The South Island of New Zealand was one of the most picturesque and adventurous destinations I have ever experienced in my travelling career. It is somewhere I will always seek to revisit, and have fond memories from. I had the opportunity to experience the beautiful landscape, people, food and adrenaline with Stray New Zealand’s hop on, hop off travel network.
Abel Tasman – My journey in the South Island began as we got off the Bluebridge Ferry crossing from Wellington to Picton. We spent approximately 3 hours cruising along and passing through the beautiful Cook Strait, named after Captain James Cook. Once we arrived in Picton, our group headed straight for the Marlborough region for some wine tasting! Wine from the Marlborough region is known around the world, as some of the best Sauvignon Blanc of it’s kind. Following the wine tasting and lunch, we began the journey West towards the smallest but most visited national park in New Zealand, Abel Tasman!
Split Apple Rock – Abel Tasman National Park
Kayakers in the National Park
Torrent Bay – Abel Tasman National Park
While staying in Abel Tasman the choice of activities are endless! I decided to go sailing around the National Park on a Full Day Sail with Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures. If sailing isn’t for you, you can choose to rent a kayak, experience a half/full day coastal walk or go skydiving! Whichever you choose, you will be sure be able to experience the beauty and magic of the Abel Tasman National Park.
Westport – After an amazing time in Abel Tasman we continued our journey south along the coast towards Punakaiki. Punakaiki is famous for the Pancake Rocks that lay along the coastal waters. We had the chance to check out this natural wonder, and participate in a few scenic coastal walks in the area.
On the way to Westport we passed through Greymouth, which is home to the famous Monteith’s Brewery! Unfortunately due to limited time, I was unable to visit the brewery – however it’s on my list of things to do next time I go to New Zealand… I did drink enough Monteith’s Cider while I was over there to make up for this though! We continued our journey south and in the early afternoon make it into Westport. Westport is home to some of the best surf on the South Island. This was a night to grab a quiet dinner, relax and rest up for our next stop… Franz Josef!
Franz Josef – Bright and early in the morning we continued south towards the Franz Josef National Park. Franz Josef is a very common bucket list item for many travelling in New Zealand; everyone including myself wanted to see the glacier! We arrived at the Stray accommodation, Rainforest Retreat in the early afternoon where we had the whole afternoon to explore or soak in the hot tub!
While visiting Franz Josef I choose to do a glacier hike with Franz Josef Glacier Guides called the Ice Explorer. This activity included a 5-minute helicopter transfer to the top of the glacier, as well as a 2 hour guided walk up and through the beautiful natural wonder.
And we are off!!!
Landed on the Glacier – Time to explore!
Fellow Stray traveller and I
As the glacier is slowly receding/melting over the years – this is something you MUST DO when you visit New Zealand… who knows how long it will still be around for!
Wanaka: After spending a couple days in Franz Josef, we continued south towards Wanaka. The journey to Wanaka is a spectacular drive where you pass by various stunning lakes, and mountain ranges that cover the area. If you look really closely you may even be able to spot Aoraki/Mt Cook in the far distance. When you arrive in Wanaka it is easy to notice that the beautiful Lake Wanaka is the focal point within the town that everything is situated around.
While in Wanaka you can choose to participate in a few scenic walks, sit by the lake with some wine and cheese or grab a bite to eat along the boardwalk. Wanaka gives off a very relaxed and peaceful feel to it, and it continues to make its visitors fall in love with it. It is sometimes described as a smaller Queenstown, as it presents with characteristics of mountainous scenery and a beautiful blue lake. In the early evening, make sure you head down to the lake to take in one of the most incredible sunsets; it’s an experience you don’t want to miss!
Queenstown – For myself, Queenstown was somewhere that I have been looking forward to visiting for a while… And for good reason… it is the adventure and adrenaline capital of New Zealand – talk about my kind of place!
