Layne explores the tallest mountain in New Zealand, Mt Cook.
Layne explores the tallest mountain in New Zealand, Mt Cook. Layne Whitburn

You won't fit all of NZ in

Travelling. It's the worst part of travelling. Road tripping New Zealand, however, is the exception.

I am yet to meet a New Zealand road without a dramatic backdrop, especially in the South Island. Whether you're cruising beside glacier-fed lakes, zig-zagging around snow tipped mountains (yes, even in summer) or winding along the rugged coastline, getting from A to B in NZ is just as spectacular as the destinations.

The only downside to a country where every corner is electrifying is trying to fit everything in.

The best way to see the most of the country's pure landscape is by joining the campervan club and hitting the road. New Zealand caters for happy campers with plenty of campgrounds and even free sites called freedom camping scattered around the country.

Buckle up, charge the camera and tick an epic road trip off the bucket list because here are 10 of the best things to see, do and taste over summer in the South Island.

Dive off the world's first bungy jump

A mountainous landscape calls for thrilling bungy jumps and nobody does bungy better than AJ Hackett. Mr Hackett is the entrepreneur of adrenaline and after a bunch of test jumps (including the Eiffel Tower), the thrill seeker introduced the first commercial bungy jump in 1988 at Queenstown - a humble 43m dive off Kawarau Bridge - and it's still here today. Jump off the world's first bungy or go full throttle and free fall for 8.5 seconds on Australasia's highest bungy jump, the Nevis. It's 134m of pure fear and adrenaline that'll test your vocabulary.

TIP: Book a morning jump. The more you think about it, the more likely you'll be a piker and gap it (Kiwi expression for backing out of the situation). AJ Hackett has plenty of other adrenaline-fuelled activities slightly less frighting such as 60km/h ziprides to 300m arc swings.


Layne hanging above Queenstown on the AJ Hackett swing.
Layne hanging above Queenstown on the AJ Hackett swing. Contributed

Visit the tallest mountain in New Zealand

Swap wheels for boots and explore the tracks cars and campervans cannot take you on. The three-hour return Hooker Valley track at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park has all the ingredients for an epic hike. Walk up the glistening Hooker Valley and along the Hooker River, crossing over three suspension bridges before reaching the main event, Mount Cook. Don't be surprised to see snow decorating the mountain tip even during summer. It's the tallest mountain in New Zealand and below is the glacier lake complete with icebergs and a whole lot of spectacular kodak moments.

TIP: Wear sunscreen. As a Queenslander experiencing the bipolar New Zealand weather, sunscreen wasn't high on my must-pack list. Three hours and two red shoulders later, I quickly learned the Kiwi sun is just as brutal as it is in the sunburnt country.


Mt Cook, New Zealand.
Mt Cook, New Zealand. Layne Whitburn

Taste wine in the country's largest wine cave

For a wine tasting tour as dramatic as New Zealand's landscape, you can't go past the Gibbston Valley winery. What sets this winery apart is its majestic wine cave, the largest in the country. Check out the region's oldest vineyard, the iconic Home Block vineyard, before tasting the very drop made in front of your eyes inside the cave. Oh, and it tastes di-vino too.

TIP: Complement the palate and dine onsite at the Gibbston Valley Winery Restaurant. Serving local flavours with expertly-matched wines, I recommend the wild rabbit lasagne for a true Kiwi cuisine experience.

Check out a glacier, or two

Beach to the left, glaciers to the right. The West Coast is glacier country with two glaciers next door to each other - Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. If you're short on time, the Fox Glacier Valley walk is only a one-hour return trip and takes you within 450m of the glacier's terminal face with spectacular views of the Fox River surging beneath the wall of ice.

Hungry for more? Drive 25 minutes north and do the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk. This three-hour return walk will get you so close to the intriguing ice that you'll feel the chill bite your skin. For the adventurous hikers, step onto the ice with a guided glacier tour.

TIP: If you are travelling on a shoestring, this is the one adventure you shouldn't cut corners to experience. Glaciers are just as beautiful as they are dangerous, so be sure to invest in the professionals and let them take you on a guided tour. They'll provide you with all the right gear and information to get you there (and back) safely. Visit to find a package to suit you.


