Fun Things To Do On New Zealand's South Island -- New Zealand Sightseeing
Visiting New Zealand's South Island
After spending a week on the north island, it was time to head down south. The way to get there is by ferry from Wellington, and they have a huge one which can carry cars. However, you're not allowed to take rental cars from one island to the other, so they have a very convenient system where you drop your car off at one ferry and you pick up the next at the south island terminal.
When we picked up our car, the agent told us that the first half of the drive wasn't scenic and that it would get better later on. Well, he has a different idea of what "not scenic" is, because right from the start, we were driving past snow-capped mountains, golden valleys and bright blue streams. Almost immediately, we could sense how much more empty the southern island is. You get the same feeling in the western and southwestern U.S; just an idea of vastness, as if the sky and mountains stretch on forever.
New Zealand's South Island -- One Of The Most Beautiful Places On Earth
Picton To Hokitika
The drive from the terminal in Picton to Hokitika took about six hours, but we made some interesting stops along the way. We pulled over at a beach that has a wild fur seal colony living on the shores. What I found a little unusual about the south island is that even though it's temperate and rather chilly, even in the spring, tropical plants are able to grow. Therefore, as we walked to see these seals in very cold winds, we were flanked by palm trees and large ferns. In some ways, the south island reminded me of Hawaii, and in others, Colorado.
When we reached the seals, we were pleased and surprised to see several dozen lounging on the rocks. The sea itself was gorgeous at that time of evening, but seeing these creatures in their natural habitat was a real treat.
Next, we visited the "Pancake Rocks," called so, because erosion has cut lines in them, making them look as if they're a stack of pancakes. Several of the rocks contain blowholes, where the sea churns up through them, creating an almost geyser-like effect. The waters swirling between the rocks were some of the roughest I've ever seen; it was like watching nature's washing machine.
By the time we reached Greymouth, the largest town before Hokitika, it was 8:30 and we realized that shops would probably be closing soon/ and that we should look for dinner. We were right; Greymouth was an absolute ghost town, save for the lone restaurant called West Of The Border. This attempt at an American style theme restaurant, based on the gold rush in the Wild West, served up things like "Calamity Jane chicken," and "Jesse James Steak." No one was there except for us and the waiter seemed perplexed to have customers. We were laughing at the tacky decor until I reminded my husband that the western part of the south island also had a gold rush in the 1800s. I suppose this was supposed to be a tribute to that.
In Hokitika, we stayed at the Shining Star cabins and campground, where we bunked in a luxury log cabin by the sea. This thing was seriously decked out with an outside deck, an electric king-size bed, a kitchenette and DVD and CD players. We also discovered the next morning that we had five sheep grazing right in our backyard by the beach. I
n addition, the site had dogs, chickens, rabbits, a pig and cows. We nicknamed it "The Ark." One night we came home and a cute cat invited himself into our cabin. My husband wanted to let him stay, but I didn't want a strange cat bunking with us, especially when we didn't have a litter box. The lady at the main desk informed us that this cat had been left there several years ago by some guests and she's been caring for him. She never bothered to name him, though, so I called him Mushmush. We bought some cat food and tried to lure Mushmush back to our place, but though he did leave the plates empty, we unfortunately only saw him in passing one other time.
Hokitika itself is a nothing town, with a few restaurants and galleries. The big thing there is jade carving, so there are several jade factories. Still, as far as west coast towns go (a few have only 10 people!), it's fairly large and centrally located. They have several food festivals throughout the year, so if you're ever thinking of visiting the area, try to come when Hokitika is actually hosting an event.
Fox And Franz Josef Glaciers
The glaciers are the main attraction on the south island. I originally planned to take a hiking tour on the glaciers, where you use alpine equipment. Unfortunately, we learned that you pretty much have to be an experienced climber in order to handle it -- and I just didn't feel as if I'd be physically fit enough to not hold up the group. My friend who actually did climb the Fox Glacier can confirm this; she says that they had to climb up several hundred "steps" that their guide carved into the ice, and then literally jump over crevices. She admits that she was scared out of her mind and didn't know what she was doing -- and that thankfully, some people on the tour who'd done this before were on hand to help her out. She adds, however, that the scenery is gorgeous and that she's glad she had the experience, even if it was tough while she was going through it.
Still, we did get to see those glaciers up close and personal. We conquered several of the hiking trails, including one that takes you right up to the face of the Fox. Honestly, the glaciers looked kind of like how dirty snow looks when it piles up on the side of the road. But if you looked within the ice, you can see cleaner patches of blue ice and ice caves. The ideal way to see these, if you're willing to shell out some big bucks, is to take a helicopter ride over them and then hike on one of the higher, cleaner parts.
Tour Of Fox Glacier
Beautiful Arthur's Pass
New Zealand Holiday
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We enjoyed some more hiking in Arthur's Pass, which is the row of mountains surrounding the road from the east to the west on the south island. These mountains are known as the Southern Alps and as expected are large, snow-capped and quite spectacular.
They also offer heli rides over these. We got an even better deal, though, when we flew from Hokitika back to Auckland. During the first half of our journey -- Hoki to Christchurch -- we flew in a tiny 19-seater plane, though only 7 people were actually on it. The one-room airport only opens for flights, there was no security and the agent didn't even check our IDs! The plane picked us up right there at the door, and when our luggage didn't quite fit under the seats, the pilot told us to just put our stuff on the empty chairs. Riding on this thing was scary, especially during the landing, but the ride over the Alps was awesome! Regardless, it was a relief to get on a normal-sized plane at Christchurch.
Thoughts On New Zealand
Before taking this trip, several people told us that they've heard it's one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I agree, for it is lush, pristine, clean and everywhere you look there's a stunning view. Between the friendly people and amazing scenery, it was easy to get lost there and to get lost in time. This was a far journey and not a particularly relaxing trip given all the hiking, but it was well worth the effort. I highly recommend that everyone try to get there at some point.
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