If you love nature and experiencing a place, it’s culture, rather than just seeing it, there is no place like New Zealand. New Zealand truly has mesmerizing landscapes with breathtaking views. There is so much to see that either you must take a long vacation to see it all or visit New Zealand again. We only had 10 days at hand, so we decided to visit just the South Island of New Zealand. If you love driving, this is the place to do it. Every other corner you cross makes you exclaim in awe of nature’s beauty.
When you travel internationally there are 3 main expenses:
I recommend always booking trips for the shoulder period. This is either 15 days before the beginning or 15 days after the end of the peak season for travel to any place. Book in advance which is a no-brainer. This will save a lot of money on the major chunk of expense for the trip. Also, you will catch lesser crowds. We always tend to book motel or hotel rooms with kitchenettes so that we can have a quick breakfast or dinner and spend that time seeing or experiencing something. One can argue that food is a very important thing to experience. That’s true if you are in a big city. But while visiting remote places, national parks, forest preserves, etc. having an option to eat noodles or salad in the room is a good choice. This can also end up saving some money.
Let me take you with me through the memories of this wonderful road trip.
Day 1: Christchurch- We landed in Christchurch and picked up our rental car from the airport. We booked Avis, together with full coverage insurance since the last thing anyone needs in a foreign country is wasting time due to unforeseen events. That day, we spent some time just wandering about in Christchurch and getting a feel of the wonderful city. We had planned and did visit the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch to see the famous Kiwi bird. If you are traveling with kids, they will thoroughly enjoy this place.
Christchurch city image courtesy: Avatar, Christchurch Web Designer
Day 2: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo (3 hours)– We drove from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo. I recommend all of you to land in Christchurch rather than anywhere else in the South Island. Driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo was like going from 0 to 10 in terms of natural beauty. The best thing we did was book a hotel room right there, facing lake Tekapo. I can never forget the view of the turquoise water and the pink-lit mountain peaks in the background through my room window. There is ‘Church of The Good Shepherd’ right beside the lake which is a charming small stone church. The entire setting makes all the photos look surreal. We stayed at the Lake Tekapo Village Motel. The views are amazing and you are at a 5-minute walk to the lake and the church.
Day 3: Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook (54 minutes)- Aoraki/Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand standing tall at approximately 12,218 ft. and a part of the Southern Alps range in South Island of New Zealand. The Mount Cook National Park is among UNESCO’s world heritage sites and is a popular tourist destination. This is one of the best drives ever, as you drive closer and closer to Mount Cook. This was made even better by a small picnic table right beside the road, where we decided to drown in the beauty of the mountain while enjoying some sandwiches. After Mount Cook, we went to Tasman Glacier. There is a small hike to the top of a hill from where you can take a peek at the blue glacial water and the glacier itself.
Day 4: Lake Tekapo to Oamaru (2 hours 11 minutes)- Oamaru is a beach town. It has a completely different vibe and geography when you compare it to everything else you will see in New Zealand. The best and the most recommended thing to see here is the Blue Penguin colony. Even before we went to see the blue penguins, we saw the yellow-eyed penguin while taking a hike to Katiki Point, Moeraki (35km S of Oamaru). You have to be lucky to see the penguins, as it all depends on them showing up. Another must-see point near Oamaru is the Moeraki boulders. Moeraki boulders can be seen at Koekohe beach on the Otago coast of New Zealand. And to end this wonderful adventurous day in Oamaru we enjoyed a romantic dinner together at a seaside restaurant.
Day 5: Oamaru to Queenstown (3 hours 40 minutes)- The drive itself was awesome with great viewpoints along the way. Queenstown is famous for adventure sports like skydiving, bungee jumping etc. But we decided to take the Skyline Gondola ride and enjoy the cultural show about the Maori tribe in New Zealand. The show is called ‘Haka show’. This was followed by a dinner at the full glass-walled restaurant with epic views of Queenstown. All in all, there is nothing more we could have asked for. At night we started our drive from Queenstown to Te Anau. This was probably the only drive we did at night. I would recommend against driving in New Zealand at night, just for the fact that, even during daytime it’s hard to see people around and will be tough to find help at night.
Day 6: Te Anau Glowworm Caves- Te Anau is a magical place. I still remember Lake Te Anau with the beautiful morning sun shining on the lake while a small white waterplane glided on its silky water. Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound. But the best that Te Anau has are the glowworm caves. You take a ferry to the actual cave and then are guided and walk through the cave to see an underground waterfall. After that, you sit on a small raft and go through the caves in the dark, watching the glowworms. There cannot be anything more romantic than this.
Day 7: Te Anau to Milford Sound- Milford Sound is a large fiord in Fiordland National Park. There are cruises that take you through a dreamy tour of the fiord, where you can see wildlife, enjoy the scenery of huge mountains surrounding the water from all sides and lose all your worries in the cool mist of the waterfalls. You will get a lot of photo opportunities. Remember to hide your cameras when you get too close to the waterfalls. At the center of all this is Mitre peak at its majestic 5560 Ft. We took a bus from Te Anau to Milford Sound and on our way saw Mirror Lake and met Kea parrots which are the only alpine parrots in the world. If you are interested in wildlife, you should definitely read about New Zealand’s wildlife. There are no dangerous animals in the country (unlike its neighbor Australia) that can kill you, except for 3 types of poisonous spiders.
Day 8: Te Anau to Fox Glacier through Wanaka (6 hours)- Next day we started our drive from Te Anau and took a halt at Wanaka Puzzling World. It was a fun place to spend some time and then we drove further to Fox Glacier. We reached there in the evening and thought of just going to the foot of the glacier before we called it a day. When we reached there, no one was around except both of us. The only sounds were that of nature and rumbling rocks. That mammoth glacier and the surrounding high mountains made me feel vulnerable, insignificant. Nature has its way to put you in your place. It’s like when you see a Tsunami on video or a volcano, you feel the true power nature has.
Day 9: Fox Glacier Hiking- If I had to choose only one thing that was most exciting and memorable from my entire trip, it would be hiking the Fox Glacier. Just yesterday I had seen this beast and today I was there to conquer it. Well, not really. I realized that the beast was getting more dangerous by the minute, with black/sinkholes and crevasses which had no openings, sprinkled all over the glacier. One wrong step or foolish decision and that’s the end. After this thrilling experience, it was time to head back to Christchurch for one last adventure.
Day 10 Christchurch to Akaroa Dolphin tour (1.25 hours)- We decided to end this wonderful road trip by taking the Akaroa dolphin watching tour on a luxury yacht drinking wine, relaxing watching seals and dolphins and enjoying our last day in this wonderful paradise. We topped it off by enjoying their local awesomely delicious Kiwi ice-cream!