Tekapo road trip new zealand south island

Being able to travel New Zealand is another achievement for me in 2016. This beloved country fills my bucket-list for so long until I finally ticked it off. As a mountain-junkie I’ve been dreaming endlessly to present myself and now, here I am! I’ll share my one month itinerary doing road trip in New Zealand, both south and north island. Check out my New Zealand’s road trip story!

Day 1: Christchurch

Touchdown Christchurch, finally! I felt excited but tired in the same time after long flight from Bali. The time difference slightly affected me. It was 5 a.m. when I arrived, almost the same time with Fahmi, my travel mate who flew from Sydney. He was just in front of my line at immigration check, what a coincidence.

The immigration check was quite tight, not only checking passport and issuing stamp but the officer also asked me lots of questions like what do you do? what’s your plan in NZ, with whom you travel? It happened to Fahmi as well.

The day was still young, too early to pick up the car so we had a small breakfast while waiting. Another friend, Vivi, she’d arrive later around noon. It’s been a while we haven’t met since Sydney, a lot of things to catch up.

Then it’s time to pick up the car that we booked, however something’s wrong with the car so we had to wait almost 2 hours till they fixed it. It dragged our mood down a little bit.

Got the car after waiting for so long! Fahmi and I slid to the city to get things that we need, mostly camping equipment and food supplies. Done with our shopping we went to get Vivi and had a look a bit of Christchurch. The city was super quiet, nothing much happening due to end year holiday. So, we decided to call it a day.

219 on John Holiday Park ($13 pp)
*Price for tent/unpowered site

A nice family campground near airport and city with shower, kitchen and common room to use. Best value so far for a big city.

roadtrip new zealand south island blog

Day 2: Christchurch – Lake Tekapo 

We’re so ready for the adventure. I couldn’t control the pulse inside me to see everything that I had imagined about New Zealand. The nature, mountains, beautiful scenery, sense of adventure, I wanted to be there quickly!

We drove towards Castle Hill wanting to do Arthur Pass, however the weather was unfavorable. After much consideration we changed the route to Lake Tekapo. 

The weather was getting much better around Lake Tekapo. Just before the lake, we saw many cars stopped on the side of the road (you’ll see this happen a lot). And there it was, a bunch of colorful flowers grown with mountains as the background.

Lupin is the name of the flower, looks like lavender in instance. Lupin can be easily spotted during spring and summer on South Island and Lake Tekapo is one of the best spot to see them.

lupin flowers lake tekapo new zealand blog

lake tekapo road trip new zealand south island

Lake Tekapo is a popular destination in Canterbury Region and also photographer’s favorite spot to shoot milky way, adding Church of the Good Shepherd in the frame. This church was the first church built in Mackenzie Basin in 1935.

I have to warn you, this is where it all begins, the reason why people talk and praise New Zealand a lot. I might be too overwhelmed by the mountain ranges and the snow so it sounds a bit exaggerating, but everything that you see in South Island will make your jaw drop.

Lake McGregor Campsite ($5pp)

Cheapest option around the area and great view of Lake McGregor, toilet only.

lake tekapo travel blog

Day 3: Lake Tekapo – Lake Pukaki

The next day, we drove up to Mt. John. The drive up itself was a bit horrifying if you’re afraid of height. It was steep, narrow, with sharp turns. Once we parked our car, as far I could see was the mountain ranges.

It’s like we’re in the middle of basin and the mountains circled around it, like a tart (I have no idea why I’m illustrating it with a tart!). I turned around and my whole 360’ view was mountains, some topped with snow, some just normal. I wonder how it comes to winter, they’re all be sparkling with snow!

road trip new zealand south island

view from mt john observatory

On top of Mt. John, premiere New Zealand’s observatory was built to facilitate researcher and also monitoring southern sky. There is also café to chill on the top of Mt. John. It’s nice to sip a cup of coffee while admiring the nature. Some walking tracks can be accessed from Mt. John.

Done with Mt. John, we had a short drive to Lake Pukaki. The weather was at its finest, clear sky and hot sun. We kept pulling our car on the side to get pictures cause the view was mesmerizing.