Lake Wakatipu – Queenstown
While I was in Queenstown, I choose to participate in a variety of adrenaline and scenic activities, some of which included: the 134m Nevis Bungy Jump, 15,000ft NZONE Skydive, 43m Kawarau Bridge Bungy, Shotover Canyon Swing, Skippers Canyon Jet Boat, Real Journey Milford Sound Cruise and finally an evening up on Queenstown Hill at Skyline (Gondola, Kiwi Haka performance, dinner & stargazzing)! It was an action packed week and one I will never ever forget!
43m AJ Hackett – Kawarau Bridge Bungy
The Chair of Death – Shotover Canyon Swing
NZONE Skydive Queenstown – 15,000ft
Skipper Canyon Jet boating
134m AJ Hackett “The Nevis” Bungy Jump
Queenstown Hill – Skyline Queenstown
Mt Cook – After a very sad goodbye to Queenstown we made our way north towards the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. Travelling back along the road we took to get to Queenstown, we said one final farewell to Lake Wakatipu, the Remarkables Mountains and Coronet Peak, capturing one last photo on the way.
Lake Wakatipu – Queenstown
Lake Pukaki – Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
In the early afternoon we approached the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. Along the way we passed by one of the most pristine and spectacular lakes in all of New Zealand, Lake Pukaki. The distinctive blue colour of Lake Pukaki is caused by the glacier feed and the natural glacial flour (extremely finely ground rock particles).
Hooker Valley Walk – Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
Hooker Valley Glacier Lake – Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
Never stop exploring – Go Pro shot
While in the National Park, I chose one of the most popular activities, which is doing the 3hour return Hooker Valley Walk, which takes you to the Hooker Valley lake and the Aoraki/Mt Cook glaciers!
Rangitata: The next stop on Stray was to Rangitata – Peel Forest. Along the way, we passed by Lake Pukaki again for some last minute photos. When in Rangitata I chose to go rafting down the Rangitata River.
Rafting with Rangitata Rafts
A fun fact about the Rangitata River is; the most recent series of Amazing Race: Australia vs. New Zealand was filmed on the same river Rangitata Rafts uses for their trips! They had to shut down their tours for the day to facilitate the teams competing on their river… cool! Back at the Rangitata Rafts Lodge we had the chance suntan on the deck, cook up a mean BBQ dinner, and have a few drinks in the evening.
Kaikoura: It’s an early morning as we headed north along the coast to Christchurch. We only made a quick stop at the Christchurch airport to drop off some passengers and continued our journey North to Kaikoura.
Dolphin Swim with Dolphin Encounter
Kaikoura is one of the main spots in New Zealand to experience interactive wildlife encounters. One of the most popular activities in Kaikoura is Dolphin Encounter: Swim with the Dolphins. This trip allows you to get the chance to swim with largest quantity of dusky dolphins in the entire world – sometimes you can get up to 200 dolphins in the area. Dusky dolphins are the most playful and energetic dolphins in the world, and swimming with them is one of the most interactive wildlife encounters out there!
Dusky Dolphins – Close Up!
In the evening, we had free time to explore the beachside shops; wander along the beach, grab a bite of dinner in town, or take in the beautiful sunset from our accommodation.
Wellington/Auckland: We departed from Kaikoura and headed north through the Marlborough region to Picton. In Picton I jumped on a small plane for a trip to Wellington, and later a flight to Auckland in the evening! My final night in New Zealand was spent catching up with the Stray Auckland crew at Nomads Fat Camel for a couple farewell drinks!
The South Island of New Zealand lures in it’s visitors by it mountainous landscapes, clear blue lakes and stunning scenery. Home to the adrenaline capital of the World; Queenstown and the highest mountain in New Zealand, Mt Cook – the South Island is action packed! Everywhere from the Abel Tasman National Park, the Franz and Fox Josef glacier, Lake Wanaka, Milford Sound and more; travellers come near and far to experience everything that makes the South Island special. It’s a place not to be missed, and a place I will never forget. I will be back soon!