Sampling New Zealand's South Island, Family-Style

8 February 2018

There is no doubting that you live in each other’s pockets on a motorhome holiday. So, while the allure of delicious fresh seafood, chilled Marlborough wine and picture-perfect views had pre-holiday excitement levels at a high, the idea of a 16-day self-drive motorhome family holiday around New Zealand’s South Island was daunting for us all. 

Thankfully, these thoughts were squashed just an hour after touching down in Christchurch when our travelling party of four was met at the arrival gate by the team at Wilderness Campervans, who whisked us back to their depot for a swift yet thorough orientation of our four-berth motorhome.

Teen girl sits by the road in New Zealand. Eating roadside in NZ next to our Wilderness Camper.

Wilderness Campers is not the most budget-friendly of the self-drive and self-contained pack – actually quite the opposite – but the company’s expert customer service and amenities are well worth the splurge.

Complete with heated flooring, bathroom, a fully equipped kitchen and Wi-Fi, we drove our motorhome out of their front gate feeling confident and smugly equipped for our family’s choose-your-own-adventure in our own (self-rated) 5-star portable hotel.

Kumara Junction road in New Zealand On the road at Kumara Junction.

For our first adventure, we headed north to Hamner Springs in the Canterbury region of the South Island where we set up at Top Ten Holiday Park, which was also full of young, adventure-seeking families. We divided our time between trading camping tips over drinks with friendly campers by the playground to relaxing in the thermal waters and rushing down the waterslides at Hamner Springs Thermal Pools & Spa. Our family dinner of gourmet fish burgers from the roadside PJ's Chalet was quick, affordable and delicious, so much so that we treated ourselves two nights in a row.

A sunset view at motorhome campgrounds in New Zealand. A sunset dinner at one of the campgrounds.

The main drawcard of a self-drive holiday is the ability to camp wherever the view is best and the South Island of New Zealand has an abundance of freedom camping sites for even the fussiest of holidaymakers to choose from.

Our most noteworthy (and free) beachside camping spot was in Kaikoura, where the boulder-covered beaches are lined with kelp and sunbaking seals that seem oblivious to the kids climbing over each other to get up close and personal. We parked our Wilderness Camper in the lot next to The Pier Hotel and had a steaming bowl of locally sourced seafood chowder that made us ask the chef for the recipe to take home and forget the chilly wind outside.

Three females feeding salmon at a New Zealand salmon farm. Feeding the salmon at High Country Salmon Farm.

Fresh seafood was our go-to for most of our family meals in New Zealand and it doesn't get much fresher than the salmon sashimi served at High Country Salmon Farm, which we discovered en route to Aoraki Mount Cook.  Here we ate salmon pie, sashimi and sushi like kings after hand-feeding the energetic salmon as they darted about in the freshwater farms beneath the pontoons. The farm was a huge tourist drawcard on the day we were there; it was no surprise to hear it attracts up to 1,000 visitors a day in the high season and produces more than 200 tonnes of salmon per year.

Two people using smartphones in a Queenstown park. Family embracing the free Wi-Fi in the park in Queenstown.

With countless delicious cafes, stunning pubs, farm gates and cellar doors around the South Island, the tourist town of Queenstown also has a bounty of dining options, including New Zealand fashion label Rod & Gunn’s The Lodge Bar, where we drank sparkling wine while the kids went next door to Patagonia Chocolates to make their own chocolate-dipped ice-creams.

Holding a glass of sparkling wine in Queenstown. Drinking sparkling at The Lodge Bar, Queenstown.

However, no other Queenstown eatery draws a crowd quite like the infamous Fergburger. The crowd of tourists, locals, families and backpackers line up four-deep to get their hands on TripAdvisor’s most popular burger in New Zealand. We’re not a family to miss out on the hype, so we join the queue and were not disappointed with our haul, which was so big it became our only meal of the day.

While we ate our way around New Zealand and our stretchy pants expanded with each day on the road, some of our most enjoyable meals were made in our Wilderness Camper, using locally sourced produce from farm gates we discovered getting from A to B.

In the end, the camping closeness was not daunting at all – in fact, it gave us solid time together and a delicious taste of New Zealand that has left us hungry for more.

Feature image: Getty Images

All other images: Donna Kramer

.........................................................................................................................................................

Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to New Zealand.

.........................................................................................................................................................

Donna Kramer

Donna Kramer is a passionate traveller and a mother of four which means she can often be found hitting the road, plane, train or boat with her large family in tow as she explores another destination to fuel her passion and travel writing profession. Whilst she loves long walks on the beach, she’d swap them for a gin and a laugh with friends any day of the week.