First thing people said to me when I said I was heading to New Zealand was “omg are you renting a car and going to the South Island??”. I thought well shit if I wasn’t going to I better now because clearly that is where the action is. My love affair with the North Island really took more of my time than I assumed. Although I met people doing 3 month road trips in the South and I met people who had never been farther south than Auckland. There is no right way to see NZ.
I’ll leave the final choices up to you but here is where we went. 1000 kilometers in 3 days but we squeezed it in.
Striking from the plane! Mount Aspiring is snow covered and towering over this little town on a lake. We literally skipped with happiness after parking the car and had lunch at a cafe on the water. I would love to spend a week lounging around the lake and running to the mountain for hikes.
- Lake Hawea
When driving through these crazy turning roads it is easy to get lost. Which we did but luckily only once. Instead of passing this apparently super cool solo tree in a lake we found the largest lake I’ve ever seen and the lightest beautiful blue. Cue the corny phrase its not the destination but the journey.
- Blue Pools
A 40 minute walk from the car park ends with two suspension bridges and the most incredible crystal blue water running towards a river. The water is freezing but leaves your skin feeling silky smooth. People jump from the bridge into the water. The jump actually seems crazy because after climbing over the railing you have to stand on a little ledge. After you jump theres a short swim back to land but with the temperature of the water I can’t even imagine swimming the distance. Probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.
- Fox Glacier
To see the glacier you have to go on a 4 hour return hike. That is how much it has receded from the car park. The walk is lovely and there is a 2 hour version that follows the river although you can’t see it through the forrest. There is a side walk you can take through the brush with cute little signs showing you how much climate change has killed this glacier. The walk is so green you’ll discover different colors of green.
- Lake Matheson
Apparently this lake at dawn shows a perfect reflection of the mountains in front of it on a clear day. Didn’t look that way for us but it’s 30 minutes from the glacier so nice if you are over there.
- Franz Glacier
This glacier is accessible in a 2 hour hike. You have to go right from the car park though, not left like we did. If you go left you end up walking exactly opposite from the glacier along a river. It is the pathway that actually follows the road. Many people stay in the town and instead of paying the $25 return ticket for the bus walk. We did this accidentally even though we drove. So 2 hours later we were back where we started and still had 2 hours to go to see a glacier. When you see the sign for Douglas walk, turn around, you made the wrong choice.
Apparently the largest town on the west side. It has a train station, a gas station, and the brewery. Nice place to stop for a bit to eat and a beer after hiking all day.
A roadside “town” that has a “hotel” we stayed in for the night. For $25 a person we rented a hut. Complete with bed and more blankets than you would even imagine. Made me shudder to think about what winter must be like.
Called the town of light or something close to that because they were the first town with electricity in NZ. On a sleepy Sunday morning we only got to eat at the cafe and head onward.
- Nelson Lake
There is a pier in Nelson Park on a lake. For some reason it is an instagram sensation so we headed there on the way to the top of the Island. It was rainy but we still had fun seeing the eels under the pier and the black swans.
The town immediately next to Abel Tasman National Park. I planned to have a day and a half here. Considering we only had 3 days in the South Island I thought that would be a good taste. Seriously I could have spent a whole week there. The National Park is full of hikes that lead to beaches that lead to hikes. There is so much to see and explore that you can actually rent little cabins in the park and stay for the night.
Sometimes traveling only makes you realize how much there is to see in the world and starts to overwhelm you.
- Abel Tasman
We took the ferry for $35 to Torrent Bay and took the 45 minute hike to Cleopatra’s pool. It was raining the entire time. Soaked we arrived at the pool. Surrounded by other hikers unwilling to go in, I stripped down and took a swim. Some brave ladies followed me and we got to feel like the Egyptian queen herself. Well probably not but I enjoyed swimming in the clear water that looked brown orange against the rocks.
- Picton Ferry to North Island
For $170 you can take your car across on the ferry. It is 3 hours and I’d suggest going at sunset. Bring food because it is basically just a large airplane, everyone on their phones, drinking expensive wine, and waiting to get where they are going. We arrived at 11pm in Queenstown ready to head back north and finish our 5 day road trip.
Clearly 3 days is not enough time down there. We heard amazing things about Milford Sound and almost considered detouring when a nice American overheard us and told us it was closed to cars due to all the rain. Be a good tourist and help those around you. You never know how helpful you are.