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Getting to Summer - Campervan Trip to South Island of New Zealand - Travel Tips

January 04, 2020

While winter is now here for most of us, summer has arrived in places like Australia and New Zealand.  If the chill is too much for you, and you have a bit of vacation time blocked off, there's a great way to visit many iconic spots around the South Island of New Zealand.  And that's by Campervan - my wife and I did this trip a few years back and highly recommend it since it is a great way to cover a lot of territory in a short amount of time, and it doesn't break the bank.  

While we won’t do all of the work here in getting your trip planned if you are thinking about a campervan trip in New Zealand, we will give you some tips to keep in mind if you are thinking of doing a loop around the South Island.  

  • Part of the fun is mapping your journey - New Zealand has so many things to do and see, it can be really daunting on where to start.  Christchurch may be a good place to kick things off, since most of the campervan companies have their HQ there to pick up your ride and it's a relatively easy city to get to (for a place that's half-way around the world).  When we start a trip, we will both write down a list of our "must see" activities and locations, and then do a comparison of each of our favorites and work on the logistics of each day's activities and location to fit in as many of our top choices as possible. This means compromise - but it usually works out that all of our top spots are on the list - and the places we won't have time for we'll plan for another visit.  We don't do hour by hour planning, but general things like AM and PM activities along with key dining stops.  Using Google Maps also helps to visualize where everything is so that you can make the best use of your time.
  • Check out the reputation/level of service for your campervan provider.  We used Wilderness Motorhomes after a pretty exhaustive search. We liked the reviews they had from the customers, and they were quite responsive with all of our inquiries.  They also had great videos on all of the different options of campervans you can choose from. 


      • Don’t try to do too much every day.  And take a break from driving during the trip.  Ideally if you have more than one driver, you can share the load on driving.  But even so, there’s so much to see - don’t rush through. We stopped on the trail to speak with someone from Spain who was touring for 30 days, and she said it was not enough time.  
        • We threw in a day long bus tour to Milford Sound in the middle of our trip, to let someone else do the driving one day.  It really helped in re-juicing the batteries while at the same time exploring new areas. Other options may include a day hike, fly fishing for the amazing trout that are all over the streams, sailing day trips or whale watching.  
        • Don’t speed.  The NZ cops are pretty diligent, and their citizens will call the cops to come get you.  Don’t believe me? It happened to me. We were trying to get back to return the campervan on time and not incur an additional penalty/fee, so we rushed a bit and paid the price.  The policeman gave us a warning ticket, but we were still dinged for being late.
        • Another reason to not plan on doing too much each day - you can’t go that fast on these roads.   You'll be heading through mountain passes, national parks, and ocean-side villages - all with amazing views.  Speed limits are not typical highway speed, so plan accordingly. 



      • The evening stars can be amazing, bring a tripod and a camera. Being amateur photographers, it was worth staying up one night to get some shots. There are numerous websites/videos that explain shooting the stars at night.  None have the exact same advice. So the great thing is with these digital cameras is you can go out, try, adjust, and try again. You’ll be amazed at how fun and easy it is.  We have a pretty good, not great, mirrorless, Olympus OMD E-M10 with a wide angle lens to use for night shots. Check out the review of the latest cameras.
      • Plan your campervan stops/overnights along the way - before you get to NZ, and read and pick the best places to park.  Some of these places are super nice and need reservations. A lot of them will have kitchens, so you can cook your meal in a bit more spacious place and get to meet other travelers, which is part of the fun of this style of travel.  There’s not always grocery stores at the locations you plan to stop, so plan those outings as well. This bit of planning will go a long way to making your trip really fun. There are apps such as CamperMate that provide interactive maps to plan out sites with details on the amenities such as kitchens, grills, showers, power, toilets, etc.  



      New Zealand is the type of place that will inspire you and hopefully move you to help preserve places like it. Time to get out there.

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