Our New Zealand road trip was a long time in the making, we had been dreaming of visiting for years and had finally made it a reality. We made the decision to tour the country in a small campervan to allow us the flexibility to go wherever we wanted. We really liked the idea of making it up as we went along.
Prior to travelling we had set out a very rough route but as we were visiting in late Autumn we knew our route was weather dependant. We had the first two nights booked and that was it. It was so exciting to think about all the possibilities!
After 40 very long hours travelling to the other side of the world, this included a 3 hour layover in Singapore and a 8 hour layover in Auckland. We started our NZ road trip in the stunning South Island.
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10 Day New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary
We chose to hire a 4 berth camper through JUCY, these iconic purple and green vans are perfect for a small family. JUCY campers are pretty budget friendly so if like us you like to save pennies whilst travelling we can’t recommend them enough. You can read our full review here.
Driving in New Zealand
I thought it would be worth chatting about driving in NZ. Whilst like the UK they drive on the left there are marked differences.
Firstly the roads in NZ are unlike anywhere elsewhere. They are windy, long, narrow and for the most part single laned. Secondly, it generally takes longer than the sat nav says it will. If it says 5 hours then it will probably take 7. Thirdly and probably the most obvious is that distance and speed limits are measured in kilometres not miles.
If you are driving a campervan or motorhome and cant keep the speed limit, it is considered normal and polite to pull over to the side of the road (when safe of course) to allow other drivers pass. NZ drivers get quite irate if you don’t!
You can find more information about driving in NZ here.
Day 1 and 2 – Christchurch
After arriving on an early morning flight from Auckland we took the JUCY shuttle bus to the Christchurch office where we collected our amazing little JUCY Condo. We then headed to the supermarket for supplies before we found our prebooked campsite.
Jetlag hit us pretty hard on day one so we spent the rest of the day getting to grips with the camper and relaxing at our campsite. There was a fantastic play area and indoor swimming pool so happy people all around.
Day two heralded a gorgeous sunny day so we caught the local bus into Christchurch city centre. First on the agenda, a wander around the incredible Botanic Gardens and a visit to the Canterbury Museum. Entry is by donation and it has to be one of the best museums we have ever visited! Lunch was at the iconic Antigua Boat Shed.
A stroll through the centre led us to the old Christchurch Cathedral, it was damaged beyond repair in the 2011 earthquake. It is gated off but stands as a reminder of that tragic day. We then paid a visit to the breathtaking Cardboard Cathedral. Created in the wake of the earthquake this impressive feat of engineering is so poignant and beautiful. Day two ended with tea at the campsite.
Where we stayed – Christchurch Top 10 Holiday Park. We can’t recommend this campsite enough. The facilities are excellent for families.
Day 3 – Christchurch to Dunedin (361km)
Our initial plans were to head out of Christchurch across Arthur’s Pass but mother nature had other plans. Snow overnight had closed the pass so a last minute change of plans ensued. New plan…..head to Dunedin.
As we headed out of Christchurch and along the SH1 we were treated to gorgeous distant views of the snow capped mountains. We stopped in Timaru for a “camper sandwich”, we found a great little spot at a park with sea views. Living our best life!
Heading off after lunch we stumbled across a gorgeous deserted beach, of course if would have been rude not to stop for a run/walk along the perfect sands. It really reminded us just why we came to NZ. Next stop Oamaru! A quaint little town around an hour north town of Dunedin which is famous for its little blue penguins, it’s traditional Victorian precinct and randomly for being the headquarters of the Steampunk movement. We arrived mid afternoon and spent a couple of hours exploring this very curious town. Coffee and cake were involved.
With the weather changing we decided to head off to Dunedin. The heavens opened and rain like we’ve never seen battered our camper as we drove up and down the mental hills in Dunedin. We arrived at our campsite around 7pm. Time for tea, massive mistake on our part heading to the Four Square Supermarket across the road for a few supplies. A jar of coffee was $16!
Where we stayed – Dunedin Top 10 Holiday Park – this park is pretty basic but the facilities are clean and there’s a indoor pool and playground for the kids.
