Campervan Trip In South Island (+tips)

It never comes to my mind that I would do traveling using campervan until one of my classmates has finally done it. He said that it was such a whole new experiences that everyone should experience before leaving New Zealand. Obviously we are not able to travel using campervan in Indonesia due to inadequate facilities. Few friends of mine who studied in Brisbane, Australia planned to visit New Zealand. Then, I thought that it would be a great opportunity to ask them joined with me traveling with campervan while exploring New Zealand and finally they agreed!
However, there were some consideration regarding the trip:

  1. We were going to travel in winter season which is susceptible to bad weather,
  2. We were fasting at that month,
  3. Effective time in winter season is shorter than summer season, and
  4. It would be very cold as we getting closer to the southern tip.

We chose to start traveling from Christchurch and ended up Dunedin. We had to do that way considering the time availability of each member and a bit of miss-communication. Anyway, It is not the best itinerary based on my perspective due to some reasons:

  1.  It is better to drop off our campervan at the city we picked up, therefore we don’t have to pay for additional remote location fee (e.g.: we pick up the campervan at Christchurch and drop off at Christchurch as well). Remote location fee could reach $490 per pick up/drop off! Allocate a longer time for traveling using campervan (9-14 days).
  2. If it is still not possible to compan

Let’s get back to our story. At the first day, we arrived at Christchurch at noon, and we were picked up by the renting company to the office to fulfill the mandatory form, payment and pick up our campervan. Fortunately, we didn’t have a schedule to visit touristic places on the first day because we spent almost the whole day to deal with all the procedure. We had to learn how to operate the campervan such as operating heater and all electrical stuff, dumping waste, managing electricity power, operating gas and stove, configuring bed and passenger seat, and filling up the fresh water. Furthermore, we had to buy groceries for a week ahead because big supermarket such as Countdown and Pak n Save were not available in the remote area. We left Christchurch before dark to Lake Tekapo.

Before continuing the story, I would like to suggest some point in choosing campervan:

  1. It is better to choose for setting and greater performance.
  2. A bigger fresh-water tank storage (>100 L) is recommended so you don’t have to refill every few times. It would be significant if you time.
  3. Two drivers minimum is recommended and make sure that all drivers are above 25 years old as driver below 25 years old would have bigger insurance fee. Bring your translated-driver license!

We arrived in Tekapo at night. If you are lucky, you could see glimmering stars at the sky. If you want to choose to stay at non-powered sites, make sure that you have already turned off the fridge, gas has been filled up in order to operate the gas heater, and such insignificant use of lights have to be turned off. Otherwise, you would end up freezing at night and run out of power in the morning. The Church of the Good Shepherd and the dog statue are the main features in Lake Tekapo, which you could visit at daylight. At the second day in the morning, we headed to Mt. Cook National Park. If you want to do short tracking (3-4 hours), Hooker Valley Track and Kea Point Track are the most recommended option you could have. A further information could be obtained at DOC visitor center.

Besides Mt. Cook and Lake Pukaki, there is interesting place in Twizel, just 45 minutes’ drive from Mt. Cook National Park where you could visit a salmon farm (High Country Salmon). I would love to visit it in the next morning, but unfortunately we were unable to get there because one of our friends had to go back to Brisbane via Queenstown immediately at noon. We spent the third day mostly for traveling from Twizel to Queenstown then explored Glenorchy afterward. It is recommended for you to spend 2-3 days minimum in Queenstown as there are a lot of natural touristic place and attractions as well such as ski, gondola, cruise, ludge, etc.


Left to right direction, described from upper to lower row : Stargazing at Lake Tekapo; Lake Tekapo; Lake Pukaki; Kea point track at Mt. Cook National Park; Heading to Glenorchy; Glenorchy, Enjoying Fergburger while sunset; Skyline Gondola at Queenstown; View taken from Queenstown wharf.

We were a little bit in a hurry on the fifth day as we had to go to Milford Sound and arrived there before dark. The situation was getting worse as we knew that the road access between Hollyford to Milford Sound would be closed at 3 pm on that daych the cruise. Lesson learned is you have to pay attention to traffic information especially in Fiordland National Park. There was only one way that Te Anau and Milford Sound. Information could and should be retrieved Don’t fall asleep along the way from Te Anau to Milford Sound! It could be the greatest road you’ve ever crossed.


Left to right direction, described from upper to lower row: Stargazing at lower Hollyford; Hollyford; Milford Sound; Lake Gunn; Milford Sound – Te Anau; Lake Te Anau

Caitlins National Park and ended up in Dunedin. If you are feeling bored of mountains and lakes, this route could be alternative as it gives the coastal view. We finished our trip in 8 days. In summary, here was our itinerary:

Day 1: Pick up campervan at Christchurch, buy groceries, and stay at Lake Tekapo
Day 2 : Visit Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo, short tracking at Mt. Cook, take a photo at Lake Pukaki, stay at Twizel
Day 3 : Visit High Country Salmon, Twizel, heading to Queenstown, exploring Glenorchy
Day 4 : Ski, Arrowtown, and around Queenstown. Eat Fergburger! The best burger in town or NZ!
Day 5 : Skyline Gondola + Luge, heading to Milford Sound, stays overnight
Day 6 : Cruise at Milford Sound, heading to Invercargill, take a photo along the way at the Fiordland National Park, stay overnight at Invercargill, see Aurora Australis if you are lucky.
Day 7: Invercargill – Dunedin via Caitlins National Park (Curio Bay & Nugget point)
Day 8: Dunedin (Otago Peninsula, Cadbury Chocolate Factory, Otago University, Baldwin St, City Center, etc


Left to right direction, described from upper to lower row: Bluff, a southern point 40 minutes from Invercargill; Curio Bay; Nugget Point; Cadbury Chocolate Factory

Before you plan your trip, there are a bit more suggestions for you:

  1. If you have more time I would suggest you to follow this route : Christchurch – Lake Tekapo – Lake Pukaki & Mt. Cook – Dunedin – Caitlins National Park – Invercargill – Te Anau – Milford Sound – Queenstown – Fox Glacier via Lake Wanaka – Frans Joseph Glacier – Nelson Lakes National Park – Christchurch.
  2. Download Campermates application in your Android phone. It serves you with plenty of options of campsites, dump station, and water tap.
  3. Fulfill your fuel tank before it reaches half capacity. In some remote areas, it would be quite difficult to find a gas station. Before you go to Milford Sound, please fill your tank in Te Anau.
  4. Please rent snow chain if you are traveling in the winter season for your safety.
  5. Renting inverter would be so helpful so you can charge multiple devices in your campervan while traveling on the road.

Good Luck! Enjoy your journey while in New Zealand!
Trip participants: Aryo Bimo Oetomo, Anri Pristidianita, Putri Rengganis, Miranda Surya Wardhany, Aditya Rahardi Witjaksono.

Aryo Bimo Oetomo
Master of Energy – The University of Auckland

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