New Zealand South Island Road Trip | Pt. 1
Ever since I arrived in Australia, friends and acquaintances have told me I should make New Zealand top priority when it comes to traveling. So, last month I flew off to the South Island for an incredible week of exploring via camper-van with my boyfriend. Even though we were only in the country for 7 days we jam-packed our schedule and we were able to do and see so much (having the van certainly helped)! You guys voted on Instagram and requested to see what we did in each town first! I’ll do another post with the details of camper-vaning, costs, advice, and our itinerary next :)
Queenstown was sort of the main hub of our trip. We started and ended here and also spent a day in the middle of our trip here too. Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world (think speedboats and skydiving)! However, since we were hiking every day that we weren’t in Queenstown, we chose to spend our time in the town relaxing, taking in the views, and trying out some of the best restaurants in the world! The town reminded us a lot of an even more scenic version of Breckenridge, Colorado. It’s quaint and walkable and you could very easily see the whole “downtown” in a day or two. The highlight for both of us was by far going to Onsen Hot Baths. We scheduled this on the very last day of our trip and arrived at 8:30am to a gorgeous hot bath in a private room overlooking the river and mountains!
As for food, my gosh there are so many options to choose from! The must-see place is called Fergburger, which was recommended to me by numerous people and a quick google search might even tell you it’s the best burger in the world! I opted for a chicken burger while Matt enjoyed the classic Fergburger and we’re in agreement that it was in fact delicious and worth the wait. We also enjoyed the beautifully designed restaurant called Yonder. I loved this restaurant for it’s diet friendly menu and unique dishes. I enjoyed a beetroot latte (how Australian of me) and blueberry buckwheat pancakes :)
Milford Sound/ Te Anau:
Milford Sound was my number one priority on this trip. I’d seen photos and heard about it’s unimaginable beauty, but no photo or essay could do it justice. The boat tour is a must to take in the massive, majestic mountains in every direction. It rains almost every day in Milford Sound so we were expecting some showers, but what we got was overcast grey skies and mist which made for some incredible photos! We did a few short walks that are near the visitor center, but truth be told the lookout points and short hikes we did on the Milford Sound / Te Anau highway were even better. I’d definitely recommend stopping at most of the lookout points! I’ll add here that Te Anau is the closest town to Milford Sound (about two hours away) and an amazing place for stargazing.
We spent a good deal of our time in Wanaka, partially because our stay got extended due to a day of rain where we just parked in town and waited it out. Wanaka is another MUST on your South Island to-do list mostly because its so close to Mt. Aspiring Natl Park which has many hikes to choose from and the drive from Wanaka to the park is stunning!! The most popular hike to do in Wanaka is Roy’s Peak which is right in town and looks beautiful, however the trail was closed when we were there due to lambing season so we opted for a different but similar hike nearby, Mt. Isthmus. It took us 5 hours and was my first time scaling a mountain (I was sore for nearly a week after). The views at the top were insane with mountains and lakes in every direction! We also did the Blue Pools Walk in Mt. Aspiring which is a combination of beautiful forest and river scenery and is easy to fit into your day since it only takes about an hour.
Back in town, we enjoyed the strip of various food trucks and how walkable everything was. #ThatWanakaTree, the tree made famous by Instagram is a beautiful old tree that is growing out of the lake. It’s a bit of a photographers dream with the mountain ranges in the background. We stopped by for a bit to take some photos on our rainy day. It was cool to see, but I wouldn’t say it’s a “must do.”
We left Wanaka after our big Mt. Isthmus hike and ended up at a campground near Mount Cook late that night. Research told us that Te Anau and Lake Tekapo has some of the best stargazing in the entire world, however, we quickly realised that anywhere on the south island on a clear night is unbelievable. Upon arrival in Mt. Cook we pulled out the blankets and wine and gazed in awe at the night’s sky. It was one of those moments you don’t need photos of to remember! The next day we drove into the national park and walked the Hooker Valley Track. This was a beautiful 3 hour walk filled with views of white capped mountains, ice blue lakes, and suspension bridges. It’s so hard to pick a favourite part of the trip, but I mighttt say this was it for me. My biggest recommendation for Mount Cook area is to stop at as many lookout points as time allows! The road to Mount Cook National Park is another unbelievable one.
Lake Tekapo was another little town that reminded me a lot of Colorado’s charm. We really took advantage of our camper van here and pulled right up to the lake where we enjoyed sunrise breakfast and lunch later in the day. We did the hike up to Mt John in the morning, a relatively easy walk, where we took in the lake views at the top with a fresh cup of coffee from the observatory cafe at the top. Lake Tekapo was such a small town and it was the last stop on our trip so we only spent one day here. I’m sure there are many walks and hikes in this area that you could do, but we just opted for the most popular Mt. John walk and hanging by the lake. There are iconic photos of Lake Tekapo where you’ll see the beautiful Lupins in bloom! We were a little too early in the season to see this (first week in October), but it’s something to consider looking into if you’ll be visiting! They bloom in early November!
As I mentioned, one week was enough to get a great feel of the South Island and see many of the sites! However, if you aren’t on a time restraint, spending two weeks or more in New Zealand would be ideal! I couldn’t imagine doing this trip and not going to any of the places that we went. So if you do go, take the time to see these towns and do the research to see what else they might offer that interests you! :)