The last few weeks we have been working and travelling around the South Island of New Zealand. We have visited wineries, glacial lakes, mountains, beaches… we bungyjumped of a bridge, parasailed over a lake and raced down a hill in little karts. This island really does have a lot to offer! A bit of a fun fact: it might be the largest island of New Zealand, but it only houses 1/5th of the population! So you can imagine what a dominant role nature plays in this gorgeous part of the world. Picking a shortlist of favorite spots was a tough job, but here we go!
First on the list is Queenstown! We have put it at number one for a reason because we LOVED this little city! It is nicknamed ‘the adventure capital of the world’ and rightly so: any extreme activity is possible here: canyoning, bungyjumping, paragliding, skydiving, you name it. Did you know that Queenstown is even the birthplace of the commercial bungyjump as we know it? Of course, we tested that one out ourselves as well and we simply loved the rush a bungy gives!
Not only is there plenty to do in this cool town, it is also gorgeously located. It sits on the shore of Lake Wakatipu and is surrounded by the impressive Southern Alps. It truly is quite a sight to see. We definitely recommend going up the gondola to the Skyline Bar and enjoy a beer with some gorgeous views. You can even combine your ticket with some luge rides, which are great fun! It’s basically going down a hill really fast in a go-kart like in Mario Kart.
Before we arrived here, people were warning us that Queenstown is touristy, crowded, expensive… and although they aren’t completely wrong, they aren’t completely right either. True: accommodation here is expensive and the majority of the people you will see on the streets aren’t Kiwi’s. However, we didn’t get a crowded feeling here at all! When you compare it to what we consider crowded (Rome, Amsterdam, Londen…), this just felt like a cozy little town. Believe us when we say that Queenstown is worth every penny.
2) Mount Cook
According to Maori legend, Mount Cook or Aoraki and its three brothers were the sons of the Sky Father Rakinui. While sailing over the ocean, their canoe turned upside down. The brothers saved themselves by climbing on top of the canoe, however they couldn’t save themselves from the freezing wind. They froze right there on their canoe and turned into stone. The canoe became the South Island and the brothers became the peaks of the Southern Alps.
The mountains really dominate the landscape here in the South Island, and they are just so impressive to look at… Mount Cook is with its 3.700m the tallest mountain of the country and this is where the New Zealand mountain climber Sir Edmund Hillary trained for climbing the Mount Everest: he became the first confirmed person to reach the top!
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be as adventurous as Sir Edmund Hillary if you would like to visit Mount Cook. There are plenty of easy hikes around the region where you get to enjoy the mountainviews as much as you want. We hiked along the Hooker Valley Track for example: a relative flat, three hour hike to and from the glacial Hooker Lake. You can even do this hike in shorts and sneakers!
3) Marlborough Region
We have spent quite some time in this northern region of the South Island doing some WWOOF-jobs, but more on that later! Although we can already say that we weren’t bored for a second in this gorgeous region. Fresh seafood, world-class wine and stunning landscapes are what the Marlborough Region is known for. We stayed in Blenheim for a while where we got to discover some of the gorgeous wineries and the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is really worth all of its awards! How about a day cycling around the region and doing some cheap, world-class winetastings along the way?
We also spent quite some time WWOOFING in the Marlborough Sounds, the rugged coastline of the region. It houses the Queen Charlotte Track and has marine life in abundance: dolphins, seals, penguins… you will definitely see some of them when spending time near the water in the Sounds.
4) Milford Sound
Sailing through the remote Milford Sound is like sailing towards the end of the world. The landscape here is so rugged, mystical, magical, dramatic and most of all absolutely breathtaking. Yes, we just had to use so many adjectives to try to fully describe just how incredibly beautiful Milford Sound really is. The mountains rise so steep and so high out of the dark water, it almost gets a bit intimidating! According to Maori legend, Milford Sound was the last place on earth the gods had created. After this they stopped creating since this was just the most beautiful place on the planet.
You can drive or take a bus right to Milford Sound, but you could also hike the Milford track. This will take about four days and has been described as ‘the finest walk in the world’. Hiking, driving or even flying, one thing is for sure: when you arrive at the waterfront, you should definitly go out on the water. Be it in a kayak or a cruise, that is all up to you, but sailing between these mountains is almost a magical moment that you just can’t miss.
5) Stewart Island
Last but not least on our list is Stewart Island. Although it is a tiny island on its own, we really want to include this on the list. Take the ferry from Bluff near Invercargill, one of the most southern cities in the world, and enjoy the barely populated Stewart Island. You can go for some nice nature hikes here and immerse yourself in the relaxing atmosphere. But that is not the only thing that makes Stewart Island so special. This place is one of the best spots in New Zealand to see the rare, flightless, nocturnal Kiwi’s in the wild. The Kiwi is the national bird of New Zealand, the inhabitants of the country even call themselves Kiwi’s! Seeing one is difficult, but you will have your best shot right here on Stewart Island. Not only is it the best spot in the country to spot a Kiwi, but also to see the magical Southern Lights. We sadly didn’t get to see them, since it was too cloudy, but we have seen the Northern Lights back in Iceland and we can definitely say that seeing such lights dancing in the sky is a magical moment we won’t ever forget.
Of course there is much, much more to see and discover on the South Island and it is all simply incredible. If you would like to discover more of the country, make sure to check out our Instagram or some of our YouTube videos!