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This is a very general tour for those who just want to travel and see the Island as family group in a campervan. It is not as aggressive as one where someone needs an adrenalin rush or a little more activity but it will show you how to get around time wise.
Time and distances taken into the process so you won’t be rushed. Maybe some alternatives for road closures and weather.
Day 1- Christchurch - Pick up the campervan at the airport and stock up on your fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. Settle in for the day and get used to your upcoming lifestyle for the next twelve days......
Day 2 - Christchurch sightseeing- The next day close at hand is an experience not to miss: the Antarctic Centre right by the airport. You need to return toward the airport and follow the signs. The entire family will love it. If you plan to explore the city go downtown by turning right on Sawyers Arms Road at the entrance of the North-South Park. This will eventually dead end at the Main North Road where you turn right. A secret spot to park all day is in the centre of the city. It is the Council Parking lot on Tuam Street. Just continue through the city on the now Papanui Street and then Victoria Street (all the same street).
As of Dec 2011 some of the CBD is still closed and cordoned off from the 22 Feb earthquake. Cathedral Square and the Arts Centre are both closed for repairs and/or demolition. The Visitor information centre has moved to beside the museum, on the edge of Hayley Park (Rolleston Ave). Hagley Park, the Botanic Gardens, punting or canoeing on the Avon, and the museum are all still open and worth a visit.
Day 3 - Mt. Cook - Start early as you have about a five hour drive from Christchurch to Mt Cook. Taking Route One south you pass through NZ’s largest flat lands the Canterbury plains where extensive farming goes on. You will get to see some of the 28 million sheep that graise on the land and keep the grass trimmed like golf courses. The Southern Alps provide the backdrop. Good way to get used to driving the van before tackling the mountain roads. You will be crossing the world famous salmon rivers as you go south. The Rakaia River, Ashburton River and the Rangitata. Not the time of year to stop and fish though. It is 123 kilometres to the turnoff of Route 79. Fifteen kilometres along is the town of Geraldine. Stop and look around and take a break. Go through town until the road turns to the right. On the left is a small complex where you can get a bite to eat at the Easyway cafe and have a look around. Walk back uptown on the main street to visit Caley Art Gallery and see what is considered the finest display of Maori art in New Zealand. You will be amazed at the museum quality displayed and all free.
Traveling on Route 79 it is 46 kilometres to the town of Fairlie and the entry into one of the most awesome parts of New Zealand, the high country, Mackenzie Country. Now you get to try your luck at driving the twisting turning up and down roads of New Zealand. One thing about it, is there is not much traffic. Pull over for traffic whenever you get the chance to let them pass. Just before Fairlie at Mt. Messenger on the right is the Farm Barn. In case you didn’t eat or get coffee here is a good spot. Just past there stop on the pull off on the road on the right just to get a look at the scenery. From Fairlie to Lake Tekapo is 42 kilometres. From Fairlie you take Route 8. Take some time to stop and have a look. Go down to the church on the shoreline. This is a classic example of a glacier fed lake with its milky blue colour. It is 48 kilometres to the Route 80 turnoff to Mt. Cook and another 55 kilometres to the Village. Perhaps you may have a lucky day and the weather will be clear. There is a campground on the right just before the Village. Exciting to see but not much going on the family will enjoy unless you take a walk.
Day 4 - to Dunedin - 323 kilometres about 4 hours drive from Mt. Cook. You might want to leave the Mt. Cook area and stay in a camp ground in Twizal or there is the Benmore Camp after the town of Omarama. Also plenty of places to freedom camp if you want to. Get you a better start for the next day and the camp grounds are better than at Mt. Cook. From Route 8 through Twizal south through Omarama where you pick up Route 83. Here is something that hardly anyone ever mentions. At a small town called Duntroon there is an exhibit of 25 million old fossils such as sharktoothed dolphins. This would be most exciting for the children as they allow them to pick at rocks and find their own fossils they can keep. Recommend talking the backroads into Oamaru so you can drive through the fossil country. A place like nowhere else in the world and where the movie “Chronicles of Narnia” was shot. Worth a stop. Most tourists are never told of this. Maps available at the center in Duntroon.
You are now entering the Deep South - Reaching Oamaru they have an interesting historical zone and some great cafes (Long Black for one). Also the home of Whitestone Cheese factory (if you like cheese don’t miss the blue) and the wonderful little blue penguin. You should go visit the penguin site but to see the blues come ashore requires a night time visit. It is an hour and a half drive from Oamaru to Dunedin. Be sure to take the family down to the beach to see the Moeraki Boulders. Then, here is a secret, if you want to get a real good look at fur seals take the road to Shag Point. The best place in the South Island to get closer than Kaikoura. Overnight stopovers are possible. Great place for close photos. Don’t get too close they are all young bulls. In Dunedin park in the grocery store parking lot across from Cadbury Chocolate where everyone should go. Be sure to stock up on there for the privilege. You can park at the Railroad Centre that is also handy. You might enjoy a walk through downtown Dunedin. It is a Scottish style town full of University students. You can stay at the Holiday Park almost in town at Leith Valley. When you reach town after the long hall up and down very steep roads entering Dunedin on Highway One South turn right on Duke Street to Malvern Street. Park on left, 103 Malvern Street.