Day 4 – Dunedin
Waking up to a pretty bleak day we decided not to let the weather get in the way of our plans. After breakfast Graham and L headed off for quick swim. Then we made the journey out to Tunnel Beach.
A gorgeous beach with sea sculpted rock formations and an impressive man made tunnel that leads from the cliffs to the beach. It’s an hour round hike (the climb back up will literally kill you but it’s so worth it).
Our afternoon was spent exploring the town centre and the fantastic Otago Museum which is totally free, we also ventured to Baldwin Street (the worlds steepest street) before heading to McDonalds for tea and WiFi.
Where we stayed – Dunedin Top 10 Holiday Park
Day 5 – Dunedin to Queenstown (282km)
Gorgeous blue sky! Hooray!
Up early and off to Queenstown we went. This journey was mind blowing in so many ways. The landscape changes around every corner, from rolling green hills, rocky gorges to towering snow capped mountains. The word wow was used alot.
A journey that was supposed to take 4 hours took us most of the day. We stopped at so many lookout points along the way before finally arriving into the township of Arrowtown.
Just 25 minutes from Queentown, this historic gold rush town is an absolute must see. Gorgeous tree lined streets, traditional Victorian style buildings and shops. We spent a couple of hours exploring the streets, buying sweets and enjoying the charm.
Jumping back into the camper is was Queenstown time. The weather had turned quite grey and dull but it didn’t stop the excitement. We arrived at our accommodation around 6pm. Empty tummies called so a lovely evening stroll around Queenstown was in order. Tea was at The London Restaurant for delicious pizza and pasta.
Where we stayed – Melbourne Lodge Hotel. Yes we didn’t camp in Queenstown. With temps dropping to minus 8 on a night we decided to go into a hotel. We absolutely loved the Melbourne Lodge, the rooms are fantastic was families. Breakfast is amazing! It’s just a 5 minute walk to the centre and the views over the mountains are incredible.
Day 6 – Queenstown
Again glorious blue skies but very cold.
After an amazing breakfast we headed into the centre. Our morning was spent wandering the streets, visiting the famous Cookie Time, taking in the views of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables from the foreshore and strolling through the stunning botanic gardens.
Now you can’t visit Queenstown and not go the the legendary Fergburger, it’s mandatory! Lunch was a life changing burger (they do gluten free!) that we waited 45 minutes for, it was so worth it. Then it was time for the Skyline Gondola. Possibly six of the scariest minutes of my life. The views from the top are amazing though. We did plan to do the luge at the top but due to the weather in previous days it was closed. After going for a good trudge along the Loop Track, we grabbed a coffee and cake. We then spent an hour quite literally staring at the view before heading back down.
Tea was a ramshackled supermarket meal in our hotel room. We spent the evening sitting in the hotel lounge admiring the view and playing snap.
Where we stayed – Melbourne Lodge Hotel
Day 7 – Queenstown to Wanaka (62km)
The thing about New Zealand is that you can never predict the weather. Our plans had been to stay another day in Queentown and make the long journey in and out of Milford Sound. Unfortunately the snow had other ideas. The pass through to Milford had been closed for three days and we decided that we couldn’t really wait for another day to see if it opened up, so we quickly booked accommodation in Wanaka and headed off in old Jucy Lucy under the clear sky.
Not before stopping at AJ Hackett Bungy in Kawarua Gorge to watch some brave souls make the jump. We had zero intentions of joining them.
Our journey took us through Cromwell and more beautiful countryside. It’s a short journey from Queenstown to Wanaka so we really enjoyed the leisurely pace.
We stumbled across the Wanaka Motor Museum and decided a visit was definitely in order. The only way I can describe this place is awesome. It’s a massive private collection of cars, planes, toys and other vehicles. Thousands of them. L was in his element!
Arriving into Wanaka mid afternoon we spent the rest of the day enjoying a walk around Lake Wanaka, visiting “That Wanaka Tree” and eating the best meal ever at The Big Fig. I can’t describe how beautiful Wanaka is, I think it gives Queenstown a run for its money.
Where we stayed – Again we stayed in a hotel. We chose the Ramada Resort by Wyndham as it was the cheapest on the day. We were amazed when you got there! The hotel has real mountain lodge feel and the rooms are perfect for a family.
