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: 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: 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.
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 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: 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.
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!
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: 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!
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!
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.
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.
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!