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A South Island roadtrip with Kieran Tunbridge

Posted by:
The Mighty Fellas

New Zealand was an inspiration for Kieran Tunbridge, who visited the country from the Sunshine Coast earlier this year. The surf and wedding photographer spent 17 days from August 28 until September 13 travelling New Zealand's South Island with his partner, chasing sunsets and sunrises, and even braving the freezing water for a dip!

Light games at Peketa Bay. Photograph by Kieran Tunbridge.

  • Best view? Roys Peak was quite spectacular as was Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook in the middle of the night with the stars out!
  • Best place to stop for a picnic? Heading out of Queenstown we pulled into a little spot about 40-60 minutes out of town, snacked and had beers. The serenity was perfect as the sun set.
  • Favourite place? Lake Tekapo or Wanaka.
  • Favourite experience? Watching the first rays of sun rise over Wanaka from Roys Peak.
  • Top highlights? The freedom of travelling was a highlight. Swimming in the cold waters of the lakes, seeing the variety of wildlife in various parts of South Island. Seeing it snow for the first time. Taking in the scenery and being able to enjoy it as a couple.
  • Favourite pub/restaurant? I can't actually remember the name of it, but it was a little bar/bottleshop near the Glaciers.
  • Did you have a favourite Holiday Park you stayed? We only stayed in a few; Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park was nice for the surrounds. One of the Top10 parks we stayed in was probably the best for facilities, etc.
  • Top tip for other campervan travellers? Know before you go. Pack clothes sufficient for the climate. Think ahead with your meals if you are not planning on staying in powered holiday parks!
  • Can you share a recipe from something you cooked in the campervan? Well on the night of my birthday my partner cooked and it was delicious. Pork chops and roast vegetables. She cooked the lot all in the pan and put aluminium foil over the top to help cook the veggies. We bought the veggies pre-roasted from the supermarket but used this method to help warm them/cook them that way.
  • What is your greatest memory of the whole campervan holiday? Having one another to share each new experience with!

South Island campervan roadtrip

The South Island's scenic peaks. Photograph by Kieran Tunbridge.

Day 1: Christchurch to Pines Beach

Distance: 25km
Travel time: 30 minutes

So we arrived and picked up our vehicle and headed to a beach to catch the dying light of the day. We headed to Pines Beach and felt how cold the ocean was compared to the warm waters we were used to in Australia.

Day 2: Christchurch

Distance: 25km
Travel time: 30 minutes

We stayed around Christchurch and visited family. The weather was great so we decided to go up the gondola. On the drive there we saw what remained of the buildings after the earthquakes. 

A cosy evening on the beach

Photograph by Kieran Tunbridge.

Day 3: Christchurch to Tekapo

Distance: 230km
Travel time: 3 hours, approx.

It was time for us to get on the road and set out to see the South Island. We were both excited to get to Tekapo, for the photos we had seen of it surely were no match to seeing it ourselves. We weren’t let down. Upon arrival, I decided I would go for a swim in the lake and, oh my god, it was cold! We walked around the lake shore before returning to our camper to have a snack and wait for nightfall to see the stars. We were treated to such a clear night. I've not seen or photographed the night sky so clearly.

Day 4: Tekapo to Aoraki/Mount Cook

Distance: 104km
Travel time: 1 hour 10 minutes

We woke up early and went for a walk around the campground. When we were ready for the day we headed up to Aoraki/Mount Cook. As you drive there, it's hard not to stop and enjoy Lake Pukaki. We did so and stopped in at Mount Cook Alpine Salmon. I love fishing and love eating fish so it was hard not to! The colours of Lake Pukaki are such a unique blue. We arrived at Mount Cook in the late afternoon but the skies were clear so we walked the track to Mount Cook in the dark. Highly recommended, but for your sake make sure you have the necessary clothing and equipment (flashlights/headlamps/boots/warm clothes!). It took us around three hours and that was with stopping and photographing.

Sunset from the campervan

South Island sunset enjoyed from the camper. Photograph by Kieran Tunbridge.

Day 5: Mount Cook

We didn’t have any real plans for this day. As we drove away from the campsite near Mount Cook I saw somewhat of a track leading up one of the surrounding hills, so we went to investigate and try to get a different view of Mount Cook and the lake. Having done Mount Cook the night before and then this, it's safe to say our feet were sore, so we pulled in and stayed at a campground on the way out. Was good to be able to stop, relax and put all the photos on my laptop.

Day 6: Mount Cook to Wanaka (via Lindis Pass)

Distance: 208km
Travel time: 3 hours (with stopping)

This drive was something we both looked forward to, having seen pictures of Lindis Valley and the beautiful colour tones throughout. On our way through we stopped and walked to the top of a track that gave you a much more open view of the valley – our poor little feet. After coming down and completing our drive to our location we restocked our supplies (food, beers… necessities) and found a powered campsite to spend the night, recharge batteries and ourselves before what was to come the next day.

Scenic South Island view

Resting and reaping the rewards of a hike. Photograph by Kieran Tunbridge.

