Tag Archives: south island

6-Days Around the Top of New Zealand’s South Island


Whether it’s a short trip in its own right or as part of a longer journey around New Zealand’s south island, this 6-day trip includes a visit to the wine country, a drive along the east coast, a road trip through the mountains, then a quick ride back to the northern port of Picton.

By Stuart Hill

It would be nice to have the luxury of 3-4 weeks to drive around New Zealand’s south. If you could, you might consider circumnavigating the island, from Picton heading south to Christchurch, following the coast to the southern tip, before arching round to the west coast to Queenstown, then Greymouth and then back north. But if that’s not possible you can make it in two or more combinations of 6, 7 or 8-day trips, crisscrossing between coasts and through the central mountains.

This trip started in the north island city of Wellington with a brief stopover after arrival by plane, then a ferry trip to Picton on the south island. Of course you could fly into any of the cities from the north, or perhaps a direct flight from Australia.

For example, try my 9-day drive starting from Christchurch and heading south. You could combine the 9-day plus this 6-day to create an unforgettable south island adventure, adding in a few extra days to round out 3 whole weeks and a bit more time at each stop.

Map of New Zealand South Island

This trip began in Wellington, from there headed to Picton, Havelock, Blenheim, Kaikoura, Christchurch, Lake Pearson, Arthur’s Pass, Greymouth, Punakaiki, and Nelson, (then briefly back to Picton and Wellington).

Day 1: A Short Stay in Wellington

Fidels Cafe

Wellington is a gateway to access both north and south islands. With its wealth of museums, galleries, markets, heritage buildings, restaurants, and cafes, it’s a cool place to explore, and many places are easy to access on foot. From Wellington you can take to the road heading north or catch the ferry to New Zealand’s south island.

 

Day 2: The Ferry to Picton

Wellington Picton Ferry

On a calm sunny day the 3-hour trip from Wellington to Picton is a pleasant journey along the picturesque coastline. It’s a friendly introduction to the beauty of the south island. But try to avoid cold and rough weather, where venturing onto the deck will be difficult and crossing the strait can be a stomach-wrenching experience. Meals and drinks are available on the ship, as is free wi-fi internet.

 

Day 2: A Quick Drink in Marlborough Wine Country

cloudy bay

With the region of Marlborough being the powerhouse of New Zealand’s wine industry, it is hard not to spend at least a little time to sample the local and internationally sought after produce. One of the most famous vineyards is Cloudy Bay, with its relaxing courtyard and tree covered lawn.

 

Day 3: Whales and Seals in Kaikoura

Fur Seals, Kaikoura

The south island of New Zealand was a rich ocean of whales, seals, and fish, from which many towns drew their livelihood, until the animals were driven to near extinction. Today, the seas around Kaikoura offer some of the best opportunities in the world for spotting whales and dolphins, while fur seals happily breed (and sun bake) in protected coves along the shoreline.

 

Day 3: Pits stop in Christchurch

Christchurch is still recovering from the collapse of buildings in the devastating earthquake of 2007. Yet there is a resilience reflected in the extensive reconstruction effort, pop-up buildings and public art.

Christchurch is still recovering from the collapse of buildings in the devastating earthquake of 2010. Yet there is a resilience reflected in the extensive reconstruction effort that’s happening across town, the numerous pop-up buildings, and public art.

 

Day 4: The Road Through Arthur’s Pass

Lake Peatson

Honestly, what’s a New Zealand road trip without a gorgeous mountain view? There are so many lakes and rivers to pass just by driving between cities that it is impossible not to have the opportunity to experience greatness at least once on your journey, such as Lake Pearson, on the way to Arthur’s Pass.

 

Day 5: Pancake Rocks near Greymouth

Pancake Rocks

The Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki, just out from Greymouth, are the result of limestone deposits layered under clay millions of years ago. Eroded by the sea to form blow holes, the waves pound up and against the rocks to form spectacular sprays of water. You can snack on pancakes (of course!) and coffee at the nearby cafes.

