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South Island's best hikes

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Amelia and her partner Mark travelled to New Zealand conquering peaks and covering miles, all while staying in some of the country's most beautiful free campsites. They cooked food on the road, the best coffee was made in the back of their Action Pod campervan and their trip was full of surprises! 

Travel

11 days


Route

Christchurch to Queenstown

km


Best Time of the Year

summer

Highlights

  • Avalanche Peak
  • Lake Pukaki
  • Fergburger
  • Mount Cook

The Journey

Days

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Day 1
Christchurch to Arthur's Pass

Distance 149km - Driving Time 2 hours 10 mins

We picked up the Action Pod campervan in Christchurch and headed straight for Arthur’s Pass. On the way we stopped off to walk around the unusual rock formations of Castle Hill. Here’s a hot tip: change into hiking footwear. We wore thongs (jandals) and they weren’t all that good in the grip department.

We camped the night at Klondkye Corner campsite. A beautiful spot right beside the river, with views of the mountains all around. 

Day 2
Arthur's Pass to Arthur's Pass

Distance 8km - Driving Time 2 hours 10 mins

We left Klondyke Corner around 10am and headed to the visitor centre in Arthur's Pass Village. When I asked which hiking trails were the best, the man behind the counter suggested we give Scott’s Track a try because the weather was perfect. He did warn us that it was a steep incline, and medium to high difficulty.

Can confirm. This is a difficult track, but well worth it once you reach the summit! That night we camped at Lake Pearson.

Day 3
Arthur's Pass to Lake Tekapo

Distance 300km - Driving Time 4 hours

We left the Lake Pearson campsite around 9am with Lake Tekapo in our sights. We stopped off to taste the pies at the Famous Sheffield Pie Shop – and boy were they good!

We arrived at Lake Tekapo around 1pm, with plenty of sunshine after a morning of rain.

After our treacherous hike, we deserved a dip in Tekapo Springs. On the third night, we camped at Lake McGregor.

Day 4
Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook

Distance 258km - Driving Time 3 hours 15 mins

We left Lake McGregor campsite and headed straight for Mount Cook, where we were eager as hell to walk the Hooker Valley Track.

There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, and we could not believe our eyes when we saw the aqua waters of Lake Pukaki.

We parked the van at White Horse Hill campground – pretty much a carpark – and paid $13 for the camp fees. We started the Hooker Valley track around 2pm, and got back to the van around 5.30pm. 

The views at the end of the track are really rewarding. Don’t give up halfway!

Day 5
Mount Cook to Wanaka

Distance 269km - Driving Time 3 hours 20 mins

We left the campsite early in the morning and drove around to walk up and see the Tasman Glacier – more of a lake, just in case you didn’t know.

We hopped straight into the campervan with coordinates set to Wanaka. Stopping off in town to re-stock the fridge, we drove about an hour out of town to Cameron Flat campsite for New Year's Eve. It rained pretty heavily that night, but we weren't too fussed.​

Day 6
Cameron Flat Campsite to Diamond Lake Campsite

Distance 91km - Driving Time 1 hour 15 mins

We went to do the Blue Pools Walk on New Year's Day, but unfortunately after plenty of rain, the blue pools looked more like murky green pools… 

We drove to Diamond Lake campsite, which, by the way, is a carpark at the start of a hiking trail. It’s still a lovely spot, but it is right beside the road.

We hiked to the very top – Wanaka Lookout – after stopping to look over Diamond Lake. This trail is very steep but, again, the views are totally worth the sweat. 

Day 7
Wanaka to Te Anau

Distance 230km - Driving Time 3 hours

We didn’t actually plan to see Milford Sound on this trip, because so many people said 11 days wouldn’t be enough time to see everything. We were ahead of schedule, so we decided to begin the long drive from Wanaka to Te Anau, where we would camp the night at Henry Creek. This is another great spot: $13 per person. After a long day of driving, we sat back, made tacos, read a book on the rocks, and watched the clouds breeze over Lake Te Anau.

Day 8
Te Anau to Milford Sound

Distance 110km - Driving Time 2 hours

We woke up with heavy cloud and fog hovering over Lake Te Anau. We knew that we wouldn’t be rewarded with nice views of Milford Sound but, hey, that’s travel for you.

Firstly, the journey to Milford is far greater than standing on the foreshore. Even with mist all around, we couldn’t see much once we exited Homer Tunnel, but the waterfalls rushing down the cliffs all around us were magical.

Milford Sound was pretty packed – even though it was awful weather. Get there early to find yourself a spot to park! That night, we camped at Deer Flat campsite.

Day 9
Te Anau to Queenstown

Distance 180km - Driving Time 3 hours

We got up early and started the drive to Queenstown, leaving Deer Flat campsite in the rear vision mirror of our Action Pod. We decided to camp halfway between Queenstown and Glenorchy at another DOC campsite: Twenty-Five Mile Stream.

We left Twenty-Five Mile Stream campsite early in the morning and drove back to Queenstown for our final full day in New Zealand.

We went to Fergburger at 11am to get in line early. The 25 minute wait was totally worth it for a deliciously unreal Tropical Swine burger. (Do not attempt to eat on anything but an empty stomach.) We worked off out big lunch with a walk up Queenstown Hill for the view over the town and lake.

That night we parked the van at Queenstown Holiday Park & Motels Creeksyde. It was an expensive night but, after 10 days paying very little for each spot, we couldn’t complain.