2-Week Road Trip in New Zealand South Island – Part 1

We just came back from an amazing two week road trip in New Zealand. In this series of posts I will be talking about the places we visited and things we’ve done along the way. Although two weeks might sound like a lot of time, I feel we barely scratched the surface of the South Island. For anyone planning a trip to NZ I would personally recommend spending at least 2-3 weeks per island.

So, without further delay let us get into Part 1.

Day 1 – Arrival to New Zealand

Two week road trip in New Zealand Lake Tekapo

Beautiful lanscapes of Lake Tekapo in New Zealand – Photo by Andrius – January 2019

And we are in New Zealand (!!!). It is pretty much the furthest point possible in the world from our home country. We are very excited to be here and can’t wait to see the many interesting things we have marked on our map.

Our flight was smooth although at the airport we have been greeted with some questions about our intentions in New Zealand and also about the gear we are carrying with us. We were so braindead after our flight we struggled to remember a single place we wanted to see – luckily Kristina had her google map marked with hundreds of green flags which I think made the imigration officer believe we were genuine travellers.

Also, as it later turned out we illegally smuggled 2 ants and had to get the tent sprayed at the airport and get Kristina’s hiking boots cleaned. Luckily the guy who did it all for us was very nice so no damage done to NZ environment and our pockets. We were even allowed to take the tent and the boots (R.I.P. Ausie ants) with us!

A couple of lessons learned right on day 1: If you have something to declare (just follow instructions on the immigration/arrival card) – declare it. The fines are huge and the benefits are pretty much non-existent. In our case, all the gear we had was cleaned and returned to us, however, the best thing to do before taking your gear to another country is to clean it properly!

Day 2 – Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki and Lake Poaka Natural Reserve

If I had to come up with my own definition for ‘abscent-minded’ it would be our first morning in New Zealand.

It all started with us waking up 3 hours later than planned because someone (woops) forgot to change the time zone on the phone. That had threw all of our plans to get started with the day fresh and early out of the window and we had to do some quick chopity-choping to at least check out of our AirBnB in time.

Note: This was one of those times where we found a decent AirBnB close to the airport for less than anything we could find on Agoda or Booking. Do you want to sleep the night before picking up your car from the Airport without needing to go to town and come back? Then I recommend you check JUCY Snooze.

Once we finally got out of the house we went to the car rental office but when the time came to make the payment we realized we forgot the PIN number of the card we made the payment with. Luckily we were allowed to use a different card so at least it all ended well…

The plan for the day was to visit both Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. Once we reached Tekapo we visited church of the Good Shepherd first which was one of the most beautiful places I have seen in my life. So far NZ has been like a fresh and cool punch in the face after scorching Australia.

Two week road trip in New Zealand Church of Good Shepherd KATrippin

Church of Good Shepherd just by Lake Tekapo – Photo by Andrius – January 2019

After this short stop at Tekapo we drove further to lake Pukaki from which Mt Cook, the tallest peak in New Zealand could be seen.

Because it was getting dark already we decided to advance to our first campsite which is located in the Lake Poaka Natural Reserve. Although we found quite a lot of people in the campsite we were able to set up our tent right next to the bank. The good thing is that staying here is completely free (for exact location google Lake Poaka Reserve Area).

Two week road trip in New Zealand Lake Tekapo Campsite

Kristina enjoying the serene lake Poaka – Photo by Andrius – January 2019

Day 3 – NZ Alpine Lavender and Hooker Valley Track

Day 2 was a really awesome day for us! On the way from Pukaki to White Horse Hill Campsite (starting place for several famous hikes in the area) we accidentally come across the NZ Alpine Lavender which is the largest organic lavender plantation in the southern hemisphere. As it turned out, Kristina had found this place online and wanted to come visit, but we completely forgot to check our map in the morning so this was a really pleasant surprise. At 11am it was already full of people, although we managed to time it when a lot of people were hanging around the shop so we were able to snap a couple of nice pictures.

As with many other attractions coming early can significantly increase your chances of getting a clear shot. NZ Alpine Lavender opens at 9am.

Two week road trip in New Zealand Lake Pukaki NZ Alpine Lavender

Kristina in the NZ Alpine Lavender field – Photo by Andrius – January 2019

Having said that, Lavender farm was just one of the many superb spots we found on our way to White Horse Hill Campsite. We found multiple other spots to stop and take pictures of lake Pukaki and mountains (including Mt Cook!) in the background. At this point we had not even started our hikes but we were already fascinated by the landscape. I don’t think I will ever have enough words to describe the beauty of what we saw.

From White Horse Hill Campsite car park located in Mt Cook National Park we walked Hooker valley track with picturesque views of Mueller lake, Hooker lake and glacier, and Mt Cook. I wrote a separate post about this hike – follow this link to read it.

All the sightseeing and hiking drained our batteries so we drove to Twizel which is a small but ‘functional’ town nearby where we fuelled up the car, bought food and also topped up our drinking water tank (taps can also be found at the White Horse Hill campsite).

Two week road trip in New Zealand Mount Cook Hooker Valley Track

View of Mt Cook from the Hooker Lake Viewpoint – Photo by Andrius – January 2019

Day 4 – Sealy Tarns Hike and Wanaka

On day 3 of our road trip in New Zealand we returned to White Horse Hill Campsite for more hiking. This time we decided to tackle a slightly more difficult route which is the Sealy Tarns Track. If you would like to know more about this hike you can check my other post here.

Wanaka was our next big stop of this road trip. It is a cute town about 100 km south from Lake Pukaki and once again I did not know where to look when I was driving because the surrounding landscape is just incredible. To me personally, this was possibly the most beautiful drive I have done in my life. It was so breath-taking it felt as if we were in another planet. And of course, we could not help but stop in several spots to enjoy the sights.

Once we reached Wanaka it was getting late already so all we had time for was walking along lake Wanaka and also taking a few pictures of the famous tree known locally as #thatwanakatree.

Two week road trip in New Zealand Wanaka Tree

Stunning #thatwanakatree – Photo by Andrius – January 2019

When the time came for us to settle for the night we drove to another free campsite near the stunning lake Hawea (exact location on google maps: -44.492892,169.247109). We found this campsite to be much better suited for self-contained vehicles and not so good for tents as rocky shore made it difficult to get pegs into the ground. We managed to keep it upright in strong winds by using rocks though so it was not a huge deal to us. Thanks, gravity.

Two week road trip in New Zealand Lake Hawea Campsite

Getting Ready for Dinner at Lake Hawea Campsite – Photo by Andrius – January 2019

Interested to know what happened next? Read more in Two Week Road Trip in New Zealand Part 2.

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