New Zealand is a wild, free and beautiful country. It's isolated, rugged and just all around epic. If you've ever seen a Lord of the Rings movie, you would see why.
One of my must-do's in New Zealand is the PurePods experience. PurePods are sustainable cabins made entirely of heavy duty glass (floors and ceilings too!) so you can see and experience everything around you. Lay in bed and watch the starry night skies above, or wander barefoot on the heated glass floor while hovering above the native plants growing underneath.
The people behind the PurePods want you to be fully immersed in Pure New Zealand. This means no wifi, BYO food and drinks (we'll get to this later), and an unforgettable experience you'll be raving about for years to come.
The PurePods glass cabins are designed to leave no footprint, operating fully off-grid, and are the epitome of minimalist luxury. The fact that it uses less energy in 24 hours than a hairdryer does in 15 minutes blew my mind. I am always looking for ways to be better to the planet, and this one was good for me too.
The cabins are built above the ground, so as not to impact the growth of the fauna around and underneath it. They use solar power to charge the batteries and heat the water, gas for the BBQ and cooktop, and a bio-fuel capable boiler in the winter months for extra heating and hot water. I can only imagine how amazing it would be to be all cosy in the PurePod, while watching the snow cover the hills around you. We might have to come back for winter here.
But don't worry, there is a USB outlet to charge your devices if you need it. However, I used my phone so little in lieu of enjoying the moment, that I didn't even need to charge it in the end!
There are 6 PurePods to choose from, and we ended up going with the Manakau PurePod, located about 30 min drive from Kaikoura or 2.5 hours from Christchurch to the secure carpark, then a 15 minute walk from there through bush to the pod.
Yes, there is a short hike from the carpark to get to your cabin, but that's the beauty of it. It's private and isolated, being one with nature literally in the middle of nowhere. All Purepods are placed on farmland, with help from local farmers who maintain the PurePod, and they know when it is occupied and are committed to your privacy. You only have the animals and the stars for company during your entire stay.
After the agonising decision of which pod we wanted to stay in, we booked online easily through booking.com. Click through to see more photos of the Purepod, plus reviews from other guests, and more.
Once you have booked, only then do they give you directions and instructions on how to get to your PurePod. We drove over rivers, bridges and gravel roads to get to the farmstead where we would leave our car. There was a hairy spot on the way where we weren't sure if our rental car would make it over a particular rickety bridge (it had been raining heavily the previous day), but that's all part of the experience and it's a funny story to tell after the fact.
We parked our car safely in the carpark provided, where we were assured the landowners would watch over it. We only packed what we needed for the night and left the rest of our luggage locked away.
We did bring our own food and drink, but the PurePods also have the option to supply you with a basket full of goodies to save you the trouble. We did this experience towards the end of our trip so we had wine, cheeses and yummy food from the local shops we stopped at along the way.
If you choose to have your food supplied, you can also enjoy locally sourced antipasto plate (cheese, pates and crackers). They also give you a choice of meat for you to cook on the BBQ as well as sides and dessert. Breakfast includes muesli with yoghurt and they have vegetarian or gluten free options available as well.
The PurePod has a cooktop in the kitchen and a BBQ on the deck, and there is all the clean, fresh water (sourced from a spring behind the cabin), pantry staples and utensils that you should need.
Which ever option you choose, I highly recommend picking up a bottle of wine or two. New Zealand is famous for their wines and you don't want to miss out on the experience of sipping a glass while watching the sun set over the landscape around you.
When you arrive in the PurePod, and after you pick up your jaw from the ground, you'll see that they really have thought of everything to keep you comfortable and entertained. The Manakau PurePod included a comfy queen bed, fridge, reclining deck chairs, games, books, and a boom speaker. The fully functioning bathroom also has a toilet and luxurious rain shower, both with views of the outside world.
The unique view from Manakau PurePod is of the Kaikoura Range, almost feeling like it's close enough to touch. Manakau Mountain, the tallest peak, is right in front of you and snow capped for most of the year.
If sitting back and relaxing isn't your thing, there are also marked trails where you can go for a hike, a wander for a picnic lunch or even just walk up the hill behind the cabin for an amazing view of sunrise or sunset.
