The first part of our trip around the South Island was a luxury tour… Mmmm, I hear you say, how lovely! Well, yes it certainly was!
See my blog about our tour of the West Coast here.
When we arrived in Queenstown, after a beautiful and sumptuous night out at Rata it was time to say goodbye to the group as everyone went their different ways…
…and hello to a life on the road in a motorhome.
Table of Contents
- About the Motorhome
- Freedom Camping
- Maui has a great app to download
- Camping Grounds
- Te Anau
- Milford Sound
- Bluff and Invercargill
- The Catlins
- Aoraki Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo
- Timaru – Akaroa
- What to take
One of the greatest joys was tootling along at a meandering pace soaking up the major scenery and stopping where ever you want. We always stopped at a small town café for morning coffee (flat white of course) and homestyle baking fresh from the oven… scones, muffins, brioche, cinnamon swirls, what ever was going and there was always something delish… yum.
Lunch was a synch because it consisted of: pull over somewhere preferably by a stream, river, lake then pile out onto the layby with bread, tomatoes, tinned whathaveyou, mayo and a cup of tea. If it was blustery we’d do the same but inside the van.
Dinner was out at a local restaurant/takeaways or we used the motorhome’s attached bbq. Sometimes we cooked in the communal kitchen at the campground or we prepared minor meals in the van.
About the Motorhome
We had decided on a Maui motorhome and we chose a three berth so that we had enough room to spread out. Maui Rentals have an office here in Auckland and we visited the premises before making a final decision. The helpful people at Maui made us feel welcome and we were able to jump on board several vans to see which was the most suitable. They also gave lots of information and tips… but I would probably suggest you watch all the videos before embarking on your journey because at our first stop after pick up, New World Supermarket to stock up on essential supplies such as bread and alcohol, we could not work out how to release the handbrake!!
Not to worry, a quick call to the 0800 number set us on the right track. This number proved to be invaluable because we phoned a few more times and I must say the young man on the other end was endlessly patient and helpful.
Towels, tea towels, sheets and blankets are provide for you in the van. No wifi available on the van unless you use your own data however coverage is spasmodic as you move around.
We did try freedom camping a couple of times but with more restrictions now we found ourselves relegated to a parking lot, no trees or garden to sit in, just a carpark space. Our van package included free outdoor table and chairs so one of the day’s great pleasures was to park up in the evening for our drinks and cheese and we found the surroundings at the camping grounds to be much more pleasant.
Not to say freedom camping wouldn’t be the perfect way for you to go- so here is some useful info I picked up:
- Freedom Camping in New Zealand – all about the requirements and tips about freedom camping
- New Zealand Department of Conservation Camp Site Finder – usually these sites are in premium locations, next to a river, lake or mountain.
- Travellers Autobarn App – it will help you to find the best freedom camping sites, but you can also get all your vehicle information, safety tips and activity advice
- Rankers Camping NZ App – will show you over 1500 locations to camp, showing both full-facility holiday parks or an isolated hideaway
- CamperMate App – this will help you to find freedom camping spots, as well as receive traveler submitted tips and emergency alerts, giving you peace of mind when you travel.
Maui has a great app to download: thl Roadtrip App
We used this app mostly to find deals at camping grounds. An offer would be published on the app for a discounted camp site fee and it was on offer for a couple of hours so we were able to grab it on the go.
How will the app helps you plan your roadtrip:
- 1. Find everything you need– The thl Roadtrip app displays your current GPS location then shows the nearest campsite and holiday parks, (free and paid), petrol station, free wifi, real-time road alerts, supermarkets, dump stations, public toilets, LPG filling stations, Electric Vehicle Roam charging stations, laundromats and in fact pretty much everything you need when you’re on the road.
- 2. Watch our videos– The thl Roadtrip App includes a full show-through video of your camper – showing you what it looks like and where to find everything. It’s great to learn a bit about your camper before you get here. We also feature a bunch of useful ‘CamperHelp’ videos, showing you how to use the features of your camper – from plugging into power, to emptying the toilet cassette, setting up the dining tables and making the beds – you’ll be a pro in no time.
- 3. Find your way without a wifi or data connection -One of the best features of the thl Roadtrip App is, no matter where you are, the maps work offline, you don’t need a wifi connection to be able to use the maps when your out of range, you just need to save them first. Perfect for itinerary planning when your a bit more off the grid as New Zealand is big place with sometimes limited mobile reception areas.
- 4. Join the conversation with other travellers -If you like reading user tips and feedback about places to stay and things to do, then the thl Roadtrip App will be super helpful for you. As a user of the app you are able to leave your own feedback and read others comments and recommendations – very handy if you are trying to decide where to stay for the night and you want to know which campground is more preferred by fellow roadtrippers.
We enjoyed the fabulous facilities available at camping grounds. Great hot showers, laundry facilities, huge kitchen, indoor dining room or outdoor dining and essential dumping station.
Camping grounds have wifi.
