1-3. Abel Tasman
4. Farewell Spit
5-6. Nelson Lakes
7. Hanmer Springs
14. Lake Pukaki
15. Mt Cook
26-27. Milford Sound
29. Slope Point
30. Porpoise Bay
31. Purakaunui Falls
34. Nugget Point
32-33. Cannibal Bay
Driving from Picton to Marahau
For the start of Abel Tasman National Park trail, head to the small village of Marahau. Relaxing 3 hours drive from Picton. Get your first glimpses of the snow-capped mountains of South Island, not present on the North Island.
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1. ABEL TASMAN (EAST SIDE)
Beautiful Abel Tasman National Park can be explored through short walks, long hikes, beach hopping or alternatively a scenic taxi cruise. We took an Abel Tasman AquaTaxi to complete the walking section Torrent Bay - Marahau. One-way fast boat to Torrent Bay is $37 each, first stopping at Split Apple Rock then Adele Island to spy the wild fur seals and pups!
Trail was around 4.5 hours, very scenic and picturesque Torrent Bay - The Anchorage, the remainder of trek was slightly inland with scenery, but still a beautiful walk in nature. Opportunities to stop off at a few beaches, including Stillwell Bay.
Tip: If a multi-day hike of Abel Tasman coastline over is your cup of tea, there is DOC campsite accommodation dotted along the trail. Ensure to book ahead well in advance, particularly if visiting during peak times.
Tip: If you don't fancy a walk, you can also enjoy the lush turquoise seas of Abel Tasman by kayak!
Torrent Bay - Marahau. View of Stillwell Bay
New Zealand Fur Seals!
Fur seal colonies gravitate to the rocky shores, Adele Island and Tonga Island in Abel Tasman an ideal spot. Seal pups are usually born in December following the mating season. They mostly feed at night, mainly on squid and mid-water fish.
New Zealand 'Shag' Birds!
A long-necked, commonly black and white water bird. There are 36 worldwide species of 'Shags', a third of which are found in New Zealand! They mostly live by the sea.
2. TE WAIKOROPUPU "PUPU" SPRINGS
As you drive through Takaka to reach Abel Tasman West side, make sure to stop off at Te Waikoropupu "Pupu" Springs, a treasured Maori heritage site. Park for free and enjoy a 15-20 minutes boardwalk loop until you reach "Pupu Springs". A crystal clear spring of deep turquoise freshwater. It is some of the clearest water ever measured, and with visibility up to 63m deep, it is magnificently close to optically pure water.
Tip: Driving to Abel Tasman West Side, you will have to drive over 'Takaka Hill'. This is a very high sealed road with some very sharp twists, turns and hardly any road barriers. Drive carefully, take your time and make use of the passing lanes to allow traffic to overtake.
3. GOLDEN BAY (WEST SIDE)
Take the next right-hand turning after Takaka's FreshChoice supermarket, Motupipi Street to Abel Tasman Drive, heading towards the West (Golden Bay) side of Abel Tasman. Enjoy the scenic small beaches and houses, stopping at your leisure. Don't miss Tata Beach, the main beach along this coastline.
Tip: Want more? From Tata Beach, keep driving to Totaranui Beach (parts of journey being gravel road) and further still take a walk to Goat Bay - a very long, pristine beach.
Everywhere in New Zealand, you will see 'Kia Ora' - an informal greeting originating from Maori culture, meaning hello, goodbye or wishing you well.
A good radio station to listen to on the road is MoreFM!
In New Zealand, going on a hike or a walk is referred to as "Tramping".
4. FAREWELL SPIT
From Golden Bay, take the opportunity to drive to Farewell Spit - the Northernmost point of the South Island. Reaching Puponga, take a left down Freemans Access road to park and walk along Farewell Spit beach itself. There is a cafe here with great views too. Popular walks in the area are 'Pillar Point Lighthouse' and 'Cape Farewell' tracks.
Tip: An avid beachcomber? Farewell Spit beach is full of shells, in particular the 'Screw Shell', a smooth spiral shell which look like unicorn horns! Be respectful, only take a few and before removing, triple-check there are no living creatures hiding inside!
Tip: Wharariki Beach is also a popular destination in the area.
Pukeko (Austrasalian Swamp Hen)
A common wetland bird species found throughout New Zealand. Distinctive rich blue body, orange legs and bright red bill. They can easily adapt to their surroundings, whether it be a swamp, reeds, paddocks or farmland.
