Top 15 Things To Do In New Zealand’s South Island | Apollo Campervans NZ
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Dunedin & Central Otago

A New Zealand campervan holiday to Dunedin and Central Otago offers a truly unique travel experience. Situated on the southeastern coast of the South Island, Dunedin is known for its Scottish heritage and Victorian and Edwardian architecture, while Central Otago, a short drive inland, offers dramatic landscapes characterised by rugged mountains, rolling plains, and crystal-clear lakes. Dunedin is a city that prides itself on its educational and cultural richness, home to the prestigious University of Otago and an array of museums and galleries. Dunedin’s weather can be cooler than other parts of New Zealand, with crisp, clear days perfect for exploring the historic streets or nearby natural attractions.

Central Otago offers a stark contrast with its semi-arid terrain, making it perfect for outdoor activities such as biking along the Otago Central Rail Trail and wine tasting at some of New Zealand's highest altitude vineyards. The region's dry climate and dramatic seasonal changes serve as a stunning backdrop for adventure and relaxation alike. Park up overnight in a Dunedin holiday park or find a secluded spot near one of Central Otago's picturesque lakes. With the convenience of your campervan, you can comfortably switch between urban exploration in Dunedin and remote escapes in the wilds of Otago. Whether you're drawn to Dunedin's cultural scene or the rugged beauty of Otago’s outdoors, this region promises a memorable experience.

 

Why explore Dunedin & Central Otago by campervan

Exploring Dunedin and Central Otago by campervan is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the region's unique blend of cultural heritage and stunning natural beauty. With a campervan, you dictate the pace and path of your journey. In Dunedin, you can easily navigate from the bustling shopping centre to quiet, windswept beaches along the Otago Peninsula. In Central Otago, the freedom to roam allows you to discover hidden gems, from secluded vineyards to historic gold mining towns, all at your own pace. The ability to spontaneously decide where to go next, from a morning exploring Dunedin’s architectural marvels to an afternoon tasting pinot noirs amidst the hills of Central Otago, is a true luxury.

Travelling by campervan not only offers all the comforts of home, including your own kitchen, bed, and living space but also saves you the hassle of packing and unpacking at each new destination. Plus, having your own facilities means you’re never far from a homecooked meal or a comfortable bed, even if you find yourself in the remote reaches of the region.

 

Things to do in Dunedin & Central Otago

Dunedin and Central Otago abound with diverse attractions, blending rich history with exhilarating outdoor pursuits and gourmet experiences. In Dunedin, discover the opulence of Larnach Castle or engage with local history at the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. For wildlife lovers, the area offers close encounters with unique species like the yellow-eyed penguin. Moving inland to Central Otago, you can hit the scenic cycle trails, savour exquisite pinot noirs at local vineyards, or try gold panning in Cromwell. Activities like water sports on Lake Dunstan also offer plenty of thrills, ensuring every traveller finds something to cherish.

Heather Schiller
/ Categories: NZ blog

15 Must Do's in New Zealand’s South Island.

Planning to book a campervan hire for a New Zealand road trip of the South Island? We don’t blame you, it’s a bucket list experience for many. With its azure beaches, majestic mountain ranges, and unique wildlife, the South Island is the perfect destination for a motorhome holiday.

Hokitika Gorge, West Coast Image via Fraser ClementsImage: Tourism New Zealand

 

Explore Abel Tasman National Park

Sitting pretty at the top of the South Island, Abel Tasman National Park is like stepping into an Instagram post. Golden beaches hug dense, green forests, offering an unforgettable blend of relaxation and exploration. Fancy paddling across clear blue waters? The kayaking here is top-notch. More of a hiker? The Abel Tasman Coast Track is a real treat.

You’ll want to plan at least a few nights stay here. We suggest booking into Tōtaranui Campground. It's got loads of room and is right on the beach. As night falls, put your feet up with a glass of wine and take in the spectacular sight of a sky full of stars. 

