New Zealand Roadtrip - Part 2 (South Island)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Welcome back to my NZ roadtrip adventures! Check out Part 1 of my trek through New Zealand if you missed out on the action. Although the North Island had some amazing natural wonders, the South is by far my favourite!

After the ferry ride from Wellington to Picton, we headed off along the coastline towards Kaikoura. Once you hit the border of Canterbury, the road literally winds along the cliffs with incredible scenery on one side, and the ocean on the other. Then the most incredible sight I've ever seen - hundreds of seals just lazing about on the rocks and the beach by the road!

Obviously these are wild animals so you should always be cautious, but when we stopped to take pictures they just watched us but never moved or looked threatened. You could even watch the baby seals frolicking about at the waters edge. Possibly the most amazing natural thing I've ever seen, and something that I haven't experienced any where else in the world! There are numerous pull-in sections on this stretch of road, so I highly recommend bringing a packed lunch and making the most of this moment. We spent a good hour chilled out with various other travellers who had also stopped to take a peak.

Pulling ourselves away we continued on to Kaikoura. This quaint town on the South Island coast is home to some of the best marine animal encounters in NZ. After a good nights sleep we headed out in the morning with Encounter Kaikoura on their dusky dolphin encounter to watch
these beautiful creatures play in the water and swim alongside them.
Swimming with the dolphins was so amazing, and if you make noises under the water and do interesting actions (like twirling or diving) these inquisitive animals will get right up close! If you're not a confident swimmer or would prefer just to watch, the tour offers spectator options as well. A great thing about the dusky dolphins of Kaikoura is that they can be seen in the waters year round, unlike a lot of locations where the dolphins only visit seasonally. On my tour we were also lucky enough to see a humpback whale breach not far from our location as well!

A handy hint for the swimmers - the encounter shop sells waterproof touchscreen phone and camera cases to take some happy snaps of your swim with the dolphins! I bought one for my Samsung S4 and this trusty case has helped me snap some amazing underwater moments worldwide (it even floats if you happen to let go of it!).

There are other encounter tours and boat trips that depart from Kaikoura, including seal and albatross encounters and whale watching. For a bit of cultural and historical entertainment of an evening, there's also the Mayfair Theatre, a community owned and run 1930's cinema! The "old school" cinema feels authentic, but screens the latest movies in style.

Leaving the coastline behind we trekked on down to Lake Tekapo in the middle of the South Island. Now where do I even begin with Tekapo! The lake itself with the snow capped mountains and natural wildlife surrounding it is just stunning. Our camp ground had a prime view of the lake which was hard to drag your eyes away from. There are plenty of places to dip your feet in (trust me it's rather cold even in summer!) and take some amazing photos. There's also a little church on the hilltop which also features amazing views from within.

By night there is only one thing to do, and that is to take a tour up to the Mt John Observatory with Earth & Sky. The observatory is situated in the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, the biggest dark zone in the world! The Dark Sky Reserve means that the skies are almost light pollution free so the view of the night sky is crystal clear even to the naked eye. This also means that once vehicles enter the dark zone, all lights must be turned off, so driving alone is not safe. The tour guides have incredible knowledge of the constellations and formations which you will get to see. There are also numerous telescopes to get an even better look at the world beyond! If you're lucky you may even get to see Jupiter glowing in the distance. For those travellers with a DSLR camera, make sure you take this with you as the astrophotographers will take a photo of the night sky in all its glory for you free of charge! Absolutely amazing and one of the best experiences of my life! Handy hint, it is absolutely FREEZING at the top of Mt John, so dress wisely.

Next stop on our trip was Mt Cook (or Aoraki), which is also situated in the Dark Sky Reserve. When you think of New Zealand and its stunning landscapes with snow capped mountains, this is where you will find it. Mt Cook is pretty much a dead zone for contact with the outside world, but why would you want to with so much to see and do right at your doorstep! One thing I highly recommend is taking a helicopter trip to the top of the snow capped mountains where you can experience the snow and get the most amazing view of the Mt Cook area. Having been to the snow before, this was something out of this world and a totally different kind of experience. The mountain tops are so peaceful and the views are beyond amazing! Definitely budget dependent as the shortest trip is around $200NZD per person, but worth it if you can spare the cash!

Another must-do experience whilst in Mt Cook is to head over to the Tasman Glacier. Unfortunately with global warming the Glacier is melting at a fast rate (in geological timeframes anyway!) but what you get to see is simply stunning. We took a tour with Glacier Explorers, with a scenic drive through the National Park and a short 30 minute walk to the Glacier lake. From here we were decked out in safety gear and took to the water for a guided tour of the Glacier and the incredible icebergs floating around the lake. There are other land based tours that you can take to view the Glacier from above, so check out your options before settling on one, but I loved the boat experience, I mean I touched an iceberg!

