Discover the drive of a lifetime in New Zealand’s South Island
The home of some of the most scenic views on earth, New Zealand’s South Island is so beautiful, it’s like stepping onto a film set. Whether you’ve got two weeks or two months, there’s more than enough to keep you busy, and the best way to takeit all in is to get on the road.
No trip to the South Island is complete without a stopover in Queenstown, the country’s adventure capital. The town itselfis little more than a collection of streets sitting on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, and set against the dramatic backdrop of the Southern Alps, but its laid-back culture and eclectic collection of bars and restaurants are a great place to ease into the Kiwi way of life.
With so much on offer, you’ll want to stay in the heart of it all, and The Spire – located just seconds from the lake front – offers a little luxury in a town that’s often seen as a backpacker’s paradise. King-sized beds, standalone tubs and balconies with brilliant views of the lake offer a more grown up vibe. Plus, its inhouse restaurant, No.5 Church Lane, is one of the town’s best. With a menu that includes fresh seasonal produce cooked in innovative ways, it’s a great way to taste the local fare.
When you’re all settled in, it’s time to let the adventure begin. There are plenty of things to throw yourself off of, including the country’s highest, eye-watering 134ft bungy, set above the Nevis river – it’s available through the longest-running bungy company, AJ Hackett (Bungy.co.nz). There are also a host of water activities to get your adrenaline pumping, and Queenstown is the perfect place to book yourself onto a day tour of Milford Sound, which is a remote fjord with towering peaks, rainforests and waterfalls.
Two hours from Queenstown, the lakeside town Wanaka is another hub for adventure and some of the most scenic day hikes. For established hikers seeking awe-inspiring panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges, the challenging Roys Peak walk is a must. There are also plenty of gentler options that are equally beautiful, including the nearby Rob Roy Glacier trial, which takes you up to the bottom of a beautiful hanging glacier in the heart of Mount Aspiring Park. For those really craving thrills, SkyDive Wanaka (Skydivewanaka.com)is one of the longest-running companies, and you can fall while taking in the breathtaking Southern Alps – but it’s not for the fainthearted!
The Southern Alps’ crown jewel, Mount Cook, is on one side, while the sea is on the other, so the drive up the west coast of the South Island is full of natural phenomena. Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier are viewable by foot with short hikes or, weather and budget permitting, you can book a helicopter tour for sometime on the ice. Elsewhere, Lake Matheson is a crystal-clear body of water that offers an enchanting mirror image view of the Southern Alps, while the seaside towns of Hokitika and Westport offer a quaint stopover option with plenty to do, see and eat.
Drive through Arthur’s Pass and you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported into Jurassic Park as the valley towers above you. A great place to stopover and break up your drive to the east coast, Arthur’s Pass National Park offers a great collection of hikes, where you can take in the waterfalls and maybe spot a kea – New Zealand’s native alpine parrot.
On the east coast, the pretty town of Kaikoura is a must stop for wildlife lovers, as it offers the chance to see penguins, dolphins and – if you’re really lucky – orca whales. Dolphin Encounter (Dolphinencounter.co.nz) even offer the chance to get out into the sea and swim in the wild with dusky dolphins; an experience you will never forget. Book the sunrise tour and watch the sun come up over the ocean, and maybe spot an albatross or two.
When you’re done seeing the wonders of the ocean, be sure to chow down on some crayfish – Kaikoura’s speciality. Kaikoura Seafood BBQ Kiosk and Nin’s Bin are roadside shacks that offer the freshest crayfish in town.
New Zealand’s third biggest city, Christchurch, is still recovering from the devastating effects of the 2011 earthquake that caused 2,000 casualties. While it may have lost some of its biggest landmarks, it still maintains its beautiful gardens, parks and tree-lined streets that you can explore by foot or on bike.
Coffee lovers will adore the number of independent shops, while foodies are spoiled by the eclectic choice for brunch and dinner. Stop by C4 coffee for an amazing brew, and Little Pom’s for a slap-up brunch.
On the final leg of your trip, you’ll want to stop over on the east side of the Southern Alps, where the hauntingly blue lakes of Pukaki and Tekapo lie at the foot of the mountains. Once you’ve recovered from how stunningly clear the water is, head up to the Mount John University Observatory for a brilliant view of the surrounding peaks. Or, even better, book onto one of their night stargazing tours (Earthandsky.co.nz), as a guide talks you through the cosmos with their powerful telescopes.
Leaving Tekapo behind, drive down past lake Pukaki into the Mount Cook National Park, and you’ll be able to walk the Hooker Valley trail. It’s one of the most accessible, but most rewarding day hikes in the area, and takes you along the Hooker river to a glacier lake with spectacular views of Mount Cook. It’s the perfect place to finish your trip before you take the short drive back to Queenstown.
Need to know
· The Spire Hotel suites start from £360 per night [NZ$700], and includes complimentary breakfast at No5 Church Lane. To book, visit Thespirehotel.com.
· Car hire costs from £80 for a standard five-seater car for seven days (Rentalcars.com), based on pick-up from Queenstown Airport, from June to September.
· Return flights from London or Manchester to Auckland, NZ, cost from £818 per person, and go via Los Angeles. Internal flights from Auckland to Queenstown cost from £38 one way.
· For more information, visit Newzealand.com.