Driving from Marahau to Nelson Lakes National Park
20-minutes south from Marahau, you will pass through the small town of Motueka. A great stop to get groceries at Countdown, more fuel and use the dump station, all in very close proximity to one another.
5. LAKE ROTOITI
Lake Rotoiti - the first lake of Nelson Lakes National Park you reach, located in the small St Arnaud village. Park up at Kerr Bay Campground. Huge car park and nice free toilets. The lake and surrounding mountains provides the perfect background for your decking "jumping" shots! Sit and enjoy the view, or there is a walking track to the left of the lake.
Fun Fact: Under the decking, there are hundreds of huge eels directly below! You'll be able to see them perfectly in the clear water.
Tip: It's worth knowing there is also another Lake Rotoiti on North Island, to avoid SatNav confusion. Make sure you select the right one in St Arnaud.
6. LAKE ROTOROA
Next up, the larger of the Nelson Lakes, Lake Rotoroa. Park up just before Nelson Lakes Campsite. Free car park and free toilets. Sandflies permitting, sit and enjoy a scenic picnic on the boatdeck, sunbathe, stroll the Nature Walk (25 min return) or the longer Braeburn Walk (2 hr return).
Tip: Despite its beauty, this lake was the worst for sandflies! Not only do these small flies smother you in force, they can also latch onto you and draw blood! Make sure you do not leave your camper-van door open, otherwise you will have hundreds inside.
New Zealand Black Swan
The black swan is widely found on most New Zealand lakes. Easily recognisable by their bright red bill and shiny black feathers. They also breed on freshwater, and as herbivores, eat mainly freshwater plants.
7. HANMER SPRINGS THERMAL POOLS
Bypass through Hanmer Springs, a very quaint little town surrounded by woodland. One of the main draws is the Thermal Pools & Spa. $25 single adult entry for hot pools, lockers $6 for 4 hours. Series of sulphur pools at ranging temperatures. Choose from 35-37 degree Aqua Therapy pools, 38-40 degree Hexagon pools or brave the unfiltered (smelly) Sulphur pool at 42 degrees! Large changing rooms, hot showers and toilets, hairdryers. Finish off your day with dinner and drinks at one of the many pubs opposite. We recommend Monteiths.
Tip: Start with the cooler pools first (lazy river, activity pool) and work your way up the pool temperatures. It is hard to transition from a hot pool to a cooler pool!
Tip: We found the large rock pool the best, mountain views, slightly secluded and perfect sitting temperature of 35-37 degrees.
Only freedom camping spot in Hanmer Springs. Graveled area down just off Jollies Pass Road. Hard to find initially, not signposted, location pinpointed here. Public toilets close across car park. Walk back before it gets dark, otherwise you'll be walking passed the woods in pitch black!
Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools, Rock Pool
8. CHRISTCHURCH: QUAKE CITY
'Quake City' museum, despite its light-hearted name, holds a sombre, important piece to Christchurch's story. $20 adult entry. Museum is interactive, informative and moving. Physically telling the fateful events, personal accounts and inspiring community efforts following their devastating 2 earthquakes in 2010-11. Leave viewing Christchurch with fresh eyes and a new level of understanding.
Tip: Visit this Museum before exploring Christchurch. You truly see Christchurch fully, noticing the larger areas of mass scaffolding and unlevelled cracked roads as reminiscent details of the devastation.
Very good location, expensive at $48 a night (2 people + camper)! Quite small site, very equipped (dump station / car wash kit / TV room / laundry / shared kitchen / hot showers & toilets). Bus stop directly outside with direct access to Christchurch city centre from Central Bus Interchange.
9. '185 EMPTY CHAIRS' MEMORIAL
Visit the '185 Empty Chairs', a touching yet visually powerful memorial created to honour the 185 precious 2011 Earthquake fatalities. Installation created by local artist Peter Majendie. Find the memorial on an originally vacant plot of land between a crossroads intersection.
Fact: The shape and size of each chair has been specifically chosen to symbolise the unique individual who lost their life, selecting a chair they would have sat on. For example, one such chair is heartbreakingly a baby car-seat.
