The Ultimate 10-Day Campervan Itinerary from Christchurch, NZ inner banner

The Ultimate 10-Day Campervan Itinerary from Christchurch, NZ

A road-based holiday on the South Island is quick to organise and endlessly rewarding to do. Hire a campervan in Christchurch and hit the highway!
Ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch
Ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch: Lake Tekapo

With direct flights from Oz and all major New Zealand hubs, Christchurch is easily accessible to travellers and makes an ideal starting point for exploration of the magnificent South Island.

You’ll want to spend at least three or four days getting to know the city itself, which has suffered incredible adversity and come out the other side. There are also some great day trip destinations within easy reach of Christchurch, including the pretty town of Akaroa (New Zealand’s only French settlement) on Banks Peninsula, and the Waipara wine region — home to a plethora of picturesque wineries, including Waipara Springs and Greystone Wines.

From there it’s time to head further afield, and campervan hire in Christchurch is the ideal way to do it! You can go where you want, when you want. And with more than 500 official freedom camping sites around the country (where free camping on public land is permitted), along with Department of Conservation (DOC) campgrounds and privately run holiday parks, you’ll find no shortage of great places to pull up each night in your home-on-wheels.

Here’s a suggested ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch. Let’s roll!

New Zealand tours

New Zealand Tours, Activities & Attractions

Christchurch to Kaikoura

Located just on 2.5 hours’ drive north of Christchurch, the Kaikoura region is a haven for wildlife and offers some of the best marine animal viewing opportunities anywhere in NZ. Whale watching is hugely popular here — and unlike viewing hotspots that rely on annual migration patterns, sperm whales can be spotted off the coast of Kaikoura all year round. The region is also home to the effervescent dusky dolphin, along with fur seals and nesting albatross. Meet the locals on a seal kayaking tour with Kaikoura Kayaks or head off on foot along the coastal Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway to spot seals, their pups, and nesting seabirds at close range. You may well end up wanting to extend your stay.

Ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch
Ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch: Go whale watching from Kaikoura.

Kaikoura to Blenheim (Marlborough wine region)

The Marlborough region around Blenheim needs little introduction to wine enthusiasts (particularly those with a penchant for fruity sav blancs!). It produces around three quarters of New Zealand’s wine and is made up of more than 150 wineries. Park the van and let someone else do the driving on a wine tour with Blenheim-based Discovery Wine Tours. You’ll visit several memorable cellar doors, including Saint Clair Family Estate, Villa Maria Estate, and the wonderful Clos Henri (which is housed in a replica wooden church).

Ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch
Ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch: Clos Henri winery. Image: Alamy

Nature lovers will want to take this opportunity to cruise the famous Marlborough Sounds — a network of ancient valleys, now covered by ocean and home to a wide variety of marine life. You’re very likely to see penguins, dolphins, seals, and more on a half-day cruise from Picton or Havelock.

Blenheim to Nelson

The delightful drive from Blenheim to Nelson will take you around two hours at a relaxed pace. Nelson is the fourth largest city on the South Island and fronts shimmering Tasman Bay. It’s home to a vibrant arts community, which is one of the key reasons to plan a stop here. You’ll encounter creatives working in the fine arts, photography, sculpture, ceramics, and textiles. Follow the Nelson City Centre Art Walk to see more than 20 disused or derelict sites that have been repurposed as gallery spaces. Nelson is also renowned as New Zealand’s ‘craft beer capital’, based on the fact that it produces all of the country’s commercially grown hops. The Nelson Craft Beer Trail will lead you to six boutique breweries across the CBD, and several others in close proximity to the city.

Ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch
Get arty in Nelson. Image: Nelson Tasman Tourism

Nelson to Murchison

An hour-and-a-half’s drive south from Nelson along State Highway 6 will bring you to the town of Murchison, which sits at the confluence of no less than four rivers — the Buller, Matakitaki, Mangles, and Matiri. If you’re up for some thrills (but hopefully no spills!), you can hit the water on a seasonal rafting trip with Ultimate Descents. They offer a family friendly option and access to a more challenging white-water course. A stop in Murchison also puts you on the doorstep of two stunning national parks (Kahurangi and Nelson Lakes) and there are lots of great walks to do in the area. You’ll find a number of amazing campgrounds to choose from here as well.

Ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch
Go whitewater rafting in Murchison. Image: Nelson Tasman Tourism

Murchison to Hokitika

The drive south from Murchison to Hokitika on the windswept west coast takes just on 2.5 hours. If you have the time, hang a right and head over to Punakaiki to check out the distinctive Pancake Rocks. Follow the well-maintained boardwalk to see these geological oddities, along with sweeping coastal views. Rug up; those winds coming in off the Tasman Sea can be mighty brisk!

Ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch
Visit Hokitika on the South Island’s west coast.

‘Hoki’, as it’s affectionately known locally, is a bustling town with a cool vibe and plenty to offer visitors on an overnight stay. There are lots of great spots to eat (including popular Fat Pipi Pizzas, which does a mind-blowing whitebait pizza) and a range of options for some holiday retail therapy — particularly if you want to take home a carved piece of local pounamu (greenstone). Those who intend to hang around for a day or two can hike through photogenic Hokitika Gorge and check out the West Coast Tree Top Walkway.

Hokitika to Franz Josef

Continuing south, make your next stop the town of Franz Josef, which sits on the edge of Westland Tai Poutini National Park — home to both the famous Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. There are various ways to see both, ranging from self-guided hikes to public viewing platforms overlooking the glacial valleys, to guided ‘heli hikes’ (which combine an on-glacier helicopter landing and guided trek). It’s not possible to hike up onto either ice field from their respective valley floors.

Ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch
Ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch: Fox Glacier

Franz Josef to Wanaka

Gorgeous Lake Wanaka is as far south as we’ll get on this trip, but you could of course continue on to Queenstown if time permits. It’s also worth making a stop en route from Franz Josef to do a jet boat ride on the Haast River through the South Westland World Heritage Area. The terrain here is truly spectacular, and if you only splash out on one jet boating experience during your holiday, make it this one. You won’t be disappointed!

Ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch
Ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch: Lake Wanaka

The resort town of Wanaka basks beside its namesake lake — a supremely beautiful body of water framed by breathtaking vistas of the Southern Alps. Take a leisurely walk along the water’s edge and snap an obligatory selfie in front of the water-bound Wanaka Willow.

Wanaka to Lake Tekapo

Another of the South Island’s glorious lakes awaits you two hours’ drive north of Wanaka, via Omarama. Situated in Mackenzie Basin and insanely popular with Instagrammers for its azure water, surrounding snow-capped peaks, and perfectly placed stone Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo is spellbinding! If you’re happy to splash out on a lakefront campsite (which, trust us, you will be!), try the Lake’s Edge Holiday Park.

Lake Tekapo to Ashburton

It’s an entirely doable-in-a-day drive from Tekapo back to Christchurch. However, if you want to take your time and break up the trip, pull over in the spick-and-span hub town of Ashburton on the Mid Canterbury region plains. It boasts an array of museums and galleries, so try and get there early if you really want to get amongst them. The Ashburton Art Gallery and History Museum sit side by side overlooking the Domain parklands and hold nationally significant collections. It’s free of charge to enter both.

Ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch
Image: Ashburton Art Gallery

You may also want to swing by the Plains Vintage Railway and Historical Museum and Ashburton Fire Museum (check operating dates and opening hours for both of these in advance). Ashburton Airfield was used as a flight training base during World War II and the excellent Ashburton Aviation Museum tells all. It’s open each afternoon.

This post was published thanks to Wilderness Motorhome Rentals.

Browse our range of New Zealand tours and experiences here.

Do you have any tips to add to our suggested ten-day campervan itinerary from Christchurch? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Depositphotos, Bigstock, and Envato

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours & Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.



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