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South Island, Adventure New Zealand

15 days in New Zealand

#nature #adventure #scenery #family

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by @travaaguides

TRAVAA Guides

13th November 2018
Fancy a visit to a world's premier nature and adventure destination? I have done this road trip almost 3 times now and the pure, natural, scenery is always breathtaking. The clearest blue lakes and skies, being surrounded by giant (sometimes) ice capped mountains and rolling plains that go on as far as my eye can see. All you really need to do is bring along your favourite music for this road trip. Best time to visit in summer or early-fall (when the weather is more stable Feb/ Mar). If you are doing an extended trip, you can combine this with a route through the North Island. I would recommend starting from the North and working your way down South. By do so, you give yourself a chance to start loosening up starting from the more populated areas to the sparse lands of the far South - this is especially good for you city folks visiting. In any case, within NZ, you are ever only a helicopter ride away from anyone. Kia Ora and safe travels! footnote: As with all outdoor activities, which are subject to prevailing weather conditions, you might want to budget an extra day in the area if there is an activity that you simply cannot miss. :-)
Christchurch International Airport
If you are flying into NZ, its touchdown in the nice airport of ChristChurch (else Queenstown airport may be a good alternative landing zone). Pick up your rental car and hear into the city for a feed.
Christchurch
Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, and the third most-populous urban area in the country. Christchurch is recovering and rebuilding after a large earthquake in February 2011 that severely damaged the city, killed 185 people and displaced many more. Bits of the city may be off limits due to reconstruction work, but most of the city and region are open for business and the city remains the main gateway to the South Island. Christchurch was established in 1850 by English settlers. Its English heritage shows in the older buildings, especially in the cultural precinct along Worcester Boulevard (which is open from the River Avon towards the west), where most heritage buildings remain. The River Avon flows through the central city and disrupts the regular rectangular layout of the city streets.
drive to Mount Cook
This is a very nice part of New Zealand to drive through. I would recommend hitting the State Highway towards Mount Cook Village early in day. The scenery towards the later part of this drive is fabulous. Definitely sights to behold and treasure during daylight.
Church of the Good Shepherd
Stop by this scenic church for a sandwich lunch / snack and take in the awesome views of Lake Tekapo. On a good day, you will remember the views from this place for a long time to come.
drive to Mount Cook Village
Feel free to stop at view points of the magnificent Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki along your drive to Mt Cook. Definitely stop at this viewpoint and take a nice photo here!
Aoraki Mount Cook Village
Ok, after that drive, it time to drop off your bags before heading out again for some fresh air. Locate your accomodations and get into your walking shoes. It is time to stretch those legs!
Mount Cook Village
Book accomodations to this area early ahead of your trip. Rooms (and eating places) here are very limited and can run out early in the summer months. Spending at least a night in this area is highly recommended if you can afford it. Alternatively, you can spend the night in a nearby township, but head here early in the day to beat the line of early hikers in summer and early-autumn.
Start of Kea Point Walk
Try this leisurely walk to Kea Point - the start of your New Zealand (mini-)hiking experience!
Kea Point
Enjoy the chilled out view of the dry Mueller Lake. Hope you enjoyed the short walk this evening. It's a preview for tomorrow's hike. Head back to the village for some "tea" as we call it here in New Zealand (a.k.a. dinner).
Hooker Valley Walk (start point)
Note: Bring water and a packed lunch and snacks for this walk. This is one of the 'best day walks in New Zealand'. At only 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) length and gaining only about 100 m (330 ft) in height, the well formed track can be walked by tourists with a wide range of level of fitness. The lookout point at the end of the Hooker Valley Track is the closest any walking track comes to Aoraki / Mount Cook.
Hooker Lake
Congrats! You have reached the mid point of the walk. Before you is Hooker Lake with glacial ice from the Hooker Glacier. If it is a good day, you might get completely unobstructed views of the highest mountain in New Zealand, with Hooker Glacier in the valley below. If the winds aren't too strong, this is a good time to chow down on your packed lunch.
The Hermitage Coffeehouse
After that walk, you deserve to head up here and get yourself some souvenirs, and a hot cup of coffee .. of course! Feel free to wander around this tiny village in your free time here.
drive to Wanaka
Wanaka Lakefront
Wanaka is a town situated on the shores of Lake Wanaka in the South Island of New Zealand. It is the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. Wanaka shares many of the characteristics that draw millions of tourists to Queenstown each year – the mountains, the lakes and the outdoors – yet it enjoys a far smaller profile. In many ways it's the little brother to Queenstown – many would say the cooler little brother. While it doesn't have as many hotels and restaurants or the large bar scene, it still has a few great attractions of its own, and respectable eating and nightlife. It is time for some lunch and exploration of this small township in a place some call a "little slice of heaven".
