Known for its breathtaking natural landscapes, world class wineries, and abundant wildlife, New Zealand’s South Island is a must do for anyone wanting to experience snow capped mountain peaks, vast hiking tracks, and crystal clear waters.
To help you plan your road trip through New Zealand’s South Island we’ve put together the 5 spots you can’t miss!
- Take a walk around Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park
Home to New Zealand’s tallest mountains, skyscraping peaks, glaciers and permanent snow fields, Mt Cook National Park is a nature lovers haven. The name of Aoraki (Mt Cook) originates from an old Maori legend about Aoraki and his three brothers, who became stranded when their canoe hit a reef. The legend goes that the brothers climbed on top of the overturned canoe, and waited for the arrival of their rescuers. Whilst they waited the freezing southerly wind turned their bodies to stone, and their hair white.
Legend states that the canoe became the South Island of New Zealand. The tallest mountain was named after the tallest brother, who was “Aoraki”. The rest of the brothers and the crew of the canoe became the other mountains of the Southern Alps
The park is now a favourite for hikers and mountain climbers and is said to be where Sir Edmund Hillary developed his climbing skills in preparation for the conquest of Everest. There are multiple walking tracks available to suit every ability level. Mountain bikers can also take advantage of the park via the Alps 2 Ocean cycleway. You’ll also find numerous boating, fishing and kayaking tours available.
2. Go wine tasting in Central Otago
Thanks to the South Island’s cold climate and glacially derived soils, Central Otago has become known for producing some of the world’s best Pinot Noir and along with impressive white wine varietals. The area is spread across six sub-regions, encompassing 200 vineyards and some of New Zealand’s top award-winning cafes and restaurants.
The six sub-regions are all within close proximity making it easy to road trip through the area, taking your time to enjoy the mountainous terrain, historic gold mining towns, and clear blue rivers. Head to the popular high-altitude Gibbston Valley region for superb pinot noir and delicious sheep’s milk cheese.
3. Take a picture at Hokitika Gorge
Known as one of the most beautiful walks in New Zealand, the Hokitika George is a favourite for visitors for its vivid turquoise river which is surrounded by lush native bush. The incredible colour of the river which flows through the gorge is something you must see to believe.
Its eye-catching colour comes from ground down mineral-rich schist rock and sandstone which is so fine that instead of settling to the bottom of the river it remains suspended in the water as it flows down from the southern alps through the gorge.
4. Spot local wildlife at Abel Tasman National Park
While the Abel Tasman Park is New Zealand’s smallest national park, it is still big on things to see and do. Throughout the park you’ll find mossy valleys and crystal-clear streams that all connect to sandy beaches and granite and marble formations which fringe the headlands.
Take in the sounds of the native Tui and bellbirds, spot the fur seals as they lounge on the rocks around the edge of Tonga Island, or watch on as the little blue penguins dive for their dinner.
5. Be amazed at Milford Sound
A large ocean inlet that was originally carved by glaciers during the ice ages, Milford Sound has been described as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ and has become one of New Zealand’s most famous walks.
Flanked by sheer rock faces and majestic peaks, the area is home to waterfalls that cascade downwards from as high as 1000 metres, as well as black coral and an abundance of marine life including 11-legged sea stars. There are a number of ways to take in the majestic scenery from helicopter flights, guided kayaking tours, or the popular Milford hiking track.
While the area is awe-inspiring in any weather, it is known for heavy rainfall which only intensifies the magnificent waterfalls.
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