From mountains to beaches to alpacas to wine…New Zealand truly has it all!
Check out our trip video and read on to see exactly what we did!
Turns out it gets dark really early in June in New Zealand, so by the time we landed and were done grocery shopping, it was pitch black! We drove to the nearby city of Geraldine and stayed at the Top Ten there. We were pretty hesitant to drive at night but the road to Geraldine was an easy drive.
We woke up so early the next morning (jet lag, man) and walked to breakfast at Central Cafe and the most amazing blueberry pancakes ever! (or I was just starving)
Very excited for his burrito!
After breakfast we headed for Lake Tekapo!
After looking at the lake from ground level we decided we needed a higher view. We did the Mt. John Walkway hike up to the top of the observatory. The hike was pretty tiring but worth it! You can also drive up to the top if you prefer!
The views up here were incredible and the water looked amazing from this view! We also noticed there were hundreds of bunnies up here which was so random to us. Later we found out that NZ has no native mammals and the bunnies were probably brought over on boats. Since there are no native mammals they don’t have very many predators, just birds! Hence the crazy amounts of bunnies!
Afterwords we came back down and stopped the camper at the lake and made PB&J’s on our wilderness provided table and chairs. This set the standard for lunch views in New Zealand! If there’s not water and mountains, I send it back!
Then we headed to Oamaru because we figured we could get there in time to see the penguins come up to their little homes at night.
To see the penguins you go to the reservation desk and pay to get a seat to see the penguins. You can either get the expensive seating or the cheaper seating. We chose the cheaper seating and we were glad we did because the expensive side was packed with people that had gotten there really early. Instead we watched the little penguins jump on shore in our sparsely populated section.
The penguins came on shore in little groups called “rafts” and were really scared of some seals that were in there way. Seeing them scuttle away from the seals was very cute! We were told that those specific seals aren’t a danger to the penguins so I wasn’t worried about them.
We weren’t allowed to take pictures but I thought it was a really fun thing to watch and I was glad we did it!
We had breakfast the next morning at Tees Street. This was the start of Alex’s “Egg’s Benedict Only” diet. Very healthy. I thought the french toast was good but there was a little bit too much going on, probably wouldn’t get it again.
Then we headed to see the Moeraki Boulders!
I was super excited for the boulders until I saw the Alpacas. The alpacas completely stole the show for me! They were so cute and funny!!!
Boulders were still awesome!
Then we drove to a Katiki Point Lighthouse which was a great place to see seals! I almost stepped on one! Basically a furry boulder.
Then we drove to see the Organ Pipes which was a fun hike! I think there would have been a really good view if it hadn’t been so foggy.
Our last stop for the day was Nugget Point which was really pretty to see around dusk. After we parked we ran the short hike to the lighthouse because the sun was setting fast!
We didn’t stay too long because the road to get up here was a little curvy and so driving down at night wasn’t ideal. We drove to Invercargill that night and stayed at Central City.
On our way to Invercargill we pulled over because the stars were out and from southern hemisphere you can look into the center of the milky way galaxy!
In Invercargill we went to Thai Thai for dinner (I bet you can guess what kind of food it was!) I had pad thai and I don’t remember what Al got!
Met a friendly kitty at our campground while unplugging the electric cord!
For breakfast in Invercargill we went to Batch Cafe which was amazing! I got a whole filet of salmon for breakfast with the best scrambled eggs ever!!! And their bread was amazing! Highly suggest! (Crusty bread is life.)
After that we got gas at a gas station for the first time and it was so hard! We could never get our credit card to work at the pump because our credit card doesn’t have a pin on it? I think we could have set one up with our bank before we left the country but I didn’t even know that it was an option!
As one man so clearly put it “leaders of the modern world, but no pin on the credit card *shakes head*”, you are correct friendly New Zealand man. Instead, we just paid inside every time. Of course we hadn’t signed the back of the card and they didn’t like that either! So once we signed the card and took it inside we were good to go. I kind of liked going in anyways, everyone was so nice!
