Last week I wrote about the first half of a two-week road trip itinerary for New Zealand’s South Island. We started in Christchurch, hiked through Mount Cook, checked out Oamaru, the Moeraki Boulders and Victorian and Edwardian architecture in Dunedin, before heading to the west coast to visit stunning Milford Sound.
Now it’s time to continue this road trip and take you to some of New Zealand’s best natural and adrenaline pumping attractions.
Day 8: Queenstown
After visiting Milford Sound the day before and staying overnight in Te Anau once again, get an early start to your day and drive up to Queenstown for an adrenaline fix. If you’re a thrill seeker, then this is one city you don’t want to miss, as Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world. Scream inducing activities include skydiving, canyon swinging, white water rafting and New Zealand’s biggest gift to adventure junkies, bungee jumping. We weren’t as adventurous as we thought we would be and opted to try the “tamer” Shotover Jet, a high-octane jet boat experience through the Shotover River. Unfortunately we were left completely underwhelmed and $119 NZD (each) lighter in our wallets. If you’re not into adventure activities, Queenstown still offers a variety of leisure activities; from hiking to kayaking, cycling to horseback riding, to skiing and snowboarding in the winter months. The Queenstown centre is small enough to walk and offers a variety of dining and shopping options, and a vibrant nightlife.
Day 9: Drive the Haast Pass
Today entails a lot of driving, but once again, the beautiful scenery will distract you from that numb feeling in your bum. Travel north out of Queenstown, through Arrowtown, Cromwell and Wanaka, and up towards Haast. Between Wanaka and Haast, you’ll encounter the Haast Pass, a mountain pass named after 19th century explorer Julius von Haast. Through this part of your route, stop and stretch your legs at the various roadside walks (varying from 5 minutes to 1 hour return). Some of the notable stops include Roaring Billy Falls, Thunder Creek Falls, Cameron Lookout Walk, and our particular favourite, the Blue Pools. Continue driving north along the west coast up towards the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, and find a car park in the Fox Glacier township where you’ll call home for the next two nights. If you’re tired from sitting in a car for most of the day, head to one of the glaciers and walk the self-guided trail to the glacier’s terminal face. But if you want to keep all that excitement for the next day, consider getting some laundry done and take in the surrounding scenery.
Day 10: Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier
Welcome to glacier country, one of New Zealand’s most amazing natural attractions. Situated about 20km from each other, the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are the only two glaciers that reach the lower rainforests in the country, and thus, give you the amazing opportunity to explore them. There is a range of activities to choose from when visiting the glaciers to suit any budget. The cheapest option (ie: free) is to walk the self-guided path to the terminal face of each glacier. The only way to physically set foot on either glacier is to join a guided tour where you’ll hike on, and through parts of the glaciers. For a unique perspective, you can even take a helicopter ride up and over the glaciers, with some companies also offering snow landings on the glaciers themselves. The weather is always changing in glacier country as cloud coverage rolls in and out throughout the day. Before heading out for the day, double check the weather conditions at the Franz Josef i-SITE Visitor Centre.
You can visit both glaciers in the same day or, as mentioned above, you can visit one of the glaciers the previous day when you first arrive in the area. Just 5km west of Fox Glacier township is Lake Matheson, a small lake that offers scenic bushwalks and an incredible photo opportunity of Mount Cook reflected in its waters.
Day 11: Hokitika
Continue driving north along the west coast up to Hokitika. Once a densely populated town during the gold rush in the 1860s, Hokitika is best known for the natural resources in the area, including pounamu (greenstone or jade) and the rare goodletite (containing ruby, sapphire, and tourmaline crystals). Jewellery and art shops line the small town centre with artists heavily influenced by native Maori symbols. Also in Hokitika is the National Kiwi Centre where you can view kiwis in a replicated nocturnal environment (the animal not the people that is). You can also view New Zealand’s oldest living dinosaur, the Tuatara, and feed 85-100 year old long-finned eels. After spending a few hours in Hokitika, hop back on the road and head north towards Greymouth. Pick up groceries along the way and find a car park or campsite for the night.
Day 12: Greymouth to Westport
Yet another stretch of dazzling scenery, the views along the west coast as you drive from Greymouth to Westport are spectacular. You may even fight over who has to drive this portion of the trip since you’ll just want to be staring out the passenger window the entire time. Take advantage of the number of photo opportunities located along the road. About halfway to Westport, stop at the Paparoa National Park and check out the naturally sculpted Punakaiki Pancake Rocks. Formed 30 million years ago, these limestone rocks have taken a beating from the natural elements which have formed them into what you see today. Give yourself about an hour to walk the natural and man-made path, and if you arrive during high tide, watch as the blowholes explode with water just meters in front of you. Continue driving north towards Westport and then inland to Victoria Forest Park and find a car park/campsite to park in for the night
Note: If you have extra time, consider continuing north to the Nelson and Marlborough regions, known for their seafood, fruit, vineyards, and white sand beaches.
Day 13: Hanmer Springs
It’s been 12 jam-packed days exploring and driving the better part of New Zealand’s South Island. You’ve been an excellent tourist and deserve a little relaxation for all your hard work. Hanmer Springs, located about 140km east of Reefton, is an alpine village complete with a golf course, olive grove, boutique shops and restaurants. But what draws visitors and locals alike to this area are the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa. Open year round (except Christmas Day), the complex includes twelve open-air thermal pools, three sulphur pools and six private indoor thermal pools, as well as a sauna/steam room. There is also a family activity area with water slides and toys for the kids to enjoy. Reward yourself with a relaxing time soaking in the healing properties of the thermal pools and the surrounding mountain landscape. A single adult ticket costs $20.00 NZD and we paid $4.00 NZD for 4 hours of locker use.
Note: If you have extra time, consider heading north to Kaikoura where you can check out an impressive array of wildlife including the giant sperm whales that breach the water just off the coast.
Day 14: Christchurch
All good things must come to an end. It’s now time to head back to Christchurch where this incredible journey began. Return your campervan by noon and head out into Central Christchurch. In February 2011, Christchurch was hit by a devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of over 180 people and destroyed much of the infrastructure in the Central Business District (CBD). This came on the heels of an earthquake only 5 months earlier. But the city and people of Christchurch proved resilient and pushed ahead. The city is now in a transitional period, with rebuilding underway and outside-the-box ideas such as re-purposed old shipping containers now being used as retail space. The city is well known for its outdoor garden space especially Hagley Park, which has a commanding presence just minutes west of the CBD.
Want to learn how much this itinerary could cost? Check out our travel cost breakdown of our 2-week road trip in New Zealand.
Road tripping New Zealand was a breeze. The country understands its popularity and has made it hassle free to enjoy. Road signs are easily displayed and read, specific “scenic” routes have been pre-mapped out, designated conservation campgrounds have been established for the use of budget overnight parking for campervans and tents, and visitor centers are found at every major destination.
New Zealand firmly holds a well-deserved spot on the list of top road trips around the world and renting a campervan and driving around the country is the best way to take in all it has to offer.