So you want to see a lot of the South island of New Zealand but you’ve only got 2 weeks? No problem! Here’s how.
Choose a base to fly in and out of, this way you can do a round trip and visit most of the island. You could fly into Christchurch or Queenstown, but because we flew into Queenstown our itinerary begins and ends here.
We tried to hit as much of the island as we could without spending too much time in the car!
Now don't get me wrong.. there are definitely some long driving days in this itinerary.. However to us it was worth it as it meant we got to see so much more of the island!
First Things First!
Fly in and pick up your JUCY camper van, we got the Condo! The condo has plenty of room to move and stand up whilst cooking and is completely self sufficient (it has a sink with a water tank and although you would probably only want to use it in emergencies, it also has a loo). This means that you are able to camp in all the amazing Freedom Camping* zones around the island.
*There are loads of free campgrounds around NZ that you need to be certified as “self contained” to use. Self contained means that you have a loo on board and you have your own water supply. Both of which the JUCY condo has!
Also best thing about this camper (I think) is that it is still small enough to fit in normal car parking spots, this is SUPER beneficial when visiting and parking in towns!
Now download the free app “Camper Mate”. It is INVALUABLE. It works off your GPS (on and offline) and shows you all the different campgrounds available! It includes the Free freedom camping sites, cheap government run DOC (Department of Conservation) sites and paid campgrounds too!
Now onto your first destination..
Explore the town for a day, it’s beautiful but also very busy and touristy so if you’re into that then there are plenty of shops to look around in!
There are plenty camping stores and places to stock up on food and supplies for any upcoming hikes you might have booked! (Or should look in to booking because they’re awesome!)
If you’re not so much into shopping (like us) then head up to the Queenstown Hill hike. It takes roughly an hour and boasts some great views of Queenstown. Also you can play Frisbee Golf in the botanical gardens! It's a lot of fun, even for people with zero frisbee skills (myself). You can hire or buy Frisbees in town for as little as $5!
Make sure to get your fill of adrenalin activities here too. There is everything from bungee jumping and sky diving to underwater speed boating in a boat/submarine thing shaped like a shark. Yes, this is a real thing.
Te Anau / Milford Track / Milford Sound
Te Anau is 2 hours south of Queenstown, Milford Sound is 4.5 hours from Queenstown.
We headed South to Te Anau as this is where we started our Milford Track from. Unless you’re also headed to the Milford Track Te Anau is not an essential stop! It’s a nice lake with some beautiful mountains but lucky for you the South Island has loads of Lakes, majority of which are ringed by stunning mountains!
That being said you should definitely head to Milford Sound. We STRONGLY suggest doing the Milford track (after all it isn’t called "the finest walk in the world" for nothing) but if hiking isn’t your thing, or you don’t have the time for a 4 day hike then doing a cruise of Milford Sound is probably the next best thing (NB: We didn’t do a cruise but we’re told its good!).
For further convincing to do the Milford Track, CLICK HERE to read our blog on the 4 day trek!
We only spent a couple of hours here on our way to Wanaka. Arrowtown is a cute old style town with some nice bars and a terrific candy shop. Worth a little visit if you’re headed that way.
Also check out The Fork and Tap, a local pub with plenty of craft beers and local wines on offer!
Wanaka is beautiful! It’s a cute town set on a beautiful lake with super pretty snow capped mountains (obviously this depends on the time of the year). You can walk around the lake, hire bikes or do various hikes in the region really easily.
Some highlights are Isthmus Peak and Roy's Peak, both which give panoramic views of the lake and the southern alps.
If you need/want Wi-Fi, hot showers and a spa we suggest staying at the Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park! Alternatively if you just need the bare minimum (somewhere to park and a beautiful river) we suggest staying at the Albert Town campground, just outside Wanaka town.
Haast Pass, Fox & Franz Josef Glacier (West Coast)
We squeezed these all into one day! We wanted to head west and north and decided we would hit these 3 places on the way.
We didn’t spend much time in the Mt Aspiring National Park however we did stop and do the Blue Pools walk. It’s short, easy and really beautiful! We then drove another couple of hours North West to the Glaciers. We much preferred Franz Josef to Fox, however the size of both of them comparatively to what they were less than 10 years ago is scary. Sean saw Fox Glacier 10 years ago on a school trip, and today it is unrecognisable compared to how impressive it was back then. He was seriously depressed at the amount it had diminished. We all hear about climate change all of the time, but to see its effects first hand is terrifying.
