If you’re a lover of the great outdoors, you’ll fall in love with New Zealand’s South Island. Everywhere you look, spectacular views and incredible hikes are waiting to be explored. With so many natural wonders, travelling around on a budget is super easy. If you’re looking for the perfect travel itinerary to explore the best of the South Island on a budget, look no further.
This adventure through New Zealand’s South Island will take approximately five days. You can pick up your camper at the Mighty branch in Christchurch. Then wind your way through the European settlement of Akaroa, visit the stunning Tekapo Springs, and summit Roy’s Peak. With a branch conveniently located in Queenstown, you can save on the return trip with a one-way campervan hire adventure.
Christchurch to Queenstown
Best Time of the Year
- Tekapo Springs
- Roys Peak
- Ben Lomond Track
Christchurch to Akaroa
Distance 82km - Driving Time 1 hour 25 minutes
Pick up your camper at the Mighty branch in Christchurch. Spend a few hours exploring this vibrant city. Go window shopping in the RE:Start shipping container shopping centre and tick off a few of the best Instagram-worthy spots on the South Island, including the New Brighton Pier and the Antigua Boat Sheds.
Once you have finished exploring the city, hop in your campervan and make your way to the French colonial town of Akaroa. This town was one of the first European settlements, which resulted in a rich fusion of French and Māori cultures. Soak up the culture with a guided walk through town, visit the Okains Bay Māori and Colonial Museum and roam the streets to marvel at the stunning architecture. With three heritage buildings scattered throughout town, be sure to pack a camera to capture them all.
If the beautiful architecture and history of Akaroa don’t pique your interest, there are endless natural treasures and wonders to explore by foot or out to sea. Located in the heart of an ancient volcano, this peninsula is filled with panoramic hiking trails along the crater rim. There is also a hub of conservation programs in town that run daily boat tours to see the penguins, dolphins, and other wildlife that call this slice of paradise home. Spend the night at the Akaroa TOP 10 Holiday Park. Here you can enjoy all the TOP 10 amenities, stunning harbour views, and the serenity of Akaroa’s native bushland.
Akaroa to Lake Tekapo
Distance 277kmkm - Driving Time 1 hour 25 minutes
Start the morning with a dip in the ocean and grab a coffee at one of the cafes in Akaroa before packing up and beginning the drive inland to Lake Tekapo. This picturesque lake is set in the dramatic mountainous landscape of the Southern Alps. It is best known for its vivid blue colouring and the little stone Church of the Good Shepherd. At night this whole area transforms into a dazzling display of constellations. As part of the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, it is one of the best places in New Zealand to capture the night sky in all its glory.
During your stay, plan a visit to Tekapo Springs. Enjoy the stunning lake, mountain and alpine views as you enjoy all the facilities on-site. Here you can choose between hot pools, steam rooms, saunas and cold plunge pools. There are also some cooler pools so that the whole family can enjoy some aqua fun in the sun. There is even an on-site cafe with both indoor and outdoor seating options for when you get hungry. Starting at NZ$33 per adult, this is a great low-cost activity.
When you have finished at the springs, head to Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park to park up for the night. This campsite has something for the whole family with its powered camping sites, a shared kitchen, dining area and playground facilities.
Top tip: If you’re visiting this region between September and February, be sure to head to the Lupin Field to see the famous Lupin flowers in full bloom.
Image source: TNZ visual library - Miles Holden
Distance 199km - Driving Time 2 hours 20 minutes
Enjoy the views as you continue south toward the alpine town of Wānaka. As the gateway to the Southern Alps, this area is filled with beautiful lakes and panoramic peaks. Wānaka is a natural playground for outdoor activities.