Then we headed for Milford Sound. This drive was so beautiful, like computer background screen beautiful! (High praise!) Eventually we stopped for some PB&J’s along Lake Te Anau at Henry Creek Campsite.
To get into Milford sound you have to drive through a pretty steep and sketchy pass (I was glad I wasn’t driving), but the views were so worth it! Also Kia Parrots!
The Kia Parrot is the world’s only mountainous parrot and is a massive food beggar!
Finally down in the sound!
There was only one place to stay in Milford Sound and this is the closest we came to not being able to find a RV spot. We did notice that there were a lot of people in the parking lot “freedom camping” right along the sound so I think that is what we would have done if we couldn’t stay at the RV park.
We stayed that night at Milford Sound Lodge and it was by far the nicest place we stayed! They had a nice restaurant on site but I didn’t think their dinner menu look very good so we decided to cook in the super nice kitchen they had.
The next morning we had a delicious breakfast at their restaurant.
Originally I had thought we would do a boat tour of the sound but I kind of decided against it that morning. Instead since it was low tide we walked out as far as we could so we could see the waterfall. I think the boat ride would have been really cool but I don’t regret not doing it either.
Walking out at low tide was really fun!
We headed back to the road after that and our next stop was The Chasm. The chasm was an easy hike in and was really cool!
Next up was a long flat hike in Gertude’s Saddle to see the waterfalls! You can hike up to the top of the waterfalls too I think but we didn’t go that far (in an out took us about 3 hours). It was snowy and icy in June so it didn’t seem like a safe idea. Also there was no one else there except us so no one would have even heard us fall to our deaths. Except the two escapee goats we saw.
Once we finished our hike it was time for lunch (PB&J’s of course) and then on to find a walkwire!
We found a great one on the Earl Mountain Track/Mistake Creek trail thanks to our NZ Frenzy book! We didn’t do the full hike, we just hiked for about 15 minutes to the walkwire and then turned around and continued driving.
Very muddy trail in to the walkwire.
I was pretty nervous but it was cool!
Al wasn’t nervous at all. Clearly.
Also note the “Adventure” hat he bought while he was there!
This little bird followed us until we gave him food! Stalker!
When we were done walkwiring and making bird friends we headed to Te Anau for the night. It took us longer than we planned though because some sheep where also on a mission of their own!
We stayed at Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Park for the night which was in walking distance of a bunch of restaurants. The sad part, almost everything was closed! (This was actually pretty common in most of New Zealand, everything closed really early.)
We still found a good place though called La Toscana for italian food.
The next morning we had an amazing breakfast at The Sandfly Cafe. I think this was my favorite restaurant the whole time we were in NZ!
Next stop for us was Queenstown and the Remarkables ski area! Driving up to the Remarkables ski area in the winter in the RV was really hard, the road is very steep and once you get up to the top and with gravel/ice it was very hard for the RV to make it the last 1/4 of a mile. Originally we were going to ski but we were so afraid of getting down safely that we took some pictures and carefully made our way down. We should have taken the bus instead.
Great view from up there though!
Since we had decided against skiing we did the Wye Creek Track instead. At one point the hike forks so we went left and up first.
Then on the way back we went to the right towards the falls.
Next stop Thunder Creek Falls.
Kept heading towards Franz Josef but first stopped for lunch on the side of the road! (Only in NZ!)
Got back on the road after lunch and pulled off at a Tauparikaka Beach Reserve where we were lucky enough to see dolphins at play! We didn’t do the Ship Creek Walk because I didn’t realize it was there but I wish we had! Also the sand flies were horrible here so bring bug spray!
The sandflies were horrible at the reserve so we got back in the car and drove up a little ways and found a good place to watch the sunset at Knight’s Point.
From there we actually headed to Franz Josef and stayed at The Rainforest Retreat. It was nice and landscaped to look like a rainforest, fun! We walked to dinner at Snakebite Brewery which had great atmosphere and good food and of course beer.
