It has been 2 years since we last did a campervan road trip with our little family. We chose New Zealand for our second one. New Zealand consists the of North and South islands. North island is smaller than the South; we chose south island because of its vastness.
We flew in from Los Angeles and took a non stop flight to Auckland. Air New Zealand had a sale; if you purchase a ticket to Auckland, you can get a city in Australia for free. So we decided to split our 3 weeks between New Zealand and Australia’s Goldcoast.
Day 1: Auckland
We rented a car for 1 day and drove to Rotorua. It took us about 2.5 hrs with some stops due to Maisey and her little bladder. Rotorua is where you can spot some Redwoods. These Redwoods came from California. They were planted in New Zealand in 1902 for the purpose of building. But only a few hectares remain today.
Our next stop was MataMata, where the famous Hobbiton movie set is located. I am a huge LOTR fan and this was the main reason we visited the North Island. We took the last tour of the day. It played out well for us because it wasn’t packed and we were able to hang at the back of the group to take photos. The farm is beautiful, and if you’re a fan of the series (books or movies) then definitely visit the Alexander Farm. If you are lucky enough to get the dinner banquet, please book that. They set up the Dragon Inn with amazing food and you get to do a night tour of the set. Unfortunately, the tour was booked months ahead so by the time I got our tickets it was too late.
** Maisey is the perfect size for the hobbit homes.
** They included tiny details of The Shire. All that were needed were the real life hobbits.
** Dragon Inn provides beer or cider. Maisey had hot cocoa. This Inn is where the dinner banquet would have been held that night. For the real super fans, they do allow weddings there but there is 2 year waiting list.
Hobbiton price: NZ$89/adult, free kids under 3. NZ$199/adult for dinner banquet/night tour.
Accommodations: Above the River @ Karapiro
The view from our room at Above the River. The hosts were really nice and even provided us boots/overalls and some pellets to feed their sheep.
We flew to Christchurch. There are two main planes ( mainly JetStar and Air New Zealand ) that fly to Auckland and Christchurch every hour. The flight took one hour. We picked up our Campervan and bought some groceries for the week.
We drove towards Arthur’s Pass and stayed at a camp site for the night.
Accommodations: Kowai Pass Domain
Day3: Castle Hill/Blue Gorge Pass
We drove west on Arthur’s Pass highway. Some of the amazing views we encountered on Arthur’s Pass Highway. This highway cuts through the island and takes you to the west side.
Our first stop was Castle Hill.
This was used in LOTR and Narnia ( The Witch, the lion and the Wardrobe ) .
We arrived at 6:30am to make sure we were the only ones there. When we got to the location there were at least 3 people with us. We hiked all the way to the top and the view from up there was extremely beautiful. This is actually privately owned, but they allow tourists to see it for free as long as you keep your rubbish with you.
** B and Maisey walking away from the site. This is the path to take you to Castle Hill. We suggest you walk all the way to the top. Amazing boulders and view.
We continued west towards Hokitika: We arrived a little after lunch. This is a small beach town on the west coast of NZ. The town that has the Blue Gorge Pass. You won’t miss it since they have signage all over the town on how to get there. Once you arrive, there’s a nice big parking lot and restrooms before the path/trail. Its hard to miss. Once you reach the swing bridge, you’ve arrived and you will know cause that water is so blue. Walk pass the bridge and continue the path to go further down the river. There’s a place where you can actually swim if you can handle the cold water.
** What you do not see are the other 20-25 people around us. You have to take your time to take a good picture because this is a very busy tourist spot. The water is super cold but we saw bunch of teens jumping in.
Accommodation: Linksview Holiday Park
Day 4: Lake Matheson/Fox Glacier/Fran’s Josef
We woke up early to fix breakfast and start our day by 6:30am. We drove towards Fox Glacier/Franz Josef. It took us about 3-4hrs. This ride was a little wet. It rained most the day. Our main destination was Lake Matheson. On the way, we stopped at Franz Josef Glacier. This was a 30-40 min hike. This was actually really sad to see. The glacier retreated and we couldn’t even see it unless we continued further down the valley. And to think 10-15 years ago you could see the glacier wall right where the path ended.
