Top Winter Campervan Destinations in the South Island | Apollo NZ
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Dunedin & Central Otago

A New Zealand campervan holiday to Dunedin and Central Otago offers a truly unique travel experience. Situated on the southeastern coast of the South Island, Dunedin is known for its Scottish heritage and Victorian and Edwardian architecture, while Central Otago, a short drive inland, offers dramatic landscapes characterised by rugged mountains, rolling plains, and crystal-clear lakes. Dunedin is a city that prides itself on its educational and cultural richness, home to the prestigious University of Otago and an array of museums and galleries. Dunedin’s weather can be cooler than other parts of New Zealand, with crisp, clear days perfect for exploring the historic streets or nearby natural attractions.

Central Otago offers a stark contrast with its semi-arid terrain, making it perfect for outdoor activities such as biking along the Otago Central Rail Trail and wine tasting at some of New Zealand's highest altitude vineyards. The region's dry climate and dramatic seasonal changes serve as a stunning backdrop for adventure and relaxation alike. Park up overnight in a Dunedin holiday park or find a secluded spot near one of Central Otago's picturesque lakes. With the convenience of your campervan, you can comfortably switch between urban exploration in Dunedin and remote escapes in the wilds of Otago. Whether you're drawn to Dunedin's cultural scene or the rugged beauty of Otago’s outdoors, this region promises a memorable experience.

 

Why explore Dunedin & Central Otago by campervan

Exploring Dunedin and Central Otago by campervan is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the region's unique blend of cultural heritage and stunning natural beauty. With a campervan, you dictate the pace and path of your journey. In Dunedin, you can easily navigate from the bustling shopping centre to quiet, windswept beaches along the Otago Peninsula. In Central Otago, the freedom to roam allows you to discover hidden gems, from secluded vineyards to historic gold mining towns, all at your own pace. The ability to spontaneously decide where to go next, from a morning exploring Dunedin’s architectural marvels to an afternoon tasting pinot noirs amidst the hills of Central Otago, is a true luxury.

Travelling by campervan not only offers all the comforts of home, including your own kitchen, bed, and living space but also saves you the hassle of packing and unpacking at each new destination. Plus, having your own facilities means you’re never far from a homecooked meal or a comfortable bed, even if you find yourself in the remote reaches of the region.

 

Things to do in Dunedin & Central Otago

Dunedin and Central Otago abound with diverse attractions, blending rich history with exhilarating outdoor pursuits and gourmet experiences. In Dunedin, discover the opulence of Larnach Castle or engage with local history at the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. For wildlife lovers, the area offers close encounters with unique species like the yellow-eyed penguin. Moving inland to Central Otago, you can hit the scenic cycle trails, savour exquisite pinot noirs at local vineyards, or try gold panning in Cromwell. Activities like water sports on Lake Dunstan also offer plenty of thrills, ensuring every traveller finds something to cherish.

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Apollo Campervan branches

Christchurch

Setting out from Apollo's Christchurch branch, the road trip through the Canterbury Plains and alongside the Southern Alps is breathtaking, with stops like Lake Tekapo and the historic town of Oamaru enriching your travel experience. 

Queenstown

Departing from Apollo's Queenstown branch, you're perfectly positioned to explore both the adventurous heart of the South Island and the tranquil beauty of Central Otago before reaching Dunedin. 

Auckland

From Apollo Auckland, the multi-day trip to Dunedin and Central Otago – we suggest 10-14 days – offers a comprehensive tour of the North and South Islands, including crossing the Cook Strait by ferry

Auckland City Skyline

Auckland

New Zealand’s multi-cultural hub of food, music, arts and culture.

 

Christchurch City, New Zealand

Christchurch

 One of the world’s most unique destinations.

 

Queenstown

Breathtaking scenery and adrenaline-pumping adventure activities.

