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A Comprehensive 10-Day New Zealand South Island Road Trip Itinerary

Feel free to read about the budget breakdown I did for the 10-day trip!

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As the title suggests, this is a comprehensive and lengthy post. Feel free to break it down into different sections and read it separately if you must. 

FAMA coming along!

Because Malaysia had a long school holiday for 2 weeks, my parents decided months ago that they wanted to come to New Zealand to tour the country, at the same time visit Louis and myself. On my part, I needed to ensure that they can take home the best experience and see most of the South Island, so I took it upon myself to research and study from various websites and the NZ map to plan the best itinerary for our possibly unforgettable 10-day South Island road trip.

The start of the journey

Before FAMA (father mother) arrived, we took the free airport shuttle from Christchurch to Apollo motorhome rental headquarters to pick up our 4-berth Euro Star! This would be our first time traveling in a motorhome, as well as FAMA’s, so we’re all eager and thrilled to hit the road and show it off to everyone (joke’s on us because we can’t travel any faster than 90km/h, ugh). 

⬆︎ The interior of our motorhome

⬆︎ The exterior of our motorhome ft. an anxious Louis

It was all fear and anxiety for Louis because the vehicle was humongous! If hulk’s a vehicle, then this vehicle definitely qualified as a hulk. Poor Louis had never driven such a large vehicle, so he was really worried when he first hit the road with Hulk. He was shaking all over from the cold as well as the anxiety. His driving skill was commendable as he sent both him and myself safely to the holiday park for the night.

First thing we did was explore the RV, learned how to connect the power points and familiarised ourselves with the concept of a dump station. The idea of emptying out the toilet every time it is full was really fascinating to us as we’ve never needed to empty our own toilets before. 

Second thing we did was stocking up the bigass car with lots and lots of food so we’d not starve our poor parents when they land. Oh, rest assured that they arrived with full stomachs and they combated jet lag almost immediately when they snored the moment their heads touched the pillows.

Day 1: Road trip officially started!

The idea of staying in Christchurch for our first day of road trip did not appeal to us very much.

First of all, Hulk was too big to navigate the busy and bustling city of Christchurch. We do not want to ruin our first day of road trip around South Island with a fine or by accidentally knocking someone down. Plus, the weather was too good to be true! So, I decided to mess up my itinerary (planned with blood and sweat) and pushed everything one day in advance. We’re going to Lake Tekapo

Fairlie Bakehouse

You are said to not have been in New Zealand if you’ve not tried their pies. Before we grace our eyes with the beauty of Lake Tekapo, we first eat like goblins at Fairlie Bakehouse. This bakehouse is said to have the best pies in South Island, and most travel agencies or motorhome companies recommend travelers to try them. 

⬆︎ We ordered steak, venison, mince & cheese, and lamb, potatoes, and peas pies. They costed an average of $5-$9 dollars.

Lake Tekapo

The drive on the way to Lake Tekapo was absolutely scenic overlooking the mountains in the distance. When driving, we saw many scenic stops along the way and stopped at a few to take some pictures that looked straight out of k-drama:

⬆︎ A random rest stop with a bigass tree with leaves of autumn colours. FAMA absolutely loved autumn vibes and asked for a nice photo together. Hulk was invited for the photo too. It’s part-family now.

⬆︎ The mountains were absolutely majestic. If you look closely, you can even see sheep grazing below!

Very soon, we were at Lake Tekapo. The first thing that attracted us was the blue of the lake. The lake was literally turquoise in colour. Sadly, the wind that day was too strong, so it was a true shock for FAMA because they were freezing only the first day of traveling in NZ! 

⬆︎ The Church of the Good Shepherd was located in the same spot. We arrived with only a handful of tourists taking pictures around the church. Very soon, the area was cleared, and we had the whole place to ourselves again.

⬆︎ Walking further down from the church, we came to a rocky surface overlooking the blue lake. It was a beautiful sight. Oddly, Lake Tekapo had waves – like an ocean. I wonder if the waves were caused by the strong winds that day. Regardless of the beauty of Lake Tekapo, the slap from the brutally cold and strong winds made our ears ring and heads hurt.

Freedom Camping at The Pines, Lake Pukaki.

