A Rookie’s Guide to The Ultimate NZ Road Trip

Sometimes it takes a full-on disconnect from technology to full-on reconnect with your surroundings. By the time we landed in New Zealand, we’d been constantly connected for 10 months. This is not a complaint – quite the opposite. Without technology it would not be possible to live the life we currently live. Technology can be our savior, but it can also be our undoing! I think we can all relate. Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine a life un-tethered from laptops and phones. It’s hard to disconnect even when you want to…  there are too many distractions. For the sake of our own sanity, we’ve learned that it’s imperative to do so from time to time, and what better way to enforce it than to remove all possibility of interference. This was our M.O. for exploring the South Island of New Zealand. We moved into a camper van, without any data or wifi, and we drove far from the digital realm.

South Island New Zealand

Our ‘home’ was a Wicked camper van. The company is best known for their hilariously inappropriate van murals, our Spidey senses were tingling with delight when we moved into our new home for the coming weeks (it could have been much worse, trust me!).

Wicked Camper Van, NZ

If you’re looking for a small camper van that’s easy to drive, with all the basic necessities (convertible bed/dining table, storage, small gas burner) and you have a slightly inappropriate sense of humor (guilty as charged), then Wicked is right for you.

Wicked Camper Van, NZ

If you’d like more space and the option for a toilet on-board (how luxurious!), you might want to go with a Juicy van instead.

I’ll keep it real and admit that we aren’t particularly great at ‘roughing it’. Our best camping experiences are often when our ‘eagle-scout’ friend joins the adventure, and our drive across the South Island wasn’t always comfortable. We ate a lot of canned ravioli, slept uncomfortably on many nights, and ended our drive in a smelly state, itching from bug bites (sand fleas are the worst in NZ!). We also learned some creative cooking methods, met fascinating people, taught a group of Aussies how to make s’mores by a bonfire, and became pros at going to the bathroom in the woods. We conquered the island together. We laughed harder than ever, and were constantly amazed by the immense beauty and ever-changing landscapes.

Our experience taught us a few important lessons that everyone should know before setting out for a camper van drive through NZ. Some of these points may seem obvious – so let’s just call this a rookie’s guide to camper van life.

  • Bring bug spray – you’ll need it often.
  • Bring a light – shit gets dark.
  • Bring baby wipes – when you can’t shower, a nice body/neck scrub will leave you feeling refreshed.
  • Download the Campermate App on your phone and read reviews for each campsite – follow the advice of your fellow campers!
  • Introduce yourself to fellow travelers – you might get lucky and be served a nice meal (big thanks to the sweet lady who fed us lamb chops!).
  • Cash your maps before you leave wifi/make sure you have an offline map available.
  • Don’t underestimate how long it will take you to get from place to place. Google maps does not account for the fact that you are driving a big, slow van down rugged roads.

What’s the best way to tackle the South Island? You could spend months exploring, so narrowing down the list of incredible sites can be overwhelming. Let us guide you to an epic adventure – here’s a hit-list of experiences you can’t afford to miss. 

#1 Queenstown

The adventure capital of NZ! Make time to stop for a bungee jump at the very least – this is the most famous spot to jump in the world! Queenstown is the perfect start to a NZ road-trip, with Wicked and Juicy rentals available for easy pickup.

Click here to read more about pushing your limits in Queenstown!


#2 Wanaka

This gorgeous lake town is worth staying more than a few nights if you can spare (we settled in for 2 weeks!). Stroll around the lake, find the famous Wanaka Tree, kayak to Ruby Island, mountain bike along the Clutha River and visit Rippon Vineyard for a tasting.


#3 Milford Sound

It’s a long journey (and quite a bit out of the way) from Wanaka to Milford by car. A flight to the sound, however, is the most efficient and (most importantly) most scenic way to visit the fiords. This is a rare opportunity to experience the most stunning views in all of NZ!

Click here for more about Milford Sound –  the most unique landscape in all of NZ!


#4 Punakaiki Rainforest 

The pancake rocks of Punakaiki are a popular tourist stop for a reason. They’re incredibly unique and provide an impressive landscape along the coastal drive. Stop in for a quick visit and, if you have more time, take a hike through the lush rain forest.


#5 Franz Josef Glacier

Schedule a tour with The Helicopter Line – this was one of our most memorable experiences in NZ! The flight to the glacier is breathtaking, and it just gets better from there! We were fitted with crampons and guided through an ice-sculpted wonderland. The scenery is unbelievable, and our guide provided fascinating information along the way. The glacial landscape changes daily, so each experience is unique and exciting.


#6 Mount Cook National Park

A rugged landscape of ice and rock, with sparkling blue lakes scattered in between. There are multiple hikes and plenty of big views, as well as New Zealand’s highest mountain!

Mt. Cook National Park, NZ

Photo credit: our friends at Roamaroo


#7 Abel Tasman National Park

Our favorite stop on this journey was Totaruni Campground. It’s a long drive to the far north of the South Island… it’s hard to access…. and it’s totally worth it. When you reach the dirt road that seems to go on forever, just keep pressing on! Camp here for a few nights just off the beach, and enjoy untouched beauty and a lively campground atmosphere with many travelers. You can also hike a portion of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track (one of NZ’s ‘great walks’). With ferries available for transfer to various points along the trail, we hiked along the coast for a full day before catching a ride back to camp. The views are incredible, rain or shine (in our case – rain!).


#8 Marlborough Wine Region

Make a day of tasting! Our favorite winery in the region is Yealands. The grounds are some of the most impressive we’ve ever seen, with miles of vines that stretch all the way to the cliffs, which drop dramatically to the coast! The views are unbelievable. Stop in for a tasting, then take a scenic drive through the grounds, where you’ll find multiple spots to stop and picnic.

#9 Kaikoura 

Take time to stop at multiple spots along this stretch, and be sure to make friends with the fur seals along your way. Kaikoura is teeming with marine-life, and there are dozens of ways to experience the action. Snorkel with the seals, kayak with the dolphins, or schedule a whale watching tour.

If you’d like to follow our tracks to an unbelievable South Island road-trip, here’s a map highlighting all the sweet spots 🙂

The beauty of New Zealand can’t be denied, but what makes it so special? There’s nowhere else in the world that lends itself to driving through such diverse landscapes in a matter of days. From lakes and mountains to glaciers and rain forests – there’s so much beauty crammed into such a small island!

When you visit, do it right. Disconnect and take it all in…

Life is what happens in between wifi signals.Click To Tweet

Tips and tricks for an unforgettable New Zealand road trip. Follow our tracks to an epic adventure across the South Island.  Tips and tricks for an unforgettable New Zealand road trip. Follow our tracks to an epic adventure across the South Island!



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