How To Plan A Kiwi Adventure Around South Island New Zealand

Mountains, beaches, palm trees, rainbows, and glacial lakes… need I say more? New Zealand has some of the most incredible views I have ever laid my eyes upon. During my reading break at Auckland University of Technology (one of TRU’s many partner schools), I flew down to the South Island of NZ and lived life on the road for two weeks!

1. You will need a van

First things first, you will need a means of transportation. In New Zealand, you are permitted to rent and drive a vehicle if you are at least 21 years old and have a valid license. It’s best to book a van plenty of time in advance, as many companies are quite in demand during peak seasons. My advice is to book with Tui Campers. They are easy, accommodating, helpful, and nice. All campers are equipped with everything you need, and are notably the most affordable option. They also offer free shuttles to and from the Christchurch airport to their pickup location!

2. Plan your route

Since the airport and Tui Campers are both in Christchurch, it would be best to start your journey here. A good idea is to plan your route around the weather forecast. The south island can be very rainy and wet if you don’t plan your days accordingly. Bring a proper rain jacket anyway, since it can change up pretty quick.

Above is a suggested route (this would be a 10-12 day trip, do not attempt in 1 day and 2 hours lol). Plan your route by the destinations you want to see the most, and worry about campsites later.

3. Where to camp

The easiest way to plan where you’ll be parked for the night is with an app called Campermate. When I was on the road, I would simply check the app to see what campsites were near where I was headed. New Zealand is extremely welcoming to van lifers. There are so many beautiful sites that are either free or around $10 a night. Certain places are more expensive, but might be worth the view/amenities. At these spots you might need to make a reservation. Campermate makes it easy to see pictures of the area and includes reviews from past campers.

Some of my favourite campsites worth mentioning were Gillespies Beach Campsite (beautiful DOC cite with ocean on one side and mountain view on other, $8), and Ross Beach Top 10 Holiday Park (around $50 for a powered cite but worth it if you need a warm shower).

4. Sights to stop at

There are SO many things to see. I definitely did not get to everything I could’ve in two weeks. You really can’t go wrong, though. There are plenty of waterfalls, beaches, and walks to stop at right off the side of the roads. Do some research and make a list of your top picks! Campermate also has pin drops on desirable stops.

My top picks

Near the Gillespies Beach campsite is Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. There are some walks you can do at the glaciers themselves. There is also a glacial water lake called Lake Matheson (pictured below) that you can walk all the way around, with nice views of the glaciers.

Just up the road from Lake Matheson is the Hokitika Gorge (see below), which is a river containing ‘glacial flour’, causing the water to appear bright turquoise.

At the southernmost point of the South Island is Milford Sounds (below). This area is well worth the drive. I decided to take a boat tour, which was around $100 CA. We saw dolphins, waterfalls, and ginormous Lord of The Rings-esque mountains.

If a $100 boat ride doesn’t float your boat, there are also really great hikes (kiwis would say “bush walks”) in this area, and all over the South Island for that matter. I recommend checking out Key Summit for a really beautiful day hike and stunning view (below).

Thank you for reading! If you have more questions about studying abroad in New Zealand, send me an email at

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