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Amelia and Mark Take On the South Island's Best Hikes

Deer Flat Campsite
  • Day

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

Best time of year

All year round

Route

Christchurch to Queenstown

Vehicle

Highlights

  • Avalanche Peak
  • Lake Pukaki
  • Fergburger
  • Mount Cook


Leg One Christchurch to Arthur's Pass
Distance: Approx. 149km Driving time: 2 hours 10 mins
Klondyke Corner, New Zealand

Photograph by Amelia McGrath.

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.

Leg Two Climbing to the top of Avalanche Peak
Distance: 8km Driving time: 11 mins
Klondyke Corner, New Zealand

Photograph by Amelia McGrath.

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.

Leg Three Arthur's Pass to Lake Tekapo
Distance: 300km Driving time: 4 hours
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Photograph by Britz.

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

Leg Four Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook
Distance: 258km Driving time: 3 hours 15 mins
Hooker Valley, New Zealand

Photograph by Amelia McGrath.

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!

Leg Five Mount Cook to Wanaka
Distance: 269km Driving time: 3 hours 20 mins
Klondyke Corner, New Zealand ​ 
Photograph b​y Amelia McGrath.

Photograph by Amelia McGrath.

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.​

Leg Six Cameron Flat Campsite to Diamond Lake Campsite
Distance: 91km Driving time: 1 hour 15 mins
Diamond Lake

Photograph by Amelia McGrath.

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.

Leg Seven Wanaka to Te Anau
Distance: 230 km 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.

Leg Eight Te Anau to Milford Sound
Distance: 110 km Driving time: 2 hours
Milford Sound

Photograph by Amelia McGrath.

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.

Leg Nine Te Anau to Queenstown
Distance: 180 km Driving time: 3 hours
Klondyke Corner, New Zealand​Photograph by Britz.


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.


 

​Roadtrip highlights:

Where was the best view?
The view from the top of Avalanche Peak looking over Arthur's Pass.

Where did you stop for a picnic?
Lake Tekapo. We sat beside the lake with bread rolls.

Where was your favourite place/town visited and why?
Arthur’s Pass. I hadn’t heard much about it, and it was a wildcard choice to go, but we were absoloutely blown away with how beautiful it was.

What was your favourite activity/experience and why?
Hiking to the top of Avalanche Peak – honestly, it has to be experienced.

Best café for coffee?
Action Pod. Haha! We made our coffees out the back of the campervan!

Favourite pub/restaurant?
We made our food on the road. But we did enjoy a great meal at a pub in Arthur's Pass village. Delicious pizza.

Did you have a favourite Holiday Park you stayed in and why?
Not so much holiday park, but Deer Flat campground – just off the road toward Milford Sound – this spot was spectacular.

What would be your top tip for other campervan travellers?
I’d say do your research on the campsites around. I spent so much time doing this before we left and the ones I thought would be the best ended up being the worst. The free campgrounds are just unreal. If your vehicle is certified self-contained, who cares if there are no toilets? The views are to-die-for.

Can you share a recipe from something you cooked in the campervan?
Nope. Top secret. Haha, I’m kidding. The best meal we had was beef tacos. We made these at Henry Creek campsite in Te Anau.

What is your greatest memory of the whole campervan holiday?
The moment we reached the end of Hooker Valley Track. The view of Mount Cook and the glacier below were just breathtaking. (Clichéd, I know!)


 

Amelia and Mark travelled in the Action Pod, which is one of our brand-new summer vehicles.

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