2 weeks NZ south island road trip – The perfect itinerary

Christchurch

Here I am at Christchurch International Airport after a gruelling hour long checking process by the immigration authorities waiting for my motorhome company rental car to pick me up. The temperature outside is around 5 degC, a stark contrast from the 41 degC in my hometown of Kolkata. I reach the office of Wilderness Motorhomes to be greeted by the smiling Tania and it was so kind of her to offer me a cup of hot coffee. After finishing the official paperwork, I was taken for a guiding session of my motorhome and boy, what a plush motorhome it was! More on that later, but for the moment I unpacked my luggage and stowed my big strolley at their office. I picked up my essential supplies from Countdown supermarket and headed towards Lake Tekapo through the ‘inland scenic route’. It got foggy around 4 pm and I had to drive for the next 4 hours in fog and pitch black conditions. It was quite an experience since I never drove a 6.5 meter long motorhome ! I reached the camping ground at night and retired for the day. Since, there is no freedom camping at Tekapo, this is the best campsite to retire for the night costing 25 NZD for a single adult since the morning wake-up views are insanely beautiful. There is a kitchen and a unisex toilet with hot shower facilities.

Lake Tekapo

The day started off with some sunrise shots of Lake Tekapo and then a short drive to Mount John Observatory where I did a small video which has been uploaded on Facebook and took a few shots to test my friend’s Fuji XT-2. Needless to say, it met all my expectations with its wonderful image quality and colour rendition.

Sunrise at Lake Tekapo

After a small customary breakfast of yoghurt and muesli, I headed towards ‘The Church of Good Shepherd’ to meet a friend. We had some insightful discussion before heading out for a dinner of fish and chips. I headed over to Lake Pukaki to freedom camp for the night and reached there amidst driving a quarter hour in absolutely zero visibility.

 

Lake Pukaki

Teal color high mineral content waters of Lake Pukaki

The day started off with spectacularly colorful views of Lake Pukaki and after capturing a few shots, I headed over to Tasman Lake for capturing some sunset shots. It was a very scenic drive and I stopped at multiple places to take some ‘instagrammable‘ shots. There is a small hike to reach the Tasman Lake viewpoint and involves climbing down some steep and loose rocks but in the end, it was worth it since I got some really cool long exposure sunset shots.

Sunset at Tasman Glacier

Met a friendly Spanish guy who gave me some good tips for the upcoming Hooker Valley trek. I retired for the night at ‘White Horse Hill Campground’ right at the base of Mount Cook so that I could start my hike early the next morning. For 13 NZD, it is a very good place to stay and managed by the DOC.

Mount Cook

The day started off with a coffee followed by the 3 hour hike of the famous Hooker valley. It took me a lot of energy to reach the Hooker Lake but I was disappointed to find the surroundings all cloudy. I even started late in the morning just to make sure that the clouds cleared off, but alas my bad luck …. they didn’t. I took a few unsatisfactory shots and came back to drive to Wanaka and capture the money shot of the ‘That Wanaka Tree’.

Hooker Valley Hike

The drive through the magnificent Lindis Pass was nothing short of stunning and I stopped at a few places to take some shots. It is considered as one of the best drives in this world and driving it during the golden hours is just magical, although at the lower altitudes the driving got really difficult owing to the sun rays hitting me directly at eye level. I reached Wanaka just when the sunset took place and missed the golden hour by half an hour. So overall, it was a rather unproductive day. I retired for the night at Wanaka Holiday Home Campsite and tried to forget my miseries of the day by going full throttle on my bottle of Chardonnay. Retired for the night feeling hopeful for the next morning.

Motorhome fine dining

Wanaka

The day started off with some spectacular sunrise shots over Lake Wanaka at the famous #thatwanakatree location. Luckily it seemed that the other photographers decided to roll over in their beds that morning since I was the only one with a tripod and trying out long exposures!

Morning scenes at Wanaka

After shooting to my heart’s content, I headed back to my motorhome and had a quick customary breakfast of yoghurt and muesli before hurrying up to the Roy’s peak hike. This is one of the most reputed hikes in the South Island. Honestly I felt it was a bit over-rated because its a rather steep hike of 16 kms which takes on an average a good 6 hours to complete. I did mine in 4.5 hours but it took a toll on my knees. Going up makes one gasp as you run out of breath and stop every 15 minutes. With melted snow and mud from overnight, the route became all the more treacherous. Coming down took a toll on my knee and I had to intermittently jog down to prevent any major damage to my already injured left knee.

