Ultimate 7-day South Island campervan itinerary | Apollo NZ
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Nelson & Marlborough

Craving artistic flair, golden beaches, and a taste of adventure? Look no further than the Nelson and Marlborough region. Sitting at the top of New Zealand's South Island, this area is packed full of natural beauty, culinary excellence, and cultural richness. It’s easy to see why it makes the perfect destination for a New Zealand campervan holiday. Nelson, often hailed as New Zealand’s ‘sunshine capital’, radiates a warm, inviting atmosphere complemented by its vibrant arts community, historic architecture, and bustling markets. Nearby, the tranquil Marlborough Sounds offers a playground for kayaking, fishing, and scenic cruises. Wine enthusiasts will relish visiting Marlborough's famed vineyards, where tasting world-class wines becomes a memorable part of the journey.

A road trip through Nelson and Marlborough in an Apollo campervan means every day is a new adventure, crafted just to your liking. With the flexibility to explore hidden gems, from the secluded coves of Golden Bay in Nelson to the enchanting Marlborough Sounds, your journey can be as laid-back or as action-packed as you desire. The convenience of travelling by campervan, complete with a kitchen, bed, and bathroom, means that the beauty of Nelson NZ and the Marlborough Sounds are yours to enjoy in your own time. Whether you're soaking up the sun on Nelson's beaches or sipping on exquisite sauvignon blanc in Marlborough, travelling by campervan offers a truly unforgettable experience. 

 

Why explore Nelson & Marlborough by campervan

Travelling in a campervan, especially through beautiful areas like Nelson and Marlborough, turns a simple holiday into a series of unforgettable experiences. It's your adventure, at your pace, surrounded by the comfort and convenience that only campervan travel can offer. With a campervan, you're not tied down. You can linger over a long lunch in a Nelson café or decide to spend an extra day tasting wines in Marlborough because you've fallen in love with the scenery.

The journey itself becomes part of the fun when you're in a campervan. It's about making spontaneous stops at breathtaking lookouts, enjoying your morning coffee in the middle of postcard-perfect views, and finding your own special spot to watch the stars. Stumbled upon a hidden gem in Golden Bay or found a hiking track in Marlborough you’d like to tackle? With a campervan, you have the freedom to explore it as much as you like.

 

Things to do in Nelson & Marlborough

Nelson and Marlborough are rich with activities and attractions, offering something special for every kind of traveller. For families on holiday, there are endless opportunities for fun, from exploring the sun-drenched beaches of Nelson to the interactive and educational experiences in the region's museums and galleries. Food enthusiasts will revel in the culinary journey through Nelson and Marlborough, from the fresh seafood of the coastal areas to the exquisite flavours of the region's renowned wineries. Whether you're indulging in a leisurely lunch at a vineyard in Marlborough or sampling local artisan produce at a Nelson market, your taste buds are in for a treat. Adventure seekers and nature lovers won't be left wanting either. With activities like kayaking through the Marlborough Sounds or hiking the trails of the Abel Tasman National Park, the great outdoors is your playground. And for those looking to unwind, the charming towns scattered throughout the region offer a peaceful retreat with their unique boutiques, cafes, and galleries.

15 Must Do's in New Zealand’s South Island 15 Must Do's in New Zealand’s South Island

15 Must Do's in New Zealand’s South Island

    An Apollo campervan offers you the freedom to create your own travel itinerary. From whale watching in Kaikoura to southern...
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Popular Nelson road trips & itineraries

Nestled at the top of New Zealand's South Island, Nelson and Marlborough are prime starting points for some of the most picturesque road trips in the country. Kicking off from Nelson, you can weave through the scenic drives that unveil the artistic townships, golden beaches, and lush national parks. Heading into Marlborough, the journey continues through rolling vineyards and along the majestic Marlborough Sounds. Whether you're venturing from the urban buzz of the North Island or the rugged landscapes of the South, these regions promise memorable campervan road trip adventures tailored to every interest. Here are a few worth checking out:

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 New Zealand 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 adventure. 

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Apollo Campervan branches

Christchurch

The drive from Apollo Christchurch to Nelson takes you along some of the South Island’s most scenic coastline. There’s a fair bit to see and do along the way, so be sure to take your time and perhaps plan an overnight stay in Kaikoura. 

Queenstown

Keen to make the most of your road trip and explore more of the South Island? Book your camper with our Queenstown branch and spend a few days heading northward taking in some of the great southern highlights along the way. 

