Though they exist, few places on Earth are genuinely too beautiful for words. What elevates a destination to such a level isn’t really tangible because, in actuality, beauty doesn’t have much to do with how something looks. What makes something truly beautiful is in the way that it makes us feel.
Within moments of setting foot on New Zealand’s South Island, you’ll see and feel exactly what we mean. As you feast your eyes on the majestic Southern Alps, their vastness instils an appreciative sense of perspective. The air is so crisp and clean that you feel instantly healthier for breathing it in. New Zealand’s landscape is one which makes you feel fortunate to be alive. After exploring some of the North Island’s best bits in part one, we’ve put together 8 days’ worth of reasons to cross Cook Strait and discover the South Island’s welcoming wilderness.
Day 1 – Wellington to Picton and Hapuku
It’s a leisurely three hour sail across the water to Picton from Wellington and it should come as no surprise by now that the scenery along the way is breath-taking. Once you’ve departed Fitzroy Bay and crossed Cook Strait, you’ll enter Queen Charlotte Sound, where it meets the Bay of Many Coves – an area that can only be described as nature showing off. Upon reaching Picton, you’ll be greeted with your new Avis rental car for the South Island leg of your journey, complete with a Sat nav that doubles up as a handy tourist information guide. From there, it’s just under a two hour drive to another example of somebody showing off but this time the architect who designed the awe-inspiring Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses has the bragging rights. Situated in a region that you could easily spend a week exploring, with an abundance of rambling routes nearby and the popular whale watching hotspot of Kiakoura just 15 minutes away, this five star eco-retreat is an absolute must visit.
Day 2 – Hapuku to Christchurch
When you’re ready to come down from the treetop bliss of Hapuku Lodge, the Island’s largest city, Christchurch, is a two and a half hour drive away. If you want to make the most of being on an island blessed with such perfect wilderness, you can experience all of the city sights and retreat to more rural surrounds in the evening at the luxurious Otahuna Lodge, which resides on the outskirts of Christchurch. Otahuna is an impressively grand Victorian mansion, boasting wonderfully manicured gardens and some of the best cuisine in New Zealand, the menu for which is centred on seasonal local produce. Alternatively, if you’d prefer to broaden your horizons and mix up the scenery with city stay, The George Hotel, right in the heart of Christchurch, is ideally placed to help you explore what the South Island’s most populous town has to offer.
Day 3 – The TranzAlpine Train to Greymouth
Perhaps New Zealand’s most scenic rail journey, the TranzAlpine runs daily between Christchurch and Greymouth on the island’s west coast. A return service leaves Christchurch at 08:15 and returns at 18:05, although, once you’ve crossed the mountains, it would be a shame not to explore what’s on the other side. And you’ll definitely want to get a window seat if you can as you cross the fertile farmlands of the Canterbury Plains before witnessing the thrilling views that come with crossing deep gorges as you travel alongside the ice-fed Waimakariri River. After traversing the chiselled alpine landscape, around three quarters into your journey, you’ll reach the thick strands of native beech forest that line the way to Greymouth. If exploring the west coast in on the agenda, you can collect another rental car in Greymouth and head on up the coast to Punakaiki, where the famous 30 million year old pancake rocks await your gaze, just 40 minutes from your next home away from home – Birds Ferry Lodge.
Day 4 – Punakaiki to Nelson
Take care on the road from Punakaiki to Nelson, as you may pass a penguin or two along the way. Up until you reach Westport, the road hugs the coast, providing spectacular views of wild beaches and the tempestuous Tasman Sea. Once you head inland, you’ll drive through Buller Gorge before passing under the dramatic rock overhang at Hawks Crag. Travelling along a road that winds through Motueka River Valley, you’ll encounter a number of scenic settlements before reaching Nelson – the South Island’s first European settlement, established in 1858. And nearby this historic town, the stunning Edenhouse Luxury Lodge is situated roughly halfway between Nelson and the breath-taking Abel Tasman National Park. Edenhouse, aside from its refreshingly understated five star luxury accommodation, also offers a range of exhilarating activities, from horse riding on the beach, to heli-tours and cycling.
Day 5 – Abel Tasman National Park
If you drive up to Stephens Bay, you’ll find a full day cruise around the South Island’s north coastal regions. You’ll sail around the headland to Split Apple Rock, where you’ll more than likely see shags drying their wings above the warm rocks after some early morning fishing. The cruise itinerary is very flexible, so if there are any specific attractions that you’d like to catch a glimpse of, such as dolphins riding the bow wave or New Zealand Fur Seals fishing, then the tour operator will be more than happy to take a look with you. Similarly, if there’s a particular bay that you’d like to visit or park attraction you’d like to see, just let the skipper know and he’ll endeavour to accommodate your curiosities. Lunch will be provided at a sheltered bay in the area, where you can swim, kayak, go ashore for a bush walk or just relax on-board the ship while lunch is prepared.
Day 6 – Back to Picton and Marlborough Sounds
Head back towards Picton for the captivating Marlborough Sounds, where you’ll find the Bay of Many Coves. If you’re a fan of seafood, be sure to make a stop on the way at the seaside town of Havelock, known as the Green Shell Mussel Capital of the World. If that sounds appetising, then once you reach Picton, you may be interested in the Seafood Odyssea Cruise, which gives you the opportunity to explore the Marlborough Sounds while enjoying some of the world’s most sumptuous seafood and wine on your way to the exceptional Bay of Many Coves. The resort here has stunning wooden apartments nestled into a hillside overlooking the bay, providing you with an excellent opportunity to discover why so many New Zealanders choose to holiday so close to home here.
Day 7 – Whale watching in Kiakoura
Take the water taxi back to Picton and collect your rental vehicle before you embark on the final leg of your South Island adventure. Follow State Highway 1 south through coastal foothills and the picturesque Awatere Valley before the road joins up with the Pacific coast, which sways tightly with the tarmac all the way to Kiakoura. There you can sail offshore for a unique whale encounter experience. A typical whale watching tour usually includes sightings of giant sperm whales, New Zealand fur seals, dusky dolphins and the endangered wandering albatross. However, if you’re looking for something a little more thrilling, you could take a scenic flight to view the Kiakoura Mountains from above, or you could even take control of a small aircraft with the local Aero Club – no prior flying experience required.
Day 8 – Kiakoura to Christchurch & Home
This day marks the end of our itinerary of suggestions, and we’ve only covered a tiny fraction of both the North and South Island’s many facets. The possibilities of what awaits you in New Zealand are endless. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the word-worth of experiencing a place like New Zealand must be in the millions. But who really wants to waste their time reading all of those words when you can go out and live it? Forgive us for repeating ourselves, but New Zealand really is too beautiful to adequately put into words. So, what are you waiting for? The holiday of a lifetime to New Zealand is much closer than you think.