Before I dive into all of the fun the South Island of New Zealand has to offer, don’t miss all of the sights and activities from my first leg of the trip; the North Island! After 4 days on the North Island, we were itching to explore the South and tailored two thirds of our trip to this island.
Our original plan was to land in ChristChurch and continue on to Mt. Cook to prepare for an amazing overnight trek to Mueller Hut.
The weather, unfortunately, was pouring rain and had significant winds and “slides” on the mountain. We decided to botch the idea of doing an overnight stay in Mueller Hut and took our time exploring ChristChurch before making our way out to Mt. Cook.
Stress management tip:
- Allow yourself to be flexible. I know it can be reassuring to build a thorough itinerary prior to a trip, but acknowledge that unexpected things can throw a wrench in your plans. It’s okay! See this as a blessing in disguise and an opportunity for something new and unexpected to surprise you with.
In ChristChurch, we had a blast at C1 Espresso for lunch. The restaurant had a retro vibe and delivered some of our food in pneumatic tubes that lined the ceilings and walls in the building.
After filling our stomachs with delicious coffees, tea, and lunch, we loaded back up in the car for a scenic 3 hour drive to Lake Tekapo.
- Grab some groceries at one of the local grocery stores in town. There’s not much else on the way traveling southwest to Mt. Cook
Our ultimate destination was Mt. Cook National Park, but Lake Tekapo was a scenic stop close to our final destination.
We couldn’t stop ooo-ing and ah-ing at all of the sites around us as we drove.
When we arrived at Lake Tekapo, we battled the wind to explore the Church of the Good Shepard.
The wind was wild when we were exploring, so we hurried with our pictures, and scrambled back in the car to finish our journey to our day’s final destination.
After 1.5 hours in the car (including stops at picturesque vistas to soak up the views), we arrived at Hermitage Hotel.
We arrived at Hermitage Hotel and were excited to unload our bags for the night. The rainy weather was cozy, so we stayed in and enjoyed the hotel buffet for dinner.
- In my opinion, the buffet was expensive ($70 NZD/ person) and the food was subpar. The only options for dinner were the buffet or the sitdown restaurant. In hindsight, I would have spent $70 on a made-to-order dinner than the buffet
- Mt. Cook is a mountain town and doesn’t have a downtown area with shops or restaurants. Your options for food are essentially limited to the few hotels local to where you’re staying
Since our original plan to do the Mueller hut was canceled, we decided to leave Mt. Cook one day early and made our way south to Wanaka.
The drive from Mt. Cook to Wanaka took us a few hours, so we made a pitstop two thirds of the way to see the Clay Cliffs.
There is a $5 donation box for parking and a short hike to get to the cliffs. We enjoyed scrambling up the rocks to capture panoramic views of the valley and river.
When we arrived in Wanaka, we checked into our AirBNB Yurt. What an AMAZING experience! I highly recommend it!
The Yurts we stayed in were world class. They were very clean, had high quality amenities, an outstanding (and large!) communal kitchen, and bikes for your use.
One of my favorite parts staying here was meeting different people from around the world. One woman in particular was a professional skydiver from Switzerland. She had told me that she’s completed > 25,000 jumps in her career to date!
The Yurts were also very close to town, so we enjoyed taking the bikes out for a long bike ride along the river before enjoying dinner at Big Fig (a middle eastern restaurant). We loved it so much, we ate there multiple times throughout our stay in Wanaka.
The following morning, we set off for a full day hike at Isthmus Peak. Overall, the hike took us ~5 hours, and we hiked about 10 miles. We considered doing Rob Roy Glacier Track, but the rainy weather had set off some landslides that blocked a lot of the hiking paths, closing the trail.
However, we loved hiking Isthmus Peak!
We thoroughly enjoyed looking back at the views, hiking next to free ranging sheep, and hiking on a quiet trail without the crowds (this hike tends to be less crowded than Roys Peak and Rob Roy trails).
- Don’t forget water, sunscreen, protein-based snacks, and some layers for the top of the hike!
- There are multiple peaks on the hike that you can’t see until you reach the first. Don’t be fooled. You may think the first peak is the end….but it’s definitely not!
- Fun idea: on your way down, if anyone asks you how much longer they have to the top, joke around and say it’s not that much further and that there’s an ice cream truck at the top. That definitely made me move faster (and I appreciated the humor!)
Stress Management Tips:
- The trail is steep (at a ~15 degree incline) for 2.5-3 hours ascent. Take it slow and steady and make sure you take breaks if you need to.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to go fast, pass others, or reach the peak in a predetermined time frame.
- Pause, slow down your pace, and look around. Be present in the moment and take in your scenery. Snap some pictures, swap funny stories, and laugh at how out of shape you all are. It’s okay to not take physical activities so seriously =)
We started earlier in the day and spent the later part of the afternoon back at the Yurt resting and recovering.
One of my favorite things about New Zealand was looking up at the stars. It’s a sight I cannot truly describe with words, other than looking at a black canvas on which someone knocked over an open jar of silver glitter.
Even though we were tired, we got up and rallied because we didn’t want to miss a fun Saturday night in downtown Wanaka!
Cork was a fun cocktail bar with good drinks and live music. We started here and then ventured across the street to Fitzpatrick’s for a local bar scene and live music. By 1:30am, we were pretty zonked and wrapped it up by calling a cab.
- We tried using Uber in Wanaka- unsuccessfully. Ask the front desk of your accommodations for taxi recommendations. If you purchased a Sim card upon arrival to New Zealand, it’s easy to use your phone to call (like normal) a local taxi company.
After sleeping in the following day, we enjoyed breakfast and coffee on the go in town, for a leisurely day of exploring.
