Why on earth would you travel all the way to New Zealand for only 1 week? We normally would never as it’s half way across the world from us, but when we found ourselves in Indonesia we realised it wasn’t all that far away anymore. And even though we knew we would only have 1 week we felt this was a now or never thing. On a whim, we booked a campervan and jumped right in!
Christchurch & Pegasus
We landed in Christchurch early morning and picked up the van as soon as the office opened. Figuring we didn’t have much time as it was, we left Christchurch and drove straight away to Pegasus to meet Jochem’s extended family. What else is in Pegasus? Nothing at all. Just pretty beaches.
We hauled ass in our campervan that was a bit bigger than we had thought. As we drove through the mountains of Arthur’s Pass, it struggled. We choose to ignore the beeping sounds and as is often the best strategy; pretend it’s not there and it will go away. The roads are absolutely beautiful. A total LOTR thing; though I only know that because Jochem forced me to watch all 3 of them only a year ago. We stopped halfway for a short 5k hike at Castle Hill. This one is totally doable in sneakers with 1 medium ascend. We continued all the way west and found a free camping spot on the beach near Kakapotahi just before dark.
New Zealand’s Fox Glacier & Westland Tai Poutini NP
This is the day we started realising how tight 1 week actually was! With the great distances and little time, we had some serious miles to make. We left early morning for Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier. We knew that we wouldn’t have time to actually get to the foot of Fox Glacier, let alone take a scenic flight, so we opted to stop at Westland Tai Poutini NP instead, where we knew there were hikes from where the glacier can be seen. We took the Southside Walkway at 6.4k, and added in the Moraine Walk (2k) that you encounter on the main hike. While we did see Fox Glacier (there’s a good viewpoint after about 40 minutes) we were infatuated with the rainforest that was crazy abundant on the Moraine trail.
The walks all in all took us about 2,5 to 3 hours. We had planned to drive straight to Lake Pukaki, but due to fatigue, New Zealand’s long distances and nightfall, but didn’t make it there and slept by the side of the road.
We had been told Lake Pukaki had the best and most beautiful free camping on the southern island, so we had to go see for ourselves! It was another 2 hours from where we had slept by the road, and we were glad we hadn’t continued driving the night before. We used our time here to relax, did some fishing, stocked up on groceries and sat in the sunshine. Lake Pukaki is an exceptionally blue glacier lake. We had never seen anything like it!
Day 5 & 6
Tekapo was our home base for 2 days. Jochem needed a break from the driving, and knowing that we were not going to make it to Mount Cook, Milford Sound or Dunedin, we granted ourselves a break. We stayed at Lake Tekapo Holiday Park, right by the lake. Despite freezing temperatures, Jochem took a swim, we had a bbq, fished and we took another 6k hike. The trail takes you by the lake, up the hill and by the observatory before going back down through the forest. A totally doable hike, though if you take it reversed, (going up through the forest first) it’s pretty strenuous, though we saw an elderly couple on their way up, so that probably tells you something about our fitness levels!
I wish we could say we spent our last day exploring Christchurch, but we just had time for lunch before we had to return our van and catch our flight.
Do we regret spending so little time in New Zealand? Yes and no. Obviously we would have loved to have more time to explore this country. What we have seen is only a fraction of 1 island. We regret having to skip things like Milford Sound, but we knew ahead of time we would have to make choices and we took this into account when we decided to book those flights.
And who knows, maybe one day we’ll dig up the courage to sit on a 25+ hour flight again and go back to do it properly but for now, we feel lucky having been able to do it, even in this way. Also, we might do a bit of training to be in better shape for all the hiking!
For an extensive compilation of the best hikes on the South Island, head on over to Voyageur Tripper.
Good to know
- Be picky when picking out your campervan. We wouldn’t book in the same place again. What’s included? Can you stand up straight? Is it a set bed or do you have to assemble every night? Do they provide roadside assistance? This guide as some good tips and tricks on what to look for.
- Choose between a self-contained van or non self-contained. If it is not, you will not be allowed to freedom camp in New Zealand
- Download Campermate. Our app of choice, you can’t do without when it comes to freedom parking and other perks like WiFi, laundry and dumping stations
- As of Oct 2019, you need an e-visa to enter. Ours took 10 minutes to come in after application, but make sure you apply well ahead of time
- Don’t forget a travel adapter!
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