 

Helpful tips for visiting Dunedin & Central Otago

 

Climate and seasons in Dunedin & Central Otago

Dunedin and Central Otago offer distinct climate experiences that reflect the diverse landscapes of the southern part of New Zealand’s South Island.

Dunedin enjoys a temperate maritime climate with mild summers and cool winters, tempered by its coastal position.

  • Summer (December to February) are generally mild, with temperatures hovering around 15°C to 22°C, ideal for enjoying outdoor activities along the city’s beaches and exploring the lush Otago Peninsula.

  • Autumn (March to May) sees cooler temperatures and is a great time to witness the changing colours of the city's abundant foliage.

  • Winter (June to August) in Dunedin can be chilly, with temperatures dropping to 5°C to 10°C, but the city’s historical and cultural sites continue to draw visitors.

  • Spring (September to November) rejuvenates the city with mild weather and blossoming gardens, perfect for outdoor adventures before the colder months set in.

Central Otago contrasts sharply with a more continental climate, characterised by hot dry summers and cold winters.

  • Summers see temperatures that can climb above 25°C, making it an excellent time for exploring the region’s famous vineyards and outdoor recreational activities.
  • Autumn brings a dramatic change in landscape colour, particularly vivid in the vineyard areas, with cooler but still pleasant temperatures.
  • Winter sees temperatures often falling below freezing, blanketing the region in snow, which transforms the landscape into a winter wonderland, popular for photography and winter sports.
  • Spring slowly warms up the land, thawing lakes and rivers, and ushering in a season of growth and renewal.

 

 

 

What to pack

Preparing for your campervan adventure in Dunedin and Central Otago requires thoughtful packing to accommodate the varying climates and activities these regions offer. Here’s what to consider bringing along to make the most of your trip:

  • Outdoor gear: Given the diverse environments in Dunedin and Central Otago, versatile outdoor gear is essential. For Dunedin's coastal walks and city explorations, lightweight, breathable clothing will serve you well, complemented by a waterproof jacket for unpredictable showers. Central Otago's more extreme temperatures call for sun hats and high SPF sunscreen in summer, and warm, insulating layers in winter, especially if you plan to engage in snow sports or explore the frosty landscapes.

  • Campervan add-ons: Enhancing your campervan with a few extras can significantly improve your comfort and convenience. A portable heater might be necessary for chilly Central Otago nights, while a fan can keep you cool during the dry summer heat. Additionally, outdoor chairs and a table will expand your living space, perfect for enjoying the scenic views at your leisure.

  • Sun protection: Sun protection is crucial year-round due to New Zealand’s strong UV rays, particularly in the exposed and high-altitude areas of Central Otago. Pack broad-spectrum sunscreen, UV-protective sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat. Insect repellent will also be useful, especially in the warmer months when sandflies and mosquitoes are more prevalent.

For more helpful ideas, check out our guide to what to pack for your campervan road trip.

 

 

Nearby attractions and day trips from Dunedin & Central Otago

 

