A magical family campervan trip in the South Island
A camper van trip in the magical South Island was a family holiday filled to the brim, Kahu de Beer shares their adventures.
We’d been planning our South Island camper van trip for months but due to Covid restrictions it’d been cancelled, rebooked, and changed dates more times than we could count. Finally, last spring we got to go! My husband and I, plus our three girls were so excited to be off on our adventure! If you’ve ever travelled with kids you’ll know it’s a pretty serious business – the extensive luggage, bags of drinks and snacks, huge soft toys which must be carried onto the plane, booster seats... it’s a big achievement just getting on board.
We flew into Queenstown on a picture-perfect, crisp, sunny day with not a cloud in the sky and that stunning Central Otago scenery with snow-capped mountains and sparkling turquoise water. Ah, we'd missed this place. After collecting our many bags we walked the short distance to pick up our new wheels – a Britz 6 berth camper van. We’d never done a camper van holiday before so we were full of anticipation! The kids insisted on opening every drawer and cupboard and quickly putting dibs on where they would be sleeping. With keys in hand, we were all set for our holiday.
We decided to base ourselves in Queenstown for the first few days to do some activities. We’d booked in to Creeksyde Holiday Park which was a little oasis with lots of trees, and very central. When we’d been planning our trip, of all the amazing offerings the South Island had, the thing our girls were most looking forward to was going to the Remarkable Sweet Shop – typical! My husband had told them in detail about all the different types of sweets there, while they listened wide-eyed. So naturally, this is where they wanted to go on our first day! We piled into the camper and headed toward Arrowtown. The scenery was breathtaking, with spring blossoms out in full force and brand new lambs making the girls’ hearts melt. The sweet shop definitely did not disappoint, the girls left with the brightest, most sugar coated delights they could find – after making sure they’d taste tested every flavour of fudge in the store (I’m sorry, lovely lady behind the counter who I’m sure was very happy to see us leave).
Arrowtown was too beautiful not to stay so we explored the river track where the kids spent hours playing in the ice-cold water and making huts while we soaked in the sunshine, crisp air and breathtaking surroundings. We had parked by the river so had a perfect view while we ate our lunch – the beauty of having a camper van.
CAMPER VAN LIFE
On the advice of friends we had set all the girls up in the top bed above the cab, sleeping longways so no one could fall out. This allowed us to keep the table and chair area available to use without having to pack it up each morning. Brandon and I had the bed at the end of the camper to ourselves (most of the time), and with the blockout blinds and plush cushions, actually slept so well. The girls’ sleeping arrangement took a bit of getting used to – there was plenty of ‘She stole my blanket!’, ‘It’s my turn to be on the window side’, and ‘Turn your torch off, I’m trying to sleep!’ – But we told ourselves this would be good for them, and they’d learn to love it.
The bed situation was obviously working as the next morning they all slept in until 8am! Okay, okay it was probably because they kept each other awake until 10pm, but we took it. Brandon and I woke early to the sound of birds and the view of snowy mountains from behind the curtains but dared not move in case we woke anyone. Today was the day we had been most excited about – flying to Milford Sound. After the morning ritual of the girls taking all the breakfast supplies to the kitchen/tv room to make themselves their gourmet honey on toast (with a seriously strong honey to toast ratio) and watching cartoons while eating, we packed a backpack and were ready to go.
We booked a 'Fly, Cruise, Fly' package with Glenorchy Air and Southern Discoveries for our Milford Sound experience. The complimentary shuttle picked us up from Creeksyde and took us to the airport where we were assigned an experienced pilot who had a wealth of knowledge about Milford and the surrounding areas we flew over. There had been fresh snow overnight and we’d picked a clear day so the view from the windows was out of this world. You felt like you could reach out and touch the white peaks which were sparkling in the morning light. It was by far the most incredible flight we’d ever taken and we felt so tiny in contrast to the vast mountain ranges. We reached the west coast and turned and came in through the Sound which was a magical experience. On the scenic cruise we got to take in the surrounding beauty, feel the spray of majestic waterfalls, and even spotted some fur seals and dolphins! What a day!
The following morning we walked into town to the Around The Basin Bike Tours office where we got kitted out for our family bike ride from Arrowtown to Gibbston Valley. The two hour bike ride was definitely optimistic. It took us at least four, and we didn’t quite make it to the end. Thank goodness we had a wonderful guide, Hamish, who would check in on us at different points and saved the day with his pep talks and an occasional push. We got as far as the Kawarau bungy bridge where the kids absolutely savoured their hard-earned ice creams and watched enthralled as a group of teenagers psyched themselves up to leap off the very tall bridge.
