A Family of Explorers Seek Adventure in New Zealand's South Island

American expats Erin, John and Cecilia are a nature-loving family, who decided on an epic campervan road trip to experience NZ's stunning hikes.

Day One: Christchurch to Moeraki Boulders

Distance: 280 km
Travel Time: 3.5 hours

The Moeraki Boulders was our first highlight on the road. There’s just something therapeutic about hurling rocks and stones into the river whilst taking in the wondrous mountainous surroundings and crisp fresh air.  We stayed overnight at Moeraki Boulders Holiday park, great hospitality with a nice view of the boulders.

Day Two: Moeraki Boulders to Riversdale

Distance: 250 km
Travel Time: 3 hours

Departing Moeraki Boulders, we were gifted our first real slice of the 'real' New Zealand. Cascading lush green hills, meadows, with the sparkle of a serene blue waters shouldering the road ahead.

We arrived at the Katiki Point Lighthouse, by the Penguin Rescue Centre, around noon after a windy road of twists and turns through private farmland. Lighthouse Road twists and turns through private farms to a dead end at the Penguin Rescue centre and Katiki Point Lighthouse.

After a quick snack for lunch, we hiked down to the beach hoping to catch a glimpse of the penguins. However, unfortunately for us they are most active at dawn and dusk so we missed them waddling out to fish. The area is full of seals lazing about snoozing, and the point is stunning, even without the penguins.

Day Three: Riversdale to Milford Sound

Distance: 225 km
Travel Time: 3.5 hours

Driving 128km through Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound is quite the experience. I imagine it would be just as thrilling to inch closer to the dramatic landscape in one of the many tour buses, but we appreciated the freedom to stop and hop out of the motorhome to wander and photograph the unusual and beautiful landscape. Our favourite lookouts included Mirror Lakes, Pops View, and Monkey Creek.

Milford Sound Lodge is the closest campervan accommodation to the Sound, and it was the busiest site we visited. This campsite is far and away our favourite paid site of the trip! From the scenery, clean showers (with a towel warmer!), and the optional breakfast buffet to the friendly staff – we relished our time here.

Day Four: Milford Sound

It would have been a crime to not experience the Sound by water. All cruise tours allow you to get up close to the magnificent waterfalls, which was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Fortunately, we even got to see the Fiordland penguins! And had arranged our itinerary with the weather forecast, and ended up with a crystal-clear day.

The park rangers in Te Anau highly recommended the Key Summit Track, while the weather was on our side. The track itself was pretty challenging to say the least, but incredibly rewarding, and the epic views from the summit did not disappoint.

Day Five: Milford Sound to Lake Wakatipu

Distance: 270 km
Travel Time: 3.5 hours

If we could have, we would have stayed for longer in Milford Sound, however with the open road ahead, we needed to keep moving. That said, we did manage to squeeze in a few short walks and activities before we left, such as the Chasm, Tutoko Suspension Bridge, and the Swinging Bridge on the Lake Marian Trail.

Arriving at Lake Wakatipu early evening, we picked a lovely site for freedom camping and enjoyed a fabulous sunset evening.

Day Six: Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown

Distance: 20 km
Travel Time: 30 minutes

We cruised into Queenstown and parked up at Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park. Although Queenstown is quite a small town, it certainly packs a punch in terms of attractions and adventure activities.

The best views of Queenstown were atop the Skyline by gondola, which we splurged on the following day. We also wandered through the town enjoying the shopping and chilling out by the harbour.

Day Seven: Queenstown to Lake Ohau

Travel Time: 2.75 hours
Distance: 205 km

We stopped off at the Lindis Alpine Pass Summit, after a challenging drive through winding roads. There wasn’t much in terms of local amenities or signage, however you can still stand in awe looking out over the yellow grassy landscape stretching into the horizon.

Determined to carry on, we made our way to Lake Ohau, and once we caught a glimpse of the lake, we knew the trek was well worth it. The remote beauty of the campsite combined with the tranquillity of lake perfectly complemented our adventurous morning. We stayed over at a lakeside DOC campsite.

Day Eight: Lake Ohau Mt Cook National Park

Distance: 100 km
Travel Time: 1.5 hours

The following morning, we departed Lake Ohau and hit the road into Mount Cook National Park. Just like Milford, the road taking you into Mount Cook requires a fair bit of driving before reaching the campsite, but the numerous opportunities to stop for photos of the milky turquoise glacier lakes and stunning ice-capped peaks. We wasted no time making our way to the popular Hooker Valley track, where we pushed on to the end finally reaching the glacier lake. The swinging bridges, wooden paths, and mountainous surroundings transform the scene into a surreal experience.

Day Nine: Mt Cook National Park to Geraldine

Distance: 200 km
Travel Time: 2.5 hours

We made the most of our time in Mount Cook by completing the Kea Point lookout, Sealy Tarns Track, Blue Lakes Track, and the Tasman Track. We could have easily spent a whole day with these hikes, but blitzed through them after meandering the 2,000 steps of the monstrous Sealy Tarns Track. We also made a stop at Lake Tekapo on our way to Geraldine.

Day Ten: Geraldine to Christchurch

Distance: 130 km
Travel Time: 1.75 hours

Our flight back to Christchurch was scheduled for 2pm, which allowed plenty of time to enjoy a relaxing breakfast at a local café in Geraldine.
After dropping off our Maui campervan, we jumped on a complimentary airport transfer from Tourism Holdings Limited (THL) to the airport.


Campervan road trip highlights:

Where was the best view?
Kea Point in Mt Cook National Park – the glacier lake views are incredible!

Where did you stop for a picnic?
The peak at Key Summit was incredible.

Where was your favourite place/town visited and why?
Ohau served as our ‘off-the-beaten-track’ destination in the South Island.

What was your favourite experience/activity & why?
We debated trying many activities with a toddler, but the Milford Sound cruise captivated the whole family. The waterfalls, seals, and Fiordland penguins were all worth getting a closer look at by boat.

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