Top Winter Campervan Destinations in the South Island | Apollo 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.

Alyssa Tresider
/ Categories: NZ blog

Top Winter Campervan Destinations in the South Island.

Have you ever wondered what magic unfolds in the South Island when winter rolls around? This is your backstage pass to exploring New Zealand's winter wonderland in a campervan. From the best places to visit in the South Island to the must-do South Island activities, we're dishing out all the juicy details right here, including some cool things to do that'll make this South Island winter trip legendary.

 

Why you should explore the South Island in winter

Picture this: snow-capped mountains, lakes so still they could be glass, and roads winding through landscapes so breathtaking, you'll run out of gasps – that is NZ’s South Island in winter for you. South Island winters transform this already picturesque landscape into a playground for snow lovers, with every corner offering a new postcard-perfect view or a heart-pumping activity.  

And let's not forget the unique vibe that New Zealand’s South Island in winter brings – think cozy nights, steamy hot pools, and the kind of starry skies that poems are written about. The South Island in winter is a perfect setting for a cosy, picturesque New Zealand road trip. 

 

What’s the best way to explore the South Island?

Enter the hero of our story: the campervan. This is your ticket to freedom and your best mate on a South Island winter adventure. Why? Because it lets you wake up to a different jaw-dropping view every morning, cook breakfast while wearing your pyjamas in the most scenic spots, and change your "where to next?" on a whim. 

And with our Apollo Campervan, you're picking the cream of the crop – top-notch comfort meets the wild and untamed roads of the South Island in winter. Rolling through this winter wonderland in a campervan means you get to do the South Island your way – no schedules, no waiting, just pure, unadulterated freedom. It's about making memories, whether that's finding the perfect spot for a snowball fight, chasing the northern lights, or simply enjoying a hot chocolate with a view. For more tips and ideas for planning your South Island winter campervan adventure, check out our top guides below: 

 

The top 10 winter campervan destinations in the South Island

Buckle up because we're about to dive into the crème de la crème of South Island winter destinations. These are the spots that will fill your New Zealand road trip with “wow” moments, “yum” experiences, and “ahh” relaxations. Ready for the ride of your life? Let’s get rolling!

 

1. Nelson Lakes National Park

The first stop on your journey down the South Island in winter is Nelson Lakes National Park. This gem offers a winter wonderland that's second to none. The park, nestled in the heart of the Nelson-Tasman region, transforms under a blanket of snow, offering breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains reflecting off the pristine waters of Lakes Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa. It's a serene winter NZ escape for those looking to immerse themselves in the tranquillity of nature, with crisp, clear air and landscapes shrouded in white. 

This is also one of the best places to visit in winter for the snow season in NZ. From scenic walks along the lake shores to more adventurous pursuits like snowshoeing or skiing at nearby Rainbow Ski Field, there are plenty of winter activities to keep the whole family entertained. Plus, the park's snow-covered forests and frozen lakes provide a stunning backdrop for photography enthusiasts or anyone looking to capture the essence of the South Island in winter. If that weren’t enough, the 4-hour drive from Christchurch is a scenic adventure in itself that'll have you glued to your window.  

Where to stay: Kerr Bay Campsite

 

2. Kaikōura

Alright, folks, next up on our magical winter journey is Kaikōura – a place where mountains meet the sea. Just a 2.5-hour drive from Christchurch and you’re in one of the best places to visit on the South Island in winter to watch whales and dolphins out at sea. And if you're feeling adventurous, why not jump on a boat and get up close and personal with these majestic creatures? Winter here is extra special because the crisp, clear days provide some of the best conditions for wildlife spotting. Plus, those classic winter NZ snow-capped mountains in the background really round off this experience.  

Where to stay: Kaikōura Peketa Beach Holiday Park

 

3. Hanmer Springs

Ever dreamt of soaking in a hot spring while snowflakes dance around you? If so, Hanmer Springs is the village of your snowy hot tub dreams and a New Zealand South Island must-see. Just a swift 90-minute drive from Christchurch, this winter haven offers geothermally heated pools that range from a warm hug of 32°C to a "this is the life" 42°C. 

And with 22 pools on-site, there's plenty of room to spread out – whether you're here with the kids or are looking for a tranquil adult-only pool. Parking your home away from home is no hassle at all. The Hanmer Springs car park is conveniently located in the village, making it easy to go from campervan to cannonball in no time. It is little wonder why this is one of the best winter destinations in NZ!

Where to stay: Hanmer Springs Top 10 Holiday Parks.

 

4. Arthur’s Pass National Park

Next on our list of the best winter South Island New Zealand attractions is Arthur’s Pass National Park, the rugged heart of the Southern Alps. Here, it's all about majestic mountains, breathtaking valleys, and outdoor adventures. If you are looking to take advantage of the snow season in NZ, here you can grab your skis and shred at the Temple Basin Ski Area. And let's not forget the numerous hiking trails that turn into winter wonderlands, perfect for snowshoeing.

