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Ultimate 7-day South Island campervan itinerary

7
Days
1073
Kms
20+
Stops

Thinking of hitting the top of the South Island on a campervan road trip? Great idea! From the lively vibe of Christchurch to the stunning beauty of Abel Tasman, this part of New Zealand is packed with must-see destinations. And the best part? With a campervan hire, you've got the freedom to take it all in at your own pace. No strict check-ins, and no rushing around – just the open road, breathtaking views, and the thrill of discovering new places. And this awesome 7-day South Island road trip itinerary gives you a front-row seat to it all. Let’s dive in!

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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