5 Must See Places In New Zealand’s South Island For Adventurers
When it comes to traveling, I’m all about the adventure and epic landscapes. I don’t mind a road trip, but I like to go at my own pace. I love interacting with locals and a bit of night life too. So, after many recommendations from friends, I decided to travel New Zealand’s South Island in Jan 2019.
I called my best mate Scoota, who at the time was living in Sri Lanka, working at a Surf & Yoga retreat. I told him my very rough plan, ‘rent a car, drive around the South Island’. With little effort to sell him on the idea, he got right on board and we both booked tickets a few weeks later.
We knew we wanted to see lakes, mountains and do a bit of adventure stuff too, but we weren’t sure where to go. Luckily my other best mate KP grew up in NZ, so he was able to help us out with a rough itinerary. We bought the cheapest flights we could find, return tickets Melbourne - Christchurch and gave ourselves just over 2 weeks to see the Island. We rented a white Toyota Corolla hatch and we set off on our trip.
On the drive to Milford Sound
5. Lake Tekapo
When driving to Lake Tekapo we started to see the lake peering through the terrain as we got close, it really helped build the suspense for our arrival. The town was very chill, but it was all about the lake here. Our hostel location was perfect, it was just meters from the lake, and we could even see it from our room. With its azure water that almost glowed in the sun, it was one of the most incredible lakes we’d ever seen. Pictures hardly do it justice.
Our time here was short, staying just 2 nights, but it was definitely enough. The lake views go great with some fish n’ chips and NZ craft beers. Also, if you’re brave enough to take a dip, be careful it’s crazy cold.
Hostel: Lakefront Backpackers Lodge
4. Franz Josef
Famous for Franz Josef glacier, descending from the Southern Alps and less than 300 meters above sea level. Unfortunately due to bad weather we didn’t get to enjoy the helicopter and glacier hike we had booked. However, we still got to enjoy the glacier from the valley floor on the one-hour hike, which featured a waterfall along the way.
I recommend trying to plan the visit here around some good weather, so you can enjoy the helicopter and glacier hike tour. It sounds too good, so I’ve decided I’ll be back to do it soon.
Hostel: Franz Joseph Montrose
My mate KP told me “Wanaka was the most beautiful place in world”, he had spent a few years living there in his late teens and said it was a ‘must see spot’. It was 2.5 hour’s drive to Wanaka from Te Anau, so after a quick pie stop, we were on our way.
As we got close to arriving Scoota and I both saw a mini Airport with sign that read “Wanaka Sky Diving…” We both looked at one another and our eyes filled with excitement. 30 mins later we were 15,000 feet high jumping out of a plane. The 1 min free fall was an absolute rush, but as soon as the parachutes opened, we got to see Wanaka from an incredible aerial view. The people at skydiving Wanaka made the whole experience one to remember.
Once we arrived in town, we realized how popular Wanaka was with the locals and tourists. The town sees approximately 300,000 tourists visit each year and when the local population is under 9,000, you really notice it. Wanaka is surrounded by mountains and lakes, so there’s great landscape views at every angle. There was lots of cafés, bars and cool local shops, so it was easy to keep busy from day to night. We were there for 3 nights over new years and had an awesome time. A great stop on the way to (or from) Queenstown.
Hostel: Flying Kiwi Backpackers
It’s top on the list for most traveler’s NZ trips and for good reason, Queenstown is an adventure playground. It was as if the whole town was designed with adrenalin junkies in mind. It’s super touristy but so much fun.
During our stay we got our heart racing with the famous Nevis bungy, at 134m it’s one of the biggest in the world. We also couldn’t go past the jet boat ride which speeds over the lake and the gondola ride which is a fantastic way to see Queenstown.
We also enjoyed the vibrant night life, visiting a number of restaurants and bars, we differently weren’t short on options. We spent 6 nights here and wouldn’t recommend staying any less than 4 nights, there’s just so much to see. Queenstown has it all!
Hostel: Nomads Queenstown
5. Milford Sound
Of all the places I visited in NZ, Milford Sound was the most memorable. We stayed at a nearby small town called Te Anau, which like most places had an impressive size lake right by the town center. The trip to M.S. took 2.5 hours from Te Anau, which included several photo stops along the way to take in the beautiful scenery. Once we arrived, we boarded our boat and the real Milford sound experience had begun.
I asked my travel buddy Scoota (who dabbles in some writing) to help me out with a poetic description of the experience. “Journeying through the misty fjords of Milford Sounds feels like an enchanted quest. The fog rolls through the valley, sporadically clearing to reveal breathtaking waterfalls. Water rushes down the lush green mountains to meet the riverways as if angels are crying tears of joy from heaven.”
We stayed 2 nights in Te Anau, this allowed enough time to see the town and plan the trip in M.S.
Boat tour: Southern Discoveries
Hostel: Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers
All photographs by Scoota, aka Phillip Lionel