NEW ZEALAND ROAD TRIP
Judging by my photos, most people think we are avid campers and that we live on the road like gypsies, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. We live in Los Angeles, travel a few times a year and we always stay in hotels. But after doing the research it seemed like the only way to see everything you wanted on the South Island was with a campervan… unless you were prepared to spend $500+ a night at the one hotel in the remote area.
Don’t get me wrong, I have camped before (I was a Girl Scout for more than half my life!) but I was so nervous to a.) drive on the other side of the road and b.) drive a van. And yes, the first couple hours in the van were daunting, learning the limitations and constantly reminding ourselves to drive on the left side of the road, but it was easily my favorite part of the trip.
Our van was from Mad Campers, we picked it up in Christchurch drove straight to Mount Cook for one day, then on to Wanaka for 2 days, then we weathered the storm in Milford sound, and ultimately ended up doubling back because a storm had washed out a bridge to get to the west coast. The van itself had all the essentials of a hotel room, a couch, a bed, a stove, a sink, a fridge, and an area for storage on the roof. Keep in mind that in order to make the bed you had to deconstruct the couch and fold out the cushions to make a bed. They supplied all the bedding and towels, as well as all the cooking utensils too! When people asked me “how was New Zealand?”, my first response is always about how awesome it was to travel around in the camper van. I couldn’t imagine doing this trip any other way!
So like I mentioned before, we picked up our Mad Campervan in Christchurch and started straight away on the roadtrip here were all our stops:
Day 1 & 2: Stop at Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki then spent the night in Mount Cook National Park. Spent day 2 exploring Mount Cook.
Day 3 & 4: Left Mount Cook, drove to Wanaka. Explored Wanaka and Rob Roy’s Glacier
Day 5, 6 & 7: Drive to Milford Sound. Explore Milford Sound (we were trapped there for an extra day due to a storm.)
Day 8: Leave Milford Sound, stop at Te Anua, Lindis Pass and Queenstown on the way back to Wanaka.
Day 9: Rise and shine hike to Roy’s Peak. Leave Wanaka and head back to Lake Pukaki/Mount Cook.
Day 10: Explore Mount Cook some more.
Day 11: Check out Lake Tekapo one last time, drive back to Christchurch for our flight out at 8pm.
Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki
Mount Cook/ Aoraki Village
This area is home to the Hooker Valley Track that I’m sure you’ve seen hundreds of photos of, as well as the iconic photos of Mount Cook on the windy road in.
We camped at Glentanner Holiday Park the first 2 nights and it was such a great experience. Cooked and cleaned in the communal area, walked back to our Mad Camper and spent the scrolling through our photos.
I wanted to share a couple things about the roadtrip process that I did not know before and I wish I would’ve.
-When you pick up your van in a major city, go to a main grocery story in that city because the smaller stores are double, if not triple the price. They have Pan ‘N Save, which is very similar to Costco but you don’t need a membership and you don’t have to buy in bulk. So get some fruit, muffins, bread, cheese, meat, etc. We started to plan out some meals and once we got there it was much easier than just buying random items.
-Everyone talks about freedom camping in New Zealand, but for a newbie like me it is much easier to stay at the Holiday Park campgrounds. If you’re from the states, the Holiday parks are just like a KOA Campground. Free showers, laundry room, pool, cabin options, and a communal cooking area. However, the cooking areas are much different than any campground I have ever been to in America but it’s exactly like Girl Scout camp haha. There will be a large common area to sit, read, charge your camera, etc., then there’s a dining area where you can eat with everyone, and then there is an extremely large kitchen with like 4 ovens and stoves, tons of communal pots and pants, 4 microwaves, 2 massive refrigerators, toasters, literally anything you need in a kitchen is there (if you ever took Home Ec it looks like that).
The first night we showed up a little overwhelmed with out Top Ramen packets, while everyone else was choppin shit up, baking, grilling, sautéing it was wild. But once we realized how it was done, at the next grocery store we bought a pound of ground beef, tomato sauce, and noodles to make spaghetti. We also brought along some Trail Fork meals that helped us put together meals as well, especially the unwrapped burrito!
Wanaka/ Roy’s Peak/ Rob Roy’s Glacier
We stayed at Mt. Aspiring Holiday Park here, it claims to have an incredible view of the lake but really there is only ONE campsite that has the tiny view. However, it was a very small and clean campground and we enjoyed our stay. There is a campground down by the water but I was overly paranoid about the bug bites.
We also chose this campground to be close to the road since we wanted to be at Roy’s Peak for sunrise. Which brings me to the Roy’s Peak discussion. We did do the hike, it was challenging, it was completely up hill, but it wasn’t thattttt bad. If you are even relatively athletic you can do it.
I’m pretty sure we got to the parking lot at 5:30 am and the parking was nearly full. It was completely dark and when you look up the mountain you can see everyones headlamps scattered on the side of the mountain, which nearly made us turn around because we were worried there would be too many people at the top. Nonetheless we hiked up, in the complete dark for 2 hours. Keep in mind, you might be cold in the parking lot but I promise within 5 minutes you will be peeling everything off. So just wear one jacket, not 3 like I did. The only reason I say even to bring one, is because it does get cold at the top.
One thing I wanted to throw out was, if you’re trying to get the best light of the day and you just want to do the hike for shits and gigs then go at sunset! When you get to the top at sunrise there is a legitimate line of people to take a photo, there is only one spot, ONE. So if you don’t care about the light then why even bother waiting in that line.
Separate from Roy’s Peak is Rob Roy’s Glacier, which is about an hour (or two) from Wanaka down bumpy dirt roads. There were normal rental cars zooming past us, but we were driving insanely slow because it was incredibly bumpy for the little van. It’s a very pretty place, extremely removed, but if you don’t have enough time on your roadtrip you won’t be missing out.
Milford Sound/ Te Anau/ Lindis Pass
Te Anau and Lindis Pass were all just stopovers we made on our way to and from Milford Sound. I don’t know much about them except that they were pretty from the side of the road.
Milford Sound on the other hand is an insanely beautiful, and unique place that you have to visit while in New Zealand! The best way to actually see the sound is by boat, and you have tons of options but I am confident in saying that Cruise Milford is the best boat out there. This is the only time having the smaller boat is the cooler option. There are wayyy less people on board, you won’t be fighting for a picture the entire time, as you can see from my pictures it looks as though I’m the only one on the boat! Plus the boat is white and classic, unlike the other bright orange or lime green boats, kinda ruins the photos in my opinion.
Back to Lake Pukaki for our last night
There are lots of turnoffs along the shore of Lake Pukaki that make for great picnic spots. We found this one down a dirtroad, took a quick nap in the back of our Mad Campervan and then set up a little lunch… I can’t tell you how nice it is to have this little pop up kitchen in the back of your van!
The best part about this entire road trip for me was the safety aspect. I was so worried that we would be a target, or too vulnerable traveling around in a campervan that might as well say “WE ARE TOURISTS” but I have never felt so safe and welcomed in a country. Every person we came in contact with was from somewhere different, and it seemed like everyone was on vacation… even some of the locals visiting from a city on the other side of the island!
For anyone who hasn’t been to another country and is looking to travel abroad I would definitely suggest a trip to New Zealand for your first time out. The entire country caters to tourism and you really can’t mess it up. The only thing I would do differently is to try and see more of the island!
Special thanks to Mad Campers for making this trip possible!