The South Island of New Zealand is a roadie that is well worth putting on your bucket list. There may be big distances between places, in comparison to the North Island but the incredible isolated beauty of the mountains meeting the sea won’t be soon forgotten. From the wild coastlines, to the majestic mountains and all the incredible National Parks in between you will be spoilt for choice in discovering breath taking areas. Winter is a hazardous time of the year to use the roads but if you follow local road advice, carry snow chains and have a good four wheel drive you will make it no worries! Just be prepared to take it easy in places, which are well known for snowfall or ice. The roads are well maintained and used year round and information on radio and websites is up to date and will give fair warning of areas which may be hazardous. There are ‘rainy’ seasons especially on the west coast and flash flooding has been known to happen so again if the weather has turned torrential then keep informed and hunker down in one of the many charming townships scattered throughout the island. Most places are well equipped and set up to cater to travelers and tourists. Smaller townships have a definitive local feel and are sure to provide unique experiences so make sure to spend some time in each.
Start at the bottom and wind your way to the top of the Island, there are two main routes to take once you leave the Central Otago area. Through the middle of the island past Mount Cook or over to the west coast and up through Glacier Country. You can also head over to the east coast and then travel north along the east coast, but that route is more well known to Kiwi’s traveling between city centers Dunedin and Christchucrch. Roads are linked at points so that it is possible to cross over is different scenery is desired.
Milford Sound/Te Anau
There’s a famous quote by Kipling describing Milford Sound as the “eighth wonder of the world” and anyone who has been would certainly agree. A boat tour is a ‘must’ as it is the best way to see the Sounds from the perspective of the beautiful glassy gem colored lake, Real Journeys offer package deals including buses from Queenstown and boat tours. You might even spot a seal or dolphin!. The weather can often be rain filled and misty but adds to the atmosphere of the area, creating a dramatic and isolated feel. On a good day the place is beyond stunning. The world-famous Milford Track is accessible from the township of Te Anau and takes around 4 days with huts provided along the way. Make sure to book the huts well ahead of time which can be done through various tour companies as well as DOC visitor centres (Department of Conservation).
The jewel in the South Islands crown (and where I call home), a tourist mecca due to it’s popularity during peak seasons of winter and summer. Head here in spring or autumn for a slightly slower pace although increasingly the notion of an ‘off-season’ is disappearing. Known for being the adventure capital of NZ you can throw yourself of a bridge, out of a plane, across a canyon, into a jetboat and down a raging river, down a mountain on a bike, ski’s or a snowboard – basically this town gets you moving in an adrenaline pumping way! Ride the famous Skyline Gondola for a pretty view you won’t forget, equally stunning at night as it is during the day, you can also go for a luge during the day- just another way to get the heart pumping! Once you have worked up an appetite there are tonnes of award winning and celebrity chef owned places to get some eats. For a slower pace steeped in luxury there are also a number of top resorts to unwind at. The Onson hot pools are at the base of Coronet Peak and are a great choice to relax and unwind after a day of throwing yourself off or out of things!
Wanaka/ Haast Pass
Not far from Queenstown lies another pretty little lake town which doesn’t have so much of the hustle and bustle of its sister town. You can also access two more world-class ski fields here and the Cardrona Valley, just before Wanaka, (if you chose to go over the Crown Range) has a great pub worth stopping in at and warming up by the fire. Be aware that the Crown Range can be tedious over the winter months and care needs to be taken. Consult local road information before heading off. After Wanaka you can take a trip over to the wild west coast through the Hasst Valley. With its mystical Blue Pools, Fantail Falls and the Hasst Gates you will feel as though you are in a fabled land with stunning scenery everywhere you look. As you come through the pass and onto the coast you will come across the famous glacier townships Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph. Both towns are abuzz with helicopters taking punters up to the glaciers and pretty beaches dotted in between. The glaciers are fed by the majestic Mount Cook, the highest point in NZ. It is truly stunning to be so near to the ocean but to also be able to look (way) up and see these glaciers clearly from the townships at their base.
Mt. Cook National Park
My absolute favourite spot in all of New Zealand!. Near the National Park is a quaint wee alpine village bordering a number of hiking trails that will take you to the Hooker Valley, Tasman Lake, Sealy Tarns, Mueller Hut and many more. The whole National Park is impressive and if you are needing transport there is the Mount Cook Connection bus which goes from Twizel or Lake Tekapo, both iconic NZ spots.
Arthur’s Pass National Park
Another place known for its stunning beauty, unique to NZ. Here lives the Kea, NZ’s alpine parrot famous for its cheeky ways and vandalizing behavior! Keep valuables locked up with these guys about!
Famous for its hot springs, this is a tiny little town bursting with vibrancy due to it’s replenishing waters – be aware it can get busy here! A great spot to book a nights accommodation and have a rest.
Heading on over to the east coast of the south island you will come across Kaikoura, known for its whale watching and conservation and it’s lush seafood including crayfish shacks which line the beach side road. A chilled out wee town worth stopping in at for a whale watch and some kai moana (seafood).
Abel Tasman National Park
Famous for the Abel Tasman Coastal Track which you can walk or sea kayak! This track is one of the easiest and most accessible and you can really take your time. Camp out under the stars in the warmer months or book into one of the many huts available.
Gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park and not far from the well known Marlborough sounds, this area is best visited during the summer months although it is also a lot busier during this time. The township of Nelson itself has a bit of an alternative lifestyle reputation and has a fantastic arts scene. Not far from Nelson are some stunning beaches such as Ruby Bay and Kaiteriteri – great spots for camping. Just over the Takaka Hill is the township of Takaka and Golden Bay, this is the top most tip of the South Island and you can find beautifully isolated pockets of beaches and bushland to enjoy.