- New Zealand is very green and environmentally friendly. Sometimes coffee shops will charge you $3 (NZD) for stainless steel coffee cups to go, but if you bring them back, they’ll refund you the money.
Our group split up to do different activities, such as shopping, SUPing (stand-up paddle boarding), and visiting the local Wanaka Tree.
Stress Management Tips:
- If you’re traveling in a group, remember: you don’t have to please everyone all the time! If you’re interested in doing something different, speak up, buddy up, and explore your surroundings with a smaller group. Space is healthy when traveling with others 24/7.
- The same goes for introversion time. Take advantage of pre-dinner time to wind down quietly (alone), or first thing in the morning before the rest of the group is up and mobilizing.
After soaking up a few days in the quieter town of Wanaka, we jumped back in the car for our 1 hour drive to Queenstown!
Queenstown is essentially the bigger sibling to Wanaka. The 15,000 person town feels busier and larger than the number of residents who actually reside there. Get excited for fantastic food, tons of outdoor activities, and lots of local shops!
Our first morning, we enjoyed breakfast at Yonder where I had (literally) the best French toast of my life. If it’s still on the menu, be like Nike and just do it. Order the raspberry and pistachio French toast. You can thank me later ;-).
We began our Queenstown trip with an excursion to Milford Sound.
You can approach Milford Sound one of two ways: via car or plane. The former is definitely cheaper with beautiful scenic roads, but you’ll end up spending 10 hours (roundtrip) of driving. The latter is more expensive, but you’ll only spend 30 minutes (one way) on a small plane flying over canyons, fiords, glaciers, and rivers.
If you have the means to splurge, I would absolutely invest in the airplane experience in order to experience Milford Sound in half of a day and to catch all the sights from the air.
On the plane, we had one open seat next to the pilot that my husband was lucky enough to sit in. He had first hand views of the pilot screens, buttons, and gadgets in addition to the stunning scenery below us.
Once we landed, we boarded a small cruise ship to tour the Sound. We were very lucky and were 4 of 10 passengers on the entire boat!
- Bring warm layers, a raincoat, and waterproof shoes
The boating experience was entertaining and fun. You really get up close and personal with waterfalls (okay… spoiler alert… you go under waterfalls), see seals, beautiful mountains, and ride high waves (while catching some serious air)!
If you’re not afraid of chilly wind and splashing of water from the waves, I would hit the front deck of the boat to let Milford Sound stimulate all of your senses.
A light brown bagged lunch was served during our tour in addition to hot tea and coffee.
After flying back to Queenstown, we went home to shower and freshen up before enjoying one of the best Sushi / Japanese restaurants we’ve ever dined at: Tatsumi.
We enjoyed ice cream at Patagonia as we walked along the water downtown, and hopped into a local restaurant for some live music and cocktails.
With our bellies full, we headed home to our mountaintop AirBNB with the most beautiful lookout of Queenstown below us.
The following day, we grabbed a quick coffee at Ferg Bakery before loading the bus for another full day activity: canyoning!
Stress Management Tip:
- Evaluate what your fears are when it comes to outdoor activities. Heights? Fear of free falling? Water? Be clear with your group what your true fears are and either find out if you can side-step parts of an activity, or if it’s better for you to sit it out altogether
For me, I’ve come to acknowledge that I have a fear of free falling. On our canyoning experience, I was super excited for the entire thing except for the thought of jumping off a high rock into a pool of cold glacier water. Luckily, this part of the experience was optional, so I didn’t feel pressured into signing up for a terrifying experience I wouldn’t have enjoyed.
The canyoning trip was an all-day event. We left at 09:00 and got back around 4pm. Snacks were provided on the bus as we left (10am) and a late lunch was served after our excursion before we headed back (3pm).
The experience included hiking up to the canyon in the woods, rappelling down sides of the canyon, going down slides carved from the rivers into the canyon, jumping from high heights into glacier pools, zip-lining, and floating down the river at the end of the tour.
If you’re an adrenaline seeker, this would definitely be a fun activity for you!
- The water we swam in was fed by glaciers. It was c-o-l-d. Thankfully, they provided us with thick wet suits that you could add extra layers to for warmth. In general, I was relatively warm. Your hands are exposed and get to be quite cold, but gloves weren’t offered as options for equipment, so you just have to go with it and accept it as is
- Be sure to bring your own towel
When we got back, we had just enough time to shower and get ready for our super nice dinner at Amisfield winery.
This. Was. The. Best. Food. Of. My. Life.
The presentation, the taste, the wine, the service.
Every single component of this dinner was beyond exceptional.
- Get ready to splurge. We ordered the Chef’s menu which is essentially a 5 hour (yes… FIVE hour) and 9 course meal- all picked by the chef, expertly displayed, and seasonally produced.
- It’ll cost you a pretty penny. Half of our group did the wine pairing throughout, which added $70 (NZD) / person
- We went big and went home and ordered all of the extras
- Basically, with all of the bells and whistles, we spent $200 / person (USD). I will never forget that dinner and experience for the rest of my life.
If Amisfield sounds like something you’d be interested in, be sure to make a reservation at least 6- 8 weeks in advance; they book up fast.
We ended our New Zealand experience with this delicious dinner. The next day, we boarded our plane and headed back to Auckland before returning to the United States.
Without a doubt, we LOVED New Zealand and without hesitation, would return again- but this time, for longer! If you’re thinking of traveling to New Zealand, bite the bullet and go for it! Before you go, be sure to check out my other blog post on what we were up to on the North Island of New Zealand for extra inspiration.
Curious of my next fun adventure?
- Hang out in the Facebook Group to see where else I’m off to this year!
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