South Island Discovery Caravan Tour

Tour highlights

  • Take in the stunning scenery of the Southern Alps and enjoy scenic drives
  • Visit the Fjordland National Park
  • Drive the Haarst Pass and walk the Hokitika Gorge
  • Set foot on the ice at the Fox & Franz Josef Glaciers
  • Stay in the heart of the Marlborough wine region
  • Stop in Kaikoura, famous for its Whale Watching

Day 1 - 6: Christchurch and Dunedin

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Days 1 - 4: UK to Christchurch

You can fly to New Zealand from a range of airports in the UK. On arrival in Christchurch, on day 3, transfer to your hotel for a two night stay.

Christchurch is the South Island’s largest city, known for its beautiful public gardens, old world charm and architecture, and its quaint and a very walkable city centre. Much of this changed in the 2011 earthquakes when so much of the city was lost. However, the city is rising to the challenges, quite literally, and it is now home to funky and unique pop up malls, dozens of new buildings, high street, designer and boutique shops, a world class art gallery and museum, and restaurants galore.

Many of its heritage buildings have been restored, the beautiful Botanic Gardens remain, and the trams have returned to its streets (some of which offer dinner-on-board tours in the evenings).

Days 5 - 6: Christchurch to Dunedin 

Distance: 362 km / 225 miles

The road south has plenty for you to enjoy on the way to Dunedin. Ashburton offers visitors an aviation museum, beautiful public parks and gardens and a vintage railway. Timar has a craft brewery, Botanic Gardens and the Te Ana Rock Art Centre, whilst Oamaru boasts some of New Zealand’s best 19th century limestone architecture including the Opera House, Forrester Gallery and Victorian Precinct. The Moeraki Boulders, on the beach by Moeraki, are one of New Zealand’s natural wonders; it looks as though giants once used giant rocks as playthings and left them strewn around the beach. You’ll also discover seal and penguin colonies along the way.

Dunedin is a university town, and full of interesting restaurants and pubs with a laid-back feel amongst the grandeur of beautiful buildings. It is famous for being an early gold mining town and its historic riches are still evident in the wealth of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. Dunedin has a rich and proud Scottish heritage, and the name itself comes from the Scottish Gaelic for Edinburgh. Its founders’ love of the old country is evident in the architecture, the Robbie Burns statue in the main square, even a bit of the accent you can catch in the city’s old timers. One of its early wealthier citizens built a Scottish sort of home for his family, Larnach Castle, which is well worth a visit.The Otago Peninsula is a more natural wonder, and worth heading out to with its albatross colony and excellent visitors centre, as well as refuges for penguins and its fur seal colonies.

Day 7 - 16: Dunedin to Wanaka

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Days 7 - 9: Dunedin to Invercargill 

Distance: 205 km / 128 miles

Drive to Lake Waihola and stop for a picnic by the lake before heading through Milton, a quaint historic town. Soon after you will be in the Catlins, an area known for the sea life that lives off its wild shores. Take out the binoculars to try to spot sea lions, seals, dolphins, penguins, and seabirds. In Invercargill, try the local seafood, especially its Bluff Oysters in season.

Consider a trip out to the rugged shores of New Zealand’s third island, Stewart Island/Rakiura. Ferry trips and flights are available. This is the best place in New Zealand to get away from it all, literally and figuratively, and one of the best places to spot kiwi in the wild. Stewart Island has a fascinating history and an important future as a conservation area.

Days 10 - 12: Invercargill to Te Anau 

Distance: 160 km / 100 miles

Today takes you from Invercargill to Te Anau. Consider taking the route that goes via Riverton, one of the South Island’s oldest settlements, and visit spectacular Lake Manapouri before you arrive in Te Anau, on the shores of the lake of the same name. Visit the Te Anau Gloworm Caves or take one of the many tours on the lake.

Te Anau is known as the gateway to the Fiordland National Park, New Zealand’s largest national park, including the spectacular Milford Sound. This far-flung part of the country offers views of the High Country, where settlers conquered the rugged scenery in the early days. Rivers full of trout meander through the countryside and you will be spoiled for your choice of picnic spots. The road to Milford is one of New Zealand’s most scenic and it is worth coming this far south just to be a part of it. Stop for photos and try to spot the 'Disappearing Mountain', near the Mirror Lakes. You’ll see Mitre Peak on a clear day after venturing through the Homer Tunnel. From here, it’s worth taking the time for an optional cruise on Milford Sound; a once in a lifetime experience.

Days 13 - 14: Te Anau to Queenstown 

Distance: 173 km / 108 miles

There’s a bit of backtracking today as you make your way to Queenstown, but the beauty of Lake Wakatipu will keep you entertained as you wind your way north. The alpine resort of Queenstown is unlike anywhere else in New Zealand, as its tourist numbers in high seasons will attest. Tourists young and old flock to Queenstown to soak in its atmosphere, literally soak in luxury spas, partake of its many award-winning restaurants and cafes, and shop at upmarket boutiques.

It’s also the place to be if adventure tourism is your thing: bungee jumping, jet boating, river rafting, river surfing, horse trekking, skiing, snowboarding, sky diving…all are available here, and all are provided to the highest standards. Some quieter adventures also await, from high tea at the end of Lake Wakatipu after a leisurely ride on the SS Earnslaw, to world class golf, to wine tastings – Queenstown has got you covered.  There are also numerous Lord of the Rings locations here.

