New Zealand⎜Itinerary, 12 days in the South Island
End of April, we’ve been really lucky to welcome Alexis with us (Arthur’s brother) for two weeks. So we decided to get him to the magnificent South Island through a road trip. At the beginning we were quite nervous and thought two weeks would not be enough to discover all of it. To be honest, it was enough time to see the most important parts but one more week would have allowed us to really take our time. We were concerned about money, so we started the trip from Auckland with a campervan and dropped it off in Christchurch.
If you guys want to do discover the South Island in a short time on a limited budget, this itinerary is yours ! Alright little birds, here you'll find out more details about how to travel this island in 12 days :). And discover our 8 favorite places in the North Island if you want to do a trip there.
Day 1 - Auckland to Wellington
After having picked up our french parcel at the airport, we went straight up down to Wellington. So if you also start your trip from Auckland like we did, you have no time to waste ! One of the best option is to stay overnight in a free camp located 20 minutes away from the harbour.
- Campervan rental : Travellers Autobarn, brand new Toyota Hiace, three seats and Self Contained (essential certification if you want to sleep for free at allocated areas).
- Price : $600 NZD (for a pick up in Auckland and a drop off in Christchurch). You might find a different price depending what time of the year you book (from November to March, it's double).
- Journey from Auckland to Wellington : 8h drive with two stops.
- Camp : free in Wellington, Evans Bay Marina Park (thanks to the app Campermate).
Day 2 - Wellington to Abel Tasman
The morning after, take the ferry with the campervan to go to the South Island. Departure is from Wellington Harbour and really well indicated from the North of the city and the free camp. The crossing between these two islands through Marlborough Sounds is wonderful. Don’t waste your time in Picton when you arrive (nothing to do) and head straight up to Blenheim, a nice small village at only 30 minutes drive. You will be able to fill up fuel and food. There are plenty of wineries to visit in this area if you want.
From here, make your way to Nelson which will be the closest city from Abel Tasman. We advise you to go further and sleep at the closest free camp from Abel Tasman National Park.
- Ferry : Interislander. Departure everyday from Wellington at 9am, 2:45pm and 8pm. The fair is about 3h10 and price depends if you travel with a campervan, a car or just walking. For three people and the van, we paid $289 NZD (like before prices may depend on the season).
- Camp : free camp Hawkes Lookout Carpark, 1h from Nelson and 20 minutes to Abel Tasman National Park.
Day 3 - Abel Tasman to Westport
You have to know Abel Tasman National Park is huge and takes about 4 days to go through. You have to be generous with your time there. Be aware that once you arrive at the entrance, there is a no vehicules allowed sign. You must park outside though and then you have two possibilities. If you’ve got plenty of time (which means in between 2 and 5 days) you could choose to discover the park walking through and camp inside for one or few nights. By the way, there’s no free option to sleep. We opted for the option “we’ve got only one day to discover the park please !” and chose to explore from the shore, with a kayak ! Great experience (which makes you work on your arms as well !).
Our point of view ? Coasts are nice with a turquoise water but nothing "Wow". There is an island where you should go to see and interact with seals. They are not scared at all and even play with the paddle and the Gopro. You should be done (means tired !) in the middle of the afternoon, so enjoy the free refreshing shower and head down to Westport.
- Kayak : go for Kahu Kayak, we tried and recommend the 8:30am "freedom tour" for $60 NZD per person.
- Drone : highly risk of degradation with water and anyway, forbidden over the National Park (unfortunately it won’t be the last place).
- Camp : free camp in Westport, Westport North Beach.
Day 4 - Westport to Greymouth
Westport has only been a stop for us but you can look for the seals colony if you want to (we decided to pass after seeing a few the day before and we’ll see some more during our trip), must not take a while though. Afterward drive for 1h until the next point of interest : Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and blowholes. These rocks look like real pancakes and are piled up. It’s a nice touristic stop . It is really impressive to see how the ocean created those shapes along the years. The walk is about 30 minutes.
Make your way down to Greymouth and visit the Monteith’s Brewery. It's time to try few beers and know a bit more about this local and, now, international brand! Definitely worth a visit. You can also stay in the place as long as you like, enjoying a glass by the firewall with a good wifi :).
- Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and blowholes : free activity and free parking along the road.
- Drone : forbidden in the area. We found an another point of interest with the app Campermate few kilometres down south along the west coast and decided to fly over there. No restriction there.
