Tara’s South Island Roadie with her Pup!

We invited guest blogger Tara to share the itinerary and top tips from her recent summer campervan trip around the South Island with hubby, Warwick, and their adorable dog, Luna!

For a while, we’d been dreaming of a South Island campervan trip, but had put it off because there are often extortionate fees associated with bringing a dog. We came across Madeleine on the Quirky Campers site and fell in love with her fresh interiors and compact, yet roomy design – and of course that we could bring Luna at no extra cost! With limited time (and annual leave), we decided to book our flights from Auckland to Christchurch for an 11-day trip around Canterbury.

Our 11-day Itinerary

    Day 1 – Auckland to Christchurch

    We were very nervous to put Luna on a plane as most dog parents would be, but with adequate preparation and the knowledgeable staff at Air New Zealand, there really is nothing to worry about. The process goes a bit like this:

    • Once you book your flights online, the next step is to let Air NZ know that you will be travelling with a dog. Airlines charge dogs like an additional checked bag. You then pay an extra handling fee on the day of your flight once you get to the airport.
    • Hire or buy an airline approved crate. There are strict requirements so it’s best to go with a reputable company. We hired ours through Aircare Pets.
    • Do some training with your dog so that they are comfortable in their crate and line it with towels and blankets that smell like you.
    • Arrive at the airport early and head to the oversized luggage area where they will check in your dog. Then give them a handful of treats and know you’ll see them safe and sound very soon! Dogs are last on and first off so they don’t need to be under any additional stress.

    Seeing Luna off in her crate!

    As soon as we let Luna out of her crate in Christchurch she was her usual happy-go-lucky self!

    First stop on our trip was to pick up Madeleine. We loved chatting through all her cool features with Jac, the owner, and took time organising all our things in the seemingly endless amount of compartments. Storage is very important in a van so you can keep everything tidy, especially with a dog. The pick up process was super easy and we were soon on our way.

    Second priority was to head to Further Faster to get Luna fitted for her Ruffwear dog pack. This was very much a hiking trip so we wanted Luna to be able to carry some of her food and treats – plus doesn’t she look cute?!


    Day 2 – Christchurch to Lake Pukaki

    The real road trip begins! After a morning stroll around Christchurch, our first stop was Geraldine – a cute little town just under two hours drive from the city. Of course we had to visit Geraldine Cheese Company to pay the cheese tax. Dogs are not allowed inside, but Luna was certainly interested in all the smells and happily took part in the cheese tasting later that evening.

    Of course we had to pay the cheese tax in Geraldine!

    When we arrived in Lake Tekapo we were pleasantly surprised to see that it was lupin season (our trip was in late November). We went for a walk around the lake and then parked up with the most stunning view near the lake’s edge. Just one of the many reasons why we love campervan holidays is the freedom of being able to park up somewhere with a beautiful outlook and soak it up from the comfort of bed – unbeatable!

    Time to find a place to sleep for the night. We searched on Rankers and found a winner – a dog-friendly campsite (Pines Camp) on the shore of Lake Pukaki. The site is basic but the views are stunning. We cooked up dinner out the back of the van and soaked in the sunset.

    We walked a few minutes up the hill on the campsite and got this amazing view of Mt Cook!

    View of Pines Camp from up the hill

    Day 3 – Lake Pukaki to Ashburton Lakes

    We woke up early and drove round Lake Pukaki to a point just off the road where we’d seen lots of lupins. The pink and purple flowers seemed to match the colours of the sky as the sun came up over Aoraki Mt Cook. After many photos, we cooked up breakfast and enjoyed our morning coffee. Madeleine comes with a couple of collapsable chairs which came in handy!

    Happy girl in amongst the colourful lupins

    We wanted to visit another lookout point before heading north, so we drove round to Peter’s Lookout on Lake Pukaki. This spot is super popular with tourist buses, so make sure you get there early! We enjoyed the view of Aoraki Mt Cook at the carpark, before taking the short track down to the water’s edge. In need of a freshen up, we braved the 10°C water and took an icy dip! Luna wasn’t keen and watched from the shore.