While we were on a roll with activities we set off for Skyline Queenstown later the same day – we soon felt like we were on top of the world with the 220 degree panorama of some of the most gorgeous scenery on the planet. The luge was a must, and the girls had never done one before so next thing we knew we were flying around corners and racing each other to the finish line.
Wherever we go on holiday we try and get everyone outdoors as much as possible, and since we were staying almost directly below it, we decided to climb the Queenstown Hill. The word ‘hill’ was a little deceiving as it was rather high. There was plenty of drama, coercing, carrying, and snacks but of course all was forgotten at the top and the morale
Te Anau was next up on the itinerary, with a trip to the glowworm caves which we booked through Realnz. After crossing lake Te Anau which was an experience in itself, we reached our destination and were lead by our guide into the caves, with rushing water beneath us and only a few lights to lead the way we made our way deeper into the caves then hopped on a small boat to get a close up view of the glowworms. It was incredible, and we felt like real explorers. Once we’d finished the tour we all made our way back to Cavern House to warm up with a hot chocolate. I didn’t pay much attention when the man was giving out the hot drinks and assumed they were milo and handed them out to the girls who seemed to be enjoying them. It was only when our youngest, Mali, said "My hot chocolate tastes different, Mum" that I tried it and realised to my horror that I’d given all of our children instant coffee – total mum fail! Let’s just say the kids had loads of energy for the rest of the day.
We’d packed in so much in the few short days we’d been away that we were looking forward to a few days in our old home town of Wanaka catching up with friends and chilling out.
AORAKI AND TEKAPO
We kept watching the forecast for a clear day to head up to Mount Cook and as soon as we could we farewelled beautiful Wanaka and headed north for our first up-close glimpse of the majestic Aoraki. We’d had friends recommend the DOC campground at the base of the mountain; arriving there at dusk, with the mountain towering above us was a scene I’ll never forget.
That night we headed to the Hermitage Hotel to go to the Sir Edmund Hillary Centre 360 degree Digital Dome Planetarium where we were transported into a virtual night sky and learnt so much about our stars and planets. Afterwards we walked outside and looked up with renewed wonder.
The next morning the weather closed in so we headed to Tekapo Springs for the day. As we were walking back to our camper to leave we saw a poster for ‘Dance of the Planets’ – a performance from local legend and storyteller, Billy The Bard. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity so decided to stay for it. As night fell we snuggled up with blankets at the Tekapo Solar Circle around a brazier and listened to Billy’s poetry, song, and extensive knowledge of the stars and planets; watching in real time as they appeared in the sky.
We’d booked with the Hermitage Hotel to do the Glacier Explorer Tour the next morning and were relieved the weather allowed us. After a quick bus ride from the hotel, we made the scenic trek to Tasman Glacial Lake where we boarded a boat to have a close up encounter with New Zealand’s largest glacier. The boat took us within arms reach of huge pieces of the glacier that had broken off from the terminus. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
OMARAMA CLAY CLIFFS
I’d seen some amazing photos from friends who’d visited the Omarama clay cliffs and knew we had to see it for ourselves on our way back down the country. The dusty gravel road led us to the cliffs, which made us feel like we’d been transported straight to Arizona as we trekked into the depths of the stunning cliffs. We’d never seen anything like it!
It was nearly the end of our trip and the girls were really keen to get in some skiing. We booked in for a family ski lesson at Cardrona Alpine Resort on a bluebird day, and the kids were superstars, showing their parents up with their fearlessness. All the rigamarole with outfits, goggles, and skis was worth it to see them having such a blast.
We spent our last day back in Queenstown, where I treated myself to a one hour massage at Forme Spa, a blissful escape for a tired mama after all the beautiful chaos. The evening was spent having dinner beside Lake Wakatipu and reflecting on all the fun adventures we’d had, and mostly all the special family time. Definitely a holiday for the memory bank!
BIG SHOUT-OUT TO:
Britz, britz.com; Skyline Queenstown, skyline.co.nz; Around The Basin, aroundthebasin.co.nz; Creeksyde Holiday Park & Motels Queenstown, camp.co.nz; The Hermitage, hermitage.co.nz; Cardrona Alpine Resort, cardrona.com; Glenorchy Air, glenorchyair.co.nz; Southern Discoveries, southerndiscoveries.co.nz; Forme Spa Queenstown, formespa.co.nz; Realnz, realnz.com.
Words: Kahu De Beer
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 58 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW