South New Zealand 12 Days Itinerary (Part I)
New Zealand may not need further introduction as I believe it is already listed on most travellers' bucket list, for its popular middle-earth scenery. I just got back from New Zealand recently and I must say, autumn colors in South New Zealand is spectacular! I was there for 2 weeks and I spent most of my time (12 full days) in South NZ. Thus in this post, I am going to share my South NZ itinerary as well as other useful information, hoping it will help travellers who are planning to visit New Zealand.
*My travel in North NZ will be written in a separate post.
Please refer to the map below for the route I took, departing from Christchurch. You could choose to take the clockwise or anti-clockwise route (starting from Lake Tekapo or Castle Hill). We went for the latter option.
This post is going to be a little unusual compared to my previous posts because I am going to give a rating (out of 10 points) to each place that I am going to talk about, purely based on my personal opinion and experience. This is to facilitate travelers to have a clearer idea on where to visit (or prioritize) should they have limited or lesser time to visit New Zealand.
*As this is going to be a lengthy post, I decided to divide them into two parts. Useful tips and information is posted on part II.
We arrived late in Christchurch and started our journey the next morning. We chose an accommodation which is not far from the airport yet conveniently located along the way to our first destination. It is also near to a supermarket if you wish to stock up some groceries before your journey begins.
Accommodation in Christchurch: Delamain Holiday House and B&B
Castle Hill (Rating: 6/10)
Castle Hill is filled with magnificent limestone rocks all around the area, which were eroded by water into these distinctive sculptured land forms. History lovers may adore this place as this area is full of history and culture of the Maori. While I find Castle Hill interesting that we can head off track and explore the limestone formations at our own pace, I personally reckon it is lacking some 'wow' factors in terms of scenery. Basically just a large scale of land scattered with large rocks.
Arthur's Pass Otira Viaduct Lookout Point (Rating: 5/10)
We decided to skip the popular Devil's Punchbowl waterfall at Arthur's Pass as we did not feel overwhelmed by the photos we referred online before the trip. Moreover, we thought we would have seen better waterfalls during our previous trip in Iceland. However, we made a stop at the Otira Viaduct Lookout Point to admire the view. There, we encountered some Kea birds too! Not worth it if you have to detour, but good as a stopover if you are along the way.
Related article: 5 Amazing and Less-traveled waterfalls in Iceland
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes (Rating: 6.5/10)
It was a pity we arrived late to this place and the sky was starting to turn dark then. But I still love this place very much and I imagine it would look spectacular during sunset! The limestone formation of pancake shaped rock staking over one another is indeed unique. If you are lucky, you may witness the blowholes when the sea is at high tide. We didn't catch any but still admired this place regardless. To reach this place, it is an easy 20 minutes loop walk from the car park. It was a bit of a detour from the route we were taking but we did not regret it.
Accommodation: Shining Star Beachfront Hotel, Hokitika
Hokitika Beach Sign & Hokitika Gorge (Rating: 6/10)
Hokitika Beach Sign was merely to tick off the 'been there, done that' box (and of course for Instagram purpose too,lol). Nothing special about the beach sign itself but it could be a relaxing, romantic stroll along the beach.
Probably due to the gloomy weather that day, Hokitika Gorge did not appear to be as milky-blue as advertised. So we were rather disappointed to be honest. But the nature scenery around did somehow make up for it. There were many sand flies too so please take note. I was in long sleeves and long pants so I did not feel anything, but my travel partner was not so lucky, ha!
Lake Matheson (Rating: 9/10)
One of my favourite places during this trip! Seriously, anything to do with reflection views, I am sold. We were really lucky to be able to see a perfect reflection of the lake that day as the weather was not promising earlier. But we thought since we were there, why not give it a go, and we were glad we did not give up! The sky slowly cleared up as we were walking into the walkway and when we reached the "Reflection Island Lookout", we were awed by the calm and beautiful view! We were in time for sunset view too!
Accommodation: Ivory Towers Backpackers Lodge Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier (Rating: N/A - tour was cancelled)
Unfortunately due to bad weather, our heli-hike tour with Fox Glacier was cancelled. Needless to say we were very disappointed as we waited for 3 hours, hoping the sky would clear up for the next available session, but no luck. Since we were unable to get to the glacier, we decided to hike up to the viewpoint of the face of Fox Glacier with the slightest hope that we could at least have an optimistic view. Alas, I wished we had not done so (mind you it wasn't an easy hike too). Not only we were soaked as it started drizzling when we were hiking up, the view of the glacier face was pathetic. I must say don't even bother when the sky is gloomy as it is not worth the effort at all. And if the sky is clear, definitely go for the heli-hike experience instead.
