Southern Delights: top tips for New Zealand’s South Island

Featured photo by Olivia Brady 

The South Island of New Zealand is all greens, blues and glorious views; it is spectacular mountain ranges, sensational landscapes and sparkling reflections. If you are looking for somewhere to take your breath away then look no further, you have really hit the jackpot here. The ferry ride down from the North gives a preview of what’s to come as some pretty amazing views glide majestically past the window pane (much more exciting than the Dover to Calais ferry – sorry guys). 

Our first stop is the lovely Kaiteriteri; we spend our time here wandering along the golden sands of the beach, drinking the local cider and participating in a pub quiz that has rather specialised questions mostly revolving around engineering and The Beatles. Needless to say, we do not come out victorious. Unfortunately, due to time constraints and the dates of buses, we also don’t have enough time to fully explore the apparently amazing Abel Tasman National Park but I hear it is well worth the visit if you get the chance! I guess now I will have to come back some day, I’ve really got no choice – life is tough sometimes. 

Our spirits are lifted as we arrive at the first of the many outstanding southern lakes: Lake Nelson. Standing at the end of a jetty, looking out across the water, with the sunshine warming my back I am entirely content. Some people take their chances in the water with the eels whilst the rest of us eat a picnic on the relative safety of the shore. 

The good times continue in the affectionately named Lake Poo Poo (Lake Mahinapua) with a fantastic roast at the hostel followed by a hilarious fancy dress ‘P Party’. There is also a cheerful Labrador who playgulky reminds me of home and a cat who likes to climb into people’s beds for a quick snuggle or two. Purrfect. We have 40 minutes to source inventive costumes beginning with the letter P in a large Warehouse store nearby, so naturally we opt for the most obvious choice: a post box, a pile of post and some parcels. Why on earth we don’t win I will never know. The winner gets a free go on the tallest bungy swing in the world though so you know what, after witnessing a much smaller bungy a few weeks ago, I’m not tooo upset at this loss (we definitely should have won). We do get a rather large free breakfast the next morning – a small consolation.

Obvious winners

Anyway, all is certainly not lost, as soon we are sliding over the border into the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier territory and what has got to be my absolute favourite part of the whole of New Zealand (a bold claim I know given how glorious it all is in its own way, but if you’ve ever been to this area I feel like you’ll understand). It is quite simply stunning, in all senses of the word. Our beds for the next few nights are found inside wooden lodges nestled within the friendly shadows of the Franz Josef glacial valley, we drop our bags off and immediately make a beeline for the cosy (and free) sauna to warm our chilly bodies. 

The rest of our time here is spent drinking red wine by the open fire in the bar, playing pool and eating all you can eat pizzas or, more notably, hiking along beside the Waiho River Bed towards the magnificent icey snake which slowly slithers up the mountains away from the temperate rainforest below. The glacier is actually in a cycle of retreat and advance, caused by a variation in snowfall and melting, and the journey along the valley it leaves in its wake is mesmerising. It really is an ‘iced’ gem (sorry couldn’t resist) and an absolute must must-visit. For those not on a super tight budget, you can also take one of various helicopter rides up to the glacier itself and hop off to take pictures or hike around on the ice. 

Well would ya look at that
The drive through the mountains between Franz Josef and Wanaka is sensational: we are all hooked to the blockbuster film outside of our windows as the sun glistens off the snowy hats perched on top of unimaginably tall mountains. We step off the bus into fields of mist and cows and walk through the trees in the brisk morning sunshine. Little do I know that one of my favourite moments of my entire trip is coming up. The trees part and we are welcomed into a clearing by Lake Matheson, home to the reflections of Mount Cook, Mount Tasman and the bright blue skies behind them. The water is perfectly flat and still, its fantastic painted mirror paying absolute justice to the scenery it displays. There is something magical in the air as we circle the lake between the trees, with only our feet crunching against the leaves and the occasional bird’s morning song rippling through the air and tickling our ears. 
Photo’s by Olivia Brady

And that was all before 10am. Later we pause to for a bite and take in the outstanding views from above Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea before heading down into Wanaka itself and one of the most adorable towns I’ve ever visited. The sunshine winks off the surface of the lake as we stroll around quaint little streets before finding a bar to perch outside. Once successfully rehydrated we take a stroll along the pebbled beach to the infamous Wanaka Tree – probably one of the most photographed trees ever and you can see why. Although I wouldn’t let the tree itself take aaaalll the credit, the surrounding scenery is pretty great isn’t it. 
Photo’s by Olivia Brady

