One of the absolute highlights of my recent travels was the two weeks I spent driving around the South Island of New Zealand. New Zealand is a great country for a road trip. You can drive for almost hours with barely a sight of another car and the constant turns and switchbacks designed to tackle New Zealand’s tricky terrain make it a fun place to drive. But, most importantly, the island is so visually stunning that every day you’ll wake up chomping at the bit to get on the road in anticipation of what you might see. Using my experience in New Zealand I have put together my recommended itinerary. Part 1 of this is below…
Day 1 – Fly into Christchurch
Personally, Christchurch reminds me of an average English town and I wouldn’t be inclined to stay long there. New Zealand’s star attractions are not their cities (although, to be fair, some do have a lot of character). After a long flight I’d recommend using this day to rest, perhaps taking the opportunity to go punting on the Avon River. Tomorrow is a big day.
Day 2 – Christchurch to Mt. Cook
To get the most out of this day, get an early start. Just over 4 hours into the the drive you’ll be finding yourself arriving at Lake Tekapo. Up until now you will have been experiencing a very nice scenic drive but when you arrive at Tekapo your jaw will be well and truly fixed in a wide open position. The ice blue colour of Lake Tekapo and the subsequent Lake Pukaki is so stunning that at first sight you’ll believe it to be almost unnatural.
Take the turning to Mt Cook village (just past Lake Pukaki) and make the drive up toward the snow-capped Mt Cook: the highest peak in Australaisa. Once at the village, use the opportunity to stretch your legs, spending the afternoon on one of the hiking trail that leave from the Hermitage to capitalise on one of the many stunning viewpoints. Finally, rest your weary legs by spending the night in the village.
Day 3 – Mt. Cook village to Queenstown
You can either spend the morning on a few more trails or you can start your drive straight down from Mt Cook village to Queenstown. Option B is by no means a bad way to start the day – this drive is one of the most stunning you’ll experience in New Zealand. Queenstown itself is well known to be one of the adrenaline-rush capitals of the world. But Queenstown is also an energetic town blessed with plenty of bustling restaurants and busy bars. And it’s all set in a sublime landscape of mountaineous wilderness.
There is plenty of time for thrills tomorrow so use this time to kick back and relax at a lakeside cafe, perhaps hopping on to the Skyline gondola for an awesome view over-looking the town and the surrounding mountains. And if you can’t wait for a little bit of a thrill then why not take the Luge to make your way back down. For dinner, go for a Fergburger. By now you’ve probably heard enough people talk about them!
Day 4 – Queenstown to Te Anau
Use this day to feed the adrenaline junkie in you. There is everything on offer here: bungy jumping (including the first ever commercial bungy off the Kawarau bridge), sky diving (and you could not possibly ask for a better view to sky dive), swinging over canyons, hang gliding, jetboating, white-water rafting, canyoning and, in the winter, skiing. I opted to bungy jump the Nevis Highwire – a 134m jump from a station suspended over the Nevis river. It’s the highest in New Zealand! But, to be honest, you can spend a lot more time and a lot more money trying all the various activities in Queenstown – if you have both available.
If, like me, you have neither in abundance then make the drive down to Te Anau in the late afternoon, so you arrive in time for the sunset. I’m not sure if I was just lucky, but in Te Anau I saw what was quite possibly the most stunning sunset I’ve ever seen.
[to be continued next week]