 

Check out the arts and crafts in Nelson

Known as New Zealand’s sunshine capital, the city of Nelson sits at the top of the South Island, along the eastern shores of Tasman Bay. Not only is Nelson surrounded by stunning natural beauty, it also has a vibrant arts and crafts scene. Stroll through charming galleries showcasing local talent. It's all here, from pottery to paintings, weaving to woodwork. And there’s plenty of opportunity to get involved too. Try your hand at pounamu (greenstone) carving, make your own glass paperweight, or have a go a creating your own watercolour artwork

Unwind after a day's exploring at Tāhuna Beach Holiday Park. It's close to town, boasts excellent facilities and – bonus – it's just a stone's throw from the beach.

 

Meet the wildlife in Kaikōura

Locals and visitors alike will agree that Kaikōura is one of the best places to visit in the South Island. This tiny coastal town is home to an abundance of marine wildlife including whales of all sizes, New Zealand fur seals, dolphins, and marine birds. And one of the best ways to meet some of them is with Kaikōura Wildlife Tours. They offer an assortment of unforgettable experiences such as swimming with playful dusky dolphins or watching the magnificent sperm whales in their natural habitat. And for those keen on birdwatching, it's a real treat with opportunities to spot rare and unique species.

When the day draws to a close, head to Kaikōura TOP 10 Holiday Park. Relax and take in the stunning views, enjoy a spa or sauna, and meet other like-minded travellers. 

 

Check out the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes

If your New Zealand road trip takes you down the west coast of the South Island, a stop at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes is a must. These unique limestone formations have taken millions of years to form, resulting in a natural masterpiece that must be seen to be believed. The Blowholes Walk takes you right through these unusual stacks, and, during high tide, you can watch the seawater shooting skyward.

After a day of exploring, spend the night at Punakaiki Beach Camp. The campground is within walking distance of the rocks and has all the modern amenities needed for a comfortable stay.

 

Take a walk along the Hokitika Gorge

About 30 minutes southeast of the west coast town of Hokitika, you'll find the mesmerising Hokitika Gorge. This stunning destination is famous for its beautiful turquoise waters, flanked by lush native bush. There's something incredibly soothing about the blend of the brilliant water hue, and the dense greenery that surrounds it.

While here, be sure to take the Hokitika Gorge Walk. It's an easy track that leads you to a viewing platform and swing bridge, giving you a fantastic view of the gorge below.

After a day well spent, unwind at Shining Star Beachfront Accommodation. This campsite offers both powered and unpowered campervan sites, along with beachfront access.

 

Chill out at Franz Josef Glacier

Looking for a cool escape? The Franz Josef Glacier in Westland Tai Poutini National Park is just the place. Known for its ever-changing icy landscape, this glacier offers a world of discovery. Opt for a guided hike or, for a truly unforgettable experience, take a helicopter flight over the glacier. Don't forget your camera – you'll want to capture the stunning icy terrain, hidden ice caves, and deep blue crevasses.

When you're ready to warm up, head to the Rainforest Holiday Park. Not far from the glacier, it's perfectly placed, offering a comfy spot to relax over a steaming cup of cocoa.

 

Take a helihike at Fox Glacier

For something truly special, book yourself into a Helihike experience of Fox Glacier. Choose from options ranging between a few hours to a full day. You’ll be provided with all the gear needed including leather boots, a waterproof jacket, and walking poles. 

Your helicopter ride will take you to a remote and beautiful spot on the glacier. While you’re there, you can check out the incredible Victoria Falls and the spectacular ice caves and arches.

Just a stone's throw away from the glacier, Fox Glacier TOP 10 Holiday Park is the ideal base camp for exploring this extraordinary natural wonder.

 

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Go to great heights at Mt Cook/Aoraki

Welcome to the highest peak of New Zealand - Mt Cook/Aoraki. Located in the central South Island, this towering giant stands at 3724 meters. 

There's no shortage of activities here for keen explorers. A popular option is walking the three-hour Hooker Valley Track. If you're a seasoned hiker, the challenging Mueller Hut Route rewards you with panoramic views of the alpine landscape. For a completely different perspective, consider a scenic flight over the glacial valleys and ice-capped peaks. And when night falls, don't forget to look up. The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is one of the best spots in the world for stargazing. 

