20 April, 2020
Last updated on 10 February, 2022
Posted by Spaceships Crew
The lower South Island is known for its breathtaking mountains, lakes, and even glaciers. In this picturesque landscape, you'll find yourself closer to nature than you've ever been before. While the lower South Island will provide you with a once in a lifetime experience, a lot of people are overwhelmed when it comes to the best way to see all of the sights. Your best bet is to travel by campervan as it will allow you to travel at your own pace and not feel rushed. Today you'll learn about the best way to experience this wonderful area in a campervan.
Planning your route
While the benefit of travelling in a campervan is that you can move at your own pace, it is nice to have a loose schedule planned in order to accomplish everything that you would like to see in the amount of time that you have available. Planning your route ahead of time will also allow you to prioritize places on your list that may be "must stop" compared to those that you may be content with just driving through.
A lot of people who do this road trip like to travel to Dunedin first. Dunedin is a harbour town and is known for having an abundance of walking and cycling paths. You'll experience stunning views of the coastline and may even catch a glimpse of a fur seal if you are lucky! It is the second-largest city in the South Island area, so you will be sure to find lots of fun things to do whether you are looking to explore nature or inner-city life (or both!).
The Catlins: a true hidden gem
A lot of travellers rush through or even skip The Catlins. Such a shame. The Catlins is probably one of New Zealand's most amazing hidden treasures. Well, it isn't really hidden or hard to find, it's just that so many travellers are in a hurry to get to Milford Sound and Queenstown that they miss out on the beauty of the bottom part of the South Island.
Nugget Point - The walk from the carpark to the lonely lighthouse on the cliff is an easy walk. But the view is a million dollars worth. And on the left of the track, you might see a fur seal colony on the rocks at sea level.
Cathedral Caves - Not to be confused with Cathedral Cove which is located on the Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island. Cathedral Caves can be difficult to visit as it can only be accessed approximately 1 hour each side of low tide subject to safe sea conditions. The caves are usually closed from June to October but they can also be closed at short notice at other times. If you're in the area and the caves are open, go for it. It'll be a magical experience.
Purakaunui Falls - There is a reason why these falls are amongst the most photographed waterfalls in New Zealand. We won't spoil the fun, just make a stop at the car park and go for the 10 minutes walk to see the water cascading 20 metres over 3 tiers.
The Catlins (Nugget Point lighthouse) is a must-see on your lower South Island trip | photo: MRB
Invercargill: most southern city in New Zealand
The next stop on your trip is Invercargill, the southernmost city in New Zealand. It is an easy trip. Invercargill is home to a great cycling trail. Since you'll be travelling in a campervan, you can easily park, unhitch your bike (or hire one), and enjoy the trail. If cycling isn't your forte, consider adventuring to the town of Bluff which is home to the famous oyster.
Te Anau: Fiordland National Park
On the trip from Invercargill to Te Anau, you'll be travelling along the edge of the Fiordland National Park. While you are travelling you'll experience sensational views. Once you make it to Te Anau, you can explore the park further. The park is home to many unique activities including glow worm caves and a bird sanctuary. Other outdoor activities that you can find at Te Hikoi Southern Journey include biking, hiking, fishing, and boating. Other fun activities include an underground waterfall for you to explore.
Milford Sound: most-scenic part of your trip
Once you finish exploring Te Anau, you can start the adventure to Milford Sound. This route, in particular, is one of the most scenic routes in the whole country. On your trip, you'll want to keep your eyes peeled for mirror lakes, which are known for their outstanding reflective views. The best way to experience Milford Sound is by boat. Day cruises are a popular option for exploring the area. A lot of adventurers choose to go back to Te Anau for the night after a boat cruise but you could always stay the night near the Milford Sound. If you have more time to explore Milford Sound, you'll find rainforests and the fiord, where you will see seals, dolphins, and penguins.
Queenstown: an action-packed finish of your road trip
The final step on your perfect trip around the South Island is Queenstown. Queenstown is situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and is surrounded by many opportunities for exploring and to get a massive adrenaline rush. There is a reason why Queenstown is nicknamed the Adventure Capital of the World. Of course, you're aware it's home of the original Bungy. Kawarau Bridge has been the place where commercial bungy jumping started in November 1988.
Today, you can still jump off Kawarau Bridge... But there are now more, better and higher bungy jumps and canyon swings to do in Queenstown. The AJ Hackett company has been adding new and better ways to get a massive adrenaline rush since their start in 1988. Have a look if there's a deal or discount active on these must-do activities and experience the excitement of Queenstown.
Massive adrenaline rush in Queenstown | photo: AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand
But there's so much more to do and see in Queenstown. Make sure to spend a few extra days there to experience Queenstown to the fullest. You'll also have the opportunity to raft, river surf, and jet boating. Something else to look forward to in Queenstown is the cuisine. You'll find custom food experiences that are all five-star experiences. If vineyards are more your style, you'll find plenty of these in the area too. If you visit in the winter, the area is a prime region for skiing and winter sports.
Overall, the lower Island is a great place to take a campervan vacation. You'll be surrounded by nature and have a host of activities at your fingertips no matter what stops you plan for this adventure!
More road trip inspiration
This route is a great way to explore the lower part of the South Island. You will love this somewhat hidden gem. This route also covers one of the best road trips in New Zealand, taking your South from Christchurch. New Zealand, especially the South Island has so much more to offer. By combining all our suggested itineraries you'll be able to create your own ultimate NZ road trip to see it all in our little yet amazing country. Have fun.