Views atop Roy's peak

I hurried back to the Wanaka tree and arrived just in time to capture the wonderful sunset. There was even a pre-wedding photoshoot taking place at the location! I decided to head over to the same camping spot for the night. Went out to the town to have a nice juicy burrito before hitting the sack after a long hot shower. Damn, that felt relaxing and energetic!

 

Day 6

Arrowtown

Arrowtown and Glenorchy

Woke up to clouds covering the sky and decided it was time to leave Wanaka and headed over to the small cute historic mining town called Arrowtown, which happens to be the first place of Chinese settlement in the land of Kiwis. There are 4 hikes in Arrowtown. The autumn colours mixed with snow covered dry plants resembled a scene whose surrealism would even make Luis Bunuel stir up in his grave. I took a walk through the white frozen forest and I thought that I was walking through the gates of heaven and just where the forest will end, Jesus Christ will forward to receive me. But alas! The place where the forest ended was a place of human settlement. It was such an intense and powerful experience to have walked that forest in the snow. Mind numbing and soul liberating!

Eerie silence in forests
Color Blast at Arrowtown

I decided to head over to Glenorchy next as the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is one of the most picturesque in the South Islands. And indeed it was ! I captured a few sunset shots at the Glenorchy wharf and headed over to Te Anau after driving for nearly 4 hours. Reached the Te Anau Top 10 Holiday Park to retire for the night as the next day was the trip to Milford Sound; the place whose photograph kindled my first desire of visiting New Zealand from 4 years back.

Star studded sky with the background of The Remarkables

Day 7

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

The road from Te Anau to Milford Sound is a very scenic one, but drivers have to exercise extreme caution on this route since the roads are winding uphill and the scenery just keeps getting better with every turn. I started off around 9:30 a.m. from Te Anau Top 10 Holiday Park and reached Milford at 12:00 hrs. There was some fog on the road which if hadn’t been, I would made it in 2 hours. I booked a Milford cruise on Real Journeys and the ticket booking was done from Te Anau Top 10 Holiday Park which got me a good discount of 44 NZD i.e I was charged 54 NZD for a ticket worth 98 NZD. My lucky day !The cruise was indeed stunning and Milford Sound is just magical on a cloudy day. It is said that Milford is at it’s best when it rains because then there are numerous waterfalls instead of the 5 we saw. I drove back in a hurry because the Holmer Tunnel was getting closed at 4:00 p.m and I made past it by 3:45 p.m. I headed down to a freedom camping site called Drift’s Bay just a few kilometers out of Kingston for a rather windy and shaky night. My motorhome was shaking like a dried leaf in the middle of the night since the winds really picked up speed! But I was too lazy to leave the comfort of my bed and park the van again at a different location. The wind subsided at around 4:30 a.m.

The insanely beautiful waterfall at Miford Sound

Day 8

Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park Cemetery Road

Queenstown

It was a very rainy day all over New Zealand. I had to cancel my plans of visiting the Fox and Franz Josef Glacier in the Alpines since there was heavy snowfall in Arthur’s Pass and a road warning was issued for Haast Pass. I decided to spend the day at Queenstown but parking the vehicle was a big problem in such a touristy city. I enquired about an advance check-in at the Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park and they said they could accommodate me by 11:30 a.m. Sweet! I headed over to the site, parked my van and headed out to town to grab a good big lunch. The restaurant 1876 is a famous name and I decided to give it a try.

Sinful indulgence
Queenstown winter festival

The house beers and the special Sunday lunch consisting of beef and potatoes was such a joy to savour on a rainy afternoon. I walked around the town a bit to soak in some freshness of the NZ air and headed back to my motorhome for a nap. Woke up to rains again and took a nice hot shower to rejuvenate my cold muscles. Boy, it feels good to take a hot bath in cold conditions! I decided to indulge in some pub hopping for the evening whilst making plans for my future route since the Alpines had to be chucked off sadly owing to the snow forecast in the region.

