We spent 5 weeks touring the South Island, which is approximately 500 x 100 miles in size. The geography is do diverse and the scenery spectacular. For those of you planning a trip to NZ, we included a map of our route around the island, information on where we stayed, what we did, and our favorite restaurants. We stayed at AirBNBs, (www.airbnb.co.nz) which is someone's house where they rent out a private room and bath for travelers (average $60 US/day). Most of them also provide breakfast and allow you to use their kitchen and laundry. We ate out because there were so many good restaurants. The houses we stayed in were all wonderful, very clean, and our rooms were very private. Our hosts were all so accommodating and full of information about where to go and what to see. It was amazing to us that people just give you a key to their house; so trusting! So they helped us plan trips and gave us good information on what to see and do. We really enjoyed the experience and getting to know people in NZ. Half way through our trip, we found that we could get hotel suites equally as cheap being out of season (booking on our cell phone was cheapest). Several friends of ours camped and others rented a camper van and they all raved about the nice camp sites in NZ. The weather here is good for camping December through March, but schools are out December through January, so traffic is bad and places are packed. The best time to tour NZ is February and March. April is great, although too cold for camping; there are no crowds and not much traffic.
On our way to tour the south island, we had to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road and driving on the Kiwi roads. The first thing you have to get very used to is the trucks. They don't just have trucks and tanker trucks; they have "double" trucks! And, then you have double trucks passing double tanker trucks! And, there are only a few "motorways" (highways) with double lanes, mainly in and around Auckland and Wellington. The rest of the roads throughout the country are 2-way roads, so you are always passing double trucks, almost head on.
Once you get to the South Island, the roads get tiny and windy with hair pin turns and rock overhangs. So, then you pray a LOT that when you are on a hair pin turn, you don't hit a double truck! It is a white knuckle drive! To add to it, the Kiwis have saved tons of money by just building small one-lane bridges. So, you have to read the sign as you are approaching the bridge, to see if you have right of way or if you have to wait for cars/trucks coming the other way. And, then they also build the bridge to accommodate trains! Yes, we shared a one-way bridge with railroad tracks and a double truck ahead of us! There was a sign showing who had right-of-way, with another sign that said that trains were "exempt". I put together a video that shows the windy roads, one-way bridges, and the beautiful scenery. People say that driving on the west coast of the South Island is much like driving on Hwy 1 in California. (See Video)
They do have some very entertaining signs showing that you have to share the roads - with Kiwis, Penguins, Cows, and Sheep. We had to stop once to let a heard of cows pass all around the car. We even saw signs that say "Cow Manure", so you know where to get it! One of my favorites was a sign with a person labelled "Aged". (See Photos)