If you read my last post, you will know that our motorhoming newbie status was broken in Australia, road tripping from Sydney to Cairns. We then waved goodbye to the kangaroos, baking sun and sandy beaches and flew over to Kiwi land for the next part of our trip.
I feel like I might have given this post a slightly misleading title. If I’m totally honest, we didn’t stay in Marco the new motorhome every single night on our route and booked the odd night in a hotel along the way…. For complete novices, 6 weeks in total in a camper is quite a long time. We fancied the opportunity to have a shower without flip flops every now and then! Just to clear my conscience… I needed to point that out.
We picked up Marco after a glorious 5 nights in Queenstown in potentially the dreamiest, comfiest bed I have ever slept in and a room with the most spectacular view (The Heritage Queenstown). From there, we had nearly 10 days to make our way to the top of the South Island and get the ferry across from Picton to Wellington on the North Island. Our plans did change a little due to the weather causing a bridge to collapse near Franz Josef, so we will have to return (what a shame) and explore that area at another time!
So many people said to us that the South Island just pips the North beauty wise and I think I may agree….just. When we came in to land in Queenstown from Cairns I was just blown away. I spent the entire dissent with my nose virtually pressed up against the window, tapping Sam every 5 seconds saying ‘look! Look!’. It was beautiful from the word go.
Our South Island route:
Queenstown > Wanaka > Christchurch > Kaikoura > Abel Tasman > Picton
So, beginning in Queenstown, potentially our favourite place in the whole of New Zealand. A wonderful combination of jaw-dropping views and scenery, crazy activities and great independent boutiques and restaurants PLUS a buzzier atmosphere than a beehive. Coined the ‘adventure capital of the world’, we were so excited to be there. Again, as always, I won’t outline every single thing we did, but just enough to give you a flavour and recommend some of our must-dos.
What to do:
– Sam did the Nevis Bungy jump which he LOVED. 134 metres. The highest in New Zealand and pretty well known around the world. Definitely not my thing, but he was on cloud nine when he came back and wanted to do it all over again, so I thought it was worth a mention.
– Jet boating on the sparkling Kawarau River. We booked ours with Go Orange and did the 60 minute Thunder Jet tour. Absolutely amazing. Brilliant views, 360 turns (again, not usually my thing but I loved it), blasting music and also really lovely guides.
– ‘Safari of the Scenes’ Wakatipu tour. We were taken in a 4×4 off road, through water and epic landscapes, to areas where Lord of the Rings was filmed. We also went gold panning and we found the tiniest speck of gold which Sam insisted on keeping in a little pot for the whole rest of our trip.
– Milford Sound. Although it is not particularly near to Queenstown, a lot of tours run to Milford Sound from there. We didn’t realise quite how far away it was and I think if we went again, we would potentially stay nearer there when we’re visiting. Saying that, the tour we did was brilliant and although the weather was torrential rain and wind, we had the best time. When it rains, we were told there are 90% more waterfalls than when it’s dry, so although you don’t have the glistening blue water and green mountain views that you see on postcards, the dramatic crashing waterfalls are an equally amazing treat.
– Walk/cycle around Queenstown Gardens. They are SO beautiful, gorgeously rugged and foresty feeling, with perfectly groomed spots, flowerbeds and a little bridge over a stream. Delightful. Also they have a great view of Queenstown from the other side.
– The Luge. First of all, hilarious. Second of all, so much fun. You can get the skyline gondola to the top of the mountain and then take a kind of toboggan down several different tracks, as fast as you can, with the incredible mountainous panorama. We had such a laugh and kept wanting to go back up for more.
Where to eat:
The food was yuuuuummy in Queenstown. Seriously. And yes, we did spend our whole time scouting out our next meal.
– Blue Kanu- maybe our favourite meal of the WHOLE TRIP. What!!!! ‘Mixing both Pacifica and Asian style’ tapas dishes. Every single plate we said ‘this one’s my favourite!!!’ Then the next dish arrived.
– Taco Medic- a tiny little street food place with the most delicious, fresh tacos with really unique fillings. Not a huge menu, but we went there twice because it was just so good.
