Glaciers, Bungy Jumps, Dolphins, Mirror Lakes, Mountains & Beaches – New Zealand’s South Island has it all!
Travelling New Zealand’s South Island can be done in a number of ways: Campervan or Car Rental, Guided Tours, Bike (for the extremely fit and motivated)or like myself, a Hop On Hop Off Bus if you are wanting 3 of 3 things: a) guidance and advice from a driver b) to meet new people & c) flexibility.
Most backpackers choose to travel with Kiwi Experience to meet like minded travellers: eager, outgoing, adventurous and ready for a life changing experience. Within 20 minutes I had new friends and as I jumped off and back on in different locations each new group of people were just as welcoming. Here is what we got up to:
Wellington to Kaiteriteri
I began my travels with Kiwi Experience in Wellington. The day started with an early morning pick up and transfer to the Interislander ferry which would take us from the north to the south island. The views were stunning as we ventured through Marlborough Sounds before jumping back on the big, green Kiwi Bus in Picton – the gateway to New Zealand’s south island.
Our overnight stop for the night was Kaiteriteri – a beautiful beach side location at the foot of Abel Tasman National Park. Some spent the afternoon lazing by the beach; others went for a walk whilst the rest of us hit the hostel bar for some cheap fish and chips, beer & live music.
Abel Tasman National Park is home to some of New Zealand’s best untouched beaches and walking trails. The best way to explore the surroundings is by Kayak, Water Taxi or by the number of walking trails in the region, and we had the morning to do so. I chose to go Kayaking – and the hard work paid off! The beaches were completely uninhabited. For those keen hikers, there are a number of hiking trails that can be completed either within a day, or over a number of days.
With some fantastic photos added to the collection our driver Cam began our journey to Westport with his daily song – chosen to pump us up for the activities ahead! We drove through Nelson Lakes – a popular ‘jump off the wharf’ location that makes for an epic photo (see above,) before arriving in Westport. The beach side town of Westport is a popular spot for surfing, mountain biking, horse riding, quad biking & jet boating. Most of us decided to check out Buller River by Jet Boat – the views were stunning!
Our hostel, Basil’s Place was amazing – a chilled out backpackers with hammocks, good music & a good vibe. We all pitched in $5 and organised a group BBQ, had a few beers and headed down to the beach for a bonfire!
To Glacier Country
The following morning we made our way further south along New Zealand’s west coast along Highway 6 – a road with amazing views! We travelled along the coastline and through native rainforest before arriving at Cape Foulwind – a rugged coastline walkway home to a playful seal colony. The rain began to fall as we made our way to Franz Josef – the misty town that is home to the world’s fastest moving glacier (also named Franz Josef).
Being St Patrick’s Day – we were all quite eager for a night out – and what a place to do it! Monsoon’s Bar had the tunes pumping and put on an all you can eat pizza special for the entire Kiwi Experience group.
Most of us woke up with a hangover that no egg and bacon roll could fix, however eager to explore Franz Josef Glacier, we ‘manned’ up (as they say) and walked down to the Glacier centre for check in. Two nights are needed in Franz Josef to explore the glacier. Franz Josef Glacier Guides offer a number of ways to do it: a half day valley walk that will allow you to explore the foot of the glacier; a Heli Hike which includes a helicopter ride to the very top & ice climbing for those keen rock climbers or adventurists willing to push themselves.
The majority of our group chose the Heli Hike – and it was one of the most amazing & unique travel experiences to date! We were geared up in waterproof suits with gloves, socks, boots & gloves before boarding the helicopter. The sights were unbelievable! Once we reached the top of the Glacier, our guide took us through the ice caves, walkways, gaps, crevices & ‘slides.’ The experience is an absolute must when visiting New Zealand.
Franz Josef also offers a number of walking trails to mirror lakes, glacier lakes & waterfalls, as well as kayaking tours that will guide you through the strange yet beautiful glacier region.
Once we arrived back at the hostel, most of us were pretty tired from the night before so decided to watch a movie in the TV Room and hit the hot tub.
