Asia & Australasia

Our Epic New Zealand Road Trip – South Island

After collecting our hire car in Picton we set off on part 2 of our adventure. You can read about part 1 in the North Island Trip here

Out of the two islands we’ve been most excited about coming here. It’s got so much to offer with glaciers, tramping (hiking) and heart pumping sports. 

We stopped in Nelson for a late lunch before continuing to Takaka in Abel Tasman. 

Abel Tasman National Park, 2 Nights

Abel Tasman National Park sits on the coast of the northern end of the Kahurangi National Park. There are lots of walking tracks to do here and we came for the beautiful Coast Track. The small section we did was stunning but unfortunately cut short due to the weather. If you don’t fancy walking the whole track you can get a boat to take you to a section instead. If you’re not coming for walking this area is great for kayaking along hidden coves. 

Along the coast there are some fantastic lookout points including Cleopatra’s Pool – a natural rock pool with a moss lined water-slide. You can admire the inlet to Falls River as you walk across the 47m suspension bridge 

For a one page map of the tramping and Kayaking routes click here

Marlborough, 2 Nights

This is the place to spend a day sampling New Zealand’s sauvignon blanc! You can hire a bike to cycle around the wineries (can be a bit dangerous after a few too many!) or there are minibuses that drive you around. 

Our favourites were:

  • No.1 Family Estate for the No.1 Cuvee N.V 
  • Framingham for the 2008 Classic Riesling
  • Terrace Edge for the 2015 Liquid Geography
  • Alan Scott for the 2015 Riesling and 2015 Sauvignon Blanc

Read more about the top 5 wineries I recommend in Marlborough here.

Marlborough Sounds, 3 Nights

We wanted a couple of days without unpacking and repacking so chose to stay for 3 nights at Punga Cove Resort over Christmas. It’s a two hour drive from Picton or Havelock along a winding country road but you can take a water taxi from Picton. 

From Punga we hired a kayak and had a look around the Endeavour Inlet. The hotel is in a great location if you’re walking the Queen Charlotte track and we went out and did a small section. There’s lots of options for kayaking, tramping, boating and biking here. 

The onsite Fern restaurant and Bar was very good and the menu features lots of wild game and seafood.  

The craggy bays, beaches and hills are great to explore by car and it’s worth heading to French Pass for some great pictures of the Outer Sounds. 

If you don’t have time to stay in the Sounds it’s worth spending at least a day walking on the Queen Charlotte track. You can take a boat from Picton (there are plenty of companies at the docks) and then walk a section of the path before returning to Picton.

From the Sounds we headed to the West Coast where the flora and fauna is completely different. It’s quite rainy, rugged and a bit wild. We took a longer route along the coast and our first stop was Punakaiki. Punakaiki is most known for its pancake rocks and blowholes. Both are worth seeing if you’re on the west coast and it doesn’t take long to stop and see them. From Punakaiki we headed to Greymouth – a small town which wasn’t worth stopping for and then onto Arthur’s Pass. 

Arthur’s Pass, 1 Night

The tramping options throughout the National Park are endless. We picked up a copy of DOC’s Discover Arthur’s Pass leaflet to help decide which walks to take. We opted for an easy walk from the village to Dobson Memorial located at the summit of the pass which took 2 ½ hours return. After lunch we went on a 1 hour return walk to Devils Punchbowl falls but if you want a more challenging walk head to Temple Basin or Bealey Spurtrack. 

We then headed south to Franz Josef and then on to Fox Glacier.

Fox Glacier, 1 Night

We wanted to get a glimpse of this famous 12km glacier before it melts away. There are many options for heli-hiking or scenic flights but it was wet the day we were here (as it often is) so decided on a quick walk to the viewing point. The town around the glacier is well set up for tourists but there isn’t a great deal to see here apart from the glacier. 

On the way south to Haast we stopped at the Swamp Forest walk.

Haast, 1 Night

We decided to stay the night in a motel as we wanted to do the drive towards Wanaka and Queenstown in daylight. This was definitely the best decision as it’s such a beautiful drive inland to Mount Aspiring National Park and the lakes, it would have been a shame to miss it.  

We made the most of our time here and enjoyed some fresh crayfish at the Craypot for dinner.

