Road tripping New Zealand’s South Island

South island main

Few places are as stunning as New Zealand’s South Island. With its dramatic scenery and relative isolation, there’s nowhere better to hit the road in a camper van.

Sure, it would be nicer to roll around in a luxury 6 star RV, but for those of us not lucky enough to win a EuroMillions jackpot, a regular camper van might have to do. That won’t make the trip any less memorable, though. The South Island is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, and with so much to see and do you could spend weeks exploring all it has to offer.

Check out our to-do list, exploring the far south of the island, up to the very north.

Fiordland National Park

Our trip starts at Fiordland, New Zealand’s largest and most well-known national park. Shaped by glaciers over millions of years, and home to the spectacular Milford Sound, Fiordland is a haven for kayakers, campers, bush-walkers (called ‘trampers’ in New Zealand) alpine climbers and fly fishers. Boat tours of Milford and Doubtful Sounds are very popular, and the mirror lakes will give you some of the best scenery you’ll ever set eyes on.


Dunedin is the South Island’s second biggest city.  It’s a university town with proud Scottish roots.

On the coast is the beautiful Otago peninsula, where you can take a cruise to see seals lazing and albatrosses in feeding frenzies.

‘The Pride of the South’, the Speights Brewery, can also be found in Dunedin, and is open for tours.

The historic Larnach Castle is a great spot to stop for lunch and a walk through its immaculate gardens.



No South Island tour is complete without a stop at Queenstown. Perched on the shores of the massive Lake Wakatipu, this is a stunning alpine town with a cosmopolitan vibe. It has a great variety of restaurants, cafes and bars, and is the ideal place to stay in June to October for the ski season. There are shuttles available in-town to three world renowned ski fields; The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Cardrona, or you can drive yourself. Water sports on the lake are popular in summer, and it’s a great place for mountain biking. Queenstown is also New Zealand’s adventure capital, so if you’re into bungee jumping, jet boating or even downhill luge, this is the place to be. There are lots of great wineries in the area, too.

Southern Lakes

This sparsely populated region of the South Island is home to about a dozen majestic lakes that really do have to be seen to be believed. Ta Anau, Wakatipu and Wanaka are the largest but each of the lakes are well worth a visit. There are plenty of spaces to enjoy them without you having to come into contact with anybody else. The southern lakes are great places to relax and soak up the dramatic beauty that New Zealand is famous for.

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

With only a 30 minute drive separating these two majestic glaciers, you can easily visit both in a day.

These are two of the most accessible glaciers in the world, so why not take the opportunity to check them both out!

There are plenty of tours to each, but they also have free walking tracks. It’s a 45 minute walk from the car park to Franz Josef and for Fox it’s 30 minutes to the viewing point or just over an hour via the bush track.

They’re both near small towns with cafes, restaurants and accommodation.

Hanmer Springs

Time for a break from the road? Stop by at Hanmer Springs, where you can recharge yourself in the mineralised waters of the thermal pools and spa. There are also some great hiking trails, and even water slides if you’re a kid at heart.

Top of the South

At the top of the South Island, Nelson and its surrounding towns offer you world renowned wines, local craft beer, arts & crafts and a lively outdoor lifestyle.

Nelson is The South’s oldest city and is known for its sunny climate. In fact, it has one of New Zealand’s highest rates of sunlight hours per year.

The region is famous for its Nelson Sauvin and Motueka hops, used the world over in beer making. You won’t find a shortage of local produce here, with an amazing variety of breweries, world class wineries and local restaurants.

The Abel Tasman National Park is a must see for nature lovers and bush-walkers, and the wild yet accessible Wharariki Beach will impress you with its ferocious winds, huge dunes and sparse landscape.

The South Island is like no other place, and it’s perfect for road-trips! Come and experience its beauty for yourself.