Ultimate 7-day South Island campervan itinerary | Apollo NZ
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Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

A New Zealand campervan holiday through the Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki region offers an unforgettable experience. Rich in natural beauty and cultural significance, this special part of New Zealand offers travellers a unique blend of urban charm and rugged wilderness. If you love exploring arts and culture, you’ll be spoilt for choice in this region. You may even like to follow the Coastal Arts Trail which spans 300 km between New Plymouth to Palmerston North. The trail is peppered with galleries, sculptures, studios and more. Don't miss the opportunity to visit the mystical Bridge to Nowhere, accessible through the verdant Whanganui National Park, offering an unforgettable journey into New Zealand's remote backcountry. 

Transitioning westward, the landscape dramatically changes as you enter Taranaki, dominated by the iconic, conical shape of Mount Taranaki. This region is a magnet for adventurers and nature lovers alike, with New Plymouth at its heart – a coastal city known for its sunny climate, thriving arts community, and surf-friendly beaches. The coastal walkway stretching from Bell Block to Port Taranaki offers spectacular sea views, perfectly complementing the city’s dynamic cultural venues and eateries.

 

Why explore Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki by campervan

Exploring Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki by campervan offers an unparalleled opportunity to immerse yourself in the heartland of New Zealand's North Island. It also makes it easy to change your itinerary on the fly. Whether it's spending an extra day enjoying the surf in New Plymouth, exploring the hiking trails around Mount Taranaki, or parking beside the scenic Whanganui River for a spontaneous picnic, the choice is yours. The ability to set your own pace and schedule makes a campervan ideal for discovering the hidden gems of these regions.

Travelling by campervan not only brings the comforts of home on the road, such as your own bed, kitchen, and living space, but also eliminates the hassles of constant packing and unpacking. This is especially valuable in regions like Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki, where attractions are spread out. Having your necessities with you means you're always ready for the next adventure. 

 

Things to do in Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki offer activities for all ages, from nature excursions to authentic cultural experiences. Explore Palmerston North's gardens and arts scene, Whanganui's historic riverboat cruise, or brave the surf at New Plymouth's beaches. Immerse yourself in the local culture with visits to museums, galleries, and artist studios. Whether it's outdoor excitement or cultural enrichment, this fascinating region provides something for everyone.

 

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Popular Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki road trips & itineraries

Stretching down the lower west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki are prime destinations for road trippers seeking a mix of culture, nature, and adventure. Easily accessible from major urban centres like Wellington and Auckland, the drive itself showcases the dramatic shift from urban landscapes to the lush, green countryside of Manawatu and the striking volcanic features of Taranaki. These routes not only offer breathtaking views but are dotted with a variety of attractions, making every stop an opportunity for discovery. 

 

Ultimate 7-day South Island campervan itinerary
Alyssa Tresider

Ultimate 7-day South Island campervan itinerary.

Day 1: Christchurch to Kaikōura

Travel time: 2 hours, 15 mins

Distance: 178 km

It’s day one of your New Zealand road trip and the first order of the day is to pick up your campervan from our Christchurch Apollo branch. Our friendly team will show you everything you need to know, answer any questions, and make sure you’re ready to hit the road. 

Once you’re behind the wheel, you may like to tick off a few of the must-see highlights of the city. And the good news is, you won’t have to go too far. Just a stone’s throw from our Christchurch branch are two top attractions. Dive into the chilly adventures of the International Antarctic Centre, where you can enter the Storm Dome, meet little blue penguins, or immerse yourself in the 4D theatre. For something a little warmer, head over to Willowbank Wildlife Reserve where you can meet New Zealand’s iconic kiwi. There are lots of other friendly creatures to see here too including tuatara, falcons, capybara, otters, and more. 

As you leave Christchurch, the road trip to Kaikōura offers beautiful views of the ocean and mountains. Once you arrive in Kaikōura, there’s plenty to see and do. One of the unmissable activities is a whale-watching tour. Thanks to its location – between deep oceanic trenches with nutrient-dense waters, Kaikōura is a magnet for an array of marine life. The star of the show is often the majestic sperm whale, which can be seen year-round. In addition to these gentle giants, visitors can catch sight of dusky dolphins, orcas, and even the occasional blue whale.   

For those preferring to keep their feet on solid ground while soaking in the beauty of Kaikōura, the Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway is an ideal choice. This well-marked trail begins at Point Kean car park. As you make your way along the walkway, you'll be greeted by dramatic cliff-top vistas of the Pacific Ocean, with the chance to spot seals lazing on the rocks below. 

When stomachs start to rumble, Kaikōura's seafood scene is sure to satisfy. For a genuine local experience, head to Nin's Bin - a legendary roadside caravan, famous for its fresh crayfish. Another must-visit is The Pier Hotel, offering a range of seafood dishes with unbeatable ocean views. 