By the time we arrived at Lake Pukaki, the sun had already set. It was only 5pm. We crashed at a freedom camping spot – The Pines, Lake Pukaki for the night. There were 2-3 motorhome there when we arrived. 

Honestly, Lake Pukaki has a better view and fewer crowds if compared to Lake Tekapo. I preferred Lake Pukaki as it’s equally beautiful and offered a much more peaceful environment. Lol, still being so choosy when the amount of tourists were obviously at its absolute minimal. 

Day 2: Rainy Mount Cook National Park 😭

I had very high hopes for Mount Cook. Most of the backpackers I have asked agreed that Mt. Cook was their favourite spot. Looking at the weather forecast, it didn’t seem very promising as rain was forecasted to start from our day 2 through to day 6.

⬆︎ Rainy day. You can obviously see the wet sealed road and the wipers going strong.

Visibility was low when we drove up to Mt. Cook. The fog and mist had stripped away most of Mt. Cook’s beauty and we couldn’t stop at all of the scenic lookouts as they were all covered in fog and mist! I was obviously dying inside.

We traveled an hour up to Mt. Cook village and parked up at White Horse Hill DOC Campsite and cooked lunch while looking out at the misty mountains towering over us. It was still pouring, like my heart, bleeding.

⬆︎ It wasn’t like the rain was pouring heavily, but it was drizzling from time to time. When the rain did stop, I ditched Hulk and quickly grabbed some photos before the fog and mist rolled in and swallowed everything whole.

We gave up Mt. Cook and drove at sunset to Wanaka. WRONG DECISION. On the way, we passed by Lindis pass, which was another scenic drive to Wanaka. We missed out on a lot of photo opportunities that would’ve otherwise be awesome at Lindis pass! So definitely give yourself plenty of time to drive through Lindis pass in daylight.

Salmon at Twizel

Even when Mt. Cook was such a disappointment, we found solace in the little town of Twizel. They offered the freshest Salmon to quench our thirst for fresh seafood! We ordered Salmon poke bowl, smoked salmon platter, green curry and noodles – all with Salmon in them.

You have to be a salmon lover to be able to enjoy this big feast! Especially raw salmon! Or else you might just end up puking all over the table.

They also offer sushi and some other salmon bites, but we only ordered from the main menu.

Day 3: Wanaka or Wakanda?

The land of the lonely Wanaka tree. 

We went to #ThatWanakaTree the next morning and it was pouring. Change of plans, we brought FAMA to Wanaka’s New World to take a stroll through the local supermarket. Of course, they absolutely adored the supermarket! They found so many new and exciting things and purchased coffee. It was like a playground for the 2 adults. 

When we were done with our purchase, we headed over to #ThatWanakaTree again and it was rather sunny! Sunshine didn’t last long as it started drizzling again. However, there were considerably lesser crowds now, which was perfect. We braved the elements in raincoats and umbrella. You won’t see umbrellas in the pictures because we hid it well *wink

⬆︎ FAMA were more interested in the autumnal colours of the trees and leaves rather than the lonely Wanaka tree.

⬆︎ The area around Lake Wanaka all looked scenic with plenty of parking spots available to get nearer to the lake and explore. Another instagrammable spot would be the bridge overlooking the lake (on the bottom right photo). It was a little disappointing as the bridge was in a terrible state and in desperate need for repair. 

NZ's fish n' chips

After trying out fish n’ chips for a few times back in North Island, we decided to pass the excitement along to FAMA! We turned up at Erik’s Fish N’ Chips in Wanaka and bought 2 Hoki fishes, 1 dory fish, and a blue cod fish paired with cheese and gravy chips on the side. Of course they loved it! 

⬆︎ That’s probably the universally-agreed hand gesture to show that the Fish N’ Chips were finger-licking good.

Mt. Aspiring - NZ's third largest national park: A failed attempt to freedom camp

I guess we have no luck with mountains. We tried to freedom camp at Mt. Aspiring because it is the closest to Wanaka. However, due to carelessness, I did not check the official DOC alerts and weather forecast, so I didn’t know that during rainy days, the mountain would be inaccessible. 

