While the North Island of New Zealand has a bit more of the action as home to the country’s largest cities and towns, the South Island gets all the well-deserved hype. It’s here where you find those postcard-perfect landscapes: the turquoise lakes at the foothills of soaring snow-capped mountains, enchanted forests draped in blankets of green moss, streams jetting out of mountainsides and crashing hundreds of feet into a riverbed dotted with rainbow trout. It’s a land whose remoteness is other-worldly, where you can drive for an entire day without seeing any sign of life, besides the fluffy, white sheep grazing on the endless, rolling fields.
And so with our campervan Bertha as our dutiful guide, we set out for two weeks of exploring the beauty of the South Island. Here’s a look at some of the memorable roads we traversed:
The cream of the bountiful crop of New Zealand’s attractions is, undoubtedly, Fiordland National Park. Tucked into the remote southern corner of the island, it’s here where you experience the awe-inspiring fiord of Milford Sound. Fiords are long, narrow inlets of the sea that lie between steep slopes, and the fiord found at Milford Sound’s has attracted international tourists for over one hundred years. We took in the majestic experience aboard a boat that brought us face-to-face with the towering mountains and some fantastic wildlife. We also cruised by colonies of penguins and watched a school of dolphins jump and flip for our cameras. Photos barely do justice to the beauty of this land, but any NZ visitor can attest, it’s a must-see for any traveler.
Home to New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blancs, we spent a day sipping our way through the Marlborough region. We made it to some of the big guys, like Cloudy Bay and Scott Family Wineries, and to the ‘cellar doors’ of some of the lesser-known boutique wineries like Bladen and Seresin. Here we got a chance not only to sample the best of the region’s viticultural offerings, but we also got to know the faces and stories of the people behind them.
Deep in the South Island are a handful of pristine lakes. Some are a seemingly bottomless deep blue and others are a refreshingly, clear green hue. And all are set against the unrivaled backdrop of the Southern Alps. Most of the lakes are accompanied by quaint villages lined with a few cafes offering strong brew and the catch of the day. Many of the locales are an adventure-seeker’s dream, with outfitters ready to take you jumping, gliding or climbing up, down and around all corners of the area. To keep the pocketbook in check (or at least pretend we were), we opted for taking in the sights on some fantastic hikes and from the charming towns. A true highlight of the area was our hike up to Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain, for some of the most dramatic views in the country.
We heard fabulous things about the waters and hikes through Abel Tasman National Park so our next adventure brought us there. Regrettably, recent rains clouded the typically turquoise waters , but with our sunny day ahead Ryan signed us up for (another!) 15 mile day hike. We hopped on a jet boat they call a water taxi that dropped us off in the middle of the park. Our plan was to spend the day hiking back, however, half-way through the trek we experienced torrential downpours. Ill-prepared for the rapid change in weather, we had no choice but to hitchhike back ‘boat-style.’ Drenched, sore and freezing cold, a piping hot plate of New Zealand’s famed green-lipped mussels did more than ease our discomfort.