We visited New Zealand’s North Island in 2010. It left us feeling a dire need to get back. If you’re a nature / adventure junkie then this magical country is for you. It really has everything.
We flew into Christchurch, hired an awesome camper van from Mighty Campers and set out on the ultimate NZ South Island roady to see as much as we possibly could. Kyle and I always choose to drive ourselves around when travelling. You see so much more of the country (not just the cities that you fly into). You can stop at every single amazing spot that catches your eye! Endless possibilities AND cheap accommodation with 5 star window views every single day. With our usual map with a few rough dots on it, we set off to explore New Zealand’s winter playground!
So here it is – our Best of New Zealand’s South Island list.
Lake Tekapo is the second-largest of three roughly parallel glacial-fed lakes running north–south along the northern edge of the Mackenzie Basin in the South Island of New Zealand. On the shores of Lake Tekapo you’ll find the famous little stone Church of the Good Shepherd, which was build in 1935.
Lake Pukaki is the largest of the three parallel lakes in this area, covering a massive area of 178.7 km² at an elevation of about 530m above sea level. And yes, the water really is that blue in these lakes.
Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Aoraki / Mount Cook NP is a rugged landscape of rock and ice, housing the highest mountains and the largest glaciers in New Zealand with 19 peaks over 3000m including NZ’s highest mountain, Mt Cook. After a short steep climb, you’ll find yourself looking over the enormous Tasman Glacier which is melting at an extremely rapid pace due to climate change. You’ll also see icebergs of every size and shape drifting around in the lake below. With a small village at the base of the mountains and many stunning short / long walking tracks; you will simply feel dwarfed by the vast landscape and stunning beauty. Make sure to explore the many blue pools at the base of the mountains that are filled with beautiful glacial water (like every other lake in NZ!).
As the adrenalin capital of New Zealand – Queenstown has it all. Beautiful scenery, delicious food and every adventure junkie activity under the sun. We rented a luxury house on the lake with a group of friends and explored this delightful town for 5 days. Think speedboats, bungy-jumping, snowboarding, helicopter rides, white-water rafting… you name it, it’s in Queenstown. A separate blog post to come on this spot…
360 degrees of jaw-dropping mountain and water views. Basically, if you go to NZ – get to Milford Sound. Read more about our visit and see a heap of photos on this previous post about Milford Sound.
Visit the Lone Tree at Lake Wanaka
Another day in New Zealand, another breath-taking lake view. Visit the charming lake side town of Wanaka, stroll along the shores of the glassy lake and hunt down the infamous Lone Tree.
Drive the Haast Pass
This beautiful winding road will take you from the Wanaka region over to the west coast of the South Island, through mountain valleys and past a long list of rushing, crystal-clear rivers and waterfalls – and you’ll want to stop at every single one. The high cliff road can become a little hazardous at times so don’t drive this one tired. This is truly one special roady – make sure your camera battery is charged. This below photo is of the Blue Pools – just one of many stunning spots to visit on the drive.
While on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island – visit the towns of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier to gaze upon these incredible melting (enormous!) glaciers. You can do helicopter flights and tours to see them up close of course or you can simply use the free walking tracks to be overwhelmed by their size and the beauty of the valleys for no cost at all.
Explore the Wild West Coast
The West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island has earned quite the reputation, often getting compared to Australia’s Great Ocean Road. Drive along a coastline of beautiful wild beaches, odd rock formations and rainforest and try to not to say ‘oh my gosh!’ every time you turn the corner.
It’s a nice waterfall, yes – but that’s not what makes this place special. This area north of Kaikoura is home to many seal colonies. You’ll literally spot hundreds of the beautiful sea creatures hanging out on the ocean’s edge as you drive this stretch of road. Take the short walk from the carpark to the falls to see wild baby seal pups playing around here while their mothers are out fishing in the sea. These seals are wild and this is a completely free experience; the private landowners and local council have worked hard to keep this place barely touched by human tourism trends. Read more about this place here to make sure you go at the right time of year.
There are more incredible places to be explored in New Zealand of course. We will be heading back in Summer next time to experience New Zealand’s beauty in a whole new light.