After 2 days back in Australia, post-Borneo, came the family road trip in New Zealand. We were hitting up the South Island, hiring a motor home for 2 weeks. It doesn’t sound like a lot of time but we definitely fit a lot in. Driving 8am-8pm pretty much everyday, going on walks, hiking glaciers, sinking NZ brews, hiring helicopters, swimming in glacial lakes… We checked off a serious list in the time we had.
We flew in to Christchurch and it was one week after a major earthquake in the South Island. Every local we talked to thought we were, quote… “Fucking crazy” to be in the country! It didn’t worry us too much. Maybe only my middle brother Tim, who checked the GeoNet app every ten minutes to read into the aftershocks. After loading up our rig with a lot of groceries and a lot of booze, we hit the road. We started by following the art trail set up throughout Christchurch. After a beautiful day wandering the incredible rebuilt city, we had a killer meal at the Engineers Bar before heading North to a campground by a river just north of the city. The next morning, we changed routes after some research, avoiding the north of the island due to road closures and aftershocks. Instead, we headed for Arthur’s Pass.
Arthur’s pass took us a full day and around every corner we were all blown away. This road is so diverse; from flat fields full of sheep, to rocky hills covered in boulders, to ski slopes, to snow-capped mountains, to engineering feats. It truly was a shocking start to this trip in all of the right ways. My brothers were already claiming NZ to be their favourite country, two days in.
From Arthur’s Pass we then headed up to Pancake rocks which was to be the furthest north we would head in this trip. Following the winding coastal road and ending the day at Monteith’s Brewery Greymouth, it was a great way to spend day 2.
The following day I searched Instagram for some ideas along the road we were taking. I have never used this as a way to find travel ideas, but it was an amazing way to find hidden gems that we may have missed otherwise. With the users of Instagram as our travel guide, they brought to light Hokitika Gorge which was one of my favourite places on the trip. The milky turquoise river and surrounding misty rainforest was one of the most beautiful walks. It was about 5 minutes from the car park, so the walk was not too strenuous at all. We set up camp late that night and enjoyed ciders and cards. We had such a nice time each night, talking, laughing and just having family time in general. Even after arguing about where to park the rig for 40 minutes earlier that evening.
Day 4 was glacier day! Franz Joseph Glacier and Fox Glacier only half an hour apart, so we were able to drive freely between the two in the same day. We visited the tourist information centre to get some advice on which was best to hike considering the misty conditions. We waited it out for some better conditions over lunch in the van as everything in those towns was very expensive. That afternoon we walked to the viewpoint of Franz Joseph Glacier. Most of the trails were shut due to the danger of ice melt. Through the clouds we did get a glimpse of the glacier for about 20 minutes, which was all we need for a family picture and then we were on our way. We ended the day at Bruce Bay. This beach was covered in the most amazing driftwood as far as the eye could see! However, watch out for the plague of sandflies if you ever camp here, you really couldn’t spend too much time outside exploring.
I woke up in Bruce Bay on my 22nd Birthday. We had a lovely day driving, with some incredible stop off points. We found a place called Blue Pools where we spotted some backpackers jumping off a bridge into the turquoise glacial lake below. We jumped in on the action literally. When your body hit the water it burnt your skin it was that cold! I have never tried to leave a body of water so quickly. My poor mum had to watch all her babies take the leap into the lake with all of those tourist onlookers. Sorry mum but It was an experience with my brothers that I’ll never forget. We then sun-baked on the stones by the river to warm up before heading back up the hill to have a lunch at Haast Pass. We even got to rip out the lay bag and have a beer in the sunshine. We ended this day at Wanaka, setting up camp in a caravan park to take advantage of the hot showers and went out for honestly the best Italian feast ever! The beef cheeks gnocchi was just out of this world, it melted away in your mouth. This town was foodie heaven. It was my kind of town.
The next morning, we had a wander around town and some lunch by the lake before heading on towards Arrowtown and then onwards to Queenstown, where we booked in a few days of adventure. There are plenty of places selling the adrenaline tours in the village, so you can pre-book or take your luck when you arrive like we did. Price wise, I don’t believe there was much difference. They don’t call it the adrenaline capital of the world for nothing! On that note, we managed to fit in the luge that evening which is honestly some of the best fun and the site has amazing views. It’s bobsleds without the tracks, and you pick up some serious speed. We purchased 8 runs and we loved every damn minute of it. You get air, you can run into your brothers. So worth the $$$.
Queenstown is very expensive, so we drove the rig outside of the town that evening to set up camp in the free camping zone. If your van has a self contained sticker on it, you are allowed to camp in these zones. We did see some guys sleeping in their car next to us get a fine unfortunately. Queenstown especially is super strict on free campers just as an FYI.