    The view from Peter’s Lookout over to Aoraki Mt Cook

    Next on the list was Lake Emma! To get there, we drove north to Mt Somers and parked at Lake Camp. Note: Dogs are not allowed down by the lake. It is so remote and beautiful – we couldn’t believe we hadn’t heard of the Ashburton Lakes before!

    We began our hike from Lake Camp to Lake Emma. It’s a flat, easy track which winds through the valley below Mt Harper. The views are stunning the whole way. The beginning of the hike is fenced on either side, which is great for practising recall with your pup. Despite our initial practice, Luna’s ears didn’t seem to work when she saw her favourite thing to chase – a bunny! Something to keep in mind when hiking all over the South Island – there are a lot of them. The track is exposed with no shade the whole time, so bring plenty of water. It took us about three hours out and back to complete, with the Lake Emma historical hut being the turnaround point. It was built in the late 1800s and is super interesting to have a look around.

    Taking a break at Lake Emma mid-way through the hike

    After completing the hike, thanks to Rankers, we found a campsite called Bowyers Stream to rest up for the night. It’s basic but has toilet facilities.

    Day 4 – Ashburton Lakes to Craigieburn Forest Park

    We continued north towards Craigieburn Forest Park and completed two hikes. Trig ‘M’ and Helicopter Hill. Doing both on the same day was quite challenging but we wanted to squeeze in as much as possible! Both viewpoints at the top are surrounded by mountains, with Trig ‘M’ also offering beautiful views over Lake Lyndon.

    Trig M summit!

    Surrounded by mountains at the top of Helicopter Hill

    With very tired feet (and paws), it was perfect that our campsite for the night was right at the base of the Helicopter Hill trail at a DOC site – Mistletoe Flats. The sandflies are relentless but other than that it’s a very peaceful place to stop for the night. It also has a shelter so you can choose to cook there instead of out the back of the van.

    Day 5 – Craigieburn Forest Park to Kaikōura

    Big driving day for us up to Kaikōura. We stopped for a bite to eat in Rangiora and were stoked to find a dog-friendly Italian cafe called Fresca. There’s plenty of seating outside where we could comfortably sit with Luna – plenty of other doggos there too, so it’s clearly a popular spot. After some delicious sandwiches and a look round the deli, we continued our journey.

    We’d seen the awesome reviews at Alpine Pacific Holiday Park and decided that’s where we’d spend the night. With a spa, pool, views across to the mountains and it being dog-friendly, what more could you want? The facilities were amazing which is what we needed after a few nights staying at bare-bones campsites. We also loved how spacious the sites were. There’s even a partially fenced area in the middle of the park, where we could give Luna some off-leash exercise.

    View from the campground at Alpine Pacific Holiday Park – beautiful!

    Day 6 – Kaikōura

    We had seen the forecast the night before and knew it was going to be a hot day so we got up early and drove to the trailhead for Mt Fyffe. We’d emailed the Nelson DOC office a few days prior to get our dog permit for Luna. The process is really simple and is free! All you need to do is email the office with a few details about your dog including their microchip number. When you get the permit back over email, you’re good to go!

    We were on the trail by 7.45am but after what felt like hours (it was probably less than an hour) of relentless uphill up a 4WD track we quickly realised we didn’t bring enough water for the three of us. We managed to reach a point which gave us some awesome views out to the Kaikōura peninsula, then decided to call it a day and head back. Even though there was decent shade on the track, it felt so hot and wasn’t worth risking running out of water completely!

    We headed back into town and enjoyed a relaxing day by the pool at the holiday park. It was a great feeling to be back in civilisation again so we took advantage by having a meal out at Street Eats Kaikoura – highly recommended!

    Street Eats Kaikoura had some delicious kai

    Day 7 – Kaikōura

    We had been so lucky with the weather but knew it was going to take a turn. We couldn’t believe how the previous day was 26°C and 16°C the next. Due to the wild weather we decided to extend our stay at the holiday park. We often find it difficult to keep Luna occupied if we can’t be outside for long periods, but Kaikoura has so many great dog-friendly, rainy day activities.

    We had breakfast and a coffee at Sime’s Kitchen, then walked around town. There are so many cute boutique stores to check out and some which Luna was allowed inside. In the afternoon we headed to Emporium Brewery where there were heaps of board games to keep us occupied, while Luna had a snooze in the van. Due to the cooler temperatures we knew she’d be safe – even then, we didn’t leave her alone for too long.

    Day 8 – Kaikōura to Hanmer Springs

    Time to leave our beloved Kaikōura. Next stop – Hanmer Springs! Before we visited the Kaikōura seal colony. As this is obviously not dog-friendly and we didn’t want to leave Luna alone in the van on a hot day, we took turns walking along to the viewpoint. We even got to see some babies – so cute!

    We arrived at our next accommodation, Alpine Adventure Holiday Park, and used the rest of the day to prepare for our overnight hike to Lake Guyon which we would start the next day.

    Time to pack up!

    Day 9 – Fowlers Pass Track

    Before we left we triple checked we had everything we needed for the overnight trek. We knew our destination, Lake Guyon, would have no reception, power or drinking water (there was a stream we had to boil from), so we had to be prepared. We left Madeleine safely at a friend’s and travelled with them to the trailhead.

    One of the many river crossings on the way to Lake Guyon

    We set off on the Fowlers Pass Track knowing there was an adventure ahead of us. The first part of the hike is steep uphill with no shade. Luckily there are a few streams on the way up where Luna could cool off and grab a drink. We were relieved when we got over the crest of the hill and down into the valley where there was plenty of shade thanks to the beech forest. This was the perfect place to stop and refuel with some lunch for us and a bully stick for Luna.

    After the forest, there are many river crossings so bring some sandals unless you don’t mind wet boots/feet. I found myself wishing I had four legs as Luna bounded through them, waiting for us on the other side wondering what was taking so long. None were higher than our knees but this could vary a lot based on rainfall and time of year!

    The hike from here onwards was unlike anything we’d experienced before. After the river crossings, the valley opened up revealing a vast meadow. Not long after we turned to our right and were met with this breathtaking view over snowy mountain ranges towards Nelson Lakes National Park. The walk did feel long but we had the scenery to keep us going, and for Luna she had the scent of bunnies.

    Walking through the meadow – sniffing for bunnies

    After what felt like forever we finally reached camp. It was so peaceful with only the sounds of birds and the stream. We took a dip in the lake and aimed to stay awake to see the stars. Being so remote, we knew they’d be spectacular. But after having walked over 16 km, our bodies had other ideas and we fell asleep before it was even properly dark.

    Finally we made it to the lake!

    Day 10 – Hanmer Springs to Waipara

    We woke up to a still, misty morning. It was COLD so we were happy to have packed many different layers. Knowing the trail was out-and-back, we knew exactly what was in front of us for the journey back. We set up early and were back at our car by lunchtime.

    A cold start to the morning – quite the contrast to when we arrived

    Reflecting on the hike, it was so unique and really special. It certainly wasn’t easy given the sheer length of it and the number of river crossings but we highly recommend it given the beautiful scenery and remoteness. Just make sure you go prepared – it’s quite the adventure!

    We picked up Madeleine from our friend’s, said our goodbyes and headed back down south. It was just a bit too far to get to Christchurch so we found a spot on Rankers in Waipara called Waipara Sleepers Motor Camp. The camp has good facilities and was a great spot to get all our things sorted before flying out the next day.

    Day 11 – Waipara to Christchurch to Auckland

    Our last day came around so quickly and we were sad to have to say bye to Madeleine. We drove back to Christchurch and grabbed some lunch at our favourite dog-friendly cafe Dose Diner. Wanting to make sure Luna was tired for the plane ride back, we headed up to Styx Mill Dog Park. We don’t usually go to dog parks but we got very lucky and it was completely empty! There was plenty of space for Luna to run around and we felt satisfied that this would make her able to relax a bit easier for the plane ride back.

    Quirky Campers NZ makes the van drop off process super easy. All we had to do was refill the water and empty the greywater. Typically you would drop the van back at the owner’s house, however we had arranged to meet Jac at the airport for a small extra fee, which made it even easier!

    We had the BEST time hiring Madeleine and finally being able to make our dream of taking Luna hiking in the South Island a reality. Two paws up!

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