For a comfortable stay paired with top-notch facilities, the Kaikōura TOP 10 Holiday Park offers the ideal base. 

 

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 2: Kaikōura to Blenheim

Travel time: 1 hour, 40 mins 

Distance: 129 km

The scenic drive from Kaikōura to Blenheim takes you through more of the South Island’s stunning landscapes. The route unfolds along the coast, offering spontaneous moments to stop, breathe in the fresh sea air, and capture unforgettable vistas.

Before you travel too far today, a must-do stop along the way is the Ohau Point Seal Colony. Easily accessible from the roadside, this spot offers a unique opportunity to observe New Zealand fur seals as they relax in the sunshine. With seals often lounging on the rocks or playing in the water, it's the perfect way to see these endearing creatures in their natural habitat. 

Blenheim, in the heart of the Marlborough wine region, is celebrated for its world-class sauvignon blanc among other varietals. While you’re here, take the time to visit a few of Blenheim's esteemed wineries. We suggest a visit to Cloudy Bay or Brancott Estate. Each estate offers its own distinctive experience, blending the pleasures of wine tasting with the charm of the countryside.

For aviation enthusiasts and history buffs alike, Blenheim’s Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is not to be missed. This unique museum brings history to life with its impressive collection of First and Second World War aircraft and memorabilia. Engaging displays and dioramas, designed with the help of film director Peter Jackson, immerse visitors in a bygone era of aviation bravery and innovation.

After a day of exploration, settle in at the Blenheim Bridges Holiday Park. Conveniently located near the city, the park offers a comfortable stay, ensuring you're well-rested for the adventures ahead.

 

Day 3: Blenheim to Nelson

Travel time: 1 hour, 40 mins

Distance: 118 km

Today, you’re off to Nelson. Bathed in sunshine and renowned as New Zealand's sunniest city, Nelson attracts visitors from near and far with its vibrant arts scene, golden beaches, and the nearby pristine parks of Abel Tasman and Kahurangi.

As you head off from Blenheim, plan a stop at Pelorus Bridge. This scenic reserve is a haven for native plants and wildlife, and the bridge itself is an iconic spot offering spectacular views of the Pelorus River. It’s an ideal location for a short nature walk, a refreshing swim, or a leisurely picnic amidst the tranquil surroundings.

Once you arrive in Nelson, head along to the World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars Museum. This unique museum amalgamates art, fashion, and vintage cars in a display that's both eclectic and awe-inspiring. 

For those looking to get a panoramic view of the city and its surrounds, the Centre of New Zealand on Botanical Hill provides a rewarding trek and viewpoint.

Keen to see more? Experience the bustling local markets, relax at Tahunanui Beach, or enjoy a walk in the picturesque Maitai Valley

After exploring Nelson's many attractions, rest up at the Nelson TOP 10 Holiday Park. With its convenient location and comfortable facilities, it's a great place to recharge and relax. 

 

Day 4: Nelson to Abel Tasman National Park

Travel time: 1 hour

Distance: 60 km 

The Abel Tasman National Park, with its golden beaches, clear turquoise waters, and lush native forests, stands as one of New Zealand's most captivating natural treasures. 

The drive from Nelson to Abel Tasman is dotted with several worthy stops. Consider pausing in the artsy town of Mapua for a browse, or Motueka for a quick rest or snapshot of the scenic landscape.

Once in Abel Tasman, a world of outdoor exploration awaits. The iconic Coast Track offers stunning views and diverse terrains. The full track takes 5-days, but there is also a single-day option. For those inclined towards water activities, kayaking provides an intimate way to explore the park's lagoons, inlets, and secluded beaches. 

After a day of exploration and activity, the Marahau Beach Camp is an ideal spot to rest. Located close to the park's entrance, it offers the perfect spot to park up your campervan and enjoy a good night's rest.

 

Image: Miles Holden

 

Day 5: Abel Tasman National Park to Westport

Travel time: 3 hours, 20 mins

Distance: 240 km

The journey from Abel Tasman to Westport reveals the dynamic shifts in New Zealand's landscape. As the sunny beaches of the north give way, the rugged and raw beauty of the West Coast emerges, characterised by its wild beaches, dense rainforests, and historic townships. 

Westport has a rich history of mining. In the late 19th century, the town thrived as gold miners flocked to the area, lured by the promise of gold-rich rivers and streams. Today, the township is better known for its coal mining industry. Head into the Coaltown Museum to learn more about the town’s fascinating heritage. 

