Having taken you on a whistlestop tour of the North Island, now it’s the South Island’s turn, so settle back and let me take you on a chilly but invigorating ride across this breathtaking land.
Reaching the South Island from the North involves a ferry crossing of just over three hours, and it’s an amazing journey in itself. Although it was fresh out on the deck, I couldn’t tear myself away from the beautiful scenery that was passing me by and when an Albatross, with its huge wing span, began flying majestically in the wake of the ferry as we crossed the Marlborough Sounds, I knew that I was in for a real treat on this second leg of our trip.
We wasted no time driving across to Nelson when the ferry docked, a popular place with Golden Bay offering you sun soaked sands and further inland, Takaka, home to New Zealand’s largest freshwater springs. The world famous walking trail of the Abel Tasman coast track, in the country’s smallest national park, begins here and is well worth doing, even if the full walk can take up to five days to complete. You can also take a sea kayaking tour to a seal colony where you may see penguins bobbing up and down in the water too.
The next stop is the West Coast, a long and narrow region with oodles of untamed beauty as far as the eye can see. The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are reason alone to come here, offering visitors an incredible opportunity to see huge valleys of ice up close (and I mean huge at 13 kilometres long!), just don’t forget to layer up in your thermals! Nearby at Punakaiki are the Pancake rocks and blowholes, fascinating natural wonders that make up part of an outstanding stretch of coastline.
Moving across to the east of the island, the Canterbury region stretches from the ocean to the Alps and is home to New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki Mount Cook. There are abundant hiking trails in the Arthur’s Pass National Park, or opportunities for strolling around the pretty bays and villages of the Banks Peninsula. For quality accommodations, consider one of the many Canterbury Villa rentals available to travelers. Christchurch, the country’s second largest city is here too, and although ravaged by an earthquake in February 2011, it remains a beautiful place and will give you a dose of urban life that you might feel you need after all that fresh air and hiking. It’s from here that you can board the TranzAlpine train, and go on a journey that’s been voted one of the top train rides in the world, and you’ll understand exactly why when you see the dramatic landscapes passing by at a pleasing speed.
At 45 kilometres long, Lake Wanaka’s clear waters are ideal for water sports, and nestling below mountains that tower over it, its location is pretty spectacular. There are many year-round activities to participate in, but skiing and snowboarding are what have made this region so popular and there are some great cross country runs to be found. Queenstown is nearby and is the place to be if you’re after a spot of wet, wild and wickedly wintry adventure!
Next we’re at the Fiordland National Park, World Heritage Site and home to three ‘great walks’, the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn tracks. The first is perhaps the most famous and starts in Te Anau; over 53 kilometres it takes you among some fantastic scenery: mountains, lakes, valleys, and then on to the Sutherland Falls, New Zealand’s tallest waterfall. This ancient landscape was carved out by century old glaciers, and much of what you see, looks exactly as it did thousands of years ago.
Last, but by jimminy no means least, let me take you to Southland, a rugged region home to the fishing port of Bluff, where not only can you sample their famous bluff oysters but you can catch a ferry over to Stewart island, a haven for native bird life and a chance to see the rare Kiwi bird in its natural habitat, if you’re very quiet and very patient! Heading back to shore and along the coast takes you to The Catlins, a veritable paradise for seals, sea lions, yellow eyed penguins and a breeding colony of gannets, to name but a few.
Well I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted after that super quick tour! I’d love to go back to New Zealand, but for the time being, I’ll just have to settle for encouraging you to go there instead!