In Pat Silk's recent travels he set out to explore New Zealand’s South Island in a Mighty Camper, alongside his girlfriend, Erin. Founder of, “found clothing co.", the couple experienced a New Zealand spring in their 15 days of travel. Here’s a bit about what they saw and explored each day!
Christchurch to Christchurch
Best Time of the Year
Christchurch to Greymouth
What an exciting start to our trip! After gathering our food supplies at the nearby Countdown Supermarket, we sorted them and before we knew it we were on the road. There was overwhelming excitement for both Erin and myself as we approached the snowcapped mountains and headed en route through Arthur’s Pass. I remember feeling smaller and smaller the further we went, trying my hardest to be focused on the road as much as the spectacular views that were around each corner.
After a couple of little stops, we had made it to our first landmark, Devils Punchbowl Waterfall. What a sight this was, from afar it sat perfectly between the mountains and as we walked along the track to the base, the roar was almost deafening. The viewing area was around 100m for the base of the falls, although I wasn’t content with being that far away, and like many other tourists that day we were after a cool down. We made it as close to the base as possible and (literally) soaked up the beauty of this amazing and powerful waterfall.
From here, we had about an hour and a half drive to camp in Greymouth and found ourselves stopping many times along the way for photos. We settled at the Greymouth Kiwi Holiday Park for the night in anticipation of what tomorrow would bring.
Greymouth to Franz Josef
Our plans for today changed slightly after we were convinced by the Holiday Park manager to visit Punakaiki to set our sights on the Pancake Rocks and Truman Beach. Little did we know we would be treated with stunning caves, a beachside waterfall and spectacular rock formations. But with a long drive ahead, it was time to get back on to our original plan, to Hokitika Gorge.
With much anticipation, and a lengthy drive through farm land, we arrived. First impressions weren’t great, there were bugs everywhere as we opened our doors, but it didn’t take long for our mood to change… What a sight! I can bet you won’t see water like this in many places around the world, the bluest of blues that we won’t forget, cloudy but bright it was simply breathtaking! It was hard to believe let alone convince ourselves to leave this behind. But it was on to Franz Josef for the night.
Franz Josef to Wanaka
What a view to wake up to… the Southern Alps are just glorious! The weather today… not so much. First on our list was to walk to the viewing point of Franz Josef Glacier. For the most part the weather cooperated as we made our way along the Waiho River bed through the Glacier Valley. I must say if I didn’t feel small earlier this trip, I did today. Although one thing I did notice was the retreat of the Glacier, it was sad to see how much Franz Josef Glacier had changed since 2008.
Our next stop, albeit after a drive through torrential rain, was The Blue Pools. After a short walk and crossing two swing bridges, we were again captivated by an amazing piece of scenery. The water was crystal clear with an amazing tinge of blue, if it wasn’t for the weather we would have stayed much longer! But we decided it would be best to stay dry and get back on the road. Even though the visibility on the drive in to Wanaka was poor, it was obvious as we drove along the lake that there was something special to see. We made our way to Glendhu Bay for the night and set ourselves up for a stunning view to wake up to on Lake Wanaka.
Wanaka to Queenstown
Distance 80kmkm - Driving Time 1 hour 30 minutes approx
Well… a day like today is why we wanted a campervan to do this holiday. After waking up to one of the best views you could imagine, we made our way to Mount Roy. Little did we know this track crossed private land and was closed for ‘lambing season’. Fortunately, Wanaka Helicopters were able to get us to Coromandel Peak, although this would have to wait until Thursday. We didn’t want to waste too much time, so we made our way to Queenstown.
Unaware that we were on a road that voided our insurance, we drove through Crown Range, and we were simply blown away. We could have stopped at every turn if it was safe to do so. After a steep decline out of the range, we detoured to beautiful Arrowtown. We found a great little spot for a bite called The Chop Shop, and soaked up the sun on the balcony while devouring our delicious meals. Thankfully it was a nice short drive into Queenstown and we had a look around town before pulling into the Holiday Park for the night.
Queenstown to Wanaka
With today being the first day of our rearranged trip, we decided to take our time and head off to Glenorchy. The drive was just glorious along Lake Wakatipu. The weather made it all that bit better, the horizon was filled with mountains. We couldn’t help but stop and take in the views. After arriving at Glenorchy, we made our way to the lakeside. We were greeted with a picturesque pier and hut on the water's edge. The colour of the mountains were a mix of greens and browns, which provided a lovely backdrop.
We took in the lovely views for lunch and then made our way back in to Queenstown for the afternoon. We decided that we would make our way back to Wanaka for the night in preparation for our helicopter flight, but there was one thing left to do before leaving Queenstown… Fergburger! The rumours were true and and thankfully we didn’t have to wait too long. We both went with a classic Fergburger among the delicious sounding options. One things for sure, it is an absolute must for anyone visiting Queenstown.