After a day filled with high-altitude activities, wind down at the Glentanner Park Centre. Situated near the base of Aoraki/Mt Cook, it offers stunning views of the mountain range.

 

Photograph the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd

Looking for the perfect postcard shot of New Zealand? You'll find it at the Church of the Good Shepherd. Sitting right on the shores of Lake Tekapo, this stone church is one of the best photo locations in New Zealand. Built in 1935 as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie Country, the church offers a charming glimpse into the past. The iconic landmark has a striking simplicity, which is enhanced by the backdrop of the awe-inspiring Southern Alps and the brilliantly blue waters of the lake.

After capturing your shots, unwind at the Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park. Just a short drive from the church, it offers powered and unpowered sites with unbeatable lake views. 

 

Admire the scenery at Milford Sound

Located in pristine Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound is a must-do on your South Island road trip. 

The park is part of Te Wahipounamu, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here, you'll find dramatic landscapes where towering cliffs rise from dark waters and waterfalls cascade from great heights. Jump on a cruise or, if you're feeling adventurous, kayak across the water to fully appreciate its breathtaking beauty. Don't forget to look out for seals, penguins, and dolphins. 

Spend the night surrounded by rainforest at Milford Sound Lodge. Be sure to book ahead though, this is the Milford Sound’s only accommodation, so spots are snapped up fast. 

 

Have an adventure in Queenstown

Queenstown is an adrenaline junkie's paradise, renowned for its awesome variety of adventure activities

Fancy throwing yourself off a bridge with just a bungee cord attached? Head to Kawarau Bridge Bungy. For those preferring a calmer adventure, a scenic gondola ride or a cruise on Lake Wakatipu offers unrivalled vistas. If heights don't scare you, try paragliding or a helicopter ride for a bird's eye view. 

After a day packed with thrills, rest up at Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park. It's just a 500-metre stroll from town making it a great base to park up and explore.

 

Go wine tasting in Central Otago

Central Otago, the world's southernmost wine region, is a must-visit for wine enthusiasts. We suggest adding Gibbston Valley Winery, famous for its exceptional pinot noir, to your travel itinerary. This popular winery not only offers exquisite wine tastings but also pairs them with mouth-watering food platters. For a glimpse into the winemaking process, book a wine cave tour, and for the more active, the cycle vineyard tour is a must.

When it's time to rest, head to Arrowtown Holiday Park, just a 20-minute drive away. It’s also a great base for exploring the character and history of Arrowtown’s township.

 

Meet the wildlife at Dunedin’s Otago Peninsula

Just a short drive from Dunedin’s city centre, the Otago Peninsula is a must for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts. 

The Otago Peninsula, a captivating landscape of lush grasslands and wind-swept beaches, offers spectacular coastal views. Here, you can spot diverse wildlife including royal albatrosses, yellow-eyed penguins, and even seals basking on the beaches. To learn more about the local wildlife and its conservation, head to the Royal Albatross Centre or Penguin Place.

End your day at the Leith Valley Touring Park, just 20 minutes away. The park has great facilities and is located within a beautiful woodland setting. 

 

Go underground at Te Anau Glowworm Caves

Located near Lake Te Anau in the South Island, the Te Anau Glowworm Caves are a sight to behold. 

You'll start the experience with a cruise across Lake Te Anau, taking in scenic vistas of mountains and forests before reaching the caves. Once inside, it's a wonderland of glowworms creating a mesmerising light display, stalactite-filled chambers, whirlpools and waterfalls. Formed by the river over 12,000 years ago, these caves are still changing even today, a testament to the raw power of nature.

When you're ready to put your feet up, head to Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park and enjoy a peaceful night.  

 

Explore Stewart Island

Stewart Island, or Rakiura, sits off the southernmost tip of the South Island. This island may be small, but it's big on beauty. It’s also home to Rakiura National Park, which occupies the majority of the island. Its name Rakiura, translating to 'Glowing Skies', alludes to the breathtaking sunsets and Aurora Australis that can be seen here.

