The South Island of New Zealand was recently hit hard with an earthquake. Our hearts ache for the communities which were affected. We have seen pictures and reports coming from some of our favorite spots and are saddened by the damage to such a beautiful place. We hope they are able to get back on their feet quickly.
It was just last month that we left this little South Pacific Ocean island after exploring for nearly eight weeks. Often, we would look at each other with our mouths agape because of the natural beauty. It was a place we won’t soon forget.
Here are 12 of our favorite activities and experiences from the South Island:
Punakaiki Rocks and Blow Holes
The day we visited Punakaiki will go down as one of my absolute favorite days in all of New Zealand. Not only were the rocks unlike anything I’d ever seen before but the blow holes were making sounds and scenes I didn’t know water could produce. Ben and I were like kids in a candy store jumping from one place to another to see what the next stop on the path would offer. One thing to note, it is best to experience the blow holes an hour after low tide since the tide is coming in and causing most of the action. If you arrive during high tide you will still get to view the gorgeous rocks but won’t be able to hear and see the blow holes at their best.
Shortly after we left Punakaiki, we headed here. We wrote an entire post about why we loved Hokitika Gorge so much but it can be easily conveyed in the picture below. Check out that water!
Hooker Valley Trek
This goes down as my favorite hike in New Zealand for many reasons. It was a trek which had a lot of different natural features including mountains, glaciers, rivers, and valleys filled with grasses. Each view was more beautiful than the next. The trek culminated at the base of Aoraki/Mt. Cook at a glacier filled lake.
Mount Cook drive from Twizel
I find it hard to come up with words to describe the 65 km drive from Twizel to Mount Cook. But I tried here.
Franz Josef Glacier Heli Hike
Glaciers are remarkable. Flying over a glacier in a helicopter before landing on the glacier, is even more so. Then, hiking and climbing through tunnels of blue ice on that glacier made it extraordinary. We had an incredible time on our Franz Josef Glacier Heli Hike.
If we were forced to name our favorite town in New Zealand, I think this would be it. Set on the shores of a lake surrounded by mountains, the scenery cannot be beat. Add on a challenging but rewarding Roy’s Peak hike, that Wanaka Tree, and a quaint downtown; Wanaka is hard to beat.
We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Kaikoura but after driving through town, we booked three nights at our campground. This adorable place was unfortunately the epicenter of the recent earthquake and has suffered significant damage. We hope it can recover quickly. The people there were incredibly warm, the cafes and restaurants were delicious, and the beach is beautiful. We happened to visit the same weekend as the muscle car show and enjoyed sitting outside and watching all the cool cars drive by.
Just outside of Kaikoura is a little shack which serves some of the most incredible seafood we had in New Zealand. Known for their crayfish, which they call Rock Lobster, Nins Bin is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. We were also lucky enough to try some of their Green Lipped Mussels as well and died and went to seafood heaven right then and there.
This one was all me. Ben, who is the research king, hadn’t even heard of the Moreaki Boulders when I told him we needed to see them. I knew about them from following travelers on Instagram and wanted to visit them in person. After showing him a few pictures he quickly agreed, so we set out before sunrise to photograph these circular rocks that I am still convinced might be dinosaur eggs.
Church of the Good Shepard, Lake Tekapo
In the midst of a dark sky reserve, this little church has been a draw for night photography. We jumped on the bandwagon and tried our first attempts at night photography here as well. It was so much fun, aside from the people who walked through our long-exposure photographs completely oblivious to the fact they were walking through photos.
New Zealand is full of cute little coffee shops and cafes, but some of our favorites were in Dunedin. Add on Speights Brewery and the Cadbury Chocolate Factory and Ben and I are forever happy.
The Catlins is an area on the south eastern coast of the South Island filled with natural sites. We spent an entire day driving through The Catlins, pulling over at every brown sign we saw to admire waterfalls, a fossilized forest, and beautiful coastlines.
If you missed our North Island post, check out our favorite activities and experiences here.