Can you believe it is almost one year ago that I traveled to New Zealand and I still haven’t finished covering all the adventures and beauties of this destination? Well here’s the proof: I am still owing you some more travel tips for New Zealand’s South Island. In the first part I already featured some highlights. Now it is time to explore more of the wild part of New Zealand. The southern island is in general more remote, wild, uninhabited as compared to its northern neighbour, and it will enchant you with its untouched beauty. Buckle up , here we roll!
Queenstown: When I set off to Queenstown I was coming from the glaciers. The road trip from there to Queenstown is stunning. I am not sure the word is enough to describe the breathtaking scenery along the road. First you drive between the ocean and high mountains, then you drive right through the Southern Alps and pass glistening lakes with turquoise waters. The landscape is fairytale like. Once again you find yourself right in Middle Earth. If you have time, I suggest a stop over in Wanaka on the namesake lake. Take in the nature and go for a hike – the area is fabulous. And don’t miss the famous Wanaka Tree in the lake! Also cute to visit is Arrowtown – a historic gold mining town in Otago, nowadays a charming touristic town to enjoy a stroll and a good lunch. And then, on the horizon, you see a town on the shores of yet another big lake. And that is Queenstown.
Queenstown is a buzzing tourist capital on the South Island. It attracts a largely young crowd as it offers all the ‘cool’ amenities: lots of outdoor activities from hiking to adrenaline inducing extreme sports, plenty of bars, cafés, restaurants, and shops, and a winning landscape with a huge lake and amazing mountain ranges. Don’t miss a trip with the cable car up to the mountain for fantastic views and a relaxed boat trip on the lake. Some of my other Queenstown highlights included the following:
Vudu Café & Larder: If you long for a good coffee with delicious pastries or a yummy and healthy breakfast this is the place to go. Cool interior design and even cooler staff. My absolute favorite from Queenstown!
Little Blackwood: Queenstown’s best cocktails are served at the Little Blackwood. Not only the cocktails will seduce you – the design is pretty urban and cool too!
Toro Kitchen & Bar: Great restaurant for lunch or dinner! A delicious Kiwi interpretation of Mediterranean cuisine in the heart of Queenstown. The staff is very friendly and cool, too!
Fergburger: Ok, now if you are willing to queue for Queenstown’s allegedly best burger, this is the place to go. There’s literally all the time a queue of people waiting for the juicy burgers – I was just amazed by the crowds and must admit the menu looked scrumptious. However, I did not queue. Your turn to test and report back!
Milford Sound: After Queenstown I was off to the remote Fiordland in New Zealand’s south-western corner. Imagine rugged mountains, fiords, dense forests, damp weather, and hardly any settlements – that’s Fiordland. Milford Sound is the obvious tourist attraction number one in this national park. Do not expect to be alone of course. The little town of Te Anau was my base. From there it is a 2-hours drive to Milford Sound through dreamy landscapes. Avoid the tourist rush hours as you might get trapped in a long line of buses with the same destination. Book your boat trip tickets in advance to avoid disappointments. A big parking area is available and a visitor center guides you to the right dock. Then go aboard and just enjoy Milford Sound. Waterfalls, mountains rising perpendicular out of the water, sunbathing seals – you get it all. No matter the crowds, I really loved it. It was like a fairytale. Plus I experienced the Milford Sound in very untypical weather: bright sunshine and blue skies! On your way back plan a little stop-over at the Mirror Lake. There is a short walking trail to enjoy the views and if you are lucky the lake will be all still and you will enjoy the landscape twice – mirrored on the lake’s water surface.