From Christchurch, it's about a 2-hour drive – a journey that's as scenic as it gets. For campervan parking, head to the Arthur’s Pass Village car park, where you're smack dab in the middle of all the natural beauty.

Where to stay: Jackson’s Retreat Alpine Holiday Park.

 

5. Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier is your gateway to exploring one of the most accessible glaciers in the world. Winter here means fewer crowds, which translates to more glacier for you! Whether it's hiking up the icy expanse or taking a scenic flight that offers some of the best views of NZ’s South Island in winter, Fox Glacier is another South Island New Zealand must-see.

And, of course, don't miss the chance to visit Lake Matheson. On a clear day, you'll catch Mount Cook's reflection dancing on the surface. And while Christchurch to Fox Glacier is a bit of a trek (around a 5-hour drive in your campervan), every minute is packed with jaw-dropping landscapes. 

Where to stay: Fox Glacier Top 10 Holiday Park.

 

6. Mount Cook/Aoraki

Mount Cook/Aoraki National Park, home to New Zealand's tallest mountain and dazzling glaciers, is the definition of alpine beauty and a no-brainer addition to any list of the best places to visit in winter in NZ. Winter here is nothing short of magical, with snow-capped peaks and starry nights that'll have you pinching yourself. Whether you're here to conquer a hiking trail or simply bask in the beauty of the snow-covered landscapes, Aoraki doesn't just meet expectations; it skyrockets them. From Christchurch, gear up for a drive of around 4 hours, with scenery that'll make the time fly by. Parking in the national park is straightforward, with the Mt Cook Campground providing a convenient spot for campervans to stay the night. 

Where to stay: Glentanner Park Centre

 

7. Wānaka

Wānaka is where the adventure junkies unite, bringing that chill alpine town vibe mixed with adrenaline-pumping activities. With Mount Aspiring National Park as its backyard, winter transforms Wānaka into a ski and snowboard paradise. Boasting four epic ski areas within a snowball's throw of the town, this is easily one of the best places to visit in winter in NZ for skiers and snowboarders: 

  • Treble Cone: This ski resort boasts the largest ski area in the South Island, offering challenging slopes and stunning lake views for advanced skiers. 

  • Cardrona Alpine Resort: This is a family-friendly resort with a mix of terrains for all levels and a renowned park for freestyle skiers and snowboarders. 

  • Snow Farm: This resort specialises in cross-country skiing, providing a unique experience with groomed trails through beautiful snow-covered landscapes. 

  • Soho Basin: This resort offers an exclusive skiing experience with untouched powder and luxury cat skiing, perfect for those seeking solitude and untracked runs.

Wānaka is not just about the slopes, though; Wānaka enchants visitors with ice skating, scenic helicopter flights, and outdoor adventure for those looking to explore the rugged beauty of the Southern Alps up close. Queenstown to Wānaka is just an hour's drive, making it a perfect addition to a ski holiday New Zealand road trip. 

Where to stay: Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park.  

 

8. Queenstown

Ah, Queenstown, the jewel of the South Island's winter crown. Surrounded by the majestic Southern Alps and nestled on the shores of crystal-clear Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is where you come to make the most of the snow season in NZ. Winter here means skiing and snowboarding, yes, but also indulging in local wines, exploring vibrant eateries, and simply soaking in the breathtaking landscapes.

For campervan travellers adding this to their list of South Island places to visit, the Boundary Street car park offers a convenient spot to park and explore the town.

Where to stay: Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park

 

9. Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park, part of the UNESCO World Heritage site Te Wāhipounamu, is a sanctuary of glaciers, alpine ranges, and ancient flora and fauna. Winter here is special – think crisp, fresh air, snow-capped mountains, and the serene beauty of Piopiotahi/Milford Sound under a blanket of white. 

In Fiordland National Park, winter offers serene boat cruises through the misty Milford Sound, the chance to wander through frost-laden hiking trails, and witness the awe-inspiring spectacle of snow-capped peaks and waterfalls. It's a time when Fiordland reveals its quiet, introspective side, offering moments of awe and tranquillity. From Queenstown, it's about a 2-hour drive to the heart of Fiordland – one of the best places to visit on the South Island for a tranquil escape into nature.

Where to stay: Fiordland Great Views Holiday Park.  

 

10. Dunedin

Dunedin is the city of the quirky and the cultured. With a sheltered harbour and a heritage that's both rich and lively, Dunedin offers a unique winter NZ experience. The drive from Queenstown to Dunedin is about 3.5 hours, offering scenic views along the way.  

From exploring its vibrant urban culture and wildlife to tasting the exceptional local cuisine, there's a cozy nook to suit any New Zealand itinerary. Winter adds a layer of charm to the city, with crisp mornings and clear nights perfect for stargazing. 

Where to stay: Dunedin Holiday Park.  

 

Ready to explore the South Island?

Ready to hit the road? Book your Apollo camper online and pick it up from any Apollo branch before setting off on your South Island winter adventure. So, pack your bags, round up your crew, and get ready to explore the South Island like never before, collecting memories, one snowy peak and one cozy night at a time. 

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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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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

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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