Wanaka
Wanaka is a town situated on the shores of Lake Wanaka in the South Island of New Zealand. It is the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. Wanaka shares many of the characteristics that draw millions of tourists to Queenstown each year – the mountains, the lakes and the outdoors – yet it enjoys a far smaller profile. In many ways it's the little brother to Queenstown – many would say the cooler little brother. While it doesn't have as many hotels and restaurants or the large bar scene, it still has a few great attractions of its own, and respectable eating and nightlife.During winter, Wanaka is used as a base for skiing and working in Cardrona, Snowpark/Snowfarm and Treble Cone and has a true 'ski town' vibe. During the summer it's a busy holiday town for New Zealanders; many of the houses in town are baches (holiday houses). Lake Wanaka, New Zealand's fourth-largest at 192 km2 (74 sqmi), is also a popular boating destination (it's warmer than Lake Wakatipu), as is the nearby Lake Hawea.Wanaka is pronounced wanna-ka (wanna as in wannabe). Many international tourists before have made the mistake of pronouncing Wanaka as if it rhymed with tanker, much to the locals' amusement.
Rocky Mountain Walk
For those looking to stretch their legs further, there are a few enjoyable walks in this area - a short drive out of town. We like the walk (climb) up Rocky Mountain. The views up there of Lake Wanaka are quite special. This requires a mid-level of fitness to do. If you do this Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain Summit walk, it is a 3 hour return trip. Bring water, snacks, a light jacket and a torch. Be sure to leave plenty of time to get back into town before sun down!
drive to Te Anua
Te Anau
Te Anau is a town in the Southland region of the South Island of New Zealand. It is on the eastern shore of Lake Te Anau in Fiordland. Many folks come to Te Anua as the base point to one of the regional multi-day tracks in the area. Stroll down the short village area for lunch.
Glowworm Caves
Get tickets here early for a ride across the lake to visit glowworms in their natural habitat. I particularly like the evening/night outings as you tend to feel that extra bit of "atmosphere"!
drive to Milford Sound
Cruise Milford Sound
Park your car here and head to the cruise center by this world famous fiord. There are many scenic cruise operators here. A cruise could be about a couple of hours. Get tickets over the counter and pick your ride. I personally find that the under water observatory visit is optional, but hey, if it's your thing, why not.
drive back to Te Anau
drive to Arrowtown
The drive over to Arrowtown passes up high into the hill and down low into the valleys. Enjoy the ride, .. and views ..
Arrowtown
Arrowtown is in a quaint village in the Queenstown-Lakes region of the South Island. Once a picturesque gold mining town in the Wakatipu Basin, this place is set at the edge of the Otago goldfields. These days Arrowtown relies on its determinedly preserved heritage to attract tourists - miners' cottages, historic wooden buildings, tree lined streets and 19th century-style shops, still stand as they did during the gold rush. There is a small area in the far end of the main street which has a nice outdoor exhibit reminisced of the old gold mining days. Makes for a nice mid-day stroll. Arrowtown has a quiet village feel outside of the historic main street, and a number of the properties in the town are holiday houses for locals.
drive to Queenstown
Now to head for the adventure capital of New Zealand. There are a number of nice vineyards in the area. If money is not an issue, feel free to make advance reservations for a nice lunch and wine pairings. Alternatively, drop in and taste some of the finest Pinot Noir's the country has to offer. All at relatively affordable prices! Obviously, if you will be drinking, you should not be the one driving. ;-)
Queenstown
Welcome to one of the adventure center of NZ, and also one of the most beautiful towns in the world! Drop your bags off at your accomodation and start making some bookings for your adventure(s) of choice.
Queenstown
Pick an accomodation in Queenstown (ideally with parking) for your stay. Accomodations tend to get more affordable the further out of town you go.
Skyline Gondola
Head up the Skyline Gondola for some awesome views and panoramic photos of this beautiful place! A cafeteria (and restaurant) at the top of the ride makes for a nice place for some afternoon tea. There are picnic places outside too. For adrenaline junkies, you'll have to do the Luge rides up top. Beware, the advanced riders course does take you through some fairly fast (and steep) slopes!
Queenstown Lakeside
Take a stroll by the waterfront. There are plenty of shops and restaurants in the area. If you arrive in the heat of mid-summer, you might fancy a dip in its cool waters. It's now close to dinner time, so find a spot to park yourself, grab a drink and enjoy the surroundings here after a long day. :-)
Action
There are plenty of adventure activities to choose from in Queenstown - just see the plentitude of brochures by the front desk of your accomodation. Spend the day doing what you fancy. Some activities will definitely have you stretching beyond your comfort zone - skydiving perhaps? Some activities are listed here, but you'll probably only have enough time to do a couple in a single day. Pick what you catches your drift and make pre-reservations - via their website or phone number.
