New Zealand Part II of II: South Island

In February of 2018, my husband and I took a three-week self driving tour of both the north and south islands of New Zealand (NZ).   This blog, NZ Part II, is dedicated to our two weeks on the South Island. The blog is in three sections: 1) northern coast, 2) our drive down the west coast, and 3) the Wanaka/Queenstown area. If you’re interested in reading about the North Island, click here.

This blog is in three sections: 1) northern coast, 2) our drive down the west coast, and 3) the Wanaka/Queenstown area. If you’re interested in reading about the North Island, click here.

The Northern Coast

We dropped off the rental car in Wellington on the North Island and hopped on the Interisland Ferry for the three hour ride to Picton, then picked up another rental car.  The Gilligan song kept playing in our heads, “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful ship…Five passengers set sail that day for a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour.”  See – now it’s stuck in your head!

Once the ferry landed on the South Island we headed straight for the Abel Tasman national park and Golden Bay, both located along the northern coast. Abel Tasman is known for its great beaches with orange sand, amazing views, and excellent hiking trails. 

Totaranui Bay with its orange sand in Abel Tasman National Park

Off to Wharariki Beach, at the very northern tip (called the Spit) of the South Island and where the wind never stops blowing, ever. 

And nearby, Cape Farewell Arch, most northerly point of entire island

Memorable Evening

Then came the most memorable night of the entire trip, at least for me. And you’ll soon see why.  It began at the fabulous Ratanui Lodge and the concierge extraordinaire, Marcus.

An offhand comment by Marcus about it being a new moon led me out into the night.  And lo and behold, it was glorious.  Holy cow! I’d never seen so many stars!  How had I not anticipated such a fantastic photo opp?

I parked myself on the side of the road down from the hotel and reveled in the rare combination of a new moon and no light pollution presented.  The camera frames went flying, and there could have been smoke coming out the camera – I didn’t care.  About 1 am I realized I should probably head back.  Steve was long gone, back at the hotel and most likely asleep.  

And here is my favorite shot of the night…

Starry Starry Night with credit to Van Gogh and Don McClean

I collapsed the tripod, camera still attached, and tucked it across my shoulder to head back to the hotel.  It was utterly dark and completely silent except my footsteps crunching in the gravel. Absolute nothingness but for the heavens above me. As I walked, I was preoccupied thinking  about what I’d just shot. When you take a great photo, you know it, and this time I knew it.  But all of sudden there was a sudden “CRUNCH!!” behind me. 

No, no, no, please no. 

I swirled around, mind now fully in the present, and looked down. There laid my beloved camera in the gravel.  My expensive camera, with its two-week old (also expensive) lens. 

Breathe.  How stupid was I?  Breathe again. 

I gingerly picked it up, expecting the camera to be in pieces and the lens shattered. But they weren’t.  I was furious at myself for not being more careful and didn’t even have the energy to look at it, really look at it, until the next day.

And here’s what I saw. Amazingly enough, the camera still worked and the lens appeared unscathed.   

An expensive mistake

A Happier Topic, Shall We?

Did you know can rent wildly painted campers? We saw them all over both islands and no two were ever the same.

Driving Down the Western Coast

First stop - Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowhole. We timed our arrival for high tide so we could experience the blowhole at its finest, as recommended in the tour guide. But no luck that day, guess it just wasn't in the mood.

As we drove, we saw cows (and sheep) everywhere. I kept seeing pairs of cows walking in perfect lines across a meadow, much like you’d expect  watching the boarding of Noah’s Ark or a college marching band.

So when I saw yet another herd of cows walking two-by-two in a perfect line, I had to take a photo. A local farmer saw what I was doing and approached me. I thought I was in trouble. Not at all – she offered us a tour her dairy farm!

How cool was that?

During the tour she revealed the secret of the synchronized cows – they’re walking between two electric fences. Ouch.

When we stopped to see the cows, we were on our way to Hokitika Gorge. The tour book said it was awesome, but it’d been raining and raining so we weren’t sure it it would be worth another 2 hours out of our way. We gambled and went for it and were we ever rewarded! 

Stunning Hokitika Gorge. Water color is from silt, or glacier flour, generated by glacier erosion.

