Epic Road Trips Part 1: New Zealand’s South Island

Epic Road Trips Part 1: New Zealand’s South Island

New Zealand is one of the places we’ve been most excited to visit; we heard great things about the people and expected the scenery to be awesome. It lived up to the hype and we had the most fun road trip here with my dad who flew to meet up with us for two weeks! What a treat!

We rented a car from Rent-A-Dent in Christchurch (which is much nicer than it sounds) and spent two weeks exploring the South Island, doing a mix of camping and Airbnb accommodations along the way. We moved around a lot, but that gave us the chance to see a good deal of this spectacular country. Here’s a snapshot of our epic adventure:

Day 1: Christchurch

We arrived in Christchurch and met up with my dad at our Airbnb. We spent the night grabbing dinner, catching up, and doing some planning for the upcoming weeks!

The views we got when flying into New Zealand were spectacular! 

Day 2: Lake Tekapo

Our first day on the road started with a trip to The Warehouse, New Zealand’s version of Walmart, to get some camping essentials. From there, we began our journey to Lake Tekapo which turned out to be the most stunning blue lake ever. Having elected to not spend the extra money for an electric pump, John went for a late afternoon dip after pumping up both queen mattresses with the hand pump.  We camped right along the shore and 2/3 of us went for an incredibly scenic bike ride the following morning.

Camping near Lake Tekapo.
Cooking dinner at the campsite right on the lake!
Biking time, obviously!
Look at how blue the lake is!

Day 3: Te Anau

Our next stop was Te Anau, a town bordering Fiordland National Park in the south of the country. We used it as a base for our hike along the Routeburn Track, which we would start the following morning. We had planned to camp here but when we learned the forecast called for a 100% chance of rain we quickly found a bed and breakfast and posted up for the night. This turned out to be an amazing decision – not only did we escape the rain, but we got to stay on a farm with some HUGE deer and adorable black labs. Win!

That deer has HUGE antlers! Deer in New Zealand are captive and raised for food.
Loving some time with this cute black lab.

Day 4: Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track was a highlight of the trip for all three of us. This hike is one of New Zealands “Great Walks,” a series of wells-marked hikes that typically take several days and offer various accommodation options, including huts and campsites, along the way. We did the hike in two days and one night. While it was definitely physically challenging, it was well worth it. We loved this hike so much we dedicated an entire post to it: check it out here!

Almost at the highest point along the hike. We were so high up in the clouds, it was really awesome!

Days 5-6: Queenstown

After our adventure in the woods we posted up in a gorgeous Airbnb in Queenstown for two nights. Queenstown is known as the “Adventure Capital of the World” with various adrenaline-pumping activities available everywhere you turn. It’s well known for having one of the highest bungee jumps in the world, and there are lots of white-water sports and other adventures readily available. However, it was unbelievably expensive. We were interested in doing some white water boogie boarding until we learned it would cost us over $225 per person… crazy! While we didn’t participate in anything too wild, we did enjoy an afternoon of stand up paddle boarding, some nice walks, drinks on a floating bar, and evenings spent enjoying the view from our porch. The night on the porch included pizza and beer so obviously it was a great time.

Stand up paddle boarding selfie!
If John doesn’t want to go back to engineering he could probably be a stand up paddle board model.
Drinking beers on a boat in Queenstown.
View of the sunset from our Airbnb in Queenstown.

Day 7: Franz Josef Glacier

From Queenstown we drove along the west coast to Glacier Country. There are two glaciers – Fox and Franz Josef – within 30 minutes of one another. We opted to visit Franz Josef because it’s more visible from hiking tracks. The best way to see either glacier is to do a “helihike,” a helicopter ride that takes you to the top of the glacier where you can then hike on the ice. However, at $500 per person this was a little out of our price range so we settled for a leisurely stroll to the face of the glacier and had a nice time seeing our first glacier ever. New Zealand has some expensive activates, huh?? We camped in a lovely campground by a lake near the glacier and had a nice swim after our hike.

Posing in front of Franz Josef Glacier. It’s receding quickly and can only be seen a bit between the mountains, but it was still really great to see a glacier in real life. 

Day 8: Murchison

Our drive up the west coast continued with a stop at the “Pancake Rocks,” named for their flat, stacked appearance.

Pancake rocks!
Pretty cool rocks.

We also had our first, and only, experience with “White Bait Pizza”, a local delicacy of whole, small fish on a pizza. We camped again in a holiday park which was near a river and had a fully stocked kitchen.  The sandflies were attacking relentlessly but having wine and cheese helped take our mind off of the annoyance.

Hokitika, the home of white bait pizza.

Day 9: Tasman

We made it up to Abel Tasman, the national park in the northern part of the country with an amazing coastline. We camped in sight of the beach and spent the day hiking in the park.  Again John tried to go for a swim after filling the air mattresses but the rocks at low tide in the dark proved too difficult to overcome.

The beach at low tide in Abel Tasman National Park.  

Day 10: Blenheim

Next up was Blenheim, a town in the Marlborough region known for it’s wine (especially Sauvignon Blanc). We rented bikes and spent a lovely afternoon winery (and brewery) hopping our way around. John and I started our day on a tandem bike, which we thought would be fun and cute and easy enough. How wrong we were! We could not figure out how to start, stop, or turn without incident and decided it was best if we return the bike and swap for our own.

We look like we are good at this only because we are going straight on a flat section of path.

We tried some really tasty wines at four different wineries and got the chance to meet with several winemakers to learn about their craft.

Everyone has their own bike now! Cruising around the wineries in Marlborough. 
Beautiful wine country.

Days 11-12: Nelson

We had a short drive from Blenheim to Nelson, stopping along the way in Havelock, the “Green Mussel Capital of the World.”

The mussels have green shells, but it’s slightly hard to tell with this delicious blue cheese sauce.
Outside of the Mussel Pot in Havelock.

We slowed down again with two nights in Nelson. Nelson is the craft beer capital of New Zealand and features a “Great Taste Trail,” an off-road cycling path that visits several local breweries. We again rented some bikes and got to check out six different breweries over the course of the day.

Beer (and cider) tasting time.
Our last brew pub of the day.

Day 13: Christchurch

Our last day brought us back to Christchurch where we did some final packing and snuck in a last hike before it was time to say goodbye to dad and hit the road.

Hiking Taylor’s Mistake in Christchurch.
Bye New Zealand!

We loved our time in New Zealand. It was awesome to have the freedom of a rental car after months of not driving – and we surprisingly mastered driving on the left hand side of the road pretty quickly! The hardest part was remembering to use the turn signal and NOT the windshield wipers, which are on different sides of the steering wheel, when signaling direction.

The scenery was amazing and we enjoyed some of the most picturesque (and challenging) hikes we’ve ever done here. We also LOVED having my dad and were so lucky to be able to spend two weeks together. We’ll have to make it back to New Zealand to visit more of the North Island, ideally when we are not balling on a budget and can do some of the outrageous activities the country is known for.

5 thoughts on “Epic Road Trips Part 1: New Zealand’s South Island

  1. I’m in awe of the two of you. So glad to see that your Dad was able to share of these amazing adventures with you!
    Enjoying vicariously traveling with you?

  2. What a great recap of your time in New Zealand! I am so glad you three got to spend the time together, and was happy (for most of the two weeks) to be holding down the fort so Donovan & Rainie could keep up with things on this continent. Counting the days now until you return! XO

    1. It’s so incredible! I wish we had seen the North Island too, but it sounds like if we had to pick just one we made the right choice.

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