The whole stretch of road to Mt. Aspiring, no cars were seen on the road. We only saw a few farmers and shepherds along the way. Many times we doubted whether we were allowed to enter the area as we were fully surrounded by mountains, sheep, deers, cows, and shepherd dogs ONLY. To make matters worse, the gravel road made the motorhome extremely shaky and we were traveling at slower than 50km/h. The sky was turning dark. We were losing daylight.

We came to a gushing stream, flowed heavily from the mountains. We had no choice but to stop. From the signage, the stream was said to form only during rainy days and we should not attempt to cross it if our car is not built to cross streams. After hours of driving, we had to double back to Wanaka. Our Hulk was in a state too fatigue to cross streams at the moment.

We met another couple in a Jucy campervan on our way back. They saw our car, came to a stop, and rolled down their windows. I think they were doubting themselves as well because there were literally NO OTHER CARS around, just two of our cars. You’d think that the whole human race had gone extinct. Apparently, they were unaware of the stream and the alerts from DOC as well. They were even planning to hike the Rob Roy track. We told them about the stream, not sure what happened to them after that. Didn’t see them tailing us on our way back.

Even though we weren’t able to visit Mt. Aspiring in winter, I took plenty of sick photos of Mt. Aspiring and the grazing animals along the way. I would say that it’s a dream come true location for many nature photographers

Day 4: Road to Queenstown

Woke up at Wanaka to 3℃! It was FREEEEZING! 

On the way to queenstown, we stopped by Cardrona’s famous bra fence – Bradrona

Welcome to the land of bras.

⬆︎The long stretch of fence was completely, wholly, entirely filled up with bras from left to right.

If you’re bring male family members along, immerse yourself in the unforgettable experience of watching them blush like there’s no tomorrow. In the supermarket, when you pass by the isle selling bras, they could move on elsewhere to pretend like they’re interested in other products. In Bradrona, they have nowhere to hide but to pretend to enjoy the mountain views even though the bright sunlight was burning their eyes.

Crown Range Summit

Moving on from Cardrona, half an hour into the drive, panic started to engulf me when I read a sign that flashed “chains to be fitted” and “Crown Range road open”. 

When they say chains, they meant snow chains. I was worried because I remembered the motorhome lady saying something about running out of snow chains and so we did not fit any for our Hulk. 

Lucky for us, the road was not covered in snow. As we ascend to the summit, we started getting nearer and nearer to snowy grounds. I can feel tension and excitement rising in the car. Soon, we were surrounded by snow. We came to a scenic lookout point and immediately parked our Hulk to look at the snow. It was an amazing sight for all of us. Our first snow. That includes dad and mom’s first snow.

If you ask me what was my feeling looking at snow for the first time? It was more like apprehension and fear rather than excitement. I also did not build any snowman or throw any snowballs. It was just cold that I felt. Huh – it’s weird because my friends think that “Anna” from Frozen should very much be in favour of snow.

⬆︎ It was too cold for mom, so she went back to Hulk’s warm embrace to shelter from the cold, harsh wind. Dad however, was going strong, hiking higher and higher up to arrive at this amazing viewpoint overlooking the crown range! He looked like he just conquered Everest.

⬆︎ Everything was white! Even my face almost turned pale white from the cold! No, I was having a red nose, so more like turning into a red-nosed reindeer.

⬆︎The scenic lookout point did not stop there. We descended crown range summit and pulled over at yet another amazing lookout point! 

⬆︎If only you knew how harsh the wind was!

Arrowtown

⬆︎ Note the extremely curvy highway behind me!

Just before entering Arrowtown, half an hour away from Queenstown, we came to Arrow Junction, yet another scenic stop. 

I wonder why the town is called Arrowtown. It has no symbolism related to an arrow whatsoever. Even the roads are crooked and curvy, as opposed to the straightforward direction of an arrow. 

⬆︎ That’s The Remarkables (snow-capped mountains) behind of us! We were nearly there at Queenstown.

Just half an hour away from Queenstown is Arrowtown, tucked away in a corner, with a gold-mining history. This quiet, little town has a Chinese Settlement with a story to tell. After much recovery work done by the DOC, we experienced and learned the history of the Chinese coming to Arrowtown during the gold rush era in the early 1800s.

Strolling through the settlement and after visiting the huts they made themselves, we concluded that the Chinese then were absolutely determined to make a living out of this place with limited resources and less technologically advanced clothing. If it was me, I would’ve froze to death. 