Another top Westport destination is Cape Foulwind, not just for its dramatic ocean views, but also for the resident seal colony which can often be seen here. You may also like to take the one-hour work to see the Cape Foulwind lighthouse. Speaking of walks, the Charming Creek Walkway is another great option. This 5.5 km (each way) trail takes you through dense rainforest, alongside a cascading river, and past remnants of the region's mining and milling history. 

Park your motorhome up tonight at the Westport Kiwi Holiday Park. Set in 12 acres of native bush with park-like grounds, this picturesque campsite has everything needed for a comfortable, welcoming stay.  

 

Day 6: Westport to Arthur’s Pass

Travel time: 2 hours, 15 mins

Distance: 163 km

It’s day six already, and time to start winding your way back across to the east coast. We suggest making an early start today so you can fit in all the great sights and experiences in this part of your South Island road trip.

First on the list as you leave Westport is the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes, one of the most visited natural attractions on the West Coast. The layered limestone formations, which resemble stacks of pancakes, are especially impressive at high tide when the sea surges into the caverns below and sets off the blowholes. 

Next up, you’ll come to the largest town on the West Coast, Greymouth. This vibrant township is home to the Monteith’s Brewing Company where you can stop in for a brewery tour and tasting session. The town's history of jade hunting, gold mining, and its coal industry can be explored at the local museum.

As you approach Arthur’s Pass Village, be sure to pull over at the Otira Viaduct Lookout, a great spot to take in views of the impressive viaduct and surrounding views. 

Once you reach the village, there are numerous short walks to enjoy. The 2 km return Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall is one of the most popular, providing stunning views of one of the area's most impressive waterfalls. 

While you’re in the Arthur’s Pass region, keep an eye out for the cheeky kea, New Zealand's native alpine parrot. Their inquisitive nature can sometimes lead them to pull at rubber parts of cars, like wipers or seals, much to the surprise of unsuspecting motorists. Note, while it's tempting to interact with these intelligent birds, it's crucial not to feed them, as human food can be harmful and promote problematic begging behaviour.

Tonight, plan a stay at the beautiful Jackson’s Retreat Holiday Park. Located in 15 acres of beautiful grounds, Jackson’s Retreat is currently voted by Rankers as the top holiday park in New Zealand. 

 

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 7: Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch

Travel time: 2.5 hours

Distance: 185 km

It’s the final day of your epic South Island road trip, and today you’ll be leaving the rugged peaks of Arthur’s Pass and heading toward the sprawling Canterbury Plains. 

Along the way, check out the massive boulders of Kura Tāwhiti / Castle Hill. Here, the landscape is dotted with hundreds of spectacular ancient rocks and boulders – some up to 30 metres high. A track loops around the rocks providing an easy 20-minute walk and plenty of fantastic photo ops. 

Further on, keep an eye out for the huge Springfield Donut. This quirky landmark was unveiled in 2007 as a promotional stunt for The Simpsons Movie and has since become a symbol of community pride – and an unexpected photo opportunity for travellers passing through.

The final item on your South Island travel itinerary is to return to Apollo’s Christchurch branch to drop off your camper.

 

Ready to explore the South Island?

Now that’s what we call a bucket list road trip! From whale watching and wildlife encounters to wine tasting and seafood sampling… it’s all here waiting. All you need to do to make it happen is to book your Apollo campervan hire in-branch or online. Get started today!

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Great savings on your New Zealand road trip

Apollo offers a fantastic selection of deals and specials for those looking to explore Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki by campervan. From hot deals and last-minute discounts to long-term hire benefits, you’re sure to find a deal designed to help you make the most of your campervan road trip. 

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Apollo Campervan branches

Christchurch

The drive from Apollo Christchurch to the Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki region sets you up for a scenic journey across the South Island, including the picturesque ferry crossing at the Cook Strait, and onto the North Island. 

Queenstown

Keen to make the most of your road trip and explore the South Island before heading north? Book your camper with our Queenstown branch and spend a few days taking in some of the great southern highlights before crossing the Cook Strait by ferry.

Auckland

Set off from Apollo Auckland and kick off your exploration of this region in New Plymouth – just a few hours drive away. Make your way down the west coast taking in the charming townships, rolling rural landscapes, and rugged coastline as you venture south.  

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 Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

 

Climate and seasons in Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

Stretching hundreds of kilometres, this expansive region offers distinct seasonal experiences, making it an attractive destination year-round for visitors looking to enjoy a variety of landscapes and activities.

Manawatu-Whanganui enjoys a mild, temperate climate with moderate rainfall, making it pleasant for travel most of the year.