A must-do while you’re here is a wildlife tour to spot kiwi birds in their natural habitat. Stewart Island is home to New Zealand's largest and most accessible kiwi population. Visitors can also hike the numerous trails, take a boat ride around Paterson Inlet, or spend time at the picturesque Observation Rock for stunning sunset views.

While there's no campervan accommodation on the island itself, you can park up at The Bluff Campground on the mainland. To reach Stewart Island, catch the ferry and enjoy the one-hour cruise across Foveaux Strait.

 

Ready to explore the South Island?

As you can see, the South Island is jam-packed with awesome attractions and adventures. And now that you’ve got some good suggestions on what to add to your travel itinerary, it’s time to make it happen! Take the first step and book your Apollo campervan online today. Then simply pick up your camper from our Christchurch branch near the airport and start enjoying your unforgettable South Island road trip.

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Popular Dunedin & Central Otago road trips & itineraries

Dunedin and Central Otago, situated in the southern part of New Zealand's South Island, are regions steeped in natural beauty and cultural richness. Travelling by campervan allows you to freely explore the varied landscapes – from Dunedin’s rugged coastline to Central Otago’s golden hills – and discover a network of routes dotted with historical sites, quaint towns, and scenic camping spots. Whether cruising through Dunedin’s architectural marvels or winding through the vineyard-clad valleys of Central Otago, each journey is an invitation to delve deeper into the heart of the south. 

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Apollo Campervan branches

Christchurch

Setting out from Apollo's Christchurch branch, the road trip through the Canterbury Plains and alongside the Southern Alps is breathtaking, with stops like Lake Tekapo and the historic town of Oamaru enriching your travel experience. 

Queenstown

Departing from Apollo's Queenstown branch, you're perfectly positioned to explore both the adventurous heart of the South Island and the tranquil beauty of Central Otago before reaching Dunedin. 

Auckland

From Apollo Auckland, the multi-day trip to Dunedin and Central Otago – we suggest 10-14 days – offers a comprehensive tour of the North and South Islands, including crossing the Cook Strait by ferry

Auckland City Skyline

Auckland

New Zealand’s multi-cultural hub of food, music, arts and culture.

 

Christchurch City, New Zealand

Christchurch

 One of the world’s most unique destinations.

 

Queenstown

Breathtaking scenery and adrenaline-pumping adventure activities.

 

Helpful tips for visiting Dunedin & Central Otago

 

Climate and seasons in Dunedin & Central Otago

Dunedin and Central Otago offer distinct climate experiences that reflect the diverse landscapes of the southern part of New Zealand’s South Island.

Dunedin enjoys a temperate maritime climate with mild summers and cool winters, tempered by its coastal position.

  • Summer (December to February) are generally mild, with temperatures hovering around 15°C to 22°C, ideal for enjoying outdoor activities along the city’s beaches and exploring the lush Otago Peninsula.

  • Autumn (March to May) sees cooler temperatures and is a great time to witness the changing colours of the city's abundant foliage.

  • Winter (June to August) in Dunedin can be chilly, with temperatures dropping to 5°C to 10°C, but the city’s historical and cultural sites continue to draw visitors.

  • Spring (September to November) rejuvenates the city with mild weather and blossoming gardens, perfect for outdoor adventures before the colder months set in.

Central Otago contrasts sharply with a more continental climate, characterised by hot dry summers and cold winters.

  • Summers see temperatures that can climb above 25°C, making it an excellent time for exploring the region’s famous vineyards and outdoor recreational activities.
  • Autumn brings a dramatic change in landscape colour, particularly vivid in the vineyard areas, with cooler but still pleasant temperatures.
  • Winter sees temperatures often falling below freezing, blanketing the region in snow, which transforms the landscape into a winter wonderland, popular for photography and winter sports.
  • Spring slowly warms up the land, thawing lakes and rivers, and ushering in a season of growth and renewal.