If you’re an avid hiker, check out Roys Peak Track. As one of the top New Zealand tourist attractions, this hike can get quite busy, but the views from the summit are worth it. We recommend an early start for the best view in town. This 16 km return track takes around 5-6 hours, so be sure to pack water and food. Be mindful of wearing appropriate hiking gear so that you are comfortable for the ascent. Be aware that this track does fluctuate in difficulty throughout the seasons. In the cooler months, you may need to bring (and be comfortable using) an ice axe and crampons. So it's worthwhile to consider this when planning your New Zealand itinerary.
If hiking isn’t your style, there are plenty of other things to do in Wanaka. If it’s warm enough, go for a dip in the beautiful Lake Wānaka. Wander through town and sample the local pies at The Doughbin Bakery. Then enjoy a complimentary wine tasting at Rippon Vineyard, followed by a scenic walk through the grounds. Last but not least, don’t forget to get a snap of the world-famous ‘that Wānaka tree’. This lonely tree is best captured in the fading light of blue hour. Arrive early if you want to grab a spot to set up a shot of this iconic tree - this place fills up quickly!
Stay the night at the Wanaka TOP 10 Holiday Park. This park is conveniently located a 10-minute walk from the water's edge and offers bike hire in the summer, ski and snowboard drying rooms in the winter, as well as a spa and sauna to unwind after a long day of exploring year-round.
Image source: TNZ visual library - Miles Holden
Wānaka to Glenorchy, via Arrowtown
Distance 115km - Driving Time 1 hour 46 minutes
Say farewell to the friendly small town of Wānaka and head south to the quirky goldrush village of Arrowtown. As Mighty vehicles aren’t allowed on the Crown Ranges Road, you will need to take the longer route through the Gibbson Valley. Luckily this route is packed with fantastic wineries to stop at along the way.
Arrowtown is packed with character, fantastic dining, beautiful heritage and unbeatable hiking and biking trails. While in town, wander through the main street, check out the local shops, and visit the Historic Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. If you have time, go for a walk along the Lake Hayes walkway. This path is an 8km loop that winds around the lake and can take between 2-3 hours on foot. However, this track is also bike accessible if you want to do it a little quicker!
When you’re ready, get back in the camper and continue past Queenstown until you reach Glenorchy. This town is located on the northern shores of Lake Wakatipu and sets the scene for some cinematic magic! Try to spot the iconic locations of famous movies like Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Explore the true beauty of this area on foot through the incredible hiking trails in the area. If you are feeling a little adventurous, jump on a jet boat and experience these impressive landscapes from the water.
Once you have finished exploring for the day, head to Mrs Woolly’s Campground, this campsite is located within walking distance of the lakefront and has all the conveniences of a general store, hot showers, outdoor barbecues and more.
Glenorchy to Queenstown
Distance 46.1 km - Driving Time 42 minutes
Begin the journey along Lake Wakatipu back to Queenstown. Surrounded by towering mountains and on the edge of the crystal clear waters of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is one of the best places to visit in New Zealand for outdoor adventures. There are endless opportunities for adventurers and thrill-seekers, including bungy jumping, zip-lining, sky diving and more. However, these popular activities often come with a price tag. We recommend choosing one or two of your favourites and then slow down to enjoy the other incredible free things to do in Queenstown. Some of the top free New Zealand tourist attractions include:
If you want to extend your New Zealand road trip, spend the night at the Queenstown TOP 10 Holiday Park. Located in the picturesque Arther’s Lake, it's a stunning place to park up for the night. If you want to experience the lively nights of Queenstown without worrying about driving, there is also a complimentary free shuttle into town. Alternatively, you can hand your Mighty Camper to our Queenstown branch and make your way home.
Ready to book an adventure of a lifetime?
This South Island road trip is brimming with beautiful scenery, outdoor adventures and top New Zealand tourist attractions. Ready to book an adventure of a lifetime? Check out our special deals on campervan hire and book your Mighty campervan today!
Looking for more travel inspiration, tips for travelling New Zealand on a budget, or campervan-friendly meals to help extend your travel budget? Check out the Mighty blog for all your campervan inspiration.