Doubtful Sound: Of course you can opt for only one Sound if you are short of time. But if you have enough time, I recommend you do both. Why? Because the Doubtful Sound is less crowded, more remote, and it will give you a totally unspoilt experience of New Zealand’s Fiordland. Getting there is also a little adventure in itself. Unlike to the Milford Sound, you can not simply drive to the Doubtful Sound. Instead you have to go to the little town of Manapouri on the namesake lake south of Te Anau. It is very close, like 20 minutes by car. There a ferry will take you over Lake Manapouri to the other shore. Then a bus will pick you up and drive you on a narrow and winding road across the Wilmot Pass. Once on top, the bus will stop so that you can enjoy the first spectacular views of the Doubtful Sound. Then the descent starts and at the end a ferry waits for you. The Doubtful Sound is the deepest fiord in Fiordland and strikes with its solitude and serenity. Around 40 km through the magic Sound with waterfalls and a rich flora and fauna you will reach the ocean. Here, the weather was more like you would expect: low hanging clouds and strong gusts of wind. But half way through the weather cleared again. However, I must say it has an even more magic charm with cloudy weather conditions. It sort of feels more natural there. I was really amazed by the Doubtful Sound. It was like the essence of New Zealand’s magic on one day trip. Do it if you have the chance!
Dunedin: My trip then continued across the South Island to the other coast and the destination was New Zealand’s most Scottish city: Dunedin. Truth be told, I had to speak to local Kiwis to be able to properly pronounce and accentuate the name Dunedin. The city offers everything you expect from a small city. One of the local attractions is the railway station. It was opened in 1906 and features an eclectic, revived Flemish renaissance style. The main hall is worth a peek too – the mosaic floor is a true delight for the eyes! Other than that just have a stroll and discover the city by walking. Two good recommendations for Dunedin include the following:
Kiki Beware Café: Excellent place to enjoy coffee, refreshments and delish cakes. I really liked it for a little break from the city walk.
Morning Magpie: One of my absolute favorites too! Enjoyed a great and relaxed breakfast there. Cool interior, very artsy, with big communal tables, vintage books, magazines, flowers, mix and match tableware and great pastries! Friendly and hip staff included!
Mount Cook National Park: The next stop on my adventure through New Zealand’s South Island was the Mount Cook national park. Leaving from Dunedin you can drive along the coast until you reach the famous Moeraki Boulders. These spherical ‘stones’ are cluttered along the sandy beach and look really awesome. Especially when you learn that this is yet another masterpiece by Mother Nature. Enjoy a break and take in the sight before you turn inland and head towards the Southern Alps.
I stayed at Lake Tekapo and continued the next day into the Mount Cook national park. Driving there is spectacular especially when you see the majestic Mount Cook for the first time – it is New Zealand’s highest mountain and truly a king among the mountains. Despite the rough weather with wind and rain I set off to walk the Hooker Valley Track. On the bright side, I was almost alone during most of the walk due to the weather conditions. The scenery is yet another impression that seems to top other experiences. Somehow, New Zealand seems to top itself all the time! I strongly recommend this walk!
Christchurch: My last stop during my 4-weeks New Zealand road trip was Christchurch. To be honest I was pretty surprised to see so much destruction in the city center caused by the earthquake in 2011. I thought that most of the city had been reconstructed in the meantime but large parts of downtown Christchurch remain in a pitiful state. Especially the big cathedral, once Christchurch’s landmark, stands hauntingly there as a frozen memento of the 2011 events. Waling the city center on a Sunday adds to the somewhat eerie atmoshpere – entire lanes and streets are empty and lined with locked up and destroyed buildings. However, new and vibrant centers have formed to revive the city’s creative spirit. You will find shops, restaurants, cafés in colourful containers making the best of the given status-quo.
My highlight however was my Airbnb apartment. The studio is located on the beachfront and and is beautifully equipped and offers a pool, an outdoor shower and dunes, a sandy beach and the ocean right in front of your nose. Additional plus: The owners live upstairs, they are well-traveled, friendly, and might even invite you for a glass of vino in their spectacular house. I loved it very much! If you go to Christchurch, I would definitely recommend this Airbnb!
I hope you enjoyed the little virtual voyage across New Zealand’s South Island. I would go back in an instant. New Zealand was all I imagined and even more. Whenever and wherever I can, I will encourage people to go and see it for themselves. Yes it is a long trip (certainly if you depart from Europe), but it is worth it. New Zealand will reward you with a slice of paradise. Trust me! Keep exploring!
Photography by Igor Josifovic