As the South Island’s most populous city, Christchurch is a vibrant urban hub with a slew of worthwhile attractions. It also offers a convenient base to explore the wonders of New Zealand’s South Island. Epic glacial landscapes and picture-perfect lakes lure outdoor explorers to this stupendously scenic place.
Despite the destruction of two devastating earthquakes (2010 and 2011), the town still clings to its English roots. Quaint British-inspired buildings lie peppered around town, along with leafy gardens and world-class museums.
Campervan travel is big in New Zealand—and the perennially popular South Island is no exception. World-class infrastructure meets demand, including dump stations and water refill stations. And with an endless selection of stunning campsites, the South Island is an RV dream destination.
Discover New Zealand your way by choosing a class of campervan that suits your travel needs.
Not all vehicles may be available. Use the search tool to check availability for your travel dates.
Renting a camper in Christchurch is the most convenient and cost-effective way to explore the South Island. Here’s why you should consider a campervan for your next adventure:
Affordable: Forget about paying for a separate rental car and hotel. The campervan covers both expenses for one reasonable daily rate. New Zealand's numerous free camps further facilitate low-cost campervan adventures.
Less driving: You won't need to book and travel to a hotel after each day's adventure. Simply roll into the nearest campsite instead.
Flexible: There's nothing quite like the feeling of freedom that comes with a self-contained campervan. Don't stress about complex itineraries; just follow the whims of the road.
Get back to nature: Staring at a stuffy hotel ceiling isn't the ideal way to pass an evening. Wouldn't you rather relax amid breathtaking surroundings with a campfire under the stars?
Convenience: Fresh clothes, a fridge full of food, and all your essential possessions will be right there when you need them—plus, no more packing and unpacking each day.
When driving around Christchurch in a campervan rental, remember these important tips:
The South Island has a plethora of picture-perfect campgrounds. Here are some of our campervan-friendly faves:
French Pass Campsite is the perfect base for travelers seeking to soak up the splendor of Marlborough Sound. Enjoy uninterrupted views of turquoise-tinged waters as they flow past your campervan, and listen to the sounds of gently rolling waves.
Price: from $16 per adult per night
Amenities: restrooms, showers, non-potable water, bbq
Hans Bay is a tranquil waterfront spot within easy reach of Hokitika Gorge. While this basic DOC-run campground doesn't have much in the way of amenities, nobody ever complains about the view. Plus, the adjacent lake is perfect for a refreshing dip in the summer months.
Price: from $8 per person per night
Amenities: restrooms, non-potable water
We love a good beach camp, and Marfells delivers the goods with unbeatable ocean views. Located on the northern tip of the island, it's a convenient option for campervan travelers heading towards Marlborough Sounds. Need something to read? Check out the cute little book exchange.
Price: from $10 per person per night
Amenities: restrooms, non-drinkable water
Though a bit on the expensive side, this strategically-located site is the only place to camp within Milford Sound. The amenities are excellent, but most people come for the million-dollar views.
Price: from $30 per person per night
Amenities: restrooms, showers, potable water, trash cans, bbq, camp kitchen, laundry, WiFi, powered sites
On the southern end of the island, this spectacular beach camp is all about those sweeping coastal views. Keep an eye out for curious sea lions who come to frolic on the soft golden sand. Stacks of space and a remote location make this a great place to get away from it all.
Price: from $8 per person per night
Amenities: restrooms, non-potable water, fire pits
Pelorus Bridge Campground serves as a great base to explore Marlborough District and beyond. The scenic site straddles an emerald green river where the barrel scene from The Hobbit was filmed. On-site amenities offer more luxury than most DOC-run sites.
Price: from $20 per site per night
Amenities: restrooms, showers, non-potable water, camp kitchen, powered sites
Punakaiki is a popular seaside holiday park offering magnificent ocean views. While most sites don't directly overlook the beach, the ocean is never more than a short stroll away. Pop into the tavern next door for a cold beer or hearty meal.
Price: from $18 per person per night
Amenities: restrooms, showers, potable water, trash cans, barbecue, camp kitchen, laundry, WiFi, dump station, powered sites
A short drive west of Christchurch, Rakaia Gorge Campground offers excellent amenities and lush landscapes for a reasonable nightly price. Campers park minutes away from the turquoise Rakaia River, which they can admire via a scenic walkway.
Price: from $15 per person per night
Amenities: restrooms, shower, potable water, trash cans, camp kitchen, dump station
This well-appointed Top 10 branch offers top-tier amenities within easy reach of the South Island's favorite lake. #ThatWanakaTree is just a few minutes away, and this luxurious locale even has an on-site spa.
Price: from $46 per site per night
Amenities: restrooms, showers, drinkable water, bbq, camp kitchen, laundry, dump station, powered sites
At the end of the scenic drive to Mount Cook, this popular DOC spot offers epic Southern Alps views. Plus, some of the South Island's most magnificent hikes, including the Hooker Valley Track, start right from the campsite.