10. EXPLORE THE OLD & NEW
Christchurch City is an eclectic combination of mass scaffolding, construction hoarding and a crumbling Cathedral with bright street art, quirky structures, chiming trams and a brand new Riverbank development - full of shops, eateries and up-market bars. Witness past devastation slowly being re-birthed bigger and better, piece by piece.
Tip: Visit the Canterbury Museum (free) for brilliant exhibitions on Maori history, Antartica's wildlife. Look out for the special 'Paua' House installation - It will make you visit Bluff on your travels!
Tip: Parking is very limited in Christchurch, particularly for a camper-van. Catch the bus, very cheap ($4.20 single each) & easy. Pick up / drop off from Central Bus Interchange. From Amber Kiwi Lodge, catch the '80' bus.
11. TEKAPO TOWN
Arrive in Tekapo, a tiny town bordering the infamous bright blue alpine lake. 10/15 minute stroll into town, just one small supermarket FourSquare and Dark Sky Reserve Headquarters (domed building). Small souvenir shop & cafe inside. Areas to sit along lakeside and admire the view. Visit the 'Church of the Good Shepherd', a tiny yet charming church overlooking the lake. Want to unwind, visit the Tekapo Hot Springs.
Tip: Travelling in a camper? There is only one camp-site available in Tekapo, Lake Tekapo Holiday Park. Get there early (especially in peak times) to secure a spot.
Tip: Head to the Church of the Good Shepherd early for a 'people less' photograph, tourists flock here in the masses!
12. OBSERVATORY HILLTOP VIEWS
The beauty of Lake Tekapo needs to be marvelled in its entirety. Walk 40-50 minutes to the hilltop of Mt John Observatory, or alternatively drive and park at the top. Spot the breathtaking Lake Alexandria behind the observatory before reaching Lake Tekapo Viewpoint. Sit along the hillside, or enjoy panoramic views with a chocolate-sprinkled Saturn coffee from the small cafe.
Tip: If you drive up to Mt John Observatory, you will have to pay a $8 road usage fee at a toll gate before you reach the hill. If you do drive, drive extremely carefully uphill. Road is very tight, twisty and in areas not wide enough for two cars.
13. GO STAR & PLANET GAZING!
The 'Summit Experience' at the Mt John Observatory, an 'out of this world' rare opportunity to see the moon, planets, galaxies and stars through Mt John Observatories powerful 16" telescopes, with great insight from expert guides and astrophotographers. Sip a free hot chocolate taking in the wonderful science of our skies. As the Mt John Observatory is set in the Dark Sky Reserve, it is one of the darkest skies in the world. What better place!
Tip: Book in advance to avoid disappointment! It's very important to visit The Dark Sky Project HQ in Tekapo town on the day of your tour to check-in and arrange pick-up from your accommodation and back. The main shuttle bus leaves from HQ. The drop off at accommodations also.
Fun Fact: Viewing the moon in New Zealand, the craters are located at the bottom (usually seen on top in the UK). Just a fascinating reminder that you are on opposite sides of the world!
14. LAKE PUKAKI
Brighten up your day (literally) emerging above the hill and witnessing Lake Pukaki's intense turquoise waters for the first time. Add in the backdrop of giant snow-capped mountains, and the towering Mount Cook, you will be speechless. Take time to relax and embrace in its natural beauty.
Fun Fact: If travelling on a cloudy day, you can usually spot Lake Pukakis bright blue reflected in the distant clouds on-route. A natural SatNav!
15. MT COOK - HOOKER VALLEY TRACK
Take the incredibly scenic State Highway 80 from West side of Lake Pukaki up to the start of the Hooker Valley Track, White Horse Hill Campsite. Large free car park, public toilets. Able to camp overnight for small fee. A 3-hour return trail, the Hooker Valley Track is easy, relatively flat and constantly rewards you with ever-changing, jaw-dropping views. Reach the destination of Hooker Lake, a glacial lake with floating glaciers, before trailing your way back.
Tip: Just before State Highway 80 turn-off, find 'Alpine Salmon' shop, a small visitor centre with public toilets, kiosk selling hot drinks, snacks, and of course, freshly caught salmon!
New Zealand 'Paradise Shelduck'
One of NZ's widely spread waterfowl, found anywhere from lowlands to high mountains lakes. Males are usually dark grey / black in body, females a chestnut brown.
Enjoy the incredibly scenic 2-hour drive through the layered desert-like hills of the 'Lindis Pass-Tarras Road'.
