Top 15 Things To Do In New Zealand’s South Island | Apollo Campervans NZ
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Nelson & Marlborough

Craving artistic flair, golden beaches, and a taste of adventure? Look no further than the Nelson and Marlborough region. Sitting at the top of New Zealand's South Island, this area is packed full of natural beauty, culinary excellence, and cultural richness. It’s easy to see why it makes the perfect destination for a New Zealand campervan holiday. Nelson, often hailed as New Zealand’s ‘sunshine capital’, radiates a warm, inviting atmosphere complemented by its vibrant arts community, historic architecture, and bustling markets. Nearby, the tranquil Marlborough Sounds offers a playground for kayaking, fishing, and scenic cruises. Wine enthusiasts will relish visiting Marlborough's famed vineyards, where tasting world-class wines becomes a memorable part of the journey.

A road trip through Nelson and Marlborough in an Apollo campervan means every day is a new adventure, crafted just to your liking. With the flexibility to explore hidden gems, from the secluded coves of Golden Bay in Nelson to the enchanting Marlborough Sounds, your journey can be as laid-back or as action-packed as you desire. The convenience of travelling by campervan, complete with a kitchen, bed, and bathroom, means that the beauty of Nelson NZ and the Marlborough Sounds are yours to enjoy in your own time. Whether you're soaking up the sun on Nelson's beaches or sipping on exquisite sauvignon blanc in Marlborough, travelling by campervan offers a truly unforgettable experience. 


Why explore Nelson & Marlborough by campervan

Travelling in a campervan, especially through beautiful areas like Nelson and Marlborough, turns a simple holiday into a series of unforgettable experiences. It's your adventure, at your pace, surrounded by the comfort and convenience that only campervan travel can offer. With a campervan, you're not tied down. You can linger over a long lunch in a Nelson café or decide to spend an extra day tasting wines in Marlborough because you've fallen in love with the scenery.

The journey itself becomes part of the fun when you're in a campervan. It's about making spontaneous stops at breathtaking lookouts, enjoying your morning coffee in the middle of postcard-perfect views, and finding your own special spot to watch the stars. Stumbled upon a hidden gem in Golden Bay or found a hiking track in Marlborough you’d like to tackle? With a campervan, you have the freedom to explore it as much as you like.


Things to do in Nelson & Marlborough

Nelson and Marlborough are rich with activities and attractions, offering something special for every kind of traveller. For families on holiday, there are endless opportunities for fun, from exploring the sun-drenched beaches of Nelson to the interactive and educational experiences in the region's museums and galleries. Food enthusiasts will revel in the culinary journey through Nelson and Marlborough, from the fresh seafood of the coastal areas to the exquisite flavours of the region's renowned wineries. Whether you're indulging in a leisurely lunch at a vineyard in Marlborough or sampling local artisan produce at a Nelson market, your taste buds are in for a treat. Adventure seekers and nature lovers won't be left wanting either. With activities like kayaking through the Marlborough Sounds or hiking the trails of the Abel Tasman National Park, the great outdoors is your playground. And for those looking to unwind, the charming towns scattered throughout the region offer a peaceful retreat with their unique boutiques, cafes, and galleries.

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 Nelson road trips & itineraries

Nestled at the top of New Zealand's South Island, Nelson and Marlborough are prime starting points for some of the most picturesque road trips in the country. Kicking off from Nelson, you can weave through the scenic drives that unveil the artistic townships, golden beaches, and lush national parks. Heading into Marlborough, the journey continues through rolling vineyards and along the majestic Marlborough Sounds. Whether you're venturing from the urban buzz of the North Island or the rugged landscapes of the South, these regions promise memorable campervan road trip adventures tailored to every interest. Here are a few worth checking out:

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Apollo Campervan branches


The drive from Apollo Christchurch to Nelson takes you along some of the South Island’s most scenic coastline. There’s a fair bit to see and do along the way, so be sure to take your time and perhaps plan an overnight stay in Kaikoura. 


Keen to make the most of your road trip and explore more of the South Island? Book your camper with our Queenstown branch and spend a few days heading northward taking in some of the great southern highlights along the way. 


The North Island is packed full of sights and experiences, so why not tick off a few with a road trip from Apollo Auckland to Nelson? This journey includes crossing the Cook Strait by ferry offering the opportunity to travel through the pristine Marlborough Sounds. 