Franz Josef Glacier.
Franz Josef Glacier. Layne Whitburn

See the clearest water in the world

Some of the world's favourite beach destinations such as the Greek Islands, Bahamas or Maldives get all the credit for having the most beautiful water, but did you know the clearest water in the world is in New Zealand? Blue Lake (Rotomairewhenua in Maori) is home to the ethereal water and it comes as no surprise a treasure like this is hard to find. Tucked away in the Tasman District's Nelson Lakes National Park, you'll spend two days hiking to see the phenomenon or it can be admired above from a helicopter. Worth it? You bet. Visibility through the water is measured beyond 80m, making this lake truly one of a kind.

TIP: As beautiful and inviting as the water looks, don't go swimming. This gem is considered sacred to Maori, therefore human contact with the water is prohibited.


Invigorating glacier water at Mt Cook.
Invigorating glacier water at Mt Cook. Layne Whitburn

Hang out with a seal colony

Meet some New Zealand fur seals in their natural habitat at Tauranga Bay, just south of Westport. You won't leave disappointed as this seal colony is lively year-round, plus it's one of the easiest colonies to access around the country. Walk an easy 10 minutes along the track to the viewing platform directly above the colony. These seals can dive deeper and longer than any other fur seal, especially the females. The West Coast females have been recorded diving deeper than 238m, that's 11 minutes of swimming straight down the deep blue.

TIP: With breeding season from mid-November to mid-January, the best time to view the Tauranga Bay seal colony is between December and March when the pups are playful.


Seal colony south of Westport.
Seal colony south of Westport. Layne Whitburn

Put a spring in your step post-hot springs

Adrenaline may be New Zealand's middle name, but romance is at the heart of the country, and there's no better way to rejuvenate after an adrenaline-fuelled day of biking, hiking or bungy jumping than soaking in steamy natural springs. Boost blood circulation, smoothen rough skin, relieve stress and ease muscle pain - all while taking in the romantic surrounds of the dramatic landscape. There's plenty of hot springs to visit around the country to reap the benefits of New Zealand's naturally healing mineral water.

TIP: Eat, sleep, bathe, repeat at Maruia Hot Springs. This private gem caters for fellow campervanners with a campground onsite the 24-hour spa. The water at Maruia Hot Springs comes straight from the Earth directly below New Zealand's Southern Alps. Infused with natural minerals, these geothermal waters have naturally risen to the Earth's surface on the site for centuries.

Visit for packages and further information.


Hot springs.
Hot springs. Layne Whitburn

Catch some salmon, then eat it

Whether you're a keen fisher or devoted foodie, you won't leave a Braided Rivers Fishing Guide tour hungry. These fishing tours are just a 90-minute drive from Christchurch at the unique braided river systems at the foot of the Southern Alps. Home to wild Chinook (king) salmon averaging between 5kg and 11kg as well as trout for fly fishing, this authentic Kiwi adventure has serious bite.

TIP: Don't stop at salmon. New Zealand cuisine is renowned for its trout, whitebait and of course fush and chups.

Go to a rugby game

Rugby is like a religion in New Zealand. Every little town you pass may not have a restaurant or even a grocery shop, but it's likely to have a rugby field. Feel the passion and go to a live game. Check out for fixtures and tickets.

TIP: Go to a bar before or after the game to meet the locals. Their pure passion for the game is what sets New Zealand rugby apart from the rest of the world. After all, it is the game played in Heaven.

Tour de Marlborough

Decrease your carbon footprint and pedal around the unspoilt wilderness that is the Marlborough Sounds. Glistening Pacific waters are sheltered by ancient hills decorated in subtropical rainforest shaping a dramatic maze of secluded bays and cosy coves. Photos simply cannot do this awe-inspiring coastline justice. See it for yourself and bike along the queen of scenic trails, the Queen Charlotte Track. The entire track is 70km of breathtaking views. Schedule two to three days to conquer the whole track or spend as little as half a day on the saddle exploring the shorter trails between Camp Bay to Torea Saddle or start at Torea Saddle and finish at Anakiwa. Visit for updates on weather, possible trail closures and further information.

TIP: Gears will be your new best friend as a view this dramatic wouldn't be complete without a few strenuous hills, but it's worth every pedal.


Explore New Zealand by bike.
Explore New Zealand by bike. Layne Whitburn

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