New Zealand – South Island Addiction

 

South Island

There are no words to aptly describe the South Island of New Zealand!  The beauty is everywhere!  The activities are endless!  Trying to decide where to go next, how to get there, falling in love at first sight so then having to find accommodation for more nights.  These were constants for me on the South Island and why, of my six and a half week New Zealand trip, I spent 4 weeks of it there!

I now have the task of summarizing the places, the oh so amazing places, that I visited while on the South Island of New Zealand.  Just know that one month just wasn’t enough time!!

Picton
Picton

Picton:  The tiny port city that you arrive at if taking the ferry from Wellington.  It’s very small, picturesque, and quiet.  This city does not offer much in the way of touristic activities so it’s a relief for those looking for simple peace and quiet.

Nelson nz
The beach in Nelson

Nelson:  I arrived in this town and expected to stay only a couple of nights but not only enjoyed it and it’s atmosphere but needed some down time to just relax!  So I stayed 5 nights!  I had planned to use it as a jumping off point to go camp and hike Abel Tasman National Park but I guess I just got lazy.  I wandered the town, I rented a bike and rode to nearby towns and back, I went to the movies (tiniest movie theatre ever!), I went out to hear live music, I went dancing, and I recharged by just being there!  If I’d had more time, I would have revisited it and made that Able Tasman hike.

Pancake Rocks & Blowhole in Punakaiki
Pancake Rocks & Blowhole in Punakaiki

Punkaiki:  A tiny beach town known for its Pancake Rocks and Blow Holes but that also offers not only the beach but some great hikes as well!  Be warned though!!  The sand flies are horrendous and WILL scar you so use DEET insect repellant for any time spent on South Island beaches!!!

Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier & Valley

Franz Joseph:  A very quaint town that is, obviously, dominated by Franz Joseph Glacier.  It is made up of restaurants, hostels, motels, a grocery store, a gas station, and tour groups.  Since the glacier is actually melting a little over 3 meters a day, you can no longer hike up to and onto the glacier.  You can hike the valley until it ends about 50 meters from the glacier and the views along the trail are beautiful.  The only way now to actually get on the glacier is by helicopter.  There are a number of options for heli-tours.  I had wanted to do the heli-hike which included the flight up to the glacier and a several hour hike around the glacier but it was booked.  So I decided on just flying up to and landing on the glacier.  I honestly don’t recommend it as it wasn’t worth the price I paid.

Queenstown
Queenstown Wharf

Queenstown:  What a jewel!  I had planned on staying only 2 nights but as soon as I saw this gorgeous little town I decided more nights were necessary!  The problem with that is it is a highly popular location so finding affordable accommodation was extremely difficult!  In fact, a fellow couchsurfer and I couldn’t find anything so we ended up renting a car for half a day (crazy ridiculous pricing but we were desperate) and driving out to Moke Lake to camp.

Moke Lake
Moke Lake

What a beautiful lake and what fun to have the freedom of our own car!  This is a multi-season go to location for romance and relaxation, shopping, extreme adventure (bungee jumping, skydiving, jet boating, and canyon swinging), scenic cruises, and snow skiing…to just name a few!  Queenstown is a good base for day tours to Milford Sound (which I did), Fox, Franz Josef, and Cook Glaciers helicopter tours, and Lord of the Rings scenic flights.  Be sure to check the weather before any tour, though, as my Milford Sound cruise was in the rain.  The night scene is good as well with live music and no cover charges.  I absolutely love Queenstown!

Dunedin2
Mural in Dunedin

Dunedin:  A very hilly city (8th largest city in NZ) that is very endearing.  There are murals all over the city buildings, the rail station is beautiful, and the shopping is top notch.  All high end brand stores are there as well as second hand and vintage clothing shops where amazing buys are made daily.  I don’t shop as I have no room for more items or weight in my backpack! Dunedin also boasts the World’s Steepest Street!

Christchurch Cathedral
Christchurch Cathedral

Christchurch:  A city ripped by the February 2011 earthquake and with little in repairs made.  It’s been 5 years but, due to insurance companies fighting claims, moving forward has proved slow and difficult!  The tourism here revolves around the sites most affected by the earthquake.  It’s sad to see the devastation to the Christchurch Cathedral and know that it most likely won’t be rebuilt.  Then there is the Arts Centre that IS being rebuilt at a cost of $209 million NZD!!  A new building that came out of the devastation is the amazing Cardboard Cathedral!

