We travelled for two weeks across New-Zealand with a camper van. Living in Australia, this was on our to do list since the start.
Given the amount of experiences we had, I’ve decided to divide the camping & food tips in a separate post to come. I’ll dedicate this one to our sight seeing.
We drove for more than 2000km in 13 days.
We had decided to start our trip in Christchurch (cheaper to fly to and cheaper campers there). People had told us that Christchurch was not worth it. WRONG! So WRONG! Christchurch is this quirky city, rebuilding after the earthquakes, reinventing itself. We spent a full day walking around, looking at the amazing art street, stopping for coffees, admiring the Botanical Gardens. We loved it!
The next day, we met Bob, our camper. Bob was awesome 🙂
We made our way to Arthur’s Pass and stopped by Castle Hill, a filming location in Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia, but also a good spot for climbing and bouldering. Following this, we visited the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall, situated just outside the Arthur’s Pass village.
Our second was meant to be dedicated to the Avalanche Peak hike. Having checked with the Department of Conservation (DOC) guides, we were advised to reach the peak from Scott’s track instead (starting just before the waterfall), easier and the weather was not the best. The hike is meant to be 6-7 hours, 1100m vertical climb. It’s not an easy track, mostly going up through rocks and streams in the bush, then reaching the ridge for the rest of the hike. We unfortunately had to turn back as the fog was pretty thick and wind blowing quite strongly. It still took us 4h up and back.
To finish the day, we headed to Hokitika, on the west coast. We loved the beach – despite the weather – and its creative touch with the wood sculptures.
After Hokitika, we made our way to Okarito, stopping by Lake Mahinapua. Clear glass lake surrounded by great nature. Okarito is a good bit out of the way but definitely worth the visit. Our day was foggy so we didn’t get the views on the Southern Alps, but boyfriend fell in love with the perfect waves there.
We then headed to Franz Joseph Glacier. Now, if you’ve been to glaciers regions before, it’s a nice glacier but nothing spectacular. If you’ve never seen glacier before, then definitely do the walk that will lead you 700m away from it. Unfortunately, global warming means that the glacier is disappearing a lot faster than we’d like and is no longer safe.
On the first, see where the river is? that’s where the glacier was before!
We then drove to Lake Matheson. We didn’t go to the lake as it’s a 40 min walk and we were tired and had a long drive ahead of us but we got a great view of Mount Cook & Fox Glacier (and Bob)!
We drove all the way to Haast (dropping our hitch hiker Richie) and headed the Flat Pleasant.
The day after, we kept driving through Haast Pass and stopped by the Thunder Creek Waterfalls, some impressive 96m high waterfalls. We got up early (enough) and the waterfalls were absolutely peaceful, with no other tourists than us.
We then had a nice walk by Cameron Creek where we discovered mushrooms we had never seen before! Especially that pancake, nutella and cocoa powder looking one (not frustrated at all by the elimination diet!). On our way was also the Blue Pools and the suspended bridge, nice to see but nothing outstanding – probably the grey sky did not make it as pretty as it’s supposed to be.
Finally we made it Lake Hawea – now if you go there, definitely drive towards the camping ground before Lake Wanaka. It’s a gravel road, but you have breathtaking views, sheep everywhere and it’s empty ! We attempted lunch outside with our camping table & chairs, but the rain decided against it. We were surrounded by Merino sheep, which we absolutely loved.
When we reached Lake Wanaka, we stopped by a campground, anecdotally stumbled upon some naked travellers having a bath in the freezing lake, but still enjoyed the views of the lake itself!
The gods of rain and wind had probably decided to set their moods against us, as as we had planned to hike Roy’s Peak, it was lashing rain by 8am. So we had a chilled time in this amazing coffee shop in town. As we were settling on some indoor climbing, the sun finally shone and we climbed Roy’s Peak. Normally a really busy hike, due to the weather conditions, only a few of us attempted it.
The path is a wide smooth path, but a never ending climb until the 1578m summit. When we reached the summit, we were once again surrounded by thick fog. Boyfriend was set to wait until it cleared up, so we waited for 45 min until the lashing rain and strong wind, sheltering against the cabin up there. The views while climbing were stunning, but once at the top and with the light we got, it was unbelievable. The pictures do not make it justice but will give you an idea.
The next day, we were booked for a paragliding flight from Treble Cone Ski Area. The weather was so-so but it was still a really enjoyable experience (but cold!).
Our aim that day was to reach Queenstown where we had booked 2 nights in a Airbnb. From Wanaka, we crossed through Crown Range Pass and stopped by the Cadrona Hotel for a hot drink. I would definitely recommending stopping by and enjoying the flowers, the setting etc. Following the road, you then can stop in Arrowtown, the old mining and Chinese settlements town.