We chose to relax and recharge for our stay. We road tripped New Zealand in a camper van and it was literally heaven for us to do nothing but lay back and enjoy. We read our books, bathed in the fresh New Zealand summer sun, played some music as we ate and drank, and just generally switched off.
It started to drizzle rain as the sun set, and this ended up being the highlight of the stay for me. While the sun was throwing colours over the surrounding countryside, we watched the water droplets pitter-patter on the glass roof above us as we snuggled into the soft, warm sheets of the bed. How could it get better than that?
Well, it did. After the sun set, the stars came out to play. Because of the isolation of the cabin, the stars were bright and plentiful. Make sure you turn off the lights in your PurePod so you can fully experience it. And there's even a telescope provided so you can look a little closer. It was magical and otherworldly. I don't think I've ever seen so many stars in one sky before.
As you go to sleep, you can leave the blinds open to wake up with the sun trickling in when the morning comes, or close them (walls and ceiling) for full privacy.
We did leave the blinds open, but ended up sleeping in anyway. I wish we had woken up for sunrise, but until we woke up later in the morning, we hadn't realise just how much we had needed that luxurious night's sleep - the best one I had experienced in weeks.
We were sad to go, but enjoyed it so much I knew we would be back one day.
Book your unforgettable and unique stay through Booking.com today.
Would you stay in a Purepod? What is the coolest place you have stayed in? Let me know in the comments.
Also, if you liked this, you can check out my two week South Island itinerary for New Zealand!
Last year I hopped across the pond from Sydney to New Zealand for the first time. Lots of planning went into this trip and almost nothing happened how it was planned. But I wouldn’t change a thing.
We had a couple of restrictions when booking our trip to the Land of the long white cloud.
I love to fly into a place and just go with the flow, letting the universe take me where it wants to go. For this trip, that wasn’t possible. But I found that sometimes limits can force you out of your comfort zone, too. We had to be meticulous with timings and only pick the best of the best experiences. It was a trip full of highlights without actually knowing what the highlights were. New Zealand exceeded our expectations and more.
Also, there is no way to see both the South Island and North Island in two weeks, which we originally planned to do. I asked everyone which Island was better and everyone had a different answer. But the general consensus was that the South Island had more untouched, naturally epic sceneries and was the best for hiking and feeling the freedom. We couldn’t say no to that.
Below I’ll list our itinerary for our 2 week trip of NZ's South Island with suggestions on how to extend the trip if you have a little more time up your sleeve.
Flying into Christchurch from Sydney took about 4 hours. There’s the option of also flying straight into Queenstown, but it doesn’t save much time to justify the extra cost.
To start, I highly recommend hiring a campervan. There’s plenty of options around as New Zealand doesn’t have great intercity transport, so they expect pretty much all tourists to hire either a car, van or full on house on wheels. We opted for a van, with a bed and small kitchen in the back.
Secondly, if you need it, is a SIM card. Vodafone had the best deal we could find for travellers. You can pick up a SIM at the airport in Duty Free for about $90 and you get 10GB data plus limited talk and text.
After picking up the van and our SIM, we grabbed some groceries and headed out of Christchurch, on our way to Lake Tekapo to spend the first night.
We were immediately struck by how beautiful the scenery was, even just a short drive out of the city. There were mountains popping up on the horizon, beautiful fields and greenery everywhere! We stopped in a small town on the way to switch drivers and grab fish and chips for dinner. One of the best fish and chips I’ve had - no exaggeration.
We arrived in Lake Tekapo after dark (due to an accident on the highway, we had to go the long way around) and checked into the holiday park. It’s right on the lakefront and close enough to town so you can take a small self-guided tour before settling in.
We booked the Mt John Observatory tour through Earth & Sky Observatory (now known as the Dark Sky Project) for that night. Tekapo is under a dark sky reserve, meaning light pollution is strictly controlled. It is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of only eight in the world.