( FOX GLACIER: As you can see no Glacier to be found. It retreated years back and now to see it you have to walk down this valley and go further up. )
Our hike to Lake Matheson in the rain.
** the hike was about 2 hours and we were in full rain gear because it was on and off rain.
** What I liked about the hike is the forest itself. It so green and moss is everywhere.
(Maisey was 3y.o and was about 28Lbs so I had to get a backpack carrier for this trip. I bought the BITTY BEAN ULTRACOMPACT Baby Carrier because this packs into a tiny size.)
We arrived at Lake Matheson after lunch. The path starts at Lake Matheson Cafe. We did the hike first which took us about 2 hours since it rained and we had a toddler. I had Maisey in my backpack carrier so it was easier and faster to hike. This was disappointing as the weather did not cooperate with us. We couldn’t see the mountain / view from the mirror lake. It was was still spring (rainy season) in NZ. We talked to some locals at the cafe and they told us it’s hit or miss on whether or not you get to see the view from the lake. Its hard to predict the weather on this side of the island. At least we have a good reason to come back.
** All the food was delicious. The ingredients were all locally sourced.
Accommodation: Fox Glacier Village
Day 5: Wanaka / Queenstown
Another early day for us since our destination was towards the infamous Wanaka Tree on Lake Wanaka. (#ThatWanakaTree) It took us about 3-4 hrs from Fox Glacier to Wanaka. The ride was beautiful. It rained on and off all day. The worst part of this side of the island are the SandFlies. Those lil’ shits bite and there were hundreds of them. But that’s the time of the year they visit south island.
We stopped at Roaring Billy Flats which is located right on the main highway (6) after the Haast Pass. Its of course another hike through the rainforest which also means you’ll be hiking with SandFlies. It rained off and on while we were there but the flies still appeared no matter what the weather was. The trail is about 1km or 25mins walk. At the end, you see this pretty cool waterfall across the river. When we went there, the river was so high but I think in the middle of summer you can actually walk closer to the falls.
We arrived at Lake Wanaka a little after 2pm. This lake is humongous. The tree is actually located in the middle of the town. There’s a parking lot closer to the tree. Its not a big lot so I’m pretty sure it gets packed during summer. To be honest, this tree was not as impressive as I thought it would be. Maybe because I see it all over Instagram and when you see it in real life, it’s just a tree in the water. A tiny tree. But nevertheless I’m glad we saw it in person.
We drove down towards Queenstown after Wanaka. If I could or want to move to New Zealand, this would be the town I choose. Its next to this amazing lake and the view is so gorgeous. We only spent the night here since it wasn’t really part of my itinerary. This was the gateway to Fiordland National Park/Milford Sound.
Accommodation: Copthorne Hotel
Price: $135 ( Lakeview with a balcony)
Day 6: Fiordland National Park
This is a huge huge park. It took us maybe 5-6 hrs or so from Queenstown to Milford Sound. We stopped a few times to take photos. This place is magnificent. It’s like driving through a landscape dream. We passed through a long tunnel that is cut through a mountain. That alone was worth it to see. Milford Sound is the end of the road and that is one of the reasons I wanted to visit New Zealand’s South Island.
We took a morning cruise on the fjord. It was really cold so Maisey and I stayed inside. The boat had huge windows so you won’t miss much. B stayed outside on the roof deck to take videos/photos. The trip ends right before you get to the Tasman Sea where it will take you straight to Australia.
** The cruise also have buffet style lunch if you are hungry. The tour included free coffee/tea but it was only an hour trip. We just waited and ate at the cafe by the pier and enjoyed more of the view.
Accommodation: Milford Lodge(campervan site). They have few really pretty rooms you can stay at and it has the coolest view but for me was too much for a night. Check out their website.
** Milford Lodge, one of the few lodges that has rooms for you to stay inside the park. Majority of the places are campgrounds.
** This was our campervan site for the night. The sites are usually $25-40 a night but this one was $75. Almost double due to its prime location.
