The 12 Day South Island, New Zealand Escape

 

Ready for the trip of a lifetime? New Zealand, or as we like to call it New SEE-land is all about getting out and seeing the beautiful countryside. The same way Europe has cathedrals on every corner, New Zealand has a new beautiful mountain or lake around every bend. It’s where you can go to see the cathedrals of Mother Nature. Biggest take-away from the trip: if you are driving and you see somewhere you want to stop. Then stop, get out, and soak it in. There’s no need to rush, take your time.

They also have some of the best extreme activities for all you adventure lovers out there – think sky diving, hang gliding, bungee jumping, helicopter rides, glacier climbing, kayaking and more. So what are you waiting for? Also another great thing - NZ is in the southern hemi – aka when its winter everywhere else its summer here. Which means you can go to New Zealand in the winter and NOT have to bundle up in the cold. Convinced? We were. Which is why we chose to come during Christmas – trading in our snow boots and parkas for hiking boots and tanks tops. Yes please.

 Here’s what our 12-day itinerary looked like:

12 day Itinerary:

 

Queenstown – Milford Sound – Queenstown – Lake Wanaka – Fox Glacier – Abel Tasman – Nelson – Hamner Springs – Arthur’s Pass – Lake Tekapo – Akaroa Peninsula – ChristChurch

12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists

Days 1, 3, 4: Queenstown

  • Drive time (0 Hours)

  • What to do:

    • Extreme Activities- Take your pick because there’s a lot to choose from. We went with the variety route with bungee jumping, hang gliding, and the Shotover Jet

      • Bungee Jumping

      • Sky Diving

      • Hang gliding

      • Shotover Jet

      • Paragliding

      • Canyon Swing

    • Gondola: Everyone likes a view from the top. You can hike around when you get the top (even skip the gondola if your feeling adventurous and hike the whole way). On the way down you can do the “skyline luge” or ride the gondola again.

    • Beach: If there in the summer, go down to the beaches. They have a main drag with shops and eats. It is more of a lake front, but still nice for some sun time.

    • Explore the Town: It’s got a really fun & funky vibe. There is a reason many people go there and never seem to leave…

    • Fergberger - This place is famous (and they have the line to prove it). Really great, GIANT burgers. If you ask nicely they’ll even lettuce wrap it for you. Tasty.

  • Where to CAMP:

    • 25 Mile Stream: 30 mins up the road towards Glenorchy in Meiklejohns Bay with a beautiful view of the lake and great place for some peace and quiet

    • Glenorchy: While we’re on the topic, might as well go the full hour to Glenorchy. They have these amazing green pastures and open fields that you can’t miss. We didn’t see another soul when we camped out here the whole night which was really intimate & cozy

    • 12 Mile Delta: This is a paid site but not expensive (~$12/night) and has a great view of the lake you just park up close to and enjoy. Not as remote as the other two, but closer into town when you have early morning adventures.


12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists

 

Day 2: Milford Sound

drive time: 8 hours (4 hours each way Queenstown - Milford Sound)

What to Do:

  • Boat Tour: If you go down to Milford Sound you really HAVE to do a boat tour. We don’t know how else to put it, but it’s mandatory. There’s really no other way to see it the Fjord of endless waterfalls and mountain peaks.

    • Insider’s Tip: Plan to arrive at least 1 hour before your boat tour because the parking situation requires you take a shuttle from the parking lot, or hike down 20 minutes. Needless to say we arrived 15 minutes before our tour and missed it. Take it from us.. Plan ahead.

  • Drive: plan to do the drive during the day because there are so many fields of wildflowers, stunning mountain peaks and lakes that you won’t want to miss. Especially the final canyon that you descend down - it’s got some insane views!

Where to CAMP:

  • Milford Sound Rainforest Campervan Park: Yes its one of the most expensive sights, but that’s because they have the corner on the market of convenience and they know it. Boat tours are typically in the morning though so it is much nicer to just wake up and drive the 20 minutes to The Sound vs. 4 hours from Queenstown. Plus the drive is so beautiful, you wouldn’t want to do that before sunrise.

12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists

 

DAY 3, 4: Back to Queenstown (see above)

Day 5: Lake Wanaka

drive time: 2 hour (Queenstown - Wanaka), 30 min (Wanaka - Blue Pools)

  • 2 Routes: Yes there are 2 routes - one is very steep and if you are in a camper van it is impossible. Trust us (we may or may not have started on this route originally) take the longer less hazardous path.

WHAT TO DO:

  • Famous Lake Wanaka Tree: If you don’t get a picture of the Lake Wanaka tree did you even go to New Zealand? It’s out in the middle of the lake and fun to see

  • Picnic Lunch: Enjoy the time here, take it easy. There’s a town close by you can grab some food to go and bring it down to the waterfront.

  • Hiking Trail: There are paths around to walk the entire lake

  • Blue Pools: The electric blue lake is from glacier run off and is surprisingly deep. If you are feeling adventurous you can jump off (we’d only recommend this in summer though… as we said before its GLACIER run off)

Where to CAMP:

  • Albert Town: This sight has the bare essentials but phenomenal views! It’s close to Lake Wanaka and the town can be a place to grab food if you don’t feel like cooking that night.

12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists

 

Day 6: West Coast

drive time: 3 Hr (Wanaka - Lake matheson), 30 min (Lake Matheson - Franz Joseph Glacier), 2 hr (Franz Joseph Glacier - Hokitika), 1 hr (Hokitika - Punakaiki), 3 hr (Punakaiki - Nelson)

What to do:

  • Hike Franz Jospeh & Fox Glacier: It’s about a 1.5 hour hike each way (3 hours total) or quick helicopter ride for both, though by foot we’d recommend Franz Joseph as you can only see the valley for Fox Glacier when hiking. If you really want to explore the ice though, heli is going to give you the best views and most intimate experience.

