Inke and Mitch Venture into New Zealand's Southern Alps


We had almost 3 ½ weeks’ time for our travels and wanted to make full use of it. We had a rough plan of what we wanted to see in that time, but we wanted to stay flexible and decide many things spontaneously. Of course, this has its advantages and disadvantages. Since we made our trip in August it was during the low season, so we didn't have the problem that a lot was booked out. The only problem we came across was, that some activities were simply not offered during low season and some accommodations had closed during this time. Therefore, we would recommend informing yourself a little bit earlier than us, so that you can really do the things you were planning on doing. 

We decided to explore the South Island by car because we could be flexible. If we discovered something interesting on the road, we could stop at any time. The car was one of the few things we booked ahead. Even though we would start our trip in Wellington, we wanted to collect the car in Picton, on the South Island, so that we wouldn’t have to take the ferry with the car. 

So, we flew from Auckland to Wellington to spend our first days there. Our first way led us to the parliament of New Zealand, where they offer a free tour, which we took part in. It was really interesting to get a deeper insight into the parliament and politics of New Zealand. We can definitely recommend this tour, especially when the weather is bad, as it was on that day.

What you shouldn't underestimate in Wellington is the wind, it really comes from all directions. It can be warm, but due to the wind, it still feels relatively fresh.

After visiting the parliament, we went to the Te Papa Museum, which also offers free entry. Normally both of us are not so keen on visiting museums, but this museum was really great. It is super interesting and it processes so many different themes in so many different ways. It is definitely worth a visit. Since we were in Wellington for three days before our ferry to Picton departed, we didn't overload our days either. So, we could relax and enjoy a coffee in one of the numerous small and cute cafes on Cuba Street.

Later, we took the well-known Cable Car up to the Botanical Garden of Wellington. The journey is not long, but it was nevertheless interesting to use this opportunity once and to drive with a Cable Car. For the sunset, we went up Mount Victoria. Here one can either walk up the way from the city or decide for the more comfortable alternative and take the bus up, which is a small highlight in itself. We decided for this way and had to find out that the road up there is very, very narrow and it is not the easiest job for the bus driver. But the look from Mount Victoria is really nice and just when the sun goes down it is really worth a ride or a walk up to it.     

Then we took the InterIslander to Picton on the South Island. The trip itself takes about 3 hours and if you are lucky you can see dolphins. We were lucky, so we had our first encounter with dolphins and it was really great. After arriving on the South Island, we picked up our car at the car rental station directly at the ferry terminal. Our next stop for the night was Nelson. Since Nelson is the center of New Zealand, you shouldn't miss taking a picture with this "strip". Nelson also has a beautiful beach which is within walking distance of the city.

The next day we went to the Abel Tasman National Park. We had already heard a lot about it and decided to go on a trip which should lead us a little through the National Park. So, we took a sea shuttle from Kaiteriteriteri to Medlands Beach. On the way, we saw the famous Split Apple, a seal colony and our absolute highlight- dolphins. They jumped and swam in front of our catamaran, that was simply breathtaking. We left the boat at Medlands Beach and it should pick us up 5 hours later at the Anchorage Beach. So, we had to cover the distance of 12 kilometers by foot. This part of the Coastal Walk should not be underestimated. Even though all the signs say it is a simple walk we were struggling a little bit with covering the distance. But we made it back to the beach in time and were picked up again by our shuttle.

The next day we wanted to go a bit further up north and went to the Farewell Split. The Split is only partly is opened to public, the actual part can only be explored with a guided group. Nevertheless, we explored the region and did some walks, like the Fossil Point Walk, which led us through a herd of sheep to a small beach. Also, we walked to a lookout over Cape Farewell, the northernmost point of the South Island. 

The next days we went on to Westport and Hokitika. On the way to Westport, we stopped at Lake Rotoroa. This was the first lake we visited on the south island and we were absolutely impressed. The lake with the mountain in the background was an amazing panorama and super beautiful. We stayed the night in Westport and headed to Hokitika the next day, on the way we stopped at Cape Faulwind and the Seal Colony.

On that day we stopped several times, we also did the Truman Track, which leads through the forest to a small beach. Of course, we also stopped for the famous Pancake Rocks. Since it was off season, we haven't met many people until that day, but at the Pancake Rocks, we could definitely tell that it is a really touristy spot. We did the walk, which takes about half an hour and is well developed. Depending on the tide you are there, you can see the water splashing up the blowhole or not. After all these stops we arrived in Hokitika, where we went to the beach, to watch the sunset behind the "Hokitika sign", which is made out of wood stands.

The next morning, we made our way to the Hokitika Gorge. The Gorge changes its colors depending on several influences, some days it is bluer than others. That day it had an unreal color, we have never seen anything so beautiful before. The 30-minute walk and the walk over a swing bridge were definitely worth it, the river looked so beautiful. 

