I was a little bit nervous for this adventure before I arrived in New Zealand. It was my first time overseas on my own and the first time driving a motor home all by myself. Dale from WildernessNZ picked me up from the airport and put my mind at ease straight away though. He reassured me that I would be fine and that the campers were easy to drive.

After watching the instructional video and going over the van with Dale I was on my way! It was such an exhilarating feeling being on the open road and all the possibilities of fun ahead of me.

The thought of free camping was a bit nerve racking at first but the Wilderness Travel app was so incredibly helpful. After stocking up on food at the supermarket I left Christchurch at 6pm and headed to Rakaia Gorge Camping Ground. The Wilderness Travel app helped me find it very easily in the dark and there were two other campers already there. I found a spot to pull up and bunked down for the night.

The next morning I woke up just before sunrise so that I could find somewhere to photograph it. I walked about 3 metre from the camper before seeing a snow capped mountain and that’s the direction that I headed in.

I found a river with aqua blue water and followed it upstream towards the mountain. It was a gorgeous morning with a little bit of fog around that turned into blues skies.

Sunrise at Rakaia Gorge, New Zealand
Sunrise at Rakaia Gorge, New Zealand

After a quick breakfast I filled up the water tank just to get used to doing it and headed off towards Lake Tekapo.

Lake Tekapo

It was a gorgeous day and driving towards the snow capped mountains was candy to my eyes.

Beautiful snow capped mountains on the way to Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Beautiful snow capped mountains on the way to Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

It was a perfectly calm and still day at Lake Tekapo when I arrived. The mountains were reflecting in the water of the Lake. I have never seen it looking so beautiful before. Don’t get me wrong, Lake Tekapo is absolutely stunning but seeing it this calm was on another level.

I pulled up beside the lake for a spot of lunch and to enjoy these views from my camper window.

Views of Lake Tekapo from my van, New Zealand
Views of Lake Tekapo from my van, New Zealand

After lunch I went and grabbed a spot at Lake Tekapo Motels and Holiday Park. Unfortunately there is no where to free camp at Lake Tekapo but the $23 powered site at this place was well worth it. Gorgeous views over the lake and really nice, clean showers and toilets.

My camp spot for the night, Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
My camp spot for the night, Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

I headed back down to the Lake for sunset which was a nice pastel sky after finding this gorgeous orange tree beside the Lake.

I love the colour of this tree against the blue water, Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
I love the colour of this tree against the blue water, Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Sunset at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Sunset at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

After sunset I headed back to the caravan park and cooked a stir-fry in my camper kitchen which was delish, then hit the hay so that I could get up early for sunrise.

It wasn’t much of a sunrise but it was lovely just walking down to the waters edge to enjoy the early morning views.

Scenic flight with Air Safaris

After breakfast I went and did a scenic flight over Lake Tekapo and Mt Cook with Air Safaris which was incredible. Matt the pilot was so experienced and knowledgable about the area. The views were stunning and seeing Lake Tekapo from the air was something else. The blue of the water is amazing.

The stunning Lake Tekapo from the air with Air Sarafis, Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
The stunning Lake Tekapo from the air with Air Sarafis, Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Stunning snow capped mountain views from the air with Air Safaris, Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Stunning snow capped mountain views from the air with Air Safaris, Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

I will write a separate blog on this experience but everyone should do a scenic flight if they are in Lake Tekapo area. It’s breathtaking.

After enjoying an amazing flight over the mountains and Lake Tekapo I drove to Lake Pukaki. This lake is even bluer than Lake Tekapo. The drive along the side of this lake is picture perfect and you find yourself stopping every 5 minutes to take photos.

Lake Pukaki

It was another gorgeous day in New Zealand. I decided to pull over and have some lunch by this gorgeous lake.

Lunch time views over Lake Pukaki, New Zealand
Lunch time views over Lake Pukaki, New Zealand

The plan was to spend two days at Mt Cook, but I was struggling to leave this amazing place. Finally I pulled myself away and headed for Mount Cook even though a friend who was just there was leaving because the weather had turned bad.

Mount Cook

Driving towards Mount Cook, I could see the clouds surrounding the mountains. As I reach the camp ground it was cold and raining with gale force winds. I made myself a hot chocolate and waited to see if it was going to clear.

The weather report for Mount Cook was looking awful for the entire weekend.  After an hour or so it seemed to be getting worse so I decided to drive back to Lake Pukaki.

I free camped at Lake Pukaki Reserve for the night and parked the van right alongside the lake. It was such a gorgeous night.

Back at Lake Pukaki

I made myself some dinner in the camper and hit the hay for the night again.

The next morning I woke up to the most amazing sunrise ever. I was so so thankful that I had left Mount Cook the previous afternoon. I could see it from where I was camped and it was still covered in thick cloud.

I threw on some warm clothes, grabbed the camera and walked up onto a small hill. I sat there watching in amazement as the sky put on one of the most magical performances. I was the only one around and it felt like it was performing just for me. It was an amazing feeling.

