New Zealand is everything yet more than you never knew it was possible to wish for. The price of beauty in NZ is dependent on whether you are a caviar or Vegemite on toast kind of person. Although usually and preferably the latter, we had the luxury of staying in some phenomenal bolt-holes on this trip since it was our honeymoon and we were treated as gifts for our wedding. For us, variety was the sweet spice that gave us an even deeper appreciation of all the places we stayed. After 3 nights of glorious camping, we were ready for a shower and a decent bed. However, after a few nights of more ‘familiar living’, we started to crave our compacted sleeping space, thick woolly Nepalese socks and giant fluffy beanies, sipping tea in the fresh morning air whilst half-embedded in our sleeping bags and being surrounded by nature, in a way only possible by physically being outside.
To say we were smitten by NZ is an overwhelming understatement. NZ is that place which has become so deeply etched under our skin, it is difficult to think about anything else right now. What is the South Island of NZ like? A delightful combination of the Coloradoan Rockies, Scottish Highlands, Nepalese Himalaya and Hawaii. Walking into a supermarket at home, one sees ‘country of origin: Mexico/ Chile / Spain’ written on the label of the goods. On walking into a Kiwi supermarket, we were astounded by the words ‘produce of New Zealand’ on the fruit, veg, museli bars, environmentally friendly Manuka honey shower gel, the list goes on.. … It was very difficult to find something that WASN’T ‘made in NZ’. And it made us fall a little bit more in love with this self-sufficient country (that and the endless amounts of honey).
Three weeks sounds like a sensible amount of time to drive around the South Island of NZ. It isn’t. We saw and experienced volumes of beauty. But we also missed a great deal. We chose a variety of places to stop for 2-3 nights, sandwiched by 6-8hr driving days. We once tried a 3-week ‘drive-by’ in Australia, and were not only completely exhausted by the end, but also felt significantly less able to immerse ourselves fully in the places we visited. This new tactic suited extremely well. The South Island of NZ is teeming with immense beauty, and seemingly every corner brought new astonishment to our faces. Enjoy this mini guide of our favourite bits, which of course is not by any means exhaustive – I could keep going, but then this would turn into a book.. 🙂
Our recommendations of extraordinary places to stay, delicious places to eat and drink and random places to stop along the way
White Horse Hill Campground, Mount Cook National Park. One of the highlights of our trip! Just over 4h from Christchurch by car.
From the Campground
- Hike an hour up to Hooker Lake (base of Mt Cook) with astonishing views both up and down the valley (or at least walk a gentle 15 min along this trail to the monument dedicated to those who died trying to climb Mt Cook – the view is still magnificent).
- Trail-run to Mt Cook village and beyond if you have the lungs for it.
- Sit by the stream at the campsite to watch the bunnies hopping around and dare to dip your tootsies in the ice cold water!
- Drive to Mt Cook Village to Visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre and sip on a steaming mug of something delish at the Old Mountaineers Cafe.
En route to the campsite
- Stop for a delicious lunch in Geraldine at Verde Cafe and Deli.
- Take a break and devour the unimaginable colours of Lake Tekapo whilst munching on a nutella tartlet or popcorn made with coconut oil, together with a steaming pot of earl grey tea at Run 76 Cafe and Deli (the supermarket at this stop is the last before the campground).
- Grab some fresh salmon at the Mount Cook Alpine Salmon Farm and fry it up by the side of the road for lunch!
- Stop and breathe in the delights of fresh lavender at the NZ Alpine Lavender Farm (and pick up some Manuka honey and lavender pralines mmmm…..
Superb place to stop and camp! We stayed 2 nights and tried our hand at ‘glamping’. Highly recommended! World’s MOST comfortable beds – fluffy duvets and super soft sheets that make one ‘ooooooh’ on getting in, a fantastic deck to sit
on and stargaze with a glass of wine in the evening, or to eat breakfast the next morning. And OH what a homemade breakfast that was! Freshly made choccy croissants, cheese and bacon muffins…. I can nearly smell them through my computer.
The kitchen set-up was second-to-none: 2 x BBQ’s, 2 x stoves, multiple fridges, cutlery, plates and cups. I could go on. An easy place to chat with fellow travellers, most en route to hike the Routeburn Track , which is one of the very highly recommended treks in NZ. The campground is noticeably clean and well-loved by its owners and workers. Read more about this awesome place here.
On-site is also Mrs Woolly’s General Store, oozing with titbits previously unbeknown to me, both locally sourced and from all over the world. I could (and did) spend hours in this shop. Great for frozen dinners if you are camping and lack the will-power to cook, ‘free-from’ foods of all shapes and sizes, fresh juices and good coffee too! (amongst 100’s of other goodies).
To do in and around Glenorchy
- Walk into town (5 mins) and down the main street. Cosy! Continue to the water and onto the wharf for stunning views up and down Lake Wakatipu.
- Drive 25 mins north of Glenorchy to the Lake Sylvan trailhead (you can also camp here) where a magical 40 min walk through the forest leads to a crystal clear lake. Great for a cooling dip!
- Drive 2 mins south of Glenorchy and pull into the Mount Judah Recreational Trails carpark. Here you have a variety of hikes up into the beauties overlooking the lake.
- Jump onto the Glenorchy Walkway (few mins from campground) and enjoy the stunning vista and nature whilst moseying along this gorgeous path.
Queenstown and Beyond
We were not huge fans of Queenstown, but found some fantastic places nearby and en route north to Wanaka (our next short stop).
- Drive over to Kelvin Heights (v close to Queenstown) and walk / run or bike the Peninsula Rd alongside the clear water of the lake. Stunning!
