading to fox glacier.
Wanaka: The Lone Tree, Mt Aspiring National Park and Puzzling world.
If you have time, why don’t try out the learn to fly wanaka. It is a very great experience : Learn To Fly Wanaka
Fox Glacier: Lake Matheson (40 min to 1.30 hours, depending on route chosen, EASY) and Fox Glacier Valley (1 hour return, EASY). There is nothing in fox glacier town (so best is self cook, food and petrol is very expensive), the only things to do here are hiking and trekking.
Accommodation @ fox glacier: Fox Glacier Lodge, powersite: S$16 per pax, per night. Recommended as the owner is friendly. Offer a free glowworm walk tour everynight at 8PM.
Day 13 : Fox Glacier – Franz Josef – Hokitika
Journey taking you from Fox to Franz : 30 mins (25KM), Franz to Hokitika around 2 hours (150KM).
Franz Josef: Franz Josef Glacier Walk : 1.5 hours , EASY. Make sure you choose the right weather to go, and always check the condition as sometime this trail may flood.
Food and petrol in Franz Josef are very expensive and you have not much choices on food, recommend you to pack your own lunch. If you do the track in the morning at Franz Josef, will recommend you to leave the town after you done the trek as there is nothing else in the town.
Hokitika : Shipwreck memorial and the sunset point. The tourist things to do is taking a photo of the HOKITIKA sign at the beach during the sunset! If you can wait, do wait as the sun goes down, it will eventually be inside the letter O.
Accommodation at Hokitika : 252 Beachside Motels & Holiday Park, Powersite : S$13 per pax per night.
Reminder: Road to / from Fox Glacier is not recommended to drive at dark.
Day 14 : Hokitika – Christchurch
Journey takes 4 hours (250KM). There are few stops in between you can do:
1. Otira stagecoach hotel
2. Otira Valley
3. Death Corner Lookout ( Otira Viaduct Lookout )
4. Arthur Pass
5. Castle hill
If you have time, you can do the trekking trail in arthur pass which I did not go for it because we are sort of time. You can do the short walk which will takes around 2 hours in return, if you are going to challenge the longer trail it will take you at least 5 hours. Castle Hill is only about 10 – 15 minutes , return, EASY.
Day 15 Christchurch – North Island (By flight)
I recommend if you have your car from day 1, you may consider to just stay in Christchurch maximum 2 nights. For accommodation wise, there are plenty of backpackers to look at ranging from 20NZD per person and above. But if you are renting vehicle from Jucy, you can consider to stay at their newly build hostel JUCY SNOOZE CHRISTCHURCH which is just beside the airport.
Driving to town from there is just 20 minutes. I booked my stay in a decent price compare to their original website. HOW?! I booked through booking.com (which the price are cheaper than their original website or over the phone) and when I arrive, I tell and show them that I’m the existing customer of JUCY on vehicle, then they gave me an extra 10% discount of my total price from booking.com
Airbnb entire motel Christchurch 3 Nights : RM2021 (SGD643) / 9 pax = RM225 or S$71
Jucy 2 days: 1 vehicle + full insurance + airport charges : S$112.40 / 9 pax = S$12.40
Jucy 13 days: 2 campervan + full insurance + airport charges : S$1930.90 / 9 pax = S$215
Jucy Snooze : 1 Night in a dorm room pod : S$25.87 – 10% = S$23 per person
Campsite 13 days: S$1196 / 9 pax = S$133
Petrol (Around 1900KM): 2 vehicles 15 days: S$1022 / 9 pax = S$114
Groceries: S$405 / 9 pax = S$45
Eat out: S$560 / 9 pax = S$62
Trekking / hiking : FREE
Flight Christchurch to Auckland: S$60 per pax
Milford sound tour: S$99
Total of South Island : S$834.40 Excluding personal other expenses (souvenirs, extreme games etc).