Then we saw this blue tosca lake and about to go insane, it’s Lake Pukaki! The lake looks unbelievably blue in a perfect weather like that. And, Mt. Cook and friends looks elegant.

We moved to the campsite on the other side of the lake and had this worth million dollars view. We spent that hot afternoon by jumping to the freezing lake, how fun!

Lake Pukaki Camping (Free)

Our best free camping site with Lake Pukaki just right next to you. Incredibly stunning view of Southern Alps. The only thing I don’t like about this site is the dust and toilet a bit stink but it’s free campsite anyway.

lake pukaki blog

mount cook lake pukaki

Day 4: Lake Pukaki – Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park 

Far from yesterday, the weather was rather disappointing. Dark clouds growing and covered most of the peaks and the saddest thing is we could only see the foot of Mt. Cook.

I checked the weather if it could possibly better in next day but it’s getting even worse. So, we decided to do Hooker Valley Track today. It took 3-4 hours to complete the track and in that position we could only enjoy the different atmosphere of misty, mysterious kind of feel.

hooker valley new zealand south island

It wasn’t raining but very windy. The track is flat and stable, passing the Alpine Memorial to the first viewing point, Mueller Glacier. It’s sad to see how the ice melted and the glacier has decreased significantly for the past years.

We crossed over three swing bridges, across Hooker River till we reached the end of Glacier Lake where some icebergs could be spotted in the lake, even on the shore.

hooker valley blog

hooker valley track road trip new zealand south island

 

That night was new year’s eve, a very unusual way for me celebrating new year’s eve. No crowds, no fireworks, not something typical. Besides, I was spending the night in a hut, middle of nowhere without lights. It was rainy and cold.

The good thing was I could still have bbq with Fahmi and Vivi and stayed up till midnight. The wind was too strong that night and shook our tent really hard. It was the worst sleep ever, oh Mt. Cook.

White Horse Hill Campsite ($13pp)

The gate to Hooker Valley Track. Large campground with nice toilet facility and a common room with sink. No lights in common room and toilet during the night.

hooker valley new zealand blog

Day 5: Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park – Gore

What can be more excited than first day of New Year! Especially in such a lovely country. I felt so good on wheels heading to southern. Wasn’t exactly in my plan, but my friend wanted to see Moeraki Boulders. It’s a long drive, the view changed from range of mountains to drier land, also farms on both sides.

While I drove my car, I could see through my mirror that a police car was after me. Yes, first day of new year and I got fined by police (good girl!). I’m not going to tell the story here but if you wish to know, drop me message.

new zealand travel blog

To be honest, I didn’t see anything special from the boulders. I expected bigger boulder and more of them, but that’s it. Then, we did Nugget Point, still, hours drive from Moeraki. This area on southern coast is known for wildlife watching. However, that’s not what I fancy to do. At least, it’s good to see a bit of it.

A&P Showgrounds ($5pp)

The main function of this place is a sport arena and hosting shows I guess. But they also let campers stay overnight when there’s no event. Good deal for a night in Gore. Hot shower +$3

nugget point new zealand

Day 6: Gore – Milford Sound 

Entering different area, Fiordland National Park somehow appealed me. It’s the largest national park in New Zealand, encompassing mountain, lake, fiord, and rainforest. The term fiord is defined as a u-shaped glacier-carved valley which has been flooded by the sea. In total, there are 14 fiords where waterfalls make their way to the sea.

Milford Sound, one of the famous fiord is in our bucket-list to do in New Zealand. The closest and last township is Te Anau, a peaceful lake town where we got the information about things to do around as well as getting more food. Afterward, we drove to the next campsite while stopping along, such as Eclinton Valley and Mirror Lake. Too bad the weather wasn’t so good either.

Driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound was a pleasure, another excitement to me. Apart from the scenery, I enjoy driving on winding road with the abundance of rainforest. The only nightmare that we had was sandflies.

They hang a lot around Milford Sound and west coast of South Island. It looks like tinier version of normal fly but when it bites, it stings. Beware of them. We had a night in Cascade Creek before our cruising tour in Milford Sound tomorrow!

