We embarked on a 3 week trip across the South Island New Zealand and it honestly changed our life. The South island of New Zealand is one of the most picturesque landscapes to explore on the entire globe, we will take you through our exact itinerary, places to visit, and areas to stop overnight in a campervan.
New Zealand is like a love affair that you never want to end. Every time we visit a little piece of our soul is left with this beautiful Country. The diversity across such a small island is incredible, and we are so excited to share our road trip experience with you!
What this blog will cover:
A suggested 3 week itinerary for visiting the South Island of New Zealand
Our total budget breakdown for 3 weeks
Driving distances between each stop
Points of interest in the South Island
Campground overnight suggestions
So, let’s start at the beginning.
This itinerary is based on flying in and out of Christchurch International airport. For the South Island, Christchurch is likely to be the most convenient airport and is usually the cheapest when flying internationally. There is another airport in Queenstown which is popular if flying domestically or coming from Australia.
Aside from flights, Christchurch is likely to be the most convenient for picking up your motorhome, there are many RV/motorhome/campervan bases here very close to the airport.
Note: Total driving time is based on driving straight there.. we would recommend allowing more time for photo and food stops!
Map Overview of self-drive route we took:
Christchurch to Lake Pukaki (stop in Tekapo) 286km / 177 miles
Time without stops: 3.5 hours
First off, the most exciting part is picking up your motorhome! Check with your hire company if a complimentary pick up is included from your hotel or the airport. The first stop on your journey is likely to be a food shop to stock up for the road. We hired our campervan from Wilderness NZ which are located right near the airport. There are many ‘Countdowns’ (similar to Australian Woolies) and ‘Pack n save’ food shopping outlets close by.
Head south 3 hours from Christchurch to Tekapo, home to the bluest lakes you will see across New Zealand! If you are visiting between Nov – Jan you may be lucky enough to see the lupins in bloom. These are the beautiful purple flowers that are famous around this region. There are quite a few huge lupin fields around this way, and on the drive between Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. Be sure to have your camera ready!
Lake Pukaki is located 30 minutes from Tekapo, spend the evening here and wake up to stunning lake views.
Points of interest
- Lake Tekapo
- Church of Good Shepherd in Tekapo
- Lake Pukaki
- Best area to see the Lupin fields
Overnight spot: We pulled in just next to Lake Pukaki for the night. Total cost: FREE
Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook 50km / 30 miles
Time without stops: 45 mins
Mount Cook national park is a short drive from Lake Pukaki. This is one of our favourite stops with many hiking options and incredible snowy scenery, even in the Summer snow caps will still grace the mountains. The windy road up from Lake Pukaki is stunning, with the blue lake on the right and mountains straight ahead.
Overnight stop: There is a campsite in the Mount Cook area called White Horse hill campground. It is run by the Department of Conservation and is a low-cost campground ($13 per person per night), there are no showers or dumpsites but has clean toilets you can use. This campsite is convenient because many of the walks start at this campsite including the following:
Hooker Valley track - a popular 5km track that is an easy walk, very little elevation with absolutely stunning views the entire way, it took us around 4 hours total but we stopped a lot to take photos and also have some food.
Sealy Tarns track - this is a 5.8km round trip however it is a very steep incline to the top with over 500 metres of elevation, the route consists of stairs all the way up to the top across Aoraki Mount Cook National park.
Kea Point track - this track is one of the easiest to do in Mount Cook village taking around 20-30 mins to reach the end, there is a platform at the end to enjoy Mueller lake and Mount Sefton.
Take a break from reading to watch our New Zealand highlight here travelling in a 1970's old school kombi van!
Mount Cook to Omarama 70km / 43 miles
Time without stops: 45 mins
From Mount Cook, Omarama is just under an hour South. On the drive down, there are some interesting stops and a very scenic lake if wanting to stop for lunch.
In Omarama be sure to stop in at Omarama hot pools for the best hot tub experience! For $49 per person (based on 2), you can watch the sunset over the hills and soak under the stars. It was one of our favourite romantic experiences on our trip. For more information on this check out our full guide here.
Overnight stop: Ahuriri bridge campground Cost: FREE. This site is a good size with lots of space, it also had drop toilets and beautiful views of the beginnings of Lindis pass – famous for the hills that are covered in Tussock grass.
Omarama to Glenorchy (stop in Arrowtown) 223km / 138 miles
Time without stops: 3 hours
Along state highway 8 through to Glenorchy you will drive through Lindis Pass, an area surrounded by mountains and hills covered in tussock grass. It is one of the most unique landscapes we have experienced, with a few well signed scenic stops here, be sure to check out at least one! Take your time with this drive, it is so beautiful that there will likely be many stops a long the way, enjoy the journey and pick a scenic spot for lunch.
We recommend a stop in Arrowtown for lunch, Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town and has many gorgeous places to eat.
There are a few freedom camping spots alongside the Lake Wakatipu (sign posted all the way) but they get real busy! If you want to secure a spot we would recommend to reach there early evening and check out Glenorchy in the morning.