After dinner we went to the Franz Josef Glacier Guides’ booking desk to see if we could book a Glacier Hike Tour for the next day. The guy was really nice when he told us that they were all booked for the next day but he said he would take our information and call us if they were able to get enough people for another tour. I really thought that was it and we weren’t going to get to do the tour but then at about 8 am they called and said if we could be there in a hour! We said yes, ate some cereal bars and headed to their base!
This was one of the coolest things I have ever done and I am so happy that we got the opportunity to do it!
Walking underneath the ice was like being in an ice palace on another planet.
After that life changing experience we ate PB&J’s in our van and then headed to see Hokitika Gorge!
Then headed to Greymouth for the night!
Then we put our new favorite phrase on the back of our van.
After leaving Greymouth we headed to see Moutukiekie Beach Walk which is only accessed at low tide.
It was drizzly that day but still very beautiful!
Once the tide was all the way out we walked out towards the ocean and saw hundreds of bright orange starfish!
We kept heading toward Nelson and stopped at Pancake Rocks.
Rainbows, the best part about rain 🙂
We drove a little further and stopped at Maruia Falls for a light walk and some pictures.
That night we stayed at a Top Ten Holiday Park in Nelson and used their kitchen to cook dinner, then woke up the next morning and went to breakfast at Melrose Cafe. I thought that I would absolutely love this place, it was the cutest! In reality though it was a bit to fancy for what I prefer. Also, nearly froze to death inside because there heater wasn’t doing anything!
We headed back on the road after that and drove up to Rawhiti Cave. This was a good hike in and was a really cool cave, I was glad we did it even though it was out of the way.
Then we decided we wanted to go wine tasting at Yealand’s Winery but since it wasn’t open yet we went to see a lighthouse first. We couldn’t get to the lighthouse because the road wasn’t open in the winter so we hung out on Marfell’s Beach. It was so relaxing and we found a bunch of really impressive shells that were more pristine than any other shells I’ve seen before.
Around 10 we started our drive back up the coast to Yealand’s and decided to take the scenic route!
At one point google maps had us a crossing through a small stream in the RV. We weren’t going to do it but a nice guy was like “oh you can do it! follow me!” and then led us all the way to Yealand’s on a dirt road because he worked there are had just gone home for lunch! Convenient!
Yealand’s was amazing, it was the best winery we could have gone to, the white wine was excellent so we bought a bottle and some cheese and took it on their self-driving tour around the winery.
The first stop on our tour were farm animals! The pigs were so cute! Look at that little one in the back!
After that we continued on and saw these crazy orange “flowers” called Red Hot Pokers, love em.
We continued our driving tour and got to the ocean, the beautiful pristine perfect ocean!
We could even see the beach that we had been on that morning and all the way across the water we could see the North Island!
And then we met the chickens! The signs didn’t lie, they were super friendly! They keep them on the vineyard to help control the grass and bugs, so they are hard working chickens too!
They also have baby doll sheep on the vineyard that help control the grass but are too short to reach the grapes! This is probably my favorite thing about the vineyard….baby doll sheep!
Saw a picnic table perfect for a wine and cheese and chicken date. (Bonus view of the ocean included.)
Their main building is covered with solar panels that allow them to be more energy efficient at that winery.
All in all this is a super beautiful winery with the amazing goal of being as good to the environment as possible. Could not have chosen a better winery to visit.
Then we headed down to Kaikoura and saw the Ohau point Seal Colony on the way. We couldn’t get out because the parking area was destroyed by an earthquake but we were able to take some pictures while waiting for construction traffic.
We woke up in the morning and decided to try to go whale watching! But first, BREAKY! (aka Breakfast) A lot of the restaurants were closed but we found one called Beach House Cafe. It was good but not great.
We tried to go whale watching but it was way to windy and all the tours were cancelled. Another reason why Al’s “no planning ahead” rule was actually pretty smart.
Once we realized that wasn’t going to happen we headed into Arthur’s pass for some hiking and stargazing.
