New Zealand: A First Timers Guide To The South Island
New Zealand is hands hands down one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. The South Island has SO much to see and do that it can be quite overwhelming, especially if you’re planning to visit for the first time. Luckily, we’ve got you covered!
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Where To Stay:
New Zealand is certainly not a budget friendly country to travel around and, if you’re not renting a camper van, then I highly suggest staying in an Airbnb. We booked Airbnb’s in Queenstown, Okarito and Christchurch and had amazing experiences in each.
For more info about each place we stayed, check out my Blog Posts about each individual city.
For $36 off your first Airbnb booking, click HERE:
How To Get Around:
Renting a Car: This is a MUST while visiting New Zealand, as most of its sights are very spaced out. Be sure to rent a GPS as well, especially if you won’t have Wifi on your phone.
RV Rental: Many people rent a camper van and utilize that as both their transport and accommodation. It’s an awesome way to save cash and get the most authentic experience of the island! One of the most reputable companies on the island is Juicy Rental.
How Long To Stay:
You could literally stay three months in the South Island and barely scratch the surface, but if you’re limited on time, a minimum of two weeks is recommended to cover the top sites without feeling rushed.
What To See:
Milford Sound is a fjord located in Fiordland National Park that was created when the sea flooded a glacial valley. Hop aboard a boat tour to take in the stunning peaks and waterfalls and, if you get lucky, you may see seals, dolphins and even penguins! You can take a day trip to Milford South from Queenstown or stay several nights, depending on your time availability.
Queenstown, New Zealand sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, set against the gorgeous Southern Alps. You’ll fall in love with Queenstown’s people, atmosphere, scenery and food. Allow two or more days to explore this magnificent city. Take a ride on the Gondola for breathtaking views overlooking the city, stroll through the towns shops and cafes or explore Lake Wakatipu by boat on the Shotover Jet or TSS Earnslaw Steamship. Be sure to eat at Atlas Beer Café, Flame Bar & Grill and Fergburger.
Mount Cook, Lake Pukaki & Tasman Glacier
Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain, topping up at 3,724 meters (12,218 feet) and is a three-hour drive north from Queenstown. While journeying to Mount Cook, you’ll drive alongside the South Islands largest alpine lake, Lake Pukaki. This massive lake at a size of 178.7 km2 (69.0 sq mi) was created by glacial water, giving it its electric blue color. Upon arriving at Mount Cook, be sure to stop at Tasman Glacier, which happens to be the country’s largest glacier. You can climb up the short, 10 minute hike to see the glacier from above, or take a boat tour to see the glacier up close, if time permits.
If you can squeeze 4-5 hours extra into your itinerary, be sure to explore the 5km (3.1mi) Hooker Valley Track, which winds through Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and ends at Hooker Glacier, with a stunning view of Mount Cook in the backdrop.
Lake Tekapo and The Church of the Good Shepherd
The second largest lake in New Zealand, Lake Tekapo is just a one hour drive from Mount Cook and houses the iconic landmark, The Church of the Good Shepherd. This church was built in 1935 as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie Region. Don’t miss the New Zealand collie sheepdog statue nearby!
Fox Glacier & Franz Joseph Glacier
These two glaciers are located in the Southern Alps just 30 minutes apart from one another and four hours driving from Queenstown, are a popular site for heli hikes, ice climbing, glacier walks and sky diving. Both Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph Glacier are quite similar in size, with Fox being a bit longer. If time is limited, I suggest sky diving over one and taking a heli ride/hiking the other.
Christchurch and Sumner Beach
The largest city in the South Island, Christchurch offers up a lot to do, whether it be skiing/snowboarding, bungy, hiking, mountain biking, surfing, beaches, golfing, whale watching and shopping… the choices are endless. Sadly, in 2010 and 2011, earthquakes damaged much of the city’s historical sites, but the city is still very vibrant and rebuilding by the day! ! Be sure to ride the Gondola for amazing views of the city, take a tour on the city tram, and take a boat ride on the Avon River. If time permits, hit Sumner Beach to relax, soak in the sun and enjoy some unforgettable sunsets. Be sure to grab takeout at Pedro’s House of Lamb, it’s mouthwateringly delicious!
Needless to say, the South Island is full of amazing sites and scenery everywhere you turn! If you’re coming to New Zealand, then put the South Island at the top of your list!
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Thank you SOOOO much for stopping by!
XOXO The Traveling Blondie
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