Driving from Tekapo to Wanaka
16. WINE TASTING IN WANAKA
Taste samples of the fine wines of Wanaka - for free! Head to The Rippon Hall via the Wanaka Mt-Aspiring Road, a 40-minute walk from Wanaka's 'That Wanaka Tree', to taste great wine with the most unbeatable views! If one of you isn't a drinker, there is a small gravel carpark there if you decide to drive.
Tip: You try 5 different wines; 3 white, 1 rosé and 1 red. We have a sweet-tooth, the two we loved were 'Rieslig' and 'Osteiner' - apparently a very rare wine! There is no obligation, however you can buy bottles of them at the end!
17. 'THAT WANAKA TREE'
What Wanaka Tree? A lone willow tree marooned in the lake, which has become a hit with photographers and Instagrammers alike. Simply a mundane tree proving a perfect subject to a beautiful backdrop. Check out #ThatWanakaTree to see all seasonal variations of this spot, and of course post your own!
Fact: Though usually submerged 50cm by the Lake, sometimes Lake Wanaka's water levels are so low you can physically walk up to the tree!
18. PUZZLING WORLD
On the way out of Wanaka, stop by Puzzling World. An hour or so of fun in the Illusion Rooms, including 3D illusion art, boggle your senses in the tilting house and incredible forced perspective.
Tip: On-site there is a large carpark, public toilets (with 3D illusions!) and a cute cafe with fun table puzzles to play with!
Driving to Queenstown from Wanaka
Do Not Take 'Crown Range Road'
CAMPER-VANS ARE FORBIDDEN
Driving from Wanaka to Queenstown, your SatNav will send you on the 'fastest' route through 'Crown Range Road'. Do not take this road, it is forbidden to take your camper-van, it is the one road our Camper-van supplier warned us about. You will not be covered by insurance. Go round using the main road route via State Highway 6 instead.
19. EXPLORE QUIRKY QUEENSTOWN!
Envision a sweet, Nordic town surrounded by mountains, colourful houses on the hill, quirky restaurants, pubs, clothing shops - This, is Queenstown. You must wander down to the Queenstown Bay Beach for the cute jetty, floating boat bar, botanical gardens and pop-up crêpe & dumpling stalls. Such a relaxed, cool vibe.
Not many places to camp in Queenstown. Very expensive $55 a night (2 people, 1 campercan). Tight spots, but cute and separated by flower bushes. Powered sites. Quirky designed shared toilets. Shared kitchen. Laundry facilities. Free drinking water 'well'.
20. DEVOUR A 'FERGBURGER'
Ask anyone where to eat in Queenstown, they'll send you straight to Fergburger. Infamous for large, exotic and insanely tasty food - Grab yourself a burger, thick shake and head down to Bay Beach to enjoy with a view (Just mind those seagulls)!
Tip: Timing is everything. Aim for an early lunch, as for a small eatery, it gets insanely busy. Everyone clearly got the memo.
21. KIWI BIRDLIFE PARK
Originally a disused wasteland, Kiwi Birdlife Park is now a conservation centre for a huge variety of New Zealand avian & reptilian wildlife. Here, you can see the infamous Kiwi bird. Being nocturnal, the 'night-vision' Kiwi houses give you one of the best chances in NZ to see them active & foraging for their breakfast in the 'Kiwi Encounter' sessions. Roam the rest of the park at leisure with a self-guided audio tour, and be sure to watch the conservation show!
Tip: Check Bookme.co.nz for discounted prices on a load of activities, especially around Queenstown! We got $15 off our Kiwi Birdlife Park booking.
Fun Fact: Operation "NestEgg" is a conservation effort at KBP to hatch eggs in captivity to avoid being eaten by stoats, possums, rats and domestic pets, and release them back in the exact location.
Kiwi's are the closest thing to mammals. Feathers look more like fur. There are 5/6 different species, some with as little as 300 remaining in the wild.
Kiwi's can live up to 40 years old. The oldest documented Kiwi was 64 years old!
Kiwi Bird Facts
Kiwi's start breeding between 3-5 years old. They are territorial, and live / breed as the same pair for their entire life. It takes 78 days to incubate a Kiwi egg.