First stop: Lake Matheson – a mirror lake that reflects the surrounding Southern Alps, and depending on the weather, Mt Cook. We then ventured through Mt Aspiring National Park before arriving at our overnight stop, Lake Wanaka. The lake is beautiful and sits within the huge mountainous range of Mt Aspiring National Park. We had the afternoon free to explore and there were a number of options available: bike hire for $20 allowing you to follow the lake side bike trails; stand up paddle boarding; kayak hire & mini golf.
Our hostel Base Backpackers put on a 3 hour Lake Boat Cruise that was loads of fun, and included a BBQ back at the hostel.
I stayed in Wanaka for a few days as there were a few things I wanted to tick off the old bucket list: Aerobatic Flight Lessons, A walk to the top of Mt Iron & a Skydive!
Woohoo! The entire bus was excited about arriving into Queenstown. Kiwi Experience have a minimum 2 night stay here as there is so much to do: bungy jumping, canyoning, ziptrekking, jet boating, gondola, luge, mountain biking, skydiving & hang gliding - among many!
The views into Queenstown were stunning and the entire bus had our cameras out. On the way we stopped by Puzzleworld (it will blow your mind) & the first ever commercial bungy site – Kawarau Bridge. The AJ Hackett Bungy Crew put on a presentation for us that outlined the history and absolute craziness of Bungy Jumping! Some of us jumped off Kawarau Bridge, whilst others saved themselves for the Nevis – 134m rope bungy that is pure mental!
Buzzing, we all met up for dinner and a messy night out!
Kiwi Experience also operate an optional 3 day bottom bus tour that will take you to Milford Sound, the very southern tip of Invercargill & the artistic, university town of Dunedin. As I was very short on time I opted for the one day Kiwi Experience Milford Explorer tour. To read the blog: http://www.stayatbase.com/blog/milford-sound
Lake Tekapo with a Hangover
The bus was a little more quiet than usual this morning! Queenstown is known for its nightlife and the quantity of bars in such a small town – every night is a Saturday night. In the comforts of the big green Kiwi bus, we made our way to Lake Tekapo.
We ventured through Lindis Pass (Lord of the Rings country)before stopping in Lake Pukaki for some great photo opportunities of Mt Cook. Soon we reached Lake Tekapo – a quiet town that sits on the edge of the lake and bustling with pine trees. Our lodge for the night was beautiful and overlooked the lake.
With the afternoon free to do as we pleased, some of the group went ice skating, others hiked to the top of a nearby mountain whilst I hit the hot springs. The pools range from 30 to 40 degrees and offer views of the lake and mountainous landscape – amazing and a great way to beat a hangover! That night we cooked up a feast and watched Harry Potter in the TV Room with some hot chocolate.
We had a sleep in before leaving at 9:30am towards Christchurch. Today was mainly a transit day, reaching Christchurch mid afternoon. Our driver took us on a tour throughout the post earthquake city and it was most definitely a sight unseen: new buildings, piles of rubble, graffiti and artwork made the Christchurch city centre. It was a city of destruction that had given birth to creation. The businesses on the main street operated out of colourful and artistic shipping tins whilst the streets were lined with artwork, colour and hope.
En route to Kaikoura
Another early start as we made our way to Kaikoura. This sea side town is the best spot to swim with dolphins or watch for whales and seals! Most of us chose to swim with dolphins whilst others soaked up the good weather by the beach. I can honestly say that I have never seen so many dolphins in my life! We jumped in the ocean with snorkels and wetsuits as the curious creatures circled around us!
Our hostel for the evening was amazing and we decided to check out some of the quirky little pubs that gave Kaikoura its character.
The following morning we ventured back to where we started – Picton. For me, this marked the end of my New Zealand adventure, the end of a life changing experience, a collection of photographs that will forever remind me of New Zealand’s diverse beauty and a lifetime supply of friendships deriving from countries all over the world. Facebook names and emails were exchanged and hugs were given – most of the people on the bus continued their travels to the north island with Kiwi Experience, whilst the rest of us made our way back to Wellington or Christchurch for a flight to our next destination.
Thank you to the big, green Kiwi bus that facilitated an unforgettable journey and to the drivers that provided us with so many laughs, facts and advice that helped each of us make the most of our NZ experience.
For more information on Kiwi Experience or New Zealand activities, email email@example.com