The Station
The Station Information Centre If you are still not sure what you'll like to try, head on down to "the Station". There's heaps of information on activities here. Many activities provide complementary transfers from Queenstown (pick up from the Station or your hotel) to the activity point.
TSS Earnslaw
For parties with senior folks or families with younger kids, you will enjoy a slow ride across the lake to *Walter Peak* aboard the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw, followed by a tour of a (sheep) farm and watching sheep dogs in action! There is horse riding there too. Definitely get tickets at least a day in advance. This is the place to be to board the TSS Earnslaw for an awesome boat trip across the beautiful blue waters of lake Wakatipu.
Shotover Jet
The classic Queenstown adventure of riding a (very) high speed jet boat through the canyons. There are a number of jet boat operators in the area with the Shotover Jet being the world famous. Definitely not the cheapest 25 min ride in your life, but if you can afford it, do it!
Skydive
Fancy jumping out of a plane at 15,000 feet in the air?
Bungy
Try it where it all began, the World's home of bungy. Into the canyon you'll go with AJ Hackett Bungy. Big decision here is, if you'll like to touch the water or not .. at the bottom of the drop?
River Rafting
If you are physically fit, it's time to don a wet and get wet and wild! Skip dinner plans .. This is going to be a massive ride.
drive to the West Coast Glaciers
Franz Josef / Fox Heli Hike
drive to Kaikoura
Note: Got a couple of drivers in your party and all are feeling good after your flight? Head straight up towards Kaikoura. Please check road accessibility before disembarking, as the coastal State Highway may still be closed for repairs. All this means is that you'll need to budget more time to get there via the inland road. Note: Tight on time? You can do this leg of the trip and do Kaikoura next time. If so, simple skip forward to Day #4 and head straight for Mount Cook.
Kaikoura
Book a place and enjoy a couple of nights in the seaside town. Early or late walks around the costal areas are always easy and a great way to unwind as you begin your South Island journey.
Kaikoura
Kaikoura is a small coastal town on the east coast (Pacific Ocean). It is famed for its marine mammals (whales, dolphins, seals) and other sea-life, all of which you can see, some of which you can swim with, and some you can eat. In Maori, kai means "eat" and koura is "crayfish' (rock lobster). So Kaikoura is a place to eat crayfish! Kaikoura lies on a narrow coastal plain between high mountains and the Pacific Ocean. In places along this coast the mountains drop almost straight into the sea, with barely enough flat land for a single railway line, two lane road and rocky beach, and even then some short tunnels are needed on corners. The steepness of the mountains reflects the underwater geography as well. The deep-water Hikurangi Trench and the continental shelf edge lies just offshore here. This causes the ocean around Kaikoura to be rich in sea life and attracts seals, whales (and humans) to the area to partake in the bounty of the sea. The town itself has a similar charm to an east coast USA beach town, with a hodgepodge of signs trying to grab tourists' attention. At the edges of the town, the more relaxed and nature-oriented activities again take precedence.Kaikoura is the perfect place to enjoy both the wonders of the magnificent Pacific Ocean and the tall, majestic mountains.
Dolphin Encounter
Fancy a swim with Dolphins? It's going to be unforgettable!
Whale Watch Kaikoura
This is the most popular activity in the area and a highlight for many. The Whale Watch boats get though some choppy waters to get up real close to the whales in the area. For folks who get motion / sea-sickness (like me!), you may want to do a bit of research on how manage this (I personally try to avoid the front of the boat, and try to get to an upper/outside deck - if available). This trip is always a good one to do. Get your tickets early to avoid disappointment! An alternative, is to do whale watching/chasing from the air via a helicopter-operator in the area. I've tried this once many years, but I still prefer the trip via boat as you'll get much closer to these beautiful mammoths. Like all things, your mileage may vary.
drive to Christchurch
Ok, it's time for the return trip down South. This is a good time to turn up the music and enjoy your drive. I have listed a stopover in Christchurch to help break up the drive Mount Cook Village. If you have multiple drivers in your crew and you are visiting in summer (with long days), you can consider heading there directly as there is not a lot to do in Christchurch and the rebuilding of the town center (since the 2011 earthquake) still continues.
International Antarctic Centre
If you haven't been to see penguins before, here is a nice place to spend a couple of hours learning about the far South of our planet. The International Antarctic Centre is one of the major tourist attractions of the city.
Christchurch Botanic Gardens
The Christchurch Botanic Gardens, located in the central city. An afternoon here on a good day is a fairly relaxed way of spending the day and resting up for the Mount Cook area.
Christchurch
A last night in New Zealand. Time to get some nice wine and relaxed sleep before you go ..
Christchurch International Airport
Time to drop off your rental car and head off home with plenty of awesome memories of your epic adventure in middle earth ..
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