Josh & Nela are big travel enthusiasts who moved to New Zealand to explore more of this beautiful country. This time they planned on travelling the North of the South Island by campervan in order to have freedom and full flexibility of travelling at their own speed - taking time to discover the breathtaking hiking trails around the Nelson area as well as meeting the local sea life in Kaikoura. Read on in order to hear all about their itinerary and their campervan highlights.
Christchurch to Christchurch
Best Time of the Year
- Abel Tasman
- Queen Charlotte
Christchurch - Marahau
First thing in the morning we picked up our Britz HiTop at the branch in Christchurch. The staff gave us a thorough walk-through and some useful tips on which routes to take and where to stay. We definitely recommend downloading the thl roadtrip app as it shows all the different campsites, gas stations, supermarkets and toilets and sometimes there are some good deals on there as well which made planning our trip on the go a whole lot easier. After getting familiar with our Britz campervan we stocked up on our food supplies and started our longest drive of the entire trip - 430km heading North (around 5.5hours drive) to Marahau, which is the start location of the famous Abel Tasman track.
Halfway through we stopped at a waterfall to have a break and some tea with biscuits - Josh is English so he likes to take his tea & biscuit traditions wherever he goes. A great addition to this trip next time would be to stop at Hanmer Springs for some relaxation in the hot thermal pools.
As we planned to hike the Abel Tasman track over 3 days and camp at campsites instead of staying at lodges we stopped by Packgeargo, which is on the way to Marahau, to rent some camping gear. The owner of the shop gave us some useful tracking tips and provided us with high-quality gear.
The last few kilometers towards Marahau were a scenic drive and our excitement for the upcoming hiking days grew bigger and bigger. We went to Hooked on Marahua for some delicious seafood dinner. The food was pricey, but the location right by the sea offered incredible sunset views. A perfect place to start your holiday! We stayed the night at Marahau Beach Camp which was probably our favourite campsite of this trip as it was nice and small and close by the water. We wish we could have stayed there longer - Marahau is such a dreamy little town.
Day 2 - 4
Abel Tasman Track
A little side trip from our campervan journey, we walked the Abel Tasman track for the next 3 days. Starting early, we had a quick and filling breakfast in the campervan and then waved goodbye to our little campervan companion as we would stay in the Abel Tasman National Park for the next two nights.
The Abel Tasman Track is one of New Zealand's Great Walks and definitely is among the most beautiful hikes in the country. You can do the 60km track in 1-5 days, but we decided to do it in 3 days in order to take in all the highlights and not to feel too rushed. If you are interested in doing the Abel Tasman track which is a stunning hike along golden beaches and lush coastal bush click here to read all about it.
Once we came back from our hike we dropped our camping gear back off at Packgeargo and made our way to Tahuna Beach Kiwi Holiday Park in Nelson where we stayed the night. The holiday park was very big with clean facilities and reasonably priced.
Nelson to Picton
We slept in for the first time in a long time and just took the day as it came - went to Tahuna beach, walked around town and checked out some breweries, as Nelson is the craft brewing capital of New Zealand (did we mention that we like beer). If we didn’t plan to drive that day we would have followed this craft beer trail but we wanted to get to Picton that day so we could start another 3 day hike the next day.
Tonight we stayed at Alexanders Holiday Park which was convenient as it’s situated close to the water taxi and ferry terminal, but certainly not as picturesque as some of the other campsites on our trip.
Day 6 - 8
Queen Charlotte Track
The next day we got up early and bought some breakfast on the go as we had the 8am water taxi to catch to Ship Cove, the starting point of our 70km 3 day hike. This time we didn’t rent any camping gear as there are no rental shops around Picton, so we decided to stay in lodges along the way.
The boat ride through the Marlborough Sounds was very beautiful and we were excited to fully take in all this scenery within the next few days - it would be worth doing the boat ride alone one morning if you aren’t interested in hiking.
The Queen Charlotte Track is a spectacular 70km long walking track that takes you along the breath-taking Malborough Sounds offering stunning coastal views. The track can be done as a day trip or as a several day hike ranging from 3-5 days. If you are interested in exploring the sea-drowned valleys click here to find out more.
After the 3day hike our legs were quite knackered and we just wanted to relax. Our Britz campervan was still there where we parked it, so we drove off to Blenheim and stayed at Watson’s Way Campsite which is located right in Renwick, the winery centre of Blenheim. Mr. Watson is a chatty guy so we got some great tips on which wineries we should check out the following day. His lodge is cosy with only a few guest rooms, but it’s very well looked after, the kitchen is well equipped and it even has a free tennis court on site (but no chance you would get us on the court - our legs were too exhausted).
After a nice long sleep in and a big breakfast, we picked up our hire tandem from bike2wine which is located right in the centre of Renwick. The lady of the bike rental shop is very lovely and gave us a wine trail map and shared some more information about the different wineries and which her favourites are. We took the tandem for a little test ride as we were told that riding a tandem is way more difficult than riding a normal bike - and how true that is! After a lot of wiggling and discussion about who is more confident in the front seat (the one who’s in control of the steering wheel and the breaks) we decided Nela should sit in the front and Josh would provide all his leg strength to get us forward.