It was also a good way to meet people. The wonderful phenomena we experienced when travelling with a campervan/motorhome was the friendliness of other fellow campervan-ers. We felt right at home as other people at the camp site came to chat and compare notes. There were a lot of helpful tips and tricks to life on the road and as luck would have it one of these kind souls pointed us to the heater switch and bam we had heat!
First day problems emptying the foul water were shared by a group of men that came to find out what was happening and after great discussions a working routine was established.
Check the apps for the best camping ground deals but we found that the Top 10 Holiday Parks were very reliable and always in great locations with park-like grounds.
Pick up in Queenstown was near the airport at Frankton. Here we paid up and had to make the decision about paying for premium insurance. I would say it probably wasn’t necessary and was an unexpected expense but as we are inherently risk-averse we opted to take it- think about factoring this into your budget on the upstart.
Our first stop after this was the supermarket then, after a slight delay dealing to the handbrake, we were on our way.
We drove to Milford Sound and joined a boat cruise which is an excellent way to experience all the sights. We saw bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and a Fiordland Crested Penguin or two all with the most beautiful backdrop. We were lucky to strike beautiful weather which made the dramatic scenery all the more beautiful.
Beautiful! Stunning! Just a few photos…
Bluff and Invercargill
After the cruise we spent another night in Te Anau then headed to Bluff and Invercargill. We thought a trip to Stewart Island might be prefect from here but bookings were not available and this had to be saved for a later trip, see my blog about our trip to Stewart Island here.
So a liesurely look around, the obligatory flat white and we stayed at a lovely Top 10 campsite in Invercargill.
We had heard a lot about The Catlins but we had never been here before. It was a wonderful experience. On the way we stopped at Waipapa Point Lighthouse then we stopped at every scenic road sign. We explored The Purakaunui Falls, McLean Falls and Cathedral Caves. Unfortunately we were running out of time and daylight so we missed Nugget Point… all the more reason to return at some stage.
We have visited Dunedin many times over the years and always enjoy this beautiful town. It is described a something of a boutique city with a little bit of everything, shopping, cafes and restaurants, history, nature. The surrounding hills are bushy and overlook a pretty harbor.
Our highlight here was visiting friends and going with them to the Royal Albatross Centre. We spent quite some time here and thoroughly enjoyed the tour. A number of birds were nesting and we were able to observe them from a hide so it was a good view. Then we were treated to the most spectacular view of an adult Royal Albatross coming in from the sea. He arrived in a wide circle to land nearby – wow, you get an idea of just how huge their wing span is! They have a 3-metre wing span. What an awesome sight!
I was skeptical about stopping to see the Moeraki Boulders, what on earth is this? But they turned out to be interesting. They are a natural phenomenon. Perfectly shaped round spheres just scattered around the beach having emerged from the surrounding landscape, perfect to jump on…
I got wet, of course. But, hey, we have all our belongings in the motorhome just a short walk away in the car park. I was able to wash up and get a full change of clothes and shoes… warm and toastie again, bliss!
Just passing through Oamaru and stopped for the night, took a stroll around the historic town, stocked up on food and regrouped before our push to Mt Cook the next day.
However we did get to visit the Blue Penguin Colony which was delightful. We had a tour of the colony and watched from the premium viewing grandstand to see the penguins arrive and cross into the colony after a day at sea. We were only metres away from these cutest of all penguins and got a lovely view, photos not allowed.
Aoraki Mt Cook & Lake Tekapo
Aoraki Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo are two of the most stunningly beautiful locations in NZ. Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is home of the highest mountains and the longest glaciers. It would have been wonderful to hike these trails but we struck a bitter cold day and were content to take a short walk before heading off to Lake Tekapo for the night.
Timaru – Akaroa
We stayed one night at Timaru on our way to Akaroa and we enjoyed Caroline Bay where we got to see more Little Blue Penguins come ashore in the evening.
Then on to the cute town of Akaroa which has a winding access road over mountains and through gorges. It is a scenic road trip but on a rainy and blustery day with myriads of hairpin bends it was slightly… well, hairy. However, we arrived safe and sound, thanks to some careful driving and we spent just one night here.
Akaroa is a French influenced town with historic buildings and a beautiful harbor. If the weather was better we would have like to stay longer but we decided to push on to the last leg of our journey.
Back at Christchurch and time to take stock, do some laundry at the camping ground, head to the nearest mall to take in a movie and generally relax before our flight home. Dinner with a dear friend from high school out at one of the riverside restaurants was fabulous.
It is more than 10 years since the devastating earthquake struck Christchurch and the city has made a comeback. It has a great community feel and the city is vibrant and colorful.
Drop off was at the airport which was wonderfully convenient. And so… our trip came to an end.
Time to say good bye to our cosy home but with a promise to return someday soon.
What to take
- drivers license
- best camera you can lay your hands on because the scenery is awe inspiring
- another camera as back up
- puffer jacket or some kind of windbreaker
- hat, gloves, scarf, warm socks
- outdoor clothing
- I took a sleeping bag, it was cosy to use but did not actually need it in the van
- top up mobile data
- alarm so you can wake up early for spectacular sunrise
- some equipment with which to pinch yourself… you will want to do this often.