After almost half a year since my epic trip to New Zealand, it’s time to set over to the South Island. New Zealand’s South Island is the promised land for everybody who seeks that typical Kiwi experience. Expect wild, rugged landscapes, high mountains, glaciers and glistening lakes. Often you will feel all alone as the South Island is really big and scarcely populated. In a nutshell: This is Middle Earth at its best! So let’s roll!
Wine sampling in Marlborough
The hilly northern tip of the South Island is called Marlborough and is New Zealand’s most famous wine growing area. The good soil and pleasant climate make for excellent white wines especially the crips Sauvignon Blanc. A fantastic winery is Brancott Estate as it combines excellent wines, a gourmet cuisine and modern architecture overlooking its vast vineyards. I stopped there for lunch and some wine sampling on my way to Kaikoura.
Kaikoura Whale Watching
Kaikoura is a small coastal town and not very interesting in itself. But it is a famous spot to go whale watching. You should consider a few things when going whale watching: There is no guarantee you will spot whales. However, I was lucky enough to see a few so it’s worth a shot. Plus you should definitely not be sea sick. The boat ride is pretty fast and bumpy and it takes quite some time. Let’s paint the picture more clearly: We had a good bunch of passengers spending the day with paper bags in their hands. But the encounter with the huge mammals is breathtaking and worth all the hassle. I was staying in the quaint Kaikoura Boutique Hotel.
Abel Tasman National Park
I was literally zigzagging through the South Island going from one side to the other. Next stop was the amazing Abel Tasman National Park in the island’s northwest. This area is a sort of Pacific tropical dream – crystal clear waters, lush vegetation, a vivid wildlife and golden sand beaches mark the coastline. It is an excellent area to enjoy a maximum of outdoor activities.
I opted for a combined hiking and kayaking tour with some extra time for swimming. Take a few days to enjoy the magic of the national park. It was one of the most amazing corners of New Zealand! I was staying at the Kimi Ora Eco Resort overlooking the sandy bay of Kaiteriteri.
Franz Josef & Fox Glacier
From the Abel Tasman National Park I took the route along the west coast all the way to the two most famous glaciers: Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. It is a pretty long drive but I stopped at Hokitika, a coastal town known for Pounamu, the New Zealand jade. This green stone is found around Hokitika and is a sort of signature not only for the town but for all of New Zealand. After a short lunch break and scoring a little jade necklace it was time to face the magnificent Franz Josef Glacier.
For both glaciers I have opted to not book a guided tour and/or actually walk on top of the glaciers (requires more time, most times a helicopter flight and it is very expensive). Instead I opted for a simple hike along the signposted route to the glaciers’ fronts. For the Franz Josef Glacier you can drive up closely as there is a car park at the end of the road and then it is a 30-45 minutes spectacular hike with a steep finish and you will face the fantastic glacier just in front of your nose. Read the information signs along the way – you will wonder how much the glacier has actually disappeared over the past century!
The Fox Glacier is equally breathtaking. There is always the controversy which one is more amazing – but trust me, both are worth visiting. And it’s not only the glacier but the entire surrounding – think of steep mountains, waterfalls, rivers. The Fox Glacier is 23 km south of Franz Josef and can easily be visited on an unguided hike. Here again it is roughly a one hour return walk to the glacier. The walk is really amazing – the wild nature around you is like out of space. I couldnt stop gazing at all the beauties nature has to offer at one little spot! I was staying at a simple but comfy motel and the small settlement has a few places to have coffee and dinner.
When in the corner do not miss the close-by Lake Matheson with fantastic vistas of the Fox Glacier. You can walk around the lake through dense vegetation and enjoy a sunny breakfast at the lovely Lake Matheson Café.
I hope you enjoyed the first part of our exploration of New Zealand’s South Island. Next time I am taking you to more amazing adventures around the South Island. Stay tuned & keep on exploring!
Photography by Igor Josifovic