– Fat Badgers- mmmmmm. Such good pizza. They’re big too so you can share one between two. They also do poutine, so that’s a yes from me.
– Cowboys- such a fun bar, with mechanical bull riding. And cowboy hats. I’ll leave that there.
– Yonder- my favourite breakfast place. Amazing corn fritters with sriracha and poached eggs. Also equally amazing coffee. Oh, and equally lovely décor.
– Caribe Latin Kitchen- super tasty food. They also make their own homemade hot sauce, which is soooo good.
Look out for:
– The best deals on tours. Look around before you book something, because as there are so many adventure places in Queenstown, they all want your custom, so sometimes places will offer an especially good price if they know you’re looking elsewhere too.
– The beaaaautiful Remarkables mountains, where you can ski in winter. They have been in several films and give the turquoise blue water the most incredible backdrop.
Next was Wanaka, smaller than Queenstown, but with a lovely feel. It was our first campsite night in New Zealand and we were really pleased with our choice. Such friendly people and it was slightly out of the way, meaning it was quiet, but not so far away that we felt completely out of it. We stayed at Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park. Again, stunning views, a gorgeous bike track running all the way around the water and a FAB burrito food truck called Burrito Craft. An ideal place to refuel (overeat) after a ‘tough’ bike ride.
Originally, we wanted to head to Franz Josef after Wanaka to do the glacier hike, but as I mentioned before, the weather didn’t want us to do that…. So we went straight to Christchurch. We visited here less than two weeks after the horrifically tragic attack in the city and so were overwhelmed with the memorial flowers, posters, banners and decorations lining the Botanic Gardens. Although the streets were quiet, the people we met were a complete joy and inspiration and welcomed us into their city whole-heartedly. We had our first electric scooter experience here too, which we carried on wherever we could for the rest of our trip. We did laps and laps and laps of the streets, soaking up the atmosphere and stopping only for coffee and an occasional ‘warm up’ hug.
Our morning breakfast place was also one to note, called Unknown Chapter Coffee Roasters. Great veggie breakfast and they don’t do their poached eggs too watery!!!! A huge plus for me. There’s an amazing ice cream spot too… Rollickin Gelato Café, located inside the Arts Centre. That was also lovely, and had a dreamy stationary shop….which I drooled over for a while. Overall, we thought Christchurch had a really friendly, small city feel that is clearly growing in more ways than one.
Kaikoura was next, mainly known for whale watching. Again, the weather wasn’t great, but our campsite had a beautiful setting, with views of snow capped mountains in the distance (TOP 10 Holiday Park). We were actually really happy to have a relaxed couple of rainy days. It was sunny on the day we arrived (typical) but on our full day, we decided to go for a chilly walk along the black pebble beach, skimming stones, warming up with copious cups of coffee and a cosy lunch nearby at Hislops Whole Foods café.
We then made our way to Abel Tasman National Park. Wow. Wow. Wow. I typed it once and then couldn’t think of any other way of describing it other than: Wow. We did an amazing self-guided kayak tour, that was totally exhausting but something I will never forget. Exploring hidden caves, spotting seals, paddling in blazing sunshine, then a downpour, then windy waves, then sunshine again. I would thoroughly recommend it. The water is like nothing I’ve ever seen, almost lime green near the rocks in parts, and turquoise, deep blue and almost clear in other parts. As I can never fail to mention food, I would also recommend the Fat Tui permanent food truck for a mouth-watering crispy cod burger and the best sweet potato fries.
After a brilliant couple of days, we drove to Picton, where we were to board the ferry to the North Island after a magical time in the South of New Zealand. One thing I have to note about New Zealand, is that even if I don’t mention the scenery anywhere, it isn’t because it isn’t beautiful. The truth is, everywhere you look is stunning. Rambling hills, snow-capped mountains, rushing waterfalls and gorges, sparkling rivers, dramatic vistas… so if I have made a point to mention how beautiful something is, it’s because it is truly special.
If you have made it to the end of this mammoth post, I really appreciate you reading my rambling travel tales of the South Island. Thank you. If you want to know my more general motorhome tips, you will find them on my Australian motorhoming post!