New Zealand’s South Island
Fancy an easy driving holiday through some of the world’s best landscapes? NZ has you covered bru.
Kia ora! Māori - hello! (‘be well or healthy’)
If there ever was a landscape edition of the old classic PC game ‘The Sims’, then a world identical to New Zealand’s south Island would surely be your end objective. Pristine turquoise lakes, snow capped mountains, fjords, flora, fauna, picturesque beaches and sweeping vistas are all suspiciously placed at a convenient distance apart. It’s the definition of beauty.
That’s why with only a short amount of time, you can see an immense amount of diverse landscapes.
This was my 4th time back to the country and on every trip, the following itinerary was always a certainty in my planning. It’s become a ritual of sorts and it’s still just as exciting as the first time I took this route. I had six intense but amazing days to get through it. I’ll show you what you can fit in but of course, having more time here would be bliss. Months. Years even?
1 x car/van/fast horse.
1 x camera, to try and do this place justice (I failed).
1 x phone: to call all your friends and ask why they haven’t been here yet?!
Day 1 - Christchurch
Let’s be honest here, at the time of writing this, the scars are still very much healing after the devastating earthquake in February 2011. I had been before and shortly after the quake and it was heartbreaking to see first hand: The entire city centre was completely closed off, offices and shops were left completely as they were when the earthquake hit as people ran for their lives. It absolutely still has the Christchurch charm and spirit but you’ll need to be a little patient whilst construction finished. It’s definitely worth spending a night here as there are plenty of amazing eats and coffee houses. So, be sure to get out, experience them and stir the economy pot.
Day 2 - Christchurch to Tekapo
This might be the only lie in you’re going to get, so take your time, enjoy a nice breakfast and then head to the Rental depot (near the airport) to pick up your trusty steed.
I used my go-to guys Maui Motorhomes and unlike previous trips, I got myself a beast that I can stand up in. It had a shower, wc, kitchen…inside! All things I appreciate more after many years of being slightly less than comfortable.
After realising you’ve now levelled up from hitchhiking backpacker**, you may proceed on for an easy three hour drive to the first beauty spot. Lake Tekapo. (**don’t worry, it’s temporary).
The pint-sized town of Lake Tekapo is situated on the banks of a stunning turquoise lake of the same name.
There’s plenty to do in this area so it’s worth spending a night here. As with everywhere on the south island, there’s everything from freedom camping, paid powered/unpowered campsites for your tent/van or hotels, motels and backpackers.
The main campsite towards the end of the town is a great spot. And just a stones throw, there’s the Tekapo Hot Springs! Three tiered pools, with temperatures varying from 36 - 40 degrees Celsius. Tekapo is the first stop where you’ll be surrounded by the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps so, it’s a perfect place to chill out and take in the views. There’s also a seasonal ice rink and tube park, Day Spa and Star Gazing Tours.. whilst sat in the Springs! (The Hot Pools are open from 10am - 9pm daily - tekaposprings.co.nz/).
As Tekapo is situated in an International Dark Sky Reserve, this is an incredible place to study the stars. I took a tour with with Earth & Sky (earthandsky.co.nz) which takes place at the observatory up atop Mt John. I wasn’t so lucky with the weather as some broken cloud decided to roll in and say hello. It was however amazing to see, and look through, the telescopes and learn about all things the cosmos. Even for a space geek like me, I found it hugely insightful. And if you’re very very lucky, you might have clear weather and a display from the southern auroras!
Day 3 - Tekapo & Pukaki
I know it’s sometimes hard to get up for it but sunrise here, is a must. The best spot is down by the Church of the Good Shepherd. The early start will mean you beat the crowds, it’ll be yourself and a few other half asleep photographers waiting for that golden light to appear from behind the mountains.
Once you’ve got that postcard shot, it’s a quick twenty minute drive towards Lake Pukaki. You’ll want breakfast to go as this place, you really do need to sit here and take your time with it. It’s possibly one of my favourite spots I’ve ever been to as the alpine lake leads towards New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki (Mount Cook).