10 days campervanning around the South Island of New Zealand

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
10
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
3
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
9
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
6
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
7
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
7
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
80 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Oceania
country
New Zealand
Length of time
1-2 weeks
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 1,800
Time of year visited
June
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
40th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 20% SUMMARY RATING: World Class

Summary

New Zealand’s South Island has some of the most rugged natural beauty of anywhere in the world with world famous sites such as the fjords of Milford Sound, the Frans Joseph and Fox glaciers, and the adrenaline sports of Queenstown, yet is also super accessible by road and very compact to get around.  The combination of these factors makes it one of the most appealing places for a roadtrip and I’ve listed below a great 10 day itinerary to get the best of the island

highlights

#1 The Driving itself! It just feels like you're constantly driving through the Middle Earth set in Lord of the Rings! Stunning

#2 Taking a boat trip through the magnificent fjords of Milford Sound as you see penguins, dolphins and mighty waterfalls cascading from what feels like the heavens above

#3 Queenstown, one of the adrenaline capitals of the world. Enjoy the views as you paraglide, bungy or go whitewater rafting

#4 Climb the Frans Jospeh Glacier. Crampons on, ice pick in hand and head off to explore the vast ice caverns

#5 Stopping for views of the beautifully islands of the remote West Coast

#6 Skiing in the compact ski slopes of The Remarkables and Coronet peak just outside of Queenstown

#7 Passing by and stopping for a look at Mount Cook in the distance

#8 The drive along the Milford Road on the way to Milford Sound

The route

Rough itinerary

Day 1 – land in Christchurch and take the remainder of the day wandering around the city centre of the town often described as the most english of NZ cities and a one coping with the aftermath of the giant 2011 earthquake

Day 2 – drive across the Southern Alps, enjoying Arthur’s Pass and the gorgeous coastline, on your way to Franz Jospeh

Day 3 – spend the day climbing the fast moving Frans Joseph Glacier, taking a helicopter up to the top as needed, and enjoying the views of both the glacier and the wonderful surrounding valleys.  See more details in this travel entry – Climbing the Frans Josef Glacier

Day 4-6 – drive down to Queenstown and give yourself a day for the adrenaline sports of skiing, paragliding, bungy jumping as well as to enjoy the stunning views of Lake Wakatipu.  See for more details – Skiing in Queenstown, Bungy jumping the Thrillogy in Queenstown and Paragliding through the mountains and clouds in Queenstown

Day 7-8 – drive down to Milford Sound to enjoy a boat trip or kayaking through the natural majesty of the fjords and the beautiful Milford Road that connects Te Anau to Milford Sound.  For more details see –Taking a boat trip through Milford Sound

Day 9-10 – drive back to Christchurch via views of Mount Cook, Australasia’s tallest mountain, and the turquoise glacial waters of Lake Tekapo

Travel Tips

  • Highlights – whilst the big ticket items are indeed spectacular experiences, the overall highlight is actually the driving itself.  It basically feels like you’re driving through Middle-earth set of Lord of the Rings
  • Driving distance – the total length of the route I’ve shared is 1,780km / 1,100 miles which will take around 22 hours.  Considering the driving is a key part of the trip, this doesn’t feel like too much spread over the 10 days and you can see the route here – google maps South Island route
  • Campervanning or driving – you can easily do both.  The route is designed to finish the evenings in places where you could easily find hotel / hostel accommodation or camping sites.  Completely up to you.  We liked campervanning just as we were trying to save a bit of money and really enjoyed staying in the middle of nowhere some evenings
  • Time of year to go – no doubt the best time to visit is in summer, but we visited for 2 months in the New Zealand winter and still had a blast.  Whilst it was for sure colder, it didn’t dampen what we wanted to do and in fact added another angle with the skiing in Queenstown.  We also didn’t experience any of the super busy times with fellow tourists that many people mention.  Don’t let the winter put you off
  • Other destination options – the south island is all about the natural beauty, which is why I’ve focused on the big ticket items that are typically on the west coast and central / south.  If this is the type of trip you are looking for then steer clear of the likes of the east coast and south east with Invercargill and Dunedin – they are simply not up to the same standard of the west coast.  But, another option is to head to the north for the world-class vineyards – different type of trip but nonetheless beautiful

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone