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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.

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.