 

 

 

What to pack

Preparing for your campervan adventure in Dunedin and Central Otago requires thoughtful packing to accommodate the varying climates and activities these regions offer. Here’s what to consider bringing along to make the most of your trip:

  • Outdoor gear: Given the diverse environments in Dunedin and Central Otago, versatile outdoor gear is essential. For Dunedin's coastal walks and city explorations, lightweight, breathable clothing will serve you well, complemented by a waterproof jacket for unpredictable showers. Central Otago's more extreme temperatures call for sun hats and high SPF sunscreen in summer, and warm, insulating layers in winter, especially if you plan to engage in snow sports or explore the frosty landscapes.

  • Campervan add-ons: Enhancing your campervan with a few extras can significantly improve your comfort and convenience. A portable heater might be necessary for chilly Central Otago nights, while a fan can keep you cool during the dry summer heat. Additionally, outdoor chairs and a table will expand your living space, perfect for enjoying the scenic views at your leisure.

  • Sun protection: Sun protection is crucial year-round due to New Zealand’s strong UV rays, particularly in the exposed and high-altitude areas of Central Otago. Pack broad-spectrum sunscreen, UV-protective sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat. Insect repellent will also be useful, especially in the warmer months when sandflies and mosquitoes are more prevalent.

For more helpful ideas, check out our guide to what to pack for your campervan road trip.

 

 

Nearby attractions and day trips from Dunedin & Central Otago

 

  • The Otago Peninsula tretching along the southern edge of the Otago Harbour, is renowned for its stunning coastal scenery and incredible wildlife. This area is a haven for nature lovers, offering opportunities to see rare yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals, and the only mainland breeding colony of royal albatross in the world. The peninsula’s rolling hills and rugged cliffs provide perfect vantage points for breathtaking views and photography.
  • Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle, offers a glimpse into the country’s colonial past, set against the backdrop of expansive gardens and the scenic Otago Peninsula. Built in 1871 by William Larnach, a merchant and politician, the castle features beautifully restored Victorian-era rooms and a unique collection of New Zealand antiques. The gardens are a highlight, recognised as a Garden of International Significance, perfect for a leisurely stroll.
  • Baldwin Street in Dunedin is famous for being the world's steepest residential street, attracting visitors from all over the globe. The street offers a challenging but quirky walk, rising significantly over its short 350-metre length.
  • Dunedin Railway Station is a stunning architectural marvel, known as the ‘Gingerbread House’ because of its ornate Flemish Renaissance style. Completed in 1906, the station is one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand. Visitors can admire its detailed mosaic floors, stained glass windows, and grand booking hall. The station also serves as the departure point for scenic railway journeys that explore the spectacular landscapes surrounding Dunedin.
  • Tunnel Beach, just south of Dunedin, offers dramatic coastal scenery with sandstone cliffs, arches, and headlands. Accessible through a short walk that includes a tunnel down to the beach – hand-carved in the 1870s – this spot is perfect for those looking to explore a more secluded part of the coastline. The beach is particularly striking at sunset and is a popular location for romantic walks and picnics.
  • Otago Harbour is a long, narrow inlet associated with the bustling city life of Dunedin and the tranquil beauty of the Otago Peninsula. It's a hub for water activities, including sailing, fishing, and kayaking. The harbour is also a vital part of the local ecosystem, supporting a variety of birdlife and marine species, making it an excellent spot for wildlife watching.
  • Moeraki Boulders, located on Koekohe Beach along the Otago coast, are huge, almost perfectly spherical stones. These natural wonders were created by the cementation of mudstone over millions of years, with some over two metres in diameter.
  • The Catlins Coast, stretching between Balclutha and Invercargill, offers a remote and rugged landscape with a wealth of natural attractions. Visitors can explore dense rainforests and meet unique wildlife. Highlights include Nugget Point with its iconic lighthouse and the dramatic Purakaunui Falls.

For more inspiration, check out our guide to family friendly things to do in Dunedin.

 

Where to stay in Dunedin & Central Otago with a campervan

When it comes to finding the perfect spot to park and rest in Dunedin & Central Otago, there's no shortage of picturesque, comfy campgrounds. Here are a few worth checking out:

Dunedin

 

 

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