Whew! It has been waaaay too long since I last posted anything on this blog! But it’s been for the best of reasons: I’ve been having way too much fun gallavanting around the South Island and Christchurch with one of my dear friends, Tiffany.
She arrived on February 23 and just left yesterday morning.
This post will be obviously be of interest to readers who know me and/or Tiffany. But it will also appeal to anyone who enjoys photos of beautiful places as well as readers who are looking into what South Island highlights I’d recommend for visitors to New Zealand who have a limited period of time.
Today’s post covers only our first day on the road. Check back soon for more photos, adventures, and South Island destination travel tips!
I love the South Island. There are countless beautiful places to visit, but only if you appreciate mountains, lakes, beaches, rivers, gorges, and wide open skies. If you like dingy towns, industrial metropolitan areas, or hordes of other travelers, you might want to avoid this area. 🙂
As we made plans, Tiffany and I decided to hire a rental car so that James, who would be staying in Christchurch with the kids while we did some traveling, could have regular transport. Even though New Zealand has a pretty good inter-city bus system, I wanted the flexibility provided by having a car at our disposal.
Once we had made that decision and I knew how long Tiffany would be in NZ, I started making a list of essential South Island locales to visit.
I divide the South Island (58,084 square miles total, with just over 1.038 million residents) into Dunedin/Southland; Otago/Fiordland; Westland/Glaciers; Golden Bay; Nelson/Nelson Lakes; Main Divide; Marlborough. This is just in my own brain–there are different districts and regions depending on the map.
In my book, Milford Sound in Fiordland is the crown jewel of the South Island, so I knew without a doubt that we’d be going there.
I also immediately ascertained that we could do the Kepler Track, my favorite Great Walk, though hut bookings were quite full so we’d have to tackle the 6o kilometer loop in just two days of hiking instead of the recommended three or four.
Other than those two destinations, we had to drive from Christchurch over to Fiordland and then back again, and I didn’t want to double back. Instead I decided on a southerly route and then to come back up the west coast through glacier country and back to the east coast through Arthur’s Pass. (See Google map below for our exact route).
I call this itinerary (one of several we considered) Fiordland + The West Coast Bonus.
We left Christchurch on a Thursday morning, right after seeing the kids off to school at 9am. A quick stop at the Pack n’ Save grocery store prepared us for a picnic lunch and car food, plus some trail food for our upcoming hikes.
Heading west out of Christchurch, it always amazes me how quickly the residential streets are in the rearview mirror and all that lies ahead is flat pastureland and hedgerows. In the distance we could see the foothills of the Southern Alps.
Our first stop was Rakaia Gorge near Windwhistle, Canterbury. This DOC trail is about 10.5 kilometers long and runs from the carpark up into the gorge, following the river to a scrubby lookout. (James and I did this hike back in September.) In bright sunshine we walked the trail and enjoyed a chicken and salad lunch at the turn around point. Along the way we saw cows and two coal mining tunnels, but mostly just jaw-dropping vistas up the river gorge. It took us just over two hours return, not including a short lunch break.
What a great start to 8 days of traveling and hiking!
From Rakaia we drove about 2 hours to Tekapo, where we visited the sheepdog statue and the Church of the Good Shepherd on the shores of the lake. The church is supposedly the most photographed church in New Zealand.
Although I had hoped to see some stars–Tekapo is part of a dark sky reserve and has some of the darkest night skies in the world!–stunning clouds started rolling in and we didn’t really get to see much by the way of starlight.
After sushi and salmon at Kohan Japanese restaurant (which usually has stunning views over Lake Tekapo but they were somewhat marred by major construction this visit), we took a walk before calling it a night early (we stayed at the Lake Tekapo Lakefront Lodge Backpackers).
Next up: the scenic drive from Tekapo to Queenstown and our first view of Mount Cook/Aoraki.