- Drive up The Remarkables for lunch and stunning 360 vistas.
- Stop for a coffee, lunch or even stay the night in Arrowtown. Fun, cosy, interesting place!
- Thirsty? The Cardrona Distillery is a recently opened pot of gold. Products include an award-winning Gin, Orange Liqueur, a Single Malt Vodka and Single Malt Whisky. The tasting, intermingled with the open and knowledgeable personnel, meant this place was an extremely charming find. Keep your eyes open for the fence loaded with bras when you turn into the driveway and don’t forget to donate a few buckeroos towards fighting breast cancer!
Defined by us as an extreme form of glamping (and excellent honeymoon gift!). Run by the delightful and gentle Maureen, the set-up is beyond the imagination and makes for an incredible retreat off the beaten track (5 min walk through the forest from the car). The exceptional nature of this place is enhanced by all the small things Maureen added around the place: marshmallows and hot chocolate, fresh eggs, environmentally friendly mint body wash, hot water bottles, a scrumptious bed and super soft bed sheets, mosi-resistant jackets, wellies!, a chilly bin to keep our cool goods, well, chilly… I could go on. HIGHLY recommend investing in 2 nights at this peaceful haven, to enjoy endless hours sitting by your own private stretch of river (with the resident eel and weka poking around for tidbits!), sitting on the deck sipping tea, or lying in the giant bed listening to the creatures of the night. One of the other highlights was the outdoor bathtub!
- Take a drive to the Hokitika Gorge and a short hike from the carpark to reveal an intense turquoise blue colour of the water.
- Hungry? Grab one of the best pies you will ever eat (plus a good coffee) at the Clock Tower Cafe in Hokitika.
- Honey lover? Drive 15 min north from Hokitika to The Junction Cafe and Honey Centre and have a coffee followed by a honey tasting and history about how it all works in the world of honeybees.
Located at the main gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, this is a great spot to spend a few days. We rented an incredibly charming little apartment owned by a lovely French man. Highlights: the owner’s gorgeous-looking veggie garden, classical music playing along with chilled bottle of wine on arrival, very comfortable bed and super soft sheets, fantastic views down to the water, the owner himself.
- Grab a coffee or delicious lunch at Hooked on Marahau. Extremely cozy cafe right next to the sea.
- Take a sea-kayak trip. We did a one-day trip from Kaiteriteri (about 20 min drive south) with Wilsons together with a great crew, ridiculously coloured turquoise water, a penguin and a cheeky seal siting! Highly recommend this company.
- Need to tone your core muscles? Try stand-up paddle boarding. It takes some concentration but is a great activity. This company looked good: http://www.abeltasmanpaddleboarding.co.nz/, but we used a bloke parked by the lagoon in Marahau. (He seems to be there all day, credit card accepted).
- Experience the hippy-style town of Takaka, about 1h from Marahau. FUN PLACE! Heaving with alternative style/ ‘free from’ health food stores, a recently opened distillery and some great cafes – take your pick! You can almost smell the incense before you hit the town. A great way to spend some hours and if you are lucky, you might be there when they have their outdoor village market on a Saturday morning.
- Need help getting your 5-a-day? No worries. Take your pick from the many ‘pick-your-own’ fruit farms located all over this area and be rewarded with lush cherries bursting with flavour, crisp apples and delectable kiwis.
Run by the same crew as Hurunui Jacks (http://www.canopycamping.co.nz/), this hut is a majestic gem, based deep in the bush by its own stretch of river. A 7 min walk from where you park your car, past the house of the delightful couple Craig and Jody, who built this hut with their own hands, past their sheep, their organic veggie garden and their adorable pig, you enter a fairytale world.
Living like this gives a deep sense of appreciation for simple things, a reminder of how little we actually need to function, especially when swaddled by nature. There is no need to be anywhere else but here – I would suggest staying for at least 2 nights. Don’t forget to take a soak in the outdoor tub and a dip in the brisk river to wake you up in the morning. It might not feel so good going in, but the after-feeling is toe tingling……ahhhhhh.
- Keep driving up the road past Fossickers Hut and after about 20 mins, you’ll arrive at the start of a bunch of different trails, perfect for MTB, hiking or trail running.
- Drive 15 min to Havelock where you can enjoy a good coffee and a pie at the local bakery. The woman in the tourist info centre in Havelock is AWESOME and very knowledgeable, so if in doubt, ask.
- Take a kayak out for a few hours, with or without guide. HIGHLY recommend using http://nzseakayaking.com/. They offer a huge variety of different tours and are super lovely people.
- Go for a walk / trail run / backpacking trip along the Queen Charlotte Track. It is a stunning 71km track with numerous campsites en route. A very popular multi-day hike, but great for a wander too. (NB: You need to buy a pass at the start of the trail if you plan to walk more than 3km). Sip on a steaming cup of hot choccy from the Green Caravan Cafe on your return.
LOVE wine? Look no further than the area surrounding Blenheim.
Where to taste? Take your pick. There are many wineries to stop at. At some, you pay to taste and can enjoy a great lunch at the same time. At others, you can taste for free. Some are HUGE, some medium, some small. We really enjoyed a free wine tasting at the charismatic Fromm Winery. Small and very friendly folk, with a great history and some remarkable wines.
Where to stay? We chose a granny-flat style airbnb near Blenheim. Cosy. Clean. Lovely hosts. Just what we needed.
St James Walkway (as seen from near the carpark)
One of the most BEAUTIFUL panoramas I think I have ever seen. Its only a few minutes walk to the viewing platform. A MUST-DO, even if you only have 5 minutes. I don’t want to spoil it, but it looks a little like this…
New Zealand. You Beauty. We will be back.