So we departed for our day of wine tasting, planning on visiting around ten wineries (very ambitious), and what an adventurous ride the tandem ride was. The scenery was breathtaking, with vineyards as far as your eyes could see and mountain ranges in the background. The first winery we stopped at was Forrest, we started with the complimentary tasting and enjoyed our first Riesling and Chardonnay of the region. In hindsight, we should have stopped at the winery later during the day as they had a very comfy looking outside seating area with bean bags overlooking the vineyards.
After that we visited Framingham where we had another complimentary tasting. The tasting room and vineyard had a very artsy and Spanish boutique feel to it which was quite cool. As we were keen for some more wines and winemaking stories we continued down the road to the small family-owned vineyard called Bladen. We decided for a $5 tasting which enabled us to try out 5 different wines. By that time we were in a good mood already and as Nela is quite clumsy she fell off the seats and amused everyone around. Despite that little incident we enjoyed listening to the story of how the winery started and our favourite wine was their Gewurztraminer, which we, later on, decided to buy a couple of bottles of.
We continued our tandem journey and the more wine we drank the more comfortable we got on the bike! As we were the only ones cruising the wineries on a tandem we got a lot of hellos and waves from other people as they probably thought it looked quite hilarious.
We stopped at Whitehaven for some lunch as we were told that they were quite reasonably priced but sadly didn't live up to expectations. So we jumped back on our tandem and drove to Sugar Loaf which is the favourite of the bike rental lady - unfortunately, it was closed when we were there so we continued to No. 1 Family Estate which is all about sparkling wine. The tasting room felt very fancy and we learned about how the bubbles are made and felt very knowledgeable afterwards. As it was already 3 pm and all the vineyards close around 4/4.30pm we made our way to the last winery called Giesen. It is quite a big and known winery in New Zealand so we tried a range of different wines and then picked a glass of our favourites - the Pinot Gris and the Wine Cider - and enjoyed it on their terrace.
Once the wineries shot we returned our tandem and rested at our campsite for a bit and cooked a delicious dinner. Later one in the evening we took the short drive to the Moa brewery and watched the sunset over the vineyards with a glass of fresh apple cider.
Blenheim to Kaikoura
The next day started early again as we needed to be in Kaikoura by midday for our seal swimming trip. We were super excited so the 2hour scenic drive along the coast flew by in no time. We arrived at the Seal Swim Kaikoura office and had a thorough briefing on how to swim with the seals and all the do’s and don’ts. Seal Swim Kaikoura is a very ethical company that cares for the native fur seals.
So we went on the boat and drove out to the seal spots. The water was ice cold but luckily we had thick wetsuits on and then our adventure started and we snorkeled around the bays to look for some furry seals. After a short while, we were lucky and 3 seals dived around next to use and showed off their underwater skills. The seals were so cute and the experience was amazing! After an hour of snorkeling and watching the seals above and underwater we got back on the boat and drove back to their shop. We can highly recommend the tour as you get up close to the animals and the staff is super helpful as well. The snorkeling made us quite hungry so we went to Coopers Catch for the city’s best fish & chips.
In the afternoon we walked along the beach, took some pictures and did parts of the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway up towards Point Kean viewpoint for some stunning views across the city and coastline. That night we stayed at Alpine-Pacific Holiday Park which was a pleasant stay, the kitchen is well equipped, it was quiet and it even has a free pool and spas.
Kaikoura to Christchurch
Our last day of the trip approached sooner than we hoped for but day 11 eventually turned out to be one of the best days on the trip! We got up early and drove to the city as we had something special planned - swimming with dusky dolphins!
Full of excitement we listened to the briefing of Dolphin Encounter and boarded the boat with the other swimmers and dolphin viewers. In order to attract the dolphins underwater, you have to sing and swim like a dolphin, turning in circles and diving up and down. On the way to our snorkel stop, we were greeted by lots of dusky dolphins that were enjoying their sunny morning swim. We did a total of 4 stops that each allowed 15min of swimming. What can we say - it was incredible and one of the best experiences in our lives!! The dusky dolphins came up so close and sometimes there were ten of them at a time swimming past you - you just felt like a part of their dolphin family, especially when we sighted a little baby dolphin swimming next to its mother. Exhausted we returned to the boat and viewed the playful dolphins for another hour or so from the deck. What a magical experience! The tour guide told us a bit about the dusky dolphins and their Kaikoura history and then we returned back to the city.
We enjoyed the seaside town Kaikoura way more than we thought and wished we could spend another day just walking along the beach and visiting all the seal viewing points, but we had to return our campervan in Christchurch by 4pm. So we packed everything up, emptied all the waste waters at the campsite and drove the last 180km of the journey back to Christchurch.
Once at the branch, we quickly dropped off our Britz campervan and took the complimentary shuttle to the airport. It was such a beautiful trip and we were glad to have a campervan that could take us wherever we wanted as well as being able to stop whenever we wanted. We can’t wait to go on another campervan adventure and we can highly recommend the Top of the South Island to any nature and water enthusiast!