Abel Tasman National Park
This park stretches a fair amount of coastline along the South Island's northern end. There is plenty of beautiful blue water, white sand, and incredible views to be had. We spent a day venturing into the park along the main walking track which started basically from our camp ground! We stayed at The Barn hostel & campground and it was once of the best camp grounds we've stayed at yet!
If you have a couple of days here and some good weather, plenty of people have recommended to us to go for a kayaking trip to get a different view of this amazing landscape. And of course there is one of NZ's Great walks "The Abel Tasman Coastal Track".
Home to some above average kiwi weather, some wonderful cafés, good coffee, plenty of good breweries and vineyards in the surrounding area. There are bike hire places in the area that specialise in making itineraries for you to squeeze as much of this as possible into a day or two.
We only stopped here for a meal on our way between Abel Tasman & Christchurch so we don't have many pictures. However we did have lunch at the worlds best Vegetarian & Vegan restaurant, East St!
Cute little town with some amazing scenery built around a hot spring complex. To be honest we weren't too thrilled with the springs which were basically plastic spas with the aroma of both chlorine and sulfur. Spas aren't really our thing though, so hey whatever floats your boat. We did find a really nice little freedom camping spot here just out of town, so it's worth a stop to rest a weary driver, and to stretch your legs with a stroll through some pretty scenery.
Awesome to see how the South Island's biggest city is rebuilding itself after the devastating earthquake in 2011. It's definitely worth negotiating the chaos downtown (plenty of carparks now exist on vacant blocks where buildings used to) to see the city getting back on its feet. Go check out the re:start mall too, a mall made from shipping containers.
Vibrant blue lake waters surrounded by even more vibrant coloured flowers. You might feel like Instagram has secretly invaded your visual cortex and applied some insane saturation enhancing filter, but no, that's just Tekapo. Certainly worth a stop or a night on the way to Aoraki/ Mount Cook. There is a freedom campsite out of town, and of you're lucky enough to get a cloudless, moonless night, prepare to have your mind blown.
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and Lake Pukaki
The home of New Zealand's highest peak and an incredible amount of Glaciers. Whilst this is a mecca for climbers, offering some seriously challenging peaks, there is plenty to explore as well for those who like to keep their feet on relatively level ground.
As the weather here is quite temperamental, there is plenty to see in the visitors centre too.
If you're not entering the park via helicopter or some insane traverse from the west (not even sure if that's possible), you're bound to drive along Lake Pukaki on the way into and out of the park. Stop and have a picnic, or even just grab a few snaps, here's another one of New Zealand's insanely photogenic spots.
From here you can head on back to Queenstown for your flight home! It's a bit of a whirlwind trip but totally doable and it fits in a lot of the amazing scenery the South Island has to offer!
We hope you enjoy!
Also a massive thanks to JUCY for making our trip possible! Make sure to check these guys out for all your Road Trippin' needs! www.jucyworld.com, and don't forget to give them a like on social media @JUCYworld!
One of the main reasons we headed over to NZ for our honeymoon was to dabble in "The finest walk in the world" aka The Milford Track. This well known phrase describing New Zealand's most popular multi-day hike is completely correct. The Track is absolutely stunning, abundant with wildlife, snow capped mountains, plants and so much more.
Lucky for us it turns out that it's especially fabulous when you're blessed by the weather gods with 3 out of 4 days sunny! Yippee! (This is one of the wettest regions in NZ, and the world with an average of around 9m of rainfall annually!)
The Milford Track is one of NZ's 9 "Great Walks" and in our eyes it was great. Really great. And a hell of a lot more.
It's a 4 day hike starting out from Te Anau Downs (a wharf on the lake 30 minutes North of the town Te Anau). From Te Anau Downs the journey begins with an hour long ferry trip across to the start of the trek. Over the next 4 days you travel 54.5km (33.5 miles), stay in 3 different huts (Clinton, Mintaro and Dumpling respectively) and see a whole lot of beauty. That's a rough overview of what it's all about, read on for the details.
BUT FIRST... Book your own Milford Track Adventure! Click the button below to be redirected to New Zealand's DOC (Department of Conservation) Website!