22. SKYLINE GONDOLA & LUGE
Take the Skyline Gondola up the mountain and channel your inner Mario Kart down the luge track with arguably the most spectacular views! Once finished, re-charge at their Market Kitchen café, whether that be for tea & cake (or wine!). Be sure to go out onto their outdoor viewing platform just before sunset for incredible 3 views overseeing all of Queenstown - Dusk, Sunset and Nighttime!
Tip: Buy the 'Skyline Gondola & 5 Luge Rides' option at the bottom ($67). Though the '3 Luge Ride' option is slightly cheaper ($63) do not be fooled like us. You will 100% want more rides & it is then $15 PER EXTRA RIDE at the top.
23. QUEENSTOWN HILL SUMMIT WALK
Want to see incredible 360-views and work out your glutes? Look no further than the Queenstown Hill Summit Walk. A low-mid gradient stroll through beautiful towering forests before revealing a new world of snow-capped mountains as far as the eye can see. Pass the 'Basket of Dreams' sculpture and continue another 10/15 minutes to reach the final summit. Total time approx. 2/3 hours returning the same way.
Tip: The start of the trail is located on top of the residential hill of Queenstown. Some of the roads are very steep (+ lots of parked cars!) so take care and go slow. There are a few parking spots, but park sensibly along the road if required keeping residents in mind.
Fun Fact: In the forest, look out for little fairy doors at the foot of numerous tree trunks to add a bit of magic to your day!
24. BOB'S COVE WALKING TRACK
If a leisurely Sunday stroll is more of what you're after, Bob's Cove Walking Track is perfect, located just a 10 minute scenic drive out of Queenstown. Bob's Cove Trail is 20 minutes one-way and same-way return, passing beautiful coves until you reach the beautiful Lake Wakatipu. Warmed up and fancy more? Carry on further to connect to the Twelve Mile Delta Track, 6.8km return via same track.
Tip: There is a small area for free parking at Bob's Cove Track, which can fit approximately 5/6 cars.
25. TRAVEL TO ARROWTOWN!
25 minutes drive from Queenstown, step back in time to Arrowtown - A cute, old historic gold-rush mining town nestled against the Arrow River. Browse quirky independent shops selling souvenirs, wine, house interiors, sweets or even NZ wool or dine in small local eateries. A must visit is 'The Remarkable Sweet Shop'. Not only does it give Willy Wonka a run for his money, they have an insane selection of crazy fudge flavours, and love giving out free samples!
Fun fact: The best time to visit Arrowtown is April, where the surrounding hills are awash with golden yellows, oranges and reds from the Autumn leaves. They also hold an Akarua Arrowtown Autumn Festival every year!
Tip: Buckingham Street is where you will find the main high street. Park for free at Buckingham Street Car Park.
Drive two hours from Queenstown to Te Anau, the main town base for the 'Milford Sound' trips. It doesn't have too much there - a beautiful lakeside, a few souvenir shops, small supermarket and cafés.
Driving from Queenstown to Te Anau
26. THE ROAD TO MILFORD SOUND
An insane amount of beauty awaits before you even reach Milford Sound. Whether driving by yourself or going with a tour from Te Anau, make sure you stop off at each of these spots (in order of appearance):
Te Anau Downs, Eglinton Flats (amazing photo stop), Mirror Lakes (beautiful water reflection), Knobs Flat shortly after for public toilets, Lake Gunn (incredible water reflection), Monkey Creek to see the cheeky Kea parrots and The Chasm, a short 5 minute walk to a very deep waterfall well.
Tip: The road 94 to Milford Sound is relatively straight forward to drive. Tight within steep rocky mountains, these areas can be deemed unsafe in Winter especially due to avalanche warnings, however this will be communicated clearly or even closed in advance. Ask your Te Anau accommodation the day before.
Tip: On route, you will drive through the Homer Tunnel - a 1720m long tunnel under the mountains to get to the other side! It dips 310 feet during the journey. Controlled by traffic lights in the day (9 minute wait either end, watch it count down). By night there is two way traffic.
Tip: If you do drive your camper-van, there is a large carpark next to Milford Sound port and visitor centre as you reach the end of the road.
Stay for 2 nights to accommodate Milford Sound tour. $44 a night (2 people, 1 campervan). Powered sites. Shared toilets. Shared kitchen. Laundry facilities. Free 1/2 hour slots in cute wooden sauna per stay! Extra $30 for 1hr in large hot tubs! Reception extremely friendly and helpful.