 

Day 6: Glorious Nelson

Nelson Cathedral

Nelson immediately gives you that sense of old money meets new. It’s obvious that this place is an historically significant city, denoted to a large extent by the existence of the Christ Church Cathedral perched on its hill overlooking the city. But the surrounding lands include lots of things to see and do, both cultural, culinary, and environmental. Nelson offers a slower, yet sophisticated pace, and it is worth spending a day or two here to enjoy them.

Some Places To Stay:

  • Marksman Motor Inn, 40-44 Sussex Street, Wellington
  • Buccaneer Lodge, 314 Waikawa Road, Picton
  • Picton Top 10 Holiday Park, 78 Waikawa Road, Picton
  • Panorama Motel, 266 Esplanade, Kaikoura
  • Christchurch Top 10 Holiday Park, 39 Meadow Street, Christchurch
  • Greymouth Kiwi Holiday Park and Motels, 318 Main South Road, Greymouth

More Information:

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9-Day Roadtrip in New Zealand’s South Island


For a first time visit to New Zealand, this 9-day self-drive holiday was an unforgettable exploration of the south island. Flying in to Christchurch, renting a car from the airport, and lining up accommodation beforehand, the only thing left to do was enjoy the breathtaking landscape. Great views were everywhere.

By Stuart Hill

new zealand south island

The south of New Zealand’s South Island

While there are may ways to enjoy New Zealand — by train, bike, helicopter, walking, and tour bus — the most flexible way to get around is still by renting your own car. Car hire is convenient and affordable; just organize beforehand to pick up at the airport (or wharf) you first land at. In fact many travelers rent recreation vehicles (RVs), allowing them to combine the freedom of travel with the freedom to stay wherever they fancy. With mobile reception pretty patchy in areas, a GPS for traffic directions is recommended.

A good choice for drivers is to stay at the Top 10 Holiday Parks chain. With a network throughout New Zealand, they provide shared cooking, washing and shower facilities for RV drivers or campers, or offer a range of small self-contained cabins.

Accommodation across the whole south island is typically caravan park style, B&B, or hotel chain. You can find cabins and rooms for 2, 3, 4 or more people — depending on your traveling group. Be sure to book ahead during peak holiday periods like Christmas and New Year, as prices and vacancies will vary.

As many places have their own small kitchen facilities you can save a bit on breakfasts by stocking up on a few supplies from a local supermarket like Countdown or Four Square.

The following 9-day trip was taken in December, which is summer in the southern hemisphere. Temperatures were generally mild most mornings, around 10-15 degrees Celsius, but mountain areas like Queenstown and Arrowtown easily reached into the mid 20s C. Bluff, Milford Sound, Te Anau and Oamaru were cool at night and had rain. If you are heading anywhere on foot, have a sturdy pair of walking shoes and some waterproof clothes.

Day 1: Christchurch

Christchurch gardens

Still recovering from the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, Christchurch has a relaxed low-key charm but an obvious sense of renewal. The botanical gardens are a relaxing place to visit. Meanwhile the city streets around the damaged church offer places to shop and eat and just browse — any time of the day and night.

Day 1: Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki Boulders

Roughly two-thirds the way between Christchurch and Dunedin, the Moeraki Boulders are a curious sight. With some cracked and crumbling, others sitting on their own, a small collection of these boulders resemble scattered marbles tossed across the beach. They are easily accessed from a short walk from a marked car park.

Day 2: Dunedin City

Dunedin train station

Although its heyday was around the 1860s, Dunedin is a beautiful and historic city with many places to see, and a central area that’s easy to explore on foot. A must visit is the Dunedin train station, featuring stain-glass windows and ornate tiling. Lots of places to eat are found around the “octagon” streets at the old city’s center.

