A few weeks ago, I wrote about my itinerary for the North Island. This week, it’s all about the South Island. If you are only able to go to one or the other, make it the South. It really is as spectacular as everyone says. I highly recommend renting a car to get around (I got a cheap one from Ace Rentals). Honestly, this entire region is not about the destination, but about the gorgeous landscapes that take your breath away while en route…
To get to the South Island, I took the Interislander ferry from Wellington early in the morning. This boat is fly: coffee, food, alcohol, and stunning fucking views. Even though there were 200 Argentinian teenagers on the boat who gave me the fucking shits, I was able to escape them all by heading to the top deck.
Once in the South Island, a lot of people stay in Nelson. I stopped in Nelson because the still water with snowcapped mountains took my mother fucking breath away, but I continued driving to get to Motueka, a much smaller, quieter town.
I stayed at a cute little hostel called White Elephant with heated blankets and a nice social scene. The next morning, I made my way to Abel Tasman National Park which was positively stunning. If you have the money/time, I cannot urge you enough to kayak around. It was my first time kayaking and tbh I am not much of a water person, because drowning, but I fucking loved this.
Not many people visit New Zealand in wintertime, so it was just me and my dream of a guide, Koha. We cruised around Split Apple Rock, had some coffee and cookies on the beach, and explored some caves all while talking travel, love, and life. It was the first day of this whole trip where I thought to myself, “Fuck me raw, I’m exactly where I am supposed to be right now.”
The next day I drove to Hanmer Springs, a CUTE little fucking town, my GWAD. I enjoyed a massage, then chilled in the hot pools for a few hours, then drank some beers with some new Kiwi friends I met at the pools who wanted to talk about the Cheetoh running for president in America, and then went back again the next day to soak some more while admiring the snowcapped mountains. There’s not really much else to do in Hanmer, but if you like to relax, it’s a dope fucking spot.
I then made my way to Castle Hill/Christchurch. Look, Christchurch is as shit as everyone says. I’ve met some lovely people from Christchurch on my travels around the world, but that is a town you should just skip the fuck over. It’s like coming to the USA and being like, “omg let’s go to Cleveland!” Like, no, don’t go to Cleveland. It’s just a big ass town where people live, but there’s not much to offer and it’s not super aesthetically pleasing.
If you DO go to Christchurch because you don’t believe me (or if you’re flying in there), make sure to hit up Castle Hill. Put simply, it’s an hour away from Christchurch, and it’s basically a bunch of funny looking rock formations overlooking gorgeous mountains.
The Dalai Lama called it “The Spiritual Center of the Universe” and honestly, I can’t disagree. I went an hour before sunset and it was fucking magical.
Next, I made my way to the west coast. Pro Tip: Stick to the west side of the South Island, as that’s where the views are. The east coast is a whole bunch of fucking farm land.
To get to the west coast, I had to take Arthur’s Pass. Unfortunately, snow chains were mandatory, and while I had them in my car, I had no idea how to put them on in the middle of a fucking blizzard. I cried a lot, and had a man offer to help me put one on (because that’s fucking helpful). He then asked for my number, saying “I’d love to take a helpless young thing to dinner.”
Nothing gets me wet quite like sexism.
I should have seen this coming as he had just returned from Bali. *Bali, for those of you who are not familiar, attracts a v v specific type of asshole.*
ANYWAY I FUCKING DIGRESS...I finally got my snow chains on, with the help of an old man who cut his hand on them and literally bled out onto the snow (thanks bb), and drove through Arthur’s Pass, making my way to Hokitika. I was exhausted by the time I got to my Air BnB, so I didn’t check out the gorge OR the pancake rocks, which were the two reasons I went to Hokitika, but I did sleep like a bear for a solid 14 hours and sometimes that’s just what we need.
Because of my schedule, I could either spend the day in Hokitika, or make my way down to the glaciers. After talking with friends, I knew I couldn’t miss the glaciers, so I have put Hokitika back on my to-do list for another trip. I’m so glad I did this because the glaciers are BOMB.
I spent the day exploring both Franz Josef and Fox Glacier (Fox Glacier being a wee bit better, IMO), and signed up to do a skydive the next morning. Y’all, these skydives are dope! They’re from 19,000 fucking feet (you have to connect to oxygen!) and you get to skydive over GLACIERS.
I do not know the skydive is dope from experience, though, because the next morning when I was scheduled to go, it was raining, and therefore my adrenaline adventure was cancelled. I’m not pissed about saving $700 though.
I then drove to Tekapo and I swear to fucking BEYONCE, the drive from the glaciers to Tekapo was hands down the most cock-slap-in-the-face stunning fucking drive of my life. I kept pulling over and crying because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Sweet Lord, if reincarnation is real, please let me come back to life as a fucking sheep near Tekapo. Thank you, Amen.
Tekapo itself is gorgeous. I stayed at YHA hostel, which is RIGHT on the water and has THIS gorgeous fucking view.
Seriously, stay here. You can pay more money to stay elsewhere and have a shittier view but like why when this is the best?
I spent my couple days here at the hot pools (there’s also an ice skating rink and a tubing park!), hiking up to Mount John and enjoying literally WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS WORLD views at the observatory. If you’re into astronomy, definitely go to one of the night tours up there - fantastic!
When I was finally able to peel myself away from Tekapo, I drove East to head to the Moeraki Boulders. This was not a particularly beautiful drive (remember, stay along the West coast for the views!), but the boulders (literally just round rocks in the ocean) at sunset were unbelievable and I stayed at an AirBnB with a kooky and adventurous host who made the long boring drive TOTALLY worth it.
Next up was Wanaka, which is really a snowboarding/ski town, but I’m more of a hiker/eater, so that’s what I did. I checked out the Wanaka tree which was, well, a tree.
Then I got a massage, ate some dope ass Indian food (the only cuisine in New Zealand that is consistently solid), and went for a long ass hard as hell hike to Roy’s Peak. Five hours roundtrip, literally all steep up and downhill, nothing flat. It’s apparently beautiful in wintertime, but I recommend going when it’s a clear winter’s day and not a fucking blizzard…
Te Anau, was next on my list, but first I passed by a fence of bras in Cadrona because why not? Boobs are great!
Te Anau has some incredible hikes and I really wish I would have stayed a bit longer to experience them, but I spent my time around Milford Sound instead. Milford Sound is beautiful, it really is. But my LAWD, my motion sickness is real and I spent most of my time on that thing puking. Without a doubt, it’s a highlight, but make sure you take Meclizine with you.
Finally, my last destination was Queenstown. Yes, Queenstown is as incredible as everyone says, even if you’re not into snow sports. It is the adrenaline capital of the world (and definitely the party capital of NZ, rip my liver). Short on funds so you can’t do ALL the adrenaline activities? No worries. My top two picks are the Nevis Bungy and the Canyon Swing (Canyon Swing is far scarier than the Nevis Swing, and much more exciting btw).
Road tripping the South Island was one of the best adventures of my entire life, and I’ve had one or two adventures. Going in winter was an added treat as there were so few tourists in most areas that it felt like I had the entire world to myself.