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Sorkoo Adventures

A New Zealand camper van itinerary

AUSTRALIA | Friday, 29 September 2017 | Views [205]

As our GPS in the North Island said, "Grab your jandals, togs and chilly bin. Cheers for the ride mate." Or in other words, grab your flip-flops, bathing suits and cooler, you've arrived. We really had arrived! We were in the beautiful South Island of New Zealand. We wouldn't be wearing bathing suits or sandals. Instead we would be wearing sweaters and hiking boots and we would be sleeping for the next ten nights in our own camper van. Driving is half the fun in the South Island as every turn is beautiful. This part of our trip may end up as our favorite and we encourage everyone who loves hiking and camping to travel the South Island in a camper van. Here's our itinerary to get you started on your travel.

Day 1 - Arrive in Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island. You're here for the outdoors. Skip the city and spend your first night near the airport so you can get up early the next morning to get your van.

Day 2 - Pick up your van and hit the road. Head northwest and drive the scenic road through Arthur's Pass National Park. The mountains are a beautiful first backdrop to your drive. Be sure to get out for a hike or just to take pictures. There are some nice waterfalls in the park. Continue out the west side of the park toward the ocean. It's been a long day of driving so find somewhere to spend the night. The beauty of a camper van is you can stay pretty much anywhere as long as there is a bathroom. Some places are better than others. The spot we stayed in the fist night was somewhat creepy in my opinion. Luckily we didn't need to go into the creepy building other than to use the bathrooms. Cooking, eating and sleeping would all be done from the van or the campsite.

Day 3 - Make the short drive to Franz Josef Glacier to see one of NZ's many glaciers. An easy walk through the glacier carved valley will take you past waterfalls to a viewing point of Franz Josef Glacier. Even from a distance you can see the power of the glacier and how it shaped the large mountains. Too bad the glacier is quickly receding! It would have been amazing to get even closer. If time permits, do another hike. Perhaps one that takes you high into the mountains to get an overview glimpse of the glacier and the little village below.

Day 4 - Continue South just an hour to Fox Glacier. It's another easy walk to the viewing point of this glacier's face. Fox Glacier is smaller than Franz Josef but still impressive. It's a nice way to get the blood pumping in the morning before a long drive. You'll continue South until you hit the town of Haast where the road heads eastward away from the ocean. Consider stopping along the beach for a short walk and a packed lunch before reaching Haast. 

The road from Haast to Wanaka is one of NZ's scenic highway. Natural wonders are easy to find just off the road including more waterfalls and the beautiful blue pools. At the final stretch of your drive you hit Lake Wanaka. Park your van for the night at the small park at the tip of the lake. Watch the sun set over the lake and the mountains, then tuck yourselves into the van to stay out of the wind.

Day 5 - Drive South along Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea until you reach the cute town of Wanaka. Do a hike or two to see the beautiful lakes from above. The water is amazingly blue and the grass is fantastically green, especially after a few days of rain! You won't be able to stop taking pictures. Spend the night in Wanaka. If you have trouble with the electrical power to your van there is a very helpful man at the Glendu Campground.

Day 6 - Take the shorter yet more mountainous drive down from Wanaka toward Queenstown. The curvy drive along the edge of the mountain is part of the fun. Skip Queenstown! You're here for nature. Continue the long drive all the way to Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. Careful if the weather is windy. Check to make sure the road to Milford Sound is not closing due to torrential rain. If it is, head straight for the Sound to make sure there are no issues. If there is a bit of rain, the water will cascade down the mountain all throughout the National Park. This drive is steep and curvy but beautiful. There's only one campground/hotel in Milford Sound. On a very rainy evening it's a perfect place for cards and some drinks. Cook dinner in their kitchen and make friends with some Aussies. Do your best to sleep through the rain that sounds like hail. And don't worry, a tree won't fall on your van, even if you fear it all night long.

Day 7 - Take an early morning cruise into Milford Sound. We can only speak for our experience, but sometimes your boat has an engine problem so they have to upgrade you to a nicer boat. And sometimes the rain and road closure will prevent the day tourists from coming into the Sound. Stay a rainy night in Milford Sound and you just might be one of 16 people on your boat. The cruise is amazing. View waterfalls pounding down from the mountains full from last nights rain. Check out the seals. Feel the waves of the Tasman Sea. When the boat drives close to the waterfalls stand on the front bow and let the water hit you. It's an amazing two hour ride. 

Hop back in your van and take the long drive back north. The previous nights rain made the waterfalls along the drive even more amazing. Hope for a sunny day and it will be perfect weather for pictures of sheep grazing and Lake Wakatipu. When your driver feels tired. Pick a place to stay for the night and hope to see some amazing stars.

Day 8 - A few hours drive will take you past the brilliant blue of Lake Pukaki to Mt. Cook/Aoriki National Park. Mt. Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand and many climbers practice there before hiking Everest. All the mountains in this National Park are impressive. There's a little hike to see the Tasman Glacier and Mount Cook (if it's not too cloudy). Be sure to hike down to the river to get up close to the winter-blue waters of the lake where you will find glacial ice chunks floating in the river. There's a cheap, no frills campsite just under the mountains. Stay the night if it means you can hike the next day in better weather. And bundle up, it will be cold in that van.

Day 9 - Nothing can describe waking up to the sun hitting the jagged peaks in Mt. Cook National Park. It will be cold out but get up and take a look. Get ready early to be one of the first on the busy Hooker Valley Trail. It's a pretty flat trail among the mountains to the Hooker Glacier and views of Mount Cook. Spend some time at the end of the trail enjoying the beauty. Head back for a quick sandwich lunch and then hike Red Tarns. It's a straight up hill climb but the views from the top are incredible. The little lakes at the top will perfectly reflect the mountains. And you might even see some snow. It will be sad to leave this beautiful area but it's time to move on. 

Drive again past Lake Pukaki (you're in no rush, stop and take many pictures), then continue east to Lake Tekapo. There isn't much to do around here so just take the evening slow and camp by one of the smaller lakes. If it's not too cold, enjoy the night sky. This town is one of the darkest in the world, lending great views of the stars and the Milky Way.

Day 10 - Sadly, your last full day. Hike the Mt. John Summit to see Lake Tekapo from above. Continue for another 2 hours the long way down along the blue lake. As the mist rises from the lake and the mountains, it will leave you in awe and feeling sad to leave NZ. View the small and historic Church of the Good Sheppard at the edge of the lake. Then jump in the car for your last drive toward Christchurch. Stay in any little town along the way to make your last day's drive a little easier. Time for laundry and cleaning up the van.

Day 11 - Time to head to Christchurch, but first you need to deep clean the van. Why pay a $75 cleaning fee when you can wash the van yourself. It's sad to fold up your little bed and say goodbye and even sadder to leave the island. You will feel like there are more beautiful spots to see, more waterfalls to chase after and more secret gems to discover, but it's time to go. 

For us, the Americas were calling. We're not ready to head home yet but we need to make our way back sometime. We'll do it slowly and through South America! 


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