A South Island road trip by campervan is at the top of many bucket lists, for tourists and New Zealand locals alike. With some of the best scenery in the world – from snow-capped mountains to charming townships – the South Island is a wonderland of beauty and adventure. And there’s no better way to enjoy it than with the freedom and flexibility of a Mighty campervan hire.
Whether you want to swim with dolphins, go jet boating, or indulge in a wine and beer tour, the South Island has it all. In fact, it has so much that it can be hard to know where to start and how to make the most of everything on offer. Don’t worry, we’ve done the hard work for you and have researched some of the best places to visit on a South Island road trip. We’ve put them all together in our ultimate 7-day South Island campervan itinerary.
This popular route starts in Queenstown and then takes you to Wānaka before heading across to the West Coast’s Franz Josef and Greymouth, and on to Nelson, Blenheim, and Kaikōura before finishing in Christchurch.
Pick up your Mighty campervan at our Queenstown branch, explore the South Island at your own pace, then drop off your campervan at our Christchurch branch. With international airports in both of these South Island cities, it couldn’t be easier!
A quick word on South Island safety
New Zealand’s climate can be unpredictable. And in winter, the South Island can experience extremely cold temperatures, including heavy snowfalls. If you’re planning a South Island road trip during the months of June through August, it pays to check the weather forecast and road conditions daily.
Before setting off on your travels, take some time to familiarise yourself with everything you need to know about driving in New Zealand. Don’t forget to keep your mobile phone charged in case you need assistance as you travel, but note that, because of our mountainous landscape, phone reception can be patchy at times. Now that you’re prepared and ready to plan your South Island road trip, it’s time to get inspired!
Queenstown to Christchurch
Best Time of the Year
September to April
- Franz Josef Glacier
- Monteith’s Brewery, Hokitika
- Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson
- Blenheim wine tasting tour
- Whale watching in Kaikōura
- Christchurch Gondola
Queenstown to Wānaka
Distance 69km - Driving Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Day one of your exciting 7-day South Island road trip starts at our Mighty Queenstown branch, where you’ll be greeted by our friendly team as you pick up your pre-booked campervan hire. We’ll get you set up and ready for the road with everything you need to know about your campervan.
Today’s drive is short but stunning as you head to the alpine village of Wānaka. Along the way, plan a stop at the quaint and characterful township of Arrowtown, where you can indulge in a spot of shopping. Our favourite pick is the Remarkable Sweet Shop, where you can stock up on all sorts of sweet goodies!
The township of Wānaka sits at the southern end of its namesake lake and is surrounded by some of New Zealand’s most captivating scenery. Make the most of your stay here by exploring some of the nearby walks and trails, enjoying the great eateries, or experiencing the thrill and adventure of an exhilarating jetboat ride.
Put your feet up for the night at the Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park.
Wānaka to Franz Josef
Distance 284km - Driving Time 3 hours 40 minutes
Wake up bright and early on day two as you prepare to travel to one of the most spectacular New Zealand tourist attractions, Franz Josef.
Plan a stop on your way to walk along the Blue Pools Track, about 12 km past Makaroa on SH6. This easy, short walk takes you through lush forest and over a swing bridge to the pure glacial waters of the pristine Blue Pool.
Once you arrive in Franz Josef, take the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the spectacular Franz Josef Glacier with a helicopter tour. You’ll land on the glacier where you can see this natural wonder up close, breathe in the fresh alpine air, and marvel at the snowy scenery.
Enjoy a relaxing overnight stay at Franz Josef Caravan Park.
Franz Josef to Greymouth
Distance 172km - Driving Time 2 hours 10 minutes
Today you’ll travel a short but scenic drive along New Zealand’s rugged west coast as you head to the region’s largest town, Greymouth.
Along the way, you’ll pass through Hokitika. This tiny township was once a gold mining mecca and the backdrop for the novel and movie, The Luminaries. Plan a stop here to learn more about the town’s mining history at the Hokitika Museum or meet some of New Zealand’s living icons at the National Kiwi Centre.