For the trekkers Mt Cook has so many fantastic trails you'll never get through them all! New Zealand Tourism have a great article of the Top 5 Short Walks in the Mt Cook Aoraki National Park. One of the most popular walks is the Hooker Valley Track, winding through the snowy mountains alongside an icy river and the base of the Southern Alps. The total trek takes 3 hours return, but there are various checkpoints along the way if you're feeling like a shorter trip. Personally what I loved about this trail was that there was a pathway, but no defined route, meaning plenty of opportunities to deviate from the track and find the most incredible views!

Following Mt Cook, we headed down to tourist hotspot Queenstown. In Winter, Queenstown comes alive with skiers from all over coming to take on the various peaks. In Summer the pace is a little more relaxed, but honestly not somewhere I'd suggest visiting at this time of the year. One thing that is quite fun for an afternoon out, is to catch the historic streamship TSS Earnslaw to Walter Peak High Country Farm. Queenstown is also known for it's high adrenalin activities, including bungee jumping, white water rafting and jetboating.

After the short stop in Queenstown we were off to Te Anau on the border of the Fiordland National Park. This is where the famously stunning Milford Road begins on the way to Milford Sound. If you're not a confident driver I'd suggest hoping on a coach to get there, otherwise driving will take about 2 hours (it's a day trip). The twisty roads, mountains, and ever changing scenery will keep you mesmerised for the entire drive up to Milford Sound!

Described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world, this is one of the most breathtaking locations in New Zealand. The cliffs rise up out of the deep, dark waters, with waterfalls every way you look. The mist hangs over the waters like something from a movie as you cruise down the eerie river. I simply can't describe it any better than to say it was amazing! The highlight of the cruise for me was the opportunity to stand under one of the waterfalls as the driver backed the boat up to the cliff. Prepare to get absolutely saturated, but it's all just a bit of fun :) An amazing day trip that I thoroughly recommend!

Leaving Te Anau we headed back the way we came and up to Haast, a mere 6 and a bit hours drive... Haast was just a stopover for us, and we got back on the road towards the famous Fox Glacier. We hit some pretty miserable weather on the drive up, but the view of the Glacier was still pretty stunning! Fox Glacier has guided walking tours where you can climb its icy mass and appreciate its immense size and wonder! If you'd rather not climb the Glacier there's the option of taking a walk up to the Peak View Lookout which has pretty incredible views, although it is a bit of a tough journey so come prepared.

Almost at the end of my NZ adventure we set off on the last part of our journey, stopping briefly in Hokitika where we picked up some amazing NZ jewellery featuring the gorgeous gemstones Aotea and  Nephrite Jade. I also used our shopping in Hokitika to find quality souvenirs for everyone back home. A lot of places have your traditional snowglobes, keyrings and the good old "My Dad Went To New Zealand And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt", but I wanted something more symbolic, and Haast is a great place to find this! I took home some cute little carvings featuring NZ symbols:

Hei Tiki represents the Maori God Tiki who was considered responsible for the creation of life. It has many debated meanings associated with fertility and pregnancy, but is also seen as a good luck charm.

Hei Matau, the fish hook, symbolizes safe travels (particularly across the sea) and good luck, but more traditionally prosperity, abundance, food health, a respect for the sea and the life in it.

Pikoura, the infinity or twist, represents the bond between two people, whether it be blood, love or friendship. It represents separate paths of life that reconnect because the twist has no end points.

Toki symbolises strength, determination, authority and honour. Traditionally it had uses as both a tool, and a symbol fixed to the weapons carried by warriors in battle.

Manaia represents the messenger between the gods and humans, seen as a symbol of spiritual power and protection from evil. It is traditionally depicted with the head of a bird, body of a man and tail of a fish.

Koru represents the unfurling fern front of the NZ silver fern plant, symbolises new beginnings in life. This can be taken to mean many things, including a new start or new phase of life, personal growth, peace and harmony or new life.

So after that brief lesson in traditional Maori symbolism, we jumped back in the motorhome and made our final journey towards Christchurch through Arthurs Pass. Probably some of the most incredible scenery I experienced during my time in NZ, changing in the blink of an eye (although rather sadly I broke my camera just before this part of the roadtrip)! One moment you'll be driving through thick, dense forests and then around the next bend you come out into huge mountains running alongside massive gorges and flowing rivers. A truly amazing way to end a fantastic roadtrip of New Zealand!

So until next time, happy travels!

You Might Also Like


Like us on Facebook

Instagram Pics