A first-timer’s guide to New Zealand’s South Island
If you've been itching to go to New Zealand, but have never managed to get over the Tasman, now is the perfect time with the country open to Australians after a lengthy lockdown period.
If you're into snow sports, it's an even better time to consider a visit to the South Island, but even if that's not your thing, there's still so much to discover!
There is so much to see and do in Queenstown, especially if you love adventure, wine, or even just spoiling yourself with a trip to the spa.
Ever wanted to give bungy jumping a try? The Kawarau Bridge Bungy is a beautiful place to pop your bungy cherry – take it from someone who did just that! But if you don't love the idea of jumping off a bridge, there's always jet boat rides, mountain biking, skydiving and, of course, skiing and snowboarding.
If you're looking for some nice, easy scenic walks you can do, or maybe even a multi-day walk, you'll find something that works for you. The Queenstown Hill Walking Track or the Ben Lomond Walkway will give you incredible 360-degree views.
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New Zealand is home to some incredible wineries and in Queenstown you have access to many of them! Amisfield Restaurant and Cellar Door is a must-visit if you can get a booking, with the restaurant just winning the American Express Restaurant of the Year 2022! Akarua Wines is also a beautiful spot for a long lunch – hot tip: try the lamb shoulder, to die for!
No trip to Queenstown is complete without a trip to Fergburger where the kitchen is open for 21 hours from 8am, with only a three-hour break to clean the kitchen and prepare for the next service! Some have called Ferg's burgers the best in the world, so you better try and decide for yourself!
The perfect way to unwind after a big day of walking, skiing or snowboarding is at the Onsen Hot Pools, where you get to enjoy beautiful views over Shotover River in your private spa. It's open during the day and the evening, both are gorgeous!
Wanaka is another beautiful spot in NZ and from June to October, it's the perfect place for those who love the snow! You have access to Treble Cone, the largest ski field in the South, Cardrona Alpine Resort, also great for skiing and snowboarding, or you've got Snow Farm, which is perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing!
If hiking is more your thing, the Rob Roy Glacier Track provides stunning views of Roys Peak. If you start before sunrise you will get an epic view as the sun rises. Hiking early in the morning also means you won't be stuck in a queue to take pictures of the stunning view. The track is rated a medium to hard, so it's not for the faint of heart and you will need a good level of fitness. The most popular times to complete this track is during summer or spring, in winter you may need some extra equipment, so be prepared!
While you're in Wanaka, you've got to get a shot of the famous tree, known aptly as That Wanaka Tree, which has transformed into a picture-perfect tourist spot on Lake Wanaka. To get there you just need to walk along the waterfront from the town towards Roys Bay.
Wanaka is home to some amazing restaurants with some of the local favourites being KIKA and Fudog. Grab breakfast or lunch at Federal Diner, or if you're in a rush, they have a takeaway option called Fedeli!
If you're driving from Wanaka to Queenstown, make sure you stop at the Cardrona Hotel, a popular rest stop with a great restaurant, outdoor entertainment area and hotel rooms.
You can also climb the world's highest waterfall cable climb with Wildwire Wanaka with an expert guide to lead the way. You'll walk over suspension bridges and climb over huge boulders before climbing up alongside a large waterfall. You can choose from three different tour levels starting at a shorter 150 metres climb through to 450 metres.
Situated on the west coast of the South Island, Milford Sound is home to plunging cliffs, raging waterfalls and is one of the most beautiful spots in the country. Discovered by the Māori more than a thousand years ago, the early stories of Milford Sound are steeped in myth and legend that talk of its magnificent creation.
There are a number of ways to explore Milford Sound, you might like to take a boat cruise, or maybe you'd like to hike, kayak or go diving? You can choose!
Most people will start their visit to Milford Sound from Te Anau or Queenstown with a number of tours available from either spot. It'll take approximately four hours from Queenstown and two hours from Te Anau. Most bus tours will stop to allow you to take snaps along the way, but if you're short on time, the best way to get to Milford Sound from Queenstown is via helicopter!
The small village of Milford Sound sadly doesn't have many places to stay, so pre-booking is a must, but there are more options in Te Anau. There's a cafe in the village, or you can have food and drink on your boat cruise.
Make sure you pack a rain jacket, though! Fiordland is one of the wettest parts of New Zealand. This won't ruin the trip, however, as Milford Sound is even more beautiful in the rain as the waterfalls are even more spectacular. Waterproof shoes are also ideal!
You can explore New Zealand's tallest mountain Aoraki/Mt Cook in Christchurch, with the largest glacier that's accessible on foot, bike and boat, the Tasman Glacier also found in the area. Some popular short walks from Mt Cook Village include the Governors Bush Walk (one hour) and the Hooker Valley Track (three to four hours).
The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the perfect place to visit for some stargazing with over 4,300 square kilometres of sky free from light pollution.
Ninety minutes from Christchurch, you can visit Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa with a number of hot pools, rock pools and sulphur pools to leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed.
The TranzAlpine journey through the Southern Alps is one of the most scenic train rides in New Zealand. You can begin your journey from either Christchurch or Greymouth with the trip taking four hours one way or nine hours return.
The Riverside Market is a great place to pop in for a drink and some food (seriously, there are so many options, everyone will find something delicious here!) and you can even do some shopping in the little boutiques there as well!
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