Price: from $18 per person per night
Amenities: restrooms, potable water, trash cans, camp kitchen
From historical sites to tranquil gardens and intriguing museums, this enchanting South Island city has plenty of places to explore.
To appreciate the magnitude of the 2010/2011 earthquakes, visit Christchurch Transitional Cathedral. Constructed of cardboard and other temporary materials, this interim temple temporarily replaces the damaged Christchurch Cathedral. For more earthquake insights, pop into Quake City and the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial.
Not all historic buildings collapsed in 2011. The Isaac Theatre Royal is a restored performing arts center with a grandiose Edwardian style. At Riccarton House, an elegant Victorian-era homestead overlooks lush lawns. Then you've got the Victoria Clock Tower, an ornate stone spire built to celebrate the Queen's 60th Jubilee. To combine history and shopping in one outing, check out the colorful New Regent Street pedestrian mall.
Due to its British influence, Christchurch (A.K.A., the "Garden City") is famed for its gorgeous verdant parks. The best is the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, home to an impressive selection of native trees and flowering plants. Surrounding it lies Hagley Park, a sprawling recreational space with leafy gardens and sports facilities. Small, scenic parks line the tranquil Avon River, which snakes through the city's heart.
Christchurch has a respectable array of pristine natural spaces, too. Hikers and mountain bikers adore the undulating terrain at Port Hills. To spot squawking birdlife, try the marshy Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park instead. Godley Head offers pristine coastal views, while the sandy Sumner Beach is your best bet for a dip.
Keen to take a peek at native New Zealand animals? Then try the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. Or better yet, take a side trip to the nearby village of Akaroa to spot endangered dolphins frolicking in the bay.
If museums appeal, Christchurch has a respectable collection to choose from. Favorites include the International Antarctic Center, the Canterbury Museum, and the Air Force Museum of New Zealand. Creative types mustn't miss the Christchurch Art Gallery.
The antiquated Christchurch Tramway is a lovely old restored tram traversing many top city sites. A hop-on / hop-off ticket is a fun and convenient way to explore. For a bird's eye view of the city, jump on the Christchurch Gondola.
The strategically-situated city sits within a day's drive of all the South Island's jaw-dropping attractions. As a result, it's a convenient base to rent an RV and explore.
You don’t have to venture far from the city to marvel at the majestic Southern Alps.
Cruising two hours from the downtown area gets you to Arthur’s Pass National Park, a dramatic expanse of towering mountains and quirky alpine villages. If you don’t fancy hiking trails, the drive into the park is among New Zealand’s most scenic.
Further west lies Hokitika Gorge, where a serene aquamarine river sits enshrouded by verdant rainforest. Rent a kayak to make the most of the experience. On the west coast, the seldom-visited Paparoa National Park is famed for its pancake-like stack of rocks.
Nelson Lakes National Park offers more splendid Southern Alps scenery—think beech forests, ice-capped mountains, and shimmering lakes. Up on the north coast, Abel Tasman National Park is a sun-lovers paradise of picturesque sandy beaches and dramatic granite cliffs. Don’t miss the iconic Split Apple Rock.
To the east, the Marlborough District is awash with scenic vineyards producing world-class Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Ditch the van for a day and join a boat or kayak tour through Marlborough Sounds. With 932 miles of coastline, this labyrinth-like network of sunken river valleys is a sight to behold.
Directly west of the city lies Lake Tekapo, a tiny township straddling a spectacular lake of the same name. Soak away your stress in the bubbling Tekapo Springs or spot intergalactic constellations at the Mt. John Observatory. Snapping a pic of the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd is a quintessential South Island experience.
Beyond the lake, the ominous Mount Cook pierces through the horizon. Glaciers cover around 40% of this wild, outlying region, including the 6.5-mile-long Franz Josef Glacier. Helicopter and hiking trips through Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and Westland Tai Poutini National Park let you experience these Lord of the Rings-inspired landscapes firsthand. Hikers shouldn't skip the mind-blowing Hooker Valley Track.
To the south lies Mount Aspiring National Park, where undulating trails tramp between towering peaks and lush river valleys.
The township of Lake Wanaka affords sweeping views of the Southern Alps, which cast a mirror image on its clear shimmering waters. A cragged crack willow, affectionately known as #ThatWanakaTree makes for an Insta-worthy photo opp (Roy's Peak is another excellent vantage point). If you're visiting during the ski season, Treble Cone is a top spot to carve fresh powder tracks.
A quick drive south gets you to Queenstown, A.K.A, the "Adventure Capital of the World." Adrenaline-pumping pursuits include bungee jumping, river rafting, jet boating, sky diving, paragliding, and sledging, to name a few.
On the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, the quaint town of Glenorchy offers similar scenery with a more laid-back vibe. Hardy hikers mustn't miss the world-famous 20-mile Routeburn Track.