Finally, definitely drive until Glenorchy. We were unsure about going as we had had a long drive that day, but Glenorchy is a little gem outside of the crazy and busy Queenstown. You get spectacular view of Lake Wakatipu and views of Earnslaw Glacier (here would have been the hike we would have loved to do if time was available).
We spent the Easter weekend in Queenstown, a well deserved driving and camping break! The weather was fairly cold, so we appreciated having a hot shower and not cooking 😛
We did the famous Ben Lomond hike. It took us 6.5h to the summit and back starting from the bottom of the Gondolas. It is a tough hike and we’d definitely recommend to start as early as possible as you are exposed for half of it. You’ll get sweeping views from the top, which will make you so happy to have come all the way!
This was definitely the highlight of our trip!
Queenstown has a great buzz, after a week of freedom camping or so, we were a bit taken aback by the amount of people, so much more busy than Wanaka! But we did the hike, the luge (so much fun, and I beat boyfriend the 3 times hahaha), enjoyed some good food, that we really liked it.
We left a day later than planned due to the nice weather, and then made our way to Te Anau and lake Manapouri to explore the Fiordland National Park. The rain was really heavy while we were there – we didn’t know but it is one the wettest place on Earth with more than 200 days of rain per year, which ensures the luscious vegetation to grow…
We had thought of doing Milford Sound but we were twice recommended to go for Doubtful Sound instead. Doubtful is less touristy, a lot more remote and as a person told us on the tour after doing Milford, so much more impressive. The tour consists of an hour boat on Lake Manapouri, then an hour bus on Wilmot Pass (the only reason why there is a road is because they build a hydroelectric power station there, crazy!) and then a 3 hour cruise from the Sound to the Tasman Sea.
We got absolutely terrible lashing rain, then wind, then sun and all over again during the day. It actually made us appreciate the landscape in many different ways which we quite liked. You have to be ready to get wet as you’d want to go outside and not stick inside the boat.
We managed to see a seal enjoying the sunshine and a rare albatros on top of the scenery and the multiple rainbows.
The cruise finished around 4pm so we aimed towards Colac Bay on the south of the island for the night.
We started the Catlins drive the next day, with a first stop by Curio Bay to check out the surf and the dolphins. We saw the dolphins playing with the surfers which was pretty unreal. The Hector’s dolphins are the smallest dolphins on Earth and are known to like playing with humans. They are endangered so make sure to look out for them!
You’ll quickly understand the type of climatic conditions the region is living through when you see the windswept trees! Curio Bay and the coast, brought us back to Ireland with its amazing shades of green, the cliffs, the surf… We were really nostalgic of Europe.
Curio Bay is also famous for it fossil forest from the Jurassic age. You can clearly see the fossilised wood on the rocks.
We were given the tip by a local to go and check out some sea lions colony. I was so looking forward to it! The drive is a 7km one-way gravel road so be ready. But it’ll pay off! It must have been mating season, as we saw males fighting over females. The males were about 300-400kg – a once in a lifetime experience (no need to go to the zoo!).
After the excitement – let’s say it, I was like a kid jumping around and not wanting to leave the place! – we made it to Dunedin where we payed a visit to the Church and the Railway Station.
We did not stick too long apart for a hot drink (it was a pretty grey sky!) and drove along the Otago Peninsula. We did not have time, but we were advised to go and see the Albatros reserve there.
The next day was another let’s be a kid day, as we stopped by Shag Point (shag being a type of bird) and saw a whole bunch of seals ! We then went to Nugget point where we saw even more seals! I was SOOOOO happy!
The colony was a colony of immature sea lions males so a lot of them were pups. They were really playful, we could see them chasing each other, jumping and playing in the water, posing for photos etc
Our last stop of the day were the Moeraki Boulders which are a genuine wonder of Earth. These boulders are perfectly round and smooth formed with calcite.
The end of our trip was coming sadly, the Friday was dedicated to driving back to Christchurch to give back Bob, we stayed in a hotel and then visited the Canterbury Museum, the Christchurch Art Gallery (all to recommend to do) before heading to the airport.
Two weeks are not enough for the South Island, we didn’t make it to the Abel Tasman National Park, did not make it to Marlbourough Sounds and the wineries but you have to pick and choose. These were definitely our highlights.
A few tips – bring clothes for the four seasons, the weather is so changeable. We were really glad to have brought our waterproof gear, I had to buy a hat and we never used the bikini ! New Zealand is expensive! Activities are double the price than in Europe, so if you’re on a budget, make sure to research prior.
And finally, don’t let the rain put you off! It’s like Ireland or Iceland, rain and wind if part of the fun, so be there in the moment. I hope you enjoy New Zealand as much as we did. If you have any questions drop them in the comments!