Auckland

The North Island is packed full of sights and experiences, so why not tick off a few with a road trip from Apollo Auckland to Nelson? This journey includes crossing the Cook Strait by ferry offering the opportunity to travel through the pristine Marlborough Sounds. 

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 Nelson & Marlborough

 

Climate and seasons in Nelson & Marlborough

Nelson and Marlborough are renowned for their inviting climates, making them year-round destinations for visitors. Nelson, often celebrated as the sunniest city in New Zealand, enjoys a mild maritime climate that complements its outdoor lifestyle and vibrant arts culture.

  • Summer (December to February) in Nelson are warm and sunny, with temperatures typically ranging from 20°C to 25°C, perfect for enjoying the region's stunning beaches and outdoor dining. In Marlborough, the warmth accentuates the beauty of the vineyards, making it an ideal time for wine tasting and scenic tours.

  • Autumn (March to May) in Nelson are warm and sunny, with temperatures typically ranging from 20°C to 25°C, perfect for enjoying the region's stunning beaches and outdoor dining. In Marlborough, the warmth accentuates the beauty of the vineyards, making it an ideal time for wine tasting and scenic tours.

  • Winter (June to August) brings cooler weather, with daytime temperatures hovering around 12°C to 15°C. It's a great time to enjoy the region's art galleries, museums, and cosy dining spots, with the occasional crisp, clear day perfect for outdoor adventures.

  • Spring (September to November) breathes new life into the regions, with blossoming gardens and warming temperatures. It's a beautiful time to witness the region's natural beauty, from the awakening vineyards in Marlborough to the blossoming landscapes in Nelson.

Both regions enjoy relatively low rainfall compared to other parts of New Zealand, though it's always wise to pack a light rain jacket just in case. The transitional seasons of autumn and spring offer a spectacular display of nature's beauty, making them particularly rewarding times to visit.

 

 

 

What to pack

Heading out for an adventure in Nelson and Marlborough with your campervan is an exciting prospect, and packing smart can enhance your experience. The region's welcoming climates and diverse outdoor activities mean you'll need a mix of gear to comfortably enjoy everything from sun-soaked beaches to leisurely vineyard tours. Here’s a rundown of what to bring along.

  • Outdoor gear: The stunning landscapes of Nelson and Marlborough are your playground, so come prepared with versatile outdoor gear. Lightweight, breathable clothing will keep you comfortable during the warm days, while a layer or two for the cooler evenings ensures you can enjoy those starlit nights by the campfire. Durable walking shoes are essential, whether you're hiking in Abel Tasman National Park or exploring the coastal trails.

  • Campervan add-ons: Enhance your campervan living with a few thoughtful extras. A portable barbecue can elevate your dining under the stars, while extra camping chairs and a table (these can be added to your campervan hire) can make your outdoor setup more comfortable.

  • Sun protection:The New Zealand sun, particularly in the Nelson region, known for its high sunshine hours, calls for diligent sun protection. Pack high-SPF sunscreen, a quality pair of sunglasses with UV protection, and a hat to shield you during those outdoor adventures. Remember, sun safety is key, even on overcast days.

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

 

 

Nearby attractions and day trips from Nelson

 

Farewell Spit

Farewell Spit is a striking natural feature located at the northern tip of the South Island, renowned for its extensive sandbar and rich birdlife. This area serves as a bird sanctuary where visitors can observe a variety of migratory birds in their natural setting. The iconic lighthouse at the spit's end also provides a picturesque backdrop for visitors exploring this unique and protected landscape.

Takaka

In the heart of Golden Bay, Takaka is a vibrant town known for its artistic community, quirky cafes, and nearby natural wonders like Te Waikoropupū Springs. A day trip to Takaka can be as relaxing or adventurous as you like, with options ranging from exploring local art galleries to hiking in the Abel Tasman National Park.

Rabbit Island

Just a short drive from Nelson, Rabbit Island offers vast sandy beaches, picnic spots, and cycling trails. It's an ideal place for a family day out, where you can enjoy swimming, beach games, or simply bask in the tranquil atmosphere of this coastal gem.

Lord of the Rings film locations

For fans of the Lord of the Rings series, the Nelson region offers the chance to visit some of the trilogy's filming locations. Take on a day trip to explore the diverse landscapes that were transformed into Middle-Earth, from the rolling hills to the lush forests, each offering a glimpse into the magical world of the films.

 

Where to stay in Nelson & Marlborough with a campervan

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

Nelson

Marlborough

 

 

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