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New Zealand in Campervan: Christchurch to Greymouth

This post on the scenic route Christchurch to Greymouth begins a series of posts on our campervan trip around New Zealand South Island. We bought flights to Christchurch, rented a campervan at the airport and set off from Christchurch to Greymouth and down the West Coast. 

The Alpine road from Christchurch to Greymouth takes you across the Southern Alps, from the Pacific Coast in the east to the Tasman Sea in the west. The highest point on the itinerary is Arthur’s Pass at 920 m.

New Zealand Campervan Trip Christchurch to Greymouth

This is our rental campervan, a Kea camper. Kea is a New Zealand parrot that we also got to know on this road trip.

Road Trip Christchurch to Greymouth Map

The map shows our itinerary across New Zealand South Island, from International Airport of Christchurch  to Greymouth on the West Coast.

The distance from Christchurch to Greymouth is less than 250 km and driving time 3 to 4 hours without stops.

But what is campervan travel in New Zealand like?

Planning a New Zealand Campervan Trip

We landed on late afternoon so our first day’s program was to get a campervan, drive to a supermarket and fill the kitchen with fresh, delicious New Zealand foodstuff and good New Zealand wines. And to hit the road.

Setting off from Christchurch to Greymouth

Filling the campervan with foodstuff

Yes, and of course we had to get a New Zealand sim card. We needed it to one of our phones to share the connection to all our devices. Luckily Vodaphone had a desk at the airport with lots of staff serving incoming visitors. In two minutes we were connected!

Where to Rent a Campervan

New Zealand campervans

Campervan: a popular way of travel in New Zealand

We booked our campervan a long time in advance, right after we had booked the flights.

After examining different campervan hire websites we finally booked on a site that compares different campervan providers. On those sites it’s easy to compare the rates and what they include and what they don’t. It all worked well and we got what we wanted.

Campervan Finder is a rental agency that shows all leading campervan brands and has a very high customer rating. If you are planning a trip this is their website:  Campervan hire from Christchurch.

Every time we have rented campervans we have counted it’s worth choosing the complete package that includes everything: insurance, gas, linen, kitchenware and camping table and chairs.

Where to Stay the Nights

New Zealand campervans in a holiday park

New Zealand: campervans in a holiday park

On a campervan trip you normally stay the nights in holiday parks or on campsites. You need power, light and heating. Maybe you also need a shower and a toilet – if you don’t have them in the camper.

You should check in advance if there is a holiday park where plan to stay.  No website lists them all so you have to search. A helpful address might be is the New Zealand Holiday Parks Association website. It shows holiday parks on a map so you know where they are.

Parks often close their gates in late afternoon so contact them if you plan to arrive later than that. We never arrived early so we always had to contact them and check.

Breakfast in a campervan

Christchurch to Greymouth drive: Breakfast in a campervan

There are very few holiday parks between Christchurch and Greymouth and we were wondering where you could stay. And then we found a camping ground in Springfield that was perfect match for the first night: the Kowai Pass Camping Ground, Springfield. And the night after that we were already in Greymouth. Greymouth is a tourist area and has many holiday parks.

Driving from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass

Road trip Christchurch to Greymouth

Into the mountains

This is Springfield. The landscape is lush and green since the coast around Christchurch gets a lot of rain. In the mountains again the nature looks dry and brown, at least towards the end of the summer.

Driving from Christchurch to Greymouth

Autumn: ideal time for a New Zealand trip

We made our New Zealand campervan trip in April which is autumn. It is an ideal time for a South Island road trip. There is much less traffic than in summer (January-February) and you don’t need to book your nights in advance.

In April there was no snow yet on mountain roads so driving was easy. We felt driving was safe at all times.

Mountains Christchurch to Greymouth

Green fields of Springfield

After Springfield the road starts climbing, you are in the Southern Alps. Some photos of the road in the Southern Alps:

Winding road Christchurch to Greymouth

New Zealand Christchurch to Greymouth road

 Christchurch to Greymouth: good road all the way

It’s not a long drive to the first pass, Porters Pass, 945 m, and the lakeland after that, Lake Lyndon. There is also the turn-off to the Porters Pass Ski Field, the closest ski field to Christchurch.

Christchurch to Greymouth Train Line

Railway Crossing

Watch out for trains!

The road from Christchurch to Greymouth mainly follows the railway. That means you have to cross the rail track many times.

In fact you can also make a Christchurch to Greymouth trip as a day trip on the Tranz Alpine Express Train. Here is the website: Kiwi Rail Scenic Journeys. In addition there are bus tours – but a self-drive trip gives you more freedom. You are free to stop where you like, for instance to walk around this pretty mountain lake:

Mountain lake New Zealand South Island

A blue and green mountain lake

Campervan trip Christchurch to Greymouth

Traveling by campervan: stop wherever you like

As I already mentioned we had a Kea camper. Kea is a New Zealand bird, though maybe less well-known than the kiwi. We were wondering if we would see those birds on our New Zealand road trip.

Next stop: Castle Hill village and rock formations.

Castle Hill

New Zealand Castle Hill mountain view

Christchurch to Greymouth drive: Castle Hill

Castle Hill is a concentration of funny stones. Big limestone rocks are scattered all over a hill. You can climb on the rocks, and walk around and between them.