Day 2:  Larnach Castle, Dunedin

Larnach Castle

With its picturesque views of the Pacific Ocean and a turret to view them from, Larnach Castle is described as New Zealand’s only castle. The building was constructed by landowner, banker, financier and government minister William Larnach. The building and grounds fell into disrepair until the Barker family purchased the property and begun its restoration. You can eat at the castle in their cafe, including high tea.

Day 3: Invercargill

Invercagill

Built in 1888, the Invercargill Water Tower is one of the historic buildings in the area that reflect the worth of the city over a century ago. The nearby Queens Park, which has a rose garden, is worth visiting. Invercargill is New Zealand’s southernmost city and a commercial hub in its own right.

Day 3: Stewart Island and Bluff

Stewart Island

Stewart Island — a one-hour trip by ferry from the town of Bluff — plays an important part in Maori legend as the anchor stone of Maui’s canoe. An art installment of a giant chain on both the Bluff and island sides of Foveaux Strait interprets this story. A visit to Stewart Island takes you to the very south of New Zealand. An easy day trip can include a short guided tour or a walk around Oban village. Around 85% of the island has been designated protected wilderness, thus Rakiura National Park allows days of trekking.

Day 4: Te Anau

Lake Te Anau

The town of Te Anau is a hive of activity in the holiday season, and sits on the edge of Lake Te Anau, New Zealand’s second largest lake. There is lots to do on and around the lake itself, and plenty of accommodation in town. Real Journeys operate a guided eco-tour to the Glowworm Caves — where you will see a galaxy of “stars” sparkle in the cave roof directly above you. It’s a unique educational experience.

Day 5: Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park

During summer there are many places between Te Anau and Milford Sound where both local and introduced flowers are exploding in bloom. These lupine fields are an introduced species within the Fiordland National Park, and have become a bit of a mixed blessing by attracting campers and day trippers.

Day 5: Milford Sound

Milford Sound

About 2 hour’s drive from Te Anau, Milford Sound is a UNESCO world heritage site of outstanding natural beauty. Though it rains over 200 days a year, and is the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand, when the sun comes out, the scene is spectacular. Real Journeys and other companies run boat cruises within the sound. Don’t miss it.

Day 5: Mirror Lakes

Mirror Lake

Best seen when the low-hanging clouds part to reveal the mountains in the background, the Mirror Lakes are a tranquil marshland along the main road to Milford Sound. A walkway stretching along the edge of the lake allows you to observe the ducks and the fish, and wait for a stillness on the water surface that gives the area its name.

Day 6: Queenstown

Queenstown

Party town Queenstown doesn’t ever seem to rest, whether its mid-winter on the snow fields, or mid-summer on Lake Wakatipu, the action never stops. Take the Skyline Gondola to the top of the Ben Lomond Scenic Reserve to take in the surrounding vista.

Day 7: Arrowtown

Arrowtown Mary Mackillip

Arrowtown is a small village that became a boom town with the discovery of gold. In its better days it attracted the attention of future saint Mary MacKillop. The local old street — with its historic buildings and restaurants — and the remnants of the Chinese Quarter, offer a scenic getaway from Queenstown, or an historical detour before you head further north to Lake Wanaka.

Day 8 Wanaka

Road to Wanaka

The road between Queenstown and Wanaka includes a winding and scenic road past Arrow Junction and through the hills along Crown Range Road. It’s not the main highway, but it a beautiful detour. Heading down to Wanaka you come across Glendhu Bay, with its views off to the distant snow capped peaks.

Day 9 Oamaru

Oamaru

Famous for its blue penguins, which appear in the early evenings to return home to their nests and feed their chicks, Oamaru is also a small town with a wealthy past. The historic streets around the old railway are a great place to explore on foot. Grab a local street map and check out the local coffee shops, restaurants, antique store and bookshops.

Places to Stay:

More Information:

Bluff, New Zealand

Located at the bottom of New Zealand’s south island, Bluff can said to be a long way from anywhere. The place has a long fishing heritage and is famous for its Bluff Oysters. The nearby waters are a nutrient rich zone between Stewart Island and the mainland.