 

Day 9

Did an early morning weather check and confirmed Alpines was off the list and headed off in the direction of ‘The Catlins’. Very scenic drive with orchards and fruit stalls on both sides of the road. Unfortunately with the onset of evening the weather started to deteriorate and the rains set in. Reached Nugget Point under extremely windy conditions barely managing a couple of photos. Decided to retire for the night at Hillview Campsite, a quaint little place to park the campervans run by a very friendly guy named Kevin who treated me to a glass of hot chocolate and got me a plate of chicken nuggets at just 50c a piece with a whole lot of chips thrown in for free. Kiwi hospitality can’t get better than this!

Sunset at Tunnel beach
Day 10

Dunedin

Rough weather in the morning too so the dreams of a scenic sunrise at the Nugget Point stays as a relinquished dream. I headed over to Dunedin for exploring a bit of the east coast. The weather looked better while driving down the scenic country side roads. I reached Tunnel beach under overcast cloudy conditions, but the silver lining was it wasn’t raining. Took my tripod and headed through the tunnels to get some nice long exposure shots. But nothing too dramatic could be caught on the lens. Headed over to the town for walking on Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world. Damn, that took a toll on my entire body! The next stop for the evening was the famous Moeraki Boulders, a famous spot for all travellers and locals too. Long beach, beautiful scenery and in the midst of the ocean, those boulders. Had quite a beautiful sunset and explored the full abilities of my camera.

Sunset at Moeraki Boulders

Met a very friendly Swiss woman who gave me a list of the must visit places in Switzerland! After doing my photography, I decided to retire at a nice secluded freedom camp for the night known as the Katiki Freedom Camp. Located right next to the sea and nicely sheltered by trees, it made for one of the best places to freedom camp with the sea literally 30 steps from my campervan. Woke up to a wonderful view of the calm sea the next morning.

Morning views of Freedom Camping
Day 11
 
Oamaru

Headed over to the Moeraki Boulders again for a sunrise shoot. Met 2 very friendly and stylish women from LA and joined them for a cup of coffee at Vanessas Cottage Cafe. I decided to head over to the small quaint of Oamaru famous for its Victoria precinct and the Steampunk HQ. The Steampunk HQ is the coolest museum I have ever visited. Brilliant contemporary works of science and art infused to give a highly creative side to punk. A must visit for everyone. Later in the day I visited the location known as Victoria Precinct because of it’s Victorian architecture of bygone days.

Breakfast at Vanessas Cottage Cafe
Mental Scenes at Oeamaru Steampunk HQ

In the evening just before sunset I made a run for Bushy Beach Reserve where I got extremely lucky to sight 2 seals and 3 rare yellow-eyed penguin. Decided to spend the night at a nice campsite called Waitaki Waters Holiday Park.

Sunset at Bushy Beach
Day 12
 

Inland Scenic Route 72

Started out late in the morning from the Holiday Park and just meandered lazily along the ‘Inland Scenic Route 72’ via Timaru and Glenardine towards Christchurch. Stopped for a mid-drive break at a nice creek to enjoy a few glasses of Chardonnay amidst the sunset.

Snack break on way to Christchurch

Drove through to Christchurch and parked the vehicle at Amber Kiwi Holiday Park. Decided to catch up with the office mails and later in the night headed out to CBD at a nice pub called the OGB. Very warm and cosy ambiance with good beers on the tap. The food selection and taste wasn’t that great though. Uber is very convenient in Christchurch and when commuting in foreign towns like these, you regard it as one of the best inventions ever!

Refreshing cocktail
Great cuisine and dark beer at OGB
Day 13

Christchurch

Late morning coffee, draining of all waste water, fill-up of petrol tanks and LPG cylinder and here I am at the Wilderness Motorhomes to return my campervan and marking the official end of my road trip. Got my things organised again and after a few final checks by the team members, I bid the wonderful and good looking team Goodbye to head over to YMCA Hostel at Hereford Street for enjoying the few hours which were left of my trip. Do check out The Last Word, Kong and Fat Eddie’s for enjoying some good cocktails and music.

One of those experiences which I always wanted to indulge in – doing a road trip in a campervan, was eventually ticked off my bucket list. Thanks again to the Wilderness Team for their professionalism and assistance which made my road trip a hassle-free and a very memorable one.

Signing off .. cheers to team Wilderness!

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