Aotearoa’s South Island is the ultimate road trip destination – from the country’s highest peaks to the bluest lakes, cutest penguins and the UNESCO World Heritage recognized Fiordland National Park. You will be able to see it all on a trip around and across the island. We have set up the PERFECT itinerary for a road trip from Christchurch to Wanaka that you should not miss out on.
Flying into Christchurch, the biggest city on the South Island, book yourself and your travel partner into The Observatory Hotel, right next to the Botanic Gardens and enjoy the last night of ultimate comfort before your road trip begins! This brand new hotel combines the gothic and Harry Potter-esc architecture style and history with vibrant and inviting colours and designs that are tempting to move in permanently! But there is a road trip waiting for you, so check in and enjoy your stay. From the hotel, it is only a short stroll into the city centre and New Regent Street with is fun and colourful bars like GinGin and The Last Word. Cheers to your awaiting adventure! This is the perfect time to go over your upcoming itinerary and make sure that you truly have not missed any important steps and stops.
The next day, pick up your campervan and your road trip begins! You can either hang around the city and explore the Top 50 Things To Do In Christchurch for a couple of days or make your way down south Timaru.
Timaru has a lot to offer with the South Canterbury Museum, the Aigantighe Art Gallery and most importantly the little blue penguins at Carolina Bay. For the night, park up at freedom camping carpark for self-contained vehicles. For more details on that and all the other ones across the country, check out the app CamperMate – this will quickly become your new favourite app with all the info you need for a great road trip!
From Timaru, it is only another quick drive to Dunedin, THE university city of Aotearoa. If you are into student bars and parties, then this is your place to be! But if you are not, then no worries either. Dunedin is full of history with many famous writers and the country’s only castle! You can spend a couple of days in Dunedin or continue your road trip further down south on the Southern Scenic Route. You will drive post the Nugget Point Lighthouse (so pretty!) and many, many waterfalls (so whimsical!) on your way to Invercargill.
Invercargill, Bluff and Stewart Island
To be honest, there is not a whole lot to do in Invercargill, but if you love oysters and seafood, you should definitely dip down to Bluff and their famous oysters! From there, you can also catch the ferry across to Stewart Island. We would highly recommend booking yourself onto the Wild Kiwi Encounter! The walk takes you through spectacular coastal forest to a secluded sandy beach where you can often find wild kiwis searching for food. This is one of the most unique experiences and encounters that you will make and truly a memory that will last a lifetime.
From one awe-inspiring moment to the next, Fiordland is the next road trip stop and truly breath-taking. Three of the Great Walks of Aotearoa lead through the national park, that are on the bucket list of every hiker. If this does not sound exactly like you, all good, there are plenty of other ways to encounter Fiordland’s remote beauty. Southern Lakes Helicopters offers a wide variety of different helicopter tours over the national park, with peak landings and many opportunities to take amazing photos. If you’d rather stay grounded with both feet, you can book a day trip through the park with Trips&Tramps – a taster platter of what Fiordland has to offer! After a big day out in the park, you might want to book yourself into a comfortable hotel instead of returning into your campervan. The Radfords on the Lake is a luxury 5 star lakefront accommodation in Te Anau that you will love. Wake up to views of stunning Lake Te Anau and the mountains of Fiordland National Park, grab a good cup of coffee in town before you continue your road trip towards Queenstown.
Queenstown and Wanaka
The windy roads from Te Anau will take you to Queenstown – THE epicentre of adrenaline junkies in Aotearoa. From the world’s first commercial bungy jump at AJ Hackett to speedy jetboat manoeuvres on the lake to a fun nightlife, Queenstown has it all! If you’d want to return to nature rather sooner than later, drive on over the mountain range to Wanaka. Climb the stunning and scenic Roy’s Peak at sunrise, taste a view wines at the local vineyard or try your balance out on a SUP tour across Lake Wanaka. Take a breather and relax on a stroll along the lake front of Lake Wanaka. This might be your ‘pinch-yourself’ moment – all the great memories you have already made and so much more to come in the future!
This road trip is pretty much the highlight reel of what Aotearoa’s South Island has to offer. But believe us, there is so much more to come! Visit New Zealand’s glacier, explore pancake rocks and feel like as if you are on a tropical island. All this and more in The Ultimate Road Trip Part 2 – from Wanaka to the Abel Tasman National Park in a Campervan.