Day 8 – Wanaka to Christchurch (428km)
We really thought long and hard about heading up the East Coast of the South Island to Mount Cook and the Franz Josef Glacier, but given how ever changing the weather had been we decided that rather than risk being stuck that side we felt it was best to make our way back towards Christchurch. As we were flying from there to Wellington (we’ll get to that later).
Our visit to Wanaka was brief but I’m so glad we visited. We really want return to the area for longer one day.
The journey was Wanaka to Christchurch is pretty epic and it took us around 9 hours. We did stop for many photo opportunities along the way. One of the highlights was hiking to Lindis Pass lookout!
Lunch was a “camper sandwich” by the banks of Lake Tekapo, a vast expanse of turquoise coloured water. It is probably one of the most picturesque places we’ve ever visited. We enjoyed a stroll along the front to the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd which sits on the banks of the lake. It really is something else.
I won’t give you a blow by blow account of the rest of the journey is mostly involved singing very loudly to the Trolls soundtrack, eating snacks and playing endless games eye spy.
I can not remember what we did for tea that night all I know is we got to our campsite, I had a complete meltdown about flying from the Christchurch to Wellington.
One thing I don’t often publicly admit is that I am horrendously afraid of flying. Ironic hey for someone who writes a travel blog. I can usually control it but we had a really (really!) bumpy flight from Auckland to Christchurch and the thought of it again coupled with tiredness was too much. Thankfully we had not booked our flights (we wanted to keep our options open) so we spent the night hastily arranging a car and the ferry crossing from Picton to Wellington.
Where we stayed – Christchurch Top 10 Holiday Park
Day 9 – Christchurch to Picton (337km)
Up early, camper cleaned and ready to hand back (remember we were going to fly so we had arranged to collect another one in Wellington). We headed to Apex to collect the car and then said goodbye to Jucy number 1.
Let the long journey to Picton commence. We knew the drive would be a long one, the roads around Kaikoura were seriously damaged in an earthquake in 2016 so there is still a huge amount of roadworks taking place.
It wasn’t long until we both agreed that we were so happy we decided to drive instead of the fly. That drive along the coastline is possibly the most breathtaking road trips you’ll ever do. Lunch was a Subway by the beach in Kaikoura.
We arrived into Picton around 5pm and checked into our hotel before heading straight to the waterfront to take in the gorgeous views over the London Quay. Picton is a lovely very picturesque harbour town. L loved running a muck on the play equipment right by the waterfront.
Tea was at Cafe Cortado, it was really good and much needed. We couldn’t quite believe our South Island journey was almost over.
Where we stayed – Picton Yacht Club Hotel. The hotel is quite basic but it absolutely meet our needs for one night and we would definitely recommend it.
Day 10 – Picton to Wellington (via the Cook Strait)
Up early and excited to start the next leg of our journey, we dropped our rental car off at the ferry terminal and checked in before grabbing breakfast at the cafe. We were travelling as foot passengers and the process is very similar to an airport. You check in, drop your bags off and wait to board. Our 10.45am ferry was right on time.
Thankfully the sun as shining and the water was calm which meant for a very smooth journey. It’s a notoriously rough stretch of water. The ferry traverses the Cook Strait and takes in some stunning scenery along the way. L loved the journey and I think we all agreed that whilst it knocked a day off our North Island stay the journey from Christchurch to Wellington via land and sea was worth it. You can read more about our ferry journey here.
We arrived in Wellington just before 2pm……let the North Island adventure begin.
A Few Final Thoughts
This is by no means a suggested itinerary. As you saw we had to change our plans quite a few times. It was a really good introduction to the South Island though and a great route for travelling with kids.
You’ll notice that there aren’t stories of jetboating, canyon swinging, helicopter rides over Mount Cook etc etc and that’s because we decided that we wanted to experience everything as a family and also lets be honest those things are super expensive! We really love walking around and exploring new cities and taking in the natural beauty. We didn’t set out to have an action packed holiday. Perhaps when L is older and we’ve won the lottery.
Route We Followed
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