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Marlborough Sounds Boat Journey

South Island Travel Guide: Hidden Gems of The South Island To Visit By Campervan


With stunning sandy beaches, azure blue waters, and stunningly scenic panoramas, the top of New Zealand’s South Island has plenty to allure and delight travellers traversing the region. If you’re going on a South Island road trip, be sure to check out all these amazing spots or at least include them on your South Island itinerary.

Oysters Couple Salad

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The stunning west coast, Abel Tasman National Park in the north, and everything in between is an easy drive from Britz Campervans’ Christchurch branch. With everything from one-day, multi-day or extended trips out of the city, you’ll find a whole new array of places to tempt you once you venture off the ‘beaten track’ and away from all the tourist hot-spots. While there are plenty of things to do in Christchurch, there are so many hidden travel gems to explore as part of a South Island road trip.


Situated on the Banks Peninsula, 75km south-east of Christchurch, Akaroa is a chic little town with a sweet French vibe. The best haunts for travellers on the famed peninsula are all but hidden. Just over the hill from lovely Akaroa is a tiny township where time has stood still – Okains Bay. Comprising little more than a marae and a general store with a single petrol pump, this is a timeless township with a huge heart. Okains Bay Māori and Colonial Museum houses one of the largest collections of Māori taonga in New Zealand. It is a simply extraordinary way to explore our history through the lens of artefacts from early Māori through to colonial settlement. Camping is available nearby at Okains Bay Campground which fronts the beautiful beach and estuary. On your return journey to Christchurch, turn off to Birdlings Flat and fossick for gemstones at the wild beach. But don’t get too near to the dredging sea. Powerful currents here have cost many lives, so stay well away from the edge while looking for treasures.  


Head north-west of Christchurch and into the Tasman region of New Zealand and into Reefton, Greymouth or Westport if you think west is best, or continue on to the lakes and drop down into Richmond. Branch off into the foodie haven of Motueka, and head for stunning Kaiteriteri Beach and campground and the other delights of the Abel Tasman region, or turn off to Nelson, if time is short. If you are heading to the Tasman region, do not miss Mapua. It’s a short drive off the main road to certain heaven, and coffee or ice-cream overlooking the wharf while watching the Rabbit Island ferry coming and going. For a pleasant stopover to explore Nelson, stay at Tahunanui Campground adjacent to the beach, where there is a wonderful playground and model railway close by for the young ones.


Chances are you’ve done the coast road to Kaikoura, so why not take the route less travelled? The Inland Kaikoura Route will take you through the lovely but little-known Hurunui region. This beautiful district, in the Canterbury region, stretches south to within 50km of Christchurch. It is home to the better-known townships of Amberley, Culverden, Cheviot and, of course, Hanmer Springs. Stay and play at the local vineyards or explore the ski field at Mt Lyford.  As a shorter round trip, take in the buzz of Kaikoura (don't forget to checkout the whales and seal colonies whilst there) and plan also to spend some time on the coast at beautiful Gore Bay, beyond Cheviot before heading homewards. If you venture beyond Hanmer Springs, head for the hills - a spectacular way to reach the Nelson/Tasman District via the Nelson Lakes. Make sure you leave time to drop into lovely St Arnaud, where there is a little known maritime museum which glorifies the annual NZ Classic and Antique Boat Show held there each year around March.


From Nelson (416km north of Christchurch) break up the drive home and return via Blenheim (114km south-east of Nelson) – a really underrated area with loads to offer. Wineries are the big hit here, and it’s hard to go past lunch at a sunny, scenic vineyard, however, there’s plenty beyond the grape. Don’t forget to stop in at Havelock which is home to the most English of non-English pubs – The Captain’s Daughter - a must for masses of mussels or brunch. And don’t miss Sir Peter Jackson’s exquisite tribute to WWI at Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre near Blenheim. If you choose the Queen Charlotte Drive route through the Marlborough Sounds, be prepared for a long and winding road that will be worth every twist and turn to reach Picton.

Boating enthusiasts should head through Picton to Waikawa Bay but, before you do, take the scenic drive from Sussex Street on your left off Waikawa Road to the hilltop, and bide a while watching the coming and going of the car ferries in and out of the Sounds.  You’ll be mesmerised.


