There are few places in this world that are really camping-friendly: Kia Ora (welcome) in New Zealand! 3540 km and 15 days after, there we go with some shots, places and interesting facts about this epic country.

We started by renting our way around the island. Being quite low season (end of sept-mid oct), we were not in a real rush to book ahead, but we knew the place could have been a bit cold. So we opted for a self contained Toyota from Jucy – including a portable heater when connected to a power source – BEST CHOICE EVER.


So, we had only a rough idea of what to see, where to go and what to do, we were extremely flexible, given the fact camping sites where not booked out and major places would have still been not so crowded: the winter/spring power.

Landed in Christchurch, after getting our RV, we headed north, and we figured out that scenery was changing already 50km out of the city.


Reaching Kaikoura was the first highlight of our trip. Dramatic bay with seals laying in front of you – what a place. Unfortunately we were too late to jump on a last-minute whales or dolphins cruise. Nonetheless, we could have done it in some other places with a bit more planning, so we continued north.


Being a lot into wines, I couldn’t have missed the fact that New Zealand is well know also for its incredible wines, from the Sauvignon blanc to the Pinot Noir passing through the Sauvignon Gris (which was the first time I’ve ever heard of it). So we stopped by in several wineries around the Waipara Valley (Riesling and Gewürztraminer), Malborough region (top tier Sauvignons) and then bordered Central Otago with its high-ends Pinot Noir. Wines are incredibly tasty and really flavoured, thanks to the soil. Also, the varieties are astonishing given the different climates throughout the whole South Island.


After the wine regions, it was the turn to travel toward one of the main sights of the southern island – Abel Tasman National Park – WELL WORTH THE DRIVE INDEED. Passing through Queen Charlotte Drive and stopping by Pelorus Bridge, we had already an expectation of what was coming up.


(The second pic, the river view from Pelorus bridge, may seem familiar to you because of these guys – yep, same point!)


After few more hours we hit the beginning of Abel Tasman, where Golden Bay is located – Golden indeed.


After 15 more km of dirt road, we managed to camp in a top location exactly in the park – Totaranui campground – toward the end of the Great Walk: indeed trampers have their spot there! Catered for 700 people, we were around 3 cars parked in the whole camp. But the stars left us speechless. Not the cold, the stars. 


I can imagine why this place is a prime location during summer days, and honestly speaking, I don’t know if I would like to stay there with 700 other people – nature has its beauty also in the sound of silence.

Day after was a commuting day, fuel/food stops and continuous driving down the raw West Coast. We left Westport to start our route to the mountains and we were greeted by some of the WOWest moments of the trip


We stopped to check out Punakaiki, home of the Pancake Rocks: those are limestone formations that began forming 30 million years ago, when lime-rich fragments of dead marine creatures were deposited on the seabed, then overlaid by weaker layers of soft mud and clay. Indeed, they are quite similar to pancakes.


Where was I? Ah, the mountains. Did you know that NZ has few, but really important glaciers?

A glacier is a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight. A glacier forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its ablation (melting and sublimation) over many years, often centuries.

Persistent is a great word; unfortunately, I don’t think NZ glaciers will be persistent – check out the difference between 100y ago, 10y ago and today,


Welcome to Franz Josef glacier, or at least what is left. Walking around this valley left us with a tangible proof that climate change is happening.

Moving on to the next stop with heavy hearts, we needed something lighter to live with: luckily Queenstown was our next stop!

Queenstown is called the extreme sport capital of the world: we believed that but we didn’t want to try how far our medical assistance could have gone, hence we limited ourselves to enjoy the Luge, a speedy sort of kart, down the tallest mountain of Queenstown. Oh, and the view to get there – another big WOW.


Nearby, there are also the Blue Pools, famous for this kinda blue water. Like blue bleu blu.


Being up in the mountains, Queenstown is kinda cold. Hence this was our coldest night (without power -> without heating). We reached 3 degrees Celsius inside the van, but again, those stars! Spoiler: Cristina wasn’t amused as I was.

Freezing pic + Stars pic – best combo for a winter night!


There is also another stop that a lot of people don’t want to miss while travelling the South Island; that’s Milford Sound, cruising around this incredible fjord. Already the road to get there is quite impressive and full of Kea parrots – have you ever seen this inquisitive buddy?


Coming back to Milford sound, words from the official website:

With its magical combination of mountain peaks, ink-dark waters and superb dramatic forest-clad cliffs, it must be seen to be believed.


Indeed, it was unreal. Like our journey so far, which was coming to an end.

One of the last stops was Dunedin – second city of the southern island and best know for its dramatic hiking landscape – this one:


Uh, and it is also known because it had the world’s steepest street until literally this year: Baldwin Street.


The 161.2-metre-long top section climbs 47.2 metres vertically, an average gradient of 1:3.41. At its maximum, about 70 metres from the top, the slope of Baldwin Street is about 1:2.86 (19° or 35%). That is, for every 2.86 metres travelled horizontally, the elevation changes by 1 metre.

Seen that, we ended up doing some good tastings of fresh NZ products: salmons and cheese!


This was during our exploration of the blue, I guess glacial, lakes – Tekapo and Pukaki. The color is super real – as you see it, so it was!


The journey was coming to an end, while we were approaching Christchurch. But one part was still missing, the dolphin part – if you’ve read till here, you know that we skipped it in Kaikoura. So the Banks peninsula and Akaroa were the best places to try this out. We went with these guys, Ecoseaker and check out the pics – totally worth it!


Those that you can see are Hector’s dolphins, the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world. They are found only in the shallow coastal waters along shores of New Zealand, are super curious and for this, critically endangered according to the WWF.

Akaroa itself is the perfect ecosystem for these creatures: no predators and beautiful sunsets.


After such treat, we arrived where everything started: back to Christchurch, exploring a bit the city during the last night out. The earthquakes scars are still quite visible there.


That was our journey, epic roadtrip or whatever you want to call it. 15 days of cold, epicness, fuel consumption management, pasta eating, wine tastings and beautiful, outstanding, dramatic landscapes.

Hope to have inspired somebody to do the same and we’ll definitely be back for the North Island!

PS: wanna see some more drone shots?


PPS: did I say pasta eating?


Now -> French Polynesia! See ya!






One thought on “New Zealand: an epic road trip around the South Island

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s