We left Hokitika Gorge and continued south towards Wanaka, stopping at one of the South Island’s “must see” spots, Mirror Lake. It’s a quick and easy 30 minute loop from the parking lot. 

Along the trail to Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake

Wanaka - Ya wanna go to Wanaka

Loved this quiet little town on the shores of Lake Wanaka!  

Stunning Rippon Vineyard overlooking Lake Wanaka
Bradrona - along the fence of a Wanaka distillery to promote donations for breast cancer research.
Horseback riding on the hills above Wanaka
The iconic Lone Tree of Lake Wanaka. #thatwanakatree

One of the highlights of our stay was a wild boat ride across Lake Wanaka to the island of Mou Waho, then  hiked up to Arethusa Pool.  The Pool has tiny islands in it so it’s islands in a pool, on an island in a lake, on an island that’s a country.  Crazy, yes? 

Islands in a Pool on an Island in a Lake on an Island that's a country. Whew!

Beautiful Queenstown

Queenstown is stunning as it’s nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu at the base of the Remarkables mountain range. I had imagined a big city, but it’s really a charming village with only 30,000 residents. 

A small town it may be, but it is a major center for sports and people travel from all over the world seeking adventure.  Depending upon the time of year, you can ski at one of four major ski resorts, go tramping, bungee jump (NZ was where the bungee jump originated), skydive, luge, or take a crazy jet boat ride (also originating from NZ) down the narrow Shotover River.

NZ, and particularly Queenstown, is all about the outdoors.

Tramping the Routeburn Trail

As I said, NZ is THE place to go if you love hiking.  NZ has eight extended hikes, referred to as “tramps” or “The Great Walks,” We’re not really hikers and certainly not trampers, so we walked a bit of two different Great Walks during our trip just to get a sense of them. The scenery was absolutely stunning and it was easy to see why the South Island was chosen for movies such as Lord of the Rings, King Kong, The Piano, The Hobbit, and The Last Samurai. 

Below are a few photos from our hike along the Routeburn Trail outside Queenstown. 

Along the trail
Hi there
Waterfalls everywhere

Visiting the Walter Peak Sheep Station

Riding the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw across Lake Wakatipu to the station
View across the lake
Sheep shearing
Border collie at work.

Luging above Queenstown- What a kick!

The Luge track. You got to ride five times.
Play Video

Call Us Crazy - Another Night Shooting the Milky Way

Shooting the Milky Way earlier this trip was such a spectacular experience (shattering the LCD of my camera aside…) I watched the weather hoping for another clear night.  Last day of the trip I finally got one.

Steve and I headed up the narrow two lane road to Coronet Peak, a local ski area outside of Queenstown. At the top of the hill we turned onto what we thought was a pull out. Wham! The car dropped about two feet. A bit dazed, I climbed out and found the car hanging off the road. Right side running board was wedged into the asphalt, left side rear tire was spinning in the air at about 18″ off the road. 

If Steve gunned the car, would the one tire in contact with the road provide enough traction? And if it did, could he manage not to go over the cliff that was the far edge of the “pull out?”It was a gamble, but thankfully, the answer to both was YES! Nicely done, Steve! 

Once all four tires were back on firm ground, I climbed out and started shooting. What else would you do?

Was it worth it? You decide!

Day trip to Millford Sound

Millford Sound is a huge area of fjords west of Queenstown and another of the “must sees” of NZ.  We took a very long 5-hour bus ride each way to see it. You can get there in under half an hour if you’re willing to spend the bucks on a helicopter ride.

Once in the Sound, we took a one hour cruise up one of the fjords.   

Heading out to Milford Sound
The bus happened to stop along side a stream and the bus driver told us to refill our water bottles.  No way!   Yes, way.  You can drink the water straight from the streams. Really.

In closing, this quote was painted on the wall of a local restaurant.  Pretty much captures our travel philosophy and especially the trip to Coronet Peak!

So long New Zealand…you were lovely.

1 thought on “New Zealand Part II of II: South Island”

  1. Joyce

    Oh my! What fabulous trips and pictures! So thankful you continue to share. Its being there with you through these beautiful pictures and narrative of your journey!

    ps. sorry about the camera!

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