New Zealand’s South Island: 10 Day Road Trip from Christchurch (Part 2)
Day 4: Milford Sound
While it seemed like we had already done so much driving and seen so much of New Zealand’s South Island, reality was there was a lot more driving and sightseeing in-store for us over the next seven days.
The morning after our cliff jump, we were up and at it bright and early again as we’d be spending the day four hours outside of Queenstown in beautiful Milford Sound. Milford Sound is a fiord located in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park and once described by Rudyard Kipling (author of The Jungle Book) as the eighth wonder of the world. The four hour drive from Queenstown consisted of plenty of winding roads, but with so much beautiful scenery to take in along way, and a quick stop to refuel in the tiny town of Te Anau, the four hour drive flew by.
We boarded the Go Orange! Milford Sound cruise upon our arrival, which would carry us through the glacier carved fiord, and even serve us up a fish and chips lunch along the way. Thanks Go Orange!
As if the view of Milford Sound’s staggering cliffs against the dark blue water wasn’t enough, it seemed each crevasse of the area held something else amazing for us to gaze at – seals, rainbows and waterfalls would be just some examples! The captain explained it had rained the day previous, which makes for perfect Milford Sound viewing as all the tiny (temporary) waterfalls trickling down the cliff faces come to life. We were also lucky enough to catch a family of dolphins swimming alongside the boat (one deckhand told us it had been a few months since they had seen any dolphins in the area).
We took some final moments admiring the beauty of our surroundings after the cruise before heading back to the car to take on the four hour trek back to Queenstown.
All of our drives to date have consisted of driving through vast mountain ranges for miles and miles (sounds terrible, we know…), which can make it difficult getting a radio signal from time to time. The drive back from Milford Sound was no different, so as usual, we plugged in the trusty iPod, and with the help of Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Drake, and Zac Brown Band, we were back in Queenstown in no time. When we got back to Queenstown, we kind of felt like we were coming back home. We love this town!
Day 5: Queenstown and Wanaka
Bob’s Peak, Queenstown
The next morning, we checked out of our hostel but spent a few more hours exploring Queenstown. We first hit up Fergbaker (Fergburger’s yummy sister bakery) for some breaky, then headed up Bob’s Peak in the Skyline Gondola to take in the beautiful views of Lake Wakatika, and of course, the beautiful town of Queenstown on its shore.
Cookie Bar, Queenstown
It was important we made one more stop for cookies at the famous Cookie Time shop, and immediately devoured them at the harbour while soaking up the amazing weather.
Autumn Views on the Drive to Wanaka from Queenstown
Once the cookies had been successfully taken care of, we said goodbye to Queenstown, and made our way about an hour and a half down the road to the cozy town of Wanaka. With the gorgeous bright gold fall colours out in full force between Queenstown and Wanaka, the drive was a sight in itself!
Rippon Winery, Wanaka
When we arrived in Wanaka, we drove straight to Rippon Winery – an organic, biodynamic, all around majestic family owned vineyard, situated perfectly on the shores of Lake Wanaka. The wine and people were fantastic, and we spent the rest of the afternoon just hanging out, tasting wine, and exploring the beautiful property.
After grabbing fish and chips for dinner, it was time for a quick grocery shop to prepare ourselves for breakfast in our hostel, as well as our lunches for a hike we had planned the following day.
Day 6: Wanaka
The next morning, we woke up bright and early (it’s becoming routine!) to get started on our six-hour (return) hike up Roy’s Peak, a mountain located between Wanaka and Glendhu Bay. The hike up to the 1,578 metre summit was a steady incline the entire way, so needless to say, this was definitely a cardiovascular challenge for us. The amazing views along the way were the perfect encouragement for us to proceed onwards and upwards all the way to the top though! When we finally reached the summit, we were happily greeted by other friendly hikers who had just arrived at the peak as well. We sat down to a well earned lunch and soaked in the gorgeous view.
The way back down, which of course was now downhill the whole way, was a challenge for our quads to say the least, but we thankfully made it back to our car with our own two feet. We both ran out of water about halfway down the mountain, so we cruised straight over to the grocery store and dramatically chugged an entire bottle of Powerade as if it was our first sip of liquid after a month stranded in a desert.
We ended up taking it easy for the rest of the day, and then once sunset drew closer, we headed down to Lake Wanaka to catch a glimpse of the highly popular Lone Tree, which is a tree that stands by itself in the waters of the lake. It was pretty comical to watch the tourist uproar when one especially keen tourist/photographer decided they needed to get in the water to take the perfect picture of this tree. This of course meant that no one else was able to take a picture of the tree without this lady in their shot. The people made their dismay with the situation known. Poor Lone Tree… Wandered all the way off the land to seek a little peace, and here we humans are, literally chasing it into the water with our cameras (or passive aggressively stalking it offshore). Of course, we did take a few pictures of the undeniable beauty, then we backed away from the busy scene of tourists to try to give this tree a little room to breathe.
Day 7: Franz Josef
The following day, we were back on the road again, this time to Franz Josef along the South Island’s west coast. It was really interesting watching the vegetation and geography of the land change as we drove from the central Otago region up to the west coast.
Franz Josef Glacier
When we arrived in Franz Josef, we checked into our hostel and decided we had just the right amount of sunlight left to visit the famous Franz Josef Glacier. The walk to the glacier was again so different from any of the scenery we had experienced to date – staggering cliffs with mini waterfalls running through them, red coloured boulders, gravel from the receding glacier lining the ground, and an ice coloured glacial creek. After about forty minutes of walking, we arrived at the foot of the glacier. It’s amazing to think about how the glacier had moved so much throughout the years to the point that we were viewing it at now. Up until 2008, the glacier had been slowly advancing, but since then, it has been in a rapid retreat, and has decreased 800 metres in length (thanks a lot global warming…). Since the glacier has receded so much, there is no safe way to reach it on foot now (you can pay for a helicopter to land you on top of it, but that was not within our financial range!), but we happily took in the view from the edge of the walking trail, and headed back down the trail just in time for sunset.
Day 8: Hokatika, Arthur’s Pass, Christchurch
We left Franz Josef the next morning to start the five-hour drive to Christchurch, which would take us through Arthur’s Pass National Park, a spot we were both very excited to drive through. Along the way, we even stopped at our first beach side town of the trip, Hokatika. Hokatika was the perfect place to stretch our legs and check out all the local jade jewelry on offer there. We grabbed some delicious pies to refuel, then it was back on the road again.
We didn’t know what to expect of Christchurch before our arrival, as we’d been told it was still slowly recovering from the 2011 earthquake that devastated the city. That was very much apparent upon our arrival, a lot of the city was under construction. We were definitely brought back to reality after being so fortunate to be amidst the beautiful nature of New Zealand during the previous week.
Although it was late, we knew we’d have a better chance to explore Christchurch in a couple days as we’d be returning to catch our flight home to Melbourne from there. It was a quick dinner and rest before heading to our final destination of the road trip the next morning – Kaikoura.
Day 9: Kaikoura
Kaikoura is a town on the east coast of the South Island, known for its whale-watching and surfing. We thought this would be a perfect place to chill on our last night in New Zealand. Not wanting to shell out a lot of money for whale-watching (and Desta not wanting to shell out the insides of her easily sea-sick stomach), we opted for a trek on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. The walk starts on the peninsula’s cliff top, before heading down a set of stairs to continue back through a population of seals.
It was a really fun walk around the Kaikoura Peninsula, and we couldn’t believe how many seals there were! The path all but disappeared at one point and the sleeping seals felt like landmines we had to silently navigate before reaching the safety of the parking lot at the beginning of the path. Needless to say, we successfully made it to the end.
We were both sad to be driving back to Christchurch the next morning, not yet ready to leave this beautiful country. On the bright side, we had time to explore one last city before flying out, since our flight wasn’t departing until late that night.
Day 10: Christchurch and Flight Home
It was interesting to see how Christchurch was rebuilding, and re-energizing the city through both new construction, and street art painted over many of the older exposed building faces. One area we particularly enjoyed was the Re:Start Mall, a shopping centre in downtown Christchurch built entirely of shipping containers.
Before we knew it, our quick stop in Christchurch was over and it was off to the airport to drop off our well-traveled car and catch our flight back to Melbourne.
We both agreed that we didn’t even feel exhausted from our 10-day whirlwind road trip around the South Island, and wished we could have kept exploring for weeks to come! New Zealand, you were so good to us, and we promise we will try our best to make it back down to see you again one day, you beautiful country.