Day 7: Wanaka (Roys Peak) to Queenstown

Distance: 70km
Travel time: 1 hour 30 minutes

The one thing that was a definite while in the South Island was the Roys Peak Track in Wanaka. The night before, we looked at which days would fit in with our rough schedule as well as the weather for the next seven days. This was the only day it looked semi-decent so we set our alarms for an early morning wake-up to be up the top for sunrise. What a mission! Again, you need to make sure you have food, water, warm clothes and good hiking boots. The walk up takes between two and three hours and coming down probably two. The view was spectacular and to see that first light atop the surrounding mountains and over Wanaka was something else! Once we got back to our camper we napped before heading to Queenstown to catch up with some more family.

Glenorchy pontoon

It may look good – but it's freezing! Photograph by Kieran Tunbridge.

Day 8: Queenstown and Glenorchy

Distance: 46km
Travel time: 45 minutes

This day was my birthday. We went out for breakfast in Queenstown and walked around before deciding to head up to Glenorchy to have a look. It was quite an overcast, cold day. On arrival to Glenorchy, we fell in love with how quaint the town is. We went to the jetty and I saw a pontoon floating in the water and again decided to go for a swim. Happy birthday to me… absolutely FREEZING! The water was so cold but so, so refreshing. I stayed in for about 10-15 minutes. Later that afternoon we made our way south to make the journey to Milford Sound a little shorter. We stayed overnight in Te Anau.

Milford Sound

The one and only Milford Sound. Photograph by Kieran Tunbridge.

Day 9: Te Anau to Milford Sound

Distance: 118km
Travel time: Allow 2 hours

The drive in was insane! The forestry was amazing as was the sheer size of the peaks around us. Along the way we saw a kea, which was cool. Being from the North Island and moving to Australia at a young age I never got to see them. After photographing him for a while, we continued on. We arrived in the Sound just before lunch; we went and booked ourselves on one of the boat cruises so we could see more of the spectacular views. Also strongly recommend doing this if you are going to head to Milford Sound!

Kea bird in New Zealand

A curious local kea bird. Photograph by Kieran Tunbridge.

Day 10: Milford Sound to Queenstown to Fortrose

Distance: 287km + 227km
Travel time: 4 hours + 3 hours

We left Milford Sound this morning as we had to get back to Queenstown because we booked a heli flight to see Queenstown from the skies. Once we landed we decided not to spend the night in Queenstown but rather drive to the far south. As a surfer I was interested to find out what New Zealand had on offer wave-wise so we went searching. We drove to Fortrose as they had a freedom camping area, and spent the night.

Day 11: Fortrose to Kaka Point

Distance: 112km
Travel time: 1 hour 40 minutes

The weather was real ugly down here: overcast, rainy and very windy! We drove around kind of aimlessly but eventually found a beach that had great waves! I didn’t have my board or anything this time but still, was great to know there was quality for next time!

Snowing on the way to Wanaka

What a treat – surprise snowfall. Photograph by Kieran Tunbridge.

Day 12: Kaka Point to Wanaka

Distance: 249km
Travel time: 3 hours

Because the weather got so crazy overnight, we decided to try to get somewhere a little less wild but, to our surprise, on our way back up to Wanaka it began to snow. This was a completely new experience for us both! We headed back to Wanaka to limit the driving the next day as we planned to head north on the west coast.

Day 13: Wanaka to Fox Glacier

Distance: 262km
Travel time: 3 hours 15 minutes

We only stopped through here again to break up the driving. We did a walk to one of the glaciers. When you are there, it's crazy when you see how far the glacier and rivers used to be compared to now. You can't get too close to the glacier but you can still see it very clearly!

Chatting with locals in Kaikoura

Making friends in Kaikoura. Photograph by Kieran Tunbridge.

Day 14-16: Arthur's Pass to Kaikoura

Distance: 370km
Travel time: 4 hours 40 minutes

Another drive we were both so eager to do and with the recent snow dump we couldn’t have done it at a better time! There was snow everywhere and it was cold, which I love! We arrived into Kaikoura pretty late in the afternoon. We heard how many seal colonies were in Kaikoura, so I was excited to see them as I have not seen them in the wild*. We drove around a headland and saw a bunch of people surfing so we pulled up and I shot some photos, we made friends with the locals and we sat around a fire they made, drinking beers and exchanging stories.

We stayed in Kaikoura for a few days just to relax and wind down from our adventures over the past two weeks. It's such a lovely little town and the locals were all so friendly! We had so many interactions with the seals. They're so friendly if you aren't too invasive. Kaikoura has it all: wildlife, waves, friendly people, and the main street with the cafés is so great!

Sunset in the campervan

The best views from bed. Photograph by Kieran Tunbridge.

Day 17: Kaikoura to Christchurch

Distance: 155km
Travel time: 1 hour 40 minutes

Our final day had come, time to head back to drop off our vehicle and make sure we got to our flights on time. The dropping off of the vehicle was so easy and the staff were all so inquisitive about our trip and time in New Zealand.

Till next time,

Kieran & Emily.

*This blog was created before the 2016 earthquake that affected Kaikoura. Tourism access may have changed, so please check the Kaikoura Tourism website for up-to-date information.


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