Day 5 - Sightseeing Otago Peninsula - Go straight out to the Albatross Colony. One fine place to experience. Get a map and try to get to the Larnach Castle for a visit while out there. Enjoy a day of sightseeing.
Day 6 - Off to Te Anau - Long hall driving - 291 kilometres (5 hours) Not a hard drive though. Good scenery. Dunedin to Balclutha on Route One to Clinton. Route 94 to Gore and on to Te Anau. Good drive. So many visitors miss some of the most spectacular area of the Far South but time is always hard. Te Anau is a nice place to pass through on the way to Milford. Friendly cafes and restaurants. The only place to stay with your camper van is the Fiordlands Great View Camp Ground on the road to Milford. It is just a few minutes out of Te Anau. You may get the chance to see glow worms if available.
Day 7 - Milford Sound - If there is anywhere in New Zealand you would recommend for everyone is the trip to Milford Sound. It is one of the most spectacular drives you ever encountered on earth. Truly awesome. The only true way to realize the size and dimensions of the Fiords is to go out by boat. One wonders after reaching the ocean and turning around how Captain Cook had the guts to take a large cumbersome sailboat in close enough to discover the Sounds. He was truly an explorer. 116 kilometres one way. It will be a full day in and back out so plan to stay another night in Te Anau. This will be a true highlight of the trip.
Day 8 - off to Queenstown - Route 94 out of Te Anau to Route Six. There is a good side road you will see on the map that cuts off a few kms ending up at the Five Rivers corner. Fabulous cafe there by the way (92 kms). From Five Corners north on Route 6 it is 30 kilometres to Kingston. Be sure to take a few minutes to stop along the way at the Kingston depot if the train is there or go directly to the little town of Kingston where it is housed. Now a forty kilometre drive along Lake Wakitipu from Kingston to north of Queenstown. Just before the bridge over the Kawarau River there is the Holiday Park to the left. Won’t be there much longer as it was sold to developers for zillions. Take advantage if you can. After the bridge on the right going toward the airport is the large shopping centre for the area and easy to negotiate with a camper van. Not so anywhere else around there.
Aw yes.........Queenstown. Some may find it overpopulated and overcrowded, but if you want to have a look around, you can find a spot, take a wander through the Mall to the Lake enjoy what it offers and then get back in your camper and take the road to Glenorchy. Some of the most spectacular scenery in the country and hardly bothered by tourists as no one ever tells you. You can freedom camp a lot along here and also go several kilometres up a dirt road to Moke Lake to hang out. This is where many of the locals go to get away. It is a DoC Camp. After that you should take time to get to Arrowtown. Another not-to-miss place that is a historical gold mining town. Wonderful to walk around. A person just recently found a nugget in the Arrow River he sold for $40,000. There is still gold there. Maybe you will be lucky? You can park free overnight right by the Arrow River in town.
Day 9 - Wanaka and Haast- Lot’s of hard driving. 242 kms-6 hours minimum if the roads open. Outside of Arrowtown take the Crown Range Road to Wanaka. This is Shania Twain country. Go see why she bought most of it. Stop at the historic Cadrona Hotel at least for a photo. In Wanaka you can park you camper on the waterfront and have a walk. Also a good place to stock up with groceries for the next leg and make sure you are topped up with fuel. From Wanaka you wind through lake country between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea (not Hawera, that is a town in Taranaki, in the North Island). Part of the game in driving New Zealand great roads but always susceptible to landslides and other physical problems. The road through the Hasst Pass is one of the most exciting in the country for scenery. Be sure to task it easy on your brakes coming down hill. By the way that goes for all over the country. Stay in Haast for the night. It is overdoing it to go on to Franz Josef at this point.
Day 10 - to the Glaciers - A great drive scenery-wise from Haast north. You might want to stop and see the Heritage Information Centre in Haast before leaving. About a 3 hour drive to the Glaciers. You can drive right to the Fox Glacier and a short walk puts you there. In Fox Glacier town take a side road to Lake Matheson to see a beautiful sight. Doesn’t take long and is par excellence. In Franz Josef you can also get close to the glacier where it ends at the river and suggest one of the treats in life for anyone is a helicopter ride up to on top of the glacier when the weather plays it part. Stay the night in Franz Josef.
Day 11 - To Hokitika - Park on the ocean in Hokitika and enjoy the craft work shops. Best in New Zealand. From Hokitika would go north to Westport so as not to miss the ocean views around Punakaiki and then back over the Lewis Pass to Kaikoura but this trip was programmed with going across the Arthur’s Pass. So off to the East Coast via Arthur’s Pass. Hard not to find this a magnificent drive. It is four hours to Christchurch and then the plan called for getting to Hanmer Springs another two hours.
Day 12 - Hanmer Springs - Soak your heart out. Anyone that can’t enjoy long hours in the hot springs need not apply here. Have a great day. There are holiday parks to stay in.
Day 13 - a quick drive to Kaikoura - About two hours. If you get a chance to do some whale watching please do. South of town go up to the Kaikoura Winery for the view. Now back again in Christchurch and home.
Day 14 - Christchurch and home - Didn’t miss much. Had a good trip. Wish you had more time. Maybe another time! Hope you have lots of good memories. So here was a trip already outlined that has been filled in to make it easier and more fun for the visitor. Still can add more but won’t get too carried away. Hope this is what everyone is looking for when they ask for help.