Unfortunately, this was one of the first things that didn’t go as planned. After waiting up until midnight, we arrived at the tour office only to find it was too cloudy to see anything and the tour had been cancelled. Thankfully they refunded us without trouble and we headed to bed for our first night in New Zealand.
Waking up late on the second day, we wandered around Lake Tekapo village stopping for coffee and breakfast in the Creedy Cow. Prices here are comparable to Australian prices - about $30-40 for coffee and small breakfast for two.
There’s a few places of interest around the area if you want to wander around after a meal.
A beautiful, small stone chapel located just as you drive into town from the East. It overlooks Lake Tekapo and it’s interdenominational, which I love. It's popular for weddings, and anyone is welcome to walk around.
Just past the Holiday park is Tekapo Springs, perfect summer or winter for some relaxation overlooking the Lake in hot and cool pools. There are many hot springs scattered around New Zealand, some natural and some man made. These are man made springs, but worth the trip if you have time. They also do a guided hot pool and star gazing tour at night.
We only opted for a short walk around part of the lake - the full lake is bigger than you think! - took some photos with the lupin flowers and looked around the Church before heading off to Mount Cook.
There aren’t any supermarkets in Mount Cook, only consisting of a small accommodation village, the museum, the campsite and a whole bunch of walking tracks. So before heading to Mount Cook, make sure you pick up anything you might need, including:
The main campsite is the White Horse Hill Campground. It’s located at the base of the Hooker Valley Track, the most famous track that leads to Mount Cook. To get a spot, you’ll need to arrive early - it fills up pretty fast. There's a kitchen area and bathrooms but no showers, so be prepared.
The Hooker Valley Track is popular. It will take about 3 hours from the campsite. The walk is beautiful, crossing 2 swing bridges over the river and even passing by some small waterfalls if you go after fresh rain. The bridges are a great photo op, if you can get them to yourself. The big reveal at the end is breathtaking. There is a blue lake, complete with icebergs, with Mount Cook rising up behind. There’s also a picnic area, so take some snacks or have lunch there before heading back to camp.
We couldn't stay long at the viewing area, as despite clear and warm weather on the way in, a summer storm quickly rolled in. All of a sudden, it was cold, wet and icy. It was bad. Luckily we took some raincoats with us as we were previously warned about the weather having the ability to turn at a moment’s notice. When we reached camp again, the rain had slowed but the damage was done - we were soaked through and freezing. With no showers, we put on fresh clothes and bundled up in the car with the heating on until it was time to come out for food.
All I can say is, please pack for all weather conditions when visiting New Zealand - even in the summer. Even if the sun is out, it can still get quite chilly. I found layering is the best way to go.
We packed up our camp early the next morning and drove out with beautiful, sunny skies and great views of Mount Cook along the road.
On the way to Queenstown, we stopped in Arrowtown for a little wander around. Splurge a little and grab some fine wine and local produce before heading onto Queenstown.
There is so much to do in Queenstown. It’s the adventure capital of New Zealand, perhaps even the world. There’s people from all walks of life, all ages and all backgrounds coming together in one town. And it is beautiful.
We chose to stay at Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park. It's central to everything, especially close to the Skyline and gondola, and relatively cheap. The views of sunset over the lake can't be beat.
There are so many experience booking offices, so there will be no trouble finding something to keep you occupied. We opted for booking our tours and experiences beforehand, through bookme.co.nz - they have last minute deals for some of the best experiences. For our budget and timeframe, this worked perfectly for us.
We opted for a jet boat ride along the shotover river. We also chose to do the ice bar experience - where everything (and I mean everything) is made of ice - the giant zipline and a wine tour. We considered also signing up for the giant swing/bungee, but chickened out at the last minute. I don’t think I’m quite ready for that leap just yet.
But hands down, the best view you’re going to get over Queenstown is the skyline - a gondola taking you up through Ben Lomond Scenic Reserve. They have a BMX track, ziplining, bungee jumping and luge rides. On the way down, stop at the Stratosfare Restaurant for some dinner, and watch the sunset over the lake and mountains, but get there early as the good tables start filling up about 6.30pm.
Overall, we stayed four days here, but could stay longer and still not get bored. There’s plenty of restaurants, bars, walks and more to do around the area and everyone is super friendly.
