South Island, NZ – Part I –
Boasting about my home country and its beauty is something I enjoy doing regularly while travelling. It’s astounding just how many foreigners want to visit our Aotearoa; the magical and faraway haven. Despite being reasonably well travelled internationally, I am ashamed to say that my own backyard remains relatively unexplored so with two weeks of annual leave up my sleeve, myself and two friends packed up our Toyota Corolla and made the trip “down south”.
Setting off on the Kaitaki (Interislander Ferry), our Cook Strait crossing was blessed with calm seas and clear skies. As we cruised into the Marlborough Sounds, we were lucky enough to spot two dolphins frolicking in the waves off the bow of the ship – a good omen for the trip ahead perhaps? We stepped foot on southern soil just after lunchtime and promptly hit the road.
Our first overnight stop was in sunny Nelson. Surrounded by stunning vineyards and a number of great New Zealand walks, we instantly regretted only having one night in this unique spot. We stayed at the Quality Inn, which was affordable, clean and quiet.
The next morning we set off for Blackball, a small gold-mining town on the West Coast. While driving through the stunning Nelson Lakes National Park, we made a quick detour to Lake Rotoiti (also known as Lake Arthur). Thanks to the indispensable ‘jetboil’ we were lucky enough to enjoy a cuppa overlooking the icy blue water and snow-capped mountains (Mount Robert and St. Arnaud’s Range). In the summer, the lake is a popular water-skiing spot but we were thankful to be rugged up sipping hot tea!
After a few more hours behind the wheel, we arrived at Blackball and checked into ‘Formerly the Blackball Hilton’ for the night. The story behind the quaint small-town hotel is an interesting read (more about it here) Tip: while in Blackball, pop across the road and sample some Blackball Salami – we particularly enjoyed the venison pepperoni.
While the sun was setting, we visited Punakaiki and the famous Pancake Rocks, which were utterly breathtaking (and a must-see for the anyone in the area).
The next morning we were on the road bright and early, making our way to Franz Josef via Haast (a UNESCO world heritage area). A must-visit is the Hunter Gatherer Café in Harihari which is one hour north of Franz Josef. Tip: get the cheese scone, it’s to-die-for.
We arrived in Franz Josef just in time to take a helicopter flight to the glacier before the weather packed in. The flight was about $200pp for 20mins of flying and 10mins on-ice time. It’s not until you are standing on the glacier that you really appreciate its sheer magnitude.
Tip: wear sensible shoes and sunglasses! We finished the day with a soak in the thermal springs and dinner. For an affordable but atmospheric eat, I would definitely recommend SnakeBite Brewery (Asian fusion cuisine).
As we made our way further south, the temperature continued to drop (we hit -1 degree coming into Queenstown) but the scenery only got better. A real highlight was Glenorchy, a small town about 40 minutes out of tourist hub Queenstown. We stayed in a small station cottage (quite the rural experience) owned by a friend. In the morning we explored some the spots used in the filming of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, including Isengard, Lothlorien, and Amon Hen. Just drive past Paradise, a small village north of Glenorchy for 10-15 minutes and you’ll find them.
Leaving the tranquility of Glenorchy behind, we journeyed back to Queenstown for the weekend to enjoy the Winter Festival.
Part II to follow…
Many thanks to guest blogger Lottie of Wellington, NZ – looking forward to Part II!