Amazing sunrise from Lake Pukaki, New Zealand
Amazing sunrise from Lake Pukaki, New Zealand
My most favourite place to camp! Lake Pukaki, New Zealand
My most favourite place to camp! Lake Pukaki, New Zealand

After the amazing light show was over I went back to my camper for some breakfast. I also had to decide where to go next. Mount Cook was still hiding behind a bank of clouds. I decided to bypass it and try my luck on the way back to Christchurch in a few days.

I packed up the van and headed for Wanaka.

Lindis Pass

On the way to Wanaka I spotted this cute little picnic area. I thought it would be a great spot to stop for a break. I found this gorgeous stream and bridge and had to explore it.


After having fun wandering around this stunning woodlands I jumped back in the van and drove through the incredible Lindis Pass. The rolling mountains with snow sitting on top sure is a beautiful sight.

Lindis Pass, New Zealand
Lindis Pass, New Zealand


Visiting Wanaka again was very exciting. I remember loving this little ski town when I was there 5 years ago. It was still as beautiful as I remember it, just a little bit busier. I didn’t know of any places to free camp near Wanaka. However, I was told about a good caravan park so after taking in the views of the lake I drove to Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park. This park had great service, snow capped mountain views, the showers were clean and it was only a 5 minute drive into town.

I spent the afternoon relaxing at the caravan park. My laptop,  phone and camera batteries were in desperate need of recharging so I made the most of being hooked up to power. There is a 240 volt converter in the van but it’s very slow to charge. I enjoyed editing photos while gazing at the snow capped mountains.

That Wanaka Tree

The sky was looking very cloudy for sunset but I headed down to “that wanaka tree” anyway. I was the second person to get there and by the time it was sunset there were about 15 other people beside me with cameras! It sure has become one popular tree in the last 5 years.

Moody blues at the Wanaka Tree, Wanaka
Moody blues at the Wanaka Tree, Wanaka

The next morning I went back to the Wanaka tree again for sunrise. Again there were about 20 people there.  I ran into two of my favourite Australian photographers there – Ric Da Cunha and Luke Austin. Ric and Luke were running a photography tour, hence all the people that were there. It was nice to finally meet them face to face and have a chat while snapping away!

Sunrise at the Wanaka Tree, New Zealand
Sunrise at the Wanaka Tree, New Zealand

After sunrise I had breakfast and a shower. Then it was time to head to Roy’s Peak for the gruelling climb to the summit.

You can read about the second part of my New Zealand trip in Part 2 next week. Have you been to any of these places in New Zealand? I would love to hear your thoughts about them! Feel free to leave a comment below.

Check out my video about Free Camping New Zealand here:

Big thanks to Wilderness NZ for the hire of the camper van. I can’t  recommend these guys and there campers enough.

Wilderness Campers NZ

3 Export Ave


Christchurch 8053

Phone +64 9 282 3606

Email: [email protected]

9 thoughts on “Larissa’s Solo adventure of South Island, New Zealand – Part 1

  1. Completely amazing post Larissa. As I said on Facebook, Nz should be renamed to The Land of Epic Scenery and Awesome Photo locations!! Your images show such incredible detail, and vibrancy and colour and life and show a country of such epic beauty, from the incredible greens to the rich white of the snow to the perfect pastel coloured skies, and stunning aqua blue lakes…..

    Thanks again for sharing such beauty, I cannot wait for part 2!! ????

    1. Thanks so much for your continued kind words Anthony. Im so glad you enjoyed this blog and that you are excited to read part 2. New Zealand sure is an amazing country with so much natural beauty. I think it may be my favourite country! Its sure up there on the list anyway. I hope you get to experience the magic that it holds one day soon! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Amazing Larissa, what an exciting adventure!!! So glad to hear how easy it is to do a camper van holiday…you’ve inspired me to do the same!

    As always, your photos are stunning, the ariel shot over Lake Tekapo is out of this world!

    1. Thanks so much Ella. I’m so glad you enjoyed the blog and super excited that I have inspired you to try a camper van holiday. It is honestly so much fun and so easy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I can’t decide want is more amazing, your adventure or photos!!! Your campervan looks amazing and glad to hear that it is super easy. Do you think it is easier than free camping in Australia?

    1. Thanks so much Andrew. I haven’t really free camped around Australia yet but I have looked into it and I have to say that New Zealand is winning by leaps and bounds with the free camping facilities! I may be wrong though so don’t quote me! Haha! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Hi Larissa,

    I’m totally loving reliving your NZ trip through your blog entries.

    As it so happens, I’m planning my first solo trip overseas this November and driving through the South Island of NZ was what I wanted to do!

    I just wanted to ask how many days did your road trip take as I may use it as a guide for my own adventure.

    Thanks for your help and inspiration.

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