A New Zealand family campervan adventure with Apollo Motorhomes

Hi, my name is Meghan and I think I might be a campervan addict!

Last year I went on 2 campervan holidays and as soon as I got home I just had to start planning the next one! There is no feeling like being on the road, exploring wherever you want and pulling up in some of the most scenic locations in the world to sit down for gourmet homemade pizza cooked in the camper or to wake up in the morning and open the curtains to mountain views to die for.

We rented a 6-berth Star RV motorhome through the Apollo Motorhome branch at Christchurch Airport and soon we were off on our first leg after stocking up on supplies from the Countdown supermarket conveniently located right by the airport. And so the adventure began!

Day 1: Christchurch - Castle Hill - Lake Pearson

We arrived at Castle Hill mid afternoon to a sprinkling of snow in the mountains. I'd been wanting to visit the incredible rock formations here for a long time, and Castle Hill didn't disappoint. The boys were happy playing hide and seek and army amongst all the rocks while I photographed the outcropping of rocks in the lovely golden afternoon light. The mountains with a dusting of snow behind framed the rocks beautifully, and did you know that this location was used in the film The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe? It wasn't hard to imagine.  I could have stayed here all day but it was onwards to Lake Pearson for our first night camping out.

On the way we saw the sky light up in the most incredible fiery show during sunset - we literally pulled over on the side of the road to get this shot while the sky went all nuclear.

The campsite at Lake Pearson was rustic, as you'd expect with an unpowered site but what a spot. While everyone was getting ready for bed for the night I snuck out and captured a few shots of the night sky - it was so clear and crisp amongst the mountains that I knew we were in for a chilly night! Can you see the shooting stars in the shot below?

I can't think of a more lovely spot to park up under the night sky for the night.

Day 2: Lake Pearson - Arthurs Pass - Hokitika Gorge - Lake Matheson

We woke up to a crisp -2 degree morning, and I snuck out while it was still dark to capture the sunrise. The lake levels were too high and the position not quite the right angle for sunrise, so I headed out onto the road and watched in amazement as candy floss colour splashed across the sky - it was by far the most impressive sunrise of the trip!

From Lake Pearson we we drove to Arthurs Pass - the drive through here is incredibly lovely, scenic around every corner - I especially love this view of the long straight road leading into the mountains.

We stopped in Arthurs Pass for a coffee as I'd been wanting to visit Devils Punchbowl Falls and at an hour return trip it was a manageable walk for our boys aged 8 and 11. I'd also promised them we'd see kea in this area so we were all a bit disappointed there were none to be found in the village itself.

But we remedied that when we stopped a little further down the road at the Otira viaduct - there were kea galore!

The viaduct is a very impressive man made feat completed in 1999, and it has made the drive through this area so much safer from the constant threat of rockfall. It was lovely to visit on a blue sky day, I've heard many a traveller say they have only driven through here in terrible weather so we were pretty fortunate.

This little fellow was cheekily hopping around all over the place with his mates - it was our first encounter of the holiday but not the last - we ran into more of his mates in Milford Sound too!

After reaching the west coast, we turned south and made it to Hokitika in time for lunch and to stock up some supplies. At the last minute we made a decision to head inland to Hokitika Gorge - and I'm so glad we did. This was my favourite unexpected highlight of the trip - I had no idea this place was going to be so magical and so vibrant, full of the most amazing aqua colour.

Even the road to the gorge was scenic with lots of dog leg corners and view of the Southern Alps stretching out in front of us. The weather turned gradually cloudier as we made our way south towards the glaciers and Lake Matheson.

It was my first time visiting Lake Matheson and somewhere that's been on my bucket list for an awfully long time. Unfortunately there was both a lot of cloud around and a breeze blowing which made it challenging conditions. But even just being in this spot had me buzzing!

There was no lack of colour in the sky despite the lack of a clear mountain view. A special moment indeed.

We camped the night at the Fox Glacier Top 10 Holiday Park which was pretty luxurious compared to our first night, and I crossed my fingers for a better view at sunrise.

Day 3: Lake Matheson - Haast Pass - Wanaka

We woke to pouring rain, and I wondered if that meant kissing sunrise goodbye. As we parked up at the carpark, the rain stopped so I made the half hour walk round the lake, running the last five minutes as I saw the sky about to light up.

The mountains played peek-a-boo all through sunrise, and whilst I still didn't get the amazing clear reflections I'd been hoping for, there was something pretty incredible about this view.

Our journey then took us through the Haast Pass. I don't know what I had been expecting but the pass was incredible and exceeded all our expectations. We stopped at Thunder Creek Falls for lunch, marvelling at the amazing aqua colour of the water, not marvelling quite so much at the sandflies that found us.

Next stop was Fantail Falls - they really did suit their name fanning out from a hidden nook in the bush.

