We are into the second week of our tour of New Zealand, which is not nearly enough time to see it all. We have split our time between the north and south islands, trying to get a good snapshot of the whole country. During our time spent in the south, we made our way from Queenstown to Christchurch, with a small detour to the spectacular Milford Sound and many adventures between. You can also read our blog about our first week on the north island.
It was a picturesque 1.5hr flight from Auckland to Queenstown, flying over snow-capped mountains including their tallest Mt Cook, plus an absolutely spectacular long and low approach into Queenstown along a rather narrow valley, with some amazing scenery. We are very glad we went with the flying option rather than driving from north to south, which would have taken a few long driving days and taken up precious New Zealand exploring time. We need to make the most of our available time in New Zealand, and we wouldn’t have been able to experience that flight!
We picked up our hire car and settled into the Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park, with time enough to take the short walk down the hill and into town. There was a chill in the air, but that did not stop us from jumping on board Perky’s Floating Bar and having a beer with the best breathtaking views of Lake Wakatipu.
The next day it was a short walk in the opposite direction to the base of Bob’s Peak, where we took the Skyline Gondola to the top. We had bought a ride package that included a few rides along the luge track at the top. After a tentative start on the beginner’s track, we quickly got more adventurous, and the kids, well actually all of us, loved every minute of it. The views from the top were amazing. This is such a Queenstown thing.
We had gone up the mountain early to avoid the crowds, which were snaking out of the entrance to the gondola when we came back down. The early start also meant we had plenty of time to do some more exploring around Queenstown for the rest of our only day here, so we had lots to fit in.
We took an hour and a half drive to the historic gold mining town of Arrowtown. It was a quaint old town with some interesting gold rush history. There were old buildings from the gold mining time down by the river. We joined the crowd for lunch at the town square, then wandered among the old buildings, which are now mostly fancy shops and hotels.
The kids had been hassling us to visit the ice bar. We thought it was cold enough just outside, as it was expected to drop below zero tonight! We eventually decided to go to Minus 5° ICE BAR and we must admit it was pretty fun. We were given warm heavy jackets with hoods and gloves to enter, and the drinks were served in ice glasses. Living in Perth it is not often you get the chance to be in freezing temperatures, so it was well worth the visit.
There was plenty of action down by the lake in the evening. We walked through the many buskers along Marine Parade, and came across a cool playground at the end of the water front. The kids continued playing into the darkness. We had had an action-packed day in Queenstown.
Many tourists take the long day trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown, but we decided to do it in stages. The next day we drove part of the way stopping at Te Anau, a beautiful lake town. We took a stroll along the shore of the lake, an obligatory Instagram-worthy photo on the jetty and a visit to a lovely bird sanctuary.
We were staying in an off-grid property out of town, Hunker Bunker, which had spectacular views out the window. It was a welcome break to have no internet, and to see how it is possible to live off the grid in the wilderness of New Zealand.
It was still a two-hour drive along Milford Road from Te Anau to Milford Sound. It was a great drive too, with a few places to stop and enjoy the natural beauty of the Fiordland National Park. At Mirror Lakes great photo op, and a short walk into the forest to see some amazingly powerful waterfalls at the Chasm. There was also a spectacular raging river to see. The road also takes you through the 1.2km-long Homer Tunnel which runs under the mountains.
There are many cruises to choose from at Milford Sound, we opted for a nature cruise which provided a bit more commentary for our info-hungry kids. Even though it was a longer cruise and with a smaller boat, which is usually more expensive, we got a good deal which included the kids going free.
It was a damp day, but still thoroughly enjoyable. It rains most days in this part of New Zealand, so you have to expect it. Some people say that the wet days can be even more spectacular, as there are lots of extra waterfalls as the rainwater runs down the massive cliffs, which was a striking experience.
On the drive back to Te Anau we stopped at the entrance to the Homer Tunnel to see the water running down rocks, which was pretty cool. The other side of the tunnel, we stopped and were attacked by Kea birds, which are very large, colourful but quite aggressive native parrots.
The next day was a long drive from Te Anau towards the coast and through the Catlins. A nice walk to McLean Falls, a visit to Cathedral cave where the tide has created a huge cave which you walk through. The walk down through the forest was great too. It was fun trying to get out of the cave without getting wet shoes, as the tide was quickly coming back in. We also stopped at Willkie mirror lake.
The last stop for the day was at Nugget’s point. The fading light was perfect to view the lighthouse at the end of the point. It was also the perfect time for a big group of Japanese photographers who had jumped the fence and were sitting on the hill waiting for the sun to set. Beautiful in the fading light, even though it was getting super cold.
We stayed in Kaka Point, a small village nearby, before driving an hour into Dunedin in the morning, where, to the delight of our Harry Potter crazed kids, we were staying at Hogwartz Hostel.
We had chosen Dunedin as one of our destinations as a friend of ours lived here, but unfortunately just before we came he got a job elsewhere. But we are still glad we came to this interesting city.
Despite it being another wet day, the town had a nice vibe and we did our usual walking tour of town checking out the street art.
We took a drive along the Otago Peninsula, a fantastic scenic drive. We stopped for coffee and a play at Portabeklo. At the far point of the peninsula, we saw baby albatrosses at the Royal Albatross Centre. Saw a seal on the rocks, then blue penguins as we were leaving. There is absolutely loads of wildlife to be seen in NZ. We drove to Sandfly Beach, and had fun running up and down the huge sand dunes. We were able to walk up close to the seals lazing on the beach, and spotted the elusive Yellow-eyed Penguins up the hill. It was a hard walk back up the hill back to the car, but so much fun was had.
We could not pass up the opportunity to walk up the World’s steepest residential street, Baldwin Street. Some of us even had the urge to run up. Pity the people who live there. We finished the day with some takeaway. We could not leave New Zealand without a meal of ‘Fush and Chups’ as the locals call it.
We left early from Dunedin, and started the long drive north along the coast to Christchurch. Our first stop was the Moeraki Boulders on Koekohe Beach near Moeraki, unfortunately, it was raining at the time and we could not fully enjoy it. We walked along the beach in the rain to the large almost perfectly domed rocks with water lapping on them, which were still impressive despite the weather.
Another half an hour north was the Steam Punk HQ museum in Oamaru. It was an amazing place to visit, and if you are passing through we highly recommend it. The highlight was the surreal portal room, but all of it was interesting. There are lots of quirky interactive displays which could keep you occupied all day, and we had to drag the kids out eventually.
In Christchurch, we were booked to stay at an Airbnb which they curiously called Lovely, Sunny, Home Sweet Home. It was nice and comfortable, part of a new estate built on an old airport site.
We drove into town and went on an interesting walk around the relatively quiet Christchurch city centre. We started at Canterbury Museum, which had free entry, for a bit of local history. Around the city was lots of evidence of the devastating earthquake from 2011, with many buildings showing the effects. We finished the loop walk around town with a stroll along the Avon River, watching people cruising along on punts.
On our final day in New Zealand, we went to the International Antarctic Centre located at the airport precinct. There was so much to do. Cold room. 4D movies. Huskies. Info about Antarctic explorers. Hagglund Ride. Blue penguins exhibit. This was the next best thing to experiencing Antarctica without actually going there. It was well worth the admission price if you make a day of it, which is easily done.
It was a fitting end to our two weeks in New Zealand. What a fantastic holiday that will be remembered for a long time.