  • Lake Matheson: One of the most iconic mirror lakes in New Zealand showcasing Mount Cook. Even on a cloudy day you’ll have some amazing photo ops.

  • Hokitika Beach: Famous sign built from sticks & wood from the beach a lot and charming little town to grab lunch. Worth the pitstop for some fun pictures.

  • Pancake Rock: Found in the town of Punakaiki some limestone formations that look like a tall stack of pancakes ready for a drizzle of maple syrup. Speaking of which, they have a diner near the park that serves pancakes if your craving them. We always love a good pun based menu.

Where to CAMP:

  • Cobden Bridge in Greymouth - It was dark when we got in so we suited for this sight close to Lake Matheson. This allowed us to just wake up and beat the crowds to get some picture time in.

12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
DSC_0224 (2).jpg12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists

 

Day 7, 8: Abel Tasman + Nelson

drive time: 1 hour (Tasman and Abel Tasman National Park), 1 hour ( Tasman to Nelson)

What to do:

  • Berry Picking- There’s fruit picking and farm stands all along the road between Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park. Choose your fancy on what your interested in - they have peaches, berries, and even kiwi fruit. We settled for a nice blackberry farm and indulged in mountains of fresh berries.

  • Salmon Fishing - Anatoki has some salmon lakes where you can catch fresh fish and eat it up within minutes (either sashimi style or wood fire smoked). It’s a fun experience and if you are into salmon, very very tasty.

  • Sand Dunes- These are beautiful but be warned the wind is howling up near the tip of Abel Tasman. Bring a jacket and plan to bundle up. The hike up is beautiful (about 20 minutes) but once you turn the corner to the dunes the wind may just blow you over.

  • Kayaking/ Boat Tours- The only way to really see Nelson beach is by boat (big or small). They have preserved it as a National Park so there actually aren’t roads through most of it. By kayak though you can get into all the beautiful bays filled with emerald green water and white sands.

  • Hiking- Multiple hikes also through Nelson if your interested to see the lush forests.

Where to CAMP:

  • Tasman/ Richmond - Plan to park between Abel Tasman and Nelson national parks to give you the most flexibility. There is one paid sight in Tasman and a lot of places to freedom camp (though be VERY careful of sand traps. This was one of the 3 places we got stuck in the sand…)

12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
DSC_1123.jpg
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists

 

Day 9, 10, 11: East Coast (ish)

drive time: 3-4 hours (Nelson - Hamner springs), 4 hours (Hamner spring - Lake Tekapo), 3 hours (Lake Tekapo - Springfield Donut), 30 min (Springfield Donut - Caste Hill) 30 min - 1.5 hour (Castle Hill - Arthur’s Pass, depending on how far you explore)

What to do:

  • Hamner Springs - You can go to the spa here which is nice, but the town in pretty small. Wouldn’t spend more than half a day here (but a massage is always a good idea)

  • Arthur’s Pass - This is worth driving through even if just to go up and back for an hour or two. The canyon is amazing, but be careful in winter as the roads are windy and steep.

  • Castle Hill - Completely natural rock formation that is truly a cathedral of Mother Nature. The rocks are enormous and you can just go hike around and enjoy the beauty. Maybe it’s the hippie in us talking but it almost feels like a sacred site.

  • Springfield Simpson Donut - Yes there is literally a town in NZ called Springfield that has a large donut like the Simpsons. Its worth a quick pass through between Hamner Springs and Castle Hill just to see how enormous it is.

  • Lake Tekapo - The blue lake and crisp mountains are unparalleled (yes even in New Zealand). It’s worth the drive just to go and spend a few hours taking in the beauty. You can hike or drive around the lake depending on weather/ time.

Where to CAMP:

  • Lake Tekapo: There are some paid sites, but we actually just found a nice stretch of land and freedom camped. You can’t go wrong here because all the views are pretty amazing.

12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists

 

Day 11: AKAROA PENNINSULA

drive time: 2 hours (Castle Hill - Akoroa Penninsula)

WHat to do:

  • Explore The Town - The town has a French influence and is a little slice of Europe plopped in the middle of New Nealand.

  • Dolphins Boat Tour- Take a tour to see the miniature dolphins known to the region. You can even gear up in wet suits and flippers to have the full “swimming with dolphin’s” experience

  • Boat Trip - Not a fan of swimming with dolphins? You can do a sunset cruise around the harbor or go to nearby Pohatu to see penguins

  • Giant’s Museum - Who doesn’t love enormously big things? See what it feels like to be a mouse roaming through a giant house. Great picture opportunities.

 Where to camp:

  • In Town - There are a couple places near the main park with sites and outlets to park- just read the signs. We opted to just stay in town because it was so charming.

12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists

Day 12: ChristChurch - Departure

drive time: 2 hours (Akoroa - ChristChurch)

What to do:

  • Gondola - Because the view from up top is always a good idea

  • Botanical Gardens - These really are impressive to walk through if you have a few hours

  • Quake City - Christchurch was hit with a huge earth quake - there’s an interesting exhibit if you want to see the difference it made and how the city has rallied back to where it is today.

12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists

As you can see, driving is half the adventure. Any questions for us about these 12 days? We’d love to chat more about all things New Zealand!


Xx


T.E.A.



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12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists
 
12 Day South Island New Zealand Escape - The Escape Artists