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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.

Alyssa Tresider
/ Categories: NZ blog

Best Beaches in the South Island.

Planning a New Zealand road trip to the South Island of New Zealand?  This guide is your ticket to uncovering the best South Island beaches. From serene golden sands to dramatic coastal settings, if you're plotting a New Zealand road trip or just seeking the perfect spot to park up by the sea, you're in the right place. Let's dive into what makes the South Island a must-visit for lazy beach days and outdoor adventures.

 

What’s the South Island known for?

The South Island is a spectacle of nature, famed for its towering Southern Alps, breathtaking fjords like Milford Sound, and sparkling lakes such as Lake Tekapo and Lake Wanaka. It's also a playground for thrill-seekers and anyone looking for a dose of nature, with its world-class skiing, hiking, and adventure sports. 

Beyond its natural wonders, the island is a mosaic of vibrant communities, offering insights into New Zealand's rich culture and the welcoming spirit of the Kiwi locals. In short – there is no shortage of things to do in New Zealand’s South Island to add to your New Zealand itinerary!

 

The best way to explore the South Island

To truly soak in the South Island's splendour, there's nothing quite like the freedom and flexibility of hitting the road in an Apollo campervan. A campervan journey unlocks the freedom to explore at your own pace, ensuring you don't miss any hidden gems along the way. 

While campers can't venture onto the beaches themselves (sand, salt and campervan hires, unfortunately, don’t mix), the mobility they offer lets you discover a variety of coastal spots, each with its unique charm. Plus, with a campervan, you're always steps away from your next adventure, be it a sunrise swim or a coastal hike. There are plenty of reasons to take a New Zealand road trip! Looking for more tips for planning a New Zealand road trip in a campervan? Check out our top guides below: 

Best time for a campervan trip in NZ

What to pack for your campervan New Zealand road trip

Family-friendly campsites in NZ

Image: Sarah Blair

 

The top 8 best beaches in the South Island

Get ready to explore the top South Island beaches that make the South Island a beach lover's paradise. From secluded bays to expansive shores, these South Island beaches are the island's not-so-secret treasures. Stay tuned as we dive into each one, offering you a glimpse of what makes these spots truly special.

 

1. Kaiteriteri Beach

Nestled near the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, Kaiteriteri Beach is a highlight with its golden sands and crystal-clear waters. The beach is a perfect base for exploring the national park, kayaking, or simply soaking up the sun. A drive from Nelson, the closest main city, takes about an hour, offering scenic views along the way.  

Where to Stay Near Kaiteriteri Beach

For those journeying in a campervan, the Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve Campground is an ideal spot to park and stay nearby. This holiday park not only boasts a stunning location but also offers top-notch facilities to make your stay comfortable. With direct beach access, modern amenities, and a range of accommodation options, it is a fantastic base for exploring Kaiteriteri Beach and the surrounding Abel Tasman National Park. Whether you're here to bask in the sun or enjoy outdoor adventures, this campground ensures you're well-positioned to enjoy the best of the region.

 

2. Purakanui Beach

Purakanui Beach, nestled near Dunedin, is a secluded gem enveloped by scenic cliffs and lush native bush, creating a serene escape that feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle. It's a haven for those seeking a little solitude or a picturesque spot for a picnic. Plus, with walking tracks nearby that meander through the surrounding landscapes offering breathtaking views and opportunities for bird watching, there is plenty to do here. From Dunedin, it's a scenic 30-minute drive in your campervan to this South Island beach. 

Where to Stay Near Purakanui Beach

For those adventuring in a campervan, the Waikouaiti Coast Heritage Centre is a perfect spot to park and unwind. Situated within a stone's throw from this South Island beach, the Waikouaiti Motor Camp offers a range of facilities that cater to all your needs. From powered sites to kitchen facilities and a communal outdoor seating area, it ensures your stay is comfortable and convenient. It's the perfect base for exploring Purakanui Beach and the surrounding area on a New Zealand road trip.

 

3. Moeraki Boulders Beach

Moeraki Boulders Beach is famed for its mysterious, large spherical boulders scattered across the shoreline. These geological marvels, some over two meters in diameter, offer a unique landscape that makes this one of the best South Island beaches for photographers and geology enthusiasts. Beyond the boulders, the beach itself is a peaceful retreat for a leisurely walk or a moment of reflection. Located about an hour's drive north of Dunedin, it's an easily accessible stop on any South Island, New Zealand road trip.  

Where to Stay Near Moeraki Boulders

Just a stone's throw from the beach, Moeraki Boulders Holiday Park offers a cozy spot for campervan travellers visiting this iconic South Island beach. This park not only boasts proximity to the famous boulders but also provides a discount for NZMCA members, making it a great choice for a stay. With a range of facilities from powered sites to communal kitchens and BBQ areas, it's a comfortable base to explore the wonders of Moeraki Boulders Beach and beyond.