The last stop of the day was the Blue Pools - they are truly a sight to see - the water colour is incredible. This was one of the busiest spots we visited - despite the fact it was school holidays it really hadn't felt super busy anywhere else so it was surprising to see so many people on this walk.

There were a few brave souls taking a dip but even more impressive was watching a group of keen lads get hold of a massive boulder, heave it onto the swing bridge and drop it over the edge.

The giant splash it made resounded through the canyon.

We drove down between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea through The Neck. It was a really windy afternoon but the clear skies gave us great views!

After reaching Wanaka, we pulled up at Lakeview Holiday Park and I headed down to the lake for sunset. I didn't have high hopes as it was incredibly breezy but there was just enough light coming through to give the sky an incredible orange purple glow.

It is probably a little cliche to shoot at the famous Wanaka tree but it was a very easy choice with the campervan parked up less than a kilometre away - meaning the boys could all hang out while I did my thing. You'd never know it from these shots but there were at least 20 photographers lined up here trying to shoot on this evening.  This is one popular spot!

Day 4: Wanaka - Queenstown

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I headed back down to the tree for sunrise as I could leave the rest of the family sleeping - it was still less than ideal with a stiff breeze blowing. But the clear skies were a pleasant change from the clouds the night before, and the first light hitting the mountains behind with a soft pink glow.

After 2 days clocking up some serious miles we decided to make this a cruisier day for the boys to enjoy - visiting Puzzling World in Wanaka and then heading on to Queenstown for a round of mini golf. 

Puzzling World was cool - man it really messes with your mind. And the outdoor maze gave us a good bit of exercise as we had to figure out a way through.

Mid afternoon, we headed up Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy, stopping at the Bennetts Bluff lookout to admire the view. Unfortunately, it was also incredibly windy here and it didn't feel terribly safe lingering with our big camper too long.

I'd hoped to shoot sunset at Glenorchy, but the wind was way too strong and was almost blowing the tripod over so we made for our next night's accomodation at Moke Lake. I'd stayed here once before and really wanted to show the family this gorgeous spot tucked away in the hills behind Queenstown.  I was also hoping it would be a little more sheltered here, and it was. We parked up under the watchful gaze of a full moon whilst I regaled the family with the story of how I'd locked myself into the toilet only to find myself having a close encounter with a possum behind the toilet bowl in the dark on my last visit - it was funny retelling the story now but definitely not so funny at the time.

Day 5: Queenstown - Milford Sound

Morning brought a little colour to the lake in an incredibly peaceful place. We had a big day of driving today, having made the decision to drive to Milford Sound. We knew that the forecast that day was for a lot of rain but took a punt on the forecast for the following day which promised clear skies. 

The closer we got to Milford Sound the more we knew the weather predictions were bang on. Fiordland was living up to its moody predictions. It was almost like the minute we hit the border of the National Park, the heavens opened - you can see it ahead of us in this shot below.

It wasn't easy to take shots along the way - for a start the rain was pretty heavy, and most of the good vantage points where you could really get a sense of the waterfalls raging where in 'no-stopping' zones - there are plenty of these along the drive due to the risk of avalanche and rockfall. But believe me we were in absolute awe at the waterfalls just pouring down around us on both sides of the road - it's a sight I'll not forget.

By the time we reached the Milford Sound Rainforest Lodge campervan park, the skies had cleared. But the waterfalls were still barrelling down the hills wherever they could find a path - these shots were taken literally a few steps from where we parked up for the night - what an incredible setting.

I was determined to try and get some sort of sunset despite the inclement weather, and we did in fact manage to spend nearly an hour down near Mitre Peak enjoying the fast moving cloud action and the roar of Lady Bowen Falls overflowing with a tonne of water before the rain returned. Hubby then did himself proud in the campervan back at the campsite managing to cook us all gourmet pizzas before we turned in for the night.

Day 6: Milford Sound - Queenstown

For once the weather forecast was on point and the next morning dawned brilliantly clear with just a hint of pink cloud streaking the sky.

It was my first time seeing this area under brilliant blue skies and it really did blow me away. For a few moments it was all I could do to soak in the fact I was here in this very moment. Can you see the cruise ship sailing into the Sound for sunrise? Doesn't it look tiny compared to the scale of those epic peaks!

Trusting in the weather forecast, we had decided to take a cruise on the Sound to see its splendour up close. Lucky for us, going a day after heavy rain meant a few temporary waterfalls were still flowing.
One thing that I didn't expect to see though, was the incredible shafts of light that found their way into the Sound. I'm sure that going out on the very first cruise of the day when the sun was still low in the sky helped to capture the rays more than a journey out in the middle of the day.

The best bit according to my boys was the chance to get a soaking underneath Stirling Falls - it was a freezing cold, crisp day and it meant they had to brave being wet through for the return leg, but I'm told it was well worth it. I stayed at a safe distance to capture it on camera!

By the time we docked at the jetty, the sky was full of incredible swirly clouds and the tide had come in making gorgeous mirror image reflections of Mitre Peak for us to admire on our walk back to the campervan.

The drive out of Fiordland was the polar opposite of the day before, sadly we didn't have time to stop in as many places as we would have liked because the clock was against us. I'd arranged to meet a photographer friend in Queenstown for sunset so we made tracks all the way back.

It was great to see another vantage point of Queenstown I hadn't been before - this taken from near Jack's Point - with the Remarkables behind and a clear view south down the lake it was eye candy in all directions. Capturing the last of the sun's rays over the lake was a special moment.

Whilst I was off snapping photos, hubby and the kids were in town chowing down on Fergburger - a must do while in the adventure capital. A little tip for young players though - phone in your order and save the massive queues that often stretch right down the street!

Day 7: Queenstown - Mount Cook

We had parked up for the night at Twelve Mile Delta - a massive unpowered campground not far out of Queenstown. It was conveniently close to Bob's Cove - the spot I'd chosen for sunrise. I had a bit of brain fade that morning, and plonked myself down by the lake waiting for sunrise, promptly forgetting that my Queenstown friend had recommended climbing up to the vantage point to get great panoramic views of the whole area. 

Needless to say when I realised the colour was starting to fire completely in the opposite direction, it was a very rapid fast walk/part jog up the steep hill with camera gear in tow to try and capture the beautiful vista. It nearly killed me but I made it in time to capture some of the colour at least!

On my way back down I stopped in at the jetty - I'm not lying when I say the colour of the water here was THE most vivid aqua I've ever seen, and so clear I could see the bottom a good 8 feet below.

After breakfast, we headed into Queenstown and enjoyed a very rare sit-down coffee in a cafe - it was our first of the whole trip and we'd been on the road nearly a week by now - which just goes to show how easy it is to be self sufficient in the campervan. We had another long day of driving ahead making for Mount Cook. It was one of the places I was most looking forward to showing the family, but after a whole week of checking the forecast and feeling hopeful, I was disappointed to see rain forecast for the next two days. We figured we would still try our luck though as we had to almost drive past Mount Cook on our way back to Christchurch.

Lake Hayes was looking like a perfect mirror on our drive out of Queenstown so I dashed out of the motorhome for a few shots. We also stopped briefly in Lindis Pass - I love this place and I never spend long enough here as it's always on the way somewhere. The scale of this place just blows your mind - can you spot the teeny tiny vehicles in the shot below?

I was so relieved when we got close enough to see Mount Cook - it was still visible. But looking at the crazy lenticular clouds overhead, I knew it would be a matter of hours before the mountain would disappear.

We made the decision to race to Tasman Lake as I was dying to show the family the icebergs and sure enough there were a few floating in the lake, close enough to actually hit in the stone throwing competition they ended up having while I snapped some shots. 

Sadly for us, that was as good as it got with mountain views. The rain descended and didn't let up for a good two days. We spent the night at the White Horse Hill campsite at Mount Cook as planned, enjoying the feeling of being right in the mountains despite the bad weather and low cloud. The boys had a grand old time chasing rabbits into holes while dinner was being cooked, and we also spent a fascinating hour or so at the visitor centre reading up on the National Park. It was pretty harrowing reading all the accounts of the climbers who have lost their lives on Mount Cook over the years, pretty much every year around November/December there are fatalities here, a sure reminder that the mountain is king in its own environment. Having said that, it was also sobering seeing just how far the glaciers have retreated in the last twenty or so years - Tasman Lake was almost nonexistent twenty years ago, climate change is certainly incredibly evident both here and on the more famous glaciers of Fox and Franz Josef on the other side of the Alps. 

In the morning, when we faced the facts that we were in for a solid two days of rain we made the decision to flag our last night at Tekapo and head straight back to Christchurch. This was the best call we could have made, as we stayed in a great Top 10 Holiday park with an indoor pool and spa, a fantastic kitchen and bathroom complex and we enjoyed card games and chilling out until our flight home the next day. 

It's certainly hard to pick favourite moments from a trip as varied and scenic as this trip was when we covered more than 2,000km in a week, but hopefully this gives you a flavour of the fabulous time we had exploring the wonders of our beautiful New Zealand, and if still photos alone aren't enough, here's a snippet of the fun family moments we captured along the way.

N.B. I received no sponsorship or compensation from Apollo Motorhomes for this trip, I merely enjoyed the experience of campervan life so much I wanted to write about it!

To view more images or to purchase prints, please visit Meghan Maloney Photography


  1. Beautiful photos and video and have done exactly same trip a number of times and still cannot get enough of New Zealand. See some of my photos and video on my google website.

  2. I think I'll just have to get to South Island when visiting NZ. Thanks for the inspiration. Epic post!


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