I salute.

Freedom Camp at Twenty Five Mile Stream

We passed by Queenstown and headed for Twenty Five Mile Stream to freedom camp for the night. Twenty Five Mile Stream is located halfway between Queenstown and Glenorchy with a lake stretched along the way. The lake beside where we parked our motorhome is called Lake Wakatipu, the third largest lake in NZ. It has standing waves and a tide, or more correctly known as a large seiche that rises up and down 10cm every 25 minutes or so. Maori legends had it that this was caused by the heartbeat of a huge monster called Matau, which was said to be slumbering at the bottom of the lake. 

When we stayed there for the night, the wind was slapping Hulk with such huge force that Hulk was shaking throughout the night. The waves from the lake were also worrisome as they were thundering. It was dark, so we couldn’t really see anything outside. Dad kept voicing out his apprehension that the tide will rise and we’ll be swept away by the next morning, floating on the lake.

We arrived with just one RV parked in front of us. By the time we woke up the next morning and got ready to leave, there were 6 other self-contained vehicles parked in front and behind of us.

The best thing about this camp spot? We opened the blinds of our window and The Remarkables was standing firm in front of our eyes. Such a remarkable bedroom view – and it’s free!

⬆︎Mom cooking with The Remarkables for a view

Day 5: Glenorchy & Queenstown

The famous Lord of the Rings film location – Glenorchy.

I’ve seen so many pictures of Glenorchy online and hoped that one day I’ll be there to see it for myself. That day had finally arrived! Glenorchy definitely did not disappoint. It is a famous film location for many films, including The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. 

⬆︎ The famous red hut in Glenorchy. 

We were once again absolutely lucky because there were not many tourists around the red hut. I couldn’t believe it that I actually got to take my time photographing this cute little red hut without being stared at by impatient glares around me.

Glenorchy is surrounded by wonderful views from every possible direction. There’s even a few short walks that we could take. We tried the lagoon boardwalk, but turned back only 20 minutes into the walk as we’d like to head over to Queenstown now. 

Queenstown

With the price of $39 per person, the four of us took the Queenstown Skyline Gondola up to the top. As we reached the top, we were rewarded with a bird’s eye view of Queenstown and The Remarkables. It was understandably cold, and raindrops fell in frosty bits onto our opened palms. 

Fergburger - The best burger in the world according to CNN

From the moment we arrived in Queenstown, we passed by this burger joint in like 3 times, and there was never a moment that this burger joint was not busy. There was constantly a queue and the joint was ceaselessly bustling about. I felt extremely privileged to bring FAMA there to try out their burgers.

⬆︎After a 30-minute wait, we finally got our Fergburger, Little Lamby, Sweet Bambi, and The Bullseye. 

As we were approaching winter, the weather had turned harsh and cold. We were freezing from head to toe. 

⬆︎ We went in a shop to avoid the cold winds and ended up buying 4 matching beanies. The beanies made a huge difference as the cold suddenly didn’t feel so cold anymore. They costed $7 each on promotion.

We ended our day with beer and wine.

Drinking wine before bed keeps you warm and cozy. I think I’ve hit the quota of drinking wine enough to make up for the 23 years of not drinking enough wine. I could only take about 3 cups before I start laughing uncontrollably and freaking Louis out.

Day 6 & 7: Milford Sound

We spent some time at Queenstown’s PAK’nSAVE and Mitre10 before headed for Milford Sound at noon.

The reason why Milford Sound took up 2 days of the itinerary is because the journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound took us 4 hours. By the time we got to Milford Sound Lodge (the only accommodation in Milford Sound), it was already pitch black. 

Along the way to Milford Sound, there were a lot of DOC campsites and lookout points. We did not stop for any of them as we were chasing sunlight. The plan was to stop at the lookout points when we leave Milford Sound. 

⬆︎ The GoOrange Milford Cruise that I have booked waaaaay in advance. Another best thing about traveling in winter is that when we booked the Milford Cruise, we were given free Jetboat vouchers, which would normally cost around $79 per person.