The sensory overload continues as we reach Queenstown and are welcomed into what feels like a ski town tucked between the snow-capped, and appropriately named, Remarkables Mountains and perched on the edge of Lake Wakatipu. I immediately feel like buying a hot chocolate and there’s a violinist dressed in multicolour sat on a grey stone wall, her melody enchanting passers-by as the sinking sun paints the sky orange behind her.
Simply lovely
Photo by Olivia Brady
Whilst in this magical little snow-globe, a definite must-do is a ride up a mountain on the cable car and then continue heading skyward through one of the many hikes through the trees. Many people also take their chances and leap off the side of this mountain, either attached to a bungy, a swing or a paraglider. This is another top spot for skydiving, which is apparently incredible, and also white water rafting or skiing depending on the time of year. It’s not difficult to see why this alluring town has become known as the adventure capital of the world. And, of course with all this adventure you need sustenance: you absolutely must sample one (or several) of the famous Ferg Burgers, fully equipped for all the vegetarians, vegans, meat lovers and the gluten-free too. You will not be disappointed, or remotely hungry for hours – they are huge. It is also almost mandatory to join a bar crawl here, even if you hate bar crawls it’s just funny. The Maccie’s is 24 hour as well. 
Yet another fantastic reflection
The infamous burger

After a hectic few days in Queenstown we head further South on a particularly drizzly day. We stop to wonder through a tangle of winding trees, under the relatively safety of the canopy, to a waterfall whose velocity is not just a little bit alarming. The downpour increases as we drive through a tunnel which burrows its way through the middle of a mountain and draws us closer to Milford Sound. All the pictures I have seen of wonder of the world have boasted glorious sunshine and sparkling waters, so it is with slight reservation that I board the ferry to ‘view’ the scenery. I needn’t have been worried though, as the mist clings around the edges of the seemingly floating mountains, and water cascades dramatically down a multitude of avenues around us, the atmosphere is heightened and the air holds an eery excitement. I am certain that a visit on a sunny day would be an entirely different experience all together – I will let you know because I have every intention of a return trip. 

The following day we find our way to the Southern tip of New Zealand and, standing on the end of Bluff’s Lookout, home suddenly feels very far away (18958 km’s to be exact). We then make our way to what is known as Nugget Point and a brave little lighthouse perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. 

You can see why they are called nuggets

Later we arrive in Dunedin; a city known for its artistic flare and abundance of students. I have heard so many positive things about Dunedin and it certainly does not disappoint. We start by following a trail of street art around the city centre; each piece unique and wonderful in it’s on way; some bursting with colour and light, others decidedly darker and alluring. We pause to marvel at the majestic cathedral sat on one edge of the hexagonal central point, and find our way to the old railway station and an art exhibition within.

Photo’s by Olivia Brady
After hours of browsing through the abundance of beauty at our fingertips, we sample the coffee in one of the many adorable little cafes before making our way up the hill to a beautiful old school house. We admire the beauty inside and out of this historic building, and then turn to look back across this lovely little city, the sun glowing like a hallow in the blue above. After a day spent exploring the city on foot, the next morning we hire a car and venture further afield to the grassy peninsula in search of beautiful landscapes, secluded coves and soaring albatrosses. Dunedin ticked all of the boxes and needless to say we did not particularly want to leave – I can definitely see why so many people choose to come here for uni and then decide to stay. 
Photo by Olivia Brady
Even the trees are funky

We leave the colourful streets of Dunedin in search of the mesmeric Lake Tekapo which floats in the middle of the UNESCO dark sky reserve, a perfect spot for star gazing. On our way North we stop at the liquid turquoise gem, Lake Pukaki and pick up some fresh (delicious) salmon from a quaint little shop which overlooks the lake. On arrival at Lake Tekapo we stroll along the edge of the water, through a maze of pebbles and bluebells which guides us to what is one of the most photographed churches in the world: The Church of Good Shephard. This majestic little stone building sits quietly on the top of a small hill overlooking the lake, under the protection of one of the fastest growing mountain ranges in the world.

It’s hard to believe this is even a real place
Photo by Olivia Brady

Our final stop is Christchurch, a city so recently devastated by a tremendous earthquake in 2011 which killed 185 people and ruined much of the city’s infrastructure. The aftershocks of this event can still be seen and felt everywhere within Dunedin, as it gradually and valiantly rebuilds itself from the ground up. It is a living reminder of the tumultuous consequences of the fact that New Zealand sits on top of what is known as ‘The Ring of Fire’, an area of instability often hit by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. This is a wonderful and magnificently beautiful world that we live in, but it can also be terrifyingly dangerous and we need to look after it and, indeed, one another. It seems ludicrous to me that we cause each other so much harm when the very planet we call home can itself be so destructive. Still, the people of Christchurch are a perfect exqmple of the power of hope as they look forward with an air of determined positivity. 

New Zealand I am certainly going to miss you

For information on the lovely North Island, please click here.

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