if you haven’t been to new zealand’s South island, then you should go. If you have, then you kn9ow what I’m talking about and would jump at the chance to go back. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiul countries I’ve visited, and for a small country has a huge variety of amazing things to see and do. It’s been four months since I left the South island and started working in the North, and already I wish I was going back there to explore more, although in reality it’s unlikely that I’ll make it down, so I can save my hard earned $$$ for visitng new places. Luckily I’ve visited most of the South island, and had the most amazing time doing so. Writing this post has been extremly difficult, because I actullay want to include everything I did and saw because it was all so amazing, but then what’s the point of a higlights list? After a heck of a lot of thought and consideration, here’s my unmissable South Island explorations.
Doubtful Sound, Fiordland
Cruising Doubtful Sound is a complete delight. Everyone has heard of Milford Sound, which is amazing to cruise on, but because everyone has heard of it Milford Sound experiences around 10x the amount of visitors of Doubtful Sound. Both are interesting, but exploring Doubtful Sound on an overnight cruise left me with a greater impression. Not only is it harder to get to, requiring a 1hr boat ride across Lake Manapouri, New Zealand’s second deepest lake, a 40min bus ride along steep, windy gravel roads (the most expensive road per cm ever built in new Zealand) before reaching the Sound, it’s longer. The overnight cruise by Real Journeys gives you the choice of going kayaking or in a tin boat, and did I mention the food? It was delicious. Sure, it’s a bit of a splurge if you’re on a budget, but well worth it, particularly if you’re lucky enough to see new Zealand fur seals, dolphins, and Fiordland crested penguins. I was thrilled to see all three!
Queenstown is like nowhere else in New Zealand. it’s actually fairly small, but is always busy and bustling, vibrant with tourists in Winter for Skiing, in Summer for hiking, and year round with adrenaline junkies seeking to bungee jump (the first ever commercial bungee in the world was here in new Zealand, over the Kawarau river). bridge swings are popular too, and perhaps more scary as you are lowered out over the drop first. Whitewater rafting or jet boating on the Shotover River is exhilarating, Skydiving here is one of the best views you could hope for, and the luge provides a thrill for all ages. Even Paragliding, a surprisingly sedate and peaceful adventure sport included a loop-the-loop, if you dare. And after all that, there’s the world famous fergy burger to try, and don’t miss Patagonia’s cafe on the waterfront for the best ice cream in New Zealand, and a huge choice of luxuriant chocolates. yes, I did go there every day.
Fox Glacier, West Coast
Again the lesser known features in my list. Franz Josef attracts more visitors, and the town is bigger, but Fox Glacier is longer and the walk to the glacier face takes you closer. Both are pretty impressive, especially if you’ve never seen a glacier before. Hiking to the face is interesting, and free, but it’s a popular walk. A better way to explore the glacier is by helihike. After a short helicopter ride over the glacier you are dropped off, strap on crampons, and get to explore the ice. I couldn’t get over how blue it was, and clambering through an icy crevice was fantastic. Allow yourself a couple of days as this is weather dependent, and it does rain a lot. The best weather I had was actually during Winter. It’s reputedly the second best place to skydive in the world (after Mount Everest, according to the skydiving company anyway, I wasn’t about to disagree). As a bonus, the mirror lake matheson is a 10min drive away, with picture perfect reflections of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman.
Abel Tasman, Tasman District
This is the place in New Zealand for beaches. Sure, there are beautiful beaches dotting the whole coastline, but the glittering, golden sands of Abel Tasman are a huge draw. It’s not just the sand that attracts visitors though, there is an abundance of native wildlife which can be seen from a kayaking trip, or hiking the coast. The Abel Tasman Great Walk is one of the best tramps in New Zealand, just give yourself plenty of time to relax on the beaches too!
Mount Cook, Southern Alps
Admittedly getting to Mount Cook is a bit of a trek, but one that you’d be foolish to miss, especially if you’re an outdoors enthusiast. Firstly, the drive across the centre of the South Island is fantastic, with amazing views. Secondly, lake Pukaki, which the road to Mount Cook follows, is the bluest lake I have ever seen, thanks to glacial ice particles in the water. Stop off at the visitor centre car park for unmissable views of Mount Cook (Aoraki) across the vibrant blue water. Thirdly, Mount Cook Village in Winter darkness reminds me very much of an alpine Christmas village. despite it being August the first time i visited, It really seemed that Christmas was just around the corner. Fourthly, Mount Cook has glaciers too. the Tasman Glacier, the longest in new Zealand, can be seen, and at the glacier edge is an impressive glacial lake, the colour of which may vary from a glacial blue to a milky grey and even dirty yellow depending on the time of year and how much silt has been washed into the water. But mostly, Mount Cook has the most amazing face of any mountain I have ever seen, (and between me and you, that’s a fair few mountains).
Stewart Island, Foveaux Strait
With more kiwis (birds than kiwis (people) this is the only place in New Zealand where the Kiwis aren’t actually endangered, thanks to strict rules about what can cross in a boat, the island is largely pest free. additionally, the Stewart island kiwi is the largest variety, so much so that it can’t fill it’s belly by nocturnal scavenges alone, and can often be seen during the day too. there is little to do on Stewart Island except bird watching and tramping (that’s hiking to you and me). I like both, and my dream of seeing a Kiwi in the wild was realised. I heard one snorting and snuffling for grubs on my first night there, but it was my second night, at mason Bay that I saw one for the first time. It was dark, and as it ran across the track all I could see in the darkness was a fuzzy round shape and a long, awkward beak, but it was pretty amazing to see this elusive creature. Again, I heard others on my nocturnal wanderings. Then, on my 4th day hiking and returning to civilization I found a couple standing on the track, staring into the ferns. there, in broad daylight, at around 11am, was Kiwi! It was contentedly grooming itself beneath leaves, and i joined the couple, staring fascinated. It was a long moment before I slowly, quietly retrieved my camera, only to take one extremely blurred photo before the Kiwi dashed off into the undergrowth.
Hokitika, West Coast
Hokitika is a lovely seaside town with a gorgeous long beach and seemingly few tourists if you don’t mind a short stroll. You can carve pounamu, (commonly known as jade) at Bonz n Stonz, which is the most unique gift or souvenir you can get in New Zealand. and I did I mention they have a driftwood sculpture festival every year? t’s a fantastic place to soak up the sun, relax and unwind before planning your next exiting New Zealand adventure!