Roadtrip around the South Island of NZ

When planning our Fiordland trip, we wondered how to best get there.

Living at the top end of the South Island we pretty much had to cross the whole island. I’m a big fan of travelling by bus and it is much easier with Maya too, since she hates the carseat and to keep her happy demands CONSTANT entertainment.

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We were keen to catch some waves on the way though, which made the bus option unfeasible.

Most surf spots are not along main highways and our luggage volume including surfboards, kites, packrafting, hiking and camping gear would have been hard to carry!

So we decided to pack the car and circumnavigate the South Island, heading down along the West Coast, famous for rain and sandflies. But it also gets solid swells and water temperatures are much warmer than on the East Coast.

Maya on surf check.

We took the scenic route along the Buller Gorge to Westport.

Well worth the additional kilometres since the drive along the Buller and along the coast afterwards was stunning, with surf spots along the way and the famous Pancake rocks.

Dinner with a view.
Maya with her favourite rock.
Waves near Greymouth with snowcapped mountains in the background.

Further South, we detoured to hike up the Waitaha, a river threatened by a planned hydroscheme.

The trail was absolute bushwhacking and climbing, so I soon turned around with Maya to set up camp, while Seon went to check out the gorge.

Driving further and further South, the towns were getting smaller, mountains taller, and traffic (and fuel stations) were rare. Driving around Fiordland National Park gave us a first impression of the sheer size and remoteness of this area.

After five days, we made it to Te Anau, the gateway to the fiords and last town before starting our  backcountry mission.

Our next goal afterwards was to surf around Dunedin, friends were going on and on about the pumping surf there, even in summer!

Again, we didn’t take the most direct route, but chose to drive along the Southern Scenic Route, with more great surf spots, the Catlins Forest Park and our – hands down – favourite camp spot!

Watching the sunrise and checking the waves without even getting out of bed, PRICELESS!

Dunedin delivered, surf everywhere, with a spot for any swell, size, tide and wind.

It was surprising that only 15km drive from the centre of town take you to a totally different world with untouched and wild beaches. In fact, Seon got chased out of the water by sea lions once!

Otago peninsula, just outside of Dunedin.

Maya had a blast on the beach, and finally we didn’t have to worry about sandflies anymore and could let her run around barefoot again! What a relief. They are famously hungry along the West Coast and we had to cover her up and use natural sandfly repellent from dawn to dusk.


Running out of time, we surfed as much as we could and did the remaining drive home in two intense days, driving late night and early morning, which is the only way to make ground when driving with Maya!

Overall lots of driving, but incredible places along the road and interesting people!


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