Ultimate 7-day South Island campervan itinerary | Apollo 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.

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

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

    An Apollo campervan offers you the freedom to create your own travel itinerary. From whale watching in Kaikoura to southern...
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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. 

Ultimate 7-day South Island campervan itinerary
Alyssa Tresider

Ultimate 7-day South Island campervan itinerary.

Day 1: Christchurch to Kaikōura

Travel time: 2 hours, 15 mins

Distance: 178 km

It’s day one of your New Zealand road trip and the first order of the day is to pick up your campervan from our Christchurch Apollo branch. Our friendly team will show you everything you need to know, answer any questions, and make sure you’re ready to hit the road. 

Once you’re behind the wheel, you may like to tick off a few of the must-see highlights of the city. And the good news is, you won’t have to go too far. Just a stone’s throw from our Christchurch branch are two top attractions. Dive into the chilly adventures of the International Antarctic Centre, where you can enter the Storm Dome, meet little blue penguins, or immerse yourself in the 4D theatre. For something a little warmer, head over to Willowbank Wildlife Reserve where you can meet New Zealand’s iconic kiwi. There are lots of other friendly creatures to see here too including tuatara, falcons, capybara, otters, and more. 

As you leave Christchurch, the road trip to Kaikōura offers beautiful views of the ocean and mountains. Once you arrive in Kaikōura, there’s plenty to see and do. One of the unmissable activities is a whale-watching tour. Thanks to its location – between deep oceanic trenches with nutrient-dense waters, Kaikōura is a magnet for an array of marine life. The star of the show is often the majestic sperm whale, which can be seen year-round. In addition to these gentle giants, visitors can catch sight of dusky dolphins, orcas, and even the occasional blue whale.   

For those preferring to keep their feet on solid ground while soaking in the beauty of Kaikōura, the Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway is an ideal choice. This well-marked trail begins at Point Kean car park. As you make your way along the walkway, you'll be greeted by dramatic cliff-top vistas of the Pacific Ocean, with the chance to spot seals lazing on the rocks below. 

When stomachs start to rumble, Kaikōura's seafood scene is sure to satisfy. For a genuine local experience, head to Nin's Bin - a legendary roadside caravan, famous for its fresh crayfish. Another must-visit is The Pier Hotel, offering a range of seafood dishes with unbeatable ocean views. 

For a comfortable stay paired with top-notch facilities, the Kaikōura TOP 10 Holiday Park offers the ideal base. 

 

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 2: Kaikōura to Blenheim

Travel time: 1 hour, 40 mins 

Distance: 129 km

The scenic drive from Kaikōura to Blenheim takes you through more of the South Island’s stunning landscapes. The route unfolds along the coast, offering spontaneous moments to stop, breathe in the fresh sea air, and capture unforgettable vistas.

Before you travel too far today, a must-do stop along the way is the Ohau Point Seal Colony. Easily accessible from the roadside, this spot offers a unique opportunity to observe New Zealand fur seals as they relax in the sunshine. With seals often lounging on the rocks or playing in the water, it's the perfect way to see these endearing creatures in their natural habitat. 

Blenheim, in the heart of the Marlborough wine region, is celebrated for its world-class sauvignon blanc among other varietals. While you’re here, take the time to visit a few of Blenheim's esteemed wineries. We suggest a visit to Cloudy Bay or Brancott Estate. Each estate offers its own distinctive experience, blending the pleasures of wine tasting with the charm of the countryside.

For aviation enthusiasts and history buffs alike, Blenheim’s Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is not to be missed. This unique museum brings history to life with its impressive collection of First and Second World War aircraft and memorabilia. Engaging displays and dioramas, designed with the help of film director Peter Jackson, immerse visitors in a bygone era of aviation bravery and innovation.

After a day of exploration, settle in at the Blenheim Bridges Holiday Park. Conveniently located near the city, the park offers a comfortable stay, ensuring you're well-rested for the adventures ahead.

 

Day 3: Blenheim to Nelson

Travel time: 1 hour, 40 mins

Distance: 118 km

Today, you’re off to Nelson. Bathed in sunshine and renowned as New Zealand's sunniest city, Nelson attracts visitors from near and far with its vibrant arts scene, golden beaches, and the nearby pristine parks of Abel Tasman and Kahurangi.

As you head off from Blenheim, plan a stop at Pelorus Bridge. This scenic reserve is a haven for native plants and wildlife, and the bridge itself is an iconic spot offering spectacular views of the Pelorus River. It’s an ideal location for a short nature walk, a refreshing swim, or a leisurely picnic amidst the tranquil surroundings.

Once you arrive in Nelson, head along to the World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars Museum. This unique museum amalgamates art, fashion, and vintage cars in a display that's both eclectic and awe-inspiring. 

For those looking to get a panoramic view of the city and its surrounds, the Centre of New Zealand on Botanical Hill provides a rewarding trek and viewpoint.

Keen to see more? Experience the bustling local markets, relax at Tahunanui Beach, or enjoy a walk in the picturesque Maitai Valley

After exploring Nelson's many attractions, rest up at the Nelson TOP 10 Holiday Park. With its convenient location and comfortable facilities, it's a great place to recharge and relax. 