- Brewery Monteith’s : $25 NZD for 45min-1h visiting and three tastings per person.
- Camp : free camp at Greymouth, Cobden Bridge.
Day 5 - Greymouth to Wanaka
Because of the terrible rain, the next step has been unfortunately skipped. We advise you to stop at Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier. Everybody has told us that it is a great NZ attraction. There are few treks depending on the weather, level and budget. Time for us to go to Wanaka !
Wanaka is a young, dynamic and very welcoming city. People are cool and warm. If you go at this time of the year, you'll meet a few seasonal workers because winter is coming. There are heaps of bars and restaurants, full of folks by night even during the week. We had a beautiful dinner in town but don't drink too much 'cause you'll have to drive to the mountains if you want to sleep for free. Unfortunately there's nowhere in Wanaka you can stay as self-contained.
- Glaciers trekking : Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier.
- Drone : forbidden around and over glaciers.
- Going out in Wanaka : we tried and approved Kai Whaka Pai with super nice waiters and huge pizzas !
- Camp : free camp at Wanaka, Diamond Lake. One advice : it’s freezing by night (the coldest night we had) so get your clothes on to stay warm and wake up early in the morning to admire mountains colors changing with the sunrise.
Day 6 - Wanaka to Fiordland
Right you will think, those guys adivse me to spend most of my time in bars. FALSE ! You will enjoy one of the most famous treks in this area : Roys Peak. A heart stopper ! Honestly it has been so hard to climb up the summit but when you’re done, the view is breathtaking. We reckon this one has been the most exhausting ! But anyway, as we told you from the beginning of this article, there's no time to waste ! Even if you feel really tired head down to Lumsden (past Queenstown).
- Roys Peak trekking : 16 km, 5-6 hours to climb up (1300m) and return. Do it only when the weather is good, take a lot of water and your picnic.
- Drone : no restriction.
- Camp : free camp at Lumsden, Lumsden Parking Area. The closest to Milford Sound and so far the best one ! It’s an old train station where you've got access to water and sink (save your water stock in the van) and toilets for free. Hot shower in option if you don’t mind to pay (ask the lovely volunteer with his dog Coco Chanel).
Day 7 - Fiordland and Milford Sound
I'm sure you will have an excellent night after the really hard walk the previous day. Awesome ! Now time to go to Milford Sound, a must-see in New Zealand ! This region is not accessible from Queenstown so you have to do a big detour (that’s why we advised you to sleep in Lumsden). It should take 2.5 hours to reach the Milford Sound. Landscapes are crazy along the way. The Fiordland National Park is huge. It gives you the opportunity to choose in a wide range of trekkings around the Lake. Some tours can also take you for few immersing days. There is only one option to visit Milford Sound : cruises. The cruise terminal gets a lot of companies (by the way there’s nothing else in the village). Prices fluctuate depending when you book. We loved the one we went with (atmosphere, team, boat) and we recommend it to you in the tips section. This tour takes you through the mountains (it’s a perfect contrast after Wanaka where you see lake and mountains from above, in the Milford Sound you watch it from the bottom). It lets you admire waterfalls dropping down the ocean and contemplate seals and dolphins in their natural environment.
The best option is to go back to the same free camp. On the way, you should stop several times to enjoy the beauty of Te Anau Lake.
- Fiordland National Park : discover this place in few hours or few days. Many activities to do (trekking, kayak, helicopter, plane, Doubtful Sound…) and lookouts to stop at.
- Milford Sound : we highly recommend Go Orange cruise. Prices are from $45 NZD to $80 NZD per person depending what time you book for. Snack/lunch is included. Take a whole day to explore the Milford Sound even if it’s only a 2 hours tour. Wake up early in the morning if you sleep in the free camp, then do the tour by midday and get back to the same free camp to sleep.
- Drone : you can use the drone in the Fiordland National Park but well check restrictions as we have not been everywhere. There is an aerodrome in Milford Sound village so you can’t fly your drone.
Dodo : free camp at Lumsden, Lumsden Parking Area (same as the night before)
Day 8 - Fiordland to Queenstown
Here you are : Queenstown ! The one everybody told you about ! The city is located close to a huge intense blue lake and surrounded by mountains. It’s magical ! This little town will remind you ski stations in France, much more dynamic though, all year long. Parks, shops, bars, everything you need to relax out :). Get the time to visit this tiny touristic cocoon during the day. If you feel like doing more than hanging around or shopping, try some activities down the Lake (quite expensive though). By night, there are plenty of choice, we didn't stay long enough to advice you where to go out. We’ve been at The Barmuda, a cool bar with cheap happy hours...all night (nice isn’t ?) then we had dinner here at the Cow where we enjoyed excellent pasta and pizzas :). If you want guys, feel free to recommend your favorite place in town in comments below.