Queenstown, 3 Nights

Queenstown has cemented itself as our favourite place on the whole road trip. Which is quite a feat with the number of awesome places we got to visit on our trip. If you’re looking for adventure this is the place to come but there’s way more to Queenstown than being the birthplace of bungee jumping. Skydiving, jet boats, snowboarding – the list is endless.

We headed down to the Shotover Canyons and went on the exhilarating Shotover Jet that travels at upto 90kmph.  

The Skyline gondola is a great way to get a birds eye view over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu as it passes through pine forest to the station 450m above. There’s a cafe, restaurant and observation deck to enjoy when you get to the top as well as a bike park, the Ledge bungy and Swing. You can choose to take the gondola back down but we took the Luge. The three-wheeled carts hurtle down an 800m track – first the blue level and then you can do it all again and come down the red track complete with tunnel. 

We both had a “We could live here” moment, tempted by the sports, nice restaurants and bustling bars. 

We had originally planned to drive to Milford Sound and stayover but changed our plans after looking at the weather. We had the promise of a clear day and booked a scenic flight with Air Milford from Queenstown. It was the best way to see the green cliffs, and sharp points of the fjords on the return we flew over Lake Wakatipu. It was a splurge but one of the most memorable things of the entire trip. 

We drove via Cardrona for some amazing views. It was so good we did the drive both ways. 

Wanaka, 1 Night

Probably our second favorite place in New Zealand and home to the famous Wanaka tree. Much like Queenstown it has a lake and mountains but it’s chilled out and calmer with less traffic. We took a long walk along the lake shore and had a relaxed dinner and drinks on Ardmore Street in town. We went to Kai Whakapai for local ales and Francesca’s for amazing pizza. This is a popular place for Kiwi’s to come for the weekend so it well serviced with many bars, shops and activities. 

There are lots of great walking areas around this area. But if you want more there’s lots on offer including some great skiing and snowboarding in the winter.

We booked a wine tasting at Archangel whilst we were here. The 23 hectare site is a luxurious way to sample wine and local cheese. 

Twizel and Fairlie, 1 night at each

We got to both hotels late and left early. We needed a place to get some rest so we could continue exploring.  

We did however have great steaks at the Red Stag Restaurant in Fairlie. 

We stopped at Twizel so we could spend the next day at Lake Pukaki next to Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo. 

Akaroa, 2 Nights

The old French settlement of Akaroa is definitely worth a stopover on the way to/from Christchurch. Originally two volcanos you can take The Summit Road which bends its away around the rim and allows you to explore the hidden bays of the Banks Peninsula. There’s no high octane activities to do but the beaches, scenery and vistas are stunning. We drove via Lyttleton, which is where the first Europeans settled in 1850, now it’s a colourful port town with a hippie vibe. 

On the way to Christchurch we stopped at the Pegasus Bay Winery for lunch and a wine tasting. Both of which were great. 

Christchurch, 2 Nights

Christchurch is undergoing a transformation following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. It’s not New Zealand’s most beautiful city but it’s interesting to see the aftermath of all the earthquakes and the mass regeneration that is in progress. The best way to see it and hear about the history is to join a free walking tour. There’s a few running but unfortunately I can’t recommend ours as the chap that did ours has stopped. 

Christchurch is a great place to jump aboard the TranzAlpine railway. It’s well worth taking two days out to enjoy it if you have the time (although you can do the hour journey in one day), especially during the winter or spring as the train goes up into the mountains. The 233km train journey (each way) goes between Christchurch and Greymouth and you’ll see some amazing views, travel along the ice-fed Waimakariri River, cross the Southern Alps, and see miles of native beech forest. On the return you’ll cross the Canterbury Plains before heading back to Christchurch. 

We headed for King of Snake, a great contemporary Korean/Asian restaurant. The food and cocktails were excellent quality and reasonably priced. The menu features the usual things you would expect to find on an asian menu plus some really unique dishes usual flavours. 

Things I would change:

The first part of our route on the South Island was more convoluted than we had originally planned. We did this intentionally as we wanted to base ourselves in one place for Christmas. Otherwise on Boxing Day we would have travelled from Marlborough Sounds to Arthur’s Pass and we wanted to relax. It didn’t help that the road between Richmond and Gowanbridge in both directions so we had to change the route which added extra driving. 

If I was doing the trip again I would change the route and go from Picton – Marlborough Sounds – Marlborough – Abel Tasman – West Coast. 

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