Te Anau --> Te Anau Downs --> Glade Wharf --> Clinton Hut
Our day begun in Te Anau, we finished packing our bags (as light as possible!!) got coffee and breakfast in town and headed for the Wharf. The ferry was leaving at 1pm and we wanted to have plenty of time.
Te Anau Downs is a wharf. That's it. Oh and a carpark too, which was lucky as we needed somewhere to park our JUCY van whilst we did the trek.
The wharf is on Lake Te Anau and is surrounded by snow capped peaks, it's pretty special.
The ferry trip across takes roughly an hour, it goes pretty quickly with some onboard commentary of the surrounding scenery, explanations of some geological processes, and a little history of the area.
From the wharf to the first nights accomodation is roughly 5km. It's flat, and really easy terrain and even with our heavy packs it took just under an hour. The trail is incredibly green and luscious. It follows the Clinton River upstream from Lake Te Anau. We'll let some photos explain the scenery here on the first day.
After the short walk we arrived at the first hut, put out bags down and sat out in the sun only to be promptly swarmed by sand flies. We had only really encountered these guys on the first night we stayed just out of Queenstown, and hadn't really noticed them at all for the hour walking beforehand, so needless to say it was a bit of a surprise. They only manage to bite you when you're standing still, and seemed to be even more attracted to us when we were hot/sweaty after walking a while.
We ended up hustling our gear into a bunk room and slamming the door shut, successfully keeping most of the little buggers outside. That afternoon consisted of a little backtrack walk without packs to the wetlands walk and Sean taking an incredibly short dip in the beautiful but freezing Clinton River.
The evening consisted of a guided nature walk courtesy of our host for the evening DOC Ranger Ross. This was awesome, and we learnt plenty about the local native bird and plant life.
Oh, and during this we got eaten alive again by sand flies. I'm writing this a few days after the trek and still itching the bites. These few days had so many incredible moments, but the only real downside was the fact that the Australian "Aerogard" my mum gave us the night before we got on the plane did nothing to protect us from them. I haven't yet found which repellant is the best, but seriously do some research before you come check out these incredible spots in the South Island and it will make your trip a whole lot less scratchy.
After this we cooked the first of many "Mi Goreng" dinners back in the communal hut, and waited for the sun to go down. When it finally got dark outside (around 9pm in late October) we went for a short but awesomely successful glow worm hunt. Unfortunately we couldn't get any photos of this in the dark, so you'll have to take our word and come see it for yourself. After this everyone crawled into their sleeping bags and hit the hay ready for a big second day.
Clinton hut -> Mintaro hut + Mackinnon's Pass extra*
*you don't have to do this last bit.. at least not on day 2 anyway
We woke at 6 and tip-toed out of the bunk room to go cook some porridge in the early dawn light. With promises of some local wildlife we wanted to get on the trail before the majority of people to maximise our chances of seeing some.
The day involved a gradual uphill climb through the Clinton valley and some glorious sunshine. We saw some fat rainbow trout, eels, wekas, ducks, and plenty of avalanche risk zones. Luckily we didn't see any land slides, but apparently people in our group who passed up the valley later in the day witnessed a land slide roll down the side of the valley. Luckily no one was hurt, but scary stuff indeed.
Around midday we arrived at Mintaro hut, our digs for the second night. We said hi to Jules, our ranger for the evening, and had a quick bite to eat. Then despite being pretty darn tired (the last month has been pretty slothic by our normal standards with Sean cutting his leg open and planning the wedding), at the recommendation of Jules we dropped our bags and continued on the track up the steep section meant to be tackled the next morning to Mackinnon's Pass.
The reason for this is Fiordland National Park is one of the wettest places in the country, and the weather can change from a sunny day to some serious cloud and rain really quickly. Hence, we were suggested to head up to the pass, the highest point of the trek to make the most of the view whilst the sun was out and the sky was blue.
Not having to carry our heavy bags made this a whole lot easier despite our weary legs, and although we had to backtrack after, it was completely worth the climb from 600m to around 1200m above sea level as we were treated to a jaw dropping 360 degree view all to ourselves. This section of the trek is one of the absolute highlights and we would have been gutted if we had gotten up there the next morning to have the whole view completely shrouded in fog. We took some time to snap some shots and soak it all in. The wind started to pick up and we started to get a bit cold, so we headed on back to Mintaro hut with a little detour back past the river for another quick dunk in some glacial fresh river water.