 

4. Carters Beach, Westport

Carters Beach, located near Westport on the West Coast, is famed for its long stretches of golden sand and clear, calm waters, making it an ideal spot for swimming, sunbathing, and leisurely walks. This South Island beach is a highlight for those seeking a peaceful retreat away from crowded tourist spots on their New Zealand road trip. Driving from Westport, you'll reach Carters Beach in under 10 minutes, making it a convenient escape to nature.  

Where to Stay Near Carters Beach

Carters Beach TOP 10 Holiday Park is your go-to for a comfortable stay near this beautiful South Island beach. Located directly adjacent to the beach, it offers an unmatched location. Plus, with a variety of campervan-friendly facilities, from powered sites for your campervan to kitchen and laundry amenities, it's an ideal base for those wishing to explore Carters Beach and the surrounding West Coast area while enjoying a touch of campervan luxury.

 

5. Punakaiki Beach

Punakaiki Beach is home to the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. In this geological wonder, layers of limestone and sandstone have been eroded over millions of years to resemble stacks of pancakes. During high tide, the sea surges into caverns, powering water skywards through blowholes, offering a truly mesmerising water display. Located on the West Coast, Punakaiki is a scenic drive from Greymouth, the closest main city, taking about 45 minutes to arrive at this South Island beach in NZ.

Where to Stay Near Punakaiki Beach

For those exploring in a campervan, Punakaiki Beach Camp offers an excellent base. This campsite is beautifully situated, allowing travellers to wake up to the sound of the waves and the sight of the lush West Coast bushland. It boasts facilities such as powered sites, communal kitchen and bathroom facilities, and easy beach access. As well as Paparoa Track Shuttles for anyone looking to tick off one of the Great Walks on their New Zealand itinerary. It's an ideal spot to relax after a day of exploring Punakaiki's natural wonders.

 

6. Wharariki Beach

Wharariki Beach, accessible via a 40-minute walk from the car park, is a remote and wild beach known for its dramatic landscapes, including giant dunes and the iconic Archway Islands. Its isolation adds to its allure, making it one of the best South Island beaches for adventure and solitude. The beach's raw beauty makes it a photographer's dream, especially at sunset when the play of light and shadow transforms the scenery into something magical. From Nelson, the drive to the Wharariki Beach parking area takes approximately 3 hours, leading you through some of the South Island's most picturesque landscapes.

Where to Stay Near Wharariki Beach

Wharariki Beach Holiday Park is the go-to for campervan travellers planning a stop at this magnificent South Island beach on their New Zealand itinerary. Close to both the beach and the start of the walking tracks, this park offers a range of facilities to ensure a comfortable stay, including powered sites, kitchen facilities, and a cozy on-site cafe. It's the perfect spot to unwind and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Wharariki.

 

7. Tunnel Beach

Tunnel Beach, named for the hand-carved tunnel leading to its secluded shores, offers a unique slice of history and breathtaking coastal views. Carved in the 1870s for private access to the beach, the tunnel opens up to a dramatic landscape of sea-carved sandstone cliffs, arches, and caves. Just a short drive from Dunedin, this beach combines natural beauty with a touch of mystery, making it one of the best things to do in New Zealand for nature lovers. 

Where to stay near Tunnel Beach

Dunedin Holiday Park is ideally located nearby for those wanting to explore Tunnel Beach and the surrounding area. Offering a range of facilities, including powered sites, laundry areas, and communal kitchens, it provides a comfortable base for your campervan adventures. Its location ensures you're never far from Dunedin's attractions, including the unique Tunnel Beach.

Image: Sarah Blair

 

Ready to explore the South Island?

The South Island of New Zealand is a paradise for nature lovers, adventurers, and anyone looking to explore the stunning South Island beaches on their campervan travel itinerary. Each beach offers unique charm and beauty, making the South Island an unparalleled beach destination. For the ultimate freedom and flexibility on your journey, consider an Apollo campervan. With an Apollo campervan, you can explore the best South Island beaches at your own pace, creating unforgettable memories along the way. 


Ready to start your adventure? Book your Apollo camper online and pick it up from any Apollo branch to begin your South Island beach adventure. From the geological wonders of Punakaiki Beach to the secluded sands of Wharariki and Tunnel Beach, there's a world waiting to be explored.

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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 offers a fantastic selection of deals and specials for those looking to explore New Zealand by campervan. From hot deals and last-minute discounts to long-term hire benefits, you’re sure to find a deal designed to help you make the most of your campervan adventure. 

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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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