South Island Road Trip!

Austin Gosch Victoria University of Wellington, NZ


September 14, 2016

Here in New Zealand “Spring Break” is two weeks long. If you are planning on studying here you might be wondering “What will I do with all that time?!” I suggest you go on a two week long road trip of the South Island so that you get to see the country that you are studying in and you get to see all the extreme beauty that New Zealand has to offer!

One of my goals before I leave New Zealand is too see as much as possible so for my two week break I decided to organize a two week long road trip (here is a link to our schedule!) of the South Island with four friends. It was honestly amazing! I got to see all of the coast of the island and got to see many of the ‘famous’ spots like “8th Wonder of the World,” Milford Sound and the beautiful Lake Wanaka.

I figured since I have been through this journey now, I would give some advice on how to plan your road trip and share some things that I learned from being stuck with four people in a van for fifteen days.

  1. Start planning as early as possible! Honestly. This allows you to get everyone together to be able to plan properly and allows everyone to come up with possible meals, things that could go wrong, and come up with fun things to do.
  2. Get everyone together to plan. By this I mean literally have everyone get in a room together and at least get an outline together for every day. I can’t stress this enough. We didn’t do this and we ended up not necessarily doing things that everyone wanted to do. So, halfway through our trip everyone said one thing they wanted to do and then we adjusted the plans to fit what was said. I think this is a very good way to plan out the whole trip because it makes sure that everyone gets their money’s worth of the trip and allows everyone to really enjoy the trip and feel like they had a part in planning it.
  3. Book where you are going to stay before you leave. We never had any issues with this BUT we came close. It would have been nice to have this all sorted because then we wouldn’t have had to stress about where we would be staying while driving around with limited service.
  4. We took a camper van so we needed electric campsites. Other people I know stayed at little B&B’s and others spent their nights in hostels. But, if you are planning on having a camper van I would recommend staying at Top 10 Holiday Parks. They are all over the North and South islands and you can get a membership car that costs $49 that allows you to get a 10% discount. You also get a free 250 MB of Wi-Fi at every site and free access to the hot tubs that most parks have.
  5. Have some meals planned before you go. We had made a list of possible ideas before we left but we hadn’t actually planned out what meals we would do on which day until we were at the grocery store. It would have just been nice to have some of the first meals planned out to alleviate some stress. Go to the bottom of this document to see a section on food that we thought would be good and see what meals we had every night.
  6. Get a BOOK about New Zealand. Yes, a book. Don’t only rely on having internet to search for things. You might have service (in some places) but data is expensive and we ended up not having service a lot while driving and didn’t have any service at all in places like Milford Sound. Luckily someone on our trip brought a book that had almost every town in NZ in it and things to do at those places and what accommodation was there. Having this allowed us to do research about what was around us when we didn’t have service.
  7. Remember: Be flexible! This doesn’t mean be completely spontaneous, however there were many times we drove by something (a beach or a hike, etc.) and wanted to stop to check it out. Most of the time this meant that we had to slightly adjust the plan for the rest of the day and work things out.
  8. Bad things will happen. Just stay calm and get through it. One time after a hike our van got stuck we didn’t have cell service to call AA. So after about an hour of trying to get ourselves out, we sent two of us to hike to go get service to be able to call. It wasn’t really a big deal but we still all had to remember that we would get the van out eventually and not to freak out.
  9. Remember that you are on vacation (or holiday as they call it here) and you should make the most of the short time you have. If you drive down the wrong road and get lost, make the most of that mistake by appreciating the view that you wouldn’t have had without it. Got your van stuck? At least funny stories will come out of it afterwards! Not able to go somewhere because of the road conditions…find somewhere else! New Zealand is full of fun and interesting places. Basically just remember to stay positive at all time and you will have a great time.
  10. This tip only applies to people staying in a camper van: Your van will likely be crowded. It will get frustrating at times. Just try to come up with a plan of how every day will go. We had it where we would get to our site, move all the luggage to the front, turn the propane on, make dinner and then play cards and chill. Then half of us would go to the bathroom to get ready for bed while the other half made the beds. The next day we would switch who made the beds. This made it less crowded when we had to do a lot of the moving around and had it to where we were more efficient and saved time.
  11. SAFETY: Give someone who isn’t on your trip a schedule of where you are going just in case something happens to you. Then try to regularly keep in touch with that person to let them know you are okay. We didn’t give anyone our schedule and luckily nothing bad happened BUT if something had, no one would have really known where we were.

My favorite place that we went was Tunnel Beach, which is just around ten minutes south of Dunedin. We hadn’t originally planned on going there but we found it online and decided to go at sunset to finish off a day. When we got there I was almost stunned at how cool it looked. There are cliffs that you can walk out onto and then there is also a tunnel that was made with dynamite that leads down to the actual beach, which I thought was really peaceful. And there was an amazing sunset that night.

My second favorite thing we did was in the Fiords. We did a hike to Lake Marian and I just thought that it was a really unique hike and it changed scenery a lot - from roaring rivers to forests then to snow and finally a big lake. I also highly recommend doing the Skyline Luge in Queenstown. It honestly isn’t that expensive compared to things similar to it in the States – it cost me $55 to take the Gondola up to the top and do five rides. I thought it was well worth it too!

Overall we had a fantastic trip, even though we had a few mishaps, and I would gladly do it all over again if I could. That being said, I wish I had known the things above before we left just so that I could prepare a little better!