Kia Ora! My trip to New Zealand was a blast; literally and figuratively, both. Read on if you want to know what South Island offers and why is it aptly called the adventure sports capital.
New Zealand perhaps is one of those countries where you have distinct topography and cultural variations when it comes to the north versus south. Neither of the island is the ‘better one’. They are both equally grand, unique and extremely remarkable.
My husband and I have different definitions when it comes to adventure. For me it is the thrill of exploring a place, food, culture and of course a bit interesting things that can happen along the way, while Vish is more like jumping off a plane, cave walking, river rafting, scuba diving (he plans to do that soon) and maybe hiking up a live volcano😉
So here we are heading off to New Zealand to get a taste of adventure.
Day 1 and 2: Christchurch landing and drive to Mount Cook
Arriving in Christchurch in the early hours post-midnight we are welcomed to a heavy downpour and freezing temps. This is what the Kiwis call a normal autumn dayJ. My first reaction was brrrr… nah it was more like whoa if this continues we are soon going to witness snow. Nevertheless, we bundled ourselves for a quick night’s sleep. In the morning rewarding ourselves to a sumptuous breakfast at Cafe Raeward and proceeded on this blinding journey towards Aoraki Mount Cook.
I say blinding as all we could see in the mist and rain was the taillights of the car ahead of us. To top it all, New Zealand roads, I mean all including national highways are 2 laned. Maybe for the locals it’s a way of life, for tourists on a schedule it can be frustrating at time. I’ll stop my rant and continue.The route towards Aoraki after we get off the main SH 80, the Christchurch-Queenstown highway is also called the International dark sky reserve, one of the best spots to stargaze. If it is the Milky Way or constellations you are keen on, I bet you’ll be amply rewarded. Take a rug, find a slope and just look up; just ensure you do so it in summer, autumn and winter may result in frost bite.
A major tip: Always allow for more time than what Google Maps suggests. The roads are extremely winding, narrow and just go on forever in New Zealand.
Aoraki did not disappoint us. It laid the white carpet for us. We drove through a snow storm, trekked to the Tasman Glacier Lake on thin ice and enjoyed a round of snow fight. For adventure, it ticked off both our boxes. In case of accommodation there is something for everyone in the Mount Cook National Park area. From dorms to motels to swanky high end hotels, there is enough to choose from. If you are unsure about staying up in the mountains, the nearest towns are Twizel and Lake Tekapo. Both towns offer a range of restaurants, cafes and accommodation optionsIn terms of activities, the main ones are Mountaineering, Mountain walks, Glacier scenic viewing from a Helicopter/ flight, Glacier walk/skiing or just walking on the numerous trails along the rivers.
Tips: Mountain climbers don’t require a permit. Local tours and guides are available for all other activities.
Day 3: Driving to the Fjords of New Zealand
Onwards we went towards the southern fjords the next day. After a quick hot lunch at Jasmine Thai in Twizel, we zig zagged through the Southern Alps towards Te Anau. While Google says it would take around 5 hours, it is definitely closer to a 7 hour journey if not more. So once again, always allow extra time. Te anau is a small township just outside the Fjord National park and is a wonderful place to just relax and chill. Surprise, surprise we found a chinese restaurant (they are always there) and a great Indian restaurant too (now that was good). Dinner at Radha’sIndian restaurant was welcoming and they did spice levels to Indian standards if requested.
That night we crashed. 7 hours on mountainous roads is exhausting and can at times affect your centre of gravity. A comfy bed and a toasted room is all you need. Ta da, next day we are bright eyed and bushy tailed to head to the Fjords.
Finally the day dawned bright and sunny. Oh yes, after 3 days of incessant rains, we were pleased to have the sun shining on us. The drive to Milford sound is almost a 2 hour journey. Also keep in mind, there is a section of one way tunnel which operates on a signal and can have traffic back up for almost a kilometre. So factor this in while planning your day. We made it with 15 minutes to spare for our cruise. The Milford Sovereign took us on this beautiful ride along the Sound.
A young member of earth’s geology (just over 400 million years) Milford Sound is an extremely fragile piece of the ecosystem. Home to the Pounamu (Greenstone) Jade, rare black corals, Paua Shells, fur seals, penguins and dolphins, it is a treat to sail between the glaciers and sea and take in the sights. In the summer, you can kayak closer to the socially forward dolphins.
Tip: Check local Australian and New Zealand coupon sites for good deals on cruises. Always pre book cruises and call them before heading out. Weather in the fjords can change drastically at short notice.
Now we had to drive again northwards towards Queenstown. Not as arduous as a 7 hour journey, it was tiring nevertheless. The highlight of the day, or the evening would be to see millions of stars as twilight set in over the Lake Wakatipu area. It was an experience to witness and not capture. Queenstown was to be our base for the next few days.
Day 5: Queenstown – The Adventure capital
The big day had arrived. My husband was all gung ho about his skydiving experience. Driving him to the airfield I watched him prepare for his jump.
Oh, did I mention we had his parents with us on this adventurous journey. A pair of enthusiastic seniors who loved doing random things like seeing their son jump-off a plane to serious snow fights😀
Well we had a ball of a time waiting to spot the popcorn burst from the plane and lo behold 10 minutes later husband arrives back to terra firma all smiling with his ears blocked. An experience not to be missed, in his words he had ticked it off his bucket list. What a view to add to that.