⬆︎ We took the 10am cruise, still largely vacant. The entire deck and tail of the cruise were empty and we had plenty of time to take solo pictures of ourselves without queuing up or even waiting for a particular spot for a picture. It was more than worth it.

Spots you can't miss along the Milford road

The road from Te Anau to Milford Sound took more than 2 hours because our Hulk couldn’t travel faster than 90KM/H, especially when the road condition was poor, wet, and snowy. 

Another main reason why it took longer is because there are plenty of scenic stops along the long stretch of road. Fret not, plenty of signages and boards were placed at the side of the road to inform drivers the different scenic/lookout spots to watch out for. An innocent 2-hour journey may just turn into 3 hours or more.

In addition, there were also plenty of DOC campsites along the road, and if you pull in the campsites, you will see trust boxes placed there, along with facilities such as picnic tables, chairs, toilets, and one heck of a view!

The Chasm

From the car park, we walked for a short 15 minutes and unmistakably heard a loud thundering sound coming from below our feet. We went through a loop and saw a huge gushing waterfall flowing down to an enormous chasm. The Chasm is noctoriously known for being difficult to photograph – both the depth and the power.

⬆︎ Photographed from the top. 

What impressed me the most was how smooth the basins were, sculpted by the powerful currents. The colour of the water was absolutely the purest blue that I’ve ever seen.

⬆︎ Throughout the short walk, FAMA commented that the place looked like a scene straight out of Jurassic Park. Massive trees were covered from top to bottom in moss, and the entire atmosphere was tranquil with birds flying freely and chirping away near and distant.

⬆︎ Signages of the Kea bird (parrot family) were put up all over the fjord and we finally stumbled upon one at the car park of the Chasm. They are endangered and visitors are warned not to feed them as human food can be extremely harmful to them. 

Eglinton Valley

We pulled over at a stop in Eglinton Valley because we were attracted by the towering mountains, dried grass and rocky streams.

⬆︎ That’s mom struggling to put on her shoes in the cold just to take this stunning picture with dad, who was ready for the photo. 

⬆︎ Snow-capped mountains, river and grass made a perfect backdrop for a stunning photograph. We encountered a couple shooting their wedding photographs here as well!

Mirror Lakes

Just a short walk from the roadside parking, we were on boardwalk for a few minutes looking at the lake and mountains. The lake, in my opinion, wasn’t absolutely still like a mirror. In fact, what made the lake interesting was the cute little ducks and ducklings waddling on it. We were the first to park our Hulk at the side of the road, and by the time we left Mirror Lakes, there were about 10 more cars parked up behind us. 

Henry Creek DOC campsite

⬆︎ I think this was the first or the second DOC campsite we encountered on our way to Milford. It was sunset and we managed to capture this majestic view of the lake, mountains and the sunset behind of us!

Day 8: Best Freedom Camping spot in NZ & Nugget Point Lighthouse

Lumsden – A famous freedom camp spot in New Zealand if you’re on your way back from Milford and Te Anau. This tiny and quiet little town called Lumsden has an information centre with plenty of overnight parking spaces available for motorhomes and self-contained vehicles. The best of all? It has great toilet facilities (no hot water though), dump station, and free WiFi (from the nearby library) – all at no cost!

Placed beside the dump station, a donation box stood there and we donated some money to support Lumsden’s great initiative for providing such a comfortable stopover for freedom campers.

⬆︎ We parked in front of these vintage trains and train station. How cool was that?!

Nugget Point Lighthouse

Another must-stop attraction would be the Nugget Point Lighthouse. Whoever hears the name Nugget Point Lighthouse will first have an impression that this lighthouse would look like a nugget. Actually, it has no resemblance to a nugget whatsoever. Sorry to burst your bubbles.

⬆︎ Obviously, we forgot to bring our binoculars, but dad definitely saw seals resting on the rocks below!

⬆︎ We absolutely love Nugget Point Lighthouse for its grand view. 

Once again, we were the first to arrive at Nugget Point with absolutely NO ONE else. Later, two more couples came. We met a German couple who told us that the deck where we were standing on (pictured above) would usually be full of some 15 to 50-ish tourists struggling to take the perfect picture. Also, because it was 2pm, the amount of tourists was considerably lower.

Nugget Point Lighthouse would be our first seaside location after so many days of traveling amidst the mountains. Mom joked, “We can see these same ocean views in Malaysia too!” Really, mom?

