Places We Swim

Places We Swim in New Zealand.

Three Weeks Driving Around South Island New Zealand in Summer

By Caroline Clements / Photos Dillon Seitchik-Reardon

For us Sydney-siders, swimming in New Zealand is rather breathtaking, in every sense of the word. The vistas are truly remarkable and don’t stop, postcard-ready landscapes unfold around every corner to the tune of the Rocky Mountains, Swiss Alps, and the Scottish Highlands. Dense snowy mountain ranges fall away into steep valleys and deep lakes across the South Island, which means the water is more than a few degrees cooler than we’re used to back home in Australia. Swims are often in icy, glacial rivers and lakes. They are fast, fresh and revitalising – crystal clear or iridescent blue.

Driving through the South Island in a van feels like a rite of passage. In fact, we’ve never seen such a large contingent of van-lifers in one place. There are more campers, trailers, caravans and motel homes in NZ than any other car on the road (it seems). For us, it’s the best way to travel, giving you the freedom to move about with your home on your back. You can set off in the morning with a map on your lap and not know where you’ll end up that night.

Though our three weeks on the South Island in the Sprinter came with fewer swims than we anticipated, there was plenty of natural beauty to take in here – from multi day hikes through finger-like Sounds in the north, camping in alpine huts, tramping through farmland, crossing rivers, cheese scones around every corner and sand-flies worse than a mosquito plague. There were also earthy hot springs, icy glacial pools and refreshing river baths.

It was the right amount of time to cover quite a lot of ground, leaving a few things to return for.

Here is an overview of our itinerary:


Marlborough Sounds

Nelson Lakes National Park

Blue Pools


Mountain Aspiring National Park





Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Tips for travelling in NZ:

Get familiar with the Department of Conservation (DOC) website. It has all of the best and most current information about virtually every tramp, walk, and public campsite in the country. The interactive maps are to die for.

DOC campsites are dotted around the best parts of the country. They are usually basic sites with flat ground, a sheltered cooking area (BYO stove) and toilets. At $6-15 per person per night, they are significantly more affordable than privately-owned sites. Many backcountry huts are first come, first served, but you will need to buy hut passes from an i-Sight or DOC office.

Sandflies here are nasty little bugs that are often found near water and will bite you better than a mosquito. Bring repellent.

If you are getting a local sim card for your phone while in NZ, go with Spark Mobile. There are Wifi phone boxes all over the South Island, and you can connect to their network and use up to 1GB per day.

For booking accommodation, we are big fans of Airbnb. But localised sites in NZ include:

Caroline Clements and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon are the authors of Places We Swim and Places We Swim Sydney. Their books are available in good bookstores and on their website alongside a selection of photographic prints. Follow their swimming adventures on Instagram at @placesweswim.

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