Cascade Creek ($13 pp)

Many campsites run by DOC on the way to Milford Sound. We chose the last campsite, Cascade Creek. Large area surrounded by beautiful nature of Fiordland National Park. Toilet and running water only. A lot of sandflies.

milford sound new zealand road trip south island

Day 7: Milford Sound – Glenorchy

Okay, the last township as I said was Te Anau. There’s nothing in Milford Sound except parking area, pier, and a café. That’s why some people join package tour from Queenstown or Te Anau.

There are three ways to experience Milford Sound. Flying, which is ridiculously expensive for me, a big no obviously, kayaking, surprisingly pretty expensive as well, and cruising, which would be my last choice.

I booked the most basic cruise experience with Jucy Cruise for $40. Another affordable cruise company is Go Orange. Tour started at 8 a.m. Since we still have 55 km to travel from Cascade Creek, we set one and a half hour earlier driving through another windier road with sharper turn.

I could only speed up to 60-80 km/h in average. The sky was terribly grey and rain started to pour, what a shame cause unquestionably the view was amazing but we just couldn’t see in that misty morning. I tried to cheer myself up without expecting too much, “Milford Sound looks amazing as well even in rainy days, that’s what I read!”, I convinced my friends.

milford sound new zealand

Glacier on the way to Milford Sound

The boat looks similar like the one I boarded during whale-watching in Sydney. Restaurant-alike seating, convenient toilet, and a bench with breakfast prepared for the trip. View decks were along the sides, front, and upper deck. Three of us had our raincoat and camera ready and rushed to upper deck.

It’s true that Milford Sound is special on rainy day. The rain creates some new waterfalls, flowing down from the cliff, another magical sight. There’s this moment when the boat moved deeper under the waterfall and those who stood on the deck got showered, splashed, and flooded by the water. Super fun!

cruising milford sound road trip new zealand south island

Overall, not under the best weather condition, we could’ve seen better view of Milford Sound, those towering peaks, regardless it’s still memorable for me. From Milford Sound we drove back to Te Anau, had a quick stop at Chasm Fall then drove straight to Queenstown however all the holiday parks were booked out. Plan’s changed!

Mrs Woollys Campsite ($15pp)

Not so big campground but it feels fresh and homey. It was late when we arrived and everything’s fully booked. Fortunately, the kind lady allowed us to set up our tent on a free space near the park. Facilities were great, laundry, kitchen, paid shower +$2.

Day 8: Glenorchy – Queenstown

It’s not exactly a change of plan, we just swapped the order, Glenorchy first then Queenstown. Doesn’t make any difference, we had to pass Queenstown anyway to get to Glenorchy.I fell in love on my first sight.

This is my kind of retirement place that I longed-for, peaceful and surrounded by nature. We headed to the wharf for a refreshing morning walk. Then we did the walkway next to it, a nice short walk with mountains exposed, ah, we met a swarm of black swans! We drove 20 minutes away to see Lord of the Ring movie set then headed to Queenstown.

Queenstown road trip new zealand south island

If Glenorchy sounds like an ideal retirement place for me, then Queenstown would be the place that I wanna settle down right now. Situated next to Lake Wakatipu and home to mountain ranges, The Remarkable, Queenstown is the city where adventure begins.

What I like more about Queenstown is the fact that it’s a big city but no skyscraper at all! It looks more like a holiday town with motels, cafes, and shops. Many activities can be done here; sailing, paragliding, mountain biking, hiking, and loads.  Try Fergburger if you happen to be in town, famous for its gourmet burger and people line up like crazy!

Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park ($25 pp)

Just few minutes walk to downtown, good facilities. It was peak season so it’s super busy, in fact it’s the only holiday park that’s not fully-booked on that day. Big, but not enough space between campers. Big kitchen, laundry, shower +$2 for 7 minutes on peak season. Not the best stay and best deal compares to other holiday parks.

Day 9: Ben Lomond Track

I would consider Ben Lomond as the most difficult one day hike that I’ve done during my entire hike in New Zealand. It took us 8 hours to complete but the view was definitely rewarding.  First we passed through the pine-tree forest till we got a bit lost near the waterfall. Then, we were in an open area and constantly ascending under the heat.