Castle Hill rock formations

Exploring  the rocks of Castle Hill

Castle Hill (or Kura Tawhiti) has a historical meaning to Maori. It was an ancient Maori meeting place. Some more photos of the ancient Maori place:

Castle Hill rocks

Castle Hill New Zealand South Island

Between Castle Hill rocks

Walking between Castle Hill limestone rocks

After Castle Hill we crossed some tussock-covered plateaus, and then there was the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve. It is a limestone cave that has a stream inside and Maori art on the walls.

Christchurch to Greymouth: driving on from Castle Hill

Christchurch to Greymouth: driving on from Castle Hill

Lake Pearson and Purple Hill

Purple Hill Christchurch to Greymouth

Purple Hill

The Lake Pearson basin has arctic mountain beech forests that turn yellow in autumn. This reminds me of Lapland on the opposite side of the world where come from. There are no purple mountains in Lapland though.

This arctic scenery makes a strong contrast to tropical West Coast rainforests that are not far away from here.

Bealey New Zealand view

Christchurch to Greymouth lake view

Christchurch to Greymouth road

Christchurch to Greymouth: Lake Pearson and Purple Hill

Waimakariri River

Waimakariri River bridge

Waimakariri River, New Zealand 

Many New Zealand rivers have beautiful Maori names. This is Waimakariri River that brings melt water from Arthur’s Pass to the Pacific Ocean.

Waimakariri River bridge

A narrow New Zealand bridge

This is what most bridges in New Zealand look like, old, worn and incredibly narrow. But before you notice you’ll get used to driving on this kind of bridges.

Waimakariri River New Zealand

Visiting Arthur's Pass National Park

Waimakariri River New Zealand

Waimakariri River views and our rental van

Arthur’s Pass

Arthur's Pass National Park

Driving from Christchurch to Greymouth: Arthur’s Pass National Park

In Arthur’s Pass you are on the top of New Zealand. The pass divides South Island in two parts, the rainy east and the drier west.

The pass is surrounded by a national park that has sixteen peaks exceeding 2000 m! Arthur’s Pass itself is at 920 m.

Arthur's Pass National Park trees

View from the top

Arthur’s Pass National Park offers great mountain landscape and nice walking tracks of which we tried the Devil’s Punchbowl Falls hike. It’s a short hike, about an hour uphill from the village through a mountain beech forest.

Arthur's Pass National Park

Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, Arthur’s Pass

The Punchbowl waterfall is 131 m high. You can see the top of it in the photo, captured from the main road. Some photos on the Devil’s Punchbowl Falls track:

Arthur's Pass National Park river

Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall

Devil's Punchbowl Walk

Devil's Punchbowl Falls hike nature

New Zealand mountain nature

Arthur’s Pass has a small village centre 5 km east of the summit. The village originally was a camp of road and tunnel workers. The stayed here for years when road and rail connections from Christchuch to Greymouth were being built.

Christchurch to Greymouth scenery

The workers built huts for themselves. Today the village is a base for walkers and skiers but some original tunneller’s cottages still remain.

Arthur's Pass village cottage

One of the village cottages

Arthur’s Pass is home to alpine plants, and you can see native New Zealand birds like kiwi and kea in the area.

Kiwi Zone

Arthur’s Pass kiwi zone

Kea Birds attacking Kea Campervan

Christchurch to Greymouth kea on car roof

Christchurch to Greymouth by campervan: Kea bird attacking

After Arthur’s Pass the road starts descending to the west .We pulled on the roadside to watch the views before driving down. – And what was that noise?

Christchurch to Greymouth kea bird

Kea eating rubber 

In a minute two or three Keas were there, eagerly pecking rubber parts from our vehicle roof and around windscreens. So it became a very short stop. There was no way getting rid of them other than driving away with speed. After some driving we stopped and checked if the Keas were still on the roof and they had gone.

So now we had met with Keas at a close distance and I hoped not to see any Keas again.

Arthur's Pass to West Coast

Driving from Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth

Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth

Christchurch to Greymouth bridge

Crossing a river

The road descends deeply down to the West Coast. This side too has long bridges, most of them narrow like this:

Christchurch to Greymouth narrow bridge

New Zealand by campervan: a narrow bridge

On the western side the road follows the Taramakau River.

Christchurch to Greymouth road

Christchurch to Greymouth road

Taramakau River stone blocks have red stuff growing on them. It’s a kind of moss that comes in other strong colours too.

Christchurch to Greymouth roadside stone

Red stones on the roadside

As we are approaching the rainforest zone the landscape gets green, wet and cloudy – and before we noticed we were on the West Coast and in Greymouth.

Christchurch to Greymouth river and flowers

Christchurch to Greymouth flowers

New Zealand campervan trip, a Greymouth bridge

Christchurch to Greymouth: a scary bridge

This is one of the scariest bridges we had to drive on in New Zealand, a combined train and car bridge.

Next Destination: West Coast

Lake Matheson visitor

Lake Matheson, South Island West Coast, New Zealand

The journey will continue in my next post on the South Island West Coast. The post will show you the attractions and the beautiful scenery of West Coast. And from West Coast the journey will continue to the Central Lakes.

More on New Zealand Travel

This was section number 1 of our New Zealand South Island road trip. You will find our whole South Island itinerary and its all other sections here:

New Zealand South Island road trip by campervan

New Zealand South Island road trip by campervan

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