Cardboard Cathedral
Cardboard Cathedral

I was disappointed that tourism surged around the terrible event and also sad to see so many empty, unused buildings.  Like Dunedin, there are murals in abundance as artists were invited in to revitalize this broken city.  While in Christchurch, I did experience an earthquake!  It was considered a moderate one at 4.4 on the Richter scale.  I was in a bar and the place actually rolled!  For me, it was a pretty cool experience!

 

Hectors Dolphins
Hector’s Dolphins in Akaroa Harbor

Akaroa:  I only knew about this place from other travelers who told me that I HAD to go there!  I’m very glad that they did!  It’s an incredibly cute town nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano on Akaroa Harbor.  The thing to do here is to take a harbor cruise to view the unique Hector’s Dolphins and blue penguins.  Hector’s Dolphins are the rarest (next to the Maui Dolphins also in New Zealand) and smallest dolphins in the world!  I did a cruise and absolutely enjoyed seeing the dolphins, a couple of penguins, and seals, despite the cold and rain! There’s also the option to go swimming with the dolphins.  It’s nice to wander through the galleries and shops and enjoy the cafes along the harbor when back on land.

Kaikoura1
Kaikoura

Kaikoura:  Yet another jewel of the South Island!  This coastal town offers incredible views as you hike above or along the Pacific coast.  It also allows close viewing of seals!  The surrounding hills, Kaikoura Range, amaze as a backdrop for the beautiful coastline.  Crayfish and seafood here abound and whale watching cruises are the prime tourist draw.

Blenheim1
Wither Hills

Blenheim:  I didn’t really visit the town so much as the outskirts as I was wine tasting!  If you are a wine fan, you’ll recognize Marlborough Region as a major player!  I visited 4 vineyards around Blenheim and was blown away by Wither Hills’ Pinot Gris and Chardonnay!  Luckily, they ship worldwide!

I didn’t make it to some of the places I had planned but again, 4 weeks is just not enough for this amazing island!

Wither Hills
Beautiful view from Wither Hills’ tasting room
Twin Lakes1
Mirror Lake in Fjordland National Park
Punakaiki
Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki
Kaikoura2
Near Kaikoura
Kaikoura Seals
Seals in Kaikoura
Kaikoura's Pacific Coastline
Kaikoura’s Pacific Coastline
Franz Josef Glacier2
Atop Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier1
Atop Franz Josef Glacier
Dunedin1
Murals in Dunedin
Christchurch Mural
Christchurch Mural
Blenheim
Marlborough Region Grapes
Milford Sound
Milford Sound…a rainy day!

 

 

Saving Money in New Zealand

Travel

I must say that New Zealand was not a good place for my budget as, due to the sheer quantity of visitors to the islands, accommodations charged high rates and I had little with Couchsurfing on the South Island.  Saving money pretty much went out the window!  However, thanks to staying in hostels, I found ways to save on travel and tours from other backpackers.  So, for those of you planning to go to New Zealand on a budget one day, here are the best money saving tools to use while on either island:

Cheapest Bus Tickets:  The bus line is NakedBus but if you go to their website, you won’t find their best deals.  You must go to WhyNotWander, it’s a word of mouth site only.  If you can’t find the place you want to go (very rare), use Intercity.

FREE Rental Cars and Campervans:  That’s right…FREE!  New Zealand and Australian car rental locations have found it cheaper to allow drivers to relocate their returned vehicles rather than pay to ship them.  Go to TransferCar!  The rental companies all have their own rules and options, such as the number of days you can have the vehicle, whether they include insurance, fuel, etc, if you have to pay a small fee (typically this is on campervans and is only around $5 NZD), or if they allow extra paid days (if you want the car longer, you pay a higher daily rate but, overall, the rental is still much cheaper).

Deals:  I found that I could get cheaper bus tickets to remote areas, such as Akaroa, by going through the premiere New Zealand deal company, BookMe.  It offers deals on much more than that too!  It’s the Groupon of New Zealand so find the deal you need there!

Accommodation:  NakedBus has an accommodations option called NakedSleep that allows you to book a hostel at 40% off!  I used this in Queenstown and ended up in the same hostel that I’d previously stayed in but at a much lower rate!

