New Zealanders swear there are parts of the South Island that no human eyes have ever seen; and that could be the case, the locals live sparsely, with plenty of space between each town for tall peaks and sweeping fjords. And the river rapids, mountain peaks and steep glaciers are an extreme sportsperson's playground.
The best way to see this countryside is by car or cycle - you can take anything from a week to six weeks to get around, but the best route is probably the one from Christchurch to Timaru. The first leg is Christchurch to Kaikoura, for the whales and dolphins, then Nelson to Punakaiki to Westport, for the coal mining traditions, then on to the Franz Joseph Glacier and Queenstown, for the Milford Sound and Mitre Peak, and finishing in Timaru for the Edwardian and Victorian architecture.
Christchurch is an adventurer's town and the starting place for the great Antarctic expeditions of Scott and Shackleton. Visitors can share in the spirit of these adventures, before they undertake their own, by visiting the man made Antarctic at the International Antarctic Centre, and learn more about them at the Canterbury Museum. Taunton Gardens is another World Reviewer recommendation.
Kaikora is the second major stop on the South Island odyssey. Off the coast of this town live an amazingly diverse marine community, so this is the place to go kayaking and see the dolphins, whales and sharks by boat – seals are more friendly to small craft, especially light kayaks, so if you want to interact with them this is the best way - or else get in the water and go swimming with the seals.
Skirting Nelson is the Marlborough Wine Region and the walking trails and beaches of the Able Tasman National Park. Small, but perfectly formed Kaiteriteri Beach is one of the local highlights and if you like fishing then plan to spend a day hunting the big trout in the Wangapeka.
See it on foot, by helicopter or admire it from a distance, the Franz Joseph Glacier is one of New Zealand's most photographed natural treasures – its foot descending down into the rainforest and waterfalls of the Westland National Park. This is probably the most scenic part of the road trip; nearby is Lake Tekapo and Aoraki or Mount Cook, depending on your lineage, New Zealand's highest mountain, and one with a very challenging summit – lots of people skip the adventure and get a helicopter up.
Queenstown is probably best known as a capital for snow and adventure sports. Take some time out of your travels to go skiing, see The Remarkables and Sutherland Falls, sail on Lake Wakatipu, walk around Milford Sound on the Milford Track or kayak across the smooth surface on which Mitre Peak is reflected - it's a very, very photogenic sight and one of the most memorable postcards of New Zealand you'll come across. Factor in a couple of hours to drive the Milford Road - part of the heritage highway in the Fjordland National Park
Soon enough it will unfortunately be time to drag yourself towards Timaru – the majestic scenery a receding mirage in your rear view mirror, but probably etched on your retina for a while to come.
Get inspired about your trip to New Zealand's South Island with help from one of World Reviewer's recommended New Zealand travel specialists.
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