Auckland City Skyline


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


Christchurch City, New Zealand


 One of the world’s most unique destinations.



Breathtaking scenery and adrenaline-pumping adventure activities.


Helpful tips for visiting Nelson & Marlborough


Climate and seasons in Nelson & Marlborough

Nelson and Marlborough are renowned for their inviting climates, making them year-round destinations for visitors. Nelson, often celebrated as the sunniest city in New Zealand, enjoys a mild maritime climate that complements its outdoor lifestyle and vibrant arts culture.

  • Summer (December to February) in Nelson are warm and sunny, with temperatures typically ranging from 20°C to 25°C, perfect for enjoying the region's stunning beaches and outdoor dining. In Marlborough, the warmth accentuates the beauty of the vineyards, making it an ideal time for wine tasting and scenic tours.

  • Autumn (March to May) in Nelson are warm and sunny, with temperatures typically ranging from 20°C to 25°C, perfect for enjoying the region's stunning beaches and outdoor dining. In Marlborough, the warmth accentuates the beauty of the vineyards, making it an ideal time for wine tasting and scenic tours.

  • Winter (June to August) brings cooler weather, with daytime temperatures hovering around 12°C to 15°C. It's a great time to enjoy the region's art galleries, museums, and cosy dining spots, with the occasional crisp, clear day perfect for outdoor adventures.

  • Spring (September to November) breathes new life into the regions, with blossoming gardens and warming temperatures. It's a beautiful time to witness the region's natural beauty, from the awakening vineyards in Marlborough to the blossoming landscapes in Nelson.

Both regions enjoy relatively low rainfall compared to other parts of New Zealand, though it's always wise to pack a light rain jacket just in case. The transitional seasons of autumn and spring offer a spectacular display of nature's beauty, making them particularly rewarding times to visit.




What to pack

Heading out for an adventure in Nelson and Marlborough with your campervan is an exciting prospect, and packing smart can enhance your experience. The region's welcoming climates and diverse outdoor activities mean you'll need a mix of gear to comfortably enjoy everything from sun-soaked beaches to leisurely vineyard tours. Here’s a rundown of what to bring along.

  • Outdoor gear: The stunning landscapes of Nelson and Marlborough are your playground, so come prepared with versatile outdoor gear. Lightweight, breathable clothing will keep you comfortable during the warm days, while a layer or two for the cooler evenings ensures you can enjoy those starlit nights by the campfire. Durable walking shoes are essential, whether you're hiking in Abel Tasman National Park or exploring the coastal trails.

  • Campervan add-ons: Enhance your campervan living with a few thoughtful extras. A portable barbecue can elevate your dining under the stars, while extra camping chairs and a table (these can be added to your campervan hire) can make your outdoor setup more comfortable.

  • Sun protection:The New Zealand sun, particularly in the Nelson region, known for its high sunshine hours, calls for diligent sun protection. Pack high-SPF sunscreen, a quality pair of sunglasses with UV protection, and a hat to shield you during those outdoor adventures. Remember, sun safety is key, even on overcast days.

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



Nearby attractions and day trips from Nelson


Farewell Spit

Farewell Spit is a striking natural feature located at the northern tip of the South Island, renowned for its extensive sandbar and rich birdlife. This area serves as a bird sanctuary where visitors can observe a variety of migratory birds in their natural setting. The iconic lighthouse at the spit's end also provides a picturesque backdrop for visitors exploring this unique and protected landscape.


In the heart of Golden Bay, Takaka is a vibrant town known for its artistic community, quirky cafes, and nearby natural wonders like Te Waikoropupū Springs. A day trip to Takaka can be as relaxing or adventurous as you like, with options ranging from exploring local art galleries to hiking in the Abel Tasman National Park.

Rabbit Island

Just a short drive from Nelson, Rabbit Island offers vast sandy beaches, picnic spots, and cycling trails. It's an ideal place for a family day out, where you can enjoy swimming, beach games, or simply bask in the tranquil atmosphere of this coastal gem.

Lord of the Rings film locations

For fans of the Lord of the Rings series, the Nelson region offers the chance to visit some of the trilogy's filming locations. Take on a day trip to explore the diverse landscapes that were transformed into Middle-Earth, from the rolling hills to the lush forests, each offering a glimpse into the magical world of the films.


Where to stay in Nelson & Marlborough with a campervan

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





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