Exploring our own Backyard
As I am writing this, the New Zealand border is closed, and there is no international tourism on the horizon. These border measures have put many people’s travel plans on hold, but do you really need to leave the country to be blown away by a change in scenery? I would say… no way, we’ve got so much on offer right here in beautiful Aotearoa!
Originally from Germany, I have been doing ‘work and travel’, or as Kiwis say ‘an OE’, for a few years now – throughout the US, Australia and New Zealand. While hanging out with the locals in each country, I’ve realised that many people do not even leave the state or country they are born in.
And guess what? While I’m from Germany and have seen quite a bit of Europe and the world, I haven’t even explored Germany as much as I should’ve. An hour commute to work was exhausting, so why drive 4.5 hours to Berlin? I regret having had this mindset, and ever since I left to live across the world, driving from South Carolina to Illinois or the Keys (a 12-hour drive) for a weekend didn’t seem like a problem anymore.
With no overseas tourists and tourism operators offering some extraordinary deals, there’s no better time than NOW to explore your own backyard – and in my opinion the stunning South Island!
Why the South Island?
First of all, a South Island trip has you covered. Whether you enjoy beaches, hiking, camping or getting away for a weekend, the South Island has a destination for you. Have you dreamed about swimming with dolphins or seeing kiwis, seals or penguins in the wild? No problem. And if you think travelling New Zealand is too expensive, I have some news: many tourism operators are offering amazing specials and deals for Kiwis right now. A bungy might have cost you $200+ earlier this year, but operators are running deals for a fraction of their original prices. So if not now, when?
As an avid traveller, I’ll run you through my South Island must-dos.
Known as the Whitsundays of New Zealand the region has golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs, and its world-famous coastal track. You can go for a hike, take a water taxi, do a sailing tour or take a kayak and explore the national park. Some of the highlights include seeing Split Apple rock, Fisherman and Adele Islands and watching seals play in the sun! If you are an adrenaline junkie, you could also do a skydive which includes views of both the North and South Island at the same time.
Franz Josef Glacier is one of only three glaciers in the world that is surrounded by rainforest (the others are Fox Glacier just a 20-minute drive down the road and Perito Merino Glacier in Argentina). This small town has so much to offer: hot pools, helicopter tours (including the famous heli-hike), hikes and walks, glow worms, rafting, kayaking, horseback riding and of course (another) skydive – this time the views include the beach, rainforest, a glacier and more. My favourite highlight here is the quad biking!
The adventure capital of New Zealand, Queenstown has it all: Australasia’s longest Bungy, the internationally renowned Nevis Swing, a flying fox across the canyon, jetboats, paragliding, skydiving, Lord of the Rings, farm experiences, skiing and hikes, just to name a few. You might have heard of Ferg Burger too: a burger worth waiting an hour in line for. If you like it more relaxed, go to Onsen – the famous hotpools overlooking the Shotover river, treat yourself to a massage at Nugget Point or just enjoy a good night out. You can also take the Gondola up for a view on Bob’s Peak or hop on a boat and explore Lake Wakatipu. There’s so much to do, you could easily spend two weeks here without getting bored.
If you think Queenstown is too crowded, Wanaka is the place to be. People say it’s a quieter and prettier version of Queenstown. The world famous Wanaka Tree grows out of the lake, with snow-capped mountains in the background. Roy’s Peak – New Zealand’s most instagrammed hike – invites a jumping picture at the summit, and Puzzle World is fun for the whole family. You can also take your friends on activities like pack-rafting, paragliding, skydiving, climbing and much more.
Milford and Doubtful Sounds are really popular fjords in Fiordland National Park. You can hike around them, explore them by boat or even with a kayak. While Milford Sound is smaller and more accessible, I prefer Doubtful Sound and how pristine it is. It’s not uncommon to spot dolphins, whales and albatross. You can also go for a dive in Milford Sound – you won’t regret it.
Stewart Island is the third largest island in New Zealand and invites a simpler and slower experience. The main port of Oban offers a few dining spots and hotels, but nature is the real gem here: hikes, island hopping, blue penguins and kiwi birds in their natural habitat.
Although the local Kea birds will try and steal your food, New Zealand’s highest mountain lying in the Southern Alps will leave you speechless. The Hooker Valley track is one of those walks you will either love or hate, but in the end, you will be rewarded with a close view of Mount Cook and Hooker Lake. My favourite part: crossing three suspension bridges. Of course, you can do plenty of activities here or drive to Lake Pukaki or Lake Tekapo – places with great opportunities for stargazing as they are within the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.
Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island, and one of the world’s most unique destinations, combining urban regeneration and innovation with heritage, culture and exhilarating activity. It’s not as action packed as Queenstown, but there are still things to do: a tram ride through town, a Gondola atop the Port Hills, punting on the Avon River or visiting the Botanic Gardens. If you have time and the season permits, find your way to Akaroa and swim with the dolphins!
Seals, dolphins and whales – Kaikoura is a coastal town and known for its abundant wildlife and its sperm whale population. With amazing walkways around the town, you’ll get great views of the stunning scenery. Hop on a boat or a plane to go whale watching, swim with seals or go fishing.
How to find your way around the South Island:
- Car/Campervan – Rentals are now more affordable than ever. And how good is it to not make plans for once and sleep where you want? If you want to stay next to the beach, near a waterfall, or at the bottom of a mountain, this is the option for you. Don’t forget to download the handy app, ‘Campermate’. It’ll show you all freedom camp spots as well as paid campsites, things to do, supermarkets, petrol stations and much more.
- Bus/Train: Different suppliers offer guided and unguided bus tours all around the South Island including the TranzAlpine train, which is perhaps one of the most scenic train trips anywhere in the world. The TranzAlpine runs once daily between Christchurch, Arthur’s Pass and Greymouth on the South Island’s west coast, through the amazing misty mountain scenery of the Southern Alps.
- InterIslander Ferry: The ferry ride itself is its own tour already: Going through the Cook Strait into Marlborough Sounds and then arriving in Picton. From there you can catch a bus, boat, plane or rent a car.
Check out New Zealand Tourism’s website to help plan your trip – and most of all, ENJOY!