Wanaka to Te Anau
We woke up with our fingers crossed for good weather and we got it! We had nothing else planned, apart from our helicopter flight to Coromandel Peak. So, we made our way to ‘That Wanaka Tree’ and skimmed some stones along the lake to kill some time before heading to the airport. We couldn’t have hoped for better conditions: the sun was out and the visibility was great. After the run down of safety checks, our pilot, Will, had us up and away on what was an absolutely spectacular flight.
The views over Lake Wanaka were just breathtaking and like nothing I had ever seen, especially once we had landed on the peak and were able to absorb the 360-degree view. As amazing as this trip has been so far, nothing will beat the view we got over Lake Wanaka today. We were on such a high after our flight, we thought we’d make the most of the adrenaline and push on to Te Anau for the night.
Te Anau to Milford Sound
As suspected, we knew we would be in for some gloomy weather in this part of the world. The rain was heavy and the clouds covered the mountain tops, not ideal for what was meant to be one of the best drives on our trip. It didn’t affect the beautiful landscape of the Fiordland National Park, it just added to the mood. The rain had created hundreds of temporary waterfalls on the rock faces, and after gazing out the window in awe of the scenery and travelling through the Homer Tunnel, we were at our destination.
Knowing full well how remote Milford Sound was, it did surprise us how little there was in terms of infrastructure and community. Although it was just magnificent… the peaks that surround the open water are incredibly steep and create this truly amazing landscape that photos will never do justice. We managed to book a spot at the Milford Sound Lodge (make sure you do this in advance), it was so peaceful in the rainforest campervan park, but we would have to deal with sandflies for the night.
Milford Sound to Te Anau
The day I had been waiting for was here… this was the inspiration for our holiday and we couldn’t believe that Milford Sound was gracing us with bright blue skies. We made our way to the boat terminal and collected all the necessary items before boarding our cruise with Southern Discoveries. After a buffet breakfast we headed to the stern of our ship and couldn’t get our cameras out fast enough! The views were incredible, we were treated to waterfalls everywhere we looked. The sun was shining, and it was about to get a whole lot better. We were dropped off at the Discovery Centre for our kayak tour and what an experience! We learnt so much about the history and landscape that is Milford Sound. The fact there can be up to 9m of rainfall in year meant we were pretty lucky to be doused in sunshine, with barely a cloud in sight. We could have stayed there all day.
After a quick tour of the Discovery Centre and a drenching under Sterling Falls, we were back in our campervan and on the road. It was incredible to compare the drive out of Milford Sound to the one on the way in; I feel we really were treated to the best of both worlds.
Te Anau to Roxburgh
Can’t say we planned to travel this far today… but we did! The landscape changed dramatically after our quick stop in Gore for lunch. The rolling hills and countryside were a far different image to the one we had become used to, it was weird not seeing mountains on the horizon. Unsure of what we wanted to see, we gladly came across The Catlins Information Centre in Owaka and made up our mind. First it was Purakaunui Falls, and it wasn’t a bad choice. The cascades were flowing and the sound of the waterfall could only mean we were in for something great. It was a beautiful sight! The overhanging trees and the curtain of water gave a sense of seclusion – it was as if we were in a secret garden.
With plenty of light left in the day, it was off to Nugget Point. After climbing a little off track we had ourselves a view that captured it all: the stunning lighthouse and the unique rock formation off the coast was an image quite familiar with ones back home in Australia. Unfortunately we weren't there for sunrise as I’m sure it would be spectacular. Still feeling good enough to drive, we decided to take a chunk off tomorrow’s journey and boy are we glad we did! After making our way through the Beaumont Forest at sunset, we ended up in the gorgeous little town of Roxburgh. By far the most accommodating place we had stayed, the Clutha Gold Cottages nestled in the Teviot Valley. It was so peaceful and we had the place to ourselves! Oh… apart from three little lambs, but all they did was melt Erin’s heart.
Roxburgh to Twizel
Treated to another stunning day, and it was time to head back to the mountains. We made a lunch stop on the way at a small town called Twizel, about 40 minutes out from the Mt Cook Village. Once we were back on the road, it wasn’t long until we were stunned by the most electric of blues, Lake Pukaki was all we could see as we headed towards Aoraki. Which was true to its meaning as the peak of Mount Cook pierced the long white cloud that ran through the Hooker Valley. I imagine there are very few drives with a backdrop as stunning as this one, and after stopping a few times, we were greeted to a change in the weather. It was a feeling of hope as we walked the Hooker Valley Track for a closer look at New Zealand’s highest peak.