  • Summers (December to February) are warm with temperatures averaging around 22°C, ideal for exploring the great outdoors and the region's rivers and parks.
  • Autumn (March to May) brings cooler temperatures and a beautiful change in foliage, particularly in the bush-clad hills, providing perfect conditions for hiking and photography.
  • Winter (June to August) can be cooler, with temperatures dropping to around 10°C, but it is generally mild compared to other regions, with occasional frost in sheltered areas.
  • Spring (September to November) sees the landscape rejuvenate with bursts of flowers and greenery, making it a lovely time for visiting the many gardens and reserves.

Taranaki is known for its more dynamic weather patterns, due to the presence of Mount Taranaki, which can attract clouds and cause quick changes in weather.

  • Summers here are pleasant with temperatures similar to Manawatu-Whanganui but expect more frequent rain showers that keep the surroundings lush.
  • Autumn sees stable weather, ideal for outdoor activities as the forests display a vivid array of autumn colours.
  • Winter in Taranaki can be wet, with more pronounced rainfall, and the mountain often receives snowfall, offering spectacular views and winter sports.
  • Spring brings a rapid growth of new foliage and is particularly spectacular as rhododendrons and other blooms erupt around the mountain's base.

 

 

 

What to pack?

Preparing for your campervan journey through Manawatu-Whanganui and Taranaki requires thoughtful packing to make the most of the diverse climates and activities available in these regions. Here’s what you should consider bringing along:

  • Outdoor gear: given the varied terrain from river valleys to volcanic mountains, pack versatile outdoor gear. Lightweight, breathable clothing will serve you well during warmer months, while waterproof and windproof layers are essential for the unpredictable weather near Mount Taranaki. Sturdy hiking boots are a must for exploring the rugged landscapes and numerous walking trails. With the stunning natural beauty and wildlife in both regions, a good camera can help you capture memorable landscapes and native birds. Binoculars will also enhance your experience, especially when visiting coastal areas and bird sanctuaries.
  • Campervan add-ons: Enhancing your campervan experience can significantly improve your comfort during the trip. Consider including a portable heater for the cooler evenings, especially during winter months in Taranaki. A reliable GPS and physical maps can help navigate the more remote areas. Additional camping chairs and a table can also be handy for scenic stops along the coast or in forest parks.
  • Sun protection and rain gear: The regions' varying weather conditions call for both sun protection and rain gear. Pack a high-SPF sunscreen, UV-protection sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat to shield against the strong New Zealand sun. Also, include a durable rain jacket and waterproof trousers to stay dry during sudden rain showers, particularly prevalent in Taranaki. For more helpful ideas, check out our guide to what to pack for your campervan road trip.

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

 

 

Nearby attractions and day trips from Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki

Manawatu-Whanganui

Whanganui River cruise or kayak

Experience the tranquil beauty of the Whanganui River by taking a leisurely cruise or paddling a kayak. This historic river offers stunning views of lush landscapes and provides a quiet escape into nature, perfect for a relaxing day on the water.

Whanganui National Park

Home to native forests and scenic waterways, Whanganui National Park is popular with hikers and walkers. The park is also home to the Bridge to Nowhere Walk, a 3 km return (around 1.5 hours) easy walk popular with visitors to the area.

Forgotten World Highway

The Forgotten World Highway, running through remote, mystic landscapes, offers a journey back in time. This historic route passes through rugged terrain, dense forests, and small forgotten towns, making it a unique adventure for road-trippers.

Bushy Park

Bushy Park Ecological Sanctuary, near Whanganui, is known for its rich biodiversity and protected native forest. The 100-hectare reserve is home to some of the tallest and oldest trees in the region, including a 500-year-old rata. The park's predator-free status allows visitors to encounter rare and endangered birds such as the hihi and saddleback in their natural habitat.

Nearby attractions and day trips from Taranaki

Mount Taranaki

Dominating the landscape, Mount Taranaki offers challenging hikes and spectacular views from its summit. The symmetrical volcano is a striking feature of Egmont National Park, drawing climbers and photographers alike.

New Plymouth Coastal Walk

The New Plymouth Coastal Walkway is a spectacular 13-kilometre path that stretches from Ngamotu Beach to Bell Block, offering panoramic views of the Tasman Sea. This award-winning walkway is ideal for walking, jogging, or cycling featuring iconic landmarks like the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, which resembles a breaking wave or whale skeleton.

Pukekura Park

New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park is a beautifully landscaped garden featuring lakes, waterfalls, and exotic plants. It hosts the famous Festival of Lights, transforming into an enchanted evening wonderland.

Dawson Falls in Egmont National Park

Dawson Falls is a spectacular 18-metre waterfall located within Egmont National Park. The area around the falls offers picturesque walking tracks that wind through lush native bush, ideal for a short, scenic hike.

 

Where to stay in Manawatu-Whanganui & Taranaki with a campervan

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

Manawatu-Whanganui

Taranaki

 

 

 

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