Mackenzie Minibreak

Updated: Aug 8, 2021

We’ve been thinking about buying a campervan for a while now. But since we’ve never driven one, or slept in one, we thought we’d better test one out! So we booked a Jucy campervan and planned a five day dash around Mackenzie country, in the South Island.

A few things we decided on early:

  • We didn’t want to freedom camp for the first time so we pre-booked powered sites at campgrounds.

  • We would be traveling in the middle of winter and had to be warm so we booked a heater as an optional extra with Jucy ($20 total and worth every cent)

  • We knew we’d try and get a day’s skiing in so we booked snow chains, also through Jucy ($40 total, more on that later)

Day One

We picked up the camper from the Jucy depot at Christchurch airport. We got a full briefing on how to use the van. This one was self-contained and we had to learn how to empty the grey water and the toilet, fill the water tank etc.

We decided to do our longest drive first and headed out to Glentanner Park, near Aoraki/Mt Cook. It was a grey day and the fog was low and thick. You could barely see the car in front, but the van was easy to drive and the roads were great. We stopped in Ashburton to get groceries, our plan to keep things affordable was to cook our meals in the camper or at the kitchen campground.

We stopped at some towns along the way including Geraldine, Farlie and Lake Tekapo. Near Aoraki/Mt Cook, we stopped at Lake Pukaki which was stunning, even with all the fog.

We arrived at Glentanner mid-afternoon. The team there was super helpful and knowledgeable about the area. The facilities at the campground were excellent, with a fully equipped kitchen, modern bathrooms and lots of space.

We settled in for the night, getting our bearings with the van. Adjusting to the space - or lack of it - took us a good day or two, but once we figured out where to put everything and how to move around with two people, we got used to it. Our model (the Condo) also had two double beds, one at the top, one down below, so at least we had our own space each night.

Day Two

We woke early and on the way back from the bathroom, MJ’s jaw dropped and he pointed behind me. There was a huge snow covered mountain, and as I looked around, I saw we were surrounded by them. That’s what was hidden behind the fog yesterday!

MJ was keen to ski early in our trip and after doing some research, we made our way to the nearby Ohau Snow Fields, close to Twizel. The drive from Twizel was incredibly beautiful, snowy mountains everywhere. As we approached, we had to fit our snow chains. I’d never done that before but I had been briefed at the Jucy depot and managed to fit them pretty quickly. The road up was a steep, narrow alpine road.

We were almost at the top when the van’s wheels started spinning and we started sliding backwards. I slammed my foot on the brake and tried again, same thing. We were stuck. Other cars could get around us fortunately, but I was panicking. I called the mountain and told them what happened, they said they would send someone.

In the meantime a guy jumped out of his car and asked if he could have a look, he said he was an engineer. He confirmed that the chains were supposed to be on the rear wheels, not the front. What?! No one had mentioned that critical detail in our briefing!

After 40 very stressful minutes with my foot jammed on the brake, Craig from the Ohau Snow Fields came to our rescue. He backed the van down safely for us and took us up the mountain in his truck where we had an absolutely incredible day of skiing. But the experience left us both pretty shaken and we opted not to ski anymore on this trip. And yes, I called Jucy to let them know. That’s a whole other blog ...

Day Three

Headed to Aoraki/Mt Cook today. Absolute scenes. We’d love to spend more time here to do some of the walks and other activities, but in the end we just spent the morning. We visited the Hermitage Hotel that houses Sir Edmund Hilary Alpine Centre. The hotel itself has an incredible history, but learning more about Sir Ed was very special. After coffee and a walk to the visitor centre, we were on the road to Lake Tekapo.

One of the things I didn’t expect was how often I was going to pull over to take a photo! My words, nor the photos, can describe how sensational this place is in winter. The drive from Aoraki/MtCook to Lake Tekapo is one I’ll never forget. Literally every turn we were actually saying out loud: wow, wow, wow!

After the first day of fog, we had beautiful sunny days. I understand now why people fly here from all over the world. Lake Pukaki, and the mountains that surround it, was a major highlight for both of us.

We arrived at Lake Tekapo and checked into the holiday park. We were desperate to get some washing done, and yes I’ll admit it, Wi-Fi. Lake Tekapo Holiday Park offers both unlimited free Wi-Fi and laundry services. All of their facilities were modern and close to most sites - amd check out the view.

By this point we had stuck to our plan of cooking for ourselves. But honestly, by the time we got to Tekapo I was over it, so we went out for epic burgers at Our Dog Friday. I think you have to chuck those things in every now and then, otherwise the cooking part gets pretty boring!

Day Four

Today was our chill day and we spent it at Tekapo Springs. You can soak in the hot pools or book in for a spa treatment. For the more adventurous, have a go at ice skating or snow tubing. MJ’s highlight was definitely the tubing, I loved the hot pools, and we both enjoyed ice skating. Awesome to have everything in one spot, and the food at the café was great. We had nachos and pizza and both were yum, reasonably priced and decent portions.

Day Five

Our last day! We were on the road early to make it back to Christchurch to drop off the van and get to the airport. But not before visiting the Church of the Good Shephard and the Sheepdog statue. We learnt that the sheepdog was called Friday, not now name of the burger place we ate at makes way more sense!

So the big question is … would we ever do a camper trip again?

I think we would try it again but only in the summer. Being confined to such a small space when it’s winter means you can’t have the doors open or cook outside.

Here are our top tips if you’re thinking of doing a camper trip:

  1. Jucy provided a lot of helpful information to know before you go. We changed the type of luggage we brought based on this. Small soft bags, not big hard suitcases. You’ll be moving them around a lot, in and out of different spaces, so pack light.

  2. They tell you to bring an AUX cable so you can use the radio. We did, but we couldn’t. Nothing we have these days is compatible with an AUX cable! Just bring your wireless speaker if you have one.

  3. Do buy groceries, but only get what you think you’ll need on the first day or two, (unless you’re not going to be near a supermarket for a while). We planned for beyond that and ended up having so much that we didn’t use.

  4. Clothes. We packed way too much. Know that you can do a load of washing and halve the amount of stuff you bring. Our ski gear alone took up a lot of room so you may consider hiring that.

  5. Jucy provided all the bedding and we booked a heater. We were warm the whole trip so you can leave the hot water bottles behind!

And it wouldn’t be an Afven blog without a few of our tips for an affordable adventure:

  1. Most ski fields have half day options so if you’re pushed for time and cash, you could choose that over a full day. Some also offer discounted lift passes for mid-week visits too

  2. Even though we caved and had a dinner and a lunch out, cooking your own meals from the camper is the most affordable way to do this trip.

  3. Bookme offers discounted rates for Tekapo Springs so you may be able to pick up some of the activities for cheaper, depending on availability.

  4. Even if you don’t ski or visit places like Tekapo Springs, there is still plenty to do. This part of the South Island offers so many things free of charge. There are plenty of walks and hikes to try, and history to learn. Even just parking your camper up at the lake would be an amazing way to spend an afternoon. Views for days.

  5. Jucy itself is a really budget friendly option compared to many of the other companies we researched. Just keep an eye on the insurance. We opted for full insurance which cost almost the same as the cost to hire the van for five days, so you may be able to achieve some extra savings there.

We loved our whirlwind trip in a winter wonderland. For us, it’s a must-see destination, especially in the winter. We give it five very golden stars.

- Kiki & MJ

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