Restaurant: PioPio ( @ Milford Lodge)
PS: We made a pit stop at GUNNERS CAMP inside Fiordland National PArk. They had a huge flood in this area about 2 months ago and this site was under water. I hope they are able to fix it up. They had cozy little rooms you can rent right by a river.
Day 7: Te Anau
We didn’t get to explore much of Te Anau due to rain. We were supposed to stay 2 nights and do a bike tour and a Glow Worm, tour but we canceled because of the rain. We stayed one night and left the next day.
Accommodation’ Te Anau Lakeview Campground.
Day 8: Kaka Beach/Point Lighthouse and Moeraki Boulders.
The thing with this country is that you really can’t have a set and strict itinerary because of the weather. We were supposed to be going to see a Sea Cave, but the water was too high and rough so it was closed. We ended up side tracking and checking different places that were on my plan B list.
1st stop: Point Light House: The hike was about 20 minutes on a very narrow cliff. It was scary but I had B carry Maisey.
2nd stop: Kaka beach
The only place that wasn’t as impressive as I thought was Moeraki Boulders. The public parking for it has you walking about 30mins to reach the boulders. You have to make sure it’s not high tide or the water will be up to your knees. They have a parking lot right in front, but it’s Privately owned and a paid lot. There’s also a cafe, but we were there so early we could not even get in. This was really just rocks on the beach. I think if we went on a later time ( sunset ) and lower tide I could see how it would be pretty, but then you’d have 100s of people with you. And we are not a fan of crowds.
Day 9: Lake Pukaki/Lake Tekapo/MtCook
Another itinerary ruined due to heavy rain. We drove towards Mt Cook. For the last 9 days this was our only second chance to actually see this mountain. But he was hiding behind the rain clouds and we had no luck at all. We were supposed to stay at Mt Cook village and do some hiking but the entire place was closed due to rain/flooding. So we then decided to just go straight to Lake Tekapo. On the way we saw the most bluest lake and we had a chance to sit outside while eating fresh salmon that was raised from that lake. The best sashimi I have ever had. Even in the rain I will never forget that moment. It was the first time I have ever seen a blue lake.
Accommodation: Lake Tekapo Holiday Park
Day 10/11: Christchurch
The next day it was still raining and very windy/cold at Lake Tekapo. We were supposed to stay 2 nights there but the forecast was rain for the next 5 days. So instead we just went back to Christchurch. It was sunny the last 2 days we were there. We just checked out a local animal sanctuary and watched Frozen 2. The city was very clean and small.
Day 12: Auckland flew out to Goldcoast Australia.
TIPS on traveling NZ during a shoulder season (April/May and Sept-Nov). Winter and Summer is high peak season.
1. Accommodations are not as expensive and you don’t need to book ahead of time.
2. Less People
3. Tours aren’t fully booked
4. Bring insect repellent especially if visiting towards summer time because of sandflies. I actually use Skin So Soft by Avon. It’s not insect repellent but it works really good and it smells good.
5. Always wear sunscreen. Sun is hotter down under.
6. Maisey was potty trained so I bought a travel potty with us. Since we were on the road we wanted to be prepared for her. And it did come in handy. We got the Oxo 2-in-1 travel potty. Worth every penny.
7. Always make sure you dress appropriately. Layers is key. New Zealand is known for Merino wool. Usually they are pretty pricey but you can find some good deals there. I wish we bought some but we like to pack light and not buy much stuff.
8. Biltong = Beef jerky and it’s so good. You gotta try it. They also have chicken flavored chips that were bomb.
9. Try Hokey Pokey ice cream. It’s honeycomb and vanilla.
10. They drive on the right side. And everything is opposite including the turn signal and windshield wipers. We have mistaken the windshield wipers for turning so many times.
11. New Zealand roads are different. It make look short mileage wise but it will take longer than normal. Plus you will definitely stop more times than you plan.
Lastly when traveling with a child. Try to have a flexible schedule and never ever feel FOMO. You have to go on your kids pace and enjoy every moment. If you miss anything you can always return.