During the drive I became irreversibly convinced that if we didn’t try a meat pie now, we would die! Or maybe I was just hungry. Either way we got a mushroom and chicken pie that was really yummy!
Al was very skeptical, but he ate over half of our shared one.
The only night we freedom camped was in Arthurs Pass because we weren’t near anything!!
Worth it for the stars!
The next morning we woke up and drove 5 minutes to Castle Hill which is a very cool visit and was in The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe movie!
Next we headed to Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall.
The next day we woke up and decided to give Whale Watching another try and drove back to Kaikoura! Success! We loved it and saw a sperm whale, a humpback whale, and a hoard of dolphins!!! I was in heaven. (See YouTube video at the top for action shots!)
I really wanted to have dinner with a view of the ocean that night so we went to The Pier Hotel. It wasn’t all that impressive and I don’t think I would go back but the view was good!
We stayed at the Top Ten again and the next morning we went to breakfast at Hislop’s Cafe which had been closed the first day we were there. Second time’s the charm!
So a total of 3,841 km (or 2,387 miles), we drove back to Christchurch after breakfast and prepared to drop off our RV!
We had to do a couple things before we dropped it off like remove all our trash, pack up our luggage, refill the gas tank, and refill the LPG bottle. Since we only used the LPG bottle the night we freedom camped we hadn’t used enough of it to be refilled so that was easy. The lady at the gas station weighed it for us and said we were good!
Once we dropped off our campervan and said goodbye to it, Wilderness took us to Sudima Hotel next to the airport where we stayed the night. It was so amazing because it had a REAL TOILET!!!!! I LOVE SELF-EMPTYING PLUMBING! Also they gave me a teddy bear 🙂 which I gave to my dog when I got home, and he tore it’s face off (he is a monster).
Our hotel was a one minute walk from a bunch of restaurants and we chose to get some sushi at SuRa. These where the biggest roll pieces I have ever seen, I’d like to meet the amazing human that can eat on of these in one bite. It was really tasty though once I could fit it in my mouth! We got the salmon avocado roll and the SuRa roll. Yum!
We went back and watched some rugby on TV and fell asleep!
The next morning we woke up and watched TV again and relaxed until it was time for us to go to the airport, then back home to Houston!
Planning our Trip:
Once we decided we wanted to go to New Zealand for our honeymoon I quickly started planning our trip!
The first thing we did was decide the major things we wanted to do while we were there. I thought at the beginning that we would probably want to do a couple weeks there and see the sights on both Islands. Wrong, there was so much that we wanted to see on the South Island that we decided we wanted to spend all our time there. So decision made, South Island for two weeks.
Next step, flights. We booked our flights through Cheapoair from Houston to Christchurch which ended up being a huge hassle because they would send me an “updated itinerary email” every other month that I needed to accept. The flights were $837 USD each though so I felt like in the end the price justified the annoyance and Air New Zealand was a really good airline.
Lodging Time! We started talking about how long we wanted to stay in which cities so that I could book us hotels and then Al dropped this bomb on me “I don’t want to plan anything ahead of time.” GASP!!!. Soooo how do you book a place to stay….when you don’t know where you will be? Book it the day before on Hotels.com? After some research I learned that THE cool thing do in New Zealand is RVing (but they call it a campervan). Soooo time to start looking into how to rent a Campervan.
THERE ARE SO MANY OPTIONS FOR RENTING CAMPERVANS! Trying to find the right campervan to rent was overwhelming so I went to the blogs! After reading Polka Dot Passport’s blog post on their New Zealand Trip I started looking into Wilderness Motorhomes. They weren’t the cheapest motorhome rental company that was available but what I really liked was how much information they had on their website. I had so many questions about what we were getting into and their’s was the only website that had the answers.
What I really ended up liking about Wilderness Motorhomes:
Wifi in the RV!
The NZ Frenzy Guide book they gave us with a corresponding map was great! We used it every day! It was the perfect book for anyone whose main goal is to hike in NZ!
YouTube videos that we watched before we left to help us learn how to operate an RV
Super Friendly Staff
Airport Drop off and Pick ups were easy
Easy Reservations online
Camper was fully loaded with table, chairs, towels, bedding, wine glasses….everything!
Camper was really nice and clean (at the beginning of our trip, that is)
When choosing the campervan I chose one that had a permanent bed (not one we would have to fold out every night), one that was fully self contained (meaning it had a toilet) so we could freedom camp, not too big (to decrease our chance of wrecking) and I wanted it to be big enough to stand in. So that is what we got!
In total our campervan, gas for the van, and RV Park Fees ended up costing us an average of $300 NZD per day. I don’t think that the Campervan we chose was by any means the budget way of vacationing through New Zealand but it sure was convenient and fun!! I also think that it would have been a lot cheaper if we had freedom camped more, but the conveniences of a real shower and toilet and electric hookup were worth it to us.
We ended up needing to empty the toilet and refill with water at least every three days. Beyond that and things would start to get gross! It wasn’t as horrible as I though it would be but it was definitely the least romantic thing we did on our honeymoon! Thankfully it it was hilarious so many good memories where made of my new husband gagging!
The campervan was great because it allowed us a crazy amount of flexibility with our trip. If the weather was bad somewhere we just wouldn’t go there and when we were tired of driving for the day we would get on our app and find a place to stay, and one night we just stayed in a picnic area! We never made one reservation, we just showed up at an RV park and asked for a spot for the night and we never had a problem with them being full. Every night we used the CamperMate app to find a place to stay and usually ended up staying in a TopTen RV park. This would probably be much harder to do in the summer when the rv parks fill up but we went during their winter low season (June).
Packing List for June:
Water Bottle (useful for the airports and the RV)
Fleece lined leggings
Waterproof Hiking boots (LL Bean Boots) (Make sure they are clean because they are checked during customs)
Warm and Waterproof jacket
Blanket Scarf (Perfect for planes! Can use as a blanket, scarf, cardigan, pillow ect.)
Long Sleeve Shirts
Thermal undershirt for Long sleeve Shirts
New Zealand Dollars (We ended up using our credit card almost everywhere but there were rare times that were cash only)
Games (We like Cribbage)
Then finally it was time to fly!! The flight wasn’t too bad thanks to my friend Tylenol PM but I did get pretty bored near the end. Once we landed in Auckland for our layover we went through one of the more intense customs procedures I have ever been through. We waited in a really long line and at the end of the line they asked us if we had any hiking shoes, or tents, or food. We told them we had hiking shoes so then we were moved to another really long line. In that line someone came by and checked that our shoes didn’t have any mud on them, once they passed the test we were allowed into the airport and walked to the domestic terminal to catch our flight to Christchurch. If our shoes hadn’t been clean we would have had to wait in another line for them to clean our shoes. I think it took about two hours and then we got breakfast in the domestic terminal.
Some time later that day (everything is a blur) we landed in Christchurch! We called Wilderness Motorhomes and they came right over and picked us up!
How did we call Wilderness? A note about cell phones in New Zealand. Al has a Google Fi phone which works 170 countries (including NZ) so we were able to use his phone like normal the whole time we were there.
Since our RV had Wifi the whole time (unless we were in a super rural area) we were able to use our cell phones to find RV parks and for Google Maps. We never had a problem with Google maps but if we had we could have used the GPS that Wilderness Motorhomes included with the highest insurance package.
After Wilderness Motorhomes picked us up they went through explaining everything we would need to know about our RV and how to operate it. It was a lot! Even putting it in drive isn’t a simple as I would have thought because the campervan didn’t have a neutral or a drive gear? Al figured it out for us, thank goodness. Once we were educated in the ways of the campervan we headed to the Countdown, the local grocery store. (Which ended up being right next to the hotel we stayed at before flying out of Christchurch the next day.)
We bought a ton of stuff at the grocery store but the things we ended up actually using were:
Chips (I like the ones with penguin on the bag, because penguins!)
Precooked Rotisserie Chicken
And that is how we planned our two week New Zealand South Island Trip!