• Claire

Epic NEW ZEALAND Road Trip Itinerary (Part 2) | Top Places to See in the SOUTH Island

Updated: Nov 5, 2018

New Zealand's South Island has to be one of my favourite places on earth. From the rugged West Coast, to the peaks of the Southern Alps, or the glaciers of Franz Josef, you could spend months absorbing the beauty of this incredible place.


This blog post is part 2 of my New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary (you can read part 1 on the North Island here).



Back in 2015, I began my very first overseas adventure in Auckland the North Island of New Zealand and road-tripped my way down to the South Island. We caught the Inter-islander ferry from Wellington in the North Island across the Cook Straight to Picton in the South Island.



Abel Tasman NP


Our first stop in the South Island was Abel Tasman National Park. We caught a bus from Picton, then a water taxi to our floating backpackers hostel! This has to be one of the coolest hostels I've stayed in - we jumped off the roof of the boat into the ocean and watched the sunset from the top deck.


Abel Tasman is a National Park is known for the Abel Tasman Coast Track, ocean kayaking and golden beaches.


After staying the night in our floating hostel we liked a section of the Coast Track (as the full thing takes 3-5 days). I also went hang-gliding! A tiny green plane pulled my instructor and I up, then they dropped the line attaching us to the plane and we rode the wind currents back down - it was awesome!


Abel Tasman NP

Abel Tasman NP - our floating hostel

Abel Tasman NP - sunset on our floating hostel

Abel Tasman NP

Abel Tasman NP

Abel Tasman NP

Hanggliding over Abel Tasman

Hanggliding over Abel Tasman


Punakaiki


Punakaiki is a 4 hour drive south from Abel Tasman on the West coast. It's known for its Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. This natural phenomenon formed 30 million years ago when intense water pressure solidified fragments of dead marine creatures and plants into limestone and seismic action eroded the softer limestone to leave a pancake-like stack of hard limestone rocks.


This kind of landscape really encapsulates the ruggedness of New Zealand's West coast.


Punakaiki - Pancake Rocks

Punakaiki


Franz Josef


Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are two accessible glaciers on the West Coast of New Zealand. We visited the Franz Josef glacier and stayed in the small town of the same name. Popular activities on the Franz Josef glacier include glacier walks, heli hikes or ice climbing.

We set out to walk to the glacier but unfortunately bad weather on the day we were there meant we couldn't get as close to the glacier as we would've liked (the morning we left it was perfectly clear!). Instead we opted to go horse riding and visited the Franz Josef hot springs which were well worth it!


Franz Josef town

Franz Josef glacier

Horse riding in Franz Josef


Mt Cook NP


New Zealand's highest mountain is 3,724m Aoraki/Mt Cook which is located within the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, home to 19 peaks over 3,000m. Popular sights/activities in the region include stargazing, mountaineering, the Tasman Glacier and hiking.


The beautiful Lake Matheson has views of Aoraki/Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in the distance.


If I were to return to NZ I would love to spend more time in this part of the South Island!


Mt Cook NP

Mt Cook NP

Mt Cook NP - Lake Matheson

Mt Cook NP - Lake Matheson

Mt Cook NP - Lake Matheson

Mt Cook NP - Lake Matheson


Wanaka


Wanaka is a small resort town set on a lake of the same name. It's located in close proximity to Mt Aspiring National Park and Roys Peak, but just hanging out on Lake Wanaka is a great way to experience the beauty of this area!


The hour-long drive from Wanaka to Queenstown was insanely beautiful. The road winds through the Crown Range - the highest main road in New Zealand. You'll want to stop every 5 minutes - the views are incredible!


Wanaka

Wanaka to Queenstown

Wanaka to Queenstown

Wanaka to Queenstown

Wanaka to Queenstown


Queenstown


Queenstown is often referred to as the adventure capital of the world famed for adventure sports like bungee jumping, mountain biking and skiing. It's also incredibly beautiful. Queenstown is surrounded by mountains and lies on the shore of Lake Wakatipu.


There is so much to do in Queenstown - the options for activities are endless! I went jet-boating in Shotover Canyon, took the Skyline gondola to Bob's Peak, then went luging and went paragliding off Coronet Peak.


There are many places in close proximity to Queenstown which make great day trips like Milford Sound, Arrowtown, Glenorchy or Wanaka.


Queenstown - Lake Wakatipu

Queenstown

Queenstown

Queenstown - jet-boating

Queenstown - jet-boating

Queenstown - skyline gondola

Queenstown - view from the top of Bob's peak

Queenstown - paragliding from Coronet Peak

Queenstown - paragliding from Coronet Peak


Fiordland NP


Fiordland National Park is located in the south-west of the South Island and is most famous for being home to Milford Sound.


I actually visited Doubtful Sound instead of Milford while I was in Fiordland NP - Doubtful Sound has the same scenery but is more difficult to get to (you have to catch a boat over Lake Manapouri then a bus through the hills).


We went kayaking through the fiords and on a boat cruise! As we hopped on the boat, it stopped raining and the sun came out and we could see all the little waterfalls running down the sides of the mountains!


Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound


Otago


The Otago Rail Trail is an old railway line that has been converted into a track suitable for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. It is the most popular cycling trail in New Zealand. The full trail runs for 152kms from Clyde to Middlemarch but we just did a day portion of the trail of 20km. The rail trail was a great way to experience the scenery of this area - and as the trail was originally for trains, there are no difficult hill climbs!


Otago Rail Trail


Christchurch


When I visited Christchurch it was still very much recovering from the massive 2011 earthquake that hit the city. Many buildings we still in disrepair and there were many vacant lots all over the city. We visited the 185 empty chairs - an unofficial memorial for the 185 people who died in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. It was extremely moving, especially seeing the baby carrier...


However, I really enjoyed all the street art in Christchurch - it showed a glimpse of the real character and resilience of a recovering city.


Popular things to do in Christchurch include the Canterbury Museum, Hagley Park, Cathedral Square and the Botanic Gardens.


Christchurch

Christchurch - 185 chairs memorial

Christchurch


Kaikoura


Kaikoura is a small town on the east coast of the South island, two hours North of Christchurch. It's known for its abundant wildlife - you can go whale watching, swimming with seals or snorkelling with dolphins. Nearby, you can visit a colony of New Zealand fur seals, we watched baby seals play in a waterfall!


Kaikoura

Kaikoura


Wellington


From Kaikoura, we finished up our time on the South Island and hopped back on the Inter-islander Ferry to Wellington!


Wellington


From we had a direct flight booked back to Brisbane, however it was delayed for 8 hours then eventually cancelled. Finally, 14 hours later we hopped on a flight back to Brisbane via Sydney - lucky the Wellington airport has good couches!

You can read part one of my Epic NEW ZEALAND Road Trip Itinerary | Top Places to See in the NORTH Island here!


I made a YouTube montage video of my entire New Zealand trip, you can watch it here!