  • The Otago Peninsula tretching along the southern edge of the Otago Harbour, is renowned for its stunning coastal scenery and incredible wildlife. This area is a haven for nature lovers, offering opportunities to see rare yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals, and the only mainland breeding colony of royal albatross in the world. The peninsula’s rolling hills and rugged cliffs provide perfect vantage points for breathtaking views and photography.
  • Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle, offers a glimpse into the country’s colonial past, set against the backdrop of expansive gardens and the scenic Otago Peninsula. Built in 1871 by William Larnach, a merchant and politician, the castle features beautifully restored Victorian-era rooms and a unique collection of New Zealand antiques. The gardens are a highlight, recognised as a Garden of International Significance, perfect for a leisurely stroll.
  • Baldwin Street in Dunedin is famous for being the world's steepest residential street, attracting visitors from all over the globe. The street offers a challenging but quirky walk, rising significantly over its short 350-metre length.
  • Dunedin Railway Station is a stunning architectural marvel, known as the ‘Gingerbread House’ because of its ornate Flemish Renaissance style. Completed in 1906, the station is one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand. Visitors can admire its detailed mosaic floors, stained glass windows, and grand booking hall. The station also serves as the departure point for scenic railway journeys that explore the spectacular landscapes surrounding Dunedin.
  • Tunnel Beach, just south of Dunedin, offers dramatic coastal scenery with sandstone cliffs, arches, and headlands. Accessible through a short walk that includes a tunnel down to the beach – hand-carved in the 1870s – this spot is perfect for those looking to explore a more secluded part of the coastline. The beach is particularly striking at sunset and is a popular location for romantic walks and picnics.
  • Otago Harbour is a long, narrow inlet associated with the bustling city life of Dunedin and the tranquil beauty of the Otago Peninsula. It's a hub for water activities, including sailing, fishing, and kayaking. The harbour is also a vital part of the local ecosystem, supporting a variety of birdlife and marine species, making it an excellent spot for wildlife watching.
  • Moeraki Boulders, located on Koekohe Beach along the Otago coast, are huge, almost perfectly spherical stones. These natural wonders were created by the cementation of mudstone over millions of years, with some over two metres in diameter.
  • The Catlins Coast, stretching between Balclutha and Invercargill, offers a remote and rugged landscape with a wealth of natural attractions. Visitors can explore dense rainforests and meet unique wildlife. Highlights include Nugget Point with its iconic lighthouse and the dramatic Purakaunui Falls.

For more inspiration, check out our guide to family friendly things to do in Dunedin.

 

Where to stay in Dunedin & Central Otago with a campervan

When it comes to finding the perfect spot to park and rest in Dunedin & Central Otago, there's no shortage of picturesque, comfy campgrounds. Here are a few worth checking out:

Dunedin

 

 

Alyssa Tresider
/ Categories: NZ blog

Top Winter Campervan Destinations in the South Island.

Have you ever wondered what magic unfolds in the South Island when winter rolls around? This is your backstage pass to exploring New Zealand's winter wonderland in a campervan. From the best places to visit in the South Island to the must-do South Island activities, we're dishing out all the juicy details right here, including some cool things to do that'll make this South Island winter trip legendary.

 

Why you should explore the South Island in winter

Picture this: snow-capped mountains, lakes so still they could be glass, and roads winding through landscapes so breathtaking, you'll run out of gasps – that is NZ’s South Island in winter for you. South Island winters transform this already picturesque landscape into a playground for snow lovers, with every corner offering a new postcard-perfect view or a heart-pumping activity.  

And let's not forget the unique vibe that New Zealand’s South Island in winter brings – think cozy nights, steamy hot pools, and the kind of starry skies that poems are written about. The South Island in winter is a perfect setting for a cosy, picturesque New Zealand road trip. 

 

What’s the best way to explore the South Island?

Enter the hero of our story: the campervan. This is your ticket to freedom and your best mate on a South Island winter adventure. Why? Because it lets you wake up to a different jaw-dropping view every morning, cook breakfast while wearing your pyjamas in the most scenic spots, and change your "where to next?" on a whim. 

And with our Apollo Campervan, you're picking the cream of the crop – top-notch comfort meets the wild and untamed roads of the South Island in winter. Rolling through this winter wonderland in a campervan means you get to do the South Island your way – no schedules, no waiting, just pure, unadulterated freedom. It's about making memories, whether that's finding the perfect spot for a snowball fight, chasing the northern lights, or simply enjoying a hot chocolate with a view. For more tips and ideas for planning your South Island winter campervan adventure, check out our top guides below: 

 

The top 10 winter campervan destinations in the South Island

Buckle up because we're about to dive into the crème de la crème of South Island winter destinations. These are the spots that will fill your New Zealand road trip with “wow” moments, “yum” experiences, and “ahh” relaxations. Ready for the ride of your life? Let’s get rolling!