- Lumsden to Queenstown : 1h15 driving.
- Queenstown : Make sure you get your shopping done here because there’s nothing until Christchurch. Around the city you’ll be able to find out heaps of trekking.
- Drone : we didn’t try to fly out because few skydivers landed in town over the day.
- Camp : free camp at 10 minutes driving from the center, Rotary Club of Queenstown. Remember : don't drink and drive ;) !
Day 9 - Queenstown to Mount Cook
Queenstown comes hand and hand with wine and vineyards. Yeah ! There are plenty in the region so you must try one of it. Give yourself the time to do a visit/tasting, it takes an hour and you won’t regret :). The road on the way up to Mount Cook is quite boring, so you’ll have to figure out how to get fun (see photo below).
There are three free camps in the south of Lake Pukaki for the night, we tell you which one in the tips section.
- Wineries : A great tip is to visit the Peregrine Winery which offers you a visit and tasting of 6 different wines for free (one rose, two whites, three reds).
- Camp : free camp, Lake Pukaki Reserve.
Day 10 - Mount Cook the magnificent
We hope you little birds have heard about this place before ! Since we started the road trip, we have been waiting for it, discovering Mount Cook. You need 40 minutes driving to reach Mount Cook village from the free camp. Along the road next to Lake Pukaki, make sure you stop where you feel like and take heaps of photos, it’s amazing (this day, autumn colours were crazy and we saw a nice contrast between the cold blue of the Lake and orange leaves in trees). In Mount Cook village, you've got few options depending on the difficulty or the time you ready to spend walking. Another option if you feel to go bigger is to fly over the Mount Cook by helicopter.
Still concerned about money, we decided to go trekking in the morning and the afternoon.
After this big walking day, you'll probably feel tired too, so lets go back to the same free camp and sleep overnight.
- Trekking : Red Tarn Track takes around 2 hours return and is crazy steep (about 1300 steps). The view up there is great but we expected more regarding how tired we were !
- Hooker Valley Track is the best trekking so far in the area, 3 hours return. Simple, flat, you’ve got the best view of Mount Cook.
- Camp : free camp, Lake Pukaki Reserve.
Day 11 - Mount Cook to Christchurch
From the free camp, if you drive for half an hour, on the way to Christchurch, you will find out Lake Tekapo. There are a few treks, around the lake, you can do if you still get some energy (we felt really tired with the last walking days). Or you should go through the National Park at the east of the Lake, where you can access several lookouts surrounded by sheep and horses. The road to Christchurch goes quite fast with a stop at the typical petrol station “Route 66”.
- Lake Tekapo : all tracks are free except one where you have to pay $8 NZD to get to an observatory. Please note that you have exactly the same view from the National Park we advise you to go.
- Drone : no restrictions to fly.
- Camp : free camp in Christchurch, Lyttelton Boat Ramp (15 minutes driving from the CBD).
Day 12 - Christchurch City
Christchurch City is worth a visit. Not because it’s magnificient, but because of its (hi)story. Indeed, this city was destroyed twice by terrible earthquakes. A strange atmosphere reigns there with on one side these destroyed buildings and these memorials to the victims. On the other hand, these new hyper design buildings and their smiling citizens.
- Things to do : go to the Contener Mall in the CBD for shopping and enjoy the amazing street food, have a walk in the botanical garden and visit the free museums.
- Camp : free camp in Christchurch, Lyttleton Boat Ramp.
To discover the entire South Island is not that hard in 12 days and you'll see the most important parts. To let you know, we went back to Auckland from Christchurch by plane for only $29 NZD per person with Jetstar.
This article is only an idea to show you how possible it is to travel through the South Island in a short time and on a limited budget. It's really important guys to prepare your trip with your preferences in mind. The most important advice we give you is to be prepared to change your plans because of the unpredictable weather.
Thank you so much for reading this article little birds. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions below, that could help others ;). And check out the drone video about our journey in the New Zealand South Island.
Cheers, Claire & Arthur