Day 9: Dunedin & Moeraki Boulders

First Church of Otago

We checked-in another holiday park in Dunedin for the night. In the morning, we explored Dunedin. First stop was First Church of Otago – a Presbyterian church with a stunning architecture. 

Funny story. We didn’t really explore the surroundings of the church because we were parked at a pay-and-display parking lot. We quickly took a picture in a speed faster than lightning and hopped in the RV, pretending like we’ve thoroughly explored the place. NO. WE DIDN’T. 

Dunedin would be the first city we found the most challenging to tour at. 

👇 

St. Joseph Cathedral, Dunedin

St. Joseph Cathedral Catholic Church – another church with an impressive architecture. We could only park for 5 minutes. An unfriendly lady came out from a nearby school, told us off, and warned us that we could only park for 5 minutes. In the end, Louis did not get a chance to take a photo with the church, which was such a pity.

Sometimes we felt like our Hulk was hated by people in the city because Hulk would need to occupy two spaces when parking, and it’s huge AF. 

Baldwin Street - Steepest Street in the World

In a weather that was 3℃, we climbed up the steepest street in the world. It was absolutely daunting when you trace your eyes along the street way up to the top from below. Parking spaces here were way plentiful if compared to the two churches we visited previously – with a time limit of 15 minutes. We were heavily panting by the time we reached the end of the street. 

Lucky for us, or lucky for the residents, a staircase was available at the walkway. I never knew that a street needed staircases. 

⬆︎ If you drop your phone on the ground, there’s a high chance that you’d need to pick it up at the end of the street. Luckily my phone had a rubbery protective case. I couldn’t even place my butt evenly on the street when sitting sideways. I almost rolled down the street. It sounded ridiculous but it’s true.

⬆︎ My “let’s get the heck out of this city” face.

Moeraki Boulders

These famous boulders lie along the road from Dunedin to Christchurch. We decided to stop at the beach to explore for a bit. The sky was clear with a blinding sun. We finally had the chance to take out our shades. We looked badass 😎

A trust box was placed at the entrance to the beach, with an entrance fee of $2 to help conserve the beach. There was also a cafe and a souvenir shop near the entrance.

If you’re on your way to Christchurch and have some time to spare, do drop by the Moeraki Boulders’ beach to take a look at those huge boulders!

Time to head back to Christchurch.

Day 10: Christchurch

We did not explore much of Christchurch, but only spent the time clearing out the motorhome and tidying up what needed to be tidied. But if time allows, there are so many activities that could be done in Christchurch. There’s the Christchurch Botanical Gardens, Christchurch Gondola, Canterbury museum, Hagley Park, and so on. 

We used our last day to empty out our toilet, grey water tank, and give our Hulk a final cleanup before we bid farewell forever.

Farewell, Mr. Hulk! It has been a pleasure traveling with you for 10 days!

Final Word

The itinerary for this 10-day trip is purely based on my own location of interest and what I feel is suitable for my parents. Traveling in winter meant the possibility of missing out on most of the scenic tracks and great short walks in New Zealand as most of them are closed due to rock fall and avalanche dangers. It was also too cold to walk.

Our planned itinerary was also really slack, free and easy. We departed at 10am on most days and rested by 6pm every night. In summer, daylights are longer, up until about 9pm, which allows for more time to explore. In winter, daylights end by 5.15pm. I guess stargazing would be perfect, provided if the sky is clear instead of cloudy (like ours, ugh).

Plan your trip!

I used a few months on and off to plan the above itinerary and I wouldn’t say that it’s the perfect. It covers most of the famous and must-visit attractions in New Zealand on a budget for four. 

If you have a busy schedule, don’t have months to plan, or just lazy, consider joining the Haka Tours, who’d do everything for you, covering your arse from North to South Island. Rest assured that they’re NZ’s number 1 tour company. Just head over to Haka Tours to learn more about what they have to offer.

Otherwise, I found booking.com absolutely helpful in helping us look for cheaper accommodation options as well as activities.

Booking.com

Write me a comment below if you’d like me to show you a breakdown of our budget for this trip, or even the cool features or things to take note of our Hulk (motorhome). 

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