After this experience, we drove on towards the Franz Josef Glacier, which we looked really forward to because we had booked a Heli Hike on the Glacier. Sadly, our Heli Hike was canceled due to the weather conditions, but we would have the opportunity to try it again the next day. So, we spend the day in the Franz Josef Village and went to the hot pools to relax. The next day we were lucky with the weather and the Heli Hike could take place. We were really excited and nervous because we knew this would be something special and a once in a lifetime experience for both of us. We got equipped with winter clothes and went to the Helicopter. It was only a short flight with the Heli, but it was an amazing experience! When we landed on the Glacier we put on our spikes and started exploring the Glacier with our group and our guide. This day was one of the highlights of our trip and we will definitely talk about this unbelievable experience for a long time.

The next day, we continued with many stops over the Haast Pass to Wanaka. On the road you can really explore a lot of places, we stopped at Ship Creek, which is a beach with many remains of trees. We know, this probably doesn't sound tempting, but it was really nice to see. Along the Haast Pass, there are also many waterfalls, we stopped at the Roaring Billy Fall and the Fantail Fall. The blue pools were something we had already heard a lot about beforehand, so we stopped there as well. It is a little bit similar to the Hokitika Gorge, you also walk over a swing bridge and you can see super blue water, which is also impressive and beautiful.

This day was a lot about the things we saw along the road. We loved the road to Wanaka, where you can see the beautiful Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Stopping here for a lunch break is definitely recommended by us. When we arrived in Wanaka our first stop the "Lonely Tree", as the name suggests, it is a tree standing alone in the lake. It feels like the most photographed motive in Wanaka. The weather on the next day hasn’t been that great, so we decided to explore the Puzzling World. The museum makes you feel like you can’t even trust your own eyes, which is a crazy experience. Also, you can spend literally half a day getting lost in the labyrinth. 

After that, we continued over the Crown Range (such a stunning view!) to Arrowtown and then on to Queenstown. Queenstown is a super small town at the lake, with a great panorama on the Remarkables. The city is known for a lot of adventures, especially if you are an Adrenaline Junkie - this is the perfect city for you. Since we weren't so keen on adventure, we took it easy and went with the Gondola up to Bob´s Peak. From here you have a great view of Queenstown. If you want to, you can also drive around with a Luche. After taking the Gondola back down to the city we continued through the Botanical Garden and went to the famous Fergburger for lunch. Fergburger is a must-do if you are in Queenstown. 

From Queenstown, we did a day trip by bus to the beautiful Milford Sound. The road to the Sound is known as one of the most scenic routes of the world and we can definitely say that too. It was a good decision to go by bus so that we could just spend the time starring outside the windows and didn't have to worry about driving. On the sound, we did a boat tour, which was pretty amazing as well. The next day we made a short trip to Glenorchy. It is a beautiful small village at the lake, where a lot of the scenes for Lord of the Rings were filmed. If you are into Lord of the Rings you can book a Lord of the Rings tour departing from Queenstown, there are several operators. 

After three days in Queenstown, we drove up to Mount Cook, where we decided to walk the Hooker Valley Track. This track is 10 kilometers long and takes about 3 hours. During the track, we had stunning views the whole time and we were really amazed by the lake that was laying at the end of the track. The Hooker Lake is located at the foot of Mount Cook and has unreal colors and there were also some ice floes on it. 

On the next day, we drove the short distance to Tekapo, where we wanted to do Stargazing in the evening. During the day, we visited the Church of Good Shepherd and the Shepherd Statue. At the coffee time, we drove up to Mount John (you can also hike up there) to enjoy the view over Lake Tekapo with a cup of coffee at the Astro Cafe. We can definitely recommend the Carrot cake. In the evening we did the Stargazing tour that includes hot pools at the end. It was so relaxing to float in the hot water and look at the night sky with all the planets, galaxies, the Milky Way, the stars and even some shooting stars. 

Since we wanted to see as much as possible from the South Island we went from Lake Tekapo back down to Dunedin. Here we visited the city with the most photographed motive of New Zealand, the train station in the city. The next day we drove south into the Catlins, to Nugget Point, hiked to Jack´s Blow Whole and to the Purakaunu Falls. 

After three days in Dunedin, we went up to Oamaru to have a look at the Blue Penguins. On the way there we had also visited the Moeraki Boulders, which are massive, round shaped stones. We had never seen anything like this before. The Maoris say, that it is fishing nets washed ashore, which we thought is a really interesting theory. 

We headed on to Christchurch, where it was an absolute must-do for us to visit the earthquake museum. The museum was really interesting because it does not only tell facts about the earthquakes but also shows the stories of the people who experienced the earthquakes. 

The last highlight of our trip was the TranzAlpine train ride, over the Arthurs Pass to Greymouth. The train travels through fascinating landscapes and through the Southern Alps. During the trip, you get information about the history and the landscape via headphones. 
After going back to Christchurch the next day.

It was time for us to say goodbye to the South Island and fly back to Auckland. We had an unforgettable time and came to the conclusion that the most beautiful things happen along the route.


Inke and Mitch XX


Inke and Mitch
Inke and Mitch
: 18 Jul 2018 (Last updated: 11 Mar 2020)

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