Days 15 - 16: Queenstown – Wanaka 

Distance: 67 km / 42 miles

Be sure to divert to Arrowtown on your way to Wanaka. This small settlement is a contradiction of sorts, with humble old mining cottages hugging tree-lined roads which lead to a quaint town centre that boasts luxury spas, designer shops and gourmet restaurants. Visit the historic mining huts along the river, sample local fudges, ice creams, and confections and stop in at a local winery before continuing onto Wanaka. The shortest route to Wanaka is over the Crown Range Road, a challenging drive, but the views are amazing. A more moderate driving route runs beside the Shotover River, Lake Dunstan, and the Clutha River. Wanaka will provide you with an appealing mix of fine living, family fun, and adventure. It has a high concentration of cafes, restaurants and interesting shops, not to mention picturesque scenery from the lake that bears its name to the surrounding mountains of the Southern Alps.

Day 17 - 24: Wanaka to Nelson

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Days 17 - 18: Wanaka to Franz Josef 

Distance: 286 km / 178 miles

Enjoy the views along the shores of Lake Hawea as you head north and stop for lunch at Makarora before hitting the Haast pass. The scenery here changes dramatically as you enter the rainforest. The settlement of Haast is a town with a touch of the wild west, and another good place to stretch the legs and have a look around. Just north of Haast is Lake Moeraki, a peaceful forest lake with good fishing. From here, a 40-minute walk takes you to the penguin colony at Monro Beach. Then continue on to Fox Glacier.

At 13km long, Fox Glacier is fed by four alpine glaciers and makes its way downward 2,600m on its way toward the coast. It's unusual in that it ends in rainforest, nearly at sea level, unlike most glaciers which prefer to stay at higher altitudes. There are numerous walking tracks at different grades of difficulty, as well as professional tours, on foot and by helicopter, available for visitors.

Franz Josef Glacier is just a short 45-minute drive north. You can walk to the terminal of the glacier in about 10 minutes; alternatively arrange a heli-hike to get on top of the glacier and explore its ice caves.

Day 19: Franz Josef to Greymouth 

Distance: 173 km / 108 miles

From Franz Josef, make your way up the rugged West Coast, through the old gold mining settlement of Hokitika. Stop here for supplies, a wander through town, and the highly recommended short and easy walk into the Hokitika Gorge for photo opportunities of this beautiful forest and the bright blue waters of the river. Nearby at West Coast Treetops Walk, you can wander through the forest canopy on purpose-built boardwalks. In Greymouth, visit Shantytown for your own gold mining experience, walk the beautiful Pt Elizabeth Walkway by the coast or try some cave rafting.

Days 20 - 22: Greymouth to Marahau 

Distance: 303 km / 188 miles

Before leaving the coast, make the time to head out to Punakaiki, otherwise known as The Pancake Rocks. These unusual rock formations on the beach are stunning, and the visitors’ centre and walkway are well presented. Then head north toward Buller Gorge, through Westport with its handsome period architecture, reminiscent of the gold mining era. Check out the gold mining museum, which is an excellent example of its type and will give visitors a real feel for the life of a miner. Take the road north to Marahau, which skirts the edges of three National Parks. There are plenty of picnic, walking, and photo opportunities along the way.

Marahau is the starting point for many people visiting Abel Tasman National Park, home to one of the most scenic and enjoyable Great Walks in New Zealand. Spend some time here enjoying the beaches, take a water taxi out exploring, or have lunch and an afternoon walk.

Days 23 - 24: Marahau to Nelson 

Distance: 67 km / 42 miles

On your way to Nelson, stop at Kaiteriteri, with its gorgeous white sand beaches and very popular camp ground. Nelson prides itself on having the most sunshine hours in all of New Zealand, and this must make for happy, artsy, alternative people, which you’ll find plenty of in this community.

Nelson has an almost subtropical feel compared to the rest of the South Island, with its pretty white sand beaches, palm trees, and brightly coloured buildings. The streets of Nelson are full of cafes, interesting art and craft shops, restaurants, a large number of galleries and historic attractions. It is also home to many a fine brewery to while away an afternoon in. Beyond town are beautiful forests and beaches to visit and get a taste of the splendour of this corner of the country.

Day 25 - 30: Nelson to Christchurch

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Days 25 - 26: Nelson to Blenheim

Distance: 115 km / 72 miles

Stop at Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve for a day walk or picnic. Blenheim is in the middle of the world famous Marlborough wine region, and there are scores of vineyards and wineries to stop in for lunch and a sample of local wines, notably the Sauvignon Blancs. Perhaps rent some bikes and meander through the vines.

Lord of the Rings fans, and aviation enthusiasts, should visit Omaka and its war plane museum, owned by Sir Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s full of props from the movies as well as an impressive collection of planes.

Days 27 - 28: Blenheim to Kaikoura

Distance: 128 km / 80 miles

Enjoy the trip south through the breath-taking Awatere Valley and on along the vistas of the Pacific Coast. Kaikoura translates into English as a good place to eat kai (crayfish) koura and indeed it is! Don’t miss the chance to sample some of the freshest shellfish and crustaceans around. Venture onto the coastal walkway and you could see sperm whales, dusky dolphins, fur seals and albatross play in the waters off shore. Alternatively, join them in their own environment and take one of the many oceanic tours on offer.

Day 29 - 30: Kaikoura to Christchurch

Distance: 181 km / 113 miles

Return your car and caravan and the head to the airport for your flight back to the UK.

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