Milford Sound is well worth the detour. The snow-capped Mitre Peak protrudes through the center, while lanky waterfalls plummet into pristine fjords. Jump on a boat tour to marvel at the scenery while cruising past colonies of cuddly penguins and fur seals.
Over on the east coast, Dunedin is a lovely harborside town with Victorian and Edwardian architecture. On an adjacent peninsula, Larnach Castle harks back to the town's Scottish heritage. Dunedin is also your best bet for spotting the technicolored Southern Lights.
Not far north, Moeraki Boulders Beach lures curious onlookers with its perfect spherical-shaped rocks.
To spot cute little kiwis in the wild, jump on a ferry towards the remote Stewart Island.
Abel Tasman is home to the South Island's most spectacular coastal scenery, from pristine golden sand beaches to jagged granite cliffs. Don't miss a photo op with the appropriately named Split Apple Rock.
An easy detour east of Christchurch lies Akaroa, a tiny town on the Banks Peninsula brimming with French-inspired architecture. The highlight here is Akaroa Harbor, where you can swim with endangered Hector's dolphins as they frolic in the bay.
Fluorescent blue water flows through Hokitika Gorge, a South Island hotspot for hiking and kayaking adventures. Cross over the suspension bridge for an uninterrupted view of this mind-boggling natural attraction.
Azure waters of the glacier-fed Lake Tekapo lap against a tiny town of the same name. The snow-capped Mount Cook looms in the distance, best viewed from the Mt John Summit Circuit Track. Hot springs, an observatory for stargazing, and a photogenic old church enhance the magic.
The South Island’s most iconic lake became Instagram-famous for a solitary cracked willow tree. After photographing the gnarled #ThatWanakaTree, head up to Roy’s Peak for sweeping Mount Aspiring views. Skiers shouldn't miss nearby Treble Cone.
Perched on the island's northern tip, Marlborough Sounds is a maze-like network of dramatic sunken valleys. Take a boat tour or rent a kayak to experience this scenic stretch of coastline. Thirsty? The nearby Marlborough Wine Region produces top-quality white wines.
Some say Milford Sound is the eighth wonder of the world—and who are we to disagree? Take a boat cruise (or splurge on a scenic flight) to admire this fabulous fjord flanked by rainforests and waterfalls.
A Southern Alps highlight, Mount Aspiring National Park sets the scene for Peter Jackson's classic Lord of the Rings movies. Glacial landscapes, deep gorges, and abundant birdlife await in this vast, untapped expanse.
New Zealand's highest mountain rises 3,724 meters into the sky. Admire its majestic presence on a rugged hiking trail or a winding scenic drive. Thrill seekers could embark on an unforgettable heli-hiking tour of the nearby Franz Joseph Glacier.
Nicknamed the “Adventure Capital of the World,” Queenstown is the go-to destination for all adrenaline-inducing pursuits. From white-water rafting to bungee jumping and death-defying jet boat rides, you’re sure to get your heart pumping here.
There’s so much to see here, and truth be told, you won't fit it all in 7 days. Aotearoa (the Maori name for NZ) is a traveler’s paradise, especially if you like the outdoors. This itinerary is a great way to spend seven memorable days in NZ’s south island, starting and ending in Christchurch, because it has an international airport and plenty of campervan rental services.MORE: 7-Day South Island Itinerary
The South Island of New Zealand offers the outdoor-loving tourist snow-capped mountain peaks, enormous glaciers, deep fjords, golden beaches, lush rainforests, and turquoise lakes, sperm whales, yellow-eyed penguins—and memories to last a lifetime.MORE: 14-Day South Island Itinerary
Travellers must hold a full, unrestricted car license to hire a campervan in Christchurch. Non-English licences need an accompanying International Driver’s Permit (IDP).
Many campervan agencies refuse to rent vehicles to drivers under 21. One notable exception is JUCY, which rents campervans to customers over 18 and/or with a restricted New Zealand or provisional Australian license.
Freedom camping is generally permitted in New Zealand, however, while allowed, it is strictly regulated. Rules and guidelines must be followed at all times and these can vary depending on the area and any council bylaws (local laws) that may apply.
Generally to freedom camp anywhere in New Zealand, your vehicle must have a self-containment certification
If you are unsure of the rules that apply in a specific area it is best to visit the nearest I-Site (visitor information center) and ask about any local regulations or bylaws.
Yes, many companies have depots in both the North and South Islands and allow one-way trips.
If planning this you will need to pay the cost of the ferry, our support team can help you book this.
Additional one-way fees may apply, the comparison tool will automatically factor this into your total.
Yes, a large number of rental companies allow for one-way rentals.
This may not be available between all routes and additional fees apply depending on the pick-up and drop-off location. Our comparison tool will automatically factor in any additional fees and show you which vehicles are available on your preferred route.
A good idea is to plan for a minimum of 7 days. However, even a 2- or 3-week road trip around the South Island will easily be filled.
Popular attractions include Mount Cook, UNESCO-designated Fiordland National Park with Milford Sound, Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier, and the adventure capital of Queenstown.