Travel Tips for New Zealand’s South Island



A few weeks ago Stina had to cover almost all the posts on K&F herself for about two weeks because I (Sandra), went on a trip to discover New Zealand’s South Island.

The map shows my route along the South Island, roughly about 3,000km. Starting in Christchurch I made my way down the east coast and then up along the west coast.


It had been the first time I went to New Zealand and I honestly didn’t really know what to expect. People say NZ is like Tassie’s big sister but even more beautiful. And while searching Flickr, Google Images and Instagram certainly gives you an idea, it doesn’t even pay tribute to the true beauty that’s waiting there for you to discover. Not to mention all the things you have to consider to plan and prepare for the trip.

Luckily I had some friends who patiently answered all my questions and gave me some valuable tips. Today I want to share these tips with you along with some experiences I have made on the trip.

Tips for travelling New Zealand’s South Island with a camper van

# 1 – The Camper Van

Don’t underestimate the peak season! I had a lot of trouble finding a camper van for the time I had planned to spend in NZ. I knew late February would still be peak season but I didn’t expect it to be that difficult to get a decent sized camper van.

  • Make sure you book in advance to get a camper that fits to your needs.
  • Petrol is extremely expensive in New Zealand so ideally you want a diesel camper to save that money for better things you can do in NZ.
  • Your camper should have 2 batteries, one that supports your motor and one that can charge all your devices, the camper fridge, the radio, light…

# 2 – Camping in the wild

If you are on a tight budget, don’t fret – New Zealand has plenty of free camp sites, some come even with toilets. Before you start your trip go to an i-SITE office (Tourism Office) and get yourself a free Freedom Camp Sites map.

Alternatively you can check those free campsites at the website of the Department of Conservation.

Unfortunately, free camping is having an increasingly negative effect on New Zealand’s clean, green environment due to the increasing numbers of freedom campers – some of whom create litter problems, dispose of human waste inadequately and discharge grey water outside of dump stations. Free campers tend not to be popular with local residents. Make sure to clean up your site when you leave and only dump your grey water at dedicated stations.

lake wanaka

# 3 – iSITE

i-SITE is New Zealand’s official visitor information network with over 80 i-SITEs nationwide. i-SITE knows all the best things to do, places to stay and ways to get there. Plus they’ll take care of the bookings.

Every person who works at i-SITE is a travel expert for their own home town, so they can help you to find the sort of activities, attractions, accommodation and transport that only a local would know.

Most iSITES also have toilets and fresh water taps and offer you to store your luggage for up to a couple of hours for a small charge.

# 4 – Where to go where to start

Buy a Lonely Planet to get an overview of your route and what to expect along your way.
Apart from that the most helpful tips I got were from the friendly staff at iSITE and all the brochures provided there. They know all the good hiking tracks, know what’s worth seeing and where to stop.

Another way of getting to know the area is by simply asking the locals. NZ-landers are a very friendly and extremely helpful bunch of people. Some of the best tips and most amazing stories I heard from them.


# 5 – Warm and cozy

If you visit New Zealand during summer time, pack your bikini, of course. But… pack also a warm jacket, a thick and cozy jumper a beanie and some hot water bottles. I started my trip with a scorching 38C degrees in Christchurch, to end up freezing during the night once I came closer to Queensland where the temperatures suddenly dropped to 3 degrees during the night (not a fun experience in a camper, let me tell you!)

So better be prepared!

# 6 – No fun for Veggies

Vegetarians, the South Island isn’t very fun if you are a bit of a foodie. This country seems to put bacon on EVERYTHING! Some places are more helpful with your dietary requests than others but in the end I ended up cooking a lot in my camper (which was also way cheaper).

# 7 – Only 2 hours away…

Most campers are provided with a NZ guide/map that’ll also have information about estimated distance and time needed to get to your next destination. Although the distance estimation seems to be fairly accurate, I never made the estimated time stated in our guide. You’ll see so much on your way, you wanna stop whenever a great photo opportunity comes up, plus you shouldn’t overestimate your ability to handle a big camper through streets that wind through the mountains.

So take your time and relax and probably plan in more time all together.

bungee jump queenstown

# 8 – Photography

If you are a photography nut I recommend you pack your wide-angle lens. If you don’t have one, get one!
I kicked myself in the …. for not bringing one. The South Island is so stunning and beautiful and magnificent that I can promise you’ll go completely crazy with your camera. And make sure you have enough SD card storage with you! In two weeks I shot about over 8.000 pictures. …told you you go crazy…
If you are in adventure sport, a goPro would also make perfectly sense. You could film your scream at a bungee jump with a goPro on your arm.



# 9 – Internet and mobile phone reception

I was a bit worried that I would have no Internet during my 2 weeks stay (THE HORROR!). But when I arrived in Christchurch I got myself a very good deal from Vodafone for my phone. $59 with unlimited text messages, 120 minutes free-calling (even to my parents to Germany) and 2 GB data volume on a Prepaid card. Whoop whoop! I don’t even have 2GB on my Telstra plan here and I pay more than just $59.

Reception was good, although I was in quite a few areas where there was no reception at all for a very long time. Not even radio was available. Oh well, the nature in these areas was so beautiful, you wouldn’t have wanted to check your phone anyways.


# 10 – Kaikoura

No one ever recommended this little town to me and I just happened to stumble upon it through a brochure. And I’m glad I did. Kaikura was probably one of the most magical places I have seen. Although the water in NZ has the most unreal turquoise colour I have ever seen in water, Kaikura Beach topped everything. The colour of the ocean, surrounded by snow-capped mountains just looks out of this world.

Kaikoura is also a place to see Whale throughout the entire year and where you can swim with dolphins. If that’s not enough, book a kayak tour and go kayaking with seals and dolphins. Yes, this place does exist, I didn’t make it up in my mind!
It’s a tiny city but it has so much to offer.


# 11 - Bungee Jumping

Everyone tells you when you are in Queenstown you should do a bungee jump. In fact I’ve told people this about a million times myself. Only thing… I’ve never done it myself. NEVER. EVER. hahaha.
So I thought it’s about time I let my words speak action and booked myself a bungee jump. Did I jump from 43m high bridge, right into a river, or did I do a runner in the end? Well, watch the video to check it out.

If you book a jump, I highly recommend A.J.Hacked Bungee. They are professional, guide you through every step of the process and distract you when you are too nervous.
And yes, I’ll do it again. I will continue to tell people to jump from that bridge or from a 123m high ledge if that is more appealing to you.
This was definitely one of my highlights of this trip.

I could talk hours for about this trip and tips and sights I recommend but maybe I should just draft another post.
Have you been to New Zealand yet? If so what are your tips for travelling in New Zealand and what was your favourite place?

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