In many ways, we were made for #vanlife. We love being our own tour guides, taking ourselves wherever we want to go and staying for as long as we please. Having a place to sleep and everything with you on the go gave us the ultimate flexibility. And there is really no other country more suited to #vanlife than New Zealand. Thanks to Wanderlust Campers for lending us a temporary home on wheels for our two weeks in South Island! There was never a single dull day on the road, that was for sure.
Day 1 – Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass
Distance Travelled – 142km
Highlights – First day with the van, first grocery trip, and off we go! All in all not bad driving on the left; windshield wipers only accidentally went off twice, heh.
Challenges – Getting used to #vanlife. To make things worse, pouring rain began at 3pm, so we were trapped inside all afternoon and night. There really isn’t that much room in the van. Nothing like jumping off the deep end!
Day 2 – Arthur’s Pass to Fox Glacier
Distance Travelled – 256km
Highlights – The West Coast along Highway 6 is stunning. Ruggedly natural with beaches, forests, lakes, waterfalls, mountains, glaciers… every kind of nature you can think of. Night walk through a forest lit up by glow worms was pretty magical!
Challenges – Still quite slow at all things #vanlife: putting away the bed in the morning, cooking in the makeshift kitchen in the back of the van, bringing the right things to the public showers… more practice needed all around.
Day 3 – Fox Glacier to Wanaka
Distance Travelled – 262km
Highlights – Sunrise at Reflection Island at Lake Matheson. Hiking Haast Pass Lookout and Blue Pools Track. Lakeside lunch and views at Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. #ThatWanakaTree.
Challenges – Timing all the stops we wanted to make along the way to get to Wanaka for sunset. Timing bathroom breaks. Minor sandfly situation. Long day.
Day 4 – Wanaka to Queenstown to Glenorchy
Distance Travelled – 113km
Highlights – Hiking up to the Queenstown gondola for gorgeous views of the area. Hanging out by the lakeside park and watching hundreds of ducks being fed.
Challenges – All campsites in Queenstown were full by the time we arrived so we drove up to spend the night in Glenorchy as the weather closed in. Arrived very late and just squeezed in a shower before another night of rain.
Day 5 – Glenorchy to Te Anau
Distance Travelled – 219km
Highlights – The drive along Lake Wakatipu was beautiful; lake views on one side and mountain views on the other. There were cute and friendly alpacas available to be fed at a gas station.
Challenges – Not much to do along the way that we hadn’t done the day before, though it was nice after the previous long days. Nights have been consistently cooler and we’re fighting for the covers between us.
Day 6 – Te Anau to Milford Sound to East Coast
Distance Travelled – 468km
Highlights – Milford Sound! Just a few weeks before, extreme rainfall destroyed parts of the only road leading into Milford Sound and stopped access for a while. We weren’t sure we would be able to go at all. While we still couldn’t drive our van there ourselves, luckily the road had been repaired enough for bus convoys. Grateful to not have missed this.
Challenges – Long driving day with both the bus and our van. Very early start as the bus left at 5am and came back by 3pm. Then we drove all the way to the east coast.
Day 7 – Up the East Coast (Ahuriri Flat to Moeraki)
Distance Travelled – 192km
Highlights – We added to the penguin species count of this trip with yellow-eyed penguins! Morning at the charming Nugget Point Lighthouse and evening at Moeraki Boulders. There are definitely some unique and interesting rock formations here in NZ.
Challenges – We had trouble getting gas as all the gas stations we stopped by required payment by card with a PIN. We had been getting away with this so far by not entering a PIN when asked, but not this day. There was some mad scrambling to setup a PIN with our bank ASAP – yay for technology and online self-service.
Day 8 – Moeraki to Aoraki/Mount Cook
Distance Travelled – 232km
Highlights – It began with the drive into Mount Cook, which only became more and more stunning as the mountains came closer. Experiencing the vast Hooker Valley and the majesty of the snowy mountains was breathtaking. There’s something about the atmosphere of a mountain landscape that is hard to adequately capture in photos or describe in words. Just in awe.
Challenges – We had our first cow traffic jam on one of the roads (honestly it was also a highlight hehe). It’s always sad to see how much glaciers have retreated over the years and the devastating effects of climate change on the environment. 🙁 It’s even sadder to think that what little we saw (as compared to previous) could be entirely gone in the near, not so distant, future.
Day 9 – Aoraki/Mount Cook to Tekapo
Distance Travelled – 107km
Highlights – More hikes and views in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. We’re really getting the hang of #vanlife now. No longer newbies!
Challenges – There were so many keas (a species of large parrot) in action, biting and clawing on tents, vans, antennas, mirrors… really whatever they could get to. They’re destructive little fellas! In Tekapo, it was too cloudy for stargazing; even if it hadn’t been, it was full moon, lol. Our timing needs work.
Day 10 – Tekapo to Christchurch
Distance Travelled – 221km
Highlights – Back to Christchurch a day earlier than we had originally planned, so we could see our Kiwi friends Jennifer and Ben that we met two years ago in Bolivia and also spend some time in the city.
Challenges – It was a rainy and dreary day, which meant most of it was spent in the van. We’ve learned that the best part of #vanlife is all the time it encourages us to spend outdoors; however, the downside is that it’s much more weather-dependent.
Day 11 – Christchurch
Distance Travelled – ~60km around town
Highlights – Hiking the trails around the Christchurch Gondola and chilling by the beach.
Challenges – Cleaning and saying goodbye to our home on wheels. Leaving South Island 🙁
The plan was to go to French Polynesia for a few weeks, then come back to explore North Island. Little did we know that a little thing called COVID-19 would soon take over the world, and our last day in South Island turned out to be our last day in New Zealand. We promise to come back someday!