We were up bright and early on day 7 and kicked off the the adventure with the terrifying shotover jet. These things skim over as little as 10cm of water and go very very close to rock walls and trees on the banks. Absolutely insane. We then jumped into our very thick wetsuits for the white water rafting tour. The bus ride up to the drop in zone, was more gnarly than the rafting itself. Our mini bus with trailer hugged this cliff road as cars passed by. Lucky we had a very talented driver and a charming French guide to take our minds of the danger. We jumped in the raft and had a very quick 101 lesson of rafting as the runs got progressively more intense. We never flipped the raft which was nice as even with our thick suits, the water was freezing. The adrenaline was pumping near the end as we went through caves and popped out of a small waterfall. It was so much fun. We then filled our stomachs with the famous Fergburger! Apparently you can’t leave Queenstown without trying this bad boy. The locals advise Devils Burger instead of, but i’ll you be the judge. We then went out to the Havana Cuban Rum Bar for a night out. It happened to be Crate day too, so the town was pumping with people partying. Crate day is an unofficial holiday in NZ, where people buy crates of beer and just drink in the parks in the afternoon sun. Such a fun idea. Our time here has even convinced my brother Tim to move to Queenstown. He actually moved just this weekend that has past.
Day 9 we headed towards Milford Sound. We decided to skip the walk and the boat offerings and my parents went straight for the spontaneous Helicopters! What an absolute trip and a memory I will never forget. We had a chopper and a pilot who said he would take us wherever for 30 minutes. 1. Glacier 2. Milford Sound waterfall 3. The ocean for some potential whale spotting. It was so incredible to see the glacier from the sky and he was nice enough to stop on top of the glacier for a family pic and snow ball fight. This was something that was so unexpected, but it absolutely brought the trip to the next level. This was the first time in a helicopter for me and it was quite a way to crack that cherry. Afterwards, we went on a bit of a bushwalk before finding camp and trying to come down off the buzz with a few drinks and dinner. I perfected cooking rice on the stove top that night which was a huge feat for me as well. We camped at Te Anau Downs.
Day 10, we decided to stick around the national park for some more bushwalking and chilling out. Mirror lakes was a highlight and it is just of the road. A great place for some tricky photography!
Day 11 we continued on down south to Invercargill on the South coast, the famous hometown of Burt Munro, the World’s Fastest Indian which was exciting for my brothers and Dad who enjoyed the film growing up. We then found our free camp just before dark at Haldane Bay. Roads around here were not sealed and in our big rig, it was slow going.
We left early the next morning to continue along the coast towards Nugget Point. We had a full day driving (well my Dad did) and we made it Dunedin in time for a quick brew at the Speights Brewery by the fire place. Just before dark we went to the reserve at Taiaroa Hill were you can see the incredible albatross, seals and maybe even a penguin if you are lucky.
Day 13 we had a drive through the eclectic University houses around the University of Otago. These houses had very clever names and makes you really jealous that you aren’t a part of the culture there. We then headed north for a full day of spotting seals along the coast line near Moeraki for the amazing rock formations and wildlife. It was amazing to be so close to such huge seals. We then had a stop off in a little town called Oamaru. This town was an absolute gem and I wish we could have spent more time here. Make sure you have a wander through Steampunk HQ. It is a wild metal museum and the owner is hilarious. Such a cool experience, and very clever art installations. After experiencing the taste of White Bait, we were off inland where we set up free camp on Aviemore Dam. We looked like we were on a boat you could camp so close to the waters edge. It was a great end to another huge day of adventuring.
Here it comes the last full day of the trip (the worst part of any trip). Where the heck did all of the time go? We drove direct to Mt Cook Village for a beautiful day of hikes and swims in glacial lakes. We were even able to see proper icebergs in the lakes cracking away. It was happening right before our eyes, it was incredible. After some lunch in the sunshine, we drove towards Lake Tekapo for our last night. We stayed in the local caravan park as it was getting dark, however it was very expensive so I don’t recommend it. The facilities were ok though and I enjoyed a nice hot shower. The lake was also surrounded by the incredible Lupins. We saw these flowers all over the South Island and they are stunning! When I think of NZ, I will now include lupins in the memory mix.
Day 14, we left by 9am for the drive straight back to Christchurch to sadly end our little NZ adventure for now. We returned our van and got a lift from the hire company back at the airport, not before stopping off for some fresh roadside cherries before we jumped on our flight back to Sydney.
- Helicopter flight over Milford Sound & the Glacier
- Italian food @ Francesca’s Italian Kitchen in Lake Wanaka
- The amazing Lupin flowers as far as the eye can see.. All over the South Island
- Steampunk HQ, Oamaru
- The local Dairy’s (milk bar/corner stores) for Ice-cream… So much Ice-cream
- The beautiful local ciders and wines everywhere
- Spending time with my incredible Family!!!
- Tim sleepwalking and falling on to my youngest brother Bailey.
- The family trash talk
- The family stories and laughs each night
- Our little camping dinners
- The crystal clear water
- How well NZ caters for free campers
- The out of this world bushwalks
- Whenever we ate out, the food was always top notch in quality & produce
I hope I have convinced you guys to head to the South Island and have a drive around. I 100% can guarantee you will NOT be disappointed. It is an incredible country. I will also be heading back soon I am sure of it. So if you have any tips to share with me, please do in the comments. I would love to hear them.