Dinner was followed by a hut talk from Ranger Jules describing the weather report for the next morning (gale force winds on Mackinnon Pass from midday - uh o) and how to keep your boots from being stolen by the local Kea (alpine parrots) when you're not wearing them (tie them together as they can only carry 1 but not 2). This was followed by another early night as we planned to be up and over the pass bright and early before the winds were up.
Mintaro Hut -> Mackinnon's Pass -> Sutherland Falls -> Dumpling Hut
We were up at 5 and on the track when there was enough light just after 6. We reached the top of Mackinnon's Pass again after a little more than an hour walking with our packs. We didn't hang around for long as the wind was already whipping in, and whilst not really dangerous yet it was pretty darn cold.
Although we did have a tiny break at the "loo with a view" on top of the pass. This is a toilet from which you can see the entire Clinton Valley (if you leave the door open!).
Down the other side we went, for part along an emergency track due to avalanche risks in some spots this early in the tramping season. It was steep and hurt our toes a little bit... But along the way we passed plenty of beautiful waterfalls, and had some peanut butter rolls for lunch by the river.
Our legs were pretty shot, so when we saw the sign pointing to the Sutherland Falls detour we were pretty happy, as the days end was approaching.
At this point we were able to take off our packs and leave them safely in a hut to keep them safe out of reach from those cheeky Kea, and were able to head to the falls with just our raincoats and cameras. The detour was a few km each way, but absolutely worth it to see the 580m high falls, which are the tallest in NZ and we are lead to believe the 5th highest in the world. I'll let our pictures do the talking here.
Back with our packs and only a few miles on to Dumpling Hut for our last night on the track. Ranger Helen was our very accomodating host here for the evening and again was full of useful info for what to expect on the 4th and final day. By this stage we had gotten to know a fair few of our fellow trampers, so it was a little bitter sweet having a final dinner with all of these cool people.
Little aside plug here to our fellow Milford trekker Julie - Hi Julie!! Here is her blog - "Taking a Long Walk"
Julie lives in Dunedin and has done the vast majority of the Pacific Coast Trail - which is literally walking from Mexico to Canada, all the while raising funds for the Brain Health Research Centre at University of Otago, NZ, in memory of her father. She didn't get to finish it 100% due to injury but is planning on heading back there to get the job done soon. We couldn't believe the amount of effort, determination and planning that must have taken and basically sat there gobsmacked as she told us some stories of her time on the road. Seriously badass! Go check her blog out!
We polished off a can of wine we had been carrying the whole time in celebration - yep, can of wine - and curled up into our sleeping bags for the last time.
Dumpling Hut -> Giants Gate Falls -> Sandfly Point -> Milford Sound
Considering our above average pace the last few days we had a relative sleep in on the last morning before heading off. The track ends at the aptly named Sandfly Point, and as we were going to have to wait here for a boat to take us across the Milford Sound to board a bus back to Te Anau, we didn't want to be stuck hanging there for too long so decided to set off a little later.
Milford Sound is one of the wettest places on earth with an average of 9m of rainfall per year. Yep that's right. We saw a sign in Dumpling Hut the night before stating that if you hadn't been absolutely drenched by this point in your trek consider yourself extremely lucky. We hadn't. And on the 4th day our luck ran out.
The last day we got fairly damp walking, but it was good to give the new waterproof jackets we had on a work out rather than having them stuffed in the bottom of our bags. By this stage our legs were pretty cooked, so the last 18 or so km heading to the end of the track were a bit of a blur. We were still surrounded by some amazing scenes, including some land slides that had covered the track previously (terrifying) and the absolutely beautiful giants gate falls.
As we sat in the open boat across the sound at the end of the track in the pouring rain, we couldn't help grinning. The last 4 days had been absolutely incredible, and we're so stoked we came to NZ for our honeymoon!
What are you waiting for? Go book your trip to NZ now!
Also a massive thanks to JUCY for making our trip in NZ possible! Make sure to check these guys out for all your Road Trippin' needs! www.jucyworld.com, and don't forget to give them a like on social media @JUCYworld!
G'day I'm Bec
I'm an Aussie who loves travelling, hiking, trail running and pretty much any activity you can do outdoors.
This blog may contain several affiliate links to products and services that I use and love. By clicking on these links, I might get a teeny tiny contribution towards my travel fund, at no extra cost to you!
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