Ben Lomond Track road trip new zealand south island

Half way to the saddle, I could see Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and Remarkable Range. I couldn’t stop turning back and marveling the view. The later it was, the more people doing the hike even kids younger than me showed big enthusiasm hiking this not so easy track. Up to the saddle, clearly better view from what we’ve seen before. Eventually on the other side, there’s another range of mountain, the Southern Alps.

Ben Lomond Track New Zealand

The real “track” was just about to begin, enough warming up. Another hour to go to the summit. From the saddle I could tell how torturous the hike would be. The incline was so steep, looking at it would only discourage myself. Slowly but sure I climbed up the rocks. Once in a while I took a break tried to catch my breath. Finally all of us made it up to the summit, what an effort!

Hike Ben Lomond

View of Southern Alps on the other side

Day 10: Queenstown – Wanaka

The scenic drive from Queenstown to Wanaka was quite interesting with brownish hills along the way. That afternoon we did nothing much. Visited the lonely tree but for me it’s a bit overrated.  I wasn’t really amazed by Lake Wanaka especially after Tekapo and Pukaki.

Albert Town Camping Ground ($10pp)

A decent campsite not too far from Lake Wanaka, pretty relaxing. Flush toilet available.

Lake Wanaka Tree

Day 11: Roys Peak Track

Arriving in Wanaka, we’re unsure what activities we would do until we hit the tourism board and checked the attractions nearby. We found two interesting hike, Roys Peak Track and Rob Roys Glacier. I wonder why they’re both have Roys named on, probably he’s an important person in this area before? Well..We decided to do Roys Peak first.

roys peak new zealand

The starting point for Roys Peak Track is not too far from the township, about 6 km. From the parking, the track begins winding up until the summit. The track cuts through private land. Herd of sheep staring at us human while chewing grass in their mouth. Sometimes they’re chasing each other, shouting each other with their baritone voice. It’s cute to have them as companion, just be careful with your step, poo’s literally everywhere.

roys peak track road trip new zealand south island

Roys Peak track is not my kind of track. Don’t get me wrong, the view is absolutely amazing. One side you’ll see Mt. Aspiring Ranges surrounding the lake, on the other side, a  green mixed with gold-ish land is alluringly visible from up there. It’s not a difficult track, it’s just the track was a bit boring for me, gently sloping up like walking on a body of snake. I had a hard time finishing this 11 kms track, still, it’s enjoyable enough.

road trip new zealand south island

Day 12: Rob Roy Glacier

Getting to the starting point for Rob Roy Glacier itself was an adventure, or even a struggle for us because we had to drive through 30 kms of gravel road with our car. Big car or off-road car won’t have problems with this road, but mini-medium car and campervan have to be strong enough to face this road condition. There are about 7 fords, like small river stream to pass through. It’s passable as well for mini cars, be careful with unseen rocks.

rob roys glacier trek

The track to Rob Roys Glacier

Trekking in Rob Roy Glacier was the opposite experience from Roys Peak. I was captivated with the beauty of the landscape. Making our way following the river stream with blue to white water, passing hanging bridges, and natural setting of the forest reminds me of the forest where Alice was lost in wonderland. Pretty yet tiny yellow flowers spread along the bushes. The track was enthralling, combination of ups and downs, turns and flat.

A wonderland

Glaciers draw off snow that accumulates in the basins, takes about a year to convert loose snow into hard glacial ice. Rob Roy Glacier once filled in the valley and flowed into the great Matukituki Glacier which combined with Wanaka Glacier. Even though the glaciers start retreating due to the warm climate, Rob Roy still has about 100 glaciers.

rob roys glacier

rob roys glacier road trip new zealand south island

There was this magic moment that I felt, when the ice melting, it creates a tiny waterfall from the peak, where the wind blows onto it and they break apart dancing in the sky. To the end of the track, I couldn’t believe what I’ve seen, huge hanging ice covering the peak.

Makarora Campsite ($13pp)

Not so big campsite, good for few vans and small area for tent site under a big tree. Small kitchen but the advantage here was spacious bathroom. I think it’s my best shower here.

Day 13: Driving on the West Coast.