Undoubtedly the best place for adventure sports the quality control and care as well as the infrastructure they have is commendable. I have my own list for the next trip.
Tip: Skydive is a half a day activity. Also don’t plan anything strenuous for the rest of the day as air pressure can sometimes affect you and you could feel dizzy afterwards. Keep a buffer day while booking, as the activity is closely related to the weather and wind pattern and may need to be rebooked.
We roamed the streets of Queenstown and grabbed some grub at this funny little place called Balls and Bangles. Their soup was really good and filling and comes with a bagel of your choice. To wrap up the day we headed upwards again; this time about half a kilometre to the top of the town on a gondola.
Arguably one of the steepest I have sampled, the view was worth all the jumps and pauses along the way. With a clear sky and the setting sun behind us our eyes took in the Crown ranges, Lake Wakatipu and myriad colours of Queenstown.
Day 6: Towns of New Zealand- Mirror Lakes, Arrowtown and Lake Wanaka
Today was the day to explore the area and appreciate the culture and history. Starting off at Mirror lakes, just outside Queenstown, Lake Hayes is a true reflection of the beauty of New Zealand.
Next we drove to Arrowtown to know more about the Gold Rush era and the contribution by Chinese prospectors. The story of the harsh conditions they worked in and what a difference striking gold meant to them. The Chinese contribution to New Zealand’s gold rush era is huge and talks about the heart warming tales of how an industrious set of people decided to travel to an unknown world so that their impoverished families back home could be more comfortable.
On our way back we visited the Cardona Valley Distillery. It produces some awesome single malt Vodka and gin and also has a beautiful entrance filled with colourful bras. It started as a controversial attraction, but now supports breast cancer awareness. You may leave one, if you have any to spare.
Day 7: On the Last leg of the journey we headed back towards Christchurch. A long drive in cold conditions our only pit stop was Lake Tekapo around tea time. The lake is so serene and the ripples on the surface that the wind creates are magical. I am not going to spoil it for you. See it, feel it, experience it.
Day 8: Exploring Christchurch
Christchurch thankfully was not wet. A typical city it is an electic mix of period and new age architecture. Still being rebuilt after the catastrophic earthquake of 2011, the city exudes a small town charm in a big city garb.
We explored the CBD on foot and trust me that is the best way to see it. The Botanical gardens, Museum and walking along the old square and cathedral is a must. There is an old tram that would take you to all landmarks and important places (Price: $ 45 pp) and is essentially a hop on hop off.
The gardens in Hagley Park are the green city’s green lungs. A massive park that houses the extensive botanical gardens and the Museum is at the far end of the southern side. You can also try your hand at Punting on the Avon in case you are in mood for a romantic evening or just plain want to indulge yourself. (Price:$ 28 pp). Alternatively you could buy a combo pass that includes the tram, punting, gonodola and a guided tour of the Botanical gardens for $ 86.
Day 9: Oh this one rolled in cold. We headed to the Antarctic Centre. This is a place that you should not miss. It is an absolute #NZmustdo.
The ice continent experience has been recreated next to the Airport in a large complex. An amazing place that is informative and interactive. From seeing rescued penguins to the huskies with their icy blue eyes to standing in a -38 C snowstorm like you were in Antarctica, to taking a 4D cruise to the frozen continent it is downright cool. Added bonus you get to ride the Hagglund, a military style snow vehicle on a terrain similar to Antarctica. That was bone rattling and I respect the people/ scientists who call Antarctica home.
Day 10: Bidding adieu is always tough and it was more so as we had an early morning 6 am flight. Cold days and early morning flights are such a no-no, but choice did we have. On the flight back to a warmer Sydney I had already started making plans for the next holiday, when I suddenly realized Vish was fast asleep. How typical!
A 10 day Sample itinerary to explore central and south west South Island, NZ.
Christchurch- Mount Cook- Te Anau/Milford Sound- Queenstown- Christchurch
- Day 1: Arrive at Chc. Leave for Mt Cook depending on arrival time. If late, stay put.
- Day 2: Mt Cook
- Day 3: Te Anau
- Day4: Milford Sound. Come back to Te Anau or head to Queenstown
- Day 5-7- Queenstown and surrounds
Christchurch- Franz Josef Glacier- Lake Wanaka- Te Anau/ Milford Sound- Queenstown- Christchurch
- Day 1: Arrive at Chc. Leave for Franz Josef depending on arrival time. If late, stay put.
- Day 2: Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers. Stay put
- Day 3: Lake Wanaka
- Day4: Milford Sound. Stay put at Te Anau for the night
- Day 5-7- Queenstown and surrounds
A longer holiday means relaxed schedules and a lot more off beat stuff to explore.
Things to note:
- Pack a good all weather jacket and sturdy walking shoes. The weather is super unpredictable even in high summer. Always dress in layers.
- If you have sensitive skin, carry a moisturizer and a good sun protection agent with you. (I usually rub coconut oil as an effective sunscreen)
- April is the best time to see autumn colours and July-Aug is the best to Ski. Spring, summer and autumn are good for adventure sports
- Drink loads of water and carry motion sickness medication if need be, as the roads can be a trial.
Above all keep calm and soak in the untouched parts of earth and be glad you are able to experience the land where the Dinos walked.