If you have a certified self-contained vehicle you may like to visit a great camping spot near Blenheim - Marfell’s Beach is a simple DOC campground just beyond Lake Grassmere, right on the wild coast, with brilliant sunsets and views back to Cook Strait. Alternatively,  try the Gore Bay and Buxton beachside campgrounds, if you fancy something a bit more swish. But before you reach the turn off at Cheviot, drop by pretty and tranquil St Anne’s Lagoon, a wild bird sanctuary, enroute.

Nugget Point Lighthouse

Nugget Point is one of New Zealand's oldest lighthouses and is an iconic landmark on the Caitlins Coast. It's an easy 20-minute return walk to the lighthouse which overlooks 'the Nuggets', a set of rocks out at sea.

This spot is an awesome scene for landscape photography with the path and lighthouse looking out to the ocean making a beautiful picture!



Kaka Point Beach

Kaka Point Beach is a super stunning little seaside village that isn't too far from the Nugget Point Lighthouse and is one of New Zealand's best surf beaches in the South Island. Pete and Rach spent a beautiful morning here where the surf was huge, fog rolled in and the scenery was ethereal.



Purakanui Beach

Purakanui Beach is one of the best beaches for surf and isolation in the caitlines. Pete and Rach came across only one other person during their time there. They unwinded for the afternoon, having cheese and crackers by the van and relaxing, surrounded by sea lions on the beach and some incredible surf. If you're looking for isolation and some peace and quite, this is the place to come.



Saint Bathans

Saint Bathans is a tiny little town in the Otago region of New Zealand. Saint Bathans is an old gold mining town and the man-made Blue Lake is a stunning spot to photograph with its Badlands-type walls of quartz stone and stunning blue water. Pete and Rach were stoked to finally visit this epic spot and take some photos.


Milford Sound

Milford Sound is one of the more popular spots that Pete and Rach visited but sometimes you just have to go where things are epic, and this is one of those places. Milford Sound is a fjord-like sound that's fed by the waters of the Hollyford River. It's a stunning natural wonder and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Lake Marian

Pete and Rach hiked to Lake Marian which is a hanging glacial like by the Hollyford River. The scene was moody and large snowflakes were falling from the sky... something out of a dream. The Lake Marian hike is around three hours return and well worth the walk, to see such a stunning view.



Lindis Pass

Lindis Pass is a small community in South Canterbury in the South Island of New Zealand. It's the main highway between Wanaka and the Mackenzie Country and is an amazing spot for photos. Tussock grass and rolling hills and a very unique part of the South Island where nothing else is quite like it. Pete and Rach stopped through here at sunset to grab some photos and take in the beautiful scences.



Mackenzie Country

The last and final stop before heading back to Queenstown was the Mackenzie Country. The Mackenzie region is home to some incredible, quintessential New Zealand lanscapes... Aoraki Mount Cook, Twizel, Tekapo just to name a few. Full of lakes, mountains and starry skies, this is the place to come for amazing mountains photos and views. Pete and Rach spent the day here exploring the lakes and mountains that make this place so stunning.


That's exactly what Rach Stewart and Peter May did when they travelled to the South Island for 8 days in their Britz Venturer Campervan.

Both Pete and Rach have travelled to the South Island before, but this time they wanted to do something different. They wanted to go to locations they had never been before... to go off the tourist trail and find those places that are just as beautiful as all the famous photographs but tend to be forgotten about.

The Britz Venturer was the perfect campervan of choice for them as it is super spacious (for all the camera gear!), very easy to drive, dinners and nighttime hangouts were perfect in the lounge area, and when it was time to sleep the coversion to a double bed was easy and comfortable. Pete and Rach loved their home away from home and the best aprt is when it's time for those super early sunrise photos, they could literally just roll out of the van! Bliss!


Book your holiday with Britz

And there you have the adventure of two New Zealand photographers during winter in their Britz campervan. There's no better time to start planning your next epic campervan trip around New Zealand. Start a new booking with Britz!

Wondering what these highlights would look like as a trip? Check out our South Island Itinerary departing Christchurch, or see our latest deals on campervans to get you out on the road to see these stunning sights.