Time to head up to West Coast! They said it’s the wettest area in New Zealand, receiving more than 10,000 mm rainfall in a year! Taking our time on wheels passing through Haast Pass, there’s nothing much we can do despite many stops we could make.

Dark clouds rumbling, mist covering the density of the rain forest. The weather was really disappointing, no matter how long we stay, the forecast showed no good sign.

Show must go on, first stop was Blue Pool and we had a blast! Regardless shitty weather, the pool was in perfect blue. If the light was too much probably the pool looked whiter. A nice short walk but only we’re distracted by sandflies, the rest was beautiful. Some people even dare to jump in that cold water with no sun, they’re insane!

Blue Pool road trip new zealand south island

Just a short distance from Blue Pools, we stopped at Fantail Falls. There are many waterfalls around this area but we chose only the one with good review, or cause it’s a short walk. Fantail Waterfall is not so tall, less attractive but good enough. Then we did the taller one, Thunder Creek Falls. You know what its named that way 🙂

Lake Paringa Lodge ($15/pp)

Offers campsite and rooms to rent. Very lovely and friendly owner. Next to Lake Paringa, you can do kayaking when the weather is nice. The only downside is they have only one bathroom to share, but their common room and kitchen is spacious, nice to hang out with other travelers. Many sandflies.

Day 14: Fox Glacier

No sign of weather improvement. We continued our journey to Fox Glacier. Nestled in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, tucked in the dense canopy of trees, it is somehow interesting, and rare to see thick jungle like this remembering how majority of New Zealand’s land has turned to home for sheep and cattle.

Walking in Fox Glacier track takes about an hour return passing the river bed and a steep ascending at last part of climbing. The glaciers which were previously snaking down the mountain has slowly disappeared, little of the glaciers remain.

Fox Glacier road trip new zealand south island

Further up from Fox Glacier, there is another popular glacier named Franz Josef. Unfortunately we cancelled Franz Josef because of the rain. It has similar feature with Fox Glacier. To get a closer look of the glacier, tour operates taking you to the glacier by helicopter and next you can walk on it.

Hotel Hari Hari (12pp)

A country-style hotel with open area for camping next to it. Free shower, small kitchen, stable wi-fi at the lobby.

Day 15: Hokitika

Did nothing much again. The main reason for us to come to Hokitika was the glowworm. Glowworm is an insect larvae that glow through bioluminescence.  Actually the best place to see glowworm in New Zealand is at Waitomo Caves on the North Island. However, the price is out of our range, so while there’s a free one, we just did it.

Hokitika Glow Worm

Glowworm Dell. Photo by: Catperku

There are two glowworm dells in Hokitika, one near the city and the other one is next to the pub where we stayed. After sunset, we stepped into a small hole. No one else inside. The room was dark, not too big, I think it fits enough for 10 people only.

As we focused on the wall, there we saw the lights, the glowworms that turns to stars, how beautiful. Turn off your camera, cellphone and just enjoy for a moment.

Woodstock Hotel (5pp)

An old tavern, very cheap but no facility. Right next to the glowworm dell. Camping not allowed so we slept in the car, although some people set up tents. Good that we slept in the car cause it’s raining cats and dogs, mosquitoes and sandflies!

Day 16: Picton

Due to the bad weather we decided to skip all the cities along the way such as Greymouth, Punaikaki, Westpac, and Abel Tasman, instead we drove straight to Picton to take the ferry to North Island.

We were two days earlier than the initial schedule for the crossing. Not many good campsites on the way so we drove 5 hours straight to a decent campsite, 45 minutes before Picton. I felt unwell on that day so Vivi had to drive by herself, sorry and thank you!

Smiths Farm Holiday Park (16pp)

Lovely campground! Welcomed by homemade muffin. Good shower and kitchen facility, access to glowworm dell and waterfall. $1 for 250mb wifi. The owner gave us treats to feed the animals.

Day 17: Picton – Wellington

Crossing from Picton to Wellington. What a nice ferry! It looks more like a cruise, or a shopping mall, or a hotel, whatever. There are several sections for food, one looks like a cafetaria, another one looks like bar. The wi-fi on board was hardly accessible during that time. Three hours left till we reach New Zealand’s North Island!

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Traveled in 27 December 2016-26 January 2017

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