Of course, there is also always hitchhiking to get around which is very common and very safe.  I hitchhiked twice and it was thrilling but I am not very likely to do it in any other country.  If you have a car or are hitchhiking, you can always freedom camp.  Please be sure to clean up after yourself when you freedom camp or it will no longer be available for the rest of us!  I camped a few times but always had to pay as I primarily traveled by bus.

I hope that this is a help to any travelers visiting New Zealand now or in the near future!  We all want to get there but we also need ways of saving money in order to reach our next destination!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

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My Italian driver, Davide, and I set our destination to Rotorua but then decided to continue on to Taupo.  Taupo was only 1 hour away from Tongariro Alpine Crossing by automobile.  We found a hostel and settled in to wait out the rain so we could hike the crossing, as were the bulk of other backpackers at the hostel.  I stayed 2 nights at the hostel then 3 nights Couchsurfing with a wonderful Kiwi gentleman.

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After 4 days of waiting, Saturday morning arrived and everyone descended on Tongariro bright and early!  One important thing to think about when going to Tongariro to do the hike is that you must figure out how to get there and back!  For 60-65 NZD, a shuttle will pick you up from your hostel or hotel, drop you at the north gate (considered the starting point) then pick you up at the south gate (which means you are on their schedule and must complete the hike in their time frame).  Another option is to drive to the north gate and park then pay 30 NZD for the shuttle to take you from the south gate back to the north.  Some of the backpackers with cars joined up and parked one car at the south gate and everyone climbed into the other car and drove on to the north gate.  Once done with the hike, they just drove the south gate car back to the north to pick up the other car.  We (Italian driver, 3 German hikers, and me), had 2 keys to the car so we dropped 2 people off to hike from the south gate and then we parked at the north gate.  Once done with the hike, the 2 reaching the north gate drove the car back to the south gate where the rest of us were waiting.  There is always the option to park at the north gate and attempt to hitchhike back to it from the south gate but you would be taking a risk at the end of a very tiring hike!

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Tongariro Crossing is amazingly beautiful and foreign!  Moonscape is a common description as it is volcanic landscape with an active volcano.  Black volcanic rocks with delicate white flowers growing from them; red mountains adorned in clouds; flat expanses of tan sand; hills of green moss and gold bushes; eerie mists the hikers disappear into and the rising sun dissipates; steam rising from hot pools and rock walls; valleys of black, copper, and gold; lakes of gold, emerald, and teal blue; and waterfalls and babbling brooks. Not to mention the incredible views once you’re at the top!

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The trail is 19.4 km (12.05 miles) long. There are various offshoot trails that you can hike, other than the main one.  I stuck to the main trail which took me 9 hours to do.  I stopped a lot to take pictures and rest breaks are a must.  I found myself stripping down to my tank top early on then putting my sweater back on and finally my coat too.  As you climb, the winds are cold and strong!

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From the north gate, Mangatepopo Valley near Whakapapa, the trail is fairly level with a slight incline then becomes steep and rocky.  From the flat land of the valley to the side of mountains, winding around and up as you go.  Finally, flat again, mountains appear in front of you along with a lake of gold.  Pushing on is an immediate steep climb, Mangatepopo Saddle between Mount Ngauruhoe (also known as Doom Mountain on Lord of the Rings) and Mount Tongariro, and the wind becomes more evident.  When you reach the top of this section, you’re on the South Crater and there are large rocks to navigate and other trails to wander down (including the narrow ridge along the top of Red Crater).  Continuing on, the trail descends to the beautiful hot and colorful Emerald Lakes.  This section is fairly treacherous as the black sand is loose and slippery and the descent is very steep.  The trail then leads you to Central Crater and  Blue Lake which is an old volcanic vent.  The rest of the trail is downhill…winding downhill for 2 or more hours through fields and rainforest.  My bad knee slowed me down considerably but I was in no hurry as my travel mates were busy exploring Doom Mountain.

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Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage site.  It is also the Land Of Mordor (for you Lord of the Rings fans).  The hike, the views, and the people I hiked along side blew me away!  If you make it to New Zealand, this is a MUST DO!!

* Please note that the photos are not in any particular order.  I took over 200 and have grabbed some to show the beauty and diversity!  Enjoy!

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Blue Lake

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