Leaving Fox Glacier with disappointment, we then made our way towards Wanaka via the famous Haast Highway. We were supposed to stop at Blue Pool but by the time we arrived, it was already rather late (as we have wasted 3 hours waiting at Fox's) and the sky was getting dark too. We then decided to proceed straight to Wanaka instead. We later met other travellers who stayed in the same Airbnb that evening told us that the blue pool was not that impressive either, probably due to that day's poor weather.
Accommodation: Airbnb - Bushmill Inn Wanaka : Get MYR120 travel credit NOW!
Skydive Wanaka (Rating: 8/10)
My first skydive ever took place in Wanaka! The view was breathtaking and the experience was amazing. To be honest, it wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. I do not know how to describe the feeling better hence I urge you to experience it for yourself. That was also the only time I did not need a drone to admire the view from the sky. After this experience, I am looking forward to more skydiving adventures in the future! Having said that, I expected the photo and video quality to be better given the expensive price tag.
Wanaka (Rating: 10/10)
Definitely the highlight of our trip! We adored Wanaka so much we wished we had stayed longer than 2 nights! Absolutely enjoyed this peaceful small town and its beautiful Lake Wanaka. Not forgetting their signature Wanaka tree which I personally reckon is best viewed during autumn season. With the vibrant autumn colours around, we got really busy with our eyes and cameras!
If you enjoy hiking, definitely go hike Roys Peak which is one of the most popular hikes in New Zealand. We gave this a miss because we did not think we could make it even half way (it's a 6 hours minimum return hike by the way), haha! But if you are fit and have the stamina, do give it a try! I have heard so much about how amazing the view at the peak is and how worthy the difficult hike is.
We also did a short drive to Glendhu Bay where we found it very peaceful and romantic. It was quiet when we were there and the view was very serene.
- Wanaka Gourmet Kitchen (WGK) - famous for its lamb shoulder
- Black Peak Gelato - lovely ice cream shop just beside WGK
Cardrona Bra Fence (Rating: 5/10)
Another stop to tick it off your list when you are on the way from Wanaka to Queenstown. Nothing to shout about other than getting a fancy shot with all the bras hanging against the fence for the cause of breast cancer foundation. Feel free to donate some bras!
Arrowtown (Rating: 7.5/10)
One of the most picturesque settlements in New Zealand especially during autumn season for its vibrant falliage colours everywhere. We were there during end of April when the colours were at its peak I believe. Arrow River would be the best place to admire the autumn leaves and colours. Other than that, Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town which can be explored in a day. We instantly fell in love with this charming and quirky town.
Recommended cafe: The Postmasters Residence - love the mussels and scones
Onsen Hot Pool (Rating: 8/10)
A perfect place to unwind yourself after a long day and a perfect stopover between Arrowtown and Queenstown. Do take note they get fully booked very soon so make sure you make your booking in advance! The best time to soak in the onsen is during sunset, which gives you the best view of all! Visit their website for more information.
Accommodation: Airbnb - Maxwell Lodge : Get MYR120 travel credit NOW!
Glenorchy (Rating: 8/10)
A small rustic town which is only less than an hour's drive from Queenstown, and brings you to the head of Lake Wakatipu. There you get its signature instagram-worthy landmark - the little red hut and its surrounding is spectacular! With its awe-inspiring views, this place was featured in "Lord of the Rings" and "Narnia" movies. Other than that, the view along the way from Queenstown to Glenorchy is nothing short of breathtaking too!
Queenstown (Rating 8/10)
No trip to South New Zealand is complete without a visit to Queenstown, popularly known as the capital of adventure in New Zealand. Test your limits in Queenstown with Nzone Skydive, Nevis Swing (world's most famous swing), bungee jumping off Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge or jet boating on the Shotover and Dart rivers etc.
Set against the dramatic Southern Alps and sits on the shore of crystal clear Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown's majestic beauty is absolutely captivating. Many travelers tend to make comparisons between Wanaka and Queenstown, and personally, I prefer Wanaka a tad more for its tranquility. We reckon Queenstown is somewhat relatively more commercialized and crowded with tourists. Needless to say, it has plenty of souvenir shops too. As I had done skydiving in Wanaka, I did not intend to test my adrenaline limit further in Queenstown. Therefore, we settled for the more family friendly activities at Skyline Queenstown with cable car rides and the exciting luge rides!
Not forgetting their famous Fergburger which is a must-try in Queenstown. We saw large crowd and long queue in front of the shop every day when we were in Queenstown. No, it's not overrated and you need not be intimidated by the overwhelming crowd. One trick is to place your order in advance through phone which is what we did, and our burgers were ready in 15 minutes, easy! Visit their website for the menu and contact number. What we ordered: pork belly burger and blue cod burger - both were delicious!
Other food recommendations:
- Patagonia Chocolates : Love their ice creams
- Blue Kanu : Mixing both Pacifica and Asian style cuisines - love the mussels and bluff oysters (seasonal)
Till next time~
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