Hint: a great insta worthy location is the Basket of Dreams - found on the hike up Queenstown Hill.
Te Anau is a 2 hour drive south of Queenstown and is known as the gateway to Milford Sound. Book a cruise and either drive yourself through the national park or pick a cruise that comes with a coach transfer. We chose the coach, but if I did it again I would choose to drive ourselves - the park itself seemed to be full of great mini adventures and beautiful views that I would have loved to stop and explore a bit more.
Milford Sound itself is like nothing else in the world. Rain or shine, all weathers have their pros. With clear skies you can see the epic, rising cliffs as you travel out to the Tasman Sea and back. In rain, you get amazing waterfalls left, right and centre. Some cruises even take you right up to them, letting the pounding water literally smack you in the face. So exhilarating. There’s also seals, birds and if you’re lucky, dolphins.
Back in Te Anau, the glowworm cave tour is a must. They sail you across the lake from the small village, over to the other side where you squeeze through a tiny entrance to reveal caverns lit up with the glowworms.
If you’d rather just take it easy, you can take the Kepler track walk. The first part of this trek is an easy stroll, but starts getting into more of a hike the further you go
Driving back up through Queenstown again and up to Lake Wanaka, we stopped at the Cardrona Bra Fence on our way through. As you can guess, it is completely covered in bras, donated by women from all over the world in support of Breast Cancer awareness. If you have a chance, please donate at the box located next to the fence.
Once at Wanaka, you can’t not go to The Wanaka Tree. It is probably the most photographed tree in the world. Take some snaps, have a picnic on the lakeside beach, enjoy the view. The super blue lake coupled with the mountain range in the distance is a view you just can’t pass up.
You can also choose to stay here and hike Roy’s Peak. It’s a full day hike and at the top will take in all of Lake Wanaka and surrounds, an experience we unfortunately had to pass up in favour of saving time.
We instead opted to stay at a campground just north of the town, on the way to Franz Josef Glacier. The campgrounds in New Zealand are well maintained, safe and cheap - most of them only $8pp per night. We stayed at Cameron’s Flat Campground, which has the added bonus of being within walking distance of the famous Blue Pools track. It was a short, easy walk down to a suspended bridge and a waterfall flowing over a pebble beach and crystal clear river.
After packing up our camp in the morning, we headed to Franz Josef. It was a longer drive than previous days, but there were plenty of opportunities to stop along the way. First was Fantail Falls. It’s located just off the highway and will take a few minutes to walk to the clearing. People have made lots of rock stacks all over the river bed, creating a beautiful frame for the falls on the other side.
Further along, the highway turns to follow the coastline, offering spectacular views of the ocean all along the stretch of road. There’s plenty of places to stop for photo ops and more.
It’s amazing how the landscape can change so drastically - moving from mountains and dramatic cliff sides, to rainforest canopies enveloping you as you drive along the west coast. Mt Aspiring national park is so beautiful. We even were lucky enough to see a Pukeko, a native bird of NZ.
Franz Josef is a cute village nestled amongst stunning scenery and one of the best ways to see it is from the air. We had booked Helicopter Line with a heli-hike, which is a helicopter ride up to Franz Josef Glacier where you do a guided walk through some of the amazing structures formed by the ice. They also do trips to the Fox Glacier.
We almost missed this opportunity, since the weather turned bad and our booked time got cancelled due to low hanging clouds. Luckily, Helicopter Line managed to get us on the next cleared flight - the day was saved. It was an unforgettable experience and the highlight of our trip. The whole experience lasts about 3 hours before you head back down. It’s hard to explain without actually seeing it for yourself. Definitely a bucket list item to cross off the list.
After the hike, give the hot pools a visit. We chose a private pool, which has a private shower and change area with it. The pool is nestled amongst the forest and is the perfect place for some quality time and tranquility to relax and recharge. You get the whole pool to yourselves for an hour and really saved us after the cold and wet weather the previous day had brung us.
