Taking a road trip around the South Island of New Zealand was one of our favourite travel experiences. From breath-taking scenery to amazing wildlife, not to mention the friendly (and sometimes quirky!) locals, our road-trip gave us some great memories. In fact, we can’t wait to go back! Naturally, we haven’t been able to include everything (there is so much!) but here is our pick of 10 Highlights of our road trip around South Island:
1) Jet Boating at Buller Canyon
For a thrilling jet boat ride through pink granite rock canyons, head to Buller near the town of Murchison. Not only is the canyon beautiful, but the 360-degree spins and velocity of the boat ride made it an exciting and unforgettable experience. To reach the boats, you have to cross a swing-bridge, high above the water. Due to T’s fear of heights, the boat collected us on the beach on the other side. Indeed, the guys at Buller Canyon Jet Boat Rides were kind, fun and knowledgeable, enhancing the experience further. The hair-raising boat ride was, without doubt, one of the highlights of our trip through South Island.
There is more to this town, located on the east coast, than meets the eye. Although, at first glimpse, it looks like any other kiwi town, Oamaru is unique. The town just happens to be the Steampunk Capital of the World and is home to museum, Steampunk HQ. For those who are unenlightened, Steampunk is a of blend Victoriana, science-fiction and Industrialisation. The theme of Steampunk runs throughout the town. There’s a Steampunk playground, several shops are dedicated to the movement and locals can often be seen attired in Victorian costumes. Additionally, it’s one of the best place in the world to watch blue penguins waddle onto the beach each evening. We love places that are a little different and Oamaru fitted the bill perfectly.
3) Okains Bay
Okains Bay on Banks Peninsular was our first stop after we collected the hire car in Christchurch. The peninsular was formed when several volcanoes erupted, resulting in the creation of two natural harbours, Lyttelton and Akaroa. We drove across the hills along narrow, twisting roads before descending into Okains Bay. Due to its off-the-beaten-track location, the bay has a remote vibe. The campsite we stayed at backed onto the beach and was set amongst a forest of pine trees. It was a perfect place to chill and enjoy taking walks along the expansive sand beach. With only one small store (founded in 1873) that sold a few basics, we picked up most of our supplies in the village of Akaroa, 15km away. The campsite was incredibly beautiful and one of our favourite camping spots of the trip.
When we visited Christchurch, the city was still very much in recovery from the 2011 earthquake. We were incredibly impressed with the innovative way in which the city was being re-invented. From colourful street art to a innovative shopping centre constructed of shipping containers, Christchurch is a city full of optimism for the future. Attractions include the Botanical Gardens, Quake City Museum, Canterbury Museum and Christchurch Art Gallery. The Cardboard Cathedral, which replaces the original gothic cathedral, has already become an iconic symbol of the city.
We spent a few days in Hokitika, a small town on the west coast of the island. The wild and expansive beaches are full of driftwood and we walked for miles along the sand relishing the solitude. Half an hour’s drive from town, there’s a short trail to the turquoise waters of beautiful Hokitika Gorge. Additionally, just a fifteen-minute walk from town, glow worms live in the roadside banks and illuminate the foliage like fairy lights after dark. We can’t write about Hokitika without mentioning Fat Pippi’s where we ate some of the best pizza ever! Talking of food, every March Hokitika hosts the Wild Food Festival where you can sample such delicacies as wasp larvae ice cream and huhu grubs while listening to live bands (we think we will stick with Fat Pippi’s pizza!).
Punakaiki, otherwise known as the Pancake rocks due to the shape of the layered rocks, is a spectacular sight. When the tide is high, blowholes put on a stunning show by spraying water high into the sky. It’s a popular spot for road-trippers to stop off for an hour or so, but we stayed for a couple of nights to make the most of the area. We took a hike (or tramp, to use the kiwi euphemism) along Pororari River Track. The trail followed a riverbank through lush rainforest and then passed a limescale gorge and towering bluff loops. There are also opportunities to go caving and kayaking in the area. We stayed in a basic hut next to the wild and sprawling beach.
7) Te-Anau – Milford Highway
The truth is that although we drove the length of the highway from Te Anau to Milford Sound, we didn’t take a boat trip on Milford Sound itself as most people do. On a sunny day, it would undoubtedly have been a highlight, but it was pouring with rain and freezing cold. We therefore decided against it. We did, however, thoroughly enjoy our drive along the Te Anau – Milford Highway into the heart of Fjordland. From meadows to snow-capped mountains, the 120-km journey is nothing short of spectacular. We stayed at Knobs Flat Campsite in Eglinton Valley, from where we did a lovely hike to a hidden waterfall.
8) The Catlins
The Catlins are situated at the south of the island and are perfect for road-tripping. As a matter of fact, you can drive for miles without seeing another vehicle. From lush rainforests and waterfalls to remote beaches and rugged cliffs, the Catlins have it all. We took our time exploring the area, stopping off at deserted beaches and clifftops. At Nugget Point, we spotted seals and penguins aplenty. It’s a wild, remote and often overlooked part of the South Island, but incredibly beautiful. The fact that there are so few people around was an added bonus.
9) Abel Tasman Coastal Trail
We filled our backpacks with a tent, sleeping bags and food before heading to the Abel Tasman Coastal Trailhead. And so began three days of some of the most enjoyable hiking we had ever done on the beautiful Abel Tasman Coastal Trail. Not only did was the sun shining every day (the area is known for its sunny days), but the trail was moderate and the views spectacular. With stunning beaches, waterfalls and forests, there were also inlets to navigate and swing bridges to cross. The campsites were well situated, all either on the beach or with easy access to it. We hiked just four or five hours a day, which gave us plenty of time to enjoy the glorious surroundings.
10) Franz Josef
The village of Franz Josef makes a great stop for a night or two. Not only is it home to the mighty glacier, but there are plenty of other attractions in the vicinity. For keen hikers, there are lots of great tramps and the area is blessed with natural beauty including an abundance of mountains, waterfalls, rainforests, lakes and beaches. We took a particularly enjoyable walk along the rugged beach, which was full of driftwood. We had views of the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. You can either hike to the glacier on a scenic 1.5 hour trail, or splash out on a heli-hike – a helicopter ride/ guided hike combo.