 

1. Nelson Lakes National Park

The first stop on your journey down the South Island in winter is Nelson Lakes National Park. This gem offers a winter wonderland that's second to none. The park, nestled in the heart of the Nelson-Tasman region, transforms under a blanket of snow, offering breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains reflecting off the pristine waters of Lakes Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa. It's a serene winter NZ escape for those looking to immerse themselves in the tranquillity of nature, with crisp, clear air and landscapes shrouded in white. 

This is also one of the best places to visit in winter for the snow season in NZ. From scenic walks along the lake shores to more adventurous pursuits like snowshoeing or skiing at nearby Rainbow Ski Field, there are plenty of winter activities to keep the whole family entertained. Plus, the park's snow-covered forests and frozen lakes provide a stunning backdrop for photography enthusiasts or anyone looking to capture the essence of the South Island in winter. If that weren’t enough, the 4-hour drive from Christchurch is a scenic adventure in itself that'll have you glued to your window.  

Where to stay: Kerr Bay Campsite

 

2. Kaikōura

Alright, folks, next up on our magical winter journey is Kaikōura – a place where mountains meet the sea. Just a 2.5-hour drive from Christchurch and you’re in one of the best places to visit on the South Island in winter to watch whales and dolphins out at sea. And if you're feeling adventurous, why not jump on a boat and get up close and personal with these majestic creatures? Winter here is extra special because the crisp, clear days provide some of the best conditions for wildlife spotting. Plus, those classic winter NZ snow-capped mountains in the background really round off this experience.  

Where to stay: Kaikōura Peketa Beach Holiday Park

 

3. Hanmer Springs

Ever dreamt of soaking in a hot spring while snowflakes dance around you? If so, Hanmer Springs is the village of your snowy hot tub dreams and a New Zealand South Island must-see. Just a swift 90-minute drive from Christchurch, this winter haven offers geothermally heated pools that range from a warm hug of 32°C to a "this is the life" 42°C. 

And with 22 pools on-site, there's plenty of room to spread out – whether you're here with the kids or are looking for a tranquil adult-only pool. Parking your home away from home is no hassle at all. The Hanmer Springs car park is conveniently located in the village, making it easy to go from campervan to cannonball in no time. It is little wonder why this is one of the best winter destinations in NZ!

Where to stay: Hanmer Springs Top 10 Holiday Parks.

 

4. Arthur’s Pass National Park

Next on our list of the best winter South Island New Zealand attractions is Arthur’s Pass National Park, the rugged heart of the Southern Alps. Here, it's all about majestic mountains, breathtaking valleys, and outdoor adventures. If you are looking to take advantage of the snow season in NZ, here you can grab your skis and shred at the Temple Basin Ski Area. And let's not forget the numerous hiking trails that turn into winter wonderlands, perfect for snowshoeing.

From Christchurch, it's about a 2-hour drive – a journey that's as scenic as it gets. For campervan parking, head to the Arthur’s Pass Village car park, where you're smack dab in the middle of all the natural beauty.

Where to stay: Jackson’s Retreat Alpine Holiday Park.

 

5. Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier is your gateway to exploring one of the most accessible glaciers in the world. Winter here means fewer crowds, which translates to more glacier for you! Whether it's hiking up the icy expanse or taking a scenic flight that offers some of the best views of NZ’s South Island in winter, Fox Glacier is another South Island New Zealand must-see.

And, of course, don't miss the chance to visit Lake Matheson. On a clear day, you'll catch Mount Cook's reflection dancing on the surface. And while Christchurch to Fox Glacier is a bit of a trek (around a 5-hour drive in your campervan), every minute is packed with jaw-dropping landscapes. 

Where to stay: Fox Glacier Top 10 Holiday Park.