We also chose to stay in an Airbnb, after over a week in the van. Our whole time at Franz Josef left us feeling like brand new people - refreshed, happy and ready to finish our trip. We headed to Arthurs Pass to stay at Avalanche Creek Shelter for the night, a campground right in the middle of town. There were no showers, but we did find a communal shower in town that you can use for a small fee.
This was the longest driving day we had done so far. We got up early in the morning to do a small hike up to Devils Punchbowl Waterfall. A short 30 minute hike with a lot of stairs but a beautiful, roaring waterfall at the end.
After the hike, we headed to Kura Tawhiti/Castle Hill, a natural rock formation found on the way to Kaikoura. We stopped for lunch, taking a picnic up to the track that is overlooking the area. It felt quite spiritual and a great spot to just soak up the atmosphere amongst the amazing limestone boulders that form the hill.
But, the night I had been looking forward to most was coming up tonight! Before the trip I had heard about the Purepods located around New Zealand. They are small cabins made completely of glass, promoting sustainability and minimalist luxury. You feel like you are immersed in the landscape, being able to both watch the stars above you and the flowers growing beneath your feet all while snuggled up in the comfy warm bed. But don’t worry about privacy - there was not another person in sight for as far as the eye could see. Watch out for the sheep and cattle though, as the one we stayed in near Kaikoura was set up on farmland. It was a truly magical and unique experience and would definitely recommend to anyone going to New Zealand. If you want to learn more about the Purepods, how to stay there and what it's all about, I have another blog post on this exact topic. You won't regret it.
While around Kaikoura, we would have loved to do the Ohau Waterfall walk with the Kaikoura Seal Colony, but unfortunately the area was closed due to the recent earthquakes that caused the coastline around there to be unstable. Ohau Waterfall is famous for seeing baby seals up close and will be on our list for our next visit.
We instead opted for Kaikoura Kayaks, another way to see the seal colonies and even some dolphins if you’re lucky. They take you out from the main town and approach the waterfall area from the sea.
Due to the closure of the coast, we also had to miss out on heading further north up to Nelson and surrounds - famous for their wine, nature walks and biking. You can add this area onto your trip but because of its isolation from other areas of the South Island, I would recommend making the most of it and add a few days onto your timeline when you go up. There’s a few things we would have loved to see:
I know, I said that this itinerary was for two weeks, but I added an extra day because you will need it to see some more of the beautiful city that is Christchurch.
Despite it being a small, quiet city it has so much to offer. We stayed at the Chateau on the Park, a Double-Tree by Hilton, which I would recommend but I also would stay somewhere a bit closer to the city next time. Although, the walk through the botanic gardens to the city was beautiful. They even have gondola rides up and down the beautiful river in the gardens.
After arriving, we took a wander through the Re:Start container mall. The earthquake I mentioned earlier hit hard for Christchurch, killing 185 people, injuring many more and causing severe damage to the city. The Re:Start container mall was a great example of the New Zealander resilience. Originally meant to be a temporary structure, it was so popular it remained open until early 2019.
There is also a great restaurant scene - check out Little High Eatery and especially Bacon Bros, an infamous burger joint and popular with locals and tourists alike. There is also awesome graffiti art dotted around the city and some memorials for the tragic history of the area. So just wander around and take it all in.
One installation is the 185 White Chairs. Each chair represents an individual who died during the 2011 earthquake. It’s a powerful reminder and really hits home the extent of it all. Right next door is the Cardboard Cathedral. It was also meant to only be a temporary solution to the old church’s destruction, but became a permanent fixture due to its popularity.
That brings an end to our trip to South Island, New Zealand. On the way out, if you have time, also check out the International Antarctic Centre. It’s located within walking distance of the airport and have storage for your luggage so you can pop over if you have time to kill before your flight. They have a Antarctic storm simulator room, Hagglan rides, huskies, and penguins. We spent an hour or so here and it wasn’t enough!
It was a sad moment to leave New Zealand. It was like nothing else in the world. But I will be back. Perhaps even in the winter, when the mountain ranges are covered in snow, and we can experience a completely different side to this amazing country.
Have you been to New Zealand’s South Island? What experiences would you recommend?