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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.

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 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:

Ultimate 7-day South Island campervan itinerary Ultimate 7-day South Island campervan itinerary

Ultimate 7-day South Island campervan itinerary

Thinking of hitting the top of the South Island on a campervan road trip? Great idea! From the lively vibe of Christchurch to the stunning beauty...
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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. 

Long Hire Offer Long Hire Offer

Long Hire Offer

Do you love road trips across Australia & New Zealand as much as we do? You're in luck with our Long Hire Offer! If you are travelling for more than 21 days, you will receive 5% off daily vehicle...
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Apollo Campervan branches

Christchurch

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. 

Queenstown

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. 

Auckland

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

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 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.

Takaka

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:

Nelson

Marlborough

 

 

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