 

6. Mount Cook/Aoraki

Mount Cook/Aoraki National Park, home to New Zealand's tallest mountain and dazzling glaciers, is the definition of alpine beauty and a no-brainer addition to any list of the best places to visit in winter in NZ. Winter here is nothing short of magical, with snow-capped peaks and starry nights that'll have you pinching yourself. Whether you're here to conquer a hiking trail or simply bask in the beauty of the snow-covered landscapes, Aoraki doesn't just meet expectations; it skyrockets them. From Christchurch, gear up for a drive of around 4 hours, with scenery that'll make the time fly by. Parking in the national park is straightforward, with the Mt Cook Campground providing a convenient spot for campervans to stay the night. 

Where to stay: Glentanner Park Centre

 

7. Wānaka

Wānaka is where the adventure junkies unite, bringing that chill alpine town vibe mixed with adrenaline-pumping activities. With Mount Aspiring National Park as its backyard, winter transforms Wānaka into a ski and snowboard paradise. Boasting four epic ski areas within a snowball's throw of the town, this is easily one of the best places to visit in winter in NZ for skiers and snowboarders: 

  • Treble Cone: This ski resort boasts the largest ski area in the South Island, offering challenging slopes and stunning lake views for advanced skiers. 

  • Cardrona Alpine Resort: This is a family-friendly resort with a mix of terrains for all levels and a renowned park for freestyle skiers and snowboarders. 

  • Snow Farm: This resort specialises in cross-country skiing, providing a unique experience with groomed trails through beautiful snow-covered landscapes. 

  • Soho Basin: This resort offers an exclusive skiing experience with untouched powder and luxury cat skiing, perfect for those seeking solitude and untracked runs.

Wānaka is not just about the slopes, though; Wānaka enchants visitors with ice skating, scenic helicopter flights, and outdoor adventure for those looking to explore the rugged beauty of the Southern Alps up close. Queenstown to Wānaka is just an hour's drive, making it a perfect addition to a ski holiday New Zealand road trip. 

Where to stay: Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park.  

 

8. Queenstown

Ah, Queenstown, the jewel of the South Island's winter crown. Surrounded by the majestic Southern Alps and nestled on the shores of crystal-clear Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is where you come to make the most of the snow season in NZ. Winter here means skiing and snowboarding, yes, but also indulging in local wines, exploring vibrant eateries, and simply soaking in the breathtaking landscapes.

For campervan travellers adding this to their list of South Island places to visit, the Boundary Street car park offers a convenient spot to park and explore the town.

Where to stay: Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park

 

9. Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park, part of the UNESCO World Heritage site Te Wāhipounamu, is a sanctuary of glaciers, alpine ranges, and ancient flora and fauna. Winter here is special – think crisp, fresh air, snow-capped mountains, and the serene beauty of Piopiotahi/Milford Sound under a blanket of white. 

In Fiordland National Park, winter offers serene boat cruises through the misty Milford Sound, the chance to wander through frost-laden hiking trails, and witness the awe-inspiring spectacle of snow-capped peaks and waterfalls. It's a time when Fiordland reveals its quiet, introspective side, offering moments of awe and tranquillity. From Queenstown, it's about a 2-hour drive to the heart of Fiordland – one of the best places to visit on the South Island for a tranquil escape into nature.

Where to stay: Fiordland Great Views Holiday Park.  

 

10. Dunedin

Dunedin is the city of the quirky and the cultured. With a sheltered harbour and a heritage that's both rich and lively, Dunedin offers a unique winter NZ experience. The drive from Queenstown to Dunedin is about 3.5 hours, offering scenic views along the way.  

From exploring its vibrant urban culture and wildlife to tasting the exceptional local cuisine, there's a cozy nook to suit any New Zealand itinerary. Winter adds a layer of charm to the city, with crisp mornings and clear nights perfect for stargazing. 

Where to stay: Dunedin Holiday Park.  

 

Ready to explore the South Island?

Ready to hit the road? Book your Apollo camper online and pick it up from any Apollo branch before setting off on your South Island winter adventure. So, pack your bags, round up your crew, and get ready to explore the South Island like never before, collecting memories, one snowy peak and one cozy night at a time. 

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