Ten days and a hire car is sufficient to experience South Island’s ‘best of the best’, though each part of this Island is unique and so it is recommended to spend more time discovering its delights.
Tried and tested, a coastal-to-mountain itinerary is the ideal way to experience some of the most stunning sites in New Zealand.
Relaxation in Mackenzie Country
Most major airlines fly into Christchurch. From Christchurch, there are two main tourist routes that will take you towards the south of the island – the west coast and the inland routes. The best option is to head inland, starting in Mackenzie Country. Some of New Zealand’s most remarkable scenery starts with its dramatic mountain ranges.
A three hour drive south-west of Christchurch will bring you to Lake Tekapo, Mackenzie Country’s most visited lake. As picturesque as it is quaint, and surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Lake Tekapo is famous for its remarkable milky, blue-turquoise colour which I formed by ‘blue crush’, a rock flour sediment created by thousands of years of glacier movement across the Lake’s floor.
It’s best to arrive before sunset to marvel at the magnificent colours that make the Lake famous. Winter here requires a trip to the relaxing hot pools at Lake Tekapo, especially after a long day’s ski.
Sunrise over the southern alps is equally as breathtaking, and the perfect backdrop for a breakfast picnic, followed by a visit to New Zealand’s most photographed church, the Church of the Good Sheppard.
Continuing south, nearby Lake Pukaki shares the same amazing shade of blue as Tekapo, and with a setting of Mt Cook in the background, it makes for an impressive lunchtime panorama.
Adventure in Queenstown Region
Wanaka in the Queenstown region, is a popular base village for ski fanatics. It is also New Zealand’s ‘adrenalin capital’, with bungee-jumping, rafting, jet-boating and hang-gliding a-plenty. In high season accommodation bookings are best made well in advance, as the city is often teeming with backpackers congregating here for their adventure sport fix.
Fortunately for those less experienced, there are several surrounding ski resorts that have fantastic beginners to intermediate runs – the most popular being Treble Cone, and adjacent Cardrona. The unpaved, narrow and tightly wound, mounting roads however, have no barriers which can pose a risk in icy temperatures, but it is well worth the climb…and the adrenalin rush.
The Majestic Fjordlands
If there is only one reason to visit the South Island, it is Milford Sound, in New Zealand’s Fjordlands. Milford and its little brother Doubtful are awe-inspiring for even the sophisticated of sightseers. Rain or shine the Fjords boast some dramatic scenery. The rain brings out a thousand little complimentary cascades as you pass through this magnificent creation of nature, and on a sunny day, the colours are spectacular.
The best way by far to visit this remarkable creation of nature is to embark on a Fjord adventure by cruise. Several companies run cruises, depending on how much you want to discover and at which pace. Information on any of the tours can be found and booked with New Zealand’s official visitor centre network, I-Site.
Christchuch and Surrounds
Back in Christchurch, there are all sorts of cultural discoveries to make, such as art galleries and wildlife reserves that host nightly local Maori performance.
Keen punters can glide up and down the Avon River, which exudes that old-world charm that takes you back to 1930’s English aristocracy. The Arts Centre marketplace comes alive every weekend with arts, gourmet foods and live traditional performances.
A last little lasting memento for first-timers to Christchurch is to take the famous Gondola at sunset up the 945 metres to gaze in awe at the sparkling night sky and the remarkable views of Pegasus Bay, the Pacific Ocean and Kaikoura Peninsula. An extraordinary country, a stunning island – it’s definitely a trip every traveller should take!