Greymouth to Nelson
Distance 282km - Driving Time 3 hours 50 minutes
Day four of your amazing South Island road trip takes you from the wild and woolly West Coast up to one of New Zealand’s sunniest cities – Nelson.
About halfway along your journey, stop at the Buller Gorge Springbridge. Here you can walk the heights of New Zealand’s longest swing bridge, pan for gold, enjoy a nature walk, and take in more of the South Island’s unique scenery.
As you arrive in Nelson, you’re at the gateway to one of the best places to visit in New Zealand – Abel Tasman National Park. With its golden beaches and world-famous coastal track, you may decide to add an extra day here to make the most of everything on offer!
Take in the best of Nelson’s beachside vibe with an overnight stay at the scenic Tāhuna Beach Holiday Park.
Nelson to Blenheim
Distance 123km - Driving Time 1 hour 50 minutes
You’ve no doubt heard that the Marlborough region of New Zealand is famous for its fantastic vineyards and wines… and today’s the day to get a first-hand taste as you head to Blenheim.
Whet your appetite along the way with a stop in Havelock where you can enjoy a Greenshell Mussel Cruise. Take in the natural beauty of the Marlborough sounds as you tuck into freshly steamed mussels matched with a glass of the region’s famous sauvignon blanc.
As you arrive in Blenheim, park up your campervan and take a half-day beer and wine tour. Taste wine straight from the barrel, learn more about the fascinating process of winemaking, and meet some of the region’s wine and beer making experts.
After all that indulgence, you’ll be ready to hit the hay in comfort at the Blenheim Bridges Holiday Park.
Blenheim to Kaikōura
Distance 128km - Driving Time 1 hour 40 minutes
From winemaking to whales – today’s section of your South Island road trip takes you to Kaikōura, famous for its abundant ocean life and sublime scenery.
New Zealand is well known for its vibrant blue lakes and rivers, but you may not have heard about our pink ponds! Here’s your chance to see some up close with a stop along your road trip at the Lake Grassmere Saltworks. This alienesque landscape results from natural salt production as seawater from the Pacific Ocean is pumped into Lake Grassmere. Definitely one for your Instagram!
Once you arrive in Kaikōura, don’t miss the opportunity to see whales, dolphins, and seals on a whale watching tour. Cruise out into New Zealand’s deepest marine reserve frequented by humpbacks, sperm whales, blue whales, southern right whales and more. Chances are you’ll also see some pods of playful dusky dolphins out on the water too!
Park up for the night at Alpine Pacific Motels & Holiday Park Kaikoura.
Kaikōura to Christchurch
Distance 180km - Driving Time 2 hours 25 minutes
It’s day 7 already, and almost time to hit the road on the final leg of your journey. But before you head to Christchurch, make the most of your morning in Kaikōura with a relaxing beachside breakfast at Café Encounter and a visit to the Kaikōura Museum.
Christchurch is New Zealand’s ‘Garden City’, with beautiful botanic gardens that span 21 hectares.
For the best views of the city, head to the top of the Port Hills on the Christchurch Gondola Ride. Take in spectacular 360-degree views that encompass the Southern Alps, Canterbury Plains, and the Pacific Ocean.
Enjoy a final night in your campervan at the South Brighton Holiday Park before dropping it off at our Mighty Christchurch branch.
Time to book your own South Island escape?
What an incredible 7 days! From tasty mussels and world-renowned wine to deep blue pools and snowy glaciers – the South Island really does have it all.
With your Mighty campervan hire, you can enjoy it all at your own pace. And if you like a particular spot and want to explore it more, then you’ve got the freedom and flexibility to adjust your itinerary to suit.
Take the next step toward your ultimate 7-day South Island road trip and book your Mighty campervan online now.
With branches in Auckland, Queenstown, and Christchurch you can pick up your campervan at one branch and drop it off at another. So easy!
For extra ideas on some of the best places to visit in New Zealand, check out more of our inspirational blogs and itineraries: