Mini Road Trip – South Island, NZ

I decided to do a mini road trip around the South Island of New Zealand because I hadn’t done one for ages and I think you need to see your own country (even though I now live in Australia). The trip was 7 nights with a combination of staying in paid accommodation & with family. I’m now knackered! For a small country, driving around New Zealand can take a loooonnnng time!

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The planned trip

By the time I finish the road trip I will have travelled from Christchurch > Lake Tekapo > Franz Josef > Nelson > Christchurch. I also made some brief detours along the way. All up I would have done around 1700km in about 20 hours of driving, by Google’s estimate of just pure driving. Again, that is not counting the detours I took.

So how did I do it? Right well I’m going to tell you:

Rental Car

I pretty much always go with Go Rentals when I rent a car in New Zealand. Why?

  1. They are cheaper than all the big name car rentals because:
  • They don’t have the most up to date vehicles. Although I don’t think it matters too much. On this trip I have a Toyota Corolla with less than 90,000km on the clock and it did the trick pretty nicely
  • They are not located at the airport so have lower overheads. When you arrive, you call them and they send a shuttle to pick you & your luggage up. If you happen arrive after hours, like I did, they will have the car at a local hotel and same deal as above applies – you call the hotel and they will send a courtesy shuttle to collect you.
  1. Their cars are really well maintained. Given that the vehicles are a bit older, there is a little more wear & tear on them but they still handle really well. I usually get a compact or economy automatic & I’ve never had a problem with them.
  1. You can check in online. To save time at the other end – and especially handy if you arrive after hours. You can check in online before you arrive to collect the car.
  1. The staff are really helpful, whether it be via email or in person. I’ve had to change plans a few times that I’ve rented with Go Rentals and they have always been accommodating.
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Very economical little Toyota Corolla from Go Rentals

Accommodation

When I was planning this trip I was always staying in Nelson for a few days because I have family there but I had to decide where else I was going to stay. I had only ever done this kind of trip once before – in reverse and I stayed in Nelson, Granity (just north of Wesport) and Twizel. This time I was adamant that I was going to stay at Lake Tekapo & Fox Glacier and to break up the trip further, I would stay in those places for two nights each.

So the fun of finding accommodation began. I hate looking for accommodation – it’s probably the thing about travel planning I like the least (apart from not having the money to go on all the trips I want to go on of course). I quickly found a couple of places and booked them through Booking.com – my favourite accommodation booking site.

The day before I was going to leave, I was looking at my finances and decided that I couldn’t really afford the $250AUD for two nights at Fox Glacier so started looking for something else. I finally found something at Franz Josef – about 30 minutes north of Fox – for considerably less. More on that later.

Lake Tekapo

The place I stayed in Lake Tekapo is a newer property. It is called Big Sky Apartment and it’s rather hard to google because the search would keep taking me to Big Sky Montana! But I booked it through Booking.com and hoped for the best.

You know how sometimes you’ll find accommodation and never want to leave? Yep, that happened at Big Sky Apartment. It is a one bedroom apartment that is attached to the owner’s property and connected with an internal door, however that is locked at all times and I only saw the owners on check in & check out. The location is off the touristy main drag but is literally like a 2 minute drive to the main road and the amazing Lake Tekapo.

The Perks:

  • It was a home away from home – kitchenette, large living space, large bathroom with shower only, Sky TV, wifi
  • The most comfy bed I think I’ve ever slept in
  • Amazing view from the lounge over Tekapo to the mountains
  • Lovely touch of having a fruit platter & some breakfast items included
  • Really quiet area as it is off the main road
  • Literally two minutes’ drive to the lakefront
  • The owners, Kylie & Simon where lovely the times I saw them – otherwise I didn’t see or hear them

The Not So Perks:

  • There is currently construction on a new road right next door. The owner Kylie, kept apologising for the noise but there’s not much you can do. The crew started about 8am and worked till about 4-4.30pm. Honestly didn’t annoy me much – I even managed a nana nap. Plus on the weekends they weren’t there.
  • For having everything included, there wasn’t a washing machine and/or dryer. For those staying longer than a few nights, these things might be handy. I didn’t notice a launderette in the township either.
  • I had to leave! I really enjoyed my stay at Big Sky Apartment and could have stayed for a lot longer.

Overall, I really loved the place and would definitely a) stay there again and b) recommend Big Sky Apartments to my friends & family as a wonderful place to stay.

Big Sky Apartment.jpg
Big Sky Apartment in Tekapo & some of the lovely little touches
Franz Josef

So I changed from staying in a motel in Fox Glacier to staying in the Franz Josef Top Ten Holiday Park simply because it saved me about $100 overall. The Holiday Park is pretty standard and there are a lot of them throughout New Zealand. They cater from every kind of traveller, from those in tents to caravans, plus a variety of standard cabins to one & two bedroom units. There are also shared amenities such as kitchens, toilets/showers, laundry and a TV/games room.

I stayed in a standard cabin, which is one room with a queen bed, plus a bunk bed; table & chairs for two people plus a mini fridge, kettle and toaster. It’s not the Ritz but the bed was surprisingly comfortable and in these places you pay (or don’t pay) for the luxury of going to the toilet in another building in the middle of the night.

However, the place is clean, reasonably quiet, has car parking right outside your chosen accommodation and it located about 5 minutes out of Franz Josef Township. Plus did I mention it was pretty cheap!

The downside is that the internet is pretty crappy! You get 100mb free every 24 hours, which let’s be honest, is not a heck of a lot. Plus it is slow. I know you shouldn’t be on the internet 24/7 however when you are trying to update a travel page, the internet is kind of crucial. Other than that, I don’t really have any complaints about the Franz Josef Top Ten Holiday Park.

It wasn’t until after I left that I realised I hadn’t actually taken any photos of the Holiday Park. I had meant to but I just didn’t get around to it.

The Weather

I really couldn’t have had better weather on this trip.

There was a smattering of rain once I hit the Westland area. I did have one day of rain in Franz Josef, which was fine because I had planned on catching up on washing & writing that day anyway. To be honest, I did think it was typical West Coast weather – that side of the South Island is famous for rain so I did expect it. I was surprised actually, to find blue skies when I woke the next morning and I had glorious weather for my drive to Nelson.

Other than that one day (well one & half days), I had a slightly rainy day in Christchurch but was luckily enough to have really good weather otherwise.

Temperature wise it was actually quite warm for autumn in NZ. The days were quite warm (yes Aussies, 18 degrees Celsius is warm – especially in the sun), though the evenings were considerably cooler.

The following photos were all taken on the same day:

South Island
Leaving Tekapo, it was slightly cloudy
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Clouds at Lake Hawea
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Bit of rain around when hitting Westland
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Not far from Franz Josef, blue sky to end the day & the Tasman Sea to end the day

The Scenery

What New Zealand lacks in size, she certainly makes ups for in some of the most impressive scenery in the world. Driving around the South Island in April offers up some very different landscapes. From Canterbury’s the vast plains and farmlands to the towering mountains of the Southern Alps. From the large North Otago Lakes to the forests and dramatic coastline of Westland. And that’s just the South Island!

South Island
Thunder Creek Falls is just one of the places you can stop on the Haast Pass – Makarora Road in Mount Aspiring National Park

New Zealand in April is in the middle of the autumn season so throughout Canterbury & Otago the colours of red, yellow, orange and green have been very vivid. I love autumn, it’s my favourite season so driving around the country during this time of year and definitely been a highlight for me.

South Island
Gorgeous Autumn colours

I’m always surprised at how big the lakes are in New Zealand. I mean Lake Wanaka is huge!!! But the lake that I always get a thrill seeing is Lake Pukaki. I can’t even describe the colour of this glacial lake, nor do the photos I have really give any indication of how amazingly beautiful it is. The crowning glory of this lake, quite literally, is Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain.

Aoraki/Mount Cook
No words can describe this view over Lake Pukaki to Aoraki/Mount Cook

I’ve visited the West Coast many times as my sister, until recently, lived there but the coastline of Westland is always a rather dramatic view. It is very rugged and the beaches are usually covered in pebbles of all sizes and loads of driftwood.

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Iconic Hokitika sign made out of driftwood

There are a couple of ways to get from Nelson to Christchurch, one that goes through Lewis Pass and up the middle of the South Island. But the one I prefer is the going via Blenheim and Kaikoura, driving down the East Coast of the South Island. Both the East and West Coasts of the South Island are stunning sights to see with their huge mountains coming right down, meeting the sea. In Kaikoura, you can also stop off and see seals lounging around in the sun or even go on a whale watch expedition.

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A beautiful Kaikoura day

Overview

Now I could be completely biased (usually the case!) but I do think New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. My dad use to say that there was never a bad time to visit New Zealand because each season brings something different.

I think everyone should visit New Zealand and experience, quite frankly, it’s awesomeness!

Here are some of my favourite photos – you can see more on my Flickr page:

Burke's Pass
Hidden gems at Burke’s Pass
Lake Tekapo
Sunset at Lake Tekapo
Aoraki/Mount Cook
I mean, how perfect is this!
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Lake Pukaki canals, I only learned about these recently & was so glad I added them to the trip
South Island
Love the colour contrast here
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Lots of one way bridges
Lake Tekapo
Autumn evening at Lake Tekapo
Church of The Good Shepherd
Tourist attraction at Lake Tekapo
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The long open road
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Loved this bridge over the Clutha River
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Misty morning at Lake Mapourika
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Sometimes you can’t just drive past
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I always know I’m near Greymouth when I see this bridge.. one of my favourites
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Best detour ever! Lake Rotoiti, St Arnaud
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A favourite spot – Saint Oswald’s Church, Wharenui
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Just a cool photo!
Church of The Good Shepherd
Saving the best for last .. New Zealand’s most photographed church – The Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo

8 thoughts on “Mini Road Trip – South Island, NZ

  1. Some gorgeous photos. I’ve never been New Zealand, many people say it is very similar to British Colombia (in Canada) which is also beautiful.

    Maybe one day 🙂
    Frank (bbqboy)

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    1. I was in BC a few years ago and also did a cruise to Alaska. I did find the area very similar to New Zealand actually. It’s a beautiful part of the world – both BC & NZ 🙂

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  2. Gorgeous pictures. I was struck by the similarities to some areas of BC, as well.

    Thanks for such a thorough trip report. I will be looking into Booking.com. I have really enjoyed Airbnb, so far. I’ve come up with places similar to the way you described the Big Sky Apartments.

    I am curious about Nelson. I’m waffling on whether to make it a stop; would love to know more about it, since you’ve clearl viisited frequently.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks 🙂 I did a cruise from Vancouver to Alaska a few years back & was struck by who similar the landscape was.. I guess we were all connected at one point weren’t we? Nelson is nice. It has a bit of a small town vibe to it but it’s definitely growing especially since the quakes. A lot of Chch people moved there. Driving around the Nelson/Tasman area is really lovely.. oh just talking about driving.. are you planning to drive in the South Island? If you just, just be aware that the road from Christchurch to Picton via Kiakpura is currently closed due to a large quake before Christmas. You can still take the inland road but apparently there can be a few delays due to traffic & roadworks.. and the traffic will be heavier as its the only main road at the moment.. otherwise driving in NZ is pretty good. The roads are in good condition and clearly marked etc. I do have family in Nelson so if you want specifics I can ask them. I’ve been there a few times but haven’t really done a lot of touristy things because I’ve hung with them.. oh but you can climb to the centre of New Zealand.. its a bit of a walk but I am the most unfit person in tbe world & i managed to do it 😊

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      1. We are planning to drive, and will certainly avoid the Chch to Picton via Kiapura section. We actually landed in Aus the day before the earthquake, so we’ve been watching the developments a bit since.

        Thanks for the head’s up!

        Liked by 1 person

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