This post is one in a series about New Zealand road trips. To see more road trip posts, click here.
Over three weeks during the summer of 2011-2012, us and a group of friends did a campervan road trip around the South Island of New Zealand. It was flippin’ epic! Shaun and I had our trusty camper Bessie, so we drove down from Auckland and met the others in Lake Tekapo, Canterbury. We had quite a few adventures along the way! Here’s a map showing the places we visited on this road trip. In this post we’ll cover from Auckland to Fox Glacier, and in the next one we’ll cover Fox Glacier to Picton.
We left Auckland on Christmas Day and drove the 3.5 hours to Taupo, where we stayed at Reid’s Farm free campsite for the night (great FREE location right beside the Waikato River and only 5 minutes from Taupo, but horrible smelly toilets!). The following day we had to drive to Wellington to catch the Interislander ferry to the South Island.
We got about an hour out of Taupo, and while driving along the Desert Road (one of New Zealand’s most desolate, middle of nowhere roads), Bessie overheated! Not good… fortunately we had (minimal) cellphone service and called the AA, and poor old Bessie was put on the flatbed of a tow truck and we were towed back to Taupo (at a cost of $300 – ouch). We then had to try to find a mechanic, but seeing as it was Boxing Day, everything was closed. Finally, we got hold of a mobile mechanic who came to our rescue the following morning (turned out that the thermostat had busted, hence the overheating – which cost another $300, ouch), and we continued on our way to windy Wellington.
We drove over 1000 km in two days in order to make up for the lost day, and we finally arrived at Lake Tekapo at 11pm. On the way we had a delicious coffee at Joe’s Garage in Wellington, enjoyed the relaxing ferry journey through the Marlborough Sounds, and stopped in Kaikoura to see baby seals frolicking in a waterfall (see this awesome video).
We cooked our dinner in a carpark in Geraldine, and continued on through beautiful Canterbury to Tekapo. About half an hour out of Tekapo, our headlights decided to die (prompting small screams from me) – soon afterwards I was leaning out the window using a torch as our light source, before we discovered that we could use our crappy low-beams but not the high-beams!
It was great to join our friends and slow the trip down a bit. We had a lovely day in Lake Tekapo and stayed that night at a small campsite next to Lake Middleton.
The following day we headed towards Queenstown, stopping in at a cafe in Omarama, near Lindis Pass, for coffee. We happened to run into Richie McCaw, the captain of the All Blacks and one of the world’s best rugby players – very exciting for us girls! We stopped at the delectable Northburn Station Winery in Cromwell for a yummy platter and some great wines before arriving in Queenstown.
The drive into Queenstown is stunning – it has to be one of the most beautifully situated towns in the world. We spent a couple of nights in a campsite in Queenstown over New Year’s – it was a great place to be for NYE! There were heaps of young people from New Zealand and all over the world partying and having a fun time. Queenstown is one of those places that is never boring, there is so much to do! We’ve been there so many times and still love it.
There’s heaps to do near Queenstown – we had a delicious picnic lunch next to Moke Lake, where there is also a DOC campsite, highly recommended if you want a cheap accommodation option which is hard to come by in Qtown! Moke Lake is only 6 km from Queenstown but it feels so much further away. We also went for a wander around Glenorchy, about a 45 minute drive from Queenstown. There’s also the adrenaline junkie stuff like bungy jumping and jet boating – some of which we have done before and highly recommend. But after partying it up for a few days we were ready to head back out into the wilderness, so we drove over the Crown Range to Wanaka, and camped on the shores of stunning Lake Hawea, where Petra’s relatives own a sheep station.
From Lake Hawea to the West Coast
Next it was over the Haast Pass to the West Coast, and we stopped at the beautiful Blue Pools on the way – a nice 10 minute walk to stretch the legs. We stayed at the free DOC campsite at Gillespie’s Beach near Fox Glacier – a great little spot with a magnificent sunset, and we had a great time throwing stones at other stones (the boys started that one…).
One of our group (Chris, Shaun hasn’t forgiven you and still says you owe him a beer!) encouraged us all to wake up before sunrise to see the famous reflection of Mt Cook and the Southern Alps in Lake Matheson – a bit of a downer as it was a cloudy day, hence no spectacular reflection – compare our photo on the left with what it looks like on a sunny day!
Fox Glacier was great – it’s pretty crazy that there’s a huge glacier about 20 minutes drive from the ocean! Fox is one of the few glaciers in the world (alongside the neighbouring Franz Josef Glacier) to terminate in temperate rainforest. It’s so impressive to see how those rivers of ice carve out the landscape over many thousands of years. Landscape porn for me!
We then continued our journey up the West Coast to Punakaiki – see the rest of our South Island adventures in the next post!