After making our way over the three swing bridges, the temperature had dropped, but we had made it to the Hooker Valley Glacier Lake. It was very moody when we arrived as the clouds continued to roll in, unfortunately we could only get small glimpses of the peak, but that didn’t take away from the experience. On the walk back, the light began to fade and I couldn’t help but keep looking back in hope the clouds would clear. Eventually they did, albeit at last light as we drove out of the National Park to spend the night in Twizel. I won’t forget how glorious Mt Cook/Aoraki looked as the sky cleared.
Twizel to Mt Cook
Being the first Tuesday in November and our 11th day on the road, there was no better day to give ourselves a bit of a rest. The weather was not the best, so we treated ourselves to a sleep in. With a bit of time to kill before the big race (yes, I’m talking about the Melbourne Cup) we headed in to Mt Cook Village for a look around and a bit of souvenir shopping. The weather didn’t clear so we decided to pass on heading to the Tasman Glacier, although at this time of year I don’t think we missed out on too much, as the ice had melted.
We headed back to Twizel, where they would be showing the race. Little did I know the the Top Hut Pub would bring in such a crowd. It felt like the whole town was there! I’m probably right about that. It was a fantastic afternoon, the locals were great and we were treated to complimentary champagne and snacks. But it only got better, we met a group of great men, all friends and linked through their jobs, who enlightened us with stories and the reason why Twizel is a town today. I can’t say I was expecting much when we walked in to the Top Hut this afternoon, but I walked out a little bit wiser and with beer in my belly. Only one thing could have topped it… If I picked the winner in the Cup!
Twizel to Lake Tekapo
A nice short trip today, and after a few beers last night I wasn’t complaining! On our way to Lake Tekapo, we were curious of the amount of cars parked at the end of Lake Pukaki. To our delight it was Mount Cook Alpine Salmon, and we’ve always got time for a little sashimi. This is a must stop for anyone that loves their salmon; it’s as fresh as it gets! It was then on to Lake Tekapo, which wasn’t too far at all. Luckily for us the lupines were just starting to bloom. I can only imagine how beautiful it looks here once they are in full flower! It’s not hard to see why this is one of the most visited spots on the South Island.
Erin was quite keen to get some astro photography done while we were here, so we made ourselves familiar with the Church of the Good Shepherd. Seeing as though we would be getting up around 2am, we decided to find a spot to freedom camp for the night out past the Observatory on Godley Peaks Road. It was a great spot! We shared the space with a few other campervans and enjoyed a nice campfire before an early night's rest.
Lake Tekapo to Kaikoura
What a sight to wake up to! Even if it was 2am… The night sky was absolutely littered with stars – if I have seen anything like it, then I don’t know when that was. After throwing on our thermals we made our way to the Church of the Good Shepherd, where we were joined by other keen photographers looking for the perfect shot. With the temperature near zero, we were feeling quite awake and decided to move on to Christchurch. Not long after the sun came up, the fatigue hit. So we found ourselves a rest stop not long out of the city and caught up on some sleep. A two-hour nap did us fine and we were in the city before lunch.
It was devastating to still see the results of the earthquake some five years on… I can only imagine how tough it must have been, and I imagine still is. One thing that stood out was the shopping precinct that was made of shipping containers, it is sad it has to be that way, but it was buzzing with local musicians, school kids and fellow tourists. The strength and resilience of this community can only be admired. Much like our trip so far we decided to roll on, and after a couple of hours and some winding roads we were descending in to something quite spectacular. The road literally hugged the coast line and the view as we reached Kaikoura blew us away. The ocean was the brightest I have ever seen it, the sand was black, and the seaside snow-capped mountains just had me in awe. I must say I am glad we didn’t have any set-backs this trip or I wouldn’t have laid my eyes on this.
What a spectacular place to end our trip. We made our way to the Kaikoura Peninsula to try our luck at seeing a few seals, there were more than a few… They were everywhere!* It was great to see them in their natural environment, but that didn’t stop a couple of them from showing off for the cameras. With nothing else on our agenda, we drove a little north to Hapuku and found ourselves a great little spot right on the beach (which you can freedom camp at).
I must say I didn't expect to go for a walk along a beach in New Zealand, but it was different here, the mudstone sand gave an incredible contrast to the bright blue water, we just needed a closer look. Known for its fishing, what better idea for lunch than fish and chips! Coopers Catch left us very satisfied and gave us time to reflect on what has been an amazing trip. We spent the afternoon lazing about, before being treated to our last sunset. We will miss you NZ!
Kaikoura to Christchurch Airport
Well this is really it… after a two-hour drive south we were dropping off our campervan. It truly has been an amazing experience that we will both cherish for a lifetime. It seems impossible to fit everything in but we tried our best! Although with more things to see it just means we have to come back! Being at the airport with plenty of time gave us a moment to reflect on this wonderful trip.
*This blog was created before the 2016 earthquake that affected Kaikoura. Tourism access may have changed, so please check the Kaikoura Tourism website for up-to-date information.