 

Day 4: Nelson to Abel Tasman National Park

Travel time: 1 hour

Distance: 60 km 

The Abel Tasman National Park, with its golden beaches, clear turquoise waters, and lush native forests, stands as one of New Zealand's most captivating natural treasures. 

The drive from Nelson to Abel Tasman is dotted with several worthy stops. Consider pausing in the artsy town of Mapua for a browse, or Motueka for a quick rest or snapshot of the scenic landscape.

Once in Abel Tasman, a world of outdoor exploration awaits. The iconic Coast Track offers stunning views and diverse terrains. The full track takes 5-days, but there is also a single-day option. For those inclined towards water activities, kayaking provides an intimate way to explore the park's lagoons, inlets, and secluded beaches. 

After a day of exploration and activity, the Marahau Beach Camp is an ideal spot to rest. Located close to the park's entrance, it offers the perfect spot to park up your campervan and enjoy a good night's rest.

 

Image: Miles Holden

 

Day 5: Abel Tasman National Park to Westport

Travel time: 3 hours, 20 mins

Distance: 240 km

The journey from Abel Tasman to Westport reveals the dynamic shifts in New Zealand's landscape. As the sunny beaches of the north give way, the rugged and raw beauty of the West Coast emerges, characterised by its wild beaches, dense rainforests, and historic townships. 

Westport has a rich history of mining. In the late 19th century, the town thrived as gold miners flocked to the area, lured by the promise of gold-rich rivers and streams. Today, the township is better known for its coal mining industry. Head into the Coaltown Museum to learn more about the town’s fascinating heritage. 

Another top Westport destination is Cape Foulwind, not just for its dramatic ocean views, but also for the resident seal colony which can often be seen here. You may also like to take the one-hour work to see the Cape Foulwind lighthouse. Speaking of walks, the Charming Creek Walkway is another great option. This 5.5 km (each way) trail takes you through dense rainforest, alongside a cascading river, and past remnants of the region's mining and milling history. 

Park your motorhome up tonight at the Westport Kiwi Holiday Park. Set in 12 acres of native bush with park-like grounds, this picturesque campsite has everything needed for a comfortable, welcoming stay.  

 

Day 6: Westport to Arthur’s Pass

Travel time: 2 hours, 15 mins

Distance: 163 km

It’s day six already, and time to start winding your way back across to the east coast. We suggest making an early start today so you can fit in all the great sights and experiences in this part of your South Island road trip.

First on the list as you leave Westport is the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes, one of the most visited natural attractions on the West Coast. The layered limestone formations, which resemble stacks of pancakes, are especially impressive at high tide when the sea surges into the caverns below and sets off the blowholes. 

Next up, you’ll come to the largest town on the West Coast, Greymouth. This vibrant township is home to the Monteith’s Brewing Company where you can stop in for a brewery tour and tasting session. The town's history of jade hunting, gold mining, and its coal industry can be explored at the local museum.

As you approach Arthur’s Pass Village, be sure to pull over at the Otira Viaduct Lookout, a great spot to take in views of the impressive viaduct and surrounding views. 

Once you reach the village, there are numerous short walks to enjoy. The 2 km return Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall is one of the most popular, providing stunning views of one of the area's most impressive waterfalls. 

While you’re in the Arthur’s Pass region, keep an eye out for the cheeky kea, New Zealand's native alpine parrot. Their inquisitive nature can sometimes lead them to pull at rubber parts of cars, like wipers or seals, much to the surprise of unsuspecting motorists. Note, while it's tempting to interact with these intelligent birds, it's crucial not to feed them, as human food can be harmful and promote problematic begging behaviour.

Tonight, plan a stay at the beautiful Jackson’s Retreat Holiday Park. Located in 15 acres of beautiful grounds, Jackson’s Retreat is currently voted by Rankers as the top holiday park in New Zealand. 

 

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 7: Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch

Travel time: 2.5 hours

Distance: 185 km

It’s the final day of your epic South Island road trip, and today you’ll be leaving the rugged peaks of Arthur’s Pass and heading toward the sprawling Canterbury Plains. 

Along the way, check out the massive boulders of Kura Tāwhiti / Castle Hill. Here, the landscape is dotted with hundreds of spectacular ancient rocks and boulders – some up to 30 metres high. A track loops around the rocks providing an easy 20-minute walk and plenty of fantastic photo ops. 

Further on, keep an eye out for the huge Springfield Donut. This quirky landmark was unveiled in 2007 as a promotional stunt for The Simpsons Movie and has since become a symbol of community pride – and an unexpected photo opportunity for travellers passing through.

The final item on your South Island travel itinerary is to return to Apollo’s Christchurch branch to drop off your camper.

 

Ready to explore the South Island?

Now that’s what we call a bucket list road trip! From whale watching and wildlife encounters to wine tasting and seafood sampling… it’s all here waiting. All you need to do to make it happen is to book your Apollo campervan hire in-branch or online. Get started today!

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Great savings on your New Zealand road trip

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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