What better way to start your South Island trip than in
Marlborough Sounds, one of the most famous regions of New Zealand
for its incredible wine and seafood, but also the beautiful
scenery; here you can see orcas, go for great walks (try the
award-winning Queen Charlotte track), explore the sound by boat and
hit the beaches.
The Abel Tasman National Park shares the beautiful northern
coastline of South Island with Marlborough, but is largely
unvisited in comparison. Beautiful, empty beaches, almost
guaranteed sunshine and the stunningly clear sea mean everything is
focused on the water; boat taxis are readily available to deliver
you to the next delectable lunch spot or secluded bay, while sports
such as kayaking and paddle boarding are popular.
Kaikoura, literally translated from Maori as 'eat crayfish', is
a fantastic spot for seafood but is best known for its still-live
sea life; whales, dolphins and seals a plenty, bringing in crowds
of day trippers desperate to catch a shot of a Dusky in mid-air or
a breaching Sperm whale. Visitors can immerse themselves in the
deep blue for an intimate encounter with seals and dolphins, either
snorkelling or scuba diving, or keep watch from a boat, light
aircraft, helicopter or dry land.
Currently in the middle of major rebuilding after the 2011
earthquake, resilient Christchurch's exciting developments include
the 'Cardboard Cathedral', Quake City and various Gap Filler
projects. Not many cities are able to reinvent themselves from
scratch, so Christchurch is worth a stop. A guided tour on a segway
(or by bicycle for the more traditional visitor) is a great way to
start, while the lush Botanical Gardens and Orana Wildlife Park are
family-friendly and fun.
In the centre of the South Island, the Southern Alps dominate.
At the heart, Arthur's Pass National Park can be explored on foot
along a multitude of DOC trails (the Department of Conservation
maintains many fantastic routes across New Zealand, as well as
managing campsites in some of the wildest, woolliest parts of the
country). The Devil's Punch Bowl waterfalls and Castle Hill (a Lord
of the Rings filming location) are great places to explore, while
over the winter the Temple Basin ski field is popular. Mount Cook,
the highest in New Zealand, towers over beautiful lakes, rivers and
glaciers; try the Hooker Valley track for a relatively easy hike,
or if that sounds like too much effort take in the scenery on a
four wheel drive safari, fixed-wing plane or helicopter flight, or
horse trek. The Franz Josef glacier descends to just 300m above sea
level, making it very accessible for adventurous explorers - you
can get onto the ice on a guided hike or by helicopter, and even
try your hand at ice climbing.
On the edge of this dramatic mountain range lies a small town on
a big lake. Wanaka, home of amazing food, soft adventure and
actually quite a few expatriates. Visitors loved it so much they
stayed. Here there is a range of walks for all abilities, fishing,
boat activities, heli trips, glaciers, oh and mountain ranges. Not
to mention there are some great lodges here.
Queenstown, the heart and soul of the active scene with a number
of extreme sports available here, as well as great golf and fishing
for those with a rather nervous disposition. It is also home to the
Fergburger, which is so good even vegetarians may be converted.
Although a popular back packer destination, there are some secluded
luxury lodges, fine dining restaurants and buzzing cafes. It is a
very picturesque destination surrounded by the Southern Alps, ideal
to sit and view with a glass of wine, or alternatively visitors can
jump out of a plane to take in the views.
Fjordland and Milford Sound are also worth a peek whilst
travelling the South Island, as they are by far the most beautiful
and dramatic parts of New Zealand. With waterfalls cascading into
fjords, ancient untouched rainforests, glaciers, and shimmering
lakes. Worth noting that Milford Sound is one of